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16 October 2014

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History or Mystery?

By Alys Lewis
October 2001, Wrexham
A digital story from Capture Wales

Trustworthy tales?

Alys Lewis questions those family tales handed down from generation to generation.

"The following stories bear little or no resemblance to the truth. This fish might have been caught by my Great Great Grandfather who came from Barnstaple to work as a gamekeeper on a Welsh estate. It was common practice to employ an Englishman so he would not be known by the local poachers. He met a Welsh woman who could speak no English. He himself could speak no Welsh. Despite this obstacle they fell in love and married. The squire did not like him mixing with the Welsh. He did not lose his job but had to move out of the cottage that went with the job.

Then again, the fish may have been caught by my Mother's Grandfather - reported in his obituary to have been one of the best fly fisherman in West Wales and able to tie flies indistinguishable from the real thing.

This may be a photo of my Father's Great Uncle who was an engineer on a small coastal trader. After war broke out they had to continue trading around the coast of Britain. One morning before leaving to join his ship, he gave his wife a bundle of photos and documents saying, "Polly, I'm leaving these with you. I have a feeling Hitler may have a go at us." He never returned. It is thought that the ship was sunk by a German mine near Scotland.

This photo may be a picture of a relative of my Grandfather's said to have been a star on the West End stage over 60 years ago.

My Great Grandfather claimed to have killed the devil in the guise of a serpent. Late one evening, shooting pigeons near a field of corn, he saw the devil rise out of the corn in the form of a serpent. His head moved back and fore as it eyed him evily. He gave it both barrels, rushed home, locked the door and told his wife he'd shot the devil. The next day, the farmer came around to ask them if theyd seen the idiot who'd shot his turkey in the corn field!

Unlike pictures taken recently, I will probably never know for sure who some of these people are and whether the tales they told me are true. But to me it doesn't matter. I like the element of doubt and not knowing if it's history or mystery."

Alys Lewis

Are you a native of north Wales?
No, I'm originally from near Aberystwyth but I've been living in Wrexham since 1998. I moved here to work at Wrexham Library where I stayed for three and a half years. I recently started a new job with BBC Wales as their Researcher and Community Officer.

What inspired you to make this story?
My parents gave me the idea for my digital story. My mother has boxes full of family photos but many of them have no names or dates which makes it difficult to identify the people in them.

She sent some of these photos to me, and my father contributed some family stories which have been passed down the generations, with details added or lost along the way. My story combined these photographs and tales.

My intention was to demonstrate how family history isn't just about dates and names but also about the stories which have been passed from generation to generation, fact and fiction blurring along the way.

How did you find the workshops?
What I enjoyed most about the process of making the story was meeting other people and hearing about their lives. I was amazed at the variety of experiences which we came up with, despite being a small group. We formed a real bond over the days we worked together to create our stories.

At the end of a tiring weekend I felt a great sense of achievement when my story was complete and was shown in front of the group. I've never had any desire to make a film before but having completed my story I can't wait to get started on another!

Your comments

"Your story is very confusing, was it all in your mind or does it go deeper than your mind itself? You are a very clever person for writing that but your reasons are cloudy!" Kai Curtis, Builth Wells, Wales.

"Alys, I enjoyed your story. Last November was my first experience making a digital story. I went to the workshop held in Berkeley, CA. My heritage is Welsh, (I think my ancestors came to the USA about 5 generations ago) and I'm enjoying this site a lot. Also, I have a number of untitled photographs from old family albums. You have given me some ideas! Thank you." Sue Bauer, Ed.D., Thousand Oaks, California.

"I loved it. I am a family history buff myself and I loved this unique take on oral and visual history, Alys' deadpan delivery on the narration was rather comical and edgy. It's quite the big fish tale! Thanks Alys." Charmaine, Los Angeles, US.

"I was lucky enough to be on the pilot project at Elan Valley last year and it is so encouraging to see how digital storytelling is taking off. More power to your elbow!" Stanley Challenger Graham, Barnoldswick, UK.

"Alys' story 'History or Mystery?' is easily one of the best I have ever seen. I live in the U.S. and have no idea what my history is beyond what my father can tell me (which is little more than the fact that his father was born in Texas). I often dream enormous fanciful things about where I may have come from - it's nice to know that someone else out there feels this loneliness too." Chris, San Diego, USA.

"Very interesting piece of 'cod' history, but why haven't we got a picture of Alys - is she the pike?" Bronwen, Bournemouth.

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