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.
I spent a large part of Saturday with a paintbrush in my hand. It has been quite a while since I had to do any decorating and I had forgotten just how satisfying it can be. It wasn’t actually paint on the brush this time but wood preservative for our new garden shed, but regardless of that I still found it quite rewarding and even therapeutic.
It is especially satisfying when I consider how many of my ancestors have earned their living with a paintbrush. Both my father and grandfather were painters and decorators and until a few years ago that was as far as my decorating ancestry extended.
Then I discovered the name of my illegitimate grandfather’s father and his occupation. I was surprised to discover that my great-grandfather had also been a decorator (and a sign-writer), this shared occupation made perfect sense, although I can’t say for certain that there was any connection between the fact that my grandfather shared the same occupation as his father. I don’t even know if there was ever any connection between the two.
With a new branch of my family tree to explore there were many new discoveries to be made, but the biggest surprise was the discovery that not only was my newly discovered great-grandfather a decorator but so was his father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather. My father recalled that he was once jokingly told at school that painting was in his blood, little did he know then how true that really was.
I don’t recall any painting lessons but I am sure some of the skill was probably picked up from my father, as he probably learnt from his father as a youngster. Beyond that it is impossible to say whether the skill was passed down from father to son, but when I stand with a paintbrush in my hand I know I really am following in my ancestor’s footsteps or at least their brush strokes.
I feel it is time I got on with some family history, but I am not quite sure what at the moment. My father encouraged me in everything that I did and family history was no exception. He enjoyed hearing about my latest discoveries even if he wasn’t able to participate himself and I am sure he wouldn’t want me to stop now.
He was a source of so many family stories and he was the one who had saved so many family photos and documents over the years. This is just one of the many things that I have to thank him for.
To stop researching now is not an option, there is just so much unfinished work to be done but I am struggling to find away back in. From this blog I can see what I had been working on, and I should really try to pick up from where I left off, but that just doesn’t appeal to me at the moment.
What I really need though is something that is going to get me excited and inspire me to get researching again and also give me something to write about.
There are lots of other things I wanted to start looking at and many stories that I need to share, but again none of them are really appealing to me at the moment. I don’t know whether I want to be focusing in detail on one person or family or perhaps trying to expand my tree a little further. Should I look at a recent generation or something further back? Do I want to answer some of my outstanding questions or start something fresh.
Perhaps I should be thinking about places first, perhaps a pub or house, maybe something larger like a village or town, perhaps a county or a geographical area like the Weald or South Downs. Perhaps I should just concentrate on some housekeeping, trying to tie up some loose ends and organising my files.
The other thing I must do is answer some emails, I have let them pile up over the last few weeks and I apologise to those that haven’t had a reply, but I will try to get back to you soon I promise.
(2nd November 1938 – 27th May 2011)
Sometimes the simple things in life are best. Like yesterday morning when my wife and I visited Worthing, West Sussex. We took the bus and it was busy, getting uncomfortably crowded and warm, so by the time we got to Lancing we had enough and decided to escape and continue the journey on foot. That was the best decision day.
It was only a couple of miles and for the first stretch of the walk the busy road was within sight and earshot, but we soon picked our way across the pebbles and down to the sandy beach, and we could easily have been miles away.
For a mile or so we almost had the beach to ourselves, only the occasional dog walker and a trio of fishermen hauling their boat ashore. The sun was shining and although it really isn’t that warm yet, for those few minutes the sun shone upon us and warmed our hearts. The promise of spring and summer was in the air.
All too soon our beach ran out, the incoming tide making it harder and harder to find a dry path. It was too cold to think of paddling so we reluctantly made our way back up the beach to civilisation.
After that the day never recovered, the crowds, the shops, the traffic and the cloud blocking out the sun. Our brief moment of pleasure gone, but leaving us with a taste of what we can look forward to.