Genealogist Amy Johnson Crow has started a genealogy challenge for 2018. "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" is a series of weekly prompts to encourage us to share some of the information about our ancestors that we have accumulated. I love challenges like these - they get me thinking, prompt me to revisit areas of my research I haven't looked at for a while, and encourage me to share my discoveries. When I'm beating my head against a stubborn brick wall, they also help me see just how much I have discovered over the years and how many brick walls I have already overcome.
Amy's Week 1 prompt is 'Start'. We all start our research at various times in our lives and for various reasons. For me, family history research began quite early. I was 16, history was my favourite subject at school, and I came across a book on genealogy in my local library. I was hooked immediately and started asking my parents loads of questions, many of which they couldn't answer. Stories about their lives were many and plentiful - and sometimes slightly embellished - but details about earlier generations were rather sketchy.
I am still surprised to reflect on how little my parents knew, especially my father. His mother's maiden name? No idea. "Never came up", he said. Where were all his siblings born? "Mostly around Mildura I guess - we moved around a fair bit". He did know all their birthdays (he was second youngest of 10 children) but got a few of the years wrong. Grandparents names? Dates and places? He didn't know much, and both his parents had passed away. My paternal grandparents were born and married in England before emigrating to Australia, so Dad's elder siblings were my best source of information, and I wrote numerous letters over the next few years. Looking back I realise how much easier it is today, with the internet, online records and email providing fast - sometimes immediate - answers. Beginning my research back in the 1980's was a much slower process, especially as with Dad's side of the family I was researching overseas immediately.
My mother's side of the family was both harder and easier. My maternal grandmother was still alive when I started my research and she was a wonderful source of information, although again her knowledge of details was rather hit and miss. She came from another big family, one of a dozen children with a couple of half siblings as well. Having that extra generation to question made starting my research much easier, as well as the fact that my maternal ancestors had been in Australia for a few generations. It was when I went back further that life got harder - my paternal ancestors are all English, but on the maternal side I have Irish, Scottish and German as well, and I quickly discovered these could be harder to trace. My one year of high school German was not much help at all with deciphering old handwritten German records.
I made many mistakes during the early years of my research, especially in organisation (or lack of it) and in not documenting my discoveries. It still surprises me to realise that, on and off, I have been researching my family for over 30 years now, and there is still so much to discover. I hope to see how others have responded to Amy's challenge #52Ancestors.