Understanding family relationships

At the Carrot Ranch this week Charli Mills is talking about cold cases and challenges writers to, In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an old mystery in the current time. Is it a discovery? Is it solved? Does it no longer matter, or does it impact innocent generations in between?

My thoughts immediately turned to a mystery that occurred in my family over one hundred years ago when the two-year old brother of my grandfather disappeared and was never seen again.

Most families do have a skeleton or two in the closet. Not all families like it to be known. Many Australian families who can trace the arrival of ancestors back to before the end of convict transportation in 1868 can find a convict in their ancestry. I have two; one on each side of the family. Generally the reasons for transportation were rather minor so I am not too concerned about sharing that information. In fact, many Australians are delighted to find a convict in the past as it adds a little interest and colour to their family tree.

Children generally love to hear stories of their own lives and families. I have written about that before here. However young children probably have no need for or interest in delving as far back into family history as the three stories I have mentioned above. An interest in ancestors further back than living relatives (grandparents and great-grandparents) usually develops later, if at all.

A great place to start thinking about history in early childhood classrooms is sharing stories about the families of children in the class. Most classes in Australia are comprised of children from variety of backgrounds so sharing those stories helps to develop an appreciation for each other as well as knowledge of the world. I developed a unit called Getting to know you for use in early childhood classroom which aims to develop discussion about family histories.

But children can start learning about family relationships even earlier than that by discussions of who’s who in the family and explanations of the words and relationships; for example father/daughter; brother/sister; aunt/niece; grandmother/granddaughter. Here is a picture of some pages of a book I made for Bec when she was just a little tot, just to give you the idea.

family book

Photo books of family members are much easier to make these days with digital photos and programs such as PowerPoint, as well as glossy books you can make and order online.

I am very proud of my two grandchildren, as any grandparent would be, and am pleased to say that they have a good understanding of who is in their family and their relationships to each other. It is a frequent topic of discussion. However I was very tickled when my three year old granddaughter proceeded to tell me, with some excitement, that her Daddy and her Aunty Bec were brother and sister in real life; in REAL life, she emphasized.

Regular readers of my blog may be familiar with a character I have been developing in response to Charli’s flash fiction challenges: Marnie. Her story is not real life but, sadly, aspects of it could be, for others. There was a period of about twenty years when, after escaping her dysfunctional family, Marnie was untraceable, living without any connection to her family and past, a mystery. It took authorities five years after both parents had passed to track her down with the ‘news’. This episode takes up there.

Found

The officers looked friendly enough but still she tried to hide the tremble in her soul and tremor in her voice behind the blankness of her stare.

She’d opened the door just a crack, as far as the chain would allow.

“Marnie Dobson?” they asked. She shook her head. She’d not . . . ; not since . . . ; no longer. She shook again.

They asked her to step outside. With no other option she reluctantly unlocked and emerged into the glare of daylight.

“Marnie Dobson,” one said, “We are here to inform you . . .”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

 

36 thoughts on “Understanding family relationships

  1. Sherri

    ‘In Real Life’. That’s priceless, love it! Oh Norah, and what a mystery indeed, how sad about the little two year old brother of your grandfather who went missing…
    As for convicts, well, I don’t have to look far in my family, with my dear old crook dad for starters. And don’t even get me started on the rumours about his father during the war (black market and all that). My husband’s family men all went to war. I always tell him that it’s so nice to have some relatives in the family now who aren’t criminals 😉 But then, as you say, they certainly do add a bit of zest to the family tree. How interesting for you to be able to trace your family back like that.
    And I love your flash. Marnie’s story is powerful and moving. As her story develops each week, I want to read more and more.
    One more thing: love the little picture book you made for your daughter, you have beautiful handwriting Norah (and of course, beautiful photos too, of both mum and daughter) 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Sherri. I really appreciate your comment, especially your encouragement re Marnie’s story and the picture book I made for Bec. She was/is a little cutie. 🙂
      You have shared the story of your Dad before. Interesting that the trends linked back to his father. How wonderful and strong your determination to make a difference in your own life and the lives of your children. There is much there for us to admire and learn from.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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      1. Sherri

        A real cutie 🙂 And that is so kind of you to say Norah, but I know you have done/do the very same with your children/grandchildren. And I wish every school had wonderful teachers like you 🙂

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  2. TanGental

    A missing two year old? That is creepy, isn’t it? As you say all families have twists and dark places. When dad died I sat with mum to write down as much as she could remember about her family and dad’s When we’d covered an arsonist, a couple of prostitutes, some fraud, bankruptcy and theft i joked ‘Only murder and incest left’. To which she replied ‘Oh we can tick off incest’. Great stuff. And as you Aussis revel in your criminal ancestry we have a few more we can send to top up the dodgy gene pool if you’d like?
    Marnie and the flash: it has a nice balance between the interior world and the action, giving us both the fear and the expectation. Well done.

