Thursday, 22 April 2010

My mother's letters

'Perhaps you could do something with these' said my mum a few weeks ago as she handed over a bulging lever-arch file. The file looks pretty much like the sort you see gathering dust in an old-fashioned solicitors office - grey-marl, with metallic corners. The arches a bit warped through struggling to hold the contents together for many years. Inside are maybe fifty clear plastic wallets, each containing several sheets of yellowing, stiffening paper.
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:
PAT WHEELER
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.

3 comments:

Philip said...

Just fantastic sharon. I'm really looking forward to it.
P

Eryl Shields said...

Wow, she's given you treasure, not surprise you feel a bit daunted. I have a trunk full of stuff, under my bed gathering dust, from my mum. It's been there for four years now, maybe one day I'll be able to do something with it.

Good luck with it.

Talli Roland said...

How amazing that you have all of this material. I would love to know more about my family's history and background.