Just before Christmas, quite accidentally, I stumbled upon this photo on the internet.
And dissolved into tears.
Why? Because this is a picture of my "narnie" – my paternal grandmother – and up until that moment I had never seen her face. And, as I read the caption underneath – Doris Gwendolyn Moss 1896–1961 – I realised that apart from knowing her as "Narnie", I didn't even know her name!
Narnie died when I was just a baby and I never met her. And as with many families, circumstances meant that I knew very little about my extended family or heritage. (Nothing really – and what I thought I did know, turned out to be wrong!)
But now, thanks to Joy, the wife of my cousin, a tenacious family historian who writes a blog that contains many stories about my father's family, I know so, so much. And together we have uncovered many incredible stories about Narnie's heritage that involve first and second fleet convicts, the first settlements of Norfolk Island and Van Diemen's Land, and even far-flung places such as the remote island of Saint Helena where my great, great, great grandfather crossed paths with Napoleon during the time of his exile there.
The stories we are uncovering are rich and complex and sometimes heart-breaking. But what I am finding the most intriguing is how important these stories are to me. They have changed me. I feel as if I understand myself so much better and I can't imagine not knowing these things.
Story has always been important to me. I love how it helps us to understand what it means to be human, how it connects the past and the present and illuminates possible futures. And now, with the discovery of these family stories, I feel as if I have struck gold.