Paternal great grandfather, Maternal grandmother with her father

Take note of what the King said – he had useful advice about beginning

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Alice in Wonderland

This advice is perfect for family historians!

For me, the beginning of my family history journey had its roots in the stories my grandmother told me and the stories I found in the documents I inherited. I have to admit I much prefer the stories of my ancestors to the information about them. Yes, their dates of birth, death, marriage, etc matter but I’d rather know the circumstances of each event, what they were like as people, what decisions they made and the reasons behind their decisions.

When I was writing 5 Ways I Discovered More About My Family and what I wish I had done, one of the first points I made was that every family has a story. It doesn’t matter where your family comes from, or how far back you can trace them, there are always stories to be told. Events which impact a large number of countries and therefore millions of people will often be the background for your family’s stories. Think wars or revolutions, the depression, and natural disasters with tragic outcomes such as famines. But even smaller scale events can be the backdrop for your family history. Weddings, divorces, christenings, births in and out of wedlock, illnesses, migrations and the like are all events which help to document your family, but they are also events which might be the basis for a good story.

Take my family for example. If my maternal great grandfather’s first wife hadn’t died, he probably would have never married my maternal great grandmother. If my maternal great grandfather had not given his first wife a toy revolver as a present, perhaps it would never have accidentally gone off, killing her…Now I’m not sure what a toy revolver is – but those are the words my great aunt used to describe the incident.

Or, if the first wife of my paternal great grandfather hadn’t died, he probably wouldn’t have married her sister, who became my paternal great grandmother. There is definitely a pattern of second wives on both sides of my family.

Now in the first chapter of 5 Ways I Discovered More About My Family and what I wish I had done; I recommend having conversations with family members as soon as possible. Although, for obvious reasons, I never met any of my great grandparents, if I had asked my grandparents or parents about these stories they might have had more information. If I had my time again I would definitely ask more questions, have more conversations and make sure to either note down the replies or record the chats.

Like the King advised in Alice in Wonderland, we all need to begin at the beginning, and often the beginning of a family history journey will be the conversations we have with our parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends of the family. As family historians, it is up to us to capture the stories of our families, and keep going until we reach the end of each trail.

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