Sunday, January 26, 2014

Four years - the beginning of the end?

Well, it has been four years since I started on this kasut manek project.  I'm glad to say that there was greater momentum over the past year and I'm on the last stage of my right shoe.  Now to move back to the left shoe to even up the progress.

Right shoe - outline completed
 Hope that I can move faster this year - would be so exciting to see one shoe completed at least!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tracing One's Roots: An Exhibition at the National Library

Welcome to "Roots"
I finally found the time to go to the National Library's exhibition, on "Roots: Tracing Family Histories".  The exhibition is for people who are interested in tracing their family histories, and helps provide more information about the resources available in both the Library and elsewhere in Singapore to help them to do so.  I must say that I went a little on the late side; the exhibition started in Jul 2013 and ends 16 Feb 2014 (the day after the anniversary of the fall of Singapore to the Japanese).  But I did manage to join a guided tour, which was useful in supplementing the information provided at the exhibition, and in telling stories about how the individuals featured had gone about the process of tracing their ancestors.

Mr Supramaniam's family tree
What really was so inspiring was the patience and perseverance these people demonstrated, and the amount of research they put in to learn about their families.  The starting point of their journey was often the family - the family stories and anecdotes which were passed down from the older family members in particular.  One gentleman featured, Mr Paul Supramaniam, not only took extensive notes but also recorded an oral interview with his maternal grandmother who passed away many years ago. His hand-drawn family tree and notes, together with more information on his family, can be seen at the exhibition.

Interviews of family members, particularly older ones, is essential - but memories fade and grow imperfect over time, so must be supplemented by searching through old records - old newspapers, birth and death registers, burial records, land registers, company registers and so on - rather like detective work.  One lady, Ms Christine Moss, was under the impression that her ancestor, Captain Mark Moss, had sailed to Singapore on a boat called the "Black Duke".  But she could not find any records of the "Black Duke".  Eventually, she found a newspaper report that her ancestor, a Captain Mark Moss was sailing on the "Black Joke" when the ship was attacked by pirates near Macau.  He was the sole survivor of the attack and subsequently came to Singapore on a ship called the "Sultana" - quite a different story altogether.

Baby Spoons
The exhibition also features family heirlooms (largely wedding and baby gifts) and other artifacts, loaned by the families themselves. There was beautiful jewellery and a kris (dagger) with diamonds embedded in the hilt (an Arab diamond merchant's family).  I really loved these little silver spoons, for a baby's first Christmas.  Reminded me of my own Christening spoon.  Quentin Pereira's book of recipes (I've featured the pot luck recipe here) was also on display - a reminder that family heritage goes  beyond just physical artifacts.

Embroidery pattern book
Another section of the exhibition talks about family businesses.  I was intrigued by the family business, Eng Tiang Huat, which deals with Teochew embroidered goods.  The business has been passed down to the third generation, and is still around today.  One precious business asset was a big book of embroidery patterns, which was on display.  Customers would select their pattern, and the order would be relayed to the craftsmen in China to execute.  Of course, a sample of the embroidery itself could be seen at the exhibition too.

I came away from the exhibition happy that my approach towards tracing family history (interviewing older family members, web searches, visiting Bukit Brown) appeared to be on the right track.  Other tips also give me new avenues to pursue in finding out more about my family - learning, for example, that the words above the house door can also be the name of the home village in China, that the Chinese also keep meticulous geneologies of their clan.  It gives me hope that if I only persevere I will succeed, one day, in finding the name of my mysterious ancestor

The other great take-away from the exhibition?  The Resource Guide full of more useful tips and information on resources available in Singapore for this detective work. Go for the exhibition, get a copy!


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