The library Family history guide must be one of the most popular digital resources that we offer. It is a site for those with an eye for detail. Those who like to paint their life canvases with accuracy. This is not my way at all.
My approach to my ancestry is more like unpacking the intricate layered notes of a complex perfume: the light high green notes of New Zealand, the wide warm middle notes of South Africa and the deep peaty tones of Scotland. And I can legitimately lay claim to my Scottish roots. I have a clan, I have a tartan, my parents (born in Scotland) moved to tropical Durban and created a little Scotland there for us. A lot of the time this Scottish aspect of my genealogy lies fallow, but it took just one book to shake it up all over again.
When I first glimpsed Tartan: Romancing the Plaid, I was captivated by the model’s neck; it is such a beautiful cover. When I focussed more carefully I saw the tartan shawl, and I was hooked. This is a gorgeous book which shows how widely loved tartan is, how its appeal straddles borders and oceans and ages. So much care has been put into producing this book, right down to the little tartan ribbon book marker that has been thoughtfully provided. This book is now on my To Buy list.
Isolated from her large family, my mother did her best – she was not a gifted cook, but she kept an old recipe book and fed us Scottish Fayre when she could. Every year near Christmas the mail boats would bring us gifts from the homeland – annuals like The Broons and Oor Willie. Imagine then my joy at discovering Maw Broon’s Cookbook in the library. This book is like Scottish History on a plate. It looks and feels like an old recipe book, and won an award for its clever, realistic presentation. I have already bought this book.
But, if you really want to capture your personal genealogy, you must find its music. I read Kirsti Gunn’s The Big Music about a year ago. It is a read that will take you straight to the Highlands of Scotland. It is one of the few books I have ever read which desperately needed a CD to go with it. Big Music is the oldest form of Scottish bagpipe music that exists. You can hear the beginning of this book being read on this YouTube clip. The point where the bagpipes start playing roots me to the spot. Excavates who I am to the very soul.
So where do you stand on the family history spectrum? Are you beavering away with documented, perspectival accuracy, or do you paint your canvas with broad swathes of memory?