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As Long as We Remember...

October 7, 2015

A lifeline to the past

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – Being locked up in my condo because of the smoke and haze (see last week's column), I decided to embark on genealogy. The work turned out to be quite fruitful indeed.


Earlier, I tried to perform the task on the kampungs across the river, but to no avail. Their names are not like ours. The names may be Muhammed bin Razak, which translates to Muhammed son of Razak, much like Tom McLaughlin translates to Tom son of Laughlin.


The similarity disappears here. Whereas we hold on to our surname, they drop it. For example, Muhammed bin Razak’s father could be Razak bin Dzulfifly. His son would be Dzulfifly bin Anuar, and the next generation would be Anuar bin Sahari. The wives keep their own name and do the same thing.


Sadly, most only know up to their grandfather. Most kampung people did not know to read and write until the1960s and later, so writing it down was not an option. Also, Islam teaches not to care about the past. I gave up on trying to trace their genealogy after many fruitless interviews.


After about the second week of the smoke and haze, I decided to do my own genealogy. Most of my research was in a storage locker in the states, so I had to start from zero. I hadn't worked on it since 1995, and, though this would be a long drawn out project that would carry me through the rainy season, the next weather event after the smaze.


I joined mainly because of their free two week introductory offer. Typed in my name, my Mom and Dad and their parents, and then went to the bathroom. To my amazement, little leaves called hints appeared next to their names. I was surprised. Next, these hints had all the information from the census reports from 1940 to the beginning of time plus military records. I began clicking on "yes" for my father. I looked again and my mother was lit up with many green leaves. They even knew when she boarded the boat for Yokahama, Japan, after the war. I was astounded.


Before that, I had to go through each census document looking for names beginning with the father and hunt for them. Now it was so easy. In fact, about 25 years ago, I knew of people who pass down the projects through four generations!


I become possessed. I found my aunt, who died to 1961, her hospital and the death certificate. Then I found out where she lived for the forty years from her birth. Old Uncle George, who I met once when I was about 10, and was married to my aunt, I followed back to Ireland. To go outside the United States cost another $29.95, so I stopped there. I was having fun.


Cousins, aunts uncles and their kin dutifully became part of my family tree where at the click of a key joined a branch. Other people were working on some of the same branches, so I stole their information. Yes, I did find out some not so nice things, but that will have to wait to be revealed.


...Life is good. . . . .


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