When it comes to family history – don’t procrastinate

One of the first golden rules of researching your family tree is to speak to family members, especially the older members of the family who may well know a great wealth of information. By the time I got interested in family history I didn’t have many people to ask. My paternal grandparents died six years before I was born, Granddad Cliff had been one of six children but after his death we seemed to just lose touch with his remaining siblings (he had two brothers still alive at that time) and Grandma Joan was an only child. My maternal grandfather died when I was five and my maternal grandmother died a year before I started to look into the family tree. Granddad Phil was an only child and while my grandmother Alice was one of three sisters, she had outlived them. So my only source of other family information was my parents and my mother’s surviving siblings.

Over the years my eldest uncle has dug out various things to send on to me as he came across them. To begin with he sent me certificates and some photographs along with some scraps of memoirs my grandmother wrote, and then later on some more photographs and a few documents. I’ve had phone conversations with another auntie about what she knew about the family – and despite being an auntie who had married into my family and had since been divorced from my uncle, she still knew a great deal.

Some years ago I rescued some cine film reels from my parents loft. I had vague recollections of watching some of the films when I was about six or seven on a projector and it was clear that the films hadn’t been watched since. They were filmed by my paternal grandfather and although I had a feeling that the majority of the films might be pretty dull, I still wanted to be able to watch them. This month I finally took them to be transferred to DVD and collected them today. I sat and watched them all – four DVDs in all. The first few minutes were of my parents wedding – several short clips but it was so lovely to see my young mother looking so beautiful and so shy and to see her sister and best friend in their bridesmaids outfits. After that came some bits of a trip to Scotland in the late 1960s, my Dad with two children who had a pet snake! Then came shots of my grandparents first ever (and only) trip overseas to Majorca. I sat and watched them, the only sound was the flicker of the camera until almost halfway through the Majorca film when suddenly I heard a voice I had never heard before – my grandfather. I’m not sure what sort of voice I was expecting him to have, having lived in Wales until he was about 17, then living in Shropshire for a time before settling in Lancashire with his wife and family when he was 21 until his early death in his 50s. I think I expected a Welsh accent or perhaps a Northern accent, and while there were traces of a slight Northern accent, he spoke with an educated almost posh voice. I half expected him to be narrating some BBC item in the 1950s. I began to cry when I heard his voice. I cannot really explain how much of a void I feel in my life when it comes to grandparents, and it was because I had never met my father’s parents that I became interested in finding out about their family.

Cliff and Joan

My paternal grandparents

I watched the rest, some were silent and others had my grandfather’s narration. I saw my grandmother laughing, granddad in a dress… I got to hear his sense of humour and I liked it. I marvelled at how much he and my brother look alike and loved seeing my Dad as a young man and my Mum, camera shy, appearing a few times. I also got to see my grandmother’s mother Annie, with them on a trip to Scotland.

The next task is to get the DVDs copied so that my parents, sister and brother can each have copies. My brother was only two when Cliff and Joan died, my sister was four, so while they did manage to spend time with them, I would imagine they still feel like they have lost out on that special relationship reserved for grandparents and grandchildren, especially now with them having families of their own.

So if you still have your older family members around, don’t put off talking to them, asking after things like photographs, certificates or even old home movies.


The original films


4 thoughts on “When it comes to family history – don’t procrastinate

  1. I started even later than you did, and I so regret it. By the time I started, all my aunts and uncles were also gone. I only had my parents to ask, and they did not know much. Now they are so appreciative of what I have learned and shared with them.

    But we have almost no old letters or photos of my grandparents as young people and even fewer of anyone earlier. 😦

    • I think when we are young we just aren’t interested when people start telling us family stories, oh the beauty of hindsight.

      Mind you, the grandmother I knew hardly ever talked about the past, and I’m not sure if she would have told me things if I had asked.

      But I am definitely glad of having the cine films though. Yeah they weren’t amazing in terms of the content, but it was just so nice to hear his voice and see them walking around, rather than static photographs.

    • I haven’t yet stepped into the realms of genetic genealogy myself but I have been assisting a group of people in the US and the UK who share a common ancestor with me from back in the early 1600s which has been very interesting.

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