Saturday, 14 April 2012

Something for the Weekend 5

Most weekends BI-Gen will take a break from the world of family history news and wander into other areas. This new ‘Something for the Weekend’ feature will give myself and others the chance to vent their spleens with an opinion-piece, to recommend a product or research technique, or to simply show-off their expertise! Who knows what will find its way onto the blog?

If you’ve an idea, run it past me - I'd really like to hear from you. There is no need to be an expert, a published author, or qualified in any way. If you've got something interesting to say, get in touch with me at .

This week we look at a neglected area of our family histories...

Things which make us who we’re not

The character traits which mark people out as different from other folk are what make individuals really interesting. This applies to everyone: friends, acquaintances, family members – and, of course, ourselves.  Furthermore, when we’re cobbling together biographies of our ancestors, these little personality quirks are like little nuggets of gold.

Chances are, of course, that you’re somewhat limited about what you can say about long-dead relatives. You may be able to say when and where they were born, married and died, where they lived their lives and what they did for a living – but in most cases, that’s pretty much it. This article isn’t for them.

But if you’re looking to conduct a character appraisal of yourself or your parents (or maybe grandparents) – or anyone, in fact, for which a good deal of biographical tittle-tattle is known, well, it’s a different matter altogether.

All the usual angles are fair game. Names, dates, occupations, places of abode, work and leisure. Everyone has hobbies and interests, skills and talents, virtues and vices. All of which are coloured and tainted by chance, misfortune, opportunity, wealth, health, and, of course, strength of character. These things are often easily defined, occasionally less so, but it takes a skilled biographer to successfully intertwine the many and varied strands of a person’s life into an effective biography.

Equally, however, it’s the things which an individual didn’t believe in, subscribe to or partake in which mark them out as special. And this fact is worth remembering when attempting to fulfil your role as the family historian. Consider how the following ‘negative’ facts may greatly enhance a family member’s life story:
  • Dislikes (food, sport/games, TV/book/music genres, etc);
  • Fears (phobias, etc);
  • Regrets (missed opportunities, bad decisions);
  • Health problems;
  • Prejudices;
  • and even personality defects (bad temper, impatience, etc).

In addition to the above, there are a whole host of other areas of interest. These aren’t necessarily ‘negative’ in a bad sense, but rather as going ‘against the grain’. Eccentricities are of obvious interest, but take this ‘off the cuff’ list of my own little foibles – all of which seem to fly in the face of what we’re all supposed to like and enjoy:
  • I have a fear of public speaking;
  • I can’t drive;
  • I don’t like foreign holidays;
  • I’m not a ‘party person’;
  • I don’t like conflict;
  • I don’t watch soap operas;
  • I have no interest in our ‘celebrity culture’.

And a good few more besides…

So when you eventually sit down to write your memoirs, or to pen the biography of your mother, father or uncle, then don’t forget about the negatives. It’ll make for a positively riveting read.

Mick Southwick

1 comment:

  1. Interesting as I am currently thinking about writting a book about my parents. Thanks C