A genealogist with extensive experience in the field of family history research and professional genealogy recently made a remarkable discovery about their own family lineage.
Engaged in genealogical research for a television program and private clients, Dr Nick Barratt had encountered numerous family history “revelations” before. However, it wasn’t until the revelation about his own ancestor that the emotional impact truly resonated.
The discovery came about when Dr Barratt’s dad’s cousin had conducted some research on their family tree and stumbled upon a file at the National Archives related to the genealogist’s grandmother’s brother, Ernest Holloway Oldham. Intrigued, he decided to investigate further and were taken aback by the content of the digitised file, which was housed in the MI5 section. It was revealed that Oldham had been under surveillance as he was suspected of engaging in espionage activities. He had been involved in selling British secrets to the Russians while working in the Foreign Office during the 1920s and 30s.
Dr Barratt’s delved deeper into the story and was confronted with a mix of emotions. He experienced feelings of disgust not only for Oldham’s treacherous actions but also for the way he mistreated his wife, resorting to alcohol, drugs, and physical abuse. However, as he continued his research, Dr Barratt’s started to empathise with his great-uncle’s life journey. They learned about his difficult upbringing in a modest household, the hardships he faced during the First World War, and his struggles in the elitist environment of the Foreign Office. The realisation of how desperate he must have been towards the end of his life, with his mistakes closing in on him, stirred a sense of sorrow.
The emotional turning point occurred when the genealogist’s grandparents were entwined in the narrative. He discovered a significant family event from the past, which had puzzled their family for years. The day their father fell seriously ill as a child, their grandparents had attended the inquest into Oldham’s apparent suicide. This connection provided a poignant and personal dimension to the genealogist’s exploration of his family’s history.
The experience of uncovering a traitor among his ancestors had a profound impact on Dr Barratt’s. It shifted his perspective on his work with clients, transitioning from a more detached research-oriented approach to a supportive and empathetic one. He is now focused on understanding the stories behind his clients’ family histories, preparing them for potential revelations, and acknowledging the emotional complexities that often accompany such discoveries.
Dr Barratt’s journey of self-discovery has led to a transformation in his approach to his profession, emphasizing empathy and connection in his work, and rediscovering the skills of a historian to understand and interpret the stories that span across generations and people.
- Photo by Sergiu Nista: instant images