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    1. Norah Post author

      It sounds like you have as much ‘real’ life material in your family history to write about as I have! I think we Aussies have cultivated enough in the dodgy gene pool without importing more at this stage thanks. I’ll let you know when our court officers and warders are twiddling their thumbs looking for something to do!
      Thanks for your comment re Marnie. I appreciate your encouragement. 🙂

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    Your missing toddler is an interesting history. I can’t help but think of Pat’s flash last week where his preamble told of items found between walls and one was an infant’s skeleton. If you lived in the same country I’d be wondering…
    I enjoyed revisiting your post on children’s enjoyment in family stories. I agree totally and think that your photo books are a great idea and have done some for my family. My nephews love seeing themselves at times they can’t remember and having their stories in print.
    I’m glad Marnie is freed by the news and look forward to where new prompts take her as she recreates her life.

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    1. Norah Post author

      The thought of infants’ skeletons found between walls is horrifying; but there are so many horrific stories.
      Thank you for reading back to my previous post. How wonderful for your nephews that you have made photo books for them. Some of my memories are only so because of moments captured in photographs. I can understand the emptiness that people feel when they lose them in floods or fires.
      Thanks for your encouragement re Marnie, and your comment in general. 🙂

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        To lose all those irreplaceable items like photos in any way would be really hard. I am working on memory at the moment as of course we don’t remember the event but add to it our current experiences and emotions and these can change as history changes. I think I am so fired up that I have my Mum and brother both writing their memories of things. Not for ourselves so much as for the kids when they reach our age it may answer questions they start to have and we will be long gone.
        I always enjoy your posts. They always give me food for thought. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thank you Irene. I’m pleased you enjoy my posts. I always appreciate your comments.
          How wonderful for the children, future adults, that you, your mother and brother are all writing your memoirs, for them, so that they will have “memories” of their younger days to help them understand their beginnings. What a wonderfully worthwhile project. 🙂

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            1. Norah Post author

              It’s a pity that sometimes we don’t learn to appreciate the stories of the older generation until it’s too late. Fortunately it’s not too late for you. 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Old Mysteries « Carrot Ranch Communications

  5. Sarah Brentyn

    Great take on this “mystery” prompt to make the MC herself the mystery. Very interesting post, with your family tree and, of course, Australian history. I love the “real life!” comment. Is she thinking that the scrapbook is a story book and that she uncovered the fact that there is an actual connection outside that book? Or was she just being a cut 3-yr-old? 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      She was just being a cute three year old. The book was for my daughter 20+ years ago. I don’t think my granddaughter has seen it. Perhaps I should share it with her. 🙂 I think the comment may have been made in relation to discussions with her big brother (of five years) about the difference between what happens in movies and ‘real’ life. I’m sorry that I didn’t distinguish between my daughter and granddaughter more clearly in the post. Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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  6. Charli Mills

    Some of the difficulty I’ve had in unraveling the McCanles family tree is how those who followed wanted him remembered. His grandson became a decorated WWI Navy Admiral so they couldn’t accept that skeleton which was Cob McCanles. Yet Cob was vilified by those who made a hero out of Wild Bill Hickok. It’s been tedious to unravel all the lies both good and bad, but the understanding of the man beneath it all — and that period in history — is worth it.

    I’m very curious about what kind of stories were told around your grandfather’s missing brother. And I’d be all over looking into any convicted relatives! I think it does add color to the family tree. 😉

    Nice unit and family relations book you developed. Your printing skills are impressive, too!

    his is the point where Marnie no longer has to remain a mystery. Yet, I wonder how she will react to that freedom. Best forgotten? Best shared? I’ve found that silence doesn’t allow for healing and often those unsaid family mysteries are waiting for resolution, for the light of truth. Of course, others may want them to remain buried forever.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli. I agree there are some interesting stories in my family history, but it won’t be me telling them, or not for a while yet at least. There are too many other things I want to do first. I agree though that it does add colour to the tree!
      I’m pleased for Marnie, but sad for her too; but the sadness is not for what is gone, it is for what never was. While her past will always be a part of her, and will haunt her somewhat, she no longer needs to live in fear of being found and dragged back into their dysfunctional lives. Now that she can step out of the darkness in which she’s been hiding, she may be able to talk openly about her experiences, and heal. I’m looking forward to future prompts which help me help her do that! 🙂

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    2. Norah Post author

      Sorry. I forgot to comment on your McCanles family. You have researched thoroughly and really delved into the history there. I am looking forward to reading the story, as you tell it. 🙂

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  7. lorilschafer

    I love your idea of the book, Norah. I always found family relationships rather confusing, and in today’s multi-layered familial environment, keeping track of the steps, in-laws, and unmarried partners as well as the blood relatives must make it nearly impossible for a child to keep track.

