When I was very young, I had a full complement of parents and grandparents plus a bonus great-grandmother.  However, one by one they all died until, by the early 1980s, I was the oldest surviving member of my immediate family.  As a working single parent in my twenties, I was far too busy trying to cope with the everyday challenges of life during a recession, such as keeping shoes on my children’s feet and a roof over our heads, to indulge myself with thinking about history.

It wasn’t until many years later that I began to wonder who my predecessors might have been and what their lives might have been like but, of course, there was no-one left to ask. 

When I took my first tentative genealogical steps, I knew almost nothing – not even all my grandparents’ first names – and had assumed that neither of my parents had been particularly close to their own families because my father had been evacuated during WW2 and my mother had been sent to boarding school at a very early age.  

As there is no one left to contradict me, it would be easy to imagine being descended from perfect nuclear families of well-behaved ancestors who were successful and wealthy, or ‘salt of the earth’ hard-working god-fearing folks, all completely above reproach and never making a mistake nor a taking a wrong turn in life.

Nothing could ever have prepared me for some of the facts I would uncover during my time travelling, but I believe I am now better able to appreciate how one small decision by an individual can impact down through the years.  Looking back can expose some of the twists and turns of life: those random chances of good fortune – and bad luck – that weave their way through each lifetime.

I have no doubt now that trying to understand our ancestors can help us make sense of the past and trying to understand the past can help us make sense of our ancestors. 

Not everyone in these stories is genetically related to me, but they all deserve to be remembered.

Natalie Mayhew
Winter 2021