I’ve been thinking about families a lot this week. Probably not an unusual preoccupation for a genealogist;) But my thoughts have been more about the nature of families rather than family history research. It was my sister and brother-in-law’s 25th wedding anniversary this week and at the party I flicked through the wedding album with my kids looking over my shoulder. Once they’d stopped laughing at the late 80’s fashions (surely even being the bridesmaid was not an excuse for wearing white shoes with cerise coloured tights!) they looked at the photos in more detail and then the questions started.
First there was the simple identification of faces they recognised – their Dad with a beard; Nanny – fondly remembered by my 21 year old daughter but no memories at all for my 16 year old son as my Mum died when he was 2; more easily recognisable was my aunt Kay who only died a couple of years ago; and they vaguely recognised my two cousins and their spouses as they’d seen them at my aunt’s funeral. A process of elimination helped them identify the two young children as being the offspring of one cousin.
Rowan had a vague memory of the elderly gentleman next to my Mum – he was Uncle Reg. But not a real Uncle – he’d been married to my Dad’s cousin and had long been a widower but a somewhat undefined relationship had formed between him and my Mum after she’d been widowed a couple of years before. There was talk of marriage but the possible loss of a pension meant it never happened. After some long distance courting for some time he did sell his house and move in with Mum (separate bedrooms of course!) and they had a few happy years together before he died.
The lady at the back was Joan – stepmother to my cousin – but a more welcome guest at the wedding than my cousin’s real mother, my aunty Muriel. I’m not sure that my kids ever met her – although she may have been at my Mum’s funeral.
And that was the entirety of our side of the family – my sister as bride, no relatives on my Dad’s side, my Mum, one aunt, two cousins with spouses and two offspring, the widow of my Dad’s cousin, and the stepmother of a cousin. Oh and my husband (now my ex) and me as bridesmaid.
But what none of the photographs showed were the two unknown women who sat at the back of the church who are related to me but not to my sister – my birth mother and my half-sister. I had traced my birth mother just a few months before and I wanted her to see me as bridesmaid – she came along with her (other) daughter who I’d never met before! My kids were astounded when I told them this story – I’d long ago confessed to my sister that she’d had two extra guests at the church. They’ve grown up knowing my birth mother, Margaret, but they certainly don’t think of her as their grandmother as they’ve not had that sort of relationship with her. They’ve only occasionally met Jayne, my half-sister, as she lives in the US and I have virtually no connection now with my three half-brothers. We may share some DNA but we have virtually no shared experiences.
My sister’s wedding was one of only a handful of occasions where my two families have interconnected at all. My two mothers did meet on one occasion but I found it such an excruciating experience it was never repeated. My birth mother has come to some of our family events – kid’s birthday parties etc – but with the exception of my half-sister’s wedding in Kansas City, Missouri I have not been to any birth-family events. To be honest I’m still something of a shameful secret – so too embarrassing to have around as a guest.
So, to bring this back to genealogy, although I did feel a strong desire/need to find my birth mother and am pleased we have kept in contact, it’s that motley assortment of characters that I stand alongside in those formal wedding photographs that are my “real” family. I may not share the DNA or the family nose but I’ve shared the events, and inherited their stories and probably even some of their family values. And so it’s my adopted mother and father’s ancestors that I trace – when I can find the time to do my own research that is. But should I ever come to a complete standstill I guess I could always opt to track my genetic line back too. My kids know so little of either family they may be more interested in their genetic heritage, particularly when they have families of their own.