Welcome to week four of the series “Why Genealogy”. I’m 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 Sophie!
A seed of curiosity is where my genealogy interest originates. My paternal grandmother is a many-cousined woman, and she would return from the funerals of her numerous aunts and uncles naming reams of people I was related to but didn’t know. She kept their names up her sleeve like a Magician’s never-ending hanky. The fact that my Nan held all the knowledge about these people and their relation to us began to worry me. One day she wouldn’t be here, and then who will remember their names, or how we’re related? I decided I needed to take on the job myself to preserve the information. So in 2012, at the age of 16, I began building out my known family tree online, pulling out the never-ending handkerchief from Nan’s sleeve, and laying out each square to untangle the list of cousins she’d preserved. Soon I was able to document everything we knew about her side of the family.
Moving on to my paternal grandfather, I asked about his extended family but he didn’t really know anything. How can my Nan know so much about her family, but my Grandad know so little about his? My nosey nature sent me digging to find out more. This led to me uncovering that his parents had moved to Derbyshire from Gloucestershire after they married. My Grandad’s mother, Dorothy, was from Somerset and hadn’t always lived with her parents and siblings, instead living with a different family nearby. Perhaps this was why my Grandad never met his maternal grandparents, despite the fact that his grandmother lived until he was 15. Then on my Grandad’s father’s side – James was his name – he’d been born in Leicestershire, then moved to Lincolnshire, to Gloucestershire before finally settling in Derbyshire. Both James’ parents died before my Grandad was born, and his three siblings lived in Yorkshire and the Isle of Wight, which is likely why my grandad never knew a cousin on that side.
As to why I love genealogy is a layered answer. I’ve mostly grown up with one side of the family, and have never known my aunt, uncles, and cousins on the other side. It’s a shame, but it’s hard to navigate a mountainous landscape of relationships without a guide. I find genealogy is a great way to feel more connected to these people, even though we don’t have contact in daily life. If we ever do get the chance to meet, I’ll have plenty to tell them about our shared history.
A lot has happened in my life since that seed of curiosity first sprouted in 2012. Genealogy has grown roots deep into the foundations of my identity. Having struggled with mental health issues, the process of researching is a logical and organised task that’s been a great distraction at times. Each time I’ve found stories about my ancestors has felt like lighting a candle in a dark room, over and over until the whole room’s illuminated and you can finally see what’s around you. Having a clearer picture of my family history has helped me understand more about my living family. Knowing I come from generations of working-class families and who sometimes worked and worked in difficult and dangerous conditions has helped me understand my family’s background and attitudes more. The process of learning more about the hardships and events that my ancestors lived through in order for me to be here has given my life a renewed sense of meaning, and has made me feel happier and more appreciative for the life that I have.
It’s been empowering to learn where I come from, after feeling so lost and disconnected from myself. I feel emotionally and spiritually closer to family, and connected to some of the places they’ve lived, especially Derby. It’s the city where I grew into myself as a person; where I lived and worked, studied and struggled. Knowing that for multiple generations, this city shared the same importance and was home to similar life experiences for my ancestors, which makes it feel like such a special place. Being able to walk through the city reminiscing my own memories, whilst envisioning their lives among the same street names, buildings, and monuments is a magical feeling that I am so fortunate to experience.
Sophie Haire is a 25-year-old genealogist based in the UK. Her research interests are in the East Midlands, Somerset, and Aberdeenshire, and in the use of DNA. She is a member of The Hidden Branch and enjoys encouraging genealogy among younger generations. Alongside genealogy, she enjoys writing and psychology. In 2020 Sophie graduated with an MSc in Psychology, and also holds a BA in Creative Writing. Sophie is passionate about researching the intersection of these three areas. You can find her on social media @DerbyGenes.
Check out the previous voices featured in the “Why Genealogy” series!