Sunday, 1 December 2013

Will I be wiped off the Family Tree?

A caravanning couple (Pat and Trevor, with whom I shared more than one friendly chat at Lyme Regis last September) have emailed me, greatly approving of my proposal to visit them if I do a Welsh Tour next year. They live on Anglesey. It sounds as if I will be very welcome.

Thinking of the cost, I had lately been wavering about that Welsh Tour, but now I'll definitely do it. It would involve heading first for the West Midlands (i.e. Shakespeare Country), then going up the Welsh Border before heading for Anglesey. Then I'd make my way along Cardigan Bay to Pembrokeshire; next to some spot near Barry (for a self-indulgent nostalgiafest: Barry was my childhood backdrop); and after that, a spot near Chepstow (to visit Auntie Peg and Angie). Then home. That's quite a lot of driving, but less than on a trip to Scotland. I definitely can't now afford Scotland in 2014, not with a family wedding on 27 May 2014. (Roll on the start of my State Pension! The extra cash will make all things possible. All UK caravanning things, anyway. Only 340 days to go now!)

The Welsh tour will let me visit my cousin M---, who lives near Aberystwyth. She is the family archivist for all things connected with the Carlsons, meaning the Swedish ancestors and succeeding generations on my Mum's side. I would very much like to ask a few questions about Mum's 'missing' father - who would have been one of my grandfathers. He separated from her mother before 1939 and made his way to London, never to be heard of again. I haven't much to go on if I try to trace him (and any second family he may have had), but cousin M--- may possibly have done some research on him and can give me some clues to follow up.

My interest in family genealogy has been reawakened, my nephew M--- wanting to know a few things about the Dommetts, meaning Dad's side of the family. He sees me as the person with the time to look into it all. Dad's family genealogy has not really been delved into yet except by myself, in the 1990s. In 2006 I consolidated all those meagre gleanings into a proper Family Tree, with notes and a few photos. Since then, I have kept it all up to date with births, marriages and deaths. But it begs a comprehensive attack to extend the family history back before 1900.

The trouble is, the existing documentary evidence is terribly scanty. Nobody in our family was ever inclined to do any research, or preserve items that a family historian would find useful. I have for instance only one picture of Dad's father, nothing at all for his mother. And no picture of anyone before them. Dad's autobiography mentions a few aunts and uncles to look into; but he had little or no contact with his wider family, and tracing them will need a good deal of imaginative detective work.

Dad's forebears were not landowners, or moneyed, or famous in any way. They were mostly humble farm labourers and dairymaids, with the odd tenant farmer or shopkeeper. The kind of people who left only children behind. And they would all have had country names like 'William' and 'John' and 'Mary' and 'Elizabeth' - simple honest names, repeated generation after generation, but a nightmare to sort out.

I don't mind the legwork to visit churchyards and county record offices, and the hours spent quizzing the stuff on - I am by temperament a patient and dogged sleuth! But to prove connections between people, I'll need to build up a personal collection of Birth, Marriage and Death Certificates, and extracts from Censuses, and copies of all kinds of other records. And that will all cost serious money. Once again, my State Pension will provide the spare cash for this research, but it will have to be a project for the winter of 2014/2015, and not before.

Meanwhile, I am in the Dommett Family Tree in its present half-researched state, two generations up from the bottom line of names. To match the entries in my Birth Certificate, I show myself as 'Lucy Dommett', with a note that I later changed my surname by Deed Poll to 'Melford'. Plus another note of my full former name.

So long as the compilation of the Dommett Family Tree remains in my hands, I can easily assert my existence as 'Lucy Dommett/Melford'. But what happens afterwards? I think a rigorous family historian of the future will leave me in there, as self-described, but I do wonder whether someone else less principled (or principled in the wrong way) will be tempted to change me back to 'J---', and leave out all references to 'Lucy Melford'. That would be very dishonest, and upsetting to me if I were still alive.

How to combat it? Here are some obvious solutions, some of them not very serious!

# I could remarry. 'Lucy Melford' would then appear on another kind of official certificate. And I would have a marriage partner to see that 'Lucy' does not get wiped.
# I could commit an outrageous crime, though non-violent of course, and get into official court and prison records as 'Lucy Melford'.
# I could do something wonderful and inspiring, that gets widely reported, and forever associates the name 'Lucy Melford' with a Good Deed or a Great Achievement.
# I could enter public life as a Member of Parliament, or as a TV broadcaster or presenter, and become a well-known Screen and Radio Personality whose name is familiar to millions.
# Surely there is still time to be Lucy Melford the Rock Star? Or the Opera Diva?
# I could bequest something to the Nation. Could I give my home to the National Trust?
# I could make it into Wikipedia. As the famous blogger, if for no other reason.

Thus would some misguided person, bent on wiping me off the Family Tree, or renaming me, be thwarted. Basically I must make myself so well-known that the name 'Lucy Melford' cannot be tampered with.

I do want the children around in 2113 to see my proper name on the Family Tree, with nothing fudged. And if there is indeed to be a gravestone, I want it to show 'Lucy Melford' and no other name.

You know, it would help if other family members turn out to be transsexual too. Maybe some were in the past, and had secret names for themselves that they dared not reveal. And so they died unrecognised. I am the very first in my family to 'go public'. If being trans is not so very rare - and personally I think most people must be touched by it, be that ever so little - then my being 'out' will help others to be 'out' too. The more 'usual' it is to be trans, the more accepting one's family will surely be. My family, everyone's family.


  1. My youngest sister has researched our family tree. I have not seen it and she hasn't offered me a copy either. In fact she has stopped all contact with me, not that she was in contact much before. A couple of years ago I asked that no-one send me Christmas cards in the future and she stopped sending me anything! All she had to do was respect my wishes. As it happens i am not interested in family trees so it is no loss to me. What use are they really anyway? Having one will not change my life or circumstances one iota and when I am gone it will make no difference to me then either. As for being transsexual, I couldn't give a damn what people think.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. Another idea for achieving notoriety: Enter 'Come Dine With Me' and poison all the other participants. But please don't practice on us first!

    Our elder son has traced our family tree back to the mid 1700s. Not only is it fascinating to follow the fortunes of a Lancashire cotton milling family, but it's also helped me to understand why my father was like he was. His father was seriously injured in WW1 but lived just long enough to disqualify his wife from getting a war widow's pension. The repercussions rippled down to affect my own childhood.

  3. Can you imagine future genealogists encountering the late twentieth century records where people change homes and partners so frequently and not always with much in the way of official documentation. More a tangled thicket than a tree…

    I knew from a very early age that I was a dead end as far as my genes were concerned. For so many years my thoughts were about vanishing as completely as possible from this world leaving minimum evidence of my existence. Perhaps as society starts to treat us better others will be proudly taking a place on their family trees.

  4. Nah. Information may seem fleeting, but it doesn't get that drastic. There's bound to be imprints of your family data anywhere. And with the digital media and avenues available, it's bound to surface any time now. Otherwise, it's all about maintaining connections and keeping in touch.


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