How could Wendy research her family tree? She didn't have one, did she?
|My story starts with the genealogy assignment we had to do for History. We had to research a branch of our own family tree. To me it was a disaster in the making, made only a little easier by the first part that we did before we knew about this main assignment. We'd had to write down all the family forbears we knew so far, just from memory, and the teacher was keeping the papers to know where we were starting from. Just as well, as my sometime friend Mill can recite her ancestry back for generations, and was so proud when she handed in a page-full. She didn't quite sneer at mine, which had me, my mum, and my father (first name only). If I'd known that more was coming, I'd have put down my new foster-parents as my real parents. (Sometimes I nearly wish they were).
So I was starting on the back foot, but I needed to pass History with good grades, so I decided it must be done. Mill and her friends looked pityingly at me, and that fixed it. I didn't need their pity, and I was going to do the assignment, to add three more generations to the top of my family tree, and find a story about one of the newly-found family members!
I'm sure the Child Welfare system had a copy of my birth certificate somewhere, but I had never seen it, so getting my own copy was the first step, and it was no problem, as I'd been born in this same town where I lived. I just went to the Registry Office of Births, Deaths and Marriages, after school that day, and had to dig into my small savings a bit to pay for it. The birth cert was an eye-opener! My father's full name and other info were on it! Mum could never remember anything but his first name and what he looked like. She must have been lucid enough when she registered my birth, or perhaps someone else did. Tantalising - it might have been my father himself!
My father's name is John Wilkinson Sainsford. Perhaps I could use the surname Sainsford - it's got a bit more character than Affleck, which is a hard handle to live with. Wendy Jane Sainsford, I like it. The birth certificate gave my mother's address at that time; that gave me somewhere to start.
I asked at the registry office while I was there whether they had my mother's birth cert, but they didn't. So the next Saturday, my only day off both school and work for a while, I caught a bus to the other side of town where mum had lived: 11b Jack St. This street was full of small, tired-looking houses and some very nosey neighbours. I knocked on the door and showed the dried-up old man there the address on my birth cert, but he was deaf and didn't understand what I wanted and slammed the door in my face. But the old duck next door had heard everything I'd been shouting at him and popped her head over the fence.
"I remember Anna-Lee Affleck" she cooed at me, "Are you her daughter?...I think you look a wee bit like her, but not your hair. She was only a young thing, like you, but she was a bit..." and she tailed off, too embarrassed to tell me that my mother was looney.
Was there any other family?" I asked hopefully, "Did you know her mother or father - my grandparents? And was this house her family home?"
"Oh no" was the answer to that. "No, no, she'd run away from home, she and her flatmates wanted to live it up, without the restrictions they had at home. It's no wonder she got..." she tailed off again, belatedly remembering that I was the result of that pregnancy.
"Well, where had she run from? What town?" I was sure this old biddy knew all about the bunch of young people who once lived next door.
"She didn't come back here with the baby. Where was she from, now? Ellermere, I think. A sister from there visited her once, just before...you were born. Anna-Lee had a right row with her, they were standing where you are now, shouting at each other. Told her to get right back to Ellermere and leave her alone." I held my breath. I had an aunt! I could hardly believe it. Somewhere I had a relative other than my half-crazy mother. The old lady stared harder at me. "I know which one was your father, he didn't live here, but he was often around. John-John, with red hair, but curly like yours. He was a one, he was!" I'm sure the old dear blushed, but I couldn't cope with her past or with a father in my life just now. My mother was enough, and now an aunt too! I thanked the old lady, and said I'd come back when I needed to know more.
I caught the next bus to the Terminus, to see if I could get to Ellermere this late in the morning. There was a bus, and by midday I was studying the city street map for the Registry Office. As I walked across the square in the center of town, I realised that this was more to me than just an assignment: I might find some roots!
While I was waiting at the office for the clerk to find my mother's birth certificate, my cell phone rang. It was my foster-mum, sounding a bit worried as she had expected me home for lunch. I'm beginning to like her, so as nicely as I could I apologised and explained what I was doing. The building was echoey, so I'm sure everyone heard. Anyway, soon the clerk handed me my mother's birth certificate and I paid the fee absentmindedly, while staring hungrily at the piece of paper, holding it as if it was gold-leaf. There were the names of my maternal grandparents, who my mother had never spoken about to me. I wanted to know much, much more, about them, and about the sister - my aunt. But it was all a bit much and I stumbled out into the city square where the office workers were still lingering over cappuchinos at tables under umbrellas, as if life never changed.
I put both certificates, mine and my mother's, side-by-side on a table, like I was looking at my pedigree, and felt more like a citizen, a substantial person, than I ever had before.
After a few minutes I pulled myself together and put the certificates in a folder in my bag, and bought a coke and sandwich for lunch. Soon I would make a foray into the Registry Office again. Perhaps I could just find out if other births were registered there. I couldn't afford to pay for any more copies. Suddenly I felt hooked on finding out lots more. I had four weeks to do this assignment; with my next pay I could afford to come back in two weeks and get two more certificates if they were there. Perhaps my grandparents still lived in Ellermere! I'd look up phone books and electoral rolls, like the teacher had recommended, and plan a trip here. Even if they didn't live here any longer, there might be nosey neighbours with long memories nearby who could help.
I walked jauntily back to the Registry Office, with a purpose and excitement I couldn't remember having had before. Ok, I might get doors shut in my face again, but one of the faces on the other side of the door might be my own flesh and blood - and you never know, one of them just might want to meet me!
I could do more than Mill ever could - find a new person on the family tree, that I hadn't known the existence of before, and meet them in real life. My story about one of the family tree members might be about someone still alive!