Researching family history is a marmite type of activity. People either have absolutely no interest or they are interested, excited or even obsessed by it. I place myself firmly in the last category! There is nothing I like better than poring over old documents, sifting through family trees and making connections between different branches of my family.
There are many reasons for starting on this journey; simple curiosity, family secrets or perhaps seeking evidence of hereditary illness. The trigger for me was family secrets. When family members don't talk about the past it's quite reasonable to wonder why the past is not a subject for discussion.
My mother's past was a totally closed book and it wasn't until 20 years after her death that I made the decision to try and discover some information about her childhood and hopefully go further back into her family history. After all, it was also mine and my children's family history.
Had I known then that the search would take over 20 years, would I have still gone ahead? I like to think that I would have done; now I am so pleased that I did.
My father never really talked about the past and many years later I discovered that his knowledge of Mum's background was very sparse. He did mention that she had been brought up in Catholic care. Mum had a younger sister who was married with a family of her own. Unfortunately they lived a long way from us and as a military family we were always on the move.By the time I reached adulthood we had lost touch. Other than that, all I had to go on was a name, date and place of birth. That enabled me to get a copy of Mum's birth certificate and her parents marriage certificate but there the trail stopped.
Reflecting on my years of genealogical research, the discovery of a long sought for piece of information is often helped along by a sprinkling of good luck. I look back now to my early research days and on the time spent looking at data on the internet in a random way and without a clear research strategy. This was using dial up so it's fair to say that a lot of time was devoted to just waiting for stuff to appear on the computer screen.What a godsend when wifi became the norm!
My knowledge expanded rapidly but I was still unable to make the breakthrough that would be the key to progress.
My sprinkling of good luck happened about 10 years ago. I was visiting my father, who had lived in Germany since the late 1960s. At dinner one evening, I brought up the subject of family history and explained that I was continuing to search for information about my mother. The next morning, Dad gave me a few documents which he said had always been in Mum's possession. He still had them some 38 years after her death. Two of the documents immediately caught my eye. A birth certificate which on closer inspection was revealed to be a copy of Mum's original birth certificate. On the back was stamped Recruiting Office, Aston, 1944. She must have requested this when she enlisted in the ATS at the tender age of 19. My first meaningful clue; she enlisted in Birmingham.
The other document which stood out was a cutting from a newspaper. On closer inspection, it was an Irish obituary from 1957. But who was this person who shared my mother's maiden name?
I was so excited but managed to keep my composure and excused myself so that I could read the cutting privately, several times as it happened, and try an absorb what was a lot of information.
In summary, the obituary provided lots of information about the deceased as well as details of family mourners which, apart from immediate family, included 4 siblings, 2 of whom lived in the USA. And in the middle of all this was my mother's name, recorded as a niece living in Cyprus, which is exactly where we were in 1957.
This was the key that opened the door. My grandfather was Irish which explained why I couldn't find anything in UK records.
This kick started a whole new programme of research and many years on I have a healthy looking Irish family tree as well as the details of my mother's childhood.
I feel I know and understand my mother now much more than I did when she was alive.
So my message to anybody who gets stuck with their research is to persevere because you never know when that sprinkling of luck will come your way.
And on a final note, included amongst the mourners at my great uncle's funeral was a relation through marriage, one Michael Doonican, better known as Val Doonican, the well loved Irish singer.
The obituary that keeps giving!