Thursday, 17 December 2015

Saying goodbye and other family stories of migrations past and present and to come

Today has been one of those momentous days for our family.

Our Saul having finished working on a project on the shores of the Great Lakes is heading north to spend time with our cousins in Ingersoll before celebrating Christmas in New York, while my nephew is somewhere high in the sky on a journey to exciting new possibilities in Australia.

For Saul the last three months have taken him across North America and in the process he has met some of our Canadian family and then in January will be returning to Poland.

Adam will later tomorrow be reunited with his Australian partner and begin forging new friends on the other side of the world.

Of course such things are not new. In the last century and a bit members of my family settled in Canada, Australia and Africa and spent time in India.

Emigration to Canada, 1870
Others chose careers which took them across the oceans of the world on tramp steamers, while my father’s family began the migration south from the east Highlands which by degree saw them move through Scotland before crossing the border around 1900 and ended with dad in London in the 1930s.

And as part of the Italian miracle after the last war Tina’s parents left Naples and headed north, a journey which brought them first to England and then back to northern Italy, and my grandmother who was German married a British soldier in Cologne and in 1923 made a new home in the Midlands.

In the same way many of our friends can match these stories with one whose parents were part of the Windrush and others who can trace their families back to Ireland.

And so looking at all these migrations it is easy to assume it is so much easier today.

Air travel has replaced the long and arduous sea journey while the telephone and Skype offer up instant communication banishing the wait for a letter which was at the mercy of sea storms and the vagaries of a foreign postal system.

The Harland family, 1912
Now all of that is true but what I was not prepared for was the way that in the 19th century more and more people not only made those long life changing journeys but did them more frequently that I had expected.

So the family of my friend Lois regularly sailed between Britain, New Zealand and Australia in the 1840s while others having made the Atlantic crossing chose to move on again to the gold mines of South Africa, the vastness of the Northern Territory or countless islands in the Pacific.

And even in this country small rural villages like Chorlton cum Hardy with a population of just 750 in 1851 could echo with the accents from the Home Counties, Wales, Scotland and Yorkshire.

Such movements of peoples was not something I was taught in school and while it may not be a surprise to some I remain fascinated at the scope and frequency with which it happened.

German refugees, Berlin, 1946
Today of course every news bulletin carries harrowing images of migrants risking their lives in the seas around Europe and I still have vivid memories of the boat people and those forced to flee Uganda.

They mingle with the stories of the huge migrations of people after the partition of India, and the refugees who crisscrossed Europe at the end of the last world war.

And other people will be able to offer up equally painful stories of mass migrations of peoples fleeing war, famine and economic dislocation.

All of which is a long way from our Saul and Adam so perhaps this is the moment to close.

Pictures; Ontario 2015, from the Simpson family collection, poster from the report of Cow Cross Mission, 1871, The Harland family 1912, courtesy of Carol Spencer, German refugees, Berlin, 1946, Otto Donath, German Federal Archive   licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 Generic

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