Monday, April 13, 2009

The Family Historian

Just imagine if you were able to employ someone to research your family history, a person who was prepared to spend hours reading online documents and databases, discovering existing family history websites that contained branches of your own family tree and unearthing interesting facts about your ancestors. I am blessed to have my own family historian and she charges no fees! She is my 14 year old daughter and just over two years ago, she discovered a passion for family history.

She started with my husband's side of the family in New Zealand. As my husband's heritage is Maori (Ngati Tuwharetoa), a descendant of a famous Maori chief, there was already a wealth of information in the family's possession. It was really quite exciting for her to visit the website of 'Te Papa' in Wellington and find pictures of her great, great, great, (lots of greats!) grandfathers regaled in their feathered cloaks.

We did not have as much information about her grandfather's father's side of the family and this is where the internet truly did prove to be an invaluable resource. On the world wide web she found out the names of the villages in Oxfordshire, England (such as Milton-under-Wychwood) where her grandfather's ancestors lived and worked as farm labourers before they joined the throngs of Englishmen and their families lured to New Zealand. I think her grandfather was disappointed when we informed him that his English ancestors were farm labourers, fond of drinking and brawls and regarded by English society as 'ruffians', rather than Oxford scholars with royal pedigrees!

"Don't you believe me - I'm descended from royalty not ruffians!"
"Mmm... let me think about that one grandad!"

I purchased an inexpensive family history software program and my daughter began setting out her family tree, adding in names of brothers and sisters and inserting photographs. It looks quite impressive and so far she has over 700 people on her family tree. She has laid out two family trees for both paternal grandparents. As she researched her grandmother's ancestry, she unearthed some very interesting information. Her grandmother's family had arrived in New Zealand via Australia and we suspected a convict history! For those from overseas who may not realize - New Zealand was never a penal colony. She couldn't find any convicts on her grandfather's side but on her grandmother's there were plenty and one crime seemed to run in the family - horse theft. We joked that we now knew where her grandmother's love of horses came from! Her Australian ancestors had settled in Kyneton, Victoria and it will be interesting to visit this town one day. One set of grandparents (great +++) were both convicts, married by Samuel Marsden the famous missionary who travelled to Australia and later sailed to New Zealand - as the 'first apostle', he conducted the first church service in New Zealand.

The study of family history is really a living history lesson, it is far more interesting than opening up a textbook and attempting to memorise dates and names for an exam which you later, prom
ptly forget. (This is how I was taught history at school.) This is why I have allowed my daughter the time to pursue her study of the family - it is so relevant, so fascinating and it takes her back through time to different centuries, she has traced back her family to Somerset, England in the 1600s. It also transports her to different places, her family can trace its roots to England, Scotland, Ireland and Denmark. There is still more to be discovered, we believe there is a governor of Tasmania somewhere in the tree - we just need to find the connection.

Another reminder in our home of our family heritage

At the moment, my daughter is asking for a subscription to ''; it's not an unreasonable request considering her depth of interest in family history, after all, many young people her age waste their time on social networking sites or playing addictive and sometimes dangerous online role play games. My daughter is far more interested in adding ancestors to her family tree than adding friends to a facebook page! She has friends of course, but she uses email and actually writes letters (the old fashioned way!) to stay in touch with them.
The fees to subscribe to the family an
cestry sites are fairly steep but the information my daughter is pursuing is there - birth, death and marriage certificates. If any family historians are reading this and can tell me the most cost effective way of accessing public records (particularly for the UK) my daughter would be very appreciative!

My parents on their favourite mode of transport in the early 1960s

I would encourage home educators who are wondering how to teach history, to allow their children to study their family tree. If there is a grandparent who fought in the war, you may have already have the information about their contribution to that war. As new information is found, encourage them to document it, to make a permanent record. If you know stories that have been told to you by your parents, write them down. For example, I know that my mother was a child during the second world war and the city she lived in was heavily bombed. They had a family bomb shelter at the bottom of the garden and many homes in her neigbourhood were razed to the ground. I've told this story to my children but it may be forgotten so I'm recording it here, not just for the purpose of expanding their knowledge of World War II but to remind them of how blessed they are; they have never had to live through this kind of trauma or witness the type of devastation that my mother witnessed in the days of her childhood.

