A Time Traveling Scavenger Hunt
Shorelines Magazine 1st Oct 2020
A Time-Travelling Scavenger Hunt: The Fascinating World of Genealogy
As human beings, we have a natural curiosity about who we are, where we come from, and why we have particular abilities or think a certain way.
Bays resident Ian Handricks understands this yearning for insights. Intrigued by his own unusual surname (forbears.io states there are approximately only 157 people in the world called Handricks), he started asking questions of his paternal grandmother. A vibrant, smart and funny lady who lived to be 105, Ian spent the last nine years of her life digging into the origins of their family. What he uncovered was nothing short of jaw-dropping!
He traced his lineage back to the late 1700s and the French Revolution. Three Jewish brothers bore the name Turfkruijer (from the Russian meaning grass cutter). Levi, Mordecai and Moses made their way to Paris from the Ural Mountains, and took up the macabre job of holding auctions in the street for the severed heads of executed nobility. This earned them the nickname Hangjas (hanghead in English). Things turned ugly when an angry mob attacked the brothers, murdering two of them. Levi fled to Haalem in The Netherlands, where he was sheltered by relatives. To protect his identity, he adopted Hangjas as his surname, and travelled to Australia where it seems the immigration officers misheard the name and wrote down Handricks. Levi was Ian's great-great-great grandfather.
Whilst undoubtedly remarkable, Ian says that these kinds of revelations are not unusual. Inspired by his personal voyage of historical discovery, he has been helping people to trace their ancestors for more than 40 years now, and is absolutely of the opinion that every single family has an amazing tale to tell or secret to unearth. Indeed, seeing people's reactions when these stories come to light remains his biggest motivator.
Ian's own research revealed that he is descended from theatrical, artistic, entrepreneurial types, and, as a result, he says he understands himself better. His clients have also felt these benefits. For example, a few years ago, Ian met an elderly gentleman while out shopping. "He looked as though he'd had a hell of a life," Ian recalls. "He was miserable-looking, downtrodden, and told me how unhappy he was in his marriage. His wife came over to where we were sitting, and she looked equally despondent. So, I just told them, 'I'm going to do your family trees. No arguments.' Well, that changed everything! Through my conversations with them, amongst other things, it turned out they'd both had terribly hard lives before they met, and yet they'd never told each other about this and were silently carrying these emotional burdens." Having completed his work on their ancestries, Ian saw the couple again a little while later. "They walked towards me, holding hands and, at 78 years of age, they told me they were enjoying their second honeymoon," he smiles.
Others of Ian's clients have enjoyed a genuine confidence boost. "One 80-year-old lady was leading a fairly pedestrian lifestyle. When she found out that she'd had some seriously go-getter women in her family, it emboldened her. She's now a driven publisher, highly proficient on a computer, and with a real purpose."
Not surprisingly, Ian loves his work! He takes a collaborative approach, and sometimes spends whole weekends with a client, eating picnic food, listening to music, and together learning the secrets of the archives.
He goes into extraordinary detail with his research. The privately published Generations books can be hundreds of pages and include numerous visuals, such as vintage photographs, newspaper clippings, travel records, and life-moment certificates. "Many projects are so large that the information fills more than one volume. Some families we've been contracted to research and publish have resulted in three to seven volume sets of books – that's more than 1.5 million words, 2,500 pages or more, and upwards of 3,000 photos and document images! These become significant heirlooms and now feature prominently on the living room table or take pride of place on the family bookshelf."
Finding your roots, extending the branches
Recognising the joy and fascination that tracing ancestors can bring, Ian provides links to a wealth of free online resources on his website. These include general genealogy sites as well as those that focus on New Zealand, England and Ireland. There are registers of cemeteries and graves, photo archives, ship's registers, and newspaper archives.
He offers some simple advice: begin with what you know. Even if you don't have full names, precise locations or complete dates, pull together the fragments and follow the trail.
Talk to your elderly relatives; ask them what they remember. What was the gossip about previous family members? Do they have any old photos or family certificates tucked away? These conversations could be a wonderful way to reconnect to another generation and help to keep family history alive.
To make a start on your family tree, go to handricks.com/resources.
Our editor writes:
I can personally vouch for how illuminating even a brief time with Ian can be. While we were chatting for this article, and armed only with a couple of names, locations and approximate dates, he had efficiently traced my dad's father's family back several generations and revealed that I was related to one Captain William Money. He was a director of the East India Company and, apparently, a portrait of his sons hangs in the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. Who knew?!
This spurred me into contacting my uncle and cousins, to see what they know about our family, and inspired conversations and connections which would not otherwise have happened. Perhaps in 2020 more than ever, I'm not sure you can put a price on rekindling those bonds. Thank you, Ian.
Ian reckons he has restored at least one million photos over the years. He actually developed a software programme, Photopages, to assist in these endeavours, which was picked up by the likes of Walmart and Best Buy in the USA.