I'm taking 6 months away from my day job to look after my son, Archie, who is 6 months old. I thought it might be interesting to share my experiences.
This week we've had my mum staying with us. Back at the start of 2011 I decided that I would take her to the Olympics for her birthday gift. I put in for a week's worth of different events and we would trust to luck as to how many we would get. If we didn't get tickets then we would just have the time together to enjoy the games. As it turned out we only got tickets for one event - the afternoon session of the table tennis on Monday - but given that the original plan was put together 'pre-baby' that probably turned out for the best. My wife took time off to look after Archie while we went to the games and my mum helped me out with him during the week. We also managed to take him along to one of the open events of the Olympics - the Triathlon in Hyde Park on Tuesday. There were masses of people and a lovely atmosphere - a riot of Union Jacks.
It's interesting to see how much your relationship with your family changes when you become a dad. I've always been quite a family-centric person but the emotional ties really do seem to strengthen as you become a parent. I was reminded of that, in a curious way, when my mum got very excited by the name of one of the silver-medal winning Australian four-man rowing team. His name is Joshua Dunkley-Smith. Neither of us had heard of him before but the name "Dunkley Smith" definitely rang a bell. In the weeks leading up to Archie's birth I had spent a fair amount of time exploring my family tree, and several generations back was a fellow called Dunkley Smith White (my great-great-great-great granduncle). The name stuck in my mind as it was relatively unusual compared to the Edwards, Arthurs, Charles', Johns and Roberts that make up a large proportion of my ancestors. When we were considering names for Archie, it was the likes of Dunkley, Jabez and Ambrose that caught the eye. I even joked at one point that we might name our baby Dunkley.
What strikes me now is how I had spent decades of my life with a minimal interest in my family history. Then, just a few weeks before my son's birth I'm registering for an account on ancestry.com, getting hold of and importing my mum's GEDCOM file (she's been researching the tree for years using a desktop app), and digging into the census records of Whites, Pooles, Butlers and Sheridans across the country. It's not a surprising reaction - I'd like my son to be aware of his family history - but I can't help feeling that bonding hormones were already starting to flow through my system and this was a side-effect of those familial ties tightening. I certainly got a kick out of adding Archie to the family tree.
If you've never looked into geneology, or have a paper-based record (my mum started with my grandfather's research and the family bible) then it's worth a look at the ancestry.com site. It's got a decent set of tools to help you find information from the records (at least in the UK) and reconcile data from different sources, including other users' trees. Aside from a few niggles it's pretty solid, though can be confused by different generations with the same names. My only real downer on it is the cost and pricing model - it's a fairly hefty monthly subscription that I'm sure would put many people off (I know it was too pricey for some of my family).
So, is our Australian Olympian related to my ancestor? It's not immediately obvious - his children took the surname White and there were no obvious Dunkleys or Smiths in the immediate family. It's possible that the names came back together later down the line. It may, after all, have just been one of those coincidences. I think I care less about knowing the truth than I do about keeping that tenuous link open. It's quite fun to think that a branch of my family might have emigrated across the world and, under the antipodean sun, evolved into bronzed super athletes.