culture & community relationships & love

Going Back in Time

by Lem — September 23, 2012

Genealogy (from Greek: γενεά, genea, “generation”; and λόγος, logos, “knowledge”) is the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history. (

I recently travelled back in time. No kidding. On the floor of my mother’s living room, I took a journey about 600 years back. It all started with a mysterious black chest that the sister of my grandfather brought with her on a visit. Inside this chest, a treasure could be found: leather bound old books with gilded pages. Letters. Heaps and heaps of musty letters. Photographs, old memorabilia, documents and so on.

My first stop was a terrifying one: The first World War. Trenches in France. The destruction of war. The utter boredom of soldiers stuck in the trenches for months and months, giving the trench warfare I only read about in history books a tired and exhausted face. My great-grandfather with his medical carriage in a time when diseases like Typhus were a major cause of death amongst medical personnel. A vaccine will only be discovered after the war, and more efficient ones will only be available during the next World War. For a medical man like my great-grandfather, those discoveries must have felt like the beginning of a new era. We now take them for granted.

And on the other hand, the trivialities of family life – the who married whom, who was seen with whom and townhouse issues. Keeping in touch not via email and facebook, but writing letters in meticulous and neat handwriting. Life seemed to go on side-by-side with a war that soon had all of Europe in it’s grip. What a time to grow up and be a child!

A little bit further back in time, April 1815: a promotion to the rank of a captain, granted by the king. The battle of Ligny, where Napoleon had his last victory against a prussian army, will not happen until June. Two years earlier, the Battle of Leipzig marked the largest battle in Europe before World War I and was, for my ancestors, a battle right in their front garden. The monument that was erected in Leipzig after that battle is now under restoration and work will be finished for the two-hundredth anniversary next year in 2013. I wonder if the newly promoted captain from April 1815 ever thought of the year 2000 and beyond.

After the year 1800, my time travel got a little blurry. Less documents and less faces to match history to, made it harder to immerge in the past. The family lines split up, with one of them tracing back to the 1400s – a time so far, far, away that it could be straight out of a fairy tale. Knights and maidens living in castles, and glass being a luxury item that was manufactured in Murano, Italy. Scratch luxury BMWs – the ones who had fancy glass windows were top of the food chain.

A few hours (or centuries?) later, I found myself back on the floor of my mother’s living room, smelling a little bit of cordite and frankincense and having an eerie feeling that I’ve lost my corset somewhere along the way. What a ride! What about your families? Have you ever travelled back in time to see where you came from? Share your family stories – who knows, we might be related!

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