Saturday, October 24, 2009

To the root

With my new life postponed temporarily, there was plenty of time for distraction. My zeal for Chinese study ebbed once the immediacy of my departure faded, so where was I to go?

I happened to accompany my mother to a family get-together and was immediately struck by the need to have my lineage down on paper. This may not be an issue for many people but my immediate family, excluding my father's recent lateral extension, is rather tiny - I have no living cousins; but beyond that there are thickets of relatives most of whom were vague to me. I've also not been diligent in the past to follow the exact in's and out's of our family; and for whatever reason, our family has always seemed to do its own thing.

Despite us already being a long way into the information age, I believe I might be the first person to put the full power of the world wide web into the search for ancestors and relatives. And there have been more than a few surprising discoveries: the Auckland museum had a photocopy of my great-great-great grandfather's diary; his grave was a mere fifteen minute drive from home, but he was born on Jersey of the Channel Islands c.1823, coming over on a boat, the Merchantman in 1855. And our family history on that island goes back almost to the Norman Conquest!

I visited my only uncle last week on a trip to Waihi. I'd only met him once before in my memory (due to distance and a family disagreement I never really got to know him). It was a fascinating meeting. He naturally looks quite similar to my father but in terms of interests and attitudes, he is very different; we talked widely on all manner of topics. I'm tempted to go on a Coromandel genealogical jaunt to meet people and visit the dead. In fact, a Dunedin visit may well be due too.

Due to our patrilineal system of surnames, there is a strange tendency toward of fascination. I'm as much a Willstead, Holt, Brown, Harris or Hipkins as I am Goudie, but the search for the origin of Goudie, Denize and McNarey seizes me as more interesting.
Oral history presents its own difficulties. Speaking to my father or uncle about their relatives brings up a plethora of nicknames, and that side of the family has a large number of people who use their middle-name as their main name.

Other than banal facts (like that I'm 1/16 "german" and I'm not as "scottish" as I thought I was), it does give one a feeling a fitting in the world; My sisters and I are the last descendents of the McNarey family in New Zealand. It seems two brothers came over in 1910, got married but all their genes now rest in our hands. Location, location, location was crucial for many of the meetings of ancestors, like a cosmic dance which only can only be appreciated in retrospect. And I now know the Goudie name may not have originated as I first thought, and have always said.

One of the problems with delving into the past though is the relegation of once living, breathing people to mere names. And in the mist of time, people are reduced to names and numbers. They are only proved by their source documents, not by the memory of them. The Goudie name is indeed an issue where my line becomes fuzzy after the last definite ancestor, a William Goudie in the town of Maybole in Ayrshire, Scotland. The only way forth another generation back is through his record of birth, but there is no record of a William Goudie born 54-56 years before the 1841. Are all the records there? There was a well-documented William Goudie (he obviously had a dedicated genealogist - it goes back far!), but his birthdate would make him a very young father if he were the father of my great grandfather! Then I was struck by the ages on the census: the older people have ages of a multiple of five. They were only estimates! I found a likely William Goudie, born at approximately the right time, but is it really him? And that is as far as the internet could take me. But in all honesty, William Goudies were a dime a dozen in Ayrshire in the late 1700s, early 1800s, without distinguishing middle names, and apart from going to Maybole and having a chat over a tea with my distant relatives and non-relatives, there isn't much to do. But the William Goudies are all people who presumably lived lives, had children and died to become a mere number.

But when the number is fleshed, a picture emerges: In the 1841 census, William Goudie was "55" years old, a widower for the second time and looking after two sons to two different wives, with the help of two female servants. His first four children had all died young. His youngest surviving son, Thomas Cuthbert Goudie, at the age of 22, came to New Zealand with his wife, Sarah Ann, on a boat, War Spirit in 1863. (I don't know why.) After the death of Sarah Ann on the North Shore, he went over to the Coromandel, remarried and up to the age of 68, he had 6 more children. The youngest, Andrew Joseph Goudie, had two children; and the youngest of those two children, had three kids, the youngest which is I.


James said...

It's an interesting thing to do. I've thought about this, but haven't got around to it yet. I may send an e-mail to my uncle to see if he has done similar research.

Crypticity said...

Last night I concluded my series of road trips to the Coromandel. The last two have both been genealogically oriented, especially yesterday's. I met two more second cousins and talked to a first cousin once removed over the phone. In the evening I went to the home of one of the second cousins, who happens to be married to a Member of Parliament. Chatting with her, it was interesting to hear her talk of my parents and our general family.

Earlier in the day I spent time with another second cousin whose daughter is preparing to marry an Olympic Bronze medalist and also broached the topic of an impending battle over a will. Knowing little of big-family life, it is interesting to join this greater family network and observe the dynamics. I'm lucky that I have almost no history with so many of the people I'm meeting. They're open about the family history, and because I'm family, they're open and honest about the family situation.