I’ve just watched BBC1’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with J.K. Rowling and was, as I always am, moved to tears by the tragedies and traumas that are layered by history and laid bare as the search for ancestry uncovers the truth, as well as the family folklore that becomes tradition. And as always when I watch an episode, I am keen to research part of my family tree, to find my Irish roots.
My paternal great-grandmother Elsie was from Dublin and she was a racing car driver in the 1920s (I didn’t get that bit of the familial DNA as my reversing is awful!), but I know little else about her. I’d like to, for I am fascinated that her daughter became my grandmother and was such a strong, independent and courageous lady. My grandmother’s name was Marguerite Joan, yet she chose to go by Joan (I, however much prefer Marguerite, and so named one of my characters in Book One!); she was a vivacious, caring, well-mannered and literate woman, who sadly left us on 28th November 1993. Dad and I don’t have many of her belongings, but what we do have is of precious value: a painted biscuit barrel with a silver handle; a porcelain two-tier cake stand; a family bible and other Victorian date/address books; various examples of her handwriting; and – of most interest to me – a small date-diary from 1984 and two notebooks.
My grandmother Marguerite wrote names and addresses of people I will never know; she noted how she was feeling and what the weather was like; recording her social outings, she names friends whose characters I can imagine; there are departure times for buses (unlike her mother Elsie, she couldn’t drive); short shopping lists (an ounce of this and a quarter of that); and, just like me, there are titles of books she longed to read, songs she wanted to listen to, lines of poetry that resonated for her. Like me, writing these things down helped lay claim to them, to capture part of an experience she would later come to have, and to be something more than the daily drudgery of life allowed her to.
I see me in my grandmother, and I am grateful. Whilst I could regale you with my thoughts on how the Irish blarney skipped through two generations from Elsie and descended full force into me (!), and how both my Dad and I must be the perfect height to each pass as a Leprechaun (!!), I wish to leave you with a few pages of Marguerite’s handwriting (difficult to decipher, I know) and the thought that, if we go back far enough, we are all descended from someone truly wonderful who is worth remembering every day. Here's to you, Marguerite.
PS. J.K’s family has given me a wonderful French name for an important character in Novel Number two – J.K’s great-great-grandmother Salome, pronounced Sal-o-may. Thanks, J.K!