I’m a migrant. I’ve spent most of my life half a world away from my extended (and sometimes, nuclear) family.
Cut off from the rhythm and security of the tribe, the clan, the whanau – and without the rituals of Christmases and birthdays that familial ties tend to engender, I also grew up with no real sense of my place in the world, and an overwhelming need to create my own rituals and celebrations.
It didn’t help that as well as moving countries, we also moved house regularly and so by the time I dropped out of school three days into the sixth form, I’d lived in about nine different houses in five different locations and was on my sixth school.
This isn’t a “poor me” story. I’m a big girl now, responsible for my actions and emotions and for making my own choices. One of those choices has been to research my family’s history.
I’m not quite sure quite how it began; and there is probably no single explanation, but a constellation of small things. My grandmother’s death a few years ago severed the last link with a generation, and while I felt I knew her well, I regret I didn’t’ ask her more about her life.
My mother has always been a great storyteller and I rely on her for so much information, but that’s only part of the family and I’m a bit estranged from my dad.
Part of it is my age. I noticed when I first got excited about family history and started telling people about it, friends over forty were equally excited and often shared their own stories; the under 40’s kind of glazed over or looked furtively around for the exit.
Certainly the fact that I can access so much information on the Internet has had a huge impact. But however I got to this place, I’m happy to be here. I’m excited by the processes – detective work really, and I’m thrilled when I find someone new to add to my tree. And as I’ve written about before, I am happiest of all when I can learn something about the lives of my ancestors – put flesh on their bones.
Part of that is my background and education. I have a MA in Sociology and a MIS (Master of Information Studies) in Librarianship. Most of my professional life has involved research and writing in some form or another and the sociologist in me needs social history – “the big picture” that for me gives context to my ancestors’ individual lives.
I also enjoy the community of family history researchers – both virtual and physical. I’ve joined the New Zealand Society of Genealogists, and have begun attending the wonderful workshops and seminars run by the librarians at the Auckland Libraries’ Research Centre.
Finding ways to tell my story is an important part of the process. I enjoy words, but I also have a need to make pictures. I’ve tentatively begun to make collages that include images and fragments of text that help me make sense of my past. I want to continue this process.
‘Shaking the Tree’ is important to me. It’s both the record of my work and a conversation I’m having with other people. Some are people I’m related to and who know the characters in my stories and may be inspired to share their own, but there are also many others – you perhaps – who might be interested in your family, and your stories. I won’t get to meet many (any?) of you in person, but I feel I know some of you already from the wonderful, funny, sad and poignant accounts you share of your past and the characters who peopled it.
I intend to “keep shaking” my tree and sharing the leaves and fruit that fall.
Thanks for taking the time to read this.