The Joy of the Tree - so unexpected, so surprising and joyful
Potchefstroom Herald 25 April 2014
For some, genealogy is the accumulation of names and dates, a slow and often frustrating walk into a ‘join the dots’ world of where we came from. For others it involves embracing the history of South Africa as we follow the movements of our ancestors from their arrival in the Cape Colony through to their participation in the Boer war and beyond. We gather their baptism records, their death notices, while spending hours on NAAIRS, LDS, ‘wie-was-wie’ and every other site we encounter in our search for more information. For me it is all this, but it has also been brought to life by the gems that enrich the process. The people we encounter on route and the realisation that underpinning our individual research is the very real community we are building along the way.
Whilst searching for information on my maternal great grandmother, I stumbled upon an arbitrary web forum and duly listed the sparse details I had managed to patch together. Within a few days I received a reply from a woman in Australia. Her grandmother and my great grandmother were sisters and as an active genealogist she was not only able to assist with enough information to grow my own tree by 7 generations but also provide invaluable family stories and anecdotes. During our correspondence she mentioned that she was on her way to South Africa to try and track down a woman she had not seen in over 60 years. She had been trying for many years to try and find her and had planned to return to her roots in the hope that the current local community would know her whereabouts. The woman in question had been at her wedding at the age of 6 and she dearly wanted to know about her life. I share this with you because the woman she had tried so hard to find is my mother.
There are few circumstances in life that are simultaneously so surprising, so unexpected and yet so joyful.
This is one small story in a field of many. Like flowers, these gems burst forth when we least expect them.
I recently received an envelope in the post. No note or return address, but filled with actual photographs of my family dating back to the 1840’s. Inscribed with full names and dates of birth they not only confirmed my research but provided images of my ancestors and their homes in Holland. These great ‘stammoeders’ and ‘vaders’ led comfortable lives in grand homes before embarking into the unknown on foreign soil. Through these photographs they become real, far more than names and dates on my ever expanding tree.
Genealogy is about sharing, reaching out into the unknown and knowing that each time we build on the available information, we are potentially providing another gem to someone we may never know.