Reading is a dichotomy. One one hand, it is a private communion between author and reader, the opportunity to enter a secret world, explore and enjoy, marvel and shiver, find consolation, escape or comfort; on the other there is an overwhelming temptation (so seldom resisted) to share what you find, volumes pressed onto friends, ‘you must read this’, ‘what did you think?’, ‘What should I read next?’
After my last blog on ‘Dadland‘ I received some great recommendations for other titles in the same spirit which, in the spirit of bookland, I am going to share with you now.
Charles Drazin’s ‘Mapping the Past‘ is one of the best. As in Dadland, the loss of a parent acts as the spur to begin a journey into family history. Charles’ mother had always wanted to find out more about her father and his brothers but it was all too hard; now the Internet (and the National Archives of course) has opened up pathways to the past that she couldn’t even imagine. And Charles is down those pathways (like the proverbial rat up a drainpipe), taking the documents he finds in the old suitcase plus fragments of conversation with his mother and adding to them with the click of a mouse.
The story he shares is fascinating even to readers who don’t share the Lynch name. Five brothers, Royal Engineers in the twilight of the Empire, military surveyors who charted lands busy forging their own identity, Irishmen in the ‘Great War’. Chasing down their story through Colonial Records and War Diaries makes for a really interesting story. Charles faces the conundrums which will be so familiar to family researchers:
‘..the digital revolution has brought within my reach countless previously unobtainable answers, but the sheer infinity of connections raised so many questions that I risked becoming even more confused than I had been at the beginning.’
Uncovering family secrets and delving into the past can be difficult but take a British-Jewish-Irish-Catholic mix like the Lynches, now that is going to be a real challenge. As many before him have discovered research is often only the door to more research:
‘as we went through desks, drawers and cupboards that had been beyond bounds when they were still alive old papers tumble out from the time before we were born,raising as many questions as they answered now our parents were no longer around to explain them.’
I really enjoyed reading about the Lynches as they mapped their way through the high days and decline of the British Empire. Their position as Irishmen fighting in the First World War leaves scars Charles finds still alive in present day Ireland. Continue reading »