Does our ancestry define us?

I managed to do a little more sleuthing over the weekend, trying to trace my mother’s family tree. What jolly good fun it can be. I have found some very interesting sounding individuals, including a barrister and two military types.

Looking into the family’s fortunes, from what I can gather, one of my mother’s ancestors made some very shrewd investments in the early stages of the railways. It is a kind of rags to riches tale, almost literally as I believe they were mainly connected to textiles at about that time.

I suppose that all families have their interesting characters, and on my mother’s side that seems to be one Robert Hurley. From the documents that Nigel and I have been able to find, he was a bit of a scoundrel, probably what we would call a conman or trickster, back in the mid-1800s. I have read several newspaper cuttings that chronicle his various court appearances, although he also seems to have managed to wangle his way into society, appearing in more than one society journal. I have to admit that I rather like the rogue. Unfortunately, he did meet a rather gruesome end, getting himself killed in a bar brawl in Birmingham of all places.

Like all established trees, the family variety has far too many roots and branches for one to investigate them all. Consequently, I am having to be selective about whose path I follow and who I research. But the further back one goes, the more difficult it gets to find anything useful. But I suppose that is where the fun is. If it was too easy we would soon get bored. At some point, I am going to have to return to my mother’s more direct descendants and start looking into the family’s more recent history. I am sure there will be a few surprises there as well. After all, every family has its skeletons.

Nigel himself is doing a little bit of research into his own family, as well as helping me with mine. Maybe that is where the Russian and Thia links come from, although I was not previously aware of any. But that just goes to show you that one never knows what is lurking behind other people’s closed doors.

One of the reasons I find all this ancestry research to be so fascinating is because heritage is so important, especially to families such as mine. Like so many families with long histories, we feel that it has established us as an important and well-respected part of society. In many ways our heritage defines us. Whether you believe in nature or nurture, each generation has a profound influence on the one that follows. I am who I am because of those who went before me, or despite them!

I mean, can one bad apple in the family’s past taint future generations? I would think not, but there is a stigma attached to the direct descendants of any criminal or low born individual. But that is not really a case of the individual being influenced by their relative, but more of society making a link and branding the individual by such association.

I have to be honest and say that this whole ancestry thing is something that until recently I hadn’t given a great deal of thought to, I have just taken it all for granted. As a child, my history lessons often featured relatives, and I just accepted that. It never occurred to me that other families weren’t the same. But the more I learn of my mother’s side of things, the more I see how much different their lives were to those of my father’s family at the same time. It gives me a certain amount of pride to think of how hard her family has worked to get to the position they are in now. It can’t have been easy, and I would like to think that some of the strength of character and determination to succeed has found its way into me.