Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Conversations with a cousin

Last night, as I was skulling around Facebook, I came across a gem: a conversation with a cousin, a far away cousin removed from me not only by the distance but also time. We're also removed from each other because of family secrets, events that happened so long ago that even we can't separate fact from fiction since the stories are not talked about, hushed up, too painful to bring to the surface.

Am I being cryptic enough for you? I don't want to dredge up bad memories and pain for my family, but I will say that we have a colourful history, of first loves, of loss, of choices coloured by judgment. I am my mother's daughter and she her mother's daughter. Her sister is her mother's daughter too, but not from the same paternal line as my mother.

A number of years ago, my uncle and I decided to write down, draw out our family tree, more to understand it than to remember it. We all have our memories. My second cousin, last night, admitted that he knows less about his family tree, his beginnings than he'd like. "I know more about my mother's side of my family than my dad's," he said. It's sad, especially since he comes from a long line of pretty awesome people - myself included. My aunt is his gran. His dad is my first cousin and there is about 30 years separating me from my first cousin. He also admitted that while he knew we were cousins, he didn't know where or how we fit, where we intersected on the family tree.

The older I get the more I find it important to know where you come from, to know your lineage and the stories of the people who came before and shaped your path. Genealogy is even bigger now than it was when I first put pen to paper with my uncle to trace our roots when I was 10. I was interested then and I'm even more interested now. And, I was sad and more than a little disappointed to think the younger generation would not be privvy to these stories, these histories - it's the indifference that saddens me the most.

Family histories, stories will be lost, if not written down, if not spoken. He knows nothing of our families' past and the people who make up our fabric. Isobella (Gran or GT), Christina, Nora, Ann, May, Tom and George - these names will not mean anything. To Cousin Ross, living in Tasmania and working as a dentist, they will be a whisper on the wind, a thread in a tapestry so rich that to lose it would be a disservice. 

I know of what I speak. As a daughter of an only son, my connection to my dad's side of the family is just as precarious as Ross', simply because the effort was not there to remember. Sure, I remember my grandmother, my grandfather's brother, his wife and daughter, but that's where it ends. It ends because people did not think it important enough to maintain contact or even to document it. It's a lineage unexplored and it's sad.

Cousin Ross asked for a copy of the original family tree started all those years before. We have more to add, so I will do that before passing it along to him, and hopefully it will enlighten him and encourage him to explore all sides of his family, no matter how many skeletons he may or may not uncover. I know I will be sitting down with both of my parents to ask questions about my lineage, their childhood and the family members who came before them. If we knew where we came from, perhaps it will shed some light as to where we are headed, and how we became the people we did.


  1. Yep. I once asked my dad about our family, and he said, It's none of your business. I guess the stories were bad. Now he's gone and I'll never know.

  2. It's amazing how this need arises as you get older. Is it because we are starting to feel our own mortality or, is it because we want to make sure that someone can tell our story when we're gone.

  3. I think it's a bit of both, Mim.

    Maybe it's best you didn't know anything, Anasatan. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. Not always, but sometimes.

  4. Sometimes I think it's best to know where you came from and the people than to learn nothing and repeat the same mistakes. I for one will never sit out on a back porch with a shotgun and take aim at my daughter's suitors (if I had a daughter) nor hide money in the walls of my house only to die and leave it all there for someone besides my family members to find. Asswipe. (Good old Granddad)