Monday, 3 October 2011
A few years ago I started to research my family tree. I am very lucky as my mother's mother had an unusual maiden name and her family have tended to be in the right place at the right time (for censuses) and are easy to find in the records. I was amazed at how many of my ancestors seemed to have some kind of connection to my life or interests (granted I was wanting to make those connections). My Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Grandfather (I think) for example lived in the street where my sister and I worked two centuries later. He ran a circulating library (the earliest forms of library) which is absolutely appropriate for a descendant studying for an MA in English. Imagine the fun I could have discussing the latest of Jane Austen's publications with him. I wonder if she was popular with his readers? Those of you who know me know my love for Boston - imagine my amazement to find out my Great-Great-Great-Grandfather died there! He was a merchant seaman (not surprising for a Liverpool family) but I think there is something rather poignant about the fact that I love visiting the city for holidays and he ended his days there.
My grandfather's (my Mum's Dad) side seemed to be much tougher to research as his surname is more common and, whilst the maternal line was very settled in Liverpool, his father's family came from the Lake District and were there as recently as the mid-19th century. As the family made their way down, however, they do seem to have become involved in the industrial revolution - we have an engraver at a calico printers in the family and this involvement in the Lancashire Cotton Industry makes me feel proud. My ancestors were there as the modern age was being born and having spent the afternoon looking at modernity as part of my background reading it really creates an interesting link for me.
Speke Hall which is a fantastic National Trust property just outside Liverpool. Now I don't think it looked quite this good when my ancestors were there, in fact the next family to own the Hall considered that the tenant farmer families had ruined it! I just feel amazed that I could be connected to history like this. Other people have done work on this family and they seem to be relatively easy to trace as they are all christened or associated with a church in South Liverpool which has done a great job of preserving its records. The really exciting thing is that people have traced this family back to the 1540s - how brilliant is that!! I started my family history research after my Grandparents had died (in their 90s) and how I wish I had started when they were still alive. My Grandad particularly would have been thrilled with this information, he was a really proud Scouser! I think I wanted to feel rooted,or connected, but I never expected to find out just how rooted to that part of the country my family is.
The title of this entry is Only Connect, which is the epigram from Howards End by E.M. Forster. It's a great book about three families, the poorer Blasts, the bohemian Schlegels and the capitalist Wilcoxes. Forster looks at the interactions between the families in the context of places and culture. This afternoon I was reading about the difference between place and space. I won't bore you with the details but it was very interesting and the book that I read suggested that Forster isn't quite so against the city as first reading may suggest. Perhaps he just found London at that period difficult to capture as it was changing so constantly?
I finally start the MA tomorrow - huge, huge hurrah! A lecture and then seminars on Wednesday and Thursday. I'm sure I'll be nervous when I actually have to advance some ideas but perhaps the idea of how much change all of those ancestors saw can help me cope with a new beginning!
Thanks for reading ...