My maternal Grandfather was born in 1898 and died around 1958 or thereabouts. Having never met him (or, sadly, my Grandmother) I only have snippets of their character from my mum and inevitably don’t hold much emotional attachment to them. They are names, and were important figures in my mum and her two brothers’ lives but mean little to me.
And yet, it struck me the other day, without them both I would not be here. Without them, my mother wouldn’t have been born, nor met my dad, nor had me and my brother as children. My girlfriend wouldn’t have met me, and somebody else would be living in this house and doing the job I do. I owe my existence to their survival.
So far, so obvious, so sickly.
The reason this all came to me was the dumb realisation that my grandfather fought in and survived WW1 – fought as a 2nd Lt, the rank of soldier who most got culled throughout the war. It occurred to me how little I knew of his feats, or how he managed to survive while millions perished. I’d always been blase about his involvement, partly because it was in World War One (most of my generation’s grandparents were likely born on or around WW2), a war about which I know embarrassingly little, but also because nobody in my family knows much either.
That’s how it was, of course. If you survived the hell of war, you certainly didn’t talk about it, and my grandfather was a wallflower at the best of times. Not even his son, my uncle who fought in Malaya in the 1950s, knew anything of his father’s deeds, other than he was awarded an MiD (Mention in Dispatches) and the troop/company to whom he belonged. We know nothing other than several cuttings from the London Gazette that my cousin discovered.
So, if I am indebted to his survival, I’m also indebted to his parents. And theirs. And my great-great-great-great grandparents. Had just one of those people not survived, or met a different husband/wife, I wouldn’t be here. None of us would. I’m not sure if genealogy has a connection with the butterfly effect, but it does seem to share similarities. It’s also a mind fuck. Had one of the Hun’s stray bullets headed in his direction, I wouldn’t be inflicting this rambling saccharine nonsense on whichever poor soul is reading it.
About ten years ago I was arguing with my aunt about our paternal family history. To my astonishment, a quick Google search uncovered my entire family history stretching back to the early 1600s. The only missing parts were, well, me and my brother and father. It had been done by a lovely bloke who was housebound due to an illness, and had discovered that his family, Taylor, and ours had married in the 15th or 16th century. Since then, he helped me find the tiny little Cornish town where my family lived, Phillack, near St Ives, which is doubly odd considering all the family holidays we had there as a kid. Makes you wonder…
Since knowing my family’s history in such detail, I have to admit it’s changed my outlook on life a little. Knowing all that they accomplished gives you an incredible feeling of duty to carry it on. Hasn’t quite gone to plan as yet, as I haven’t built any ships, engines, lighthouses, mines or buildings or been a politician nicknamed Peanut, or had a road named after me, but there’s time yet.