Who do you think you are?

 Connaught Hotel
If you watch the BBC Series Who Do You Think You Are (or any its spin-offs in your own country, if you’re not UK-based), you’ll know that much of the historical insights unearthed by local historians or professional genealogists rely significantly on physical artefacts and official records. Some of these may only be accessible in their original form and it’s amazing when personal items from centuries long ago are revealed.

Physical artefacts and memorabilia tell a story

Artefacts such as records of birth, marriage and death or census records are now readily available online, but many stories featured on the TV programme see celebrities reviewing the personal effects of their ancestors including hand-written letters, certificates, photographs or personal belongings.

Seeing a recent episode of Who Do You Think You Are? got me thinking. What would someone looking at my stuff in the future discover about me?

What does the stuff you own say about you?

I come from a line of working class folk. One of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side (pictured, below) was a cooper, a maker of barrels and casks.

Cooper.jpg

On my mother’s side, another great-grandfather was a “licensed victualler” (a formal term for someone who was the landlord of a public house or similar licensed establishment). In fact, as a young man, that particular great-grandfather was the hotel manager of the establishment whose picture is shown at the top of this post.

Family heirlooms

As a family, we have retained very few artefacts from the past. Had we done so, we would might have had a greater insight into the lives of my ancestors who were coal merchants, steel makers, homemakers and teachers (to name but a few).

Instead, the things I own are mainly in digital form. Photographs and video snippets we upload to online repositories such as Flickr could form an historical record of our present day lives for future generations (assuming they can access them!).

What you wouldn’t want your stuff to say about you

For my part, I wouldn’t want my children or grandchildren – or their children – to find evidence of money squandered on a load of old tat. Much rather, they might see photos showing a life well lived, full of rich experiences.

Hopefully, most of us will not leave an ‘archive’ of unwanted belongings. Indeed, there have been many articles in recent times, such as this one,  illustrating that grown up children certainly don’t want their parents’ stuff.

The virtual ‘stuff’ of today

I would suspect that the vast majority of future ‘historical evidence’ from our present-day lives will lie not in our physical belongings, but more in our digital footprint. That is, the ‘trail’ of data that we leave as we visit websites, submit our details online, share stories via social media and so on.

Indeed, we may leave a trail that could reveal a much greater level of detail for future generations to consider and evaluate. What will they make of it? What will they learn about us? What will the comments, the tweets, the insta’ stories, online profiles and blog posts we submit today say about us in the future? What would you want it to say about you? And just who do you think you are?


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