It’s probably not a coincidence that I have started looking into my family’s past now that I’ve created a little human of my own. It’s funny what these little people do to you. The nappies and sleep deprivation are a cliched given. Blah blah. But no one warned me that today I would be trapped on the sofa for an hour while my 2 year old used me as a human slide. That I would voluntarily hop around my son’s ballet class like a bunny rabbit. That most days I am outsmarted by said 2 year old. And that I would love every (ok, almost every) second of it.
Before I was pregnant I spent a lot of time trying not to think about what our biological child would look like because we didn’t think that we would be able to have one. I told myself that it wouldn’t matter if we didn’t share genes with our child. We would love that child so much. I believed it. I still believe it.
We got lucky. When I was pregnant we pored over the grainy black and white scan photos debating whether the baby had my husband’s family nose or mine. I know. I know. They all look like aliens. But physical similarities dominate our conversations for the first few years. “The baby looks so much like me when I was a baby. Except when he’s grumpy. Then he looks like you”.
Family resemblance can be striking.
This photo has done the rounds. Clearly it can’t compete with the millions of narcissistic cats promoting themselves online and Donald Trump’s latest gaffe. But there’s something intriguing about how similar two people can look. There are even people trying to find their ‘stranger twin’ by posting photos on facebook.
Resemblance between family members connects us. I remember being 10 years old and finding out about adoption. Holy crap – am I adopted? I thought about this for about 7 seconds. Then I laughed. I look so much like my dad that I never had to introduce myself at his work events. Being told you look exactly the same as a grown man is not every young girl’s dream, but I loved it. I still love it.
When I started my family history search I was looking for names, not faces. To be honest I assumed there wouldn’t be any photos to find. I was wrong. When this photo was sent through from a second cousin I had a face like those babies above.
I was suddenly transported back exactly one hundred years to a field in the south-east of England. It’s still 12 years before my grandmother was born and a few years before women can vote. Large-scale farm machinery hasn’t yet replaced my family as hop-pickers (note to self to find out more about hop-picking in Sussex and Kent…).
But when I look at this photo I don’t see the past. I see the present. My present. Staring right at the camera, centre frame, is my son. Not just “no way – that kid sure looks like my son”. More like “that’s my son! How the hell did he get in there…”. The curly hair, the nose, the stare, his age, the way he’s leaning. If someone told me they had photoshopped my son into this photo I would believe them.
It’s actually his great great uncle Harry who was born exactly 100 years before him and who grew up as part of a large family of Roma travelling around the South East of England and then settling in Sussex. I guess it gives our ego a massage when we can find ourselves in others. It’s true. I feel more of a connection to this family, my family. I want to find out what happened to this little boy and his brothers and sisters. What were they doing in this field? How did they work as hop-pickers with 4 young children (to be joined by 5 more)? What did they do at other times of the year? I’d love to find out.