Late in life, in a letter to a newly discovered cousin, the only cousin she had ever known, my mother expressed the pain of her reality; of never having enjoyed the benefits of having a close extended family or of knowing who she was. As the youngest of four, I continued to live with her unbridled grief after my siblings all left home. Now, late in life, I find myself still wrestling with the ghost of her past, a reality which I share by default.
I never knew my grandparents, I never had a connection with uncles or aunts and there were no joyous family gatherings with cousins. It was not until the bicentenary in 1988 that I discovered that my maternal great-grandfather was a prominent Queensland surveyor who descended from a prominent shipbuilding family in Hobart. It turned out that he was very handy with words! Apart from writing articles for a Brisbane paper he produced a couple of books, one which I found in the Queensland Library. I made the effort to pour through these writings and documented quite a bit of it online. However, after weathering the storms of life I shelved the material in a box, a box which has been patiently waiting to be reopened.
Over the past four years, I have undertaken a Masters of Social Work and I am now graduating. Essays that explored Indigenous trauma trails served to reinforce the impact that colonisation had not only on the Indigenous inhabitants but also on the people who were forcibly bought to Australia as convicts or who came as free settlers, seeking a better life.
My ancestors came as convicts and free settlers and with my son now living in Germany I have some understanding of the sense of separation they felt! Given my mother’s legacy, it is no coincidence that late in life I should determine drink from Mimir’s Well of Remembrance (DNA reveals Nordic and Germanic strands) in order to learn more about my ancestral past.
To quote from my great-grandfather’s writing “there is a destiny that shapes our ends”.
Recently I made a connection with a paternal second cousin whose mother remembers my paternal grandparents and father. Additionally, the wife of a distant maternal relative has made contact. She and a colleague are researching my maternal ancestors and have identified that I am a direct descendant of this prominent Tasmanian shipbuilding, mercantile family.
This combination has been enough to propel me to pull out the documents I had so carefully stored and piece together some of the scattered jigsaw pieces. Hopefully, I will form a clearer picture of my ancestral history and gain insight into the forces which have affected my life.