My children have recently been asking quite a lot of questions about life and death. They have just lost their grandad but actually many of the questions have been more about life than death. Despite having visited their great grandparents' grave in Ireland, both seem puzzled as to whether their ninety one year old grandfather could every have had a mother and father.
Eldest has more of an idea about "where babies come" from but still seems to have difficulty processing the idea that everybody - even the elderly, the homeless, the criminals, their favourite popstars - must have been spawned by a male/female liaison of some kind. Youngest is quite keen on family history and particularly likes the fan style of chart about which I have previously posted. It appeals to her sense of order. She can see herself and see the preceding generations spreading behind her. She is always slightly disbelieving of their place in her family though.
For myself, I am always looking for evidence of detail and colour in order to reinforce my hard found records. On a recent post, I spoke about the candle lit scenes in the TV Wolf Hall. I strongly felt that they added to the immersive experience of that adaptation. In a post series interview, the director said that he tried hard to get across the sense, that you feel when you read Hilary Mantel's novels, of being in Cromwell's head, seeing things how he saw them and thinking his private thoughts. I thought that this was achieved very successfully and the scene settings greatly contributed.
But how to get a sense of feeling and detail for our own ancestors, if we are not lucky enough to have rich and/or famous ancestors, with caches of letters and portraits and contemporary accounts?
The Family History Writing Challenge, which finished on 28 February, was not as successful for me as I had hoped. Been too busy to stick to its schedule of writing every day for a month. It has, though, led me to really consider the colours, sights, smells, tastes experienced by my ancestors. To make a story of my ancestors' lives, I have had to imagine what it was like to be them. An eighteenth century Londoner joining the army; a Victorian girl going into service; a train driver travelling across India....
I believe that this is an important part of family history. A black and white diagram should be the basis for other research. Looking at the details of a person's life can bring them into a far more colourful view.
So the next time you find an immigration record giving a ship's name or a military record for an ancestor's regiment, try researching the ship or regiment's history. It may seem like a tangent but by taking a leaf out of the historical novelist's book (!), we can make our basic diagrams far more three dimensional. Then the lists of birth and death dates might seem more relatable.