Why do we never ask? We never seem to when we are young, when every tale would be of chest hugging breathless excitement, we never do when cutting edge teens and the world is there for the taking. There’s never time when coping with ‘grown up affairs’. Then we stand in contemplation of our own fragility, wishing to know how strong are our roots and we turn to ask, to be met with silence.
Maybe the young of today, with the increase in and ease of, family history research, will ask the questions, with old age being pushed further into the future, maybe the oldies will be around and articulate for long enough. Maybe our histories will be recorded. I hope so.
Way back when I was young, children were not encouraged to ask questions, parents were often loath to talk of the past - it had not been good with a depression, a world war, and austerity. Look to the future. So many missing family members and many injured in mind and body - look to the future. But we are products of our past as well.
From the age of 7 until 17 the two grandmothers lived upstairs in their own self contained flat. We shared the front door, the stairs and the garden. I loved them dearly and spent many happy hours with them but they died leaving me very unaware of their lives.
Two great aunts lived a few miles away in south London and we visited them on a regular basis and they spent every Christmas with us. We also visited many times the various folk we called aunt or uncle (my parents were only children!) in the Midlands and in Wales. So little did we find out about them.
In the later part of my life I have been looking back as we often do and pondering the gaps. Children being seen not heard, merely compounded the fact that my grandparents come from the 1800’s with the reserve and privacy that went with their time and social position, my parents born of middle aged parents (both grannies in their 40s) and both being single children learnt their own privacy. However I increasingly hear from my generation this lamentation over the missing stories.
I have gleaned over the years some facts, some family stories. I have hoarded them greedily with the un-labeled black and white photos and memories of elderly feet and fashion. I hav incomplete knowledge of family feuds, more by the silences than the details. I learnt how some married women behaved and discovered how there must be a gene of stubborn running through the female line!
I began running a ‘Living History Group’ about seven or eight years ago and I keep repeating my mantras.
Get your stories down.
Get them down in a book of some sorts.
(Not loose paper, don't rely on some mysterious cloud which actually depends on electricity to be accessed.)
A book, with a decent cover one, which will stand up in a book case.
(When house clearance after death occurs very little will remain unless it looks important.)
Record your stories, present your life to the future.