IT is only when someone dies that you realise what a vast wealth of history has died with them. I sadly realised this following the death of my maternal grandmother.
Grannie and I would talk at length many times a month on the phone. Sadly she lived hundreds of miles away in Scotland, and so getting to see her was not that easy.
But despite being 92, her brain was needle sharp and she had excellent recollection. Although her mind was well, her body sadly was not. As a result she couldn’t walk very far. Instead she spent her time watching television and reading. This meant she often had a better understanding of world events than me and was always up for a good debate.
But the great thing was to watch as my eldest and she formed a great relationship. They got on famously.
Both were obsessed with cats and horses and all things to do with animals. And another thing that bonded the six-year-old with her nonagenarian great-grandmother was their obsession with flying.
When she was a little girl my grandmother launched herself off the outhouse roof complete with broom and cape saying: ‘Look at me I am flying,’ much to my great grandmother’s horror. Luckily she escaped with a bruised face and a chipped front tooth.
It is this kind of family history which will sadly be lost as the years go on. When Grannie was alive I would get some fragments of history – what she remembered and also what she cared to reveal.
Like most in her generation some of the things they had been through during the Second World War weren’t always revealed. I remember my paternal Grandmother once telling me how she and Grandpa had written to each other every day he was away fighting. She kept every letter but the day he returned home for good she burnt the lot of them. I was horrified by this as they would have been fascinating. But now I am an adult I can sort of understand just how symbolic and cathartic that was for her to do.
Now I am really keen to do a sort of BBC Who Do You Think You Are? investigation into my own background. I want to know more about my maternal grandfather’s roots – how he fled Nazi-Germany as a Jewish refugee and how they ended up meeting and marrying. I want to know what her background is too – what really happened to my great-grandfather and why he was never mentioned.
And if you are intrigued by your own family history, Sheffield City Council can help. Its popular Archives and Local Studies Service has just launched its events programme for 2011. This includes everything from Sheffield’s Historic Newspapers to Victorian Crime and Punishment.
The full programme is available to download from http://www.sheffield.gov.uk/libraries/archives-and-local-studies/whats-on and details are also on www.eventsheffield.co.uk