Many of us have been fortunate to know our grandparents. For those of us that did not, we often learn about their lives from our own parents. What if you never knew your grandparents and your parents had never known them either? With his first child on the way, Danny McClure wanted to learn more about his ancestry, and his grandmother in particular. We asked Danny about his family history research.
What was your inspiration in researching your family history?
My inspiration for getting started with my research was the pending arrival of our first child Ciara in 2010. Actually, our main tree is named after her on Ancestry. It was always something I had wanted to do. It was only when my wife and I were expecting Ciara that it really made me think about my family history.
I had always thought that I was a melting pot of really different ancestors and this proved to be somewhat correct. With every person I find or come across I learn something different. They might not be kings or great revolutionaries, but each person had a different job, location and story. There were new discoveries with almost every turn. My children are my inspiration to continue my research into my ancestors.
When you were getting started, what was the most important question you were trying to answer?
If I am honest, there was one burning question and it’s not as far back as you would think. I never knew my grandmother. Who was my grandmother? My mother had spent time in two different orphanages for the first 7 or 8 years of her life. Her mother had passed away when she was just 4-months old and my mother was the youngest of six children. I had heard all sorts of stories over the years. One story claimed that Grandma was found on the doorstep of a brewery abandoned by her parents who were refugees from Eastern Europe. Other stories said that Grandma had died from slipping through thin ice and drowning. The latter did turn out to be somewhat true, but the abandonment story was a million miles from the truth. I found two newspaper articles about Grandma’s death, which helped separate fact from fiction. I also found her death certificate and other documents which pointed to her origins.
The most amazing discovery actually found me, when a lady named Linda contacted me via Ancestry. Her mother, Eileen (my grandma’s first cousin), is my mom’s godmother. They all emigrated to Australia in the 1960s from Manchester and had not seen my mother since then. This all culminated in my mom and I having a Skype call with Linda and Eileen, during which I learned a lot about my grandmother, most of which neither Mom nor I knew. Over what was a very emotional but amazing hour-long conversation, my mother learned of her mother’s love of singing, pride of dress and elegant speaking voice. I guess you could say my one burning question got answered.
How many years have you been working on your family tree?
I have been working on my family tree since my wife was expecting our first child, a little over 5 years in total. I worked at it intensely over the first couple of years but we now have three children so my time spent on genealogy has been less frequent. I expect to devote more time to it when my children are a little older.
Finding photographs of my ancestors spurs me on. This is my grandmother Vera Cartmell as a baby. The inset is a photo from when she was around 30-years old, just two years before she died.
What has been the biggest mystery or brick wall you’ve encountered or are currently working on solving?
My biggest block has been my great-grandfather Robert Cartmell. I have a good idea and am fairly sure on all of my great-great-grandparents except Robert’s parents. I have found a few possibilities through marriage certificates and I know his father’s name is George, but nothing seems to fit. Hitting a brick wall has made me more resolute than ever to continue my research.
Did you have any surprises in your family tree? If so, what were they?
There were some surprises along the way. Most surrounded my grandma and her family. My great-grandmother and her siblings ran a pub, which I tracked down early this year. I visited the pub recently and it was a more emotional experience than I thought it would be. Most of my surprises have come from finding over 100 new relatives all across the globe, including contacting my own godfather for the first time since my baptism!
What were the reactions of your family members when you shared the information you discovered?
The reaction I received from my family was a mixture of disbelief, pride, amazement and emotion. In particular, with regard to my grandmother’s life story. I have been pleasantly surprised and humbled by some of the reactions. However, a couple of family members have rejected the information, preferring to believe the information that has been passed on through the family orally, even though I have proved it to be incorrect. I can understand this. Although I have been on an amazing journey of discovery, the journey that my mother and her siblings have been on is a far more emotionally challenging one. Sometimes it can be easier to hold onto to whatever truth makes your memories easier to live with.
My advice to anyone setting off on this journey of discovery is to keep digging, as there will never be a day when you can find no more. It helps you to understand who you are and to appreciate the obstacles and the challenges that your ancestors overcame to leave the path free for you. It is a wonderful and surreal moment when you see the name of your 7th great-grandfather and think, “I wouldn’t be here if it was not for him.”
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