Why Do We Start Our Family Tree?

My interest in family history started when I was young, in the late 1950s. I was an avid reader from the time I first learnt to read and, when my parents bought me a 'finding out' book when I was about 7 or 8 years old, I was engrossed. It was one of those all-in-one-volume books covering all sorts of topics and with a super section at the back of anagrams, quizzes, finding the way from A to B on a map. You may know the kind of book I mean. I spent hours tracing the royal family backwards in time using the 'See Also' at the foot of each entry, along with various other historical and scientific information. Whatever took my mood.

My mother was something of a snob, if that is the word. Not to the heights of Hyacinth Bucket, but in her own unique way. There was a place for everyone in the social hierarchy—English people were defined by their accent, with the Queen's being top of the pile; Indian people were always "Hindus"; Maori were "those Maoris" unless they rose to some important role such as being Governor-General in which case they were "good Maoris"; similarly with Catholics, who, too, became "good Catholics"; then there were "those University types"—lecturers et al. As for the Irish, my mother was proud of the fact that she had "not a drop of Irish blood", something I was delighted to tell her, eventually, was not a fact. Of course, she still denied it. My research was faulty.

The one thing my mother did do, however, was talk about her mother's family.They were musical (professionals, some of them), artistic (again, the odd professional) and had had money (although Georgette Heyer would have referred to them as "Cits"). There was little known about her father's family (that's where the Irish bit comes it). As for my father's family, they were "common" so we didn't talk about them. My mother's family had arrived early on in the European settlement of New Zealand, so that counted in their favour.

When you are an intelligent person and are faced with sweeping statements such as my mother's, the urge to find out more becomes something of a challenge. Not only the idea of finding out for oneself but the challenge of confirming or refuting ideas becomes something of a driving force. I suppose it could be seen as a form of rebellion against ideas instilled by parents, something I think most teenagers experience at some stage. So my interest started and has continued for a bit over 40 years.

Compared with the late 1960s and early 1970's, genealogy is something of a doddle for finding out basic information. I trawled around cemeteries and libraries initially. All my findings were on bits of paper in various drawers. I didn't get around to making a drawn tree until I bought my first computer in 1992 and bought Reunion,my genealogy program. All the connections were on those scraps of paper and in my head. Trying to find out some family information was 'interesting' in that, back then, some people thought my enquiries were being nosey and that I was just trying to make mischief by dragging skeletons out of the wardrobes. How times have changed (gosh, I'm starting to sound like some old codger). And so the process continues. For some people (removed cousins and such) I have found only basic information, but for my ancestors I am continuing to delve deeper and am at the stage of reading old wills and registers, translating Latin documents and so on. How I wish I had taken Latin at school, but I use a nifty app made by BitKnights that translates Latin ⇔ English. Super.

So there we go. Why did you start your tree?

Jan Powell