By Jayne McGarvey
My Maternal Grandmother’s sisters both had families. Over the decades those families have grown. I have many second cousins, some of whom I occasionally met, usually en masse as a child, their names and faces often merging into one another, as months or even years would pass between meetings. My cousins have now grown up. Many of them have married, raised a family of their own, some of these cousins are even in danger of running out of fingers on which to count their grandchildren!
As the decades have passed since my Grandmother died, contact with distant cousins has been reduced, even been lost, and as my mother’s generation passes the contact becomes even less. Changes of name, address and contact numbers do not get passed to every descendant in every line.
As the number of generations increases from my Grandmother and her brothers and sisters there are less of us who remember the closeness of this original family unit. Phone calls and letters that flowed across the County and the world, occasionally shared with other family members. There were visits to each other’s houses, photographs and Christmas cards exchanged.
The ladies were born in the late 1800s, they lived through two World Wars, and saw the advent of voting for women, changes in social attitudes, employment, travel, leisure practices and so much more. Much knowledge passed from this generation to the next, but as is normal with any family not everybody in the next generation got all the information.
I’ve reached out to some of my distant cousins by a mix of family contact, forward genealogical research and social media. A few of my cousins have found me. Curious about their heritage they have started to ask questions, commenced the research process, started to gather photographs and information.
As contact is made or renewed, old photographs and information is shared, some of the same photographs and faces pop up again and again. My Grandmother’s Uncle Harry is one such face. Oh how I wish I could meet him. It is obvious from the photographs he kept a track of all branches of the family. I often wonder did anyone get “his stuff” when he passed, all those names and addresses, probably photographs. One of his sisters, Annie was known to carry her box brownie camera everywhere. His knowledge has become “lost”, possibly divided between a few family members, who may not even know what they have, or thrown away under the guise of “who on earth would want that pile of old junk?”
Renewed and new contact with my second and sometimes even more distant cousins brings new names to the family tree. Not all of these names are from our shared heritage many are names of spouses, children, grandchildren – new twigs on the family tree.
For me as keeper of the family tree this poses a quandary:-
What are the best options to collate record and maintain a living family history tree that also ensures that the privacy rights of living individuals are not compromised?
I want my relatives to feel comfortable and confident that the information they provide is safe, will be treated with respect, but at the same time will be available for the various branches of the family to have that central point of reference. A place to deposit information on who has married, had children, moved to a new country and somewhere that in decades to come that the next generations of the family tree can refer to when (hopefully) they become curious about their heritage.
So now it is my self-appointed job to pick up Uncle Harry’s mantle. Unlike Uncle Harry, I don’t know all my cousins, their children and grandchildren. The generations growing up today are now in many instances as far apart as 4th and 5th cousins to each other. Some individuals now represented on my family tree will have to go backwards as many as 7 or 8 generations to find a common ancestor.
They still have a shared heritage. My primary goal is to create a tree that leaves a legacy that can be picked up by future generations no matter how far they are dispersed in terms of generations, and distance by miles and lineage.
As new lines are added to the tree and research extended many more of the individuals do not even have a shared lineage. They may have shared collateral lines, some will share cultural backgrounds others will have little in common except they appear on the same ever expanding Family Tree.
For now I have decided to add only the names and country of birth (where I have that information) of the living individuals to my tree. When possible I also add the year and country of marriage. A few of us “oldies” have a photograph or five included.
Over time I hope to include more photographs of those that have reached adulthood and are happy to have their photograph included.
The rest of the information I have obtained and been given regarding dates of birth and other potentially more sensitive information is for now tucked away in a file.
There is much to do, with many of the lines expanding faster than I can hope to keep up with. My hope is to leave a clear trail of “breadcrumbs” for future generations in all of the branches. A legacy if you like, not just of the past, but of the future not yet written.
Happy Hunting Everyone.