Through researching my family tree, I’ve discovered some new connections to the land.

It’s not just that I’ve found ancestors in new parts of the country, although that certainly has a bearing on things, it’s more that I have a reinforced sense of a long personal connection to the land, this land, where my ancestors spent their entire lives living and working. A connection so many of us seem to have lost these days. I’m following the threads of folk who scraped a living in villages in Norfolk or Essex or Hampshire, frequently living in poverty or at the very least on the very edges of it. A hard life for most of them. Widows with no way of supporting themselves other than plaiting ‘straw dollies’ for a few pence, labourers in their seventies still having to endure hard physical graft to stay out of the workhouse (where they would have had to work even harder, for even less reward). People for whom starvation would have been a very real threat. Even comparatively healthy families would have relied on all the womenfolk trying to bring a few extra pennies into the household.

Some of these connections are selective – I can reject a connection I’m uncomfortable with, such as through industrial work in towns or cities which is something I have little experience of, and no love of in the first place, but I cannot claim a connection that isn’t there in the first place.

And within this experience, there is the time element – both how long ago these events were, but also how long they lasted, which contributes to the intensity of this connection for me.

These folk weren’t just the very poorest, of course. Amongst my ancestors there are also a wide range of craftsmen and women such as weavers, shoemakers, and printers, but also other poor labourers such as shop assistants, launderesses, servants, stokers, coal porters, cable hands…the list goes on and on. Not that there’s anything special about my family tree – everyone has these folk in their past.

I think – I know – some people just look for royalty or knights in armour when they research their trees. They dream of having the right to a coat of arms, or bragging rights to a famous name. None of us come into it completely open to what we find. We all have some expectations – to push our ‘lines’ back as far as we can, for example, or discover connections to the famous. Personally, I’m delighted to find my ancestors were the urban and rural poor. I don’t want to find the rich and privileged in my tree. Is that inverse snobbery? Perhaps.

But it’s the connection to the land I’m referring to here. I’ve always felt a strong personal connection to the land, to the physical world, and every census entry or marriage certificate I come across showing my ancestors earning their living that way seems to strengthen my own connections as well as a sense of continuity with my forebears.

40 thoughts on “Connections

  1. Sometimes, those hidden connections reveal themselves in unexpected ways. I assume you know that for more that thirty years I’ve made my living by varnishing boats. Only a few years before she died, my mother confessed that her opposition to my new occupation had been her own history.

    As it turns out, her father worked for years building and varnishing woodwork in Victorian homes, and she worked with him. When I turned to the same sort of occupation, it felt to her as though I was going backwards: to a life she had wanted to escape. Very interesting. What neither of us realized in the beginning is that the freedom of being an independent contractor outside of the bounds of corporate American more than compensates for being less successful financially.

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    1. I had gathered that was what you did from comments on your blog. How interesting that it took your mum all those years to explain why she wasn’t happy with your choice. I completely understand your choice, though. For the last twenty five years or so of my working life I worked as a freelancer and never regretted it. I always had freedom to move on and go elsewhere if I wanted to, and decide when I was and wasn’t available to work.

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  2. That sense of connection to those who survived through hard work stirs something almost inexpressible doesn’t it? It feels like an affirmation that we too are made of strong stuff, that we can endure through the hardships of our time. And sense of place feels even deeper. I long someday to visit the places my ancestors lived in England, Scotland, Sweden, and Norway.

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  3. I also foun a ot of connections to the land hen researching my family tree Mick, I was heartbroken to see just how many farmworkers were forced to seeek work in the city and more so when I found some that had to live in and die in the workhouse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is such an interesting post, Mick. I’m glad you’ve been able to follow the family line back to the land. It must be good to know where they lived and what they did for a trade. I guess, back then, we also lost family members through hard work in the workhouses and, perhaps, through illness, not having the medical care we now have. I can only trace my family tree back a few generations, as my family came from Russia, Poland, Hungary and Lithuania. So many of them were also caught up in the Holocaust. I don’t even know who they were now. My grandparents died decades ago, so there is no one to ask about these things anymore. I was too young to know about family history when they were alive. I recently connected with a distant third cousin who lives in England. She is a professional cake maker. We have had a few conversations on FB Messenger but are never likely to meet. It’s a small world sometimes, isn’t it?

