People and Places: a shift in focus

17 Oct

I am not quite sure how and when it happened but recently I have found myself more and more interested in the landscape of my ancestors as opposed to my ancestors themselves.

Deep down I have always been interested in the surrounding landscape, but I suppose now I am not only looking further afield, but also in a historical context as well. Also it isn’t really limited to places connected to my ancestors, but pretty much anywhere I look these days I find myself questioning what I see. It could be in the fields and hedgerows or urban streets, but I always seem to be finding things that warrant (in my mind) further investigation.

For instance, the other day I mentioned the River Lavant at West Dean, which is a dried up stream for much of the year, but springs into life in the winter months. Admittedly there is a tenuous connection with my ancestors because it runs through the ancestral villages of Singleton and West Dean, but it really has nothing to do with family history.

However I am intrigued by its presence and want to find out more. I have purchased a book on the river and have spent some time studying old maps, trying to trace its course and studying current maps wondering whether it would be feasible to walk the course of the river, or at least close by it. However unless I happen to find that one of my ancestors worked in one of the mills along the river or one of my relatives drowned in the river it is unlikely that it is ever going to be part of my family history.

Then there is my obsession with the county boundary of Sussex, again more significance to me researching my ancestors now than my ancestors themselves as you need to know where to look to find records, but now I find myself studying closely the path of boundary, in fact studying it much closer than is really necessary. I find myself wondering whether there are any markers that show the course of the boundary and of course I plan to walk the Sussex Border Path next year when I can find the time.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am supposed to be working on my family history and that should mean focusing on the people as well as the places, but these days the places seem to be getting all the attention. I know I shouldn’t fight it, but I do feel a little guilty for neglecting my ancestors.

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