Wednesday, 15 April 2020
One of my more insensitive friends once told me that genealogical research was akin to train spotting. Rubbish. Family history research requires the instincts of an ace detective and a fascination for knowledge about our historical context.
Would I have taken such an interest in the causes of the First World War and the horrors it caused had I not learnt that my maternal grandfather, Arthur J. G. Cox, was gassed on the Western Front in 1917? Probably not. Would I have learnt anything about airships if I hadn't discovered that my other grandfather, John S. Richardson, had been chief inspector on the famous R34 airship? No. Would I know anything about the shocking Highland clearances in Scotland if several of my wife’s ancestors not be driven from their homes by greedy land owners anxious to replace people with sheep? Not likely.
Now tell me what I would have learnt about life if I had spent my days gathering locomotive numbers? Nothing of historical importance.
Friday, 10 April 2020
Modern society’s broad acceptance of cohabiting couples and children born out of wedlock is creating a severe headache for genealogists who love to see their ancestors’ families neatly laid out.
Previous ages, though often dominated by strict church dogma, had more than their share of de facto marriages and births judged to be “illegitimate”, but nothing compares with the present time.
One of my friends had three marriages and at least two settled cohabiting relationships. Another friend married the same woman twice with a divorce and a 10-year gap between the marriages. And I know of another man who married the same woman twice with a divorce and another marriage and divorce in between.
These examples of multiple relationships are raising serious challenges for family historians. At what point, for example, does a sexual relationship become formally recognised? Is it when they move in together? When they have been together, say, for a year? When they get married, if they ever do?
It’s a nightmare.
Then there is the related issue of homosexual relationships, both male and female. If a same-sex couple moves into an established relationship, should that become part of the family tree, no matter how messy it might be judged in genealogical terms? I think it should. So, what would I then do if a lesbian relative not only married another woman, but with the aid of artificial insemination, had children? Would I skirt around the subject and write “father unknown”? And finally, what should go on the family tree when a traditional male-female couple have a child whose natural father was a sperm donor?
Questions, questions, questions. But no simple answers.
The book resulting from a story I stumbled across while researching my family history: