“Anyone fancy me running their family tree,” says Kerry. “It’ll give me something to do while I’m isolating.” She has no idea what she’s just bitten. I have an inkling there’s some crazyass ancestry going on based on word of mouth and heirlooms.
I send her some names, along with the truth – that I don’t really know much about my family. I was young when dad died and still too young to be interested when mum died. Names of cousins and relatives fall out of my head quickly to make room for sentences like “good that you used a transactional control and didn’t just rely on a management review control,” which is the sort of thing I’ve been saying on camera recently.
There’s so much hearsay and speculation about families that you have to wade through months of crap. It doesn’t help that we were living frequently in bailwicks and protectorates, and that everybody on both sides of my family were haring around the world all the way back to the 1500’s. “It looks like he was going on holiday to the Americas at a time when it was extremely dangerous to travel that far…” says Kerry of one of my distant antecedents, a man whose spirit I have always wanted to believe still partly flows through me.
It’s kind of comforting. There are common themes that chime with me. On my mother’s side, there are a surprising number of diarists. I suppose that’s what I am now. Diarist after diarist, sometimes documenting interesting times, sometimes just reflexively documenting. Like this blog, sharing the day to day and letting perspective work.
On dad’s side of the family tree we find the speed and the fascination with things that go forwards. There’s a picture of dad racing an ancient dragster in the early days of motor racing. He was one of the pioneers of motor racing, but his MOTHER was doing it before he was. Just a few days ago I was at Brookwood museum admiring the Barnato Hassan that he used to race before he sold his share to his best friend. Keith only died recently, and there are still some shared vintage cars. I’d love to try and find a way to memorialise the friendship of these two men, dad and Keith Schellenburg, and raise some money for cancer research and Alzheimer’s along the way, and go forwards quickly in something old and dangerous for legacy and for charity. Here’s the photo somebody uploaded to ancestry of dad in a dragster a decade before I was born. The thing looks terrifying. I want a go. Photo of a photo.
It’s comforting to know that dad was a fucking maniac long before I existed. I’m finding the whole process of digging strangely satisfying. But it makes me want to breed… I see the lines and the connections, the legacies and the priorities. I see branches of family going and being good at one thing or another but I start to see the themes that my grandparents knew by word of mouth. “The sea is in your blood” “there’s healing in your heart” “we are a diplomats”. There’s a lot to understand from seeing how you follow patterns. What did I learn from these people? And what have I forgotten…