We gave her no end of trouble over her constant demands for photos at even the most informal of family gatherings. She was the butt of many, albeit gentle, jokes. But her collections of 1000s of photos not only record her meticulous garden and her beloved pet cats from 1950 to 2015. It also records a nearly perfect timeline of our family over that same period. Babies are born. Waistlines grow. "Extras" appear (and disappear). It is wonderful to flick through.
I've taken the responsibility of "owning" these records very seriously and have begun scanning each album and every box of slides so I can keep a record online (first on Facebook but now also on a special website made by Jim) so every member of the family has the same access as I do.
Here I am at my Nan's 60th birthday in 1998. Despite this table being for the "outcasts" (my Grandad left my Nan in the late 70s and this was his first meeting with her since then) I made a bee-line for it as I was suffering a serious case of hero worship of my newly met Grandad (a very intelligent man who suffered from a total lack of focus) and also his son Uncle Derek (only 4 years older than me, he was thus the closest thing to an older brother I'd ever met) who I'd spent a week staying with the month before.
And we've not just got a record of "our" family but of the two generations before our family on Auntie Joy's side, my great and great great grandfamilies. Birthday books from the 1800s. Photos of weddings long forgotten. Trophies belonging to my great-grandad (a fantastic runner).
Here is my great grandparents, the Waters, wedding day in Upchurch, Kent with their parents, the Waters and Witherdens, and assorted family members in 1928.
All this work has spurred on my work on my family tree. I've taken an Ancestry DNA test which has helped me immediately move back on my Kay family branch. I've found the Kay family were a working class family from Darwen, Lancashire who appear to have been there for over a century prior to my great-great grandad Harold meeting his wife in South Africa (I assume he was there for the Boer War but how Nellie got there, I don't know) and getting dragged back to her home in Kent.
Despite my Ancestry results suggesting I'm only a mere 9% British, I've yet to find anything exciting in my trees. Agricultural labourers for the most part with moves into industry (especially paper mills both in Darwen and in Kent) once the industrial revolution had finished its work. And on the Witherden side an interesting but as yet unexplored reoccuring Royal Marines theme.
What's the point? I don't really know. It's a like a great game, a puzzle and each time I find a piece or put a face to a name I get a little thrill. And in the face of relentlessly idiotic nationalism it is nice to know that Europhiles like me have just as strong a claim to the British identity as those who want to pull up the drawbridge.
And the best thing I've seen is this... my family have always LOVED their pets. Carefully noted in each family album is the name of every pet. They are seen in almost every outdoors informal photo. And even one of the earliest formal photos of the Witherden family from before the First World War, there's the family dog and their cat too. Pets are our constant companions come what may...