I am constantly reminded that when researching something, anything at all, it is always worth pausing every once in a while to check your notes, review your work and take a breath. So here I am, taking a breath.
I have always considered my family to be quite small. Well, that at least this generation of relatives is small. What would perhaps be a more accurate description is my family isn’t always very close. Being relationally or geographically far away has always made me feel that I have a small family. By comparison, my friend sees every member of her family at least weekly and always has done. As a result, her family is close in both senses so she always feel surrounded by family. I started this whole project (is it a project?) knowing what I thought was a handful of people. My dad, my mum, his brother, her 3 siblings, their spouses, their kids, my grannies, each of my granny’s brothers…that was kind of it. I knew few stories, I knew little of the generations before me, I knew not where my own roots lay. While I still haven’t decided where my roots are geographically, I definitely feel more rooted in my family, more connected. My looking at the family tree has sparked lots of conversations, stirred many memories and reminded me that I am very much part of my family tree. My little leaf matters no more and no less than every other leaf on the ever-growing tree.
In my family research, I have met ancestors past and relatives living. I recently made contact with another great-granddaughter of Daddy Weddell. Even in the few emails we have exchanged, I can see that we could fill in some gaps for each other’s family stories. I have seen photographs I never knew of and had previously not imagined would actually exist. I have learned of various struggles. I have met more soldiers than I thought existed in my family. I have discovered a few musicians. That made me pretty pleased! Neither of my parents are particularly musical, neither play any instruments or anything, so to find a few musicians made me feel like I had company. Apparently when Doreen gave me a little keyboard as a gift, I would work out how to play tunes properly, unlike most children who are happy to just bash keys in any random order. That desire to play led to lessons which led to a lifelong skill I couldn’t be more grateful to have. My great-grandmother was also a pianist but couldn’t read music. She just sat down and played. I really love that.
In the last 20 months or so, I have added around 350 new names to my family tree. I have found their birth, marriage and death records, I have seen their lives in snapshots on every census. I have found war records and learned what those brave men looked like. I have learned of all of their fates and cried. I have learned that nobody moved far from their parents! On both side of my tree, children seemed to stay within a mile or so of their parents. On mum’s side, Daddy Weddell’s grown children stayed in the same square and raised their own families alongside their younger siblings. In the last 150 years, the current generation is the furthest geographically that my family have been from each other. I suppose that’s also a sign of the times. These days, travel is easy, universities are everywhere and technology allows people to stay in constant contact. For me, the most exciting find is the photographs. I can follow each line back some way and learn where I get my physical features. All have fair hair (nobody’s hair can be described as darker than mousy brown with exception of my mum), the Rae’s in particular have very rosy cheeks, nobody seemed to be very tall so that would all explain why with all the good will and vegetables in the world, I was never going to be big and strong when I grew up. I’m 5’3 (ish) with mousy blond hair and rosy cheeks which seem to deceive all bar tenders into thinking that I’m under 21 years of age.
In this pause for breath, I can appreciate all the new leaves on my tree, but I can appreciate my own little leaf. I have followed my own path, as many before me have, and am pretty happy with where it has led me so far. Each leaf tells a different story and I have my own story. Some leaves tell stories of loss, some of bravery, some of adoption, some of family heartbreak but they all tell the story of my family. It would so easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of people in my tree and say “I’m just a tiny leaf here, what do I matter?” but I am certain that I matter. I am a tiny leaf but so is everybody else. My leaves make up my tree and I am proud to be a part of mine.