Like a lot of people, I didn't know a lot about who my ancestors were, or where they had come from when I was growing up. Other than my grandparents, who I was fortunate to get to know while I was growing up, I didn't really know much beyond them.
My first taste of genealogy was in 1992 when a family reunion was held in Nelson to gather the descendants of two settlers who arrived in Nelson in 1842. They had come from rural in England. From that, I learned that one of my classmates was my fifth cousin, once removed. A book was published, which included the history of the family, and all the family trees. It included a copy of the original, handwritten memoirs of Sarah Higgins, my great, great, great grandmother. This was notable, as she wrote it in her 80s, after only learning how to write in her 70s.
As my parents and grandparents were farmers, and with this knowledge of earlier ancestors who were also farmers, I thought that was my heritage, as that was all I knew. This didn't really fit with my desire to move to the city, and get an office job.
After that, I didn't learn much more about my family history until I'd moved to the city (Christchurch), studied graphic design and worked a couple of jobs. I then moved to London, where I met a second-cousin, who informed me that some of our ancestors had lived in London before they emigrated to New Zealand in the 1860s, and had owned a book-binding business there. I found this quite fascinating, as at this time I'd just started a job as a graphic designer for a publishing company in their puzzle magazine department.
Upon my return to Christchurch a year later, I did some more research. I then discovered that half of my ancestors (all on my father's side) had actually arrived in Lyttelton in the 1800s, something I hadn't realised when I first moved here.
Growing up, I was interested in creative pursuits, like handcrafts which my mother taught me, along with drawing and painting, something both of my grandmothers did, and which they both encouraged me to do. Both of my grandmothers have passed away in the time since I left home, and while I was at my parents over the holiday break, I had a look through the trunk which stored Grandma's artwork.
I had looked through these before, but enough time had passed since then, that I felt like I was looking at them through fresh eyes. I had just purchased a book about painting watercolour landscapes, and I had wanted to look at her pictures and see how she had painted trees. There were lots of landscapes as I was expecting, but there was a wide variety of other work which I hadn't remembered from the last time.
This included many different bird paintings, lots of flowers, and even some portraits. There were a couple of my Grandpa, and one which I think might have been a self-portrait. Amongst all the other things, there were hand-lettering projects, and a mock-up of a logo for the local WDFF group that she was a member of. The best bit though, was a painting of a pot plant. I was thinking how it was quite on trend, then Mum looked at it, and she told me that Grandma had painted that design on the cupboard doors of a friend's home. So it turns out my Grandma was making wall art before I was even born!
This got me thinking of how she loved to encourage my drawing as a child, and the very different era she grew up in. She was born before WWI, and got married the year WWII broke out. She brought up her children in the 1940s and 50s, and diligently played her part as a wife and mother. For her, painting was only ever a hobby. To have created art as a career is something she could only ever have dreamed of. When she was in her 80s, her grand-daughter moved to the big city and embarked on as career as a graphic designer. She passed away two days after my graduation ceremony, which my parents had travelled down for. At the time, I felt like that meant something, that she wanted to know I had graduated, and was on the road to following my dream. Now, after seeing all her work again, I really feel that even more.
Grandma also wrote a memoir, so I think it's time for a re-read.
Credit: All photos are of original artwork by W. E. Carson