Welcome to week two of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’ll be sharing the voices of my fellow genealogists and family history enthusiast who were all were bit by the genealogy bug at a young age. Genealogy isn’t something you have to wait to do! There is no age limit to who can learn about their family’s past.
This week, meet Katty!
I sat my Dad down. The burden of my news weighed heavily on my five year old shoulders.
“Daddy, did you know that you are not my real Daddy?”
No-one knows who told me. My biological father had left before I was born and the divorce finalized before my first birthday. I was almost two when my mother married my Dad. I grew up with parents who loved me and loved each other. It wasn’t a family secret, there had just been no reason to talk about it.
“But you still love me don’t you?”
“Of course! You will always be my daughter!”
Content with that answer I merrily trotted off and carried on doing the things five year olds do. Dad says I did not mention it again for years.
I don’t look like my Mum, Dad or younger brother. They are tanned and dark, products of generations of English agricultural labourers on both sides. I am fair skinned and blonde, like my Irish biological father. Ireland was a place I owed half my heritage and clearly a lot of my genetics to, but had no link. This missing piece of my history laid the foundations for my interest in genealogy.
At eleven years old, I sat at the family computer listening to the whirs, beeps and whistles of the dial up modem. The birth of the internet had opened up the possibility of researching from your own home. I Asked Jeeves how to find my family, and then posted in all the family history forums and genealogy message boards I could find to try and locate my biological family. Alas the internet was too young, and there were not enough people to connect with to get any real answers.
Three years later my biological father made contact, and my parents welcomed him into our lives. He has now been in my life for longer than he was absent. My children have a huge loving family and no idea that 3 sets of grandparents is not the norm.
The way I was raised has given me the strong belief that family and genealogy are not the same. It is why I am interested in the stories and relationships behind the names. I look at next door neighbours on census records and trace the lives of the witnesses on marriage certificates. A third of my family are no blood relation to me at all, yet I research my Dad’s family as thoroughly as my other branches. I may not share their blood, but I am part of their story. I share their name.
I was pregnant with my daughter when I started researching my family history seriously. There was something about preparing for a descendant that made me feel linked to my ancestors.
I signed up for a free 2 week trial with Ancestry, and bothered all my relatives for names of great aunts and uncles and any other tidbits that could help me in the right direction. After 2 weeks I wasn’t finished, so I bought a month, then a year. I learned that a family tree is never finished. That is the addiction. As my tree grew, so did my fascination. Finding more sources, and documents. WWI records with my Great Grandfather’s height and eye colour. Newspaper articles of unpaid bastardy payments. Plans of an avenue of tree’s planted by a landscape gardener 5 generations back that can still be visited today. People who lived and loved, drank and fought, won and lost. People who raised children, who raised children, who raised children, who raised me. Forgotten people, remembered.
I recently discovered that my beloved Grandad had an illegitimate Aunt that no-one knew about. Census records show that she was raised by her grandparents. I wonder if she ever knew her biological father? Or if she was able to find that sense of belonging and family that I am so fortunate to have. That sense of family that is nothing to do with bloodlines. I hope so.
You can find Katty on Twitter at @gene_alogy
Katty is a performer and director from South London. Since Covid she has been at home raising her two young children by day, and researching family history by night.
In case you missed week one, go check out Daniel’s story by clicking below!