When I was down in Cornwall this summer I got the chance to nip over the border to visit Plymouth, my grandfather’s patch, and somewhere I’d hardly ever been. My great-uncle, Granddad’s youngest brother, whom I hadn’t seen since I was a kid, is 96 now and was still dancing when he was 93.
His son had brought along a lot of old photos and we just sat and chatted about the people in them, and other family members, for hours. My uncle’s a quiet man but it was amazing the stories he told about the family and about his life – school, scouting, politics, jobs, the war and, er, racing pigeons. It was so inspiring to get a glimpse of family that way, and of a vanished time.
I’d nearly borrowed a digital recorder off a colleague but didn’t have time in the rush to hand over everything at work and to pack, but I wish I had. When I wrote up my notes afterwards I was amazed how much I had taken down, but having the recorder would have been even better. I’d prepared questions a few weeks in advanced and emailed them through to my cousin, and I would strongly recommend that too, it jogged my memory when I got absorbed in all the chat.
I think seeing the photos was very moving for my great-uncle, seeing his wife so movie-star-stunning in her parachute-silk wedding dress and remembering the men from work who’d presented him with an award. I felt so honoured to have shared that moment with him, looking back from that sunny Plymouth afternoon.
It wasn’t about data, it wasn’t about discovering new branches of the family, it was just about people – family – what made them tick, what was important to them, what they were good at and what drove them on.
A privilege and an amazing day.