Today’s world has gone a bit crazy and many of us find ourselves in an unprecedented situation. Across the world lives have been turned upside down by the Coronavirus crisis. Life as we know it has totally changed and we are unsure about the future.

As a genealogist, I spend a lot of time looking back and dissecting the lives of my ancestors and those of my clients. What always strikes me is how our forebears dealt with adversity; how  they coped with the bad stuff that life throws at all of us at different times?

Epidemics and pandemics are nothing new and every year, somewhere in the world, many lives are lost during these crises. The pandemic of 2009, so called ‘swine flu’, will be remembered by most of us but on that occasion the death toll was lower than we are experiencing now.

Spanish flu, which raged globally from 1918 to 1919, is said to have taken more lives than were lost in WW1.

So what feels different this time?

What is very different in our high tech world is that we are bombarded with wall to wall news. Events happening across the world can be in front of us in seconds. It is easy to become despondent when all seems to be bad news. Just looking at social media it is easy to recognise the doomsayers, the optimists and those who fall somewhere in between. And for many, employment and financial worries are very real.

While researching, I regularly come across people who have had to struggle just to survive. Our ancestors had to deal with a lot of issues that still confront us today but I think it is fair to say that those issues were more intense and more regular. Take the example of child mortality as one of life’s devastating events Some may say that because children dying in infancy was much more common in generations past, then dealing with it was easier. How can that be the case? I believe that people ‘got on with it’ because they had no choice. Just keeping hearth and home together didn’t leave any time for prolonged grieving but the inner turmoil can only be imagined.

None of my ancestors were born into privileged lifestyles and some lived in abject poverty. But as I look back over their life histories, built up after many years of researching, the majority of them worked so hard to support their families. Not all on the right side of the law but who wouldn’t turn a blind eye to a bit of poaching if it meant you could put food on the table?

The couple in the image are Peter Power and Johanna Power nee Murphy, my Irish great grandparents. They certainly lived through turbulent times. Their parents were young adults during the Irish Famine. After Peter and Johanna married in 1894 they had 8 children but by the 1920s their eldest son had died in action in WW1, 2 more children had moved to England and a further 2 had made the move to the USA. This was all with a backdrop of the Irish war of independence followed by civil war. But they soldiered on and their grandchildren, great grandchildren and more are now scattered all over the world.

None of our ancestors needed motivational memes to keep going; they just kept going because they had no choice.
I find it heartening that it’s starting to look like this enforced lockdown is giving people the space to reflect on how lives are lived. When we rely on each other and the goodwill of our local communities, the attraction of material possessions starts to wane. The latest this, that or the other now looks much less important.

Let’s hope that when all this is over, as it will be, we can remember how communities came together without hesitation to support others in need. And how a slower pace of life gives us time for reflection and to realise that our own inner strength is what carries us through.

Article written by Patricia Marks, Family Historian

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