Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Journeys and other defining events

Years ago I remember reading a quote which struck a chord as I reflected on the journey of my own life. I don’t remember who wrote it originally, but his (or her) observation was that in a mobile world our lives are defined as much by our routes as by our roots. Family history is about roots, but as I have done my research I find myself as much fascinated by the journeys travelled by my ancestors as by the place they were born, or where they lived. So I have decided to add a category to my family history blog about journeys, since there are many as I look back over the last few hundred years. For non-Aboriginal Australians this is an almost universal theme, and we are no exception. Even for Aboriginal people it is true, though tracing their migrations to Australia is not something that can be done with written records, but only through their spoken and sung myths – the stories of the dreamtime. The paintings preserved on rocks and in caves also say something of their history, but exactly where they came from and when, and why, remains lost in the mists of time. Nowadays various scientific methods have become popular in the search for such knowledge, but the science is inexact and involves as much guesswork as hard facts.

What defines us really as human beings? There are surely multiple influences, and genetics is popular just now. But I have to admit to finding genetics rather boring. What I love is stories, because they trigger my imagination, the question,  “What was it like..?” For a traveller like me, who has had the joy of so many journeys, so much change, the travels of my ancestors awakes special interest. Such journeys have contributed much to defining how I see myself. They surely had the same effect on our forbears. The places we live also affect us, the things we do, and perhaps most importantly our relationships, first with our families, but also with friends and acquaintances. Last, but certainly not least, are our beliefs and values, for it is these that guide the choices we make in our lives.

A blog about family history is really just a collection of stories about the people who populate a family tree. It is not possible to sit down and interview people who are already dead and buried, and unless their letters and writings are preserved somewhere it is hard to really know them. In the last hundred years there are often photographs, and these give certain impressions. Official documents record some of the significant details of their lives: births, deaths, marriages. Census records indicate their locations, occupations, and relationships at various points in their lives. Records of government service, or imprisonment in the case of crime, give us more glimpses into their lives, as do electoral records. Migration records, passenger lists and arrival lists give us more hints as to the events of their lives. Such official documents are impersonal, but they take us back to places and times which together with the history books, the dramas and documentaries we watch on TV and our own imaginations, help us to relive some of what our ancestors experienced in their day to day lives.

The stories we enter into, even if they are part imagination, and largely influenced by our own experience and thoughts, are exciting and boring, sad and happy, extraordinary and ordinary, sometimes mysterious and hidden, but they always wonderful, as is the story of every human who has walked this earth since the beginning of time.

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