Wednesday 12 October 2016

Time Travel

Last April, in response to an invitation to a blog party by Elizabeth O’Neal, I wrote about a time travel trip to visit my 5th great-grandfather Nicholas Shepheard in Devon, England. Elizabeth has just announced another Blog Party with the theme of What is the Strangest thing you have found in your genealogy research? I’ll have to think about that one. She has had one each month but I am sorry to say I have not participated since the one about travelling with a Time Lord..

Time travel has always been a popular subject for TV programs and movies, with people travelling both forward – to see what the future might hold (I am a confessed Trekkie) – and backward – in vain attempts to change history. I still remember one of the first moves made, The Time Machine (MGM, 1960), based on H. G. Well’s classic novel.

Maybe we genealogists have a unique fascination with time travel that feeds our insatiable thirst to find stories from the past but that also inspires us “to boldly go where no man has gone before.” Family history research has certainly been more that a five-year mission, though.

I wonder what people might answer to the question of, “If you had a choice, would you go backward or forward in time?” I considered this when I read part of an interview by Joseph Brean of the National Post newspaper with author James Gleick (most recent book: Time Travel: A history).

Gleick’s take on what choice people might make he says “is very much a matter of personal preference, and says something about one’s own character, tastes and sensibilities.” He did not expand on that statement in the interview but he does go on to say that, “[w]hat does seem to be disappearing at the moment is a sense that there’s a bright shiny future ahead of us and technology is going to solve all our problems.”

I suspect people who have a romantic bent might was to relive some exciting times of the past while those who are more pessimistic might see the future as dim, based on all the bad news we seem to get these days. The latter might go forward in time in hope that it will be better than they surmise right now.

I get a kick out of finding out information about my ancestors: who they were, where they lived, how they lived and what events might have overtaken them and pushed them to change their way of life and/or move. All of that is buried in records that we can uncover with a little or a lot of work.

So I guess I would like to travel to some point in the future – since I likely won’t be around to actually experience it first-hand. How will my descendants view our lives today? What will they think of how we lived or reacted to events? And especially: What did they do with all the family history stuff I collected?
My great-grandfather's packet watches - two of the family history things I have collected

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. He has also served as an editor of two such publications. Wayne provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.