I am an archaeologist and historian by profession and my passion for the past has, for the last 20 years at least, also extended to my own family history. I confess that most of my research over the years has been intermittent but I’ve still collected enough information to take a branch of my family tree back to the early 17th century. It might sound like I’ve cracked it but in reality I’ve barely scratched the surface and I realise that my best efforts to complete what I started will probably never happen. I actually don’t mind. I’m sure some of my family, present and future, will take up the ’cause’.
I guess my interest gained a focus after taking an evening course in family history at Salisbury College in the 1980s. I decided to take a scatter gun approach to researching my ancestors, following every branch of the McConnell tree to avoid the disappointment of an abrupt cul de sac. I was encouraged to do this by the course leader who reminded the class that we are all equally descended from both our paternal and maternal sides and not just our father’s lineage. Just as well as the McConnells fell into a hazy illegitimate blood line less than a hundred years ago!
My idea for this blog is to commit all my research both past and present to ‘paper’ and share this with my family and friends. They may be interested, they may not but I would like to think the story is interesting enough to merit an occasional read, if only to look at the family photos. For my part, I feel the need to record what I’ve found out so far, not because I’m rapidly becoming an ancestor myself but mostly because technology now allows anyone to publish their ramblings so easily and from literally anywhere (I’m writing this section on my iPhone in a hospital cafe in Salisbury and a back street cafe in Okehampton).
The great thing about family history for me is a sense of belonging and being connected in a world where modern life changes on an exponential scale. I strongly believe, rightly or wrongly, such a connection somehow anchors our lives and gives context to all the generations of ancestors that have gone before. To me, it’s not about a race to go back into history as far as I can (despite my boast above) but to learn about the lives of my family – their hopes, their ambitions and sometimes, their fears and sorrow. I was lucky enough to get some information through my grandparents and other relations when they were alive who regaled me with their memories and recollections of their lives and those of their ancestors. I can’t emphasise enough how my chats with them proved invaluable in helping shape a picture of family that I never knew but were connected to me. Sadly, I have more questions now than I did then and I fear that intimate knowledge of family will be lost forever. Still, I hope I have captured enough of these stories to do their memory justice.
Enough about the philosophy…my next blog will set the scene for the McConnell family tree and introduce the various branches of ancestors. I will also talk about some of the research tools that I use, both the traditional books and records that I thumb through as well as some of the high-tech sources and devices that we now have at our disposal.