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16 October 2014

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By Christine Finn
September 2004,
A digital story from Who do you think you are?

"I am an archaeologist who knows more about other people's pasts than my own.

Jersey. Where I was born in 1959.

My late father, Allan, went to Jersey in the 50s, and met my mother, Phyllis, at a dance. She was an islander. Her parents had come from London to set up a boarding house.

Life had changed for her forever in the summer of 1940. "I don't know how we got off the beach that day..." is all she will say.

As islanders fled the Occupation, she and my widowed grandmother stayed.

My mother will not talk to me about those years. And yet I cannot let it go. I yearn to connect her Jersey memories with my own. But there is no validation, no detail. I have grown to distrust my own recollections. What do I really remember?

One of the garden walls. Old stone. I was told it was part of a monastery. But I have no proof.

Nor do I know the truth behind a swastika painted on the front door. I overheard my mother say a female lodger had once entertained a German officer. But I can remember the colour of the window paint. Deep carmine, like my mother's lipstick.

I remember the orchard, the trees boughed over my grandmother making pastry in the yard. I remember feeling safe and happy there.

I remember the day this was taken. May 1963. I am with my mother and "Tina". Who was she? We are outside the German Underground Hospital. See how the darkness snaps out the early summer light. Deep inside, I remember the feel of the concrete walls. The dankness. I had no proof that people had died there, but I still shivered.

Who? Why? I asked my mother as I moved through childhood. She did not know. But her resistance to this, and other Occupation stories, was laughed away.

When I was seven, we left Jersey in a rush to England. Left the house not to Germans, but to a hotel chain. The orchard became a tarmac stand for rental cars. The house part-demolished. My bedroom quartered for itinerant hotel workers.

Jersey is still home. But I cannot live there. Jersey excludes those who left before they were ten. And so I am also an itinerant.

Jersey was my first excavation site.

Now I gather other people's pasts there, to know my own."

Please tell us a little about yourself.
I am