‘Knowing’ Changes Nothing …

Both A Fascinating & Frustrating Pursuit!

If you have been following Puzzling the Past in our monthly spot this year, you may have wondered why we go to all this bother. Why do we spend hours searching through the Parish Records of a remote church in the English countryside or scanning the Census Records of a little town on the west coast of Scotland or examining the matches to our DNA Test Results or … investigating the myriad other sources of information that are out there? 

As Anne says in her article that follows, do you wonder whether it really changes anything to know more about your ancestors?


I am sure most of us have had this response at least once and it is not an unreasonable question for pragmatic people who can see no value in following your family tree back as far as you can. It doesn’t alter who you are and ‘knowing’ changes nothing. 

For those of us who are more curious (or voyeuristic!) it is a both fascinating and frustrating pursuit. 

The fascination comes from the fleeting insights that the facts and data give into the lives of earlier generations – their challenges, sorrows and triumphs. 

The infant mortality rate, child death statistics were horrific. Some were lucky, hardy, or clever and raised all 12 of their children to adulthood. In one of my families the mother lost 5 of her first 6 children but the following four survived. In another, only 3 of 6 survived but the survivors went on to have large families and one of them became co-founder and captain of the Scottish Football (soccer) team ‘Hibernians’. 

From the census information you learn that ‘children’ started work young. On farms it was as soon as they could physically manage the tasks but even in the city 13 and 14 year olds were employed in menial work. Would not suit some of our present-day kids! 

Research hones your skills as a detective – teasing out information to fill in gaps and often uncovering tragedies like a relative who married a young widower whose wife died in childbirth. She, in turn, lost her first child at age 18/12 to TB meningitis. Another forebear was married for over 20 years to a master builder in Glasgow and bore him 6 children yet in 1901 she is indigent – dependant on family yet she is not a widow 

From passenger lists I learned that one of ‘my’ families cheated possible death as they sailed on Titanic’s sister ship only a week before the disaster. 

One can find important relatives (if only at a distant stretch by marriage!) I found Major General Sir James ‘Buster’ Browne KCSI CB of Baluchistan – a larger than life character. 

The frustration comes from NOT being able to find the record to fill in the gaps – or worse still, find a dozen possibles with not enough information to isolate the correct record. I have 96 death records that could match my ‘missing’ master builder but having spent a fortune with ScotlandsPeople, I am no closer! 

It is infuriating that I can trace the family trees of distant relatives back generations, but my own direct lines frequently come to a screeching halt at a seemingly impenetrable brick wall. 

Some people do cryptic and clueless crossword puzzles (guilty on that score too) while others do family research. It keeps the grey cells active and may stave off dementia – if it does not drive you crazy first.

So, there you are, we get high on history!

We also research the local history of the Logan district and spend time compiling searchable records of families who have, and, in many cases, still do, made their homes here.

It is an enthralling hobby, and we are always ready to welcome visitors and new members.

See you next month

Rob Thomson (President)

Logan River Family History Society