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Sunday, 26 February 2012

You can't choose your relations

Most people, I think, would like to look back through their family tree and find some interesting or noteworthy characters. Maybe a politician, a mistress of a Royal, an heroic soldier, or perhaps a darker side to their family such as a slave trader or criminal. But that's OK when it's in the past isn't it. We can distance ourselves and our present lives from anything that our ancestors might have done, because we are not them. True?

Funny then how that doesn't apply to current family situations. If you find out that a family member has gone to prison for example, do you react the same as if that family member lived 100 or 200 years ago? I suspect not. And I don't understand why.

There is a term, "guilt by association". This actually has some legal standing, not only in several American states, but also in English law. It means if you know about an illegal (or just plain wrong) act and do nothing to stop it, you are as guilty as the person actually committing that act. It does NOT mean that anyone who simply knows the individual is as guilty as the criminal themselves. It is perfectly possible to know someone and not condone their actions. I know this because I am one of those people.

I learned this weekend that people who know me (or know of me) in real life have been reading this blog. My first reaction to that is Great! That's what it's for! But then I started to think about how what is written here could potentially change how those people treat me the next time we meet or have to work together. It's not that it is any secret that my husband is in prison in the US, or even what he did to end up there. Everyone who knows me socially, knows about my marriage. I am still the same person I was before those readers found this blog - still doing the same job in the same way, living in the same crappy social housing and still liking the same music and speaking in the same language with the same spiritual beliefs. But now not only do I wonder if they will treat me differently (however subtly) but also if I will treat them differently too. It's an unusual situation: I know roughly who they are, and they obviously know me, but they may not know that I know. Sounds more like an espionage thriller than a day in the life of an inmate wife....

The reason I'm posting about this though is more because I have been doing some genealogy recently. I did my husband's birth mother's family a while ago and thanks to the Mormons I managed to trace them back to the late 1600s to their origins in the Bayern area in the Bavarian region of Germany. I've been there, it's lovely, and I haven't yet found the exact reason for their relocation to what is now Maryland USA. In my husband's family there are wealthy timber merchants and a politician (to his amusement, a Republican), but no other criminals that I've discovered.

Last weekend I did some digging into my own family history. My mum tried a few years before she died, but did not get very far, mainly because she couldn't get access to any documents (pre-internet) and because our families seem to have their children later in life so there are bigger generation spans and most of them have died. We're also not in any way shape or form a "close family".

I used a relatively new site findmypast.co.uk which allows you to purchase blocks of credits to access documents, rather than having to sign up for a whole year's subscription. This was my magic key! I have now tentatively gone back on both my parent's sides to around 1800, but I now have some mysteries of my own to solve:

* Why did my great great grandfather retire from the police before he was 35, and how and why did he show up on a census return aged 16 living at an address in Cheapside London with no parents and only a "Person in charge" given?

* Why does his daughter show up much later with her husband and also a different man living with them, with his status given as "father in law"?

* Did both sides of the family know each other? And was one a lodger of the other family at one point as a census return suggests?

* If my grandad had a sister, who lived just 20 miles from the rest of us, why didn't my parents ever tell me, especially when I knew about his brothers?

One of our family names is Coldrey. It's not particularly common, and I'd be interested to hear from anyone else with that name, who might be able to shed some light on my retired policeman.

On the whole though, my history is how I had been told. We're of simple country stock and really haven't moved out of our native county before my parents up-sticks to Cornwall. I'll be doing a trip back to our main village in a couple of weeks so maybe I'll have some more pieces of the puzzle after that.

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