Tag: connection

Who do you think you are? Uncovering history.

Who do you think you are? Uncovering history.

Who am I? is one of life’s big questions. The SBS show Who do you think you are? explores this by delving into family history. Those involved get a greater sense of who they are – their own identity – by discovering where they have come from. In the last few weeks I feel like I have been plunged into my own episode of the show, and the emotional impact has been surprising.

Not Belonging

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t feel like an outsider. I grew up in Hobart, a place where people have a strong connection to kin and community. Yet in my family I was the scapegoat, and in my extended family other branches were obviously given preferential treatment. Throughout primary and high school I was excluded and bullied. I was told I didn’t fit, and that nobody wanted me in their group. (College was the first time I had a real ‘group’ to hang with – wonderful weirdos I’m still in touch with.)

I couldn’t wait to leave Hobart to go to university. I hoped I would find a place where I wasn’t made to feel different and unwanted. What followed was years of drifting like a ghost, watching other people’s lives. I studied in Sydney, and though I made good friends, the city felt alien to me. When we settled in Melbourne, we met quirky, nerdy people like us, and our children made lasting connections.

But there are ties to place and people that emerge from living in one place over an extended time. When you are born in an area, study there, buy a house, make friends, there are invisible threads of connection that form part of who you are.  They become part of your history. Melbourne always felt like the backdrop to other people’s lives. We had close friends, but no real sense of belonging to place. The invisible threads of connection we brushed past belonged to other people.

A Move in the Right Direction

A while ago now my husband, children and I moved to a regional town. We wanted to get away from the over-crowding, terrible traffic and pollution of Melbourne. There were some immediate benefits. My son and husband both found their asthma vastly improved. Our petrol and mortgage costs dropped considerably. It took five minutes to get anywhere. My sense of being an outsider was worse than ever, but I knew with time I’d start to make friends and connections. I’d done it before. However, recent discoveries have given me a sense of connection far beyond anything I was expecting.

I’m not sure what prompted me to contact my aunt a few months ago and ask for copies of family documents. Amongst the photos and other paperwork was a family tree. Something jumped out at me immediately – one of the places listed on it was the town where we now lived. Was there a family connection? I forwarded everything to my sister, who had already begun looking at the family history. She had a better idea of how to research these things than me.

Diving into History

A few weeks ago my sister came over to visit. Armed with little more than the name of one of our ancestors, she visited our local library. Surprisingly quickly she confirmed that our relatives had definitely lived here. She also found the notice of our great x3 grandfather’s funeral parade in 1917, which gave us the address of the house it had left from. So we jumped in the car and went to visit it. There’s still a house at that address. We don’t know if it’s the same house they would have lived in, but it looks like it could be. We’ll need to do more research on the history of the house. But to stand there and think our family might have lived there was amazing.

The discoveries went on. It appeared our great great great grandmother was buried in the local cemetery. There was a photo of the headstone. Our brother came to visit and the three of us went for a walk amongst the graves, in search of the stone. Although the cemetery is large, we could see a fence in the photo, which gave us a clue where to look. After only a few minutes of wandering we found it. I felt a sense of excitement and shock. What staggered me, more than anything, was that my great, great, great grandmother’s tombstone was only a block away from the house we had bought.

An Amazing Discovery

It didn’t end there though. My sister went back to Hobart, and continued her research. A few days ago she sent me a link to something she had found on Trove. The critical words were buried towards the end of a very long article. The town we live in was founded during the Australian goldrush of the 1850s and quickly became a hub of activity. People moved here from all over, no doubt seeking their fortune. This is a town that was built by outsiders.

Everywhere you look are beautiful historic buildings constructed with money from gold. And one of the prized features is a stunning fountain, right in the centre of town. The article my sister found describes the day the fountain was officially opened by Prince Albert and Prince George, in 1881. A royal visit, standing room only, an excited crowd: I can see it all as I walk down the street.

Towards the end of the article is a list of those who worked on the fountain. And there, right amongst them, is the name of our great x3 grandfather. We already knew he was a plasterer, and now we learned that he had done the plaster work on the fountain that is very much the heart of this town.  I was surprised by how emotional this discovery made me, tearful and excited at the same time. I was so overwhelmed I HAD to tell someone, and sending the message made me miss my train! When we moved here we had absolutely no idea there was a family connection. Walking around town, I had fallen in love with the sense of history. Here, people took time and care to construct things of beauty that would last. But now I had discovered those people included my family.

Filaments of Connection

I want to know more about my ancestors now. Who were they? What were their lives like? Which school did the children go to? Where else in this town will I find their lovingly crafted work? My favourite Thai restaurant is in an old bank designed by the same architect who did the fountain. Might he have employed the same team on other jobs? Could the ornate plasterwork I admire every time we eat there have been designed by my ancestor?

Now, I look at everything with different eyes. My ancestors were some of the founding settlers in this region. Filaments of connection have stretched towards me from the past. I’m not sure if it helps me understand who I am, but knowing I am connected by blood to the heart and history of this town definitely makes me feel less like an outsider.