26 June 2019

The Politics of Family History - Part Three

I do not yet know how many parts there will be in this series.  The topic may be far larger than I initially imagined it would be.

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.

History has taught me that various, current inequalities in the world usually derive from those of the past.  This particularly applies to structural inequalities.

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.


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My email address is:  writetovia  (at) gmail . com

19 June 2019

The Politics of Family History - Part Two

Social interactions and differing cultural experiences sometimes make people aware that there are many differing perceptions and attitudes in the world.  There are also many differing expressions of daily life, ambitions, the arts, religion and political ideologies, of course, yet many individuals have difficulty coping with the fact that other people think, and prefer to behave, differently than themselves.

How did you respond to part one in this series?

What are the features of a normal way of life, in your view?

How do you define politics?

How "normal" is your life?

How political is your life?

Usually, I define politics simply - as competing views about fairness and unfairness. 

How do you imagine my politics? 

How do you incorporate political issues into your family history narratives?

Here are a few of my earlier blog posts you may find relevant to your own investigations into the politics of family history and politics in family history:

Finding great grandparents

The age of reflecting on age

Staffordshire miner becomes Prime Minister of Australia

The working lives of ancestors

Lily of Lawley Common

Liberty, Normandy June 1944

A Shropshire lad called Harry

Superstitions and traditions

Treasure troves

My fair ancestors in Mayfair

The importance of being earnest with Alice in wonderland

Our changing perceptions and opinions

A genealogical look around

Shropshire pit girls and wenches

Italian migrants and their family histories in Australia

Discovering Shropshire history

Work. literacy, poverty and conscription

15 June 2019

The Politics of Family History - Part One

Every family history has its political sides.

How have you examined the various sides of yours?

Your own year of birth is probably very important to you, as might be life's significant milestones.

How do wider social and political events feature in your personal history, and your family's story?

Do you think mainly in terms of issues, events, chronology, experiences or philosophy when thinking about the past?

Have you made a serious study of important years in history from your own genealogical perspective?

My husband's family history contains several political issues that are difficult to write about in a public way. 

My own ancestors, as far as I am aware, were not at all politically active, politically suspect, or politically oppressed (except by their poverty).

I have taken much more of an active interest in politics than my parents, grandparents and siblings.  I sometimes wonder if there are any secret dossiers anywhere about me!

How were any of your ancestors' lives shaped by politics?

You may think that genealogy is one of the most intrusive forms of pastime.  It unveils secrets.  It dismantles carefully built images.  It brings indiscretions to light.  It reveals injustices.  It opens emotional wounds, and perhaps also heals them.

Have you ever discovered some surprising things that have been said or written about you, or that you feel have invaded your privacy or portray you inaccurately?

Are your own accounts of people and the past perfectly accurate and unbiased? 

Exploring the wider context of our ancestors' lives can enrich the story as we weave it, slowly and consistently seeing the picture develop before us. 

How strong is your connection to the past, and to the future?

How political is that connection?

How are the cultural and political backgrounds of your ancestors intertwined?

Does your family history involve changing national or regional boundaries and political upheavals?

Perceptions and opinions can suddenly be challenged by new information, not just in family and community life, but also during travels, and when examining economic and political issues.

How do you try to influence beliefs about certainty?

When we do research, whoever we may be, whether in our own families, in academia, in business, in politics, in our hobbies and in our travels, we are often mostly interested in satisfying our own curiosity.  The difference in some cases, however, is that we can help to redress an injustice, bring to light the truth, and generally contribute to making the world a better place.

Are you aware of a Staffordshire miner who became Prime Minister of Australia?

He was not one of my relatives though his early life had many similar characteristics to my own family history.

How do you distinguish between ends and means in life itself, and when examining political history?

How do you think about the politics of special times?

How do you think about uncertainty, rejection and art in relation to history and politics?

When, if ever, have your family history experiences, and your other family circumstances, involved seeking justice?

Family history, local history, social history, cultural history, economic history and political history are often intertwined.

You may like to read some of my other, earlier blog posts, if you have not done so already:




09 May 2019

Family Problems and Family History

You may be aware that I have spend a great deal of time investigating my husband's family history as well as my own.

Exploring the truth of the past can help to uncover the facts about long-standing resentments.

Do you have a relative whose life has been filled with bitterness about an event from long ago?

Are you related to someone who has never been able to let go of a past injustice, allowing it to infest all their subsequent social encounters?

Do you have a family member whose obsession with the disappointments in their own life have diminished the joy in your life?

Have the prejudices of people in your family harmed your relationships?

Have you studied your family history to try to understand why those people think as they do?

25 December 2018

Finding a Real Home

In London in the 19th century, as far as I am aware, most of my immediate family were not the poorest of the poor.  They were certainly not the richest of the rich, either.

On Charles Booth's maps my London ancestors usually fitted somewhere between light blue, purple and pink.  The comfortable middle classes and wealthy upper classes would probably have considered the residences of my ancestors to have been slums, if they had bothered to inform themselves about such matters.


24 December 2018

Comfortable with Nature

Did you enjoy spending time quietly reading and looking at pictures when you were a child, like I did?

I never enjoyed school.  It was too regimented and noisy and crowded for me.  I never saw the point of it, really.  I thought school was a place where you were mainly meant to obey the teacher.  I had no idea I was meant to learn anything there.

Did you enjoy spending time exploring nature on your own as a child, like I did?

I was probably lucky to grow up surrounded by green fields and big trees and country lanes in the middle of England, with trips to the seaside of several weeks duration every year. 


23 December 2018

A Family Yarn

When thinking about the manufacture of textiles, do you also think of yarn?

When thinking of sewing, do you also think of thread?

Linen is made from flax

Damask linen is made on a Jacquard loom.

Do you know much about the history of Irish linen?

Do you own any Irish linen?

Have you been to the Irish Linen Centre in Lisburn?

Have you ever lived in a model village associated with the production of a particular product? 

20 December 2018

Ancestors and their Speech Communities

Even if you have little awareness of the origins of language, you will probably be aware that there have been many different languages, accents, dialects and speech communities in the world.

What would your ancestors have sounded like?

I have already written briefly about the sound of ancestors.