Tuesday, 2 November 2010

The photo album

Readers of Scottish GENES will know that I was in Australia last week to do a few genealogy talks, and that I managed to travel extensively across the country during my twelve days there. For the most part I was lucky enough to be able to stay with relatives who very handily for me just happened to be based in all the key cities that I was visiting! Amongst these was my uncle Bill in Melbourne, who emigrated to Australia as a 'ten pound pom' in 1968, having left our home town of Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland to get away from the 17th century sectarianism, which to this day still infests much of the place.

I actually stayed with Bill some three years ago for a few days, but on this occasion I was bowled over by a discovery of a family history resource which he has in his possession which I knew nothing of. It turns out that when Bill moved to Australia, he took with him an envelope stuffed with family photos, which his wife Beth has since arranged in chronological order and mounted in a photograph album, along with other images posted out to him by family members post-emigration. Amongst the pictures were many surprises, including several of my grandmother, mother and aunt with a baby named "?" on the back. I've gone by many names in the past, but "?" is probably the shortest! They were taken in Helensburgh, where I lived for four years as a child. (Picture: myself and aunt Nicolle in Helensburgh)

There were several additional images, including many of my mother and her sisters as children growing up in Carrickfergus, but there were two other subjects also present in the pictures which really took the wind from my sails.

My middle name is Mark, named after an uncle of mine who was severely disabled and who tragically died at the age of thirteen, and of whom I only have the very basic of memories from my time as a small child. Until last week, I had only ever seen one photograph of him, taken in the back garden of his house in Carrickfergus with two of his sisters and a niece, and which is horribly out of focus. Billy's album turned out to be packed with photos of him, showing a child who had a lot of fun and love thrown his way. It is an odd sensation to finally become reacquainted with a family member through an old photograph, but to see his short life glimpsed in a series of snapshots was quite an emotional experience. Putting a face to a name is always a useful endeavour, but when you put someone else's face to your own name, in this case a middle name, it just helps to complete your sense of yourself. (Picture: Mark, with my mother)

But the key image in the collection was one that I did not expect to find in a million years. My parents married in Ireland just a week after Billy emigrated, but were to separate less than ten years later when I was just eight, the eldest of four kids. From my childhood, there's not a single image of them together, as for much of the time of their marriage my father was off sailing around the world in submarines with the navy. So imagine my surprise when in Billy's album I discovered a photograph of the two of them taken together on their wedding day, standing outside my mother's house just a couple of hours before they married! An image of them holding hands, the potential of the future before them, with all the hopes and expectations that that entailed. Many of us are excited to find old family photos from the albums of distant relatives, but of all the discoveries of the last ten years that I have made during my family history research, a simple solitary picture of my parents taken together on their wedding day has probably been the find of my ancestral journey to date.


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