Saturday, 29 January 2011

Hey, kids, look what I've just found out about Grandad!

Thomas MacEntee recently suggested on Facebook that we should talk to our children about genealogy. I've been talking to my children about genealogy since 1985. Their eyes glaze over at the mere mention of the word. They believe compulsory childhood tours of graveyards were a form of child abuse. I may soon be arrested!

My husband shows his love by recognising my need to share family history stories and accepting that he will be the main audience. But even when the stories are about his own ancestors he sets firm time limits. Exceed ten minutes and he adopts the strategy of the 1950s People reporter: "I made my excuses and left". On our very first journey together I took him to Tipton, of all places. Whilst I photographed a gravestone, he made the unwelcome acquaintance of an old man in a ginger wig. He is still traumatised by the experience.


Tipton, Sandwell, West Midlands


My husband and son also speak bitterly of the time I booked a holiday in Scotland and forgot to tell them it was an old ancestral stamping ground. They didn't seem to appreciate that the holiday cottage was on an estate once owned by my family. Surely that made up for the owner being a control freak, personally trained by the Stasi? And I truly believe that, in amongst all the touristy stuff, one teeny graveyard visit a day was not excessive. The two hours I spent in the graveyard in Broughty Ferry were an aberration. They didn't have to wait lunch for me. And in any case they were in a pub. Since when did British men complain about spending two hours in a pub?


Fishermen's graveyard Brought Ferry


The family member with the most interest in genealogy is my dear mother. She implanted my love of history when I was tiny. She told me all the family stories over tea time toast and honey. In the early days we even shared research trips to London. But now, aged 91, even she has her limits. If I witter on too much after Sunday lunch, I can see she is thinking longingly about her nap.

Which is where the distant cousins come in, bless them. Those wonderful souls who have also inherited the recessive genealogical gene. Those co-addicts who would rather spend their days with a microfilm reader than visit the sights of London or Edinburgh. We email each other with discoveries in the middle of the night. We compete to follow up on a new research lead. We argue over possible ancestral motivation and bond over shared ancestral secrets. And, when we finally meet, we always have something to talk about.


  1. Similar memories for me. My daughter once showed a friend our holiday photos - a wonderful set of headstones.

  2. Sharon - that had me laughing out loud. So true! I usually do manage to fit a few tourist shots in amongst the gravestones and ancestral houses, though!

  3. How true it is... I went to visit my daughter in Germany last may, who had found out she was pregnant. I thought a nice German name would be in order for the new baby. There was a cemetery nearby, so I had her stop and we went through looking at headstones for German names. I also enjoyed the whole visit as each grave marker and plot was made like a garden. Very different from when I surveyed my Texas neighborhood cemeteries. The kids have those experiences as well.

  4. My family is the same. My sister is pretty good at listening, but I've learned when to change the subject! Every time I bring up a new find to my daughter she just politely smiles and nods her head (I'm sure she is mentally rolling her eyes thinking "here we go again!"). I recently mentioned to my boss that the next time I go visit the family it will be in the summer so that I can go check out cemeteries. He said that I definately have a different concept of tourist spots than most people do!

  5. That's why I love my genea-pals - they understand my passion/mania.
    Thankfully Mr Geniaus loves cemeteries so is happy to wander with me.

  6. I'm pleased you have some equally-addicted cousins to share with (and there are us who read your blog too). Everyone in my house knows what "fancy a picnic?" means to me - graveyard! Jo :-)