Friday, 19 October 2012

Poor White Trash

My new and very engrossing hobby is family history. Until recently I though genealogy buffs were sad nerds living in the past but now I've realised it's quite the 'pastime du jour', thanks to 'Who Do You Think You Are?' I'd like to say that I've discovered that I'm descended from European royalty but sadly no....not even Eurotrash royalty. Just poor white trash.

I decided to investigate Babcia's side but only the English side - the Polish and Irish bits are just too convoluted - however everywhere I look I'm finding new Irish relatives, penury and lunacy. Births in the workhouse; summonses and fines for allowing drunkenness on licensed premises; wrong-side-of-the-blanket dalliances and more bones in the cupboard than a dog-loving butcher.

My family's lives seem to have been unremitting hardship and early death - they worked in oil mills, as labourers or as domestics. They don't seem to have moved from the same grim area their whole lives and there are no family photos whatsoever. What's sad for Babcia is discovering that the very small family she believed she came from was actually part of a massive, old-established, very well-embedded in our home city, dynasty that had been shattered following a disownment. Growing up she wished for cousins and had none - little did she know there were tens of them, living within a couple streets of her.

The problem with tracing your family tree is that all the nuances are hidden from you. I can track my relations back to 17-something but then you're just doing it because the information is there - dry, plain facts. What you can't get is the nitty-gritty of what caused families to act as they did; what was said, by whom; what caused the disintegration of a previously happy family; where someone lived and what they did between censuses. And also, nowadays there's nobody left to ask about relations - for me there's Babcia but she can't remember everything (things she thought she knew have been proved not to be) and her mother and granny, who brought her up, were pretty closed-mouth regarding family matters. Babcia was a nosey kid but some things just were swept under the carpet. It's expensive too! If you want a copy of a certificate from the General Records Office it's £10 a time and the websites for ancestry cost money. I don't think I'll be getting too many certificates from here on in unless I'm particularly intrigued.

So far I'm enjoying myself but I think I'm coming to the end of what I can search out from home. A visit to the Family Centre in my malignant home town is on the horizon some time in the future. Who knows, I might still uncover a rich relation who'll take me away from all this!!!!


  1. My father went through a phase of doing the same, with similar lacklustre discoveries. Life was definitely worse for our ancestors and having unprotected sex seemed to be the worst thing a woman could do to mess up her life! Goodness knows what kind of life I'd have had 100 years,ago, doesn't bear thinking about. Helps you appreciate our advancements, and makes you wonder what horror our great great grandchildren will discover about life in these times..

    1. I often think we must be mad to go into raptures about bygone times - yep it all looks very romantic and lovely but good grief I'd have hated to have been born in another era! I'd have been locked up on the basis of my mouthy attitude alone.

      I stated doing our family tree some months ago but the novelty wore off very quickly. yeah Lucy - in a hundred years they'll look back at us and rate us with cavemen. :)

  2. How sad that because of family rifts your mum didn't know about her relatives.
    It is fascinating as you say, but also heart wrenching to think of how tough life was for so many.
    Lisa x

  3. It certainly pulls at the heart strings when discovering about our ancestors - though I'm lacking a few skeletons, if you fancy passing some over!


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