Being a general ‘nosey parker’ comes with the territory of family history research and digging about for clues in what some people would consider rubbish a prerequisite. I often take it one step further by seeing how much information can be unearthed from these clues no matter how small or dull they may appear. The findings are then compiled into a narrative which act both as an ‘aide memoire’ to myself and is more digestible and easier to follow for a ‘non-genie’ audience.
This particular case study has been chosen for a number of reasons. The first being I was lucky enough to know my grandfather well – at least I thought I did! However, as he was born in 1908 and myself in 1967 he lives in minds eye as an older person. I knew very little about him as a young man other than at some point he had spent time on a rubber plantation in Sumatra. The second, is there is no more challenging name to research than John Smith, and although he was known as Aynsley his first name for official purposes was John. The third, it was a very meagre set of items that revealed a snapshot of his younger self.
Summary of Contents
These items were the sole contents of an old writing box that used to live on the mantelpiece in my grandparents bedroom. After they both died it was relegated along with a lot of other ‘junk’ to my parent’s outhouse. This small collection contained an essence of being, a type of latent energy of memory that lingers on in places, objects, pictures, letters clothes etc., long after the owner has passed on. They marked the beginning of a journey around the world set to an economic backdrop of the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the political rise of Nazi party and the beginning of the end of British Colonialism. Just how far I managed to get, and how much I managed to discover not only about my own relative, but his travelling companions and the names on the scrap of paper can be read in an old blog post from May 2015.
It just goes to show that with a bit of lateral thinking and imaginative research, you don’t have to be a writer to tell a good story! Furthermore, as you will see from the comments at the end, the post also reached family members of grandfather’s travelling companions and others mentioned in the correspondence which helped them re-engage with their own family history too.