Family

Mortality, legacy and family history – UPDATED

February 2018 – back again! I have updated the blog with some corrections derived from a recent course in family history (look for cherry red text).

In July, I wrote about my own transition to retirement and the associated challenges I faced when I left the “me” defined by work to become the new me. Many readers have asked for some more personal information, so here are some musings about mortality, legacy and family history.

MERE MORTAL

Have you noticed that the older we get, the more interested we become in our past? I guess it’s because we start to realise the ephemeral nature of our body. Understanding and accepting that I won’t be around forever is slowly dawning on me. When I hear radio announcers talk about the long term implications of global warming, I think of it in terms of my children and their children. I recently heard some people talking about planning for 2050. I’ll be 95!!! So I do care about the future, but perhaps more in a legacy way than ever.

MY LEGACY (1)

So that gets me thinking about what I will leave behind. What will I be remembered for? I have lived through staggering changes in technology and if those advances continue, then even this blog will be a microdot in the greater seed bank of e-storage.

I enjoy writing. Should I write a book? Should I research my family history so my children have a starting point for their older-person-urge to encapsulate their “I was here” experience

Art textile villageI enjoy creating with yarn. Should I capture my life in a stitched picture?

I can’t paint or draw, so that’s out. But I can read aloud very well – should I make an audio recording? Oh, and what audio format will survive?

Perhaps I’ll start with a little chunk of immediate family history.

 MY FRACTURED FAMILY

As one of three children, I grew up as an only child.

“Che?” I hear you ask. Well, I was the centre of my parents’ universe for about 16 years. I often mused about what it would be like to have a sister or brother. Then, one night, while standing at the sink drying the dishes that my father was washing,  my father told me that my “aunty” Anita was actually my half sister. Born in the UK, I had spent my first nine years thinking she was my aunty – she wasn’t much older than me, but she seemed so much more grown-up. I would spend time with her when we visited my  father’s parents in Sheffield and she and I would play dress-ups. Turns out that my father’s parents raised her after his first marriage collapsed. So to find out in my teens (now living thousands of miles away in Australia) that this girl was really my father’s other daughter was amazing and I was really cross with him for not letting me know earlier. Now, in 2017, she is living in the US, and while we correspond around Christmas each year, it’s not really like getting to know her.

Then…..when I left home and moved to a job in Melbourne, my mother visited me and announced that she had been contacted by her first-born through the Jigsaw organisation! What? Yes, she had been pregnant when she met my father, in the UK. My father married her, but she was not able to keep her baby. Oh there was so much that she wanted me to say, and I know I disappointed her with my reaction, but I couldn’t get my head around it – why had she waited so long to tell me????? Again, I was cross and felt I had missed an opportunity to connect with a biological sibling. I met him once, in Australia, under my mother’s very stringent controls.  David and I now connect via FaceBook, but again, it’s not the real deal!

So, as an only child who longed for company, it turned out I had not one, but two siblings.Sketch of tree with (family) faces

MY LEGACY (2)

So how can I ensure that these precious people are not lost in my history? A family tree perhaps? Both parents have passed now and taken a heap of information with them. I have dabbled in online family research but have not been very successful.

MY FAMILY HISTORY – 50% straight forward; 50% mysterious

My mother, Mollie, descended from a long line of English, Scottish and Irish ancestors. Most remarkable was that she was the second-born (her older brother died at birth) of a second-born daughter (Alice’s older brother also died at birth). Then, as it turns out, I was also the second girl-child following the birth of my brother.

On the other hand, my dad, Robert,  was the youngest of five boys and was born in India where his father was an officer in the British Army. Bobbie (as my grandmother used to refer to him) grew up in the care of house staff and when he relocated to the UK at age 17, he carried with him an interesting accent – a little colonial with an Indian lilt at times. I recall my grandmother as a stern-looking woman who had a large oval birthmark on her cheek. As a little girl, I was reminded not to stare, but it was so hard to look at her and not focus on the large mark. (UPDATE February 2018 – I came across a photo of my grandmother and have to say that the little-girl me was wrong – the mark on my grandmother’s face was really small – isn’t it interesting how our young minds work?)

We would visit my grandparents in Sheffield for Sunday lunch, which was invariably hot, hot curry. My memories are a bit faded but I do recall that the house emanated a rich, spicy odour, which turned my stomach because I dreaded the reaction when I was unable to  I eat the spicy food. I recall my grandmother’s look of disapproval as I was excused from the table, having eaten a tiny bit of dhal; she would mutter under her breath with a thick Anglo-Indian accent that I was hard-pressed to understand – but I know it wasn’t complimentary.

I recall my grandfather as a very tall man, with rigid bearing and a tiny moustache. Not sure we ever exchanged any words!

On a good Sunday, my cousins would also be there. They were all boys, much older than me, with really dark skin and thick black hair. Two of them loved to design very complicated “things” which they constructed with Meccano sets. I was in awe of them and just a little bit  shy in their presence. They were so confidant and clearly favoured by my grandparents. My uncles (my father’s four brothers) were variously black or grey haired, with again very tanned faces and hands. Their wives were all English women.(UPDATE February 2018 – have just completed a course dealing with family history and I now suspect these aunties may have not been English – at least one uncle married while still in India!)

The only bright spot of the weekend visit was when Anita was there and she and I would go into the toy cupboard and emerge in all sorts of dress-up gear. She insisted I be the bride, or the princess, and somewhere I have a photo of us in our get-up. (Note to self: find this photo for the kids).

MY LEGACY (3)

So how to trace these genes? My father used to muse that his mother, Edna,  was the daughter of a rich Indian doctor who married an English girl. (UPDATE February 2018 – looks as though this was not correct. While the Ancestry.com records confirm that Edna’s father was an assistant surgeon in the army, his beautiful wife Adeliza was in fact from a Bengal family). I have been told that, back in the day, people of Anglo-Indian descent were regarded as less equal than the Brits; so we didn’t discuss her background.  I have a photograph of my grandmother and her brother as children sitting with some rather beautiful Egyptian-looking adults. Such a mystery! Apparently Edna’s husband, my grandfather, Karl, also had a secret heritage. With a German surname, Langner, there were mutterings that he may have been a Jewish refugee. (UPDATE February 2018 – there are so many ‘Langner’ men in family records, but my research is suggesting it’s likely he was born in Poland. So, how did he get to India?) While we were still living in England, Karl died of a heart attack in the shower. I remember visualising him falling over stark naked and thinking this was really funny – ah the imagination of a five-year old. At his funeral, my father broke down and sobbed – it was the only time I ever saw my father lose his poise and I felt a bit frightened.

My mother’s lineage is much simpler – she was the daughter of a Yorkshire coal miner, Wilf, who I recall very vaguely. Wilf climbed the company ladder and retired as a respected supervisor “in’t pit”. He also died when I was five – he had devastating lung cancer. My grandmother, Alice, was a resilient Yorkshire woman who later in life remarried and migrated to Australia. She died in her nineties from old age. Her second husband, George, followed soon after, succumbing to cancer.

So I have siblings, both of whom are about a year older than me. Rob fathered Anita. I don’t know who Anita’s mother was. Mollie mothered David. I do know the name of David’s father. Perhaps I need to ask them if they have done any familial digging. What do you think?

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