Grandmother hold me I am grieving.

Grandmother hold me

wrap your arms around me, cover my head with your shawl

I need to feel your blood running through my veins

I need to hear your wisdom whispered in my heart

I long to know your true name

 

Grandmother let me burden you with my love

and mingle my tears with yours

forever.

 

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Her-itage.

Since I don’t know how long, I have been interested in my Grandmothers lives, probably because my own Mum was brought up mainly by her Gran (my Great Gran) and always spoke of her with love and longing.

My Auntie Sylvia got Mum interested in our family genealogy about thirty years ago and together they painstakingly tracked down many of our antecedents without the help of computers or the internet. Auntie Sylvia did eventually get a pc and loaded all the data onto a CD and posted it out to me so I could share in the journey of discovery they were so engrossed in. When the disc arrived I popped it into my imac and discovered to my Mum’s dismay that it wouldn’t open on my system. I didn’t think much about it and stuck it out of the way in my desk drawer, until about 2 years ago when I got a new imac and decided to give it another go and voila! there it all was. I was at first overwhelmed at the depth and breadth of my Aunt’s research, she had created an amazing record that spread back hundreds of years.

Today I have found a new enthusiasm for this research in part because of the results of a DNA test that family members, a good friend and myself completed. The results were astounding, we discovered that Mum, myself and my son were all distantly related to my very good friend who had been adopted in London in the 1950’s and had absolutely no clue about her birth family!

The good news for her was that the DNA also threw up some second cousin clues and eventually she discovered who her birth mother was and where her family had all come from. The very interesting part for me was that we are not related to her cousin on that side and so we possibly hold some clues to the origin of her birth father.

So started my renewed enthusiasm to find out something/anything I could that might lead to the identity of her Father. Hah! how naive could I be? Our relatedness is distant and points to us sharing 4th or 5th great grandparents.

At times I get overwhelmed with the enormity of this search, tracking down siblings, partners and the offspring of our ancestors can be difficult and at times impossible as they spread out around the globe. I am really grateful to my cousin Lynn who had done lots of research and sourced birth, marriage and death certificates to verify many of our family connections and also to those un-met distant cousin who are researching their part of our shared ancestry.

However the reason I am writing this today is to express my gratitude to all the Grandmothers who came before me and my sadness that there is so little known about their (sometimes very short) lives. The grandfathers retain their names, and their occupations are noted in census’, military records, maritime records, miners lists, newspapers, probate and parish records. There are many stories that surround the lives of our fairly well documented Grandfathers. The grandmothers are noted only as ‘wife’, ‘widow’ and ‘spouse’ and often even their maiden names are absent from the records.

Many of my grandmothers had up to 18 babies with too many dying before their 2nd birthdays, those babies that survived were often given the name of their deceased predecessors, perhaps it helped with the grieving to rename them in this way. Some of the Grandmothers died in childbirth or within a few weeks of it, leaving widowers who married very quickly, probably out of need for a mother for their children. Many of the grandmothers were under the age of 16 when they married and then inevitably had a child every year until they or their husband died or for the lucky few they became too old to have any more. In the few cases where a grandmothers signature was required (on a marriage certificate for instance) she would leave her ‘mark’ as very few of my grandmothers could read or write.

I am also curious about whether these amazing courageous women even wanted to marry, it’s only recently in the last 100 years or so that women had any choice in who or if they married, how many of my grandmothers were ‘given’ by fathers to husbands they neither knew, liked or wanted.

So as I work in my studio, from the secure knowledge and privilege of a tertiary education, knowing I will not die of hunger or one day have no home, that I don’t ever have to travel to unknown lands to give my children a chance at a better life, with the support of husband and community and the sheer luck of living past childbirth (I had puerperal fever), I am grateful to each and every one of my Grandmothers as without their¬†determination to survive and keep their children alive I would not be here today.

My new print work is made with them in mind. I see them in my minds eye standing at the entrance to the copper mines, or pacing the shores of Cornwall gazing out to sea for the glimpse of a sail, and also in their modest homes wondering always ¬†“will he come home tonight?, will I be able to feed my children? or, will we end up in the workhouse?” I acknowledge the courage they must have had to keep going on after the deaths of their babies, the famines, and to board sailing ships and travel for months to strange and hostile new worlds, to endure the workhouses that some of them died in. I am awed that these (sometimes nameless) grandmothers endured through all those hundreds of years and I still carry their DNA today. These are my ‘marks’ left for my Grandmothers.

