Family History

I always spend a couple of weeks over the Christmas break buried in my genealogy research. It seems like it is the only time of the year that I can sit spending hours doing research and not feel guilty! And it is something I never procrastinate because I love doing it!

I can spend 15 hours of the day (and thinking about it the other hours) sitting in front of my computer chasing elusive family ancestors and get totally absorbed in it. In fact I get so absorbed in it I find it hard to do anything else – it is lucky we usually have so much food left over from Christmas that I don’t even have to worry about feeding the family.


Doing family history these days is so much easier than when I began 30 years ago. Nowadays I can look at microfilm on my laptop in my own home instead of having to order the film in and going to view it – or spending hours searching microfiche in the library. I have heard that Family History is the second biggest use for the internet after porn – but that may no longer be true these days now you can play games and view movies on your computer.

I started my Family History comparatively young. I was interested and my Aunty who had been doing some research handed it all to me – including a magnificent old leather photo album of many ancestors – a treasured possession. When she began research it was a case of writing many letters or hiring someone to look for you if your ancestors where in other countries. She would be staggered about how much easier it is today!

So from the comfort of my own home I can research family in the 1700’s in Birmingham. I can see the actual church registers and census forms, the wills and court proceedings. One family I was chasing yesterday I havent looked at for a year or so and there is now new stuff online that wasnt there before that I can use to break down some brick walls I had. Yesterday I also found the first divorce in my ancestors – back in 1880 for adultery. That must have been quite a scandal!

The entire extended family recognise me as the family historian and archivist. When my Mum passed away and we were sorting out her house, my siblings just kept putting any paperwork in my boxes in case it was useful. Some of it certainly was – but much of it I have had to throw out as even my hoarding mind could see it was useless.

So this is why I have so many boxes of papers, letters and photos. Storing them safely is always a concern and as I live in a fire zone I do worry about that. So this is another reason why I need to sort it all so that I am saving only the really important stuff. It is also why I am scanning all my photos so that I can keep digital copies in other places.

So doing the research is something I love doing – and I find no hardship in doing it and so don’t procrastinate about starting it. In fact 10 days of family history is my reward to myself for completing the September room! What I do procrastinate about is writing the family story! So this is my project for 2015!

Every year I say I am going to start it, and at the end of every year nothing has progressed. Last year, over Christmas, I did start writing about one branch of the family. On reflection I actually started doing then what is now my tag line – One Bite at a Time! To say you are going to write you family story is such a huge task it immediately puts you off starting!How do I set it out?  Where do I start? What do I include? How do I make it interesting? Another excuse I have used is that I will write the story when I have finished researching it! Of course that is a very silly idea as you never finish your family story. Not only is there more and more information about so that you can find more of your ancestors – but of course you also grow forward with new members being added over time.

So applying my basic principle One Bite at a Time this coming year I am going to make progress on my book. I am going to break it up into small bite sizes and not try to take on too much with each bite. I am going to try to tackle one family at a time and write about them and the times that they lived in. The family that I started with last year will be a good springboard. Then start another family group.

I also realise that it is important to write my own personal story. When my Mum was alive she told such wonderful stories about my ancestors. I always thought I would remember them – and I mostly do. But I wish I had written them down or recorded Mum telling them. I also asked my Mum to write about her life – and she would say it was too boring. When she passed away I got her Laptop and found she had indeed started writing. She was a writer and so she wrote beautifully. She had written about 5 pages about her Mum – my granny. Such lovely stories and so interesting. How I wish she had done more and written about her early life. I would not have found it boring!

So I have downloaded a list of topics to write about my own life. Lots of small bites – about growing up on the farm, about school, about my travels, even the technology I didn’t grow up with like mobile phones. I might think it is boring but I hope my grandchildren find it interesting and marvel at a life growing up without computers and mobiles!

So this is my second New Year Resolution. Not only to keep tidying one room at a time – but also to take small bites at writing my own personal story and that of my ancestors. Perhaps you need to do the same….

2 thoughts on “Family History”

  1. Hi Jenny, you have inspired me to get back to my family tree research. When you say you are going to write about one family do you mean one generation or one line f your tree for as many generations as you have. I am currently looking at my Mum’s maternal grandfather and his paternal line but not sure how wide to go. What would your suggest?

  2. With my actual family research I tend to trace every line backwards and forwards….. so I find great grandparents and then trace all their children back to now – so 2nd, 3rd and fourth cousins many times removed! But that’s just because I enjoy doing puzzles and tracking things down and so love finding them all! However even I recognise that not everyone really wants to know all that info!So I will do all that research for my own personal enjoyment and keep for future generations.
    My family story I am writing I am going to try and stick with the main family lines – and that depends on how many lines you are chasing. Some people are only interested in their paternal line so only research that line. I plan to write the story of my great grandparents – so 8 lines. I feel they are recent enough that I can research them but far enough back to seem interesting….. My biggest issue will be trying to make it interesting and not just a list of birth, deaths and marriages!!
    So I would start on whatever line you think you can write and go as wide as you want – entirely up to you. I know some of my lines will not have much info whereas some lines I will have more stories and be more interesting.
    So I hope to pick a family within a line each month and reread all the info I have on them and try and do some social history research of the times and turn it into a story. For example this month I am doing a 4th great uncle – a Brassfounder in Birmingham (part of my Harcourts of Birmingham line) in the early 1800’s. Many of my Harcourts were Brassfounders in Birmingham before they came to Australia…so plan to research Brassfounders, Birmingham at that time etc. and hopefully that will give an idea of my family and where they came from…. would love to know why they decided to come to Australia – but don’t have any letters from the past to tell me that!

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