Who do you think you are?

Many readers will be familiar with the UK and Australian versions of the popular television show “Who do you think you are?”

Each episode traces the family history of a well-known personality, often accompanied with surprises and the occasional tears as the person being featured finds out things about their family from the past.

Recently my wife, Kerry and I were sitting in one of our local cafés, and the conversation came around to her family.

Kerry’s family, like most families, were “normal” in every way. There were no Nobel Prize winners, scientist that made breakthroughs that changed the world, film stars, politicians, or luminaries of other sorts. Like most families – they were ordinary people who got on with life.

However, within ordinary families, occasionally something amazing happens.

Sadly most of these amazing or interesting events are preserved for a generation or two, but are then lost to future generations.

Kerry told me the story of her mother’s grandfather, who fought in the First World War.

The story goes that he was wounded on the battlefield and lay out there alone all night as a result of his injuries. It was a dark, lonely and very cold night (OK, I am not really sure if it was, but it adds to the suspense…).

During the course of the night, a dog found him and then lay down beside him until morning, providing both comfort and warmth, when he was rescued and taken to hospital where he could be treated.

Kerry’s great grandfather recovered from the wounds he suffered on the battlefield, but was plagued with resultant chronic bronchitis for the rest of his life.

What stories lie within your family?

I asked Kerry if someone in the family has documented this and other stories of everyday life of her family.

Sadly, this story, as insignificant as it may appear to outsiders, is the stuff that builds families. It shows the character and resilience of our forebears who struggled in their own way to carve out a life and a living for their families. It’s because of them that each one of us is here today.

So here’s is the deal…next time you feel obligated to visit an elderly relative; take a pen and paper, or tablet (electronic – not medicinal), or simply record them using your smart phone. Ask questions about their family history and what life was like when they were younger. You never know what little gems may appear. Preserve those stories of “unremarkable” people for future generations, before they are lost forever. You never know, you might actually enjoy your visit to Aunt Maud or Uncle Arthur.

There is a wealth of support available to help research and explore your family history, ranging from family members, local history groups, through to the Internet. Just Google the words “family history” or “genealogy” and a whole new world will open up.

My challenge to Kerry is to spend more time with both of her parents and document the events that framed the lives of her distant relatives. Without having had that conversation in a local café about a wounded soldier and a dog, that story could easily have been lost to our children and to future generations.

PS: Before you ask, I don’t know what happened to the dog!

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