Wednesday 8 February 2017

Who do I think I am?

View from Anderston to Govan (featuring the 'Squinty Bridge')
In 2014 I did something I have never done before, and may never do again. I paid with my own money to attend a family history fair in the UK. I have attended every Who Do You Think You Are - Live in London and Birmingham, and before that, every Society of Genealogists Fair in London, as well as a number of local and national events. I was always a volunteer for one organisation or other, and since 2003 it has been part of the day job.

This was different. 'Who Do You Think You Are - Live!' was in Glasgow, the city of my birth, and where I have at least one line of ancestry back to the 16th Century. Both my parents, all four grandparents and five of my great-grandparents were born there too. So you can understand why I was keen to go. But despite my deep roots in the city, and elsewhere in Scotland, I don't mind admitting that I am much more knowledgable about English genealogy than Scottish. I like to think I have a reasonable working knowledge of Scottish records, but it is not where my expertise lies. So when I am in Scotland I am the enthusiastic amateur, and it is actually rather enjoyable being on the other side of desk for a change!

I had a wonderful time, I could suit myself and do what I wanted without looking at my watch all the time to see when I needed to be back on duty. The location of WDYTYA - Live!, the SECC, was also a happy coincidence for me. It is in an impressive setting on the banks of the Clyde, in Anderston to be precise, a district of Glasgow that is virtually unrecognisable from even a few decades ago. My father and many of his family were born there, and from my room in the Hilton hotel I had a view across the river to Govan, where my mother was born, as were many members of her family. So I could hardly have been more at home if I tried.

I have spent most of my life in England, and have no plans to move, but I have never for a minute identified myself as English; British yes, and Scottish, yes, but not English, much as I love the place and (most of ) the natives! I guess the acid test is 'Who do you support in a sporting contest?' My answer to that is that I support a Scottish team or contestant if there is one, and if it is a contest where teams or individuals compete on behalf of the UK or GB, then I root for the British team or person. In a contest where Scotland and England are both involved, I am all for Scotland, but if (and sadly, all too often when) Scotland are out, it's 'Eng-er-land' for me! I am not one of those who support two teams, Scotland, and whoever is playing against England. If you could have heard my father screaming himself hoarse as he cheered England on to victory in the 1966 World Cup, you'd know where I get it from.

Although I haven't lived there in over 50 years, I am very much a Glaswegian - you can take the girl out of Glasgow, but you can't take Glasgow out of the girl! In many ways I feel I have more in common with people from other cities than with other parts of Scotland, although I have ancestral lines from the rural Scottish counties and the Highlands too. I was also surprised to find just how much I felt at home in Ireland the first time I visited, long before I discovered just how mush Irish ancestry I have. But perhaps that is just a characteristic of family historians in general; we are always looking for something that we can identify with in people and places everywhere, to understand them better.

As a family historian I have discovered over the years that yes, I am very interested in my own family, and families that I have some connection with. But much of the time I am equally excited by the things that I find out about other people's families too. I have always been fascinated by all things historical, an in particular the 'what people did all day' kind of history. I am keen to know about the history of the places where I have lived, and where I live now (which I will write about another time). To get the most out of your family research you want to see where your people fitted in to their time and place, their communities and the wider world. That's why I want to know about the neighbours, and what they were up to, and what was influencing their lives. Or perhaps I'm just nosy.