When I was a kid, I didn’t really think much about ancestors until it dawned on me that other kids had more in the way of grandparents than I did.
I had my mother’s mum, Nanna, and that was all. My three other grandparents had all passed away long before I was born. Nanna was my only connection to the past. She was the one who could tell the stories of grandfather who had been in the Merchant Marine and then a lighthouse keeper. She was the one who, if my cousin and I had been especially good, would unlock Grandfather’s special room under her old Queenslander house and show us the treasures therein. Grandfather had collected all manner of interesting things. There were great, green glass floats that were once used by pearl divers to mark their positions when they were diving deep to search for oyster shells. There were sea dragons, sea horses and little brightly coloured fish, all preserved in some unknown liquid, stored in large jars. There were shark jaws and swordfish swords. There were hair combs and needles Grandfather had carved from whale bones, that he had found on the shore near his lighthouse and..best of all…there were the ships in bottles. Oh it was an Aladdin’s cave. Nanna would stand in the doorway and tell us the tales of wonder and we listened wide-eyed and imagined ourselves as seafarers.
I remember feeling sad that there would be no more stories. I needed to hear those stores of the people who had gone before. Somehow I recognised that whatever it was that had made them who they were was also part of me. I felt a connection to the sepia pictures in the photograph albums that my mother kept in the sideboard cupboard. I would look into the eyes of those people who stood stiffly, staring into the lens of the camera and try to figure out what they were thinking, where they had been and what they had done.
Nanna was the only one who had known any stories. Being a child of curious nature, I began to drive my parents crazy with questions about my ancestors. They gave me answers when they could but it wasn’t until the miracle of the internet that I was able to put together the pieces of my heritage.
And..there are no tales of great wealth or influence, just stories of ordinary people who worked hard and dreamed of a better future for their kids. There are farmers from Warwickshire, seafarers from Essex, hotheaded Irishmen and strong-willed Irishwomen, policemen and nurses, soldiers and petty thieves, large families and many babes who died very young. All of these are my ancestors.
I only know a fraction of the stories and I will continue to search out more. It fascinates me. Someone told me once, that it is by learning about the past that we can understand the present and create our future.
What do you think? Do you know the stories of your ancestors?