Thursday, 30 December 2010
Fitting our families into history.
When the poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, had to have some poplar trees felled he wrote -"after-comers cannot guess the beauty been." As the farmer and I drove past the ancient ruin of Bolton Castle here in Wensleydale - a castle at the height of its powers during the time of Mary Queen of Scots - I thought of that quote and of the fact that the castle still belongs to the Lords Bolton. It is still a magnificent building but what must it have looked like in its heyday?
Then, in one of Santas's most welcome gifts, I read a comment by Owen Sheers to the effect that the shared experiences of the generations ultimately helps us with knowledge of ourselves. And it seemed to me that these were all very good reasons to be interested in Family History.
The Family History bug only seems to bite as one gets older; that certainly appears to be true for my family at any rate. Maybe it is only when we reach - and pass - that point where more of our life lies behind us than in front of us that we feel the urge to establish our place in the giant scheme of things. Does this make sense for you too?
The chap in the photograph above is my maternal grandfather, William Everton, always known as Darkie. He has appeared on here before because he was quite an important influence on my very early life - I simply adored him and the feeling was mutual. Born in 1862 he was seventy when I was born but I remember him so well. He was a tall, stately figure, full of humour and always sucking mint imperials because in retirement he lived with his youngest son and his wife, who were Total Abstainer Methodists and Darkie liked a drink.
He would only have attended school until the age of twelve at the most and then would often have been absent during busy farming times. Reading and writing were always hard work for him and when he finally rose to the position of Station Master on the Railways, my grandmother did most of his book work for him.
The previous generation, Darkie's parents, are of course only names on a family tree to me, but I know a little about them - when and where they were born, how many children they had, how many of those children survived, what jobs they did, when they married - and where (this was often governed by where the woman was in service). There was also some anecdote from my mother over the years before she died.
And isn't this how so much is handed down? It might not be absolutely accurate (apart from the fact that it is a wise child that knows its own father) but it is all part of that rich patchwork of knowledge that leads us to establish just where we fit into things.
This has surely been even more true for the previous generations to ours, when social mobility was so much less. Up to my generation all my family were born and lived their entire lives in Lincolnshire.
The farmer's family originated in Dent, which is twenty five miles away from here, where the churchyard is full of Thistlethwaites. The farmer himself was born in the house where we now live and has never lived anywhere else.
Two years ago our village was contacted by some very distant relations who now lived in Australia - and you can't get further away than that - to see if there were still family in our village. Well here we are - and we are in contact now - and in fact they are reading my blog - so if you read this J, then a happy new year to you all - the family is alive and well here in the Yorkshire Dales as it always has been. And knowing that some of that family now live on the other side of the world has added a new rich strand to their history.