Family Ties

By: Anne Corke

Jan 06 2012


Category: Genealogy, Life stories

1 Comment

So now that all the Christmas festivities are over, I’m back to my family history research. Although it’s challenging to see how far back you can get with your family tree, I think the most rewarding aspect of this hobby is the insight that you gain into family members and their lives and circumstances. Just yesterday, I found a record of the probate of the will of my paternal grandmother’s sister, Alice.  Alice was the youngest of eleven children and was born in 1892. She married in 1914 and died a widow in 1918 at age 26. Such a brief life. She left her estate to her sister Clara, the sum of 271 pounds, 2 shillings and tenpence. Although she’s not a direct ancestor, this latest piece of information makes me want to follow up Alice’s story. Perhaps I will contact my cousin back in Wales and ask if he knows anything about her.

Earlier this week, another search unearthed my uncle Alex’s Navy record, with the information that his body was never recovered when his ship was destroyed by a mine during the war. Alex’s mother, my maternal grandmother lived with us for twelve years. As a child, I thought of her as a rather difficult, harsh person who always seemed to see the negative side of a situation. Although she could be quite generous, she was also very demanding and expected my mother to wait on her hand and foot, and Mum complied for the most part. I resented her as a youngster as it seemed that I was obliged to take orders from both her and Mum and Dad. Nana had framed pictures of her two sons on her bedroom wall. She had lost both at young ages, Alfred to appendicitis aged 15, and Alex, lost in action, age 20, in WWI. As a child, I didn’t truly understand her dark attitude as I didn’t have the experience to appreciate the hardships she had endured. Eventually she suffered from dementia and the last six months of her life were hell on earth for the family, particularly for my mother. On the verge of a nervous breakdown, Mum pleaded with Nana’s doctor for help, and she was finally admitted to a nursing home. Two weeks later, she had a massive stroke and passed away. For months afterward, I had nightmares that she had come back from the dead to make our lives unbearable once again.

Years later, I began to research my family history. As I browsed through old photos, I noticed that Nana, even as a young woman, was walking with a cane, obviously suffering from some sort of infirmity. I discovered a photo of the family tombstone and found that she had also lost a third son as an infant. And so my mother was her only surviving child, and in fact, she was an adopted daughter. My mother’s first marriage, to a much older man, broke up in short order, and she returned, pregnant, to Nana. Mum’s son Peter was doted on by Nana and Grandy, and it seems that he may even have been presented as their son. Whether this was her idea, or my mother’s, no one knows. Perhaps Nana was attempting to restore some of Mum’s reputation which, in Nana’s devout Roman Catholic view, had been sullied by her abandonment of her husband and their marriage. Single mothers, unless widowed, were not favoured by society.  When Mum took up with my father, Nana was less than pleased. As a Roman Catholic, Mum could not divorce and was therefore still married to her first husband and not free to take another. And to add insult to injury, Dad later took my mother and their children away from Nana when our family emigrated to Canada. The following year, she lost her beloved husband. And so, Nana had her share of grief. Everyone she ever loved was taken from her. Although I don’t condone some of her behaviour, particularly her treatment of my mother, now at least I have an understanding of the circumstances which shaped her personality and I have made my peace with her.

Family research is so much more than adding persons to your tree. It is in fact a journey of discovery and self-discovery. It is history on a very personal level which connects you to your past and family members that you may never have known if you had not taken up this quest. And the more you learn about your family, the more you know these individuals and their world, the more you understand yourself.

Copyright 2012 Anne Corke

One comment on “Family Ties”

  1. Lovely post. I agree, family research is much more than names and dates and places and going back in time, and consequently it feels a lot more rewarding.


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