Puzzles And Games

Entry by: Seaside Scribbler

24th March 2023

Finding the scrap of paper was the missing piece of the puzzle. Written on years earlier, when Pat was still alive, and I sat with her whilst we dug into my history, it was like a message from the afterlife. I stared at her handwriting, remembering birthday and Christmas cards, letters to me when I was a student, postcards from her travels. Then I switched on my computer, and used the information to fill in a very large gap in my life.


It began as a bit of a laugh, a game. For Christmas I'd bought us both Ancestry DNA tests, out of curiosity and a sense of fun: Who was the most Scottish? Who was the most English? Where did our traits come from?

The results took weeks to come back but when they did they confirmed what I'd already guessed - I was a mongrel, a mish-mash of seven different areas. And the lands that had called to me in the past were indeed a part of my story. There was a reason I felt a connection to Scottish hills and Welsh valleys and Yorkshire accents. My husband's results were just as interesting.

I clicked on 'DNA matches' and up came a list of names and possible relationships. Many were 5th or 6th cousins; 7th or 8th cousins. That was to be expected - go back far enough and we are all linked, after all, but to see my shared DNA in over 10,000 other lives was powerful. I loved connecting people - one of my biggest joys is introducing two of my best friends and watching them get on well. I love meeting new people and often discover coincidences that join us.

However, games aside, one of my reasons for getting the DNA testing done was to fill a great big hole in my life. My father and I are estranged but before we stopped being in touch I'd learned there was no family (according to him) on his side. There was an aunt long ago (I thought) but my father is an only child, there are no cousins and a great big space where family should have been. My father showed no interest when I asked questions and I'd accepted I may never know where he/I came from.

So when my own surname popped up in my list of closer DNA matches, I felt a surge of excitement. Could be a coincidence but my surname isn't very common. The link was 2nd/3rd cousin. I messaged her immediately and she messaged right back. I knew straight away here was someone like me: someone open and friendly, keen to make connections, keen to know more. We messaged back and forth on Ancestry, moved to whatsapp and after a few days we video chatted. The click was there; we just got on and it was as if we'd known each other forever! It turned out our birthdays were a day apart although she's much younger. We went digging and found the connection - my great-grandfather's half brother was her great grandfather. It sounds tenuous, but it made our dads second cousins and when we compared photos there is a resemblance - for me it was a missing piece of my puzzle. We now message every few days and video chat every week or so, and are digging into our shared pasts together. Later this year we're going to meet in person (she is as far away from me as it's possible to be in the British Isles!)

Through our conversations I discovered where some of my health issues came from, that she has my dad's distinct earlobes, that there are certain traits that run down the families. What started as a bit of a game turned into an event that made me feel complete. I'd grown up knowing everyone on my mum's side of the family; now I had people to meet on my dad's.

Whenever I have a spare hour I go onto Ancestry, find a gap in my tree and work on filling it out. I've made connections all over the UK, Australia and Europe. My distant relations pop up on their trees and they are happy to share information. I haven't clicked as much with anyone as much as I have with C, and I just cannot wait to meet her.

As I was digging, there was one gap I just couldn't fill. This was my paternal grandmother's side so C couldn't help as she's on my grandfather's side. No matter how much I tried I just didn't have enough information. I vaguely remembered doing some digging into my grandmother's side with my aunt but had no idea where this information had gone.

Until last week. I've begun a project to deal with all the random pieces of 'important' paper in my house. Piles of documents that lurk in corners, disorganised. We have lost passports, car ownership documents, medical letters and certificates. I bought a filing cabinet and took a deep breath.

It was on day three that the piece of paper appeared from the middle of a messy pile of sheets of A4. As if a message from wherever Pat's soul had gone, there was the missing information I needed - some birthdates and places; and a name. With slightly shaking hands I did a search, and there appeared an ancestor I could add to my tree. Pat was a real gamer - not a video gamer but an everything-else gamer. Her side of the family played cards, board games, did quizzes, jigsaws and puzzles. It felt as if this was a treasure hunt, and here was a clue she'd left me, a last gift. It took me back to that afternoon digging into old records, searching for connections, playing at being detectives. Like yesterday.

Pat is gone. My ancestors are names on old documents but reading them starts to reveal the stories behind them. Joining the dots between censuses shows who has left, who has moved in, who has died. Children disappear all too regularly - whole family trees felled before they have taken root.

The story that brings C and I together is this: My great-great grandfather had four children in quick succession with a woman called Mary-Ann, who died when she was 31. Her widower then got together with their lodger, a woman called Sarah, who became pregnant, took his name but never married. It's from Sarah that C's line begins, and links with mine.

I try to imagine what their lives were like, what Sarah was like, how it was taking on four young children and pretending to be married to their father. I think about what she took on in terms of work - how hard everything was back then. How survival was literally that. We joke about surviving the winter; they lived with no modern luxuries to make life easier. I want to go back in time and visit them because there is precious little information and a lot of gaps to be filled. C and I would like to go to where we are from - Staffordshire, about halfway between our present addresses.

I imagine us looking around churchyards, finding our ancestors, completing the puzzle. And I don't have to imagine how I will treasure the time with this new lovely relative; I know we will enjoy it and I know how much fun we will have.

What began as a bit of fun has changed my life, made me feel whole and reminded me that we really are all connected. The joy is in putting the jigsaw pieces together.