Sunday, October 31, 2010

Writing my history

Ruth Elizabeth Charlotte Dickins, born 1876
I suddenly realised yesterday, that I will never get to the stage where I feel my family history research is "finished". Even if I exhaust all lines of research in all lines of ascent, I will still be looking for circumstantial information about the places where my ancestors lived... I will still be looking for stories of life in the places where they lived and when they were living.

I have started writing my family history dozens of times, but I soon peter out - it is so hard to know how to present the information. Do I start with me and deal with each generation separately, or start with one line and then work back from there? I start a different way each time, and I am satisfied with none of them.

So. I decided that to start was the important thing, because I am not going to get it done if I do not make a start, and if I have to rework or reorganise at some stage in the future, then fair enough, I will. So... here I am. Starting.

I began my family history over 20 years ago when I was pregnant with my first child. In those days of course I wasn't online, it was 1989 and my grandfather had just died, the last of my grandparents to die, and of course the moment he died I began to think of all the questions I should have asked him about his family.

He was Donald Charles Spivey, born 1905, died 1989, and I spent a lot of my time with him as a child. He was a tall man, and he looked unusual, not odd or strange, but handsome. Certainly his photographs from earlier times looked stunningly attractive, and I spent quite a part of my childhood thinking that everyone's grandfathers looked like film stars, Clark Gable or Cary Grant. I didn't realise that it wasn't like that.

I spent nearly every weekend with my grandparents, and asked a lot of questions about their families, and about their childhoods growing up. I'm ashamed to say that I have forgotten as much as I remember, but from time to time things have surfaced and I have suddenly realised that something my grandparents told me slotted into place.

I started with the documents which he had given me. I knew that these related to my our family, but I didn't know how. I had a baptismal certificate for George Dickins, who was born in 1824 at Woodford Grange, and that seemed like a good place to start. I knew that my grandfather's mother was called Ruth Elizabeth Charlotte Dickins, and I assumed that he must be a relation to her. I knew that she had been an interesting person, a dancer who travelled to America and Australia at a time when most women did not.

So I began my research by doing what everyone tells you to do... I made myself a family tree of all the people I could think of in the family. I could add in my grandfather's parents, my grandmother's parents, and their brothers and sisters, but not their dates and professions.

I read as much as I could about researching family history, and went up to the register office in London to pursue my research. I made a lot of mistakes...I kept a note of which registers I had searched, as advised by numerous books, but it wasn't for years that I realized that my careful recording of what I had searched was more or less useless without knowing what I had searched them for.

Of course, at the time, I knew what I was searching for, but over time, as I made more and more visits, that became less and less obvious. So... if you're searching records, make it plain what they have been searched for - and then you won't have to go back and do it all over again.

Within a few months I had established that Ruth Elizabeth Charlotte Dickins, born 1876 was the daughter of George Robey Dickins born 1850 was the son of George Dickins born 1824. So the baptismal certificate had been for my three greats grandfather, George Dickins.

Over the years I have gathered a lot more information about the family. But nothing beats the first time you make a link like that. It's a combination of detective work, history, research and luck, and it is magical. And has kept me at it ever since.