Diaspora and families

Very recently I had time to think on this subject, in relation to my family and the impact.  When I really understood it, it came as a surprise.  I’ll explain.

Growing up in NZ we had no family whatsoever from my father’s side who had come to NZ as a refugee following WW2.  The only family was on my mother’s side.  My mother was one of four sisters and being the youngest, her sisters all had children older than my brother and I.  I remember a lot of occasions where the family would come together for one reason or another.  So there was the 4 sisters, their respective husbands and children.  Between the 4 sisters there was 11 children (I think).  We all used to play together quite well but it was only on those occasions.  To my knowledge, each of those 11 children also had children.  So over the space of 3 generations there has been something like 30+ family members in the extended family.  The total is a pure guesstimate as I don’t actually know for sure, and this is what got me thinking.

We all came together because of the bond between those four sisters.  My mother was the first of the 4 to die some 25 years ago and the last one died 3 days ago.  That death feels like a door has been shut on a whole branch of a family.  To my knowledge there is very limited interaction between the first generation of the 4 sisters and there is absolutely zero interaction between the 3rd generation.  I have absolutely no idea what there names are, where they live, what they do and if they are even alive.  Now, cynics amongst you could think at this point “well thats just Paul, he doesn’t give a shit”, which to a degree you would be correct.  However my brother who still lives in NZ, finds families to be quite important and I know from my conversations with him that he doesn’t have any contact either.

So in the short space of 3 generations, a family that was bought up through very tough times (the 4 sisters) where closeness and dependibility were factors that helped you to survive as a group has evaporated to the point that my own 2 children who are now 11 and 9 have absolutely no idea or concept that they are indeed part of a bigger family.  f course you can say shame on me, but the truth is (and that is the point of this post) I have no idea who they are or where they are.

On my fathers side, it is a similar story.  He really has only the 1 brother with 3 children, which we have no contact with primarily because we dont speak Yugoslav and they dont speak English.  So once either my father or his brother dies, that will close that door as well.

The summary of this little tale is that I owe to my children to try and find some sort of thread or information to help them get in touch with the fact they are really just one part of a much bigger picture.

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One thought on “Diaspora and families

  1. You know, I had a similar thought, and the epiphany came when I was watching “Who do you think you are” on the Beeb. I found myself wondering how or why it is that most people have no clue of their families backgound beyond, say, their Great Grandparents. And I thought about my own family and realised that it’s the very same for me. I know all about my family, aunts uncles, grand-parents…..but beyond that generation that I can directly touch and interact, the information, history and connection is lost.

    My wife’s family ties are in even worse shape. Her Mum lost contact with her sisters etc purely because of the size of the Soviet Union and the difficulty in keeping in contact either by letters or visiting (given that it takes a week to get from Ukraine to Kazakhstan by train). So I have vowed to my ownself that when our children DO make an appearance, that they a) know who Mum and Dad and their direct families history are and is, and b) to find out more about the missing links so that they will know. It’s all the more important given that neither my wife nor I are living in our home countries that I think our kids should know where they’ve come from.

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