My daughter has assembled family files containing copies of the documents and information she has found. In January this year she travelled to New Zealand to visit her grandparents and presented them both with folders and paper copies of their family trees. (This took a long time to tape together!) We also made photo collages using Google's Picasa program, with each grandparent in the centre surrounded by their ancestors. We framed the collages in matching frames and they were delighted with this very personal gift - this is a great gift idea for grandparents!

I have created a family gallery in my sitting room along the wall above the piano. I love to gaze at the pictures on display and imagine what life was like for the Edwardian lady (my grandmother) and her sister. A photograph of a beautiful woman graces the top of the piano, she is my husband's great grandmother - part Danish, part Maori. I want to know,
how did her mother, a Maori princess, meet and marry a Dane?

I love to display my old family photographs in antique style frames, I try to group similar frames together. Alongside a collection of family photos you can also set out treasures - grandmother's tea cup, an oil lamp, an antique cloth. If no family heirlooms are in your possession go to garage sales and search thrift stores for antique or reproduction items that match your frames and coordinate with your decor.

I am saddened by the recent trend in modern decorating which has reduced the family photo gallery to the occasional canvas print and a digital frame in the office. There is something special about family photographs on display, they turn a house into a home and add warmth, creating an atmosphere that says 'We care about family, we treasure family more than any limited edition artwork.'

Of course, you do not need to clutter every surface or cover every wall - be selective, choose your absolute favourite photographs and find areas in your home suitable for a family gallery. Try to avoid the top of the tv unit, it doesn't do justice to a collection of family photographs and can make a room appear cluttered. In addition to the wall above and on the top of the piano, I also display more recent photographs on a long hall table. It's made of timber so I have photos in wooden frames set out here. I haven't put photos on this wall as I'm hoping to find an ornate mirror to go above the tabl

I love to light the candles on special occasions, the lovely glow and flickering of the flames highlights the frames and reminds me of the lights of my life -
my beautiful children and the family that are my story, my husband's story - woven together to create a heritage for our children that crosses continents, cultures and even languages. I am hoping that they learn all the words to three National Anthems - 'God save the Queen', 'Advance Australia Fair' and my favourite for its beautiful lyrics penned in 1876 by a Godly man named Thomas Bracken, 'God defend New Zealand', which they will need to learn in both English and Maori!

My daughter will hopefully soon move on to researching my family tree - this will be a more challenging task for her. I have very little information to pass on to her, my parents did not reveal much about their parents lives. I have some old family photographs but no documentation - I wish I knew more. This is why in part, I have created a blog and added a 'nostalgia' label, this is for the benefit of my children; it is their family history journal.
I do hope blogs survive for a long time, they will be fascinating for future generations to read, this is why I'm also including favourite family photographs and writing about family activities.

Those who are yet to born into my family, will one day know that this mother cared deeply, was passionate about her family, committed herself to God, was devoted to her husband and the upbringing of her children, her most precious gifts from the Lord. That she prayed for them fervently, loved them unreservedly, and held in her heart, a multi-generational vision. I do hope that they will want to display my photo on the wall, that they will know my name and be able to tell stories of my life and the Godly legacy that was passed on down to them.

With love and joy,

Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
Who delights greatly in His commandments.
His descendants will be mighty on earth;
The generation of the upright will be blessed.

A promise for families from Psalm 112

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Ann at eightacresofeden said...

A very kind person from Taiwan left a lovely comment about my blog which I published but it did not show on the blog, it has completely disappeared from my dashboard too. To the person from the Olive Tree Guitar Ensemble in Taiwan - thank you. It is wonderful to see my blog is being read in Asia. I love to listen to guitar music when it is played by talented musicians, it is a very special gift.

A Bite of Country Cupcakes said...

Amazing...My Mum has always wanted to trace her families History.
I just love the poto of Granddad and you r Little blondie...How great of a shot!
I just love phtots.
I only ever started blogging as I was a die hard diary and journal keeper and wanted to remeber silly and Poignant things.
And just mabey oneday....
One day My children will rise up and call me blessed!


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