don’t go to the 1901 census website that i linked to the other day. it’s addictive. don’t go there. don’t ask your auntys for help on your great grandparent’s names. don’t find seven out of your mother’s eight great grandparents there. and after you’ve not done any of that, don’t go and explore freebmd, a volunteer site that is aiming to transcribe the indexes to the births, deaths and marriages registers of england and wales from 1837 (when they began) up to 1901 (a hundred years seems to be the generally accepted limit for putting data about real people online). don’t go there and probably find your mother’s other great grandmother lurking there in an 1889 marriage certificate.
just don’t do it because it’s addictive. you’ll end up in a daze of increasingly bizarre boolean database searches surrounded by printouts of loopy almost post victorian handwriting detailing people who built houses in northamptonshire and shropshire, who farmed the fields on the welsh border and in huntingdonshire and somehow eventually ended up passing their genes on to you. and you start to wonder what you’re really doing here and what they’d think of you.
and then you realise that one day in 2081 someone will read a hundred year old census page and they might look for a 9 year old in the west midlands, in 2091 they might see a london student living in a hall of residence in a century gone by, in 2101 they might find a software engineer on tyneside at the beginning of the last new century. you wonder what else will be left behind for them to find.
and in the meantime i’ve got the other, trickier, half of my family to find.