Life Story Writing

Teaching Life Story Writing and Musings On My Life ~

What Happened? Will We Ever Know?

My Grandad was one of five siblings.  As a child I learned this because I asked him.  I remember him telling me how his mother would call all five of their names outloud to gather them together,’ Lilly, Johnny, Harry, James and Susan!’  Grandad lost his father in a work related accident while his mother was still carrying his yet unborn sister Susan.  Within a month he was to lose his maternal grandfather too.  The family was thrown into crisis.  The siblings were seperated and sent away.  The picture blurs and we can only see glimpses or fragments of their lives as we try to piece together clues left in records or folklore passed down through two more generations.

Later in life as I came to research the family history and ask the oldest members of the family what they knew about the siblings this is what I was told.  Johnny died in the war, Lilly died as a nurse on the Titanic, Harry apparently lived nearby but there was some kind of rift between him and his brother, my Granddad.  My mother said she met Harry once as he came to Grandad’s funeral. Susan, great aunt Gerry told me, had ran off with a Bookie and lived Cambridge way.

Time passed.  I married and moved away to America and began a family of my own.  Five children came to our home Mitchell, Brittanie, Elliott, Brooke and Brieya.  Five siblings.  I didn’t have much time to do family history now.  Then one ordinary day the phone rang.  It was my father. ‘I’ve had a phone call from an Ann Haldane who says she is your grandad’s sister, Lilly’s grand daughter.  I thought since you are the family historian I would pass the information on to you.’  Dad is a smart and successful business man but he has little time or interest in this new discovery it would seem.

Over the coming days, months and even years Ann and I began to share our stories and discoveries about the family.  It happens Lilly didn’t die on the Titanic, she was never on the fated voyage.  Whether the family really believed she was on there or someone fabricated the story we will never know.  Lilly left her family in her young life never to return.  We have no concrete reason, we can only speculate.  She did become a nurse though.  Ann was also able to substantiate that Johnny was killed in the war although war records remain to be found.  Still there was so little information, so many unanswered questions.

That was ten years ago.  Then just the other day Ann emailed me. ‘I have had a message on the ancestry boards from Linda Frost.  She says she is the grand daughter of Susan.’  For years we had wondered what had happened to Susan.  Could we trace her steps and find her descendants?  But her trail was complicated and the information we had been given was not wholly reliable.  Yet here she was, a descendant of Susan, like the universe had called out to her for us and she had found us, just like Ann had found me.

Over the next few days, three grand daughters of the five siblings began to tell their part of the story to one another.  Linda was a double boon as her Grandmother Susan and Harry had been close.  She was able to tell us about both.  We were able to see their faces for the first time.  Harry’s resemblance to my grand father was striking.

Harry and Susan

We discovered Susan’s daughter, Rita,  is still alive and in her 90’s.  Still again for all the information we did have, after all these years of wondering, there was still so much we didn’t have. There was also this deep sense of loss.  Harry and Susan lived at the same time we lived.  We could have met them, touched them, known them.  Yet they had remained forgotten.  Shut out of our lives.

Whatever reasons the siblings had for leading their seperate lives died and were buried with them.  Two generations later we don’t know and we dont care.  All we know is we are left with a shattered legacy.  For us it is easy to see what is important looking back with crystal clarity.  So for future generations sake, heal the breach, mend the rift, swallow the pride, pray away the anger, look with compassion and forgive, overcome and embrace what family you have.  Leave a legacy of love and caring for your children, grand children and all those that come after.  They want to know you so please leave something they can remember you by.


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3 thoughts on “What Happened? Will We Ever Know?

  1. I am an old journo and I am in the “gathering” phase for my family history. I started writing fragments in 1987 would you believe, but now it’s time. I have been wrestling with style and you have just shown me how to do it. My thanks. If you have the time and inclination to yarn with an old Australian journo, come back to me. Regards.


    • Thanks for the comment. I feel like a voice in the wilderness sometimes when I write and post on my blog or facebook page. And then when someone makes a comment I realize that people are reading and listening and that my voice can fly around the earth and back. How crazy is that? So tell me more about your family story and how you found my blog. Did you find it through my Life Story Writing facebook page? My brother lived in Australia for a while and loved it!


      • Greetings and thanks for coming back to me so quickly… I am confused. Where I am writing now is a blog, yes? Run by a mob called WordPress? So does that mean we are having a private conversation or can great mobs of people with nothing better to do “listen in”? If so, then it’s OK if one is talking about the great weekend one had at the widget festival, but not so if one is a writer, baring one’s soul, kind-of. In short, Teri, I need to know just what I can say, one writer to another. I’m also not too thrilled with the idea of completing my email etc details every time I post a reply. Hell, I even thought I’d stick a photo of my ugly mug down below, here, but then I found I had to join something called Gravatar. They talk in a funny language…
        Now, you asked about my story.. I now have lots of stuff — my own memories of 70 years, of course, as an observer of humanity as well as a participant; hundreds of “clippings” from; a vast family tree in Family Tree Maker; the beginnings of a structure in Novamind; the first, tentative steps in Scrivener. I can go back to the 18th century in Devon, England. I know why my ancestors migrated to Australia after centuries of living, breeding, dying within a few miles from a village called Ashreigny…. there’s lots to tell.
        You commented about Australia. It’s a great place. I’ve seen much of the world and always come back. We were in New England last year while I shot pictures of the fall, for instance. It’s so different right now, with the storm, as I write this and I have been monitoring the wellbeing of some friends in Boston. They’re OK.
        We live in Brisbane — you can google it. Right now, it’s warm and Karen and I went to the organic markets this morning to buy lots of great tropical fruit and veg. The world is good, for us, and sometimes I feel a bit guilty because we have so much and the rest of the world so little. We do share — a lot — with people less fortunate and I mentor a dozen young businessmen, steering them through the swamps. But that’s another story…..
        How did I find you? Through Facebook, that dreadful place where bored thirty-somethings talk about their morning meet ups, or where young people use bad language in describing their Friday night antics.
        So…. is this way of talking OK? Or should we skid off into an email exchange so we can be a bit more private?
        Seconds later: Hells bells. I just filled in my email address below and somehow it completed the “form” with my penname and then a reference to the Gravatar site. Scary, no?
        Like I said at the start, I am confused…..


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