Saturday, 1 March 2014

Becoming an Ancestor - Understanding Social & Historical Context.

The year for me so far has been dismal on the private and domestic front. My husband and I have had a series of emotional upheavals that we expected one day, but not just yet. As February drew to a close the post that I had decided to write for Worldwide Genealogy was bumped to next month because today's post was created on the back of something that I did yesterday.

Yesterday I did several things. Firstly I entered my Mum's death details into my family history program along with a copy of her death certificate. I then spent several hours writing a presentation made up of several readings and the music that will be delivered and heard at her funeral. The presentation will be shared with members of my family and friends who can not attend. It will also be a lasting tribute to my Mum.

I became acutely aware that in the space of a few moments the transition from life to death happened, and in a longer time frame the existence of my Mum within my genealogical material from a living individual to an ancestor occurred. I can not tell you the series of emotions that I felt as I sat at my desk yesterday. Sadly, I know that some of you will know exactly how I felt because you have done something similar.

The point of this post is not be weepy and depressed. Far from it. I am absolutely my Mother's daughter. Things I write, say and do. We all exhibit things from our parents and those we interact with on a daily basis. Those things are what keeps our relatives alive in our memories.

How did though our ancestors deal with bereavement, death, dying and grief? They would have felt the absolute emotions that I have felt over recent weeks, but we are not the only people who have lost a loved one. Sadly death is a fact of life and yet over hundreds of years how we deal with the emotions and the physical process has changed, probably I suspect beyond recognition.

The Victorians dealt with death with a great deal of pomp and ceremony. Sometime ago I came across this video, which is from a lecture held at Gresham College in 2010. You can view the Power Point presentation with other details at the Gresham College website. This lecture forms part of the The Victorians: Culture and Experience in Britain, Europe and the World 1815-1914

Therefore, from the saddest of events we can learn and reflect on the past and truly understand how our ancestors dealt with the natural order of things.


  1. Thank you for your write up about your mother, Julie. A little pomp and ceremony is definitely helpful in the process of saying goodbye. And reviewing those life moments between the dates... priceless.

  2. Julie, my thoughts are with you. Yes, these are sad times but also a time of reflection and celebration of a good life. Only time can soften the loss a little. Take care.

  3. Thinking about how my ancestors handled grief and death is something I am going to do. Thank you for bringing this up.

  4. Julie, I so agree with you that "We all exhibit things from our parents and those we interact with on a daily basis. Those things are what keeps our relatives alive in our memories."

    That thought helped me through my own tough times recently and I hope it will give you some strength and comfort, too.

    Planning the funeral is also oddly comforting, as it gives you the chance to reflect the essence of the person you've lost and the times before illness or pain changed their life.

    I wonder if that's why funerals are such important cultural events - it's not just that people have the chance to say goodbye; it's also that they give you something constructive to do, a purpose, in those bleak early days. As Celia says, "reviewing those life moments between the dates... priceless. "

    This is a lovely post. You're often in my thoughts.

  5. Thank you, Julie, for writing such a thoughtful and moving post. I was at a funeral last week, and it does bring back memories of my own parents' deaths. I think there is a lot to be said, in a strange way, for the comfort that funerals can bring, not just as a formal reminder of past lives, but to witness what our loved ones meant to others.

  6. Julie, you know you are in my much for you to adjust to over the past months but especially since your mother's death, far too young. I hadn't thought about the confrontation of adding her details to a family history program but sometimes those practicalities help it all to "lock in". Thinking of you and Mr Angler in the coming difficult days.

  7. Thank you everyone for the lovely comments. I have been keeping busy and preparing myself for what will be a dreadful day, yet a nice day. The chance to thank Mum for simply being Mum (and a fabulous Mum in law). I am genuinely touched that hubby loved my Mum as much as I did.

    Even now, almost three weeks on I can not quite believe Mum has gone, she was indeed far to young.

  8. Julie, my thoughts are with you and your husband and you grieve for your mother. There will be tough days ahead but I tell myself it's the price of having a loving relationship with a wonderful person. Take care.


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