Saturday, 19 June 2010

Reality Bites

 We are frequently able to fill a blank in a family tree or answer a customer query but a lot of the time we hit a dead end. Sometimes these dead ends can haunt you, and you wish that you could uncover the truth that has slipped through the cracks in time.

I recently had a query from a gentleman whose ancestor died on Orkney after taking (being given?) an overdose of an epilepsy medicine. She was not from Orkney and neither was her husband who was left with two children. They were not even listed at the house they were staying in, so what were they doing there? Her husband was a doctor; was it foul play? Her medicine could also be used to treat depression, had she been sent to Orkney to recuperate after a breakdown? I fear that I shall never know the truth.

Sometimes we wish that we had not heard the endings to stories.

Those family history queries which tug your heartstrings are usually the ones to stay with you: the pensioner who is looking for the siblings she was separated from when their mother was no longer capable of caring for them; the family historian who traces their line to an unmarried girl who was rejected by her family for bearing an illegitimate child; the teenage boy who went missing whilst lodging away from his islander parents in Kirkwall and whose body was eventually found in Kirkwall Harbour.

Some of the reading here can be very sad and it is often hard to pass on information to our customers.

Luckily, all this is balanced by the joy when someone finally finds an elusive relative or when we are able to produce a photograph of an ancestral home. Orkney archive is generally a cheerful place to work and always interesting. There are millions of stories and personal histories contained within the piles of boxes, books and papers and it is a great privilege to be able to uncover some of them.

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