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Sunday, 29 November 2009


I’m sure I’m not alone amongst family tree nuts in becoming terribly fond of some of the characters that I’ve dug up over the years. I’m not sure why; I suppose it’s just a very intimate process, digging up an ancestor. You spend so much time and effort tracking them down that by the time you’ve found them you’ve already formed quite an attachment. You probably know their parents or children; you may know where they lived and were buried, what they did for a living, something of the times they lived in.

My great great uncle Wull Piper (1860-1937)
of Barshouse, Sorn, Ayrshire

You may be the only person to take the trouble to find out about them, to shine a light on their lives from so far away. Or you may find that they had a hand on the hem of history, some small connection known or forgotten with greater or lesser events. Either way it feels something of a privilege to meet them after all these years.

The assasination of Prime Minister Perceval
House of Commons, 11th May 1812

witnessed by WB Gurney, my great great great grandfather

I’m the family historian amongst our lot. Apart from my mother, the rest of the family all profess not to be much interested in the past. Even my father exploded one day when I was probing him about his family life: “I can’t understand why you waste your time enquiring after people just because they have the same surname as you.” After he died I found a drawerful of carefully preserved archive material going back over 150 years. Much of it illuminated or confirmed stories I’d unearthed for myself without his help.

They’re good stories, and I’ve dined out on some of them. Even my own family sometimes sit up and listen at the telling of them. It seems a shame not to share them, and the people they celebrate, with others who might also enjoy a good tale – and who might, after all, be relatives themselves.

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