This week I found myself down at Olympia at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live event. Hundreds of people, over a three day event wander the aisles searching for clues to answer the question 'Where did I come from?' whilst various companies flog their wares. Watching I wondered how important it was for people to know where they came from or was it just an interesting hobby.
I am fortunate that on my Fathers side at least there has been a very good family tree produced, which dates the family back for several hundred years. Even my Mothers side I have a good idea of where they came from. I suspect I've always just taken the knowledge of my family history for granted, forgetting that others have no knowledge other than their immediate families names.
If I stopped taking it for granted, would I hold it as important knowledge to have? Stories of the family member who met his maker, having rolled into the river drunk at lunch time or the unmarried 'seamstress' with seven children in an area known for its bars and brothels, are of course interesting. They provide a snapshot of social history that I am personally connected to, that capture my attention far more than the facts and figures in some books.
I find it fascinating to observe how my family has developed, the leap of one man, who's family too poor to feed him, sent him to a ship on the Clyde for poor and/or naughty boys where he got an education. It meant he gave his son an education which allowed the boy to make the step into white collar work. When I take time to reflect on this, I feel encouraged to work hard, to make sure that their legasee is carried on. I am very much the product of my families heritage. I am middle class, because of that child who became a white collar worker. I am reasonably well educated because of the example set by my family. The way I look is directly linked to the genes my family has given me (thanks for the mediterranean tan, but did you have to give me the rounded waist?). Even my health is linked back to the family tree.
For me though, its not just the knowledge of my heritage that's important. Its the remembrance, to know that you lived, when you were on earth and were important to somebody in the great scheme of things. I value what my family has given me, even the black sheep's have given me something to think about.
In another month or two I am making a journey that I have wanted to take for sometime. I will be taking my young nephew to Arnhem to tell him the story of his Great Great Uncle who was shot as a POW in the battle there. I want to pass on to him, an interest in his family tree, so when he is learning about it at school he might understand that these events happened to his family. We will stand by my Great Uncles grave together and read the words on the headstone, words that are not just for soldiers who die early, but for all those in my family tree.