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    1. A small world but a huge one at the same time, Ellie. I’ve lots of information available if I search for it, you have very little. Has your cousin any interest in tracing family history? Obviously, yours and hers would converge at some point.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi, Mick. I hope you are well today. Thank you very much for your offer to search for my and Sandra’s family tree. I did message her yesterday evening, but she said she’d rather me not give her name or family details to anyone she doesn’t know. It’s a shame, really, but I have to respect her wishes. I believe I have a distant cousin in the US (I can’t even remember his name, but my Australian sister will know). I’ve got vague memories of my Mum saying he has made a family tree, but I’ve never had any contact with him. Perhaps, next time I speak to my sister, I will ask her for more details about how I can contact him. You never know; he might have a wealth of interesting information. Fingers crossed. I’d like to learn more. Thanks again, Mick. That’s very kind of you. Have a lovely evening. X

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Hi Ellie. What I actually meant was I was fortunate in having so much information about my ancestors online, since as far as I can tell (so far) they’ve all lived in England, whereas yours sound as though they’ve all been European.

          Having said that, I’m happy to give you some help if I’m able to.

          All the best.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Ah, thanks, Mick. Yes, you are right. Our family are nearly all East Europeans, so it would be more difficult to trace them back. I’m glad you’ve managed to trace your ancestors back as far as you have. What you’ve discovered so far is fascinating. It’s always so interesting to read about. Thanks for your offer of help if I think of anything else about family trees.

            Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m not sure if the larger population even want to search their ancestry. Most people are busy with their lives to even consider the existence of their forefathers. Searching for ancestry in UK is much different from the ones here. We don’t have record keeping the way you have.

    Liked by 1 person

        1. There are many records available to search online (usually for a fee) – all records which it was possible to search before by physically visiting where they were kept: census records, birth, marriage and death records, lists of people eligible to vote in various years, and lots of other records. With patience and a certain amount of luck, it’s possible to trace your family history quite a long way back.

          Liked by 1 person

            1. To a degree. There is a hundred year embargo on census information, but other records are available much more recently. As long as you know the names of your immediate family and where they lived there should be no difficulty.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. The good thing about family is the connection it provides to our past. I think one of the reasons I enjoy living in St. Louis so much is that my family has been here for several generations. I can drive by what used to be my great-grandfather’s farm house, and still see the house my grandfather was born in too. So I understand what you’re saying about the connection to the land, I think!

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  7. I think it’s wonderful that looking into your ancestry has reinforced your feeling of a strong connection to the land you know. As you said, many have lost that. I’m certainly living in a very different place than my great-grandparents, grandparents, and even parents lived in. I’ve become connected to this land but I know it’s not quite what you’re talking about here, and I really respect that. I think about what connections I might feel if I visit Wales or Ireland someday since a number of my ancestors came from those countries – and I think I would feel it!.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hi Mick, this is an interesting post. Your connection with your ancestors and, through them, the land you live on and the country you reside in are fabulous. My own roots are not deep as my mother came to South Africa when I was a small girl. My father died and her sister who lived here offered to look after me while my mom worked. We have no history here. My husband does have a history here. He is related to Andries Pretorius the man after who the city of Pretoria in South Africa is named.

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    1. Hi Robbie. When I lived and worked abroad for a few years, I could recognise that I had a different connection to the land where I was living, but a connection nonetheless. In one place (Libya) I couldn’t feel a connection at all, for what I could recognise were a number of reasons. But when I lived in Oman I felt quite a strong connection, so much so that when I had to change planes in Muscat some fifteen years after I was last there, I felt a sense of homesickness just standing in the airport.

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  9. Mick, this is beautifully written and brings up many memories and thoughts. Both my parents and I were born in the States, and growing up, we fully threw ourselves into modern American life. Then after talking with my grandma as a kid, I realized how much of their life is absolutely foreign… and so fascinating.

    You mentioned Essex, where one grandparent was born, the others in Liverpool, a village in Wales, and another in Scotland. And to hear their words and personal connection to the land they labored on until the opportunity to go to the ‘new world.’ What struck me was your description of “… supporting themselves … plaiting ‘straw dollies’ for a few pence.” This is what my grandma, great aunts, and the family did when they arrived in the States to make a little extra change. My mom had given me a couple of embroidered handkerchiefs and dollies when I was young, which now take on a very different but beautiful perspective when I look at them now. The world is beautiful, and understanding “where and how” we came from adds something even more special. Thank you for this post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Randall. I’m so pleased that this could touch a similar nerve with you. Most of us must have these situations in our histories, but usually we know nothing about them. Sadly, I haven’t inherited anything like those, although I do have a small writing box that has come down from one grandmother, and they do sound very special.

      And doesn’t it make another small connection to people alive today because they know their ancestors experienced exactly the same things?


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