The family historian

She sits alone, in her kitchen, or her bedroom, or maybe even in her office. Just her and the computer, a desk and a pile of books. Shoulders ridiculously hunched, nose almost touching the screen, as if her breath alone can conjure magic out of those search engines. If she’s lucky she’ll have a relatively unusual surname, though thanks to the traditional family habit of naming offspring after themselves she’ll have a merry time figuring out James senior from James junior and James junior junior. She spends a good deal of time sighing, and occasionally swearing and muttering to herself, and wondering whose idea it was in the first place to set off down this endless, foggy path into her family history.

It doesn’t help to know it was her idea, and that no one ever forced her to do this, or pressured her to keep going, or let’s face it, gives a hoot one way or another.

The one thing she knows is she will never give up: despite the outside world’s indifference, the loneliness and the frustration and the thought of all those other things she could usefully be doing with her life, such as earning a living, or volunteering, or improving her house. This is not a hobby so much as an addiction.

On occasion,  as a treat,  she will don her hat and gloves and trot into town to visit the library. This is a real day out: lofty surroundings, special, even rare books, carefully selected and placed reverentially on the desk in front of her.

Hours later and they’re switching off the lights and metaphorically putting the chairs on the tables. She blinks into the daylight and forces herself with difficulty back into the 21st century. It’s not until she gets home and looks through her notes that she realises,  really, how little of value she’s managed to discover in all that time. Except. Except. You never know. Nothing is ever wasted, except time.

Now and again the miraculous happens. After hours rummaging through Trove, hunting, hunting, revising the search terms, ignoring the creeping feelings of despair,  the ticking clock and the rumble of a stomach deprived of nourishment, she has a Eureka moment: a genuine find, a nugget of new information, an explanation of a puzzle only she was ever aware of. This is her very own piece of solid gold. So what if her excitement is out of all proportion to the size of the piece of the jigsaw.  It is one small step on the way to the filling in of the puzzle, the lifting of the fog.

Now and again she will receive a message from a stranger, a distant relative who’s found her on the internet. And they will share their knowledge and findings, and the puzzle will become a little more complete and for a short glorious moment she will know she is not alone.

She is in her own way a hero. Unsung, unrecognized, but a hero nonetheless.


Coming soon:

A Country Kindle

Book two  in the Pitt family saga.