Mum is a genealogist. For as long as I can remember, and way before the days of computer aided internet searching, she has spent hours and days tracking down the roots and branches of our family tree. Some mothers make patchwork quilts, my mum pieces together birth, death and marriage certificates, church registers, and old gravestones to build a picture of who she is and where she came from.
Many years ago she discovered a connection to Australia and since 1987 she has been writing regular letters to these distant cousins. The label on the spine of the file rather formally describes it:
CORRESPONDENCE WITH POINTING FAMILIES
(ALL CONNECTED FAMILY)
Inside is an absolute treasure. Three letters in I was hooked. I'm still slowly and carefully picking my way through the rest.
For over twenty years, she has saved not only the letters received from Australia and photocopies of those she sent herself, but copies of all the bits and pieces of evidence she's found along the way. Family charts, birth certificates, copies of wills and testaments. Where she couldn't photocopy the evidence, she's reproduced it by hand - my favourite so far is an extract from the shipping list of the 'Jerusalem' - the boat on which my ancestors Joshua and Albert Pointing emigrated to Australia in 1881, with 619 other brave travellers for the price of sixteen pounds and sixteen shillings each.
I am genuinely honoured that mum has chosen to share these letters with me. I am delighted at what they contain and what I am gradually finding out - not only the formal family connections and fading evidence, but all the everyday bits of gossip and family news that my mum has captured and shared, as she and our Australian family have grown closer together over the years.
I'm also a little daunted. Mum wants me to 'do something' with them. She shows enormous faith in my far-from-developed writing abilities and I desperately want to repay that trust with something worthwhile. In time, I may share some of the letters on this blog, I may even try to weave a story around and through them. For now, I'm just reading and wondering.