You may already know that I usually prefer the term "family history research" to that similar term genealogy.
As a word, genealogy has long related to social privilege, political power, economic inheritance and perceived legitimacy.
For centuries, in many societies, only the rich and powerful had their family trees properly preserved.
Most other people were illiterate and considered of lesser importance.
As a family history researcher, I have had the opportunity to place my ancestors, and myself, in the deeper context of historical, cultural, political, economic, biological, biographical and geographical interconnections. I have thereby more firmly planted historical relevance into my memory, my consciousness and my interactions with the world of today, and of tomorrow.
Family history research can bring the past alive, making it real to us personally.
Our ancestors are within us genetically and emotionally, and possibly even intellectually, creatively, economically and politically.
What have you truly inherited?
It is much easier to observe the present than the past, at least subjectively. We can observe our thoughts. We can observe our emotions. We can observe our needs. We can observe our memories as they filter into our present consciousness. We can observe the obligations, beliefs, attitudes and values we appear to have accumulated during our lives.
Denial of past or present distress, or an inability to communicate that distress in effective and sensitive ways, continues to cause many problems in family relationships, and in societies more widely.
Some people seek to learn more about one side of their family rather than the other. Their reasons for doing so are often highly personal.
Are you mainly exploring your family history for your own interest or to benefit other people in some way?
How you choose to communicate your findings will depend on who will receive the information, and why.
It is difficult to put a family tree together when a particular name is never or rarely mentioned within a family. An abuser, whether charged with a crime or not, will tend to be hated more than loved by at least some family members.
Religious views can often distort true feelings, too, and even prevent the truth from being either revealed or believed.
Not all fathers are good fathers. Not all mothers are good mothers.
Goodness is usually perceived subjectively.
An uncle or grandfather may have been physically abusive. An aunt or cousin may have been domineering. A child may have been constantly ill or constantly aggressive towards siblings. A stepson may have abused a stepsister. A family secret may have been known to some members of the family and not to others. There may have been considerable denial, or even considerable spite.
Through your family history research, are you primarily seeking to put your mind at rest in some way, or are you mainly seeking to excite your mind through the enjoyable pursuit of curiosity and discovery, and possibly even a deeper sense of identity and belonging?
Where is your current home? Where is your homeland? Are you currently looking for somewhere to call home?
Do you consider all these questions and themes to be political?
Family history research is about real connections. In a fragmented world, superficial connections, family conflicts and widespread societal distrust can often lead to uncertainty, loneliness, disillusionment and misery.
Family history research can put the pieces of our personal identities back together again, in beautifully peaceful ways.
That may sound too ambitious to you, especially if you have, or have had, at least one malicious relative.
All malice is political.
Family history research is often highly emotional. It includes many frustrations, surprises and sometimes even shocks.
How are you feeling at present?
Your family history research may have already taught you something about the ancestors still within you. It may also have given you valuable insights into the world as you personally live in it today, with the historical inheritance passed on to you through your ancestors.
But what, in fact, is your political inheritance and how do you attempt to understand it?
What do the words lest we forget mean to you?
There may be aspects of the past you are trying to forget. You may have traumatic memories. Your family members may have traumatic memories. Your friends may have traumatic memories.
Structural unfairness is often perpetuated in the present by people who either do not understand history or have enjoyed an excessively privileged, or selfish, life themselves.
Much selfishness is malicious though not necessarily. It may merely be due to ignorance.
What, if anything, has your family history research taught you about the need for structural changes in economics, society and politics?
I am grateful, in a way, that my family history reveals that none of my ancestors came from a world of privilege. They were not excessively reckless or careless, either. They were ordinary, modest, hardworking and, for the most part, honest and brave. I hope they were also mostly happy. It seems, from what I have gathered, that they were often cheerful, even in the face of adversity.
But I am always suspicious about the reasons for outward cheerfulness.
Are you aware of the dangers posed by superficial charm and fake friendliness?
Although I would never wish to destroy the best of the past - the beauty of its cultural and natural heritage - there are many unpleasant aspects of history we can certainly use to improve the lives of people today. Knowing our family histories in the broader context of social, cultural and political history can assist us to understand the present and shape the future.
How have you been approaching your ancestors today, through your knowledge and imagination? And why are you interested in learning more about their lives?
Which aspects of my research are most likely to be relevant to your own research interests, and why?
Exploring genealogy is often a time-consuming activity. It is also one I have found to possess deeply satisfying emotional rewards I cannot yet explain.
My ancestors could not enjoy exploring history in the same way as I do. They were too busy struggling to survive, as many people still are doing in the world today.
How do you distinguish between doing and being?
If something I have written has been of assistance to you and/or your organisation, or you can be of some possible assistance to me, please let me know.
You may already know that I prefer to ignore attention-seekers and other discourteous persons.
How do you decide who and what is worthy of your time and attention?
How do you usually think about the political aspects of your priorities?
When looking at images in holiday brochures and tourism websites, and then comparing those presentations of a place with political news of the same location, where is the truth?
Who gives validity to your opinions and who challenges your point of view, and how, and why?
How does the media shape your attitudes, perceptions and plans, and your attitudes towards history and family life?
How do you make comparisons between cultural history and political history?
People move from one country to another, or from one part of a country to another, for economic reasons, military reasons, political ones, and for emotional reasons.
How do you think about history, genealogy and politics via migration?
Family history allows us to understand the world beyond the narrow influence of politicians and military leaders. With empathy, we can gain insights into suffering in ways far more humane than impersonally presented statistics.
How do the various branches of your family compare in social, economic and political terms?
All sides of my family have been associated with relative poverty in one generation or another, and from one generation to the next. They never had consistent prosperity, or any true economic comfort. They rarely had any political or economic power at all.
I have no idea whether anyone in my family history had any direct involvement in politics, or violence.
Two family members were known to be professional soldiers: a great-uncle on my mother's side and a great-great-uncle on my father's side. They died in the Second World War and the First World War respectively.
Most of my ancestors had little, if any, education. They had no political power and no access to wealth, except through the organisations with which they may have been associated.
My 18th and 19th century ancestors in England would probably have known little about the politics of England, even if they had the ability to read newspapers, and the money and time to do so.
My ancestors in Belgium would have been unlikely to have had their names in the Almanach de Gotha.
None of my British or Irish ancestors would have had their names in Burke's Peerage, or even Burke's Commoners.
As far as I know, all my ancestors, including the ones living in London, were law-abiding persons, whether they were citizens or not.
Like any large city, London has probably always had political violence, police corruption and organised crime, whether in relation to immigrant groups or those originating inside Britain. Criminals from Britain have also exported themselves elsewhere, or been exported against their will.
All criminality is political.
Of course, the excessive use of force or hubris by persons acting on behalf of a government or a monarch is unfortunately not new or unusual.
As far as I am aware, through my explorations of history, militant political disruption in London in the early 20th century was mainly a consequence of actions by suffragettes and anarchists.
But who was there to provide a peaceful, moderate approach to the future?
One of the reasons given for allowing women the vote was to provide a moral impetus for better, more caring, less corrupt governments and societies. Now, everyone is too busy to hold abusers to account.
The use of violent tactics by non-state groups and individuals in London and elsewhere is nothing new. Nor is the scandalous abuse of power.
My email address is: writetovia (at) gmail . com