Opinion: Family ties and finding the threads

The Age of Reason

By Peter Carr

For several years I have been fiddling with matters pertaining to my personal heritage.

The ‘fiddling’ part – in the earlier days – was because I really did not know what I was doing. It was mainly manual stuff searching through the St Katherine records in a library – records that, other than being the year that Queen Victoria ascended to the throne in England, strangely commenced in 1837.

These records were housed in the Auckland Public Library where the helpful and patient staff had to show me how to wind a never-ending photographic tape where parish records had been printed thereon. A laborious and sometimes confusing involvement.

Later, with the assistance of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints I became a little bolder although rarely got past essential details concerning my four grandparents. One of whom I never met.

However, those Mormon records – regardless of one’s religious beliefs – were a good place to start.

As time has gone on – and in the realisation of the dwindling number of years remaining for such research – I became bold.

Luckily, the home computer had arrived and several software-based ancestries-related companies sprang up all aimed at persuading one to use their services and to dig around inside their bucket of information. All for an annual fee. The fees vary depending on the depth one desires to dig in that receptacle.

So, I joined one of them and found myself aligning with a company that is operated from Israel. And I only found out that interesting piece of information when I had cause to phone them one day.

But the depth and breadth of information held by these commercial search merchants is immense. There are heaps of details of good information that helps to create the family tree. On the contrary there are many, many blind alleys that one can be led down.

Getting an alleged ‘link’ with a 15th century Yorkshire farmer is not of itself proof positive that we are related. Hence the recipient of this information must be extremely particular about accepting the link.

Notwithstanding that negative comment, on the strength of the information I had accepted as the truth, I visited about 15 months ago no less than 14 Anglican (country) churches in North Yorkshire and County Durham. There, records had shown that someone, many ‘Greats’ ago, had been baptised – or married – or buried.

Sometimes perhaps all three in and around the stone towers of the church. Coming upon a 12th century font, the water from which had been sprinkled on the head of three generations my forefathers is a spine-tingling moment. My family research reveals that prior to 1700 most people arranged baptism on the day of the baby’s birth – possibly due to a high risk of infant death. This trend has shown through back to my 14th century forebears.

But the target of this research is to ensure that my daughters can hand over to their children the fruits of this work. Goodness only knows what they will do with it but links to one’s history are important.

So, if you are given the chance to dig deep into your heritage why not have a go? The software that you can use has enormous depth. It is easy to produce printed family trees which can become interesting discussion points when generations of families meet at special times such as Christmas.

I am continually saddened by the shredding of family ties brought about by the multiplicity of marriages in this modern age. The ability to hold them together is a target for us all.

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