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Oh! The Places You'll Go!

Bill Barlow
26 May 2017
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Louise Wilson

One of my favourite Dr Seuss books, Oh! The Places You'll Go!, captures that exciting moment when you embark upon your family history journey:

Congratulations! Today is your day.

You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself any direction you choose …

And when things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew.

Just go right along. You'll start happening too.

Let’s start with the first two lines. That day you go online, looking for a forebear’s name, or walk into a library to ask for help in finding someone, is the day that will change your life.

Once you’ve experienced the exhilaration of finding something, someone, you’ll want more. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to control the urge to keep looking for the next clue. Counsellors take note, people being treated for gambling addictions should be introduced to family history research – that way, they’d have more to show for their money and their time.

You have brains in your head.

Family history research is a fantastic way of exercising your brain cells. You have to think, morph into a detective. Additional thinking is stimulated, a different kind of thinking, if you try to integrate your information into a coherent ‘whole’ and write it up as a story.

You have feet in your shoes

You might appear to be sedentary, as you huddle for hours over computer screens at home and peer at microfiche and microfilm readers in libraries. But eventually you’ll want to go places and see for yourself, walk in the shoes of your ancestors. Suddenly you’re picking your way around cemeteries you never knew existed, trying to align old maps with modern streetscapes to work out where your gr-gr-grandparents lived, and knocking on a stranger’s door asking permission to take photos.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose …

Woo hoo! You’re the boss. At last. No-one tells you what to do next. You can decide whether to do any more research. You can decide which branch of the family to research. You can drop one line of enquiry when you tire of it or reach a dead end, and head off down another enticing avenue.

And when things start to happen, don't worry. Don't stew.

(I’ve just skipped a few lines of Dr Seuss.) It’s important to accept what you find. We’ve all discovered an unpalatable truth. A researcher sitting near me in the library one day slammed her microfiche reader slide shut and shouted – ‘Ugh, another lie exposed. If he was alive, I’d kill him.’ In my case, it was my convict ancestors. It distressed my mother - if she’d been the researcher, she might have tried to hide it. Luckily I felt proud that my forebear Robert Forrester stood on the shores of Sydney Cove back in January 1788 as one of the founders of modern Australia, so I wrote a book about it.

Just go right along. You'll start happening too.

It’s true. Family history research can be a great personal development tool. You gain insights into yourself as you discover hitherto unknown aspects of your background. More on that next time.


Author, Louise Wilson (www.louisewilson.com.au), belongs to the GSV Writers Circle. Her latest book Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory (Wakefield Press, 2016) is the biography of Australia's first and most celebrated professional botanical artist. This article was first published in Fifty-Plus News. [Ed.]

Expiry Date: 
Saturday, 26 August, 2017 - 15:45