This week’s blog sees me back in Brisbane at my mother’s. Over the last few months I seem to have spent more time in Brisbane than I have in years. Mum’s illness also means that I have spent more time with her than I have in decades and at a time when she is not able to do things herself. This has meant that I have had to get involved with her finances, what is kept where in the house and we have had time to simply talk.

Like other elderly people she hoards some things (mostly rubbish) and her cupboards are full of a mix of  ‘let’s chuck’ to I can’t believe you have kept this. On my last visit she presented me with an album of birthday and Christmas cards she had maintained from the time of my conception 50 plus years ago. There were cards from my grandmother who died in 1964, all my aunts and uncles and other family members I can’t even remember. It is strange reading these birthday and Christmas wishes so many years later.

This visit, on the first night, as we are eating dinner, Mum casually mentions would I have been interested in the first love letter that my father had given her when they were both aged 12, back in 1946. I would kill to see it was my first response and was shocked when she said I might have to because she had thrown it out. As I tried to stay calm and continue the dinnertime conversation, she said that it was still in the rubbish as that wasn’t collected until Monday.

You see people, usually police, going through rubbish on the television all the time and you think, how can they do that? It’s easy when you are looking for something that you really want to find, believe me. Fortunately Mum doesn’t have a lot of rubbish but it was at the bottom. I fished out the two scraps of paper, she had torn it in two, and pieced it together. There was very old sticky tape all round it, as at some time in the past, the page had cracked and torn and she had tried to put it back together.

As I read the words my father had written back in 1946, 50 years before his death in 1996, images of him came flooding back and I could easily see him writing those words. My parents spent 50 years of their life together and it all started with that note. And of course, Mum agreeing to be his girlfriend!

To show Mum how significant something like that letter is, I brought out my December issue of Australian Family Tree Connections in which an article of mine had been published and I had used a photo of her grandparents. She took one look at the photo of her grandmother and started telling me all about my great grandmother who had lived with Mum and her mother for years before her death.

She remembered how she spoke, what she wore, that she always had lollies in her pockets for Mum when she got home from school and so on. My great grandmother was blind and so Mum had been very close to her, helping to care for her. She recalled the day of her funeral and the service at the Baptist Church and that she was the only one crying (at 10 years of age she would have been the youngest one there as Mum had been born ten years after her other nine siblings).

As I madly took notes, I said that Mum should try writing down some of these memories but she wasn’t interested. I remembered the last time I had seen my tape recorder was years ago when I gave it to my son for his university studies. It’s probably time to buy a new one anyway!

The surprising thing here is that I have been tracing the family history since 1977 and along the way I have told my mother of my various findings and she has shown some interest but not overly so. She could have easily told me about the various bits and pieces I am now discovering years ago but she didn’t because the time was not right. Now she does want to talk and remember.

Mum asked me about her grandmother’s life in England and  I had to say that despite years of looking I had a big blank from the time of Elizabeth Judge’s birth in Brackley, Northamptonshire 1857 (illegitimate) to her marriage to Thomas Price in Moxley, Staffordshire in 1878. Over the last few years I have been looking at digitised copies of census records on Ancestry, Find My Past, Genes Reunited etc as they became available and without any luck. She has to be there somewhere and Mum has now asked me to find her so that she knows that part of her beloved grandmother’s life.

All the details of my previous searches in the 1861 and 1871 census are back in Melbourne but I might start fresh next week. Maybe this time I will find Elizabeth Judge. Stay tuned.

To come back to the original purpose of this blog, don’t waste opportunity when close family members or even distant aunts, uncles and cousins are still living. Sometimes you need to make several attempts at finding out details on the family. The first approach might be the wrong time, they need to know you better, or something changes in their life. In this instance, it was my mother’s illness and as we approach the end of our own lives, we tend to think of those who have gone before us. If you can, get them to share their stories before it is all too late.