Tracing my family history carries away time like seagulls at a beach-side picnic table. Mostly, there’s only a crumb to be found for the time spent in researching, but each of those crumbs adds up to a small bite of the past.
I recently experienced the joy of connecting with a cousin I had no idea existed and, after initial contact via the Internet, met her in person. The coincidences in our lives – places of residence, past and present, family birthdays, and family situations – had us shaking our heads in amazement. She’s part of a different line of the family and had information I was keen for and vice versa, which we’ve happily shared.
My cousin embarked on the genealogy journey twenty years ago. She did not have the ease of researching on the World Wide Web. Whereas, apart from visits to a couple of cemeteries, to talk to the headstones of dead ancestors, I’ve done most of my research while sitting in front of the computer. Resources abound in the virtual world, though finding the relevant information can be time-consuming and frustrating.
Entering names, dates and places into my family tree, I can’t help but marvel at the ways of the Universe. Dates, both birth and departure from the past-present, repeat. Towns and suburbs of residence repeat down through generations. Both sides of my family contain gold-seeker ancestors. And where have I chosen to live? In an old gold-mining town, slap bang in the middle of the two major towns where my forebears lived, searching for the illusive glitter of gold. It makes me ponder the belief of reincarnation.
A recent discovery found me out at the local cemetery. Having lived here for nearly two decades, this was the first I knew of a great uncle buried just out of town. Standing at his graveside, I yearned for his ghost to appear. Who was he, this man who worked with cyanide in the gold extraction process? Did his career choice lead to what I’m guessing was a painful death, at the age of forty-eight, his stomach invaded by the deadly chemical? Where in town did he live? Why did he never marry? Was there ever a love of his life? And, why is he buried so far from his siblings and parents, interred with a good mate, another single man? Was this man the love of his life?
No headstone marks the grave, merely a family name, not my family’s name, stamped into the weathered curbing that surrounds the plot. The top of the grave is a crazy-paving of broken concrete, grass softening the ragged edges. Buried some years before, my great uncle’s grave was opened for his friend to join him in the long sleep.
I’ve since discovered that a relative of the other family still lives in town. I’m gathering my courage to knock on her door.
Despite the wealth of information available in the virtual world, there is still so much that can only be discovered by physical, rather than virtual research. It’s time I let my legs instead of my fingers do the walking.