To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.
It was a day when I felt a bit lost. For a number of reasons, I was drifting, moving between, floating, without roots, between one place and another, one state and another.
As a result, I ended up with one precious commodity – time – something that seems so scarce: some wide open, spaced and sacred time to fill. Though not in the best frame of mind, I set out to fill it in a meaningful and productive way. I was driving, heading west into the sunshine and mountains, music sustaining me and opening me up as it always does; Tom Petty singing:
It don’t really matter to me baby,
You believe what you want to believe,
You don’t have to live like a refugee.
And then Echo and the Bunnymen pumping out:
If I said I’d lost my way
Would you sympathise
Could you sympathise?
I’m jumbled up
Maybe I’m losing my touch
I’m jumbled up
Maybe I’m losing my touch
But you know I didn’t have it anyway
Won’t you come on down to my
Won’t you come on down to my rescue
Then Matchbox 20:
Baby, baby, baby
When all your love is gone
Who will save me
From all I’m up against out in this world
It was that sort of day, the music and lyrics exactly corresponding with my somewhat disconnected state; the sunshine somehow leading me along.
It felt like a day for investigation, with the gift of time to try to find an answer to a puzzle about one of my ancestors; it’s a branch of the family I am particularly drawn to, as if working to understand their story might help me with my own. They lived and worked and in some cases, died, in the country I was driving through so I took a detour to try to find them. I found the old graveyard I was looking for, hidden behind a high hedge, so many souls buried in the sunshine, the stones standing still and quiet as if patiently waiting for my attention.
I wandered through the rows of washed out stones. There were so many of them I couldn’t read; they were covered with moss or lichen or the words had vanished, weathered and erased away, the story lost. I felt for the lost words with my fingers, trying to trace the story and bring it back. But sometimes there was simply nothing left except a rock, blank and weathered. And sometimes there was less, just a grass space, unmarked between other stones.
I found some connected relatives including my third great grand aunt, Ann Sweet nee Honeysett, who came out in 1839 on the same ship as her sister, my great, great, great grandmother, Jane Colbran nee Honeysett. I have chased their story to Herstmonceux in East Sussex from where they departed to Richmond in NSW where they ended up, carving a new existence in a new place. The enormity of their journey and the extent of the ties they severed never fails to amaze me.
I know much of Ann’s story, her leaving, her arriving, her new family, its background, her children, the sad events, the new beginnings. I know it better than my own great, great great grandmother’s story which still has huge gaps despite my searching. It was good to find Ann’s resting place, other members of the family close by, a part of the mystery I am trying to understand.
Whether it was the sunshine that bathed my pores as I walked around scouring the old stones, or the act of connecting with these souls and their history, I found myself strangely grounded, blossoming in the linkage, surrounded by the ones I seek but cannot exactly find the truth about. An invisible thread linking us, a few degrees of separation joined and resulting in a stitching of myself.
Australian actor, Vince Colosimo, in a recent ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ episode, talked of a sense of finding his team as he searches for his family background. I know this feeling. As I have lost people in my immediate family, the desire to know more about my broader family history and the qualities and experiences of my ancestors has strengthened as I search to know the roots of my own journey. A sense of teamwork in getting me through much suffering has been part of this, as if they are somehow helping me along.
So less of a refugee, less in need of rescue, less in need of bright lights and touched by the sun, I climbed back into the car re-energised and continued on my drive with the sound of bell-birds, the lean of curves and the guidance of trees taking me back to my temporary home. It’s as if the act of remembering, the conscious act of seeking my ancestors, my silent team of supporters, cast something of a connecting spell on the present time and I was carried up and forward once again.