    I have read that the colonization of Australia became necessary precisely because of England’s overly zealous penal system, in which jail time became mandated for even the slightest offenses, leading to massive overcrowding and not even a slight reduction in crime. I’m quite sure there’s a lesson in there.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Lori. I appreciate your supportive comments about the book. I am not aware of anyone else doing it, but I made my daughter lots of photo books and she always loved reading them. Nowadays with printed books so easy to make with digital photos every child should have one!
      I’m sure there are lots of lessons in the history of colonization and the crime rate. Whether any have been learned or not is another thing!
      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

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      1. lorilschafer

        Exactly – you could custom-make very fancy versions of books like that with comparatively little money and effort. It’s a terrific idea – I wonder if there’s a place where you could design a template where people could insert their own captions and photos – I bet lots of people would like to have those 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks Lori. i have considered that idea and have been wondering how to do so, but with the great variety of family relationships, it may be a bit difficult. Surprisingly though, even in replying to your comment I have had another thought that just might work, so thanks for nudging me to think on it a little more! 🙂

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  8. macjam47

    I had to chuckle at your granddaughter’s comment. “In REAL life.” Precious.
    I love reading your Marnie episodes. This one definitely left us hanging.
    Have a great week.
    Hugs, my friend.

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  9. Annecdotist

    I love all the stories in this post, both real and imagined – or in between as in your granddaughter’s revelation about “real-life”. It is quite confusing for children to work out the relationships between people and I like how you did it in those little books for Bec (as well as the pleasure of seeing what a sweetie she was – and of course still is). I’m reminded of my sister’s granddaughter announcing proudly that she was going to be “a sister”, which I thought was a lovely way for her parents to help her manage that difficult transition of a new baby coming along.
    So sad about that two-year-old missing boy and of course it’s fascinating about the Australian heritage of convicts. As for Marnie, she was so right to make herself a mystery to the family who failed to protect her – I guess one mystery she might never resolve is why they treated her so badly.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Anne, for your lovely comments about all the stories. I’m sure there’s interesting stories to be told from my family’s history should anyone ever care to do so. It’s not anywhere on my agenda at the moment. I doubt that I will ever have time for it. Too many other things to do first!
      Thank your for agreeing that “I” made the right decision for Marnie. That one was easier to make than working out how the teacher would respond to brown paint! It would not have been unrealistic for me to have some idea of how a teacher would respond though, so I don’t really know what to make of that. 🙂

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  10. Bec

    Knowing Marnie as well as we do (or are starting to know her), although this FF seems like it would be leading to a heartbreaking revelation, I imagine the trembling would stop for Marnie – you’ve told us how freed she felt when she realised her past couldn’t come back to her present. Certainly there is a lot of emphasis on the idea that family needs to always be first (and for lucky people like me, it’s easy to agree with it as I fortunately have a wonderful family), but I think how damaging for others it must be – people who have damaging and hurtful relationships with their family. How much better it would be for them to be able to move on from people who will hurt them or bring them down, like for Marnie.

    The snippet of family history brings to mind for me the way something so central to a person’s life can become a quirk of history when they’re no longer an identity – but are a name. For example, was it Mark Twain who required that his memoirs would be released only 100 years after his death? Of course any written word is tainted by the biases, prejudices, and agendas of the writer – but how wonderful it would be to have a window into the past through candid recollections. The thought that we could write about those ‘skeletons’, but no one would read it until years after our death is certainly appealing. By that time we’d not have an ego or reputation to protect, and there would be no character to be damaged through whatever was contained. Perhaps this is why we find historical letters so fascinating – they can be candid, and the invasion of privacy doesn’t seem to matter as it’s an historical figure, no longer a person. Funny how we belong to history once there are no living connections left!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Bec. It is true that the news Marnie is about to receive could lead to heartbreak for some, but for her it will mean freedom and release from fear, an opportunity to live in the open and allow her heart to heal. Your discussion of memoir/history/identity and privacy will probably be of great significance to Marnie’s ability to re-create her life. She no longer needs fear those who previously inflicted so much pain, and now that they are gone, she can tell her story without fear of reprisal. I like how you said, “Funny how we belong to history once there are no living connections left!” I read another similar quote by Cicero, “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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