On stilled voices and visualising silence

Yesterday my 100 days project word was ‘silence’ — and I have to say it was possibly the most challenging to date.

Partly that might be because I’m away from home, without access to my normal work tools and archives and reliant on my iPad. Partly it’s just because silence is something I find difficult to visually convey.

Eventually I realised that the most profound silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of communication. Last year, on my trip to Scotland, I visited a number of cemeteries and kirkyards, looking for the headstones of ancestors. I found more than I’d expected and will always treasure those moments with those tangible symbols of my lineage.

But alone in those bleak, quiet places, I also felt the profound loss of lives stilled. I come from ordinary folk who don’t in general leave traces of themselves in recorded history. Once those who knew them stop sharing stories, their lives are silenced.

If I learned anything from my kirkyard visits, it is to speak to family members now; record their stories and share them with the next generations.

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Tombstone Tuesday: the first family headstone photograph

Leslie family headstone

Headstone of my paternal grandparents and older brother.

This is the only photo of a family headstone I have.

I haven’t yet begun scouring graveyards – mainly because I’m in New Zealand and pretty much all my family is buried in Scotland.

The big T, the boy-child and I did take a detour on a family holiday a few years ago to check out the cemetery at Hororata near Christchurch. We weren’t so much searching for the big T’s family, as idly wondering whether any of his ancestors were buried there. Without really knowing what we were looking for, I’m still not sure whether we found anything relevant. We certainly didn’t think to photograph any of the headstones, although we did take this photo of the church, which I quite like.

St. John's Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ

St. John’s Church, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ.

I have a particular fondness for monumental masonry, particularly from the nineteenth century where  those who could afford it managed to combine some truly elegant sculpture with some amazing euphemisms for death.

I’m looking forward to learning more about my ancestors from the memorial inscriptions their loved ones gave them; and hopefully will come back from the UK in a few weeks with some more photos to add to my tree.