As an avid family historian, I’m a great believer in memoirs and autobiographies. If your aged family members are capable, encourage them to give you a written piece on their life experiences. If that would be too difficult, encourage them to talk about their lives — the times they laughed until their sides ached, or when sadness overtook them, in fact, to tell you about everything, including what they remember about great uncle Fred.
I know, it’s not always easy in our busy lives to find time to sit and talk but, just remember, those frail relatives will probably not be around when you finally do have the time to spend with them. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard those researching their family trees say they wished they’d asked the questions. Please don’t be one of them. We often only develop an interest in our roots as we age. Don’t leave it too late.
I’m so pleased I encouraged my mother, then in her eighties, to write about her life. Elizabeth Alker, the only child of humble, working class parents, was born in Pemberton, Wigan. She seems to have had it all, born to loving parents, and then later, fortunate enough to have a happy marriage, caring children, and a long and healthy life. Her journey, however, has not been straightforward. Fate has a way of disrupting the smoothest of paths, and that’s how it was for her.
As an only child, a series of illnesses and deaths marred her teenage years leaving her an orphan, bereft of close family. She married quite young, only eighteen. Soon after, when her mother died, and she was still reeling from the shock of losing the last of her immediate family, her husband did his utmost to ease her loneliness and shock. That is, until fate threw her world into chaos again. As the second world war loomed, her young husband, already in the territorial army and among the first sent away, unhappily had to leave her alone with her firstborn.
Follow her on her journey through an extraordinary life, sometimes tragic, sometimes hilarious. An ordinary young woman, living her life in the same area and time frame as George Orwell’s study of the working class, Elizabeth would have witnessed the same scenes he depicted. Orwell concentrated on the negative side of the 1930s Great Depression, while Elizabeth’s recollections show the sheer grit and determination of the community at that time. Ordinary people often have a tale to tell, if only to give another view to contrast with accepted social studies.