Give voice to your hidden family history
Jan 11 2010 By Paul Wilkins
Our family historian Paul Wilkins explains the importance of tracing the missing voices of the past.
In looking at the standard history books, most history has been written in a certain way, from an elite point of view, which does not take into consideration the accounts of those who have been hidden, hence our history is not complete.
We are missing some of the most significant parts of our history – the accounts from the people themselves, in their own words. Amongst those voices that are hidden are black and ethnic minority histories, Gipsy history and women’s history.
The work I do in libraries is to engage the so-called “ordinary” people and hear their accounts of history. The aim is to bring new points of view to the story, so our understanding of the past is more complete. It is about going into the communities where people live, to engage people on their own doorsteps.
It is vitally important when trying to trace your family history that equal time is spent looking at the role that women have played in our family histories. Our history is taken from written records which are heavily biased towards men.
It is important to look at groups of people that live within society, on the edge of society, often viewed as outsiders. Gipsies have fascinating histories.
A few years ago I visited Aston Hall and saw a painting with a black slave in the background, I was intrigued to know more about this young woman’s name and to know how she came to be in this painting.
The slave trade and the creation of wealth from it in this country has not been fully looked into or researched. I know work has been done here in Birmingham with the Black Oral History Project Archive based in Handsworth.
Our history is not complete without having an account of all the different histories of all the people’s who live here. We are connected, we share our history and heritage. As I learn more about “everyone” I somehow feel more complete. It is enlightening and helps me to understand.
This year, why not contribute to history by finding out about your own family? A very good way to start is to visit Shard End, Erdington, Frankley, Harborne, West Heath, Castle Vale, Weoley Castle, Handsworth, Hawthorn House or Hall Green libraries and ask about how you can begin to tell your story.
* Paul Wilkins is a family historian and founder of Family History Detectives. E-mail your queries to him at email@example.com
* Next week he continues his series of practical tips on tracing your family tree.