You are not forgotten and I dedicate my work to you all whether named or un-named, Elizabeth A. Edwards 1902-1983, Florence H. Sumners 1898-1977, Mary Speake 1875-1974, Mary Ellis 1855-?, Elizabeth Shutt 1867-1938, Catherine Tellum 1864-1946, Mary Kempster 1827-1901, Frances ? 1837, Hannah Davidge 1831-1906, Catherine J. Nicholls 1843-1922, Mary Anne ? 1804-1880, Mary Henshaw 1811-1833, Hannah ? 1765-1799, Jane ? 1801, Hannah Broad 1793-1837, Mary ? 1714-1748, Elizabeth Greenfield 1730, Sarah Philips 1714 and her mother in law Elizabeth, Sarah Shoulder 1693, Margaret Lidgitter 1703, Esther Rogers, Mary Webster 1800-1874, Elizabeth Noble 1785-1865, Grace Hocken 1773, Elizabeth Bennatts, Sarah Pooley 1753-1818, Elizabeth Keast 1753-1856, Elizabeth Thomas 1718, Elizabeth Paull 1731-1781, Sarah Knight 1729-1809, Elizabeth Oliver 1704-1763, Martha Lord 1727-1767, Elizabeth Mathews 1802-1893, Mary Remfry 1695-1741, Grace Lydgy 1655-1695, Elizabeth ? 1673, Elizabeth Anne Barbary 1624, Mary Pelleowe 1634-1723, Mary Hill 1707-1774, Zenobia Woon 1700-1743, Suzanne ?, Martha Lane 1690-1777 and Elizabeth Selashaw Shashatt 1580.

 

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Too late!

While driving home from visiting my Mum a couple of days ago, feeling quite depressed and reflecting on how my life had brought me to this place, I decided that instead of just thinking about stuff and getting nowhere with my feelings I should write it down. So here goes.

I am an artist who could be called mid career, if I actually had a career.

I was born in the late 50’s when it was usual to be raised to respect your elders and not question whatever they said and I was expected to grow up and fulfil the societal norms prescribed for a girl/woman of my generation. I went to school, read a lot and eventually left school in the 6th form because my Mother had found me a job. I was bright, good at art, geography, biology, maths and science but the office job Mum found was a triumph in both my parents eyes, they worked in factories and didn’t want that for their children. University was never a consideration, I was a girl, I would work until I married and then have children and settle into domesticity (and complete boredom).

I tried it their way and then after a life threatening/changing incident in my life I realised I needed more and education was the key. I found someone to talk too and eventually came to the conclusion that I needed to go to University to find a different path. About this time my marriage imploded so with the governments help Uni became a reality for me. Like a lot of women returning to education I chose subjects that coincided with my children’s school hours and so I ended up doing a double in Education and Psychology. What followed was 12 years of paid and voluntary work in the field of sexuality, ¬†sexual abuse and rape counselling.

My counselling career came to a sudden end one Friday morning when I received an alarming letter from ACC and, at the end of my physical and psychological strength I broke. I had been a good girl, I had helped, I had raised my kids, I had worked beyond my capacity to recover and I just broke!

Following this at the age of 40 I did an art course with the view to getting a portfolio together and going to study art at tertiary level. After interviewing with all four Art Schools in Auckland I was accepted into two and shortlisted for a 3rd. MIT beckoned and I finished a four year BVA in three years and then went on to complete my Masters with honours by 2002 at AUT.

I have always been described by teachers and other influential adults as a ‘late bloomer’ and I am forced to agree at least in part with that, however if I had been born into a different socio economic family I suspect that I wouldn’t have been quite so tardy.

So here I am at 61 years old with 20 years experience as an artist and officially in mid career.

On leaving art school I persevered getting exhibitions wherever I could, sent work overseas and generally worked at it until about 8 years ago when my eyes started to fail and I developed cataracts. I didn’t stop making art but during that time I no longer had the confidence to exhibit. In the last year my eyes have been fixed and now I’m ready to resume my career as an artist.

However, I have failed to die young and tortured of an interesting disease or an addiction, I am no longer angst ridden, I’m not male and all of these things seem to be failings on my part as an artist. To make matters worse my hair is grey and I am looking very much like the Nana I am and everybody knows that old ladies don’t make real art, are a bit forgetful, are intellectually challenged and are better suited to handing out the wine and cheese at the real artist’s exhibition openings.

So here’s the root cause of my depression.

Did I get to this party too late?