The tyranny of distance

I read about others’ ancestors who stayed put and am envious.

Imagine researching the life of someone who never strayed further than a few miles from the place they were born.  In this place our fictional ancestor completed their schooling and went on to obtain a trade or tertiary qualification.  Perhaps they joined a guild or professional association.  They married and had children.  The local telephone directory  listed their name and address.  Every time the Census came around, they completed a return.  All these events were recorded and, ideally, whatever information was not available online could be obtained from one or more places in close proximity to each other.

I was out of luck.

By the time Harris was born, a predisposition to travel had already been hard-wired into his DNA.  He moved several times between cities and towns, and once between countries, leaving an uneven trail behind him.Evolution-Cartoon1

I had exhausted the capabilities of the local library, genealogical society and the Internet. Two options presented themselves: follow in his footsteps and connect with the places where he lived or the journeys he made, or try to find those who could source the relevant information for me.

I had always been – and continue to be – lukewarm about pursuing option one.  Below is one of the reasons why.map

Even if I wanted to get myself to England on a regular basis, I would have to face a flight of almost 24 hours that crosses 10 time zones, and covers a distance of some 17,000 kilometres or 10,500 miles.  The flight to South Africa is only marginally less confronting.  Some people cope easily with the demands of intercontinental travel.  I am not one of them.

My primary reasons for travel are about recreation or reconnecting with friends and family. There have been times when I have used the opportunity of being in a place to try to add to my knowledge of particular interests, including family history, and I leave the door open to this in future.  My past efforts have had mixed outcomes and I am cautious about pursuing leads which – if misdirected – not only leave one with an empty feeling, but bite into precious holiday time.  There are also certain things that I cannot, or don’t have the time to do now.

Option two came up smelling of roses.  I would put most of my eggs into this basket.  But I had to start somewhere.

Seeking help invariably involves ‘cold calling’ or ‘cold emailing’.  And like all new pathways, the road can take unexpected turns.

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6 thoughts on “The tyranny of distance

  1. Well said. In searching my ancestry I found it most difficult when one partner has died young and so they remarry. It gets very confusing. Not only that they seemed to only used half a dozen names over and over again (James, Jane, Elsie, Elisa etc.) Those following after me will have a hard time as I have moved many times and been married a “few” times 🙂

  2. I can definitely relate to ancestry where they moved around. I suspect that some people are either born with the moving gene or acquire a love of relocating. On the plus side, you are confronted with a village with the same recycled names from various cousins/brother etc. I would choose option every time -we have had great fun on the family history travel trail, but each to his/her own. I’m curious how option 2 came up smelling of roses – I hope you’re going to share your success;-)

    • At this stage, option 2 is going to serve me better. But if the information I dig up – with the help of researchers overseas – is sufficient to warrant travel for the main purpose of family history, then I might consider that at a later date.
      I have modified my post to reflect this, so thanks for prompting me to express myself a bit more rigorously.
      And, yes, I shall certainly share any success I have/have had. This is definitely a work in progress.

  3. Sorry I wasn’t trying to tell you to “suck eggs” rather expressing my own experience and addiction to travel:-) I quite agree there’s not much point heading off overseas without any idea of where people were. Good luck with the information you get from the researchers.

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