We are the product of all who have gone before us. Have you ever thought about things that way? In a world where some people don’t even know their own grandparents, I wonder how many of us have ever really considered the people who went before them.
When you have children you look upon the tiny infant as a clean page, ready for the life experiences that will mould them into the person they will become. As the child grows it sometimes displays traits that you may have seen in Grandma Rose or uncle Ted and you realise that rather than a totally clean page there are imprints and watermarks that you may not have noticed initially.
I’ve never known any relatives, I don’t know who’s traits, good or bad, I have received. I was Five when we came to Australia and I haven’t been back. When I was given a stack of birth, death and marriage certificates from my maternal grandmothers family, it was the first time I had any information about any family members further away than my grandparents. My mothers disjointed postcard sent to my during a trip to England alerted me to their existence. It read in part “…….lots of family history to bring back, very exciting.” and I have to admit I did dream, if ever so briefly, of blue blood running through my veins. The oldest of these documents was dated at seventeen eighty five which was three years before the first fleet arrived in Australia. Your instant reaction might be to ask was there anyone rich or well known amongst ancesters, sadly no.
What I found instead was ordinary people, living ordinary lives. Policeman, miners, signal men, ambulance drivers, even something called a maltster, which seemed to appeal to most of the men I have spoken to. They were all literate and educated.
As I followed the men through history; however, it was the women that touched me. There was little information about them other than their age and date of birth, marriage or death (which unfortunately for most was very young). What stood out glaringly however, was that each one, up until my maternal grandmother, was illiterate.
Mary Hobson, Jane Graydon, Sarah Wells and Mary Jane Grant, could only leave their mark, a cross on a page. In some of their cases, only a wobbly mark at that, so unfamiliar were they with the use of writing tools.
Poor, illiterate women, not even taught to sign their own name. I couldn’t help but consider the fate of women through out history. Repressed and suppressed by lack of education as they have been and in many countries still are, having little power over their own lives.
The more I pondered their lives they became real people to me and I could almost picture them. Strangely a sense of obligation descended upon me. I owed something to these women. I have had education and I have had choices. I don’t know what that something is just yet. It may only be that I ensure no daughter or grand daughter of mine ever be uneducated.
We live in a time when so much is taken for granted sometimes it is good for us to peer into history to see just how far we have come.