22 June 2017

Images of the World through Genealogy

Antwerp 1572
When we have the chance to travel, even if it is only though being invited into part of the life and imagination of a neighbour or visitor or colleague or writer, or perhaps even an ancestor, we see the world differently than usual.

How do you perceive the world?

Who do you invite into your life and imagination, and why, and how?

What are the usual images of your world and where do you usually source them?

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?

Social interaction and different cultural experiences sometimes make people aware that there are many different perceptions, attitudes and expressions of daily life, ambitions, the arts, religion and political ideologies. No two people are quite the same, even if they are twins.  Yet some minds are more open than others to that point of view.

When looking at images in holiday brochures of a place and comparing the presentation there with political news of the same place, where is the truth?

How do you make comparisons between cultural history and political history?

How have your images of the world changed through an understanding of genealogy?

Your perceptions of the world may have changed in some way since beginning your family history search.  Have you documented those changes?

Has your image of yourself changed as a consequence of those perceptions?

Has your attitude towards history, the present and the future changed through your genealogical research?

Do you view your ancestors as if they are stereotypical characters or as if they have full personalities and active minds, just like you do?

My husband has often perceived events and experiences differently than I have.  I am sure our family members and other people in our lives perceive situations differently, too.  I know my mother does, and my mother-in-law.  When all four of us have been together somewhere, we perceive the situation differently.

London 1896
We all bring our own prior experiences, preferred routines and current tastes and attitudes to our perceptions of the world.  Our perceptions of art and photography and maps and logistics, and to the news we hear and read, are all shaped by our differences more so than our commonality.

Without accurate knowledge of the past, it is difficult to observe the world with accuracy in the present.  I know how muddled my own mind can be at times.

Soho, London
Images and imaginings of earlier lives in different parts of the world are rarely as accurate as first-hand experiences of times, places and people.  Yet how accurate are your perceptions of your own life?

How well do you know how each of your known ancestors experienced life?  Did they believe their way of life was normal and ordinary or somehow special?

The media can distort images of places and people considerably, as can various academic views of the world.  All experts have a partial view, not a complete one.  Even historians look at the world as if it is a series of still life images, strung together with a narrative.  And all narratives, like paintings, maps and photographs, are selective.

History books are written from the point of view of the authors, and possibly even their senior colleagues and editors.  Advertising and other forms of publicity and promotion can distort images, too, as can government propaganda and other unreasonable forms thinking and communicating.

I can never have first-hand experience of the way of life of my ancestors, or of anyone else for that matter.  I can only have my own experiences and my own point of view.  I can compare my point of view with people like Osias Beert the Elder.

It is difficult enough trying to understand the pleasures enjoyed and difficulties faced by people living today.  Some of those persons happen to be my close and distant relatives.  I know they struggle at times to understand me!

Even so, I do my best to discover how the lives of other people might differ from my own, and how they might be similar.  We all need to eat and sleep and pay the bills somehow.

And I am sure many generations of my Flemish ancestors experienced a peasant wedding at one time or another, just like Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Are you a local history expert, or a relevant expert of some other historical kind?  That was the first question I asked when I began this blog in January 2009.  

I had actively begun my family history research just over a year earlier.  In late 2007, I sought to provide my mother with a suitable Christmas gift, namely a much fuller picture of the early life experiences of her own mother.  Little did either of us know where that journey would lead.

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I especially appreciate historical insights.