Saturday, August 25, 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet Challenge - Past, Place, People and Identity

 PAST, PLACE, PEOPLE &  Identity

Image Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we do our Family History? What  inspires our curiosity about the Past? What motivates us to collect names of People from the past and the Places they came from?  The PAST, the PEOPLE and the PLACES we research are intrinsic components of our identity.

Our identity - who we are - is integral to how we perceive ourselves, as individuals, as members of families, communities, groups, cultures, nations and the ever increasingly globalized world in which we live. 

We perceive our identity as individuals and as members of groups.


Our identity develops, as we relate to people in different places throughout our lives. The relationships we build within each place and the associations with people, impact on our sense of belonging  and significantly, our sense of place in the world. 

 We begin with OURSELF, as an individual. Who am I? I am a daughter, a mother, a sister, an aunt, a grandmother. You could be a son, a father, a grandfather, a great grandfather and so on. We occupy a place or places within the family unit and in doing so we form a sense of belonging. We identify with our family because we belong. As family members we experience emotional responses to others. We form relationships within the family which influence us and impact on how our lives are shaped. As individuals we have tangible proof of identity - a birth certificate, a passport. We know we exist. However, it is our relationships with the immediate people in our lives, our emotional responses to people in our families, the way in which we interact with family members and our feelings for these PEOPLE, which becomes a part of our identity and allows us to perceive who we are. 

My daughters' understanding of 'who am I?'  began in the immediate family.


PLACE extends beyond physical geography. The PLACE where we live significantly influences how we make sense of the world. The physical PLACE, starting with the family home, the place where we live becomes a part of our identity. The home in which we live, is significant to our identity. We develop relationships with the place we call home -  attachment, ownership, our associations with home, all contribute to an all important sense of belonging to a PLACE. 

Connection to PLACE is vital to our identity.

Where we live in a wider context - our social identity - is also a crucial part of how we define who we are. We identify with local groups such as schools, church communities, sporting groups, local history or family history groups, occupations. We feel connected to PLACE through our connection to the people in the community or PLACE in which we live. 

As a citizen of a country we  experience national pride. One just needs to have watched the recent Olympic Games, held in London, to have witnessed national pride. We identify with the country in which we reside because we are a citizen. We feel connected to other people who share our relationship with the same country. 

PLACE and people are  an inseparable part of existence and a significant part of our identity. Identity occupies a meaningful place in our lives. It is our sense of identity, what factors in our lives influence us, the PLACE in which we live, the PEOPLE who we interact and form relationships with, the groups and religions to which we belong, our culture, traditions and  nationalities, which shapes the way in which we perceive ourselves as and allows us to understand our place in history.


PEOPLE and PLACES from our family background are an inherent part of our identity. Understanding the identity of our ancestors helps us to understand our own identity. It answers the question 'who am I?' in a wider scope than in our own immediate lives. It places our 'sense of self' within the context of the larger world as a whole, and significantly, within history itself.

Place occupied an important role in the lives of the people who were our ancestors. When we discover the places our ancestors came from and we understand the way in which they 'belonged' to particular places, we can establish a sound feeling of kinship with these PEOPLE of the PAST. Our ancestors undoubtedly,would have possessed a sense of attachment and a sense of belonging to the places where they dwelled and worked. Their identities evolved from the social classes, the types of housing, the community groups,  their religion, the people they associated with, and the work patterns associated with the places in which they lived. 

Ord House, Isle of Skye, ancestral home of my husband's MacDonald ancestors

The places where our ancestors lived extended beyond geographical locations. They were more than the physical characteristics of rural areas, villages, towns or cities.  To understand the places of our ancestors, we need to look into the relationships they had with their physical environment as well as the impact the environment had on the people themselves. The places in which our ancestors lived, influenced the way they lived, the choices they made (ie reasons for migration), the relationships they formed and how they made sense of the world in which they existed. 
When we understand the PAST and the PLACES our ancestors came from, we come to understand what it means to 'come from a place'. Understanding what shaped the lives of our forebears helps us to understand the part of our identity which we have inherited from  people of the past. Ancestors pass on traditions, culture, ideas, memories, religion, recipes, songs, tangible objects and much more. What is from the past and has been preserved for the future, is our heritage. It is what is valued enough to keep, to protect, and to hand on to future generations. In recognising and appreciating our heritage, and the identity which we have inherited from our ancestors, we can establish a bond or kinship with the places we come from. We develop a 'sense of place' which relates to our existence in a global world where we may not have continuity of place as did many of our ancestors, and where we may no longer live for generations in one place. 

Researching our family history, and understanding the relationship our ancestors formed with the places where they lived,  helps us to form strong ties of 'kinship' with people from the past. Family history provides a new type of identity for us, which is no longer embedded in a single place or country. It provides us with a sense of who we are - an identity - which is intertwined with many people and many  different places from our past. People, Places and the Past, establishes our own place within the context of world history, and significantly help us to understand our own identity. 

Image Wikimedia Commons


  1. An interesting and thought-provoking post Sharn including that sense of belonging. In regard to place I feel that I have several "places": even though my first affiliation may be to my place of origin each place has shaped me. I wonder where our ancestors' loyalties lay: with their place of birth or adopted country. Thank you.

  2. You have set me thinking again, Sharn. I am pondering on where I belong. Is it here I am now, where I was born or where we raised our family?
    Thanks for another thoughtful post.