I’m rummaging around the lower branches of my family tree.
I’ve delved – into records, archives, census data and family photos; I’ve mooched – the roads where the Lill/Slater/Allen/Edmonds families once live; I regaled – surviving family members, and as a result I’ve come to realise that so many of our family stories, the tales I was told as fact as a child were as gloriously fanciful and embroidered as any fairy tale.
My family’s slippery tales contain the same archetypes as fairy tales too, the wicked witch, the damsel in distress, the villain and the hero. Happily, greater knowledge of the facts hasn’t diminished the fairy tales at all, if anything it’s made them more vivid and rounded. People are coming out of the murk of memory and connecting with the present. It’s an uncanny and seductive process.
Visiting Derbyshire with the Boys during the Summer holidays was a richly rewarding experience, not just for the fun we had, but also because I returned ‘fine-tuned’, and receptive to familiar places taking on new relevance and poignancy. I felt a greater sense of rootedness and connectedness as my family very quietly came back to life.
One of the traits of the family, and I suspect many families, is the slipperiness of their names – those great signifiers of who we are. When I began researching ‘the Family Tree’ I blithely thought I pretty much knew all the family members back to my grandparents. How wrong I was! Names are so slippery, memory slipperier still… one side of the family – the Allen’s – wriggles like a fish on the hook as seemingly no-one was known by the christened names and so Mary became Kathleen, Vera became Frances, Joan became Muriel and rather wonderfully Fay became Fanny Louisa!
ps. that’s me, the serious looking little boy – top right hand side of Aunty Pauline’s wedding group photo- being carried by dad, Michael Edmond Holt and there within his name lies an altogether other story…