The best time to start doing family history is ‘in your youth‘ as there are (hopefully) family members from older generations still around to assist with names, dates, places and more importantly, stories. Tracing your heritage has, historically, been a hobby for retirees and, all too often, the phrase “I wish I had started this when I was younger … then I could have asked X, Y, Z about …” has been heard/said.
Personally, I consider that I started at the right time. As a microbe (see X marks the spot), family history was very much a part of my life. Many schools (in my day) at some stage in the curriculum, encouraged children to research into their past and ask questions of their family members. I have handwritten responses to some questions I asked my aunt for a history project about her experience as an evacuee in WWII. The Day tree was drafted up before I was even old enough to say ‘family history’ by my maternal grandfather. However, my maternal grandmother knew little of her heritage and always said that she was descended from Welsh stock – well, clearly because of her Evans surname! This legend continued as my cousin gave her son a name connecting him to his Welsh heritage!
How I would love to return to my youth when said maternal grandmother was still alive (sadly, lost when I was 13) and tell her that, as far back as my research has taken me (which is well back to the 18th century), she doesn’t have a single connection with Wales, despite having TWO Evans lines. Would she be pleased, or disappointed, I wonder?
The benefit of starting in my youth means that certain family documents have been passed to my mother by those from previous generations. Aunt Win’s photo album and all her stories and memories may never have passed on, if we (Ma FWL and I) hadn’t shown such an interest in the eighties. All the archives from Doris’ flat in Seaford may well have been binned had Ma & Pa FWL not had the dubious pleasure of sorting that out once she had moved into a care home.
Who is the holder of your family archive? Are you able to enthuse the younger generations of your family so that your hard work can be passed on when the time comes? Can you get them started in their youth?