by Alan Watkins
Everyone seems to have a fascination with knowing about their family’s history.
Hundreds, no, thousands, go researching, digging, quizzing and guessing at what dark deeds past generations got up to.
It’s this desire to find out about our ancestors that has inspired the BBC’s Who Do You Think You Are? programme where celebrities trace part of their family tree. The latest series is on at the moment featuring actors Nigel Havers and Una Stubbs among others.
The fascination with the subject was brought home again to me the other day when I was renewing my readers’ ticket at the National Archives (what was once known as the Public Records Office – or PRO for short).
The man behind me was there for the first time and we struck a conversation. It turned out he had just retired from a career from a senior scientific position.
He and his wife had been inspired to visit the great collection at Kew after someone in Australia opened up a new line of inquiry into his family and even sent photos by email of cousins he had previously no knowledge of.
I am intrigued by the similarities in my family. Dad, mum and brother were (or are) poets. I’m a hack.
We had generations in transport – barges, ships, trains, horse-drawn and motor coaches.
Generations back there were minor criminals and level-headed law-abiders in smallholdings across Gloucestershire; handymen (though it skipped my generation)....
And travellers? – There’s a grandfather whose origins remain unknown, but he definitely sailed around the world on three occasions.
Three members of the Watkins family went to Australia at the behest of a fierce man in wig and red cloak trimmed with ermine.
A fourth went in search of one of them – and left numerous baby Watkinses across America, Canada and Australia.... and my great great grandmother and great grandfather in a Victoria poor house.
So I wished the scientist well and hoped he would discover what he wanted to discover.
For as I have unearthed, there are deeds that some families do not know and others they lock away from younger generations.