I've hardly done much on Ancestry recently...I look at all those people and have a panic...the further back I go the more I panic, because then you are getting into the realms of doubt. They married so often for a start...a wife dies from something nasty and before the year is out they up and marry again...and there are all the mistresses and the concubines and children born the wrong side of the blanket and those who were picked out...because some were...to be the sole inheritor...and it's all a bit of a muddle actually.
Some records are pretty well accurate...some are totally barmy and happily announce a wife gave birth to a son before she was even born and I pick my way through them and discard some as being a fairy tale and others as probably right and I Google so often I'm probably on the most used list and sometimes Wikipedia is spot on until I look in one of my books and the information in there conflicts and I throw up my hands and switch everything off and go and do something more interesting instead.
I suppose...and I've written this before...that once you get to the 900's and before that...the actual dates don't much matter in the scheme of things. When I find a ten times great Uncle was a Viking who married an Icelandic Princess and might well have been born in 905 ce and died in a long forgotten battle after fathering six children...and then I Google him and it's written there in black and white that he died in the year 900ce, I add him anyway. What do a few years either way matter when you're talking about a thousand years ago...
And I can't get a grip of all those people who descended from them...everyone from Princess Diana to Winston Churchill to the Presidents of the USA...and me.
It's slightly alarming to read those names...to remember they have the same DNA as me whether they lived in a Viking Longhouse or a remote castle perched on the edge of a cliff in Scotland...I look at the photographs of their homes...the places where they were born and married and died. From beautiful Tudor houses to a heap of stones which was once a little castle...
I read about their lives...those ancient ancestors of mine...going on Crusades and dying en route from strange diseases...sailing on wooden ships to America...those Quakers and Methodists...the staunch Catholics and the Non-Conformists and the rather dubious Pilgrim Fathers.
It is almost too much information to absorb...from those who died a dreadful death accused of crimes they'd not committed, to the lads who stole a loaf of bread and were transported to Van Diemen's Land...the girls married at ten years of age who died in childbirth when they were only fifteen...those families who ended up in the Workhouse in the 1800's...
The tailors' and the bakers...the hatters and the farm labourers...a publican or three...a man who was once a King's confidante...incredibly wealthy land owners...it is bewildering to have those fourth cousins three times removed...to know they have the same genes...to be able to track that Viking with his pretty Icelandic wife who died from cholera right down to me.
It has taught me much...this unravelling of a family...it has taught me we have a place in the scheme of things...we fit into a niche however obscure that niche may be...it has taught me we will not be forgotten after we've died. There will always be another who will delve into our times...from hopelessly remote cousins who sailed the oceans in wooden boats to those who died for their beliefs...we fit. There is a place for us among the Victorian Tailors and the Master bakers making breads to feed the townsfolk...we slot neatly into those long ago tales of desperate boys condemned to transportation to Van Diemen's Land...our- selves are there with those who lived in tiny stone built castles on a headland in Scotland...
We lie alongside our Aunties on straw pallets in a Workhouse and grieve the deaths of so many babies who died before they had the time or chance to live...
It is quite a frightening time...going back and back again...reading how your people lived and how they died...
It is up to us...the living and the able, to bring their stories to life once more.