I’m an American living the dream of an English summer.
I’m here in England because 1) I’m obsessed with Britain and 2) I’m working as an intern with the Learning and Participation department at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust this summer. From my reading Harry Potter books during childhood (and still, if I’m honest), and repeat watching of Jane Austen adaptations, to the English Literature courses I’ve taken while studying at Brigham Young University, in Provo, Utah -- my affection for England runs deep.
Likewise, my admiration for my ancestors who came from Britain is profound. I’m your average Anglo-American whose ancestors settled in America after coming almost entirely from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Learning about my family history means a lot to me; I appreciate my own life once I understand the sacrifices of those who got me here, and it helps me understand who I am. Though I’m no genealogist, I think studying family history is about as inspiring and truly moving an exercise as one can get. And occasionally, shocking...
I was casually talking with my mom on the phone, sitting in my Stratford flat that looks out towards the Avon, having just finished a busy work day at the Shakespeare Centre, and we were about to hang up when she said, “Oh! I almost forgot!”
‘’What?’’ I asked, surprised.
“We were looking back in the family tree and it turns out we had ancestors that lived in Stratford!”
If my jaw had been more flexible it would’ve hit the floor. I got online instantly to search and imagine my shock upon perusal of the ole’ family tree to find: Yes, my ancestors did live in Stratford-upon-Avon. AND, to add icing to the English tea cake, they lived here in the Elizabethan era, which means, that’s right, my family lived in Stratford at the same time as the Shakespeares.
I felt a thrill as I went into the Trust’s reading room very soon after and was shown the copies of the parish records from Holy Trinity Church and turned the yellowed pages to see important life dates of members of my family. For example my 9th Great Grandpa, William, married his wife Ann Hall on February 2nd 1631 -- William and Ann! (Could they have known the other William and Anne Shakespeare...?)
I was thrilled again, realising that Holy Trinity Church where we went to see Evensong some weeks back was the very church where my great grandmas and grandpas, great aunts and uncles, and cousins many times removed, were baptised, christened, and married; where they sang, worshiped, celebrated, and grieved. They wouldn’t have known that their great-granddaughter would one day be there too. No wonder I felt such a kinship with Stratford; its where my kin came from!
While there is plenty left to uncover (Was Ann Hall related to the John Hall that married Susanna Shakespeare? Was my great grandfather, Thomas Rogers, the same Thomas Rogers who built the Harvard House...?) I’m still dazzled by even the little I’ve learned.
But that’s what literature does, doesn’t it? Literature connects people, both present and past, and in coming to Stratford-upon-Avon, home of the greatest writer in the history of the English language, I know I've learned a lot more about my history, and thus about myself as well.