Thursday, 23 June 2011
Family Trees and Shrubs
Last weekend my elder son wore The Kilt for the first time as formal dress at a friends' wedding, although it was not the right tartan, and he was disappointed to find that the blade of the sgian dubh had been sealed for Health'n'Safety reasons. He and his brother have well-documented rights to their clan tartan, and their father (even though he was a third-generation New Zealander) was always keen that they should know their family history.
I am quite keen that they should not know their family history from my side, or at least not all of it, not the bits of which I deeply disapprove.
Then I think, who do I think I am? What rights of approval and disapproval do I have over my own family background?
When people agree to appear in the BBC television series, Who Do You Think You Are? there are inevitably some shocks in store (which make for better viewing figures, of course).
I do not want to think that I am dependent on my ancestors for being who and what I am today. Certainly there is genetic inheritance, and there are socio-economic factors which have affected me, but their lives were completely different, even one generation ago.
So I am doing what parents always have done and will do....selecting the good bits and giving credit where it may possibly be due. Such as, 'You are so like your Grandfather, he had a photographic memory', and 'Your Great-Grandmother was talented in art and music'.
I edit out the bad bits, the bits I found out about too late in life to challenge the perpetrators; the double-dealing and low cunning, the shady behaviour in War-Time, the general mess and confusion of family life including episodes of what can now only be called cruelty, but which might then have been interpreted as 'character-forming'. Possibly.
Times change, our knowledge and understanding changes with it.
My late husband believed that he had inherited the ability to whisk egg-whites with his bare hands, his father allegedly being able to do so, and no doubt other members of the clan before him. One entertaining afternoon this genetic skill was proved not to have been inherited, but our sons were told of hardiness, endurance and other traits which were certainly needed in days long past; in Scotland, in the days of the early settlers in New Zealand, and on the long sea-journey between the two.
Family history becomes a sort-of myth, where people are mostly well-intentioned and fairly honourable. There are amusing anecdotes, and entertaining sepia photographs. I hope I am not being unrealistic in wanting to keep it that way.
Parts of it are true.