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Sunday, 24 March 2013

Genealogy often makes me sad

Is it weird to get upset at the difficult lives our ancestors have lived when we haven't known them? I find that as I am researching people, I start to feel as though I "know" them and feel a kind of connection to them, which means I feel quite sad about their personal tragedies.

This week for example, I have discovered (thanks to scotlandspeople.gov.uk *) that my great-great Grandmother died aged 41 of breast cancer in 1914 at the Royal Cancer Hospital in Glasgow. Now that is sad enough as it is, a relatively young woman dying of an awful disease. But it was other facts that made it even more sad and poignant for me:
  • When Barbara Robertson died, her youngest child Elizabeth (my Great Grandmother) was just four years old.
  • She died on 27 December, just two days after Christmas.
What I knew came later for the little girl who lost her mum at such a young age also made me sad:
  • Elizabeth, having lost her mum at a very young age at Christmas time, herself died at Christmas - she had a heart attack an died suddenly at home on Christmas Day 1970.
Now I never knew Elizabeth, or Barbara, but I have grown up knowing that Elizabeth died on Christmas morning. I know the story of my Dad seeing his Nan on Christmas Eve and exchanging gifts with her, for her to die a few hours later unexpectedly. I know how Christmas changed from a happy family occasion to a time of mourning and grief in a moment and I am certain that this has had some bearing on my Grandad and my Dad not being huge fans of Christmas. But I didn't know that Elizabeth herself may have had bad memories of Christmas, and that upset me.

This happens a fair bit with genealogy. You spend time researching a name and as you do, they become more than a name. You feel a connection to them because you're following their story and wanting the best for them. And then, they hit hard times or die. And it's sad, even if the tragedy is a hundred or two hundred years old because they as your ancestors are a part of you. Without them, you wouldn't be here!

*If you have Scottish ancestors and haven't used the Scotland's People website, I would urge you to have a look as it is a fab website with lots of info as well as a huge selection of digitised records all available on a pay as you go basis. As in the case described above, you can even get a statutory death record online (due to Scotland's legal and register system being slightly different to ours in England) which includes all the info you would expect to see on a death certificate but is much cheaper and faster than ordering one.


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