26 May 2011

Tracing the Ancestors

This picture shows my Grandfather, but whatever happened to his father?

Tracing the Ancestors

A few years ago I decided to trace my paternal ancestors. What I didn’t know was that other family members had decided to do the same. That’s the advantage of everyone owning computers.

Following the births, marriages and deaths was interesting but it wasn’t long before we reached an impasse. Let me explain.

The family name terminated with my great grandmother when it was discovered that she never married and thus still bore her maiden name. The family tree shows that she had five children, two boys and three girls. The first was born in 1873, the second in 1874, the third in 1876, the next in 1877, and the last in 1878.

The poor woman must have been worn out.

The children were christened with their father’s surname, assuming it was his real name, but he mysteriously disappeared in the annals of time and the name with him.

Who the heck was he?

My cousins and I searched the genealogical archives to no avail. We were in communication with others bearing the same surname but there were no leads to my great-grandfather. We didn’t know what he did for a living and there was no trace of his birth or his death. We got to fantasising about him and between us we came up with some laughable and horrific ideas. Never let it be said that this generation of cousins have no sense of imagination.

This was my favourite. As I said, there were five children of the liaison with my great-grandmother which suggests that the relationship must have been fairly stable for a good length of time. We knew that great-grandmother was in service so we dreamed up the idea that great-grandfather might have been the son of gentry who had an ongoing illicit affair with the servant girl. If that was the case would he want the world to know? Could they have been given an assumed name. It seems likely since there is no trace of the name before his children arrived on the scene. And yet all the kids had birth certificates to prove who they were.

Great-grandmother must have been a remarkable woman to raise five kids in that era.

If great-grandfather was a single man in a noted family I can imagine his parents wouldn’t want their name besmirched by the presence of one let alone five illegitimate grandchildren. But what if he was married? How would he explain so many absences to the lady of the house? Or was it that he only sneaked out long enough to procreate a few kids before reverting back to his regular domestic life? ‘Excuse me, my love, I’m just popping out to sow a few seeds.’ Five times! In five years!

Yes, that’s definitely my favourite fantasy.

The children grew up, married and had their own children. One of them, my grandfather, sired six: three boys and three girls to carry the name forward. Now only one son and one unmarried daughter are left so the name will soon disappear. My aunt is now 88 years of age. She remembers that it was common knowledge that her grandmother never married. Whilst deploring the situation she confesses to being intrigued by her family background and has often joked that she doesn’t know who she is. I can understand that!

I am reminded of the time I sounded off about the modern generation of single mums, no marriages and babes without dads, that will ultimately be responsible for the lack of family trees with no known roots. Seems it was no better in my great-grandparents day.

Investigations continue but not by me. I’m content to leave things to my vivid imagination … it’s probably more interesting.

(Apologies to my blogging friends for the lack of comments. I sincerely hope Blogger's problems won't last much longer).


  1. Tracing ones ancestry seems like great detective work. Really enjoyed reading this Valerie. I've tried looking up mine but got stuck having very little information. This post reminds me not to give up.

  2. Family trees are incredibly interesting. I'd love to trace mine but we don't know enough facts about ancestors.

    And yes, if only televisions had been invented in the 1800's, there wouldn't have been such big families!

    CJ xx

  3. it is intersting the stories you find when you look back in your family...can be humbling as well...finding out how little things have changed...

  4. Wow, that's interesting, Val! I hear the study and pursuit of genealogy is addictive!

  5. Wow that's fascinating Valerie, but then geneology is, isn't it?

    MWM has been researching his (and my) family tree for quite a while and one of his ancestors just doesn't want to be found at all.

  6. I found this post thoroughly fascinating, Valerie!

    I have a close friend in Paris who does genealogy for a part-time job. She has discovered some very interesting things about my own family tree.

    " ‘Excuse me, my love, I’m just popping out to sow a few seeds.’ Five times! In five years!"

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Yes, I do love that fantasy!

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your ancestory, dear lady!

    Have a great weekend....X

  7. I've also tried tracing my paternal roots but became stuck with my great-grandfather who doesn't appear to exist. Apparently his surname was Jacobs, which is a coincidence seeing I'm now a Jacobsen, but where he came from or where he went is a mystery.

    Your great-grandmother must have indeed been very strong to raise five children alone back in those days. Well done to her.

  8. I know a lot of people are interested
    in tracing their 'roots', but I am
    content to keep all those skeletons
    locked up.

  9. I bet you could find some interesting information to spark a good story or two. Looking through those old photos must be illuminating on many levels. Great post Valerie.


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