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Family History Month: October in the North/August in the South

It doesn’t matter when we celebrate, only that we do. Genealogy is all about family: discovering your ethnic branch, your indigenous roots, your European connections and the names of your ancestors. Family is what ties people together. If you don’t like secrets, those surprise ooh and ahh moments, then family history probably isn’t for you, but to me, the best part of family history research is being a nosy-parker sleuth. It’s such fun. Why don’t you start today – check our the branch nearest to you?

Before DNA testing, one’s name was your identity, even if shortened. Each had its own meaning and history. The paternal line was the important one. Paternal surname’s were passed down through generations of sons, while the female line often became lost – except our ancestors were more clever than that. Hence, the trend of naming the first son after the father, the first daughter after the mother, the second son after one grandfather and the second daughter after a grandmother, and so on. It’s a trick worth knowing as the patterns vary from country to country. It can get rather confusing though, especially if it’s carried on for several generations without including a middle name or slight variation.

In olden days, when families lived close by, many had nicknames to indentify them. Thomas became Tom, Tommy or Tommo, or George and Gordie. Sometimes, you’d hear about Jack the elder, or Simon the younger, which made identifying people through conversation easier. But these common habits didn’t transfer to official records. You might find a Lizzie or a Betsey instead of Elizabeth but Jane is Jane except when she is Janey or Janet. Then it would all depend on what the registrar or vicar heard, and whether it was always spelt the same way. It’s like a detective game, following leads, linking people together by who lived with whom, and at what address.

I’ve not had my DNA done (yet), but I know many who have, and they tell me it opened their eyes to a new world, and they met many interesting people who they were connected to because of it. It’s worth thinking about – except there may be surprises. A Grandfather several times removed might have fathered a child unknown to the official great-grandmother of the time. His secret would have died with him and the birth mother in the days of oral history, but these days it’s all about revealing those secrets to discover who we really are.

But to me it’s not only about the names of my ancestors, or exactly which part of which country with which ethnicity that’s important, it’s the story of their lives. How they lived, what they ate, who they loved and how they survived that fascinates me the most. I write about it all the time. Did I tell you I was starting a new book about Sarah, from The Ancestors series? Sign up to my newsletter to learn more.

Are there any skeletons in your cupboard? I’m sure there must be somewhere. Do you want to tell me about them? They could appear in a book.

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