My main family history interest is in the Van Cooten name. I am descended from a Hendrik Van Cooten who was born in the Netherlands, and went to the colony of Demerara in South America. This colony became part of British Guiana, and is now the Republic of Guyana.
I like to think of family history research as "Fleshing out the Skeletons" not because there are skeletons in the closet (though there are some) but to try and take the dry bones of reciting events and dates and names, and add some body and colour and context. It is this aspect of family history that has probably excited me most. I'm not a subscriber to the "trainspotting" school of genealogy where the objective seems to be to collect as many names and dates as possible, rather I like unravelling mysteries and gaining some insights into the real people. Family history gives me sense of identity, an understanding of how I came to have the family name Van Cooten (and knowing how to respond to being asked many times whether I am Dutch), and a sense of the heritage I have inherited.
I'm honoured to be able to do this on behalf of the rest of my family, and to pass on some of the stories of the past.
What I can relate so far is a work in progress - there are many questions unanswered and mysteries yet to solve.
The thing that got me started on all this were some old family letters which my Grandmother had. My Aunt made photocopies some time ago for our family. These letters referred to mysterious missions, the Dutch royal family, Madagascan princesses, plantations with strange names, and lost inheritances. Much of this seemed fanciful, and yet surprisingly much of it is verifyable.
I also remember old photos on the walls of my grandmother's bedrooms, and meeting old people, some of whom smelled of lavender, and wondering exactly who they were. A great-uncle has the family bible, and entries in there have proved informative. Family members over the years have told me their stories. It is becoming increasingly important for them to write them down, or record them in some way. I've also enjoyed exploring the archives in various cities. In London, the ability to handle and see material hundreds of years old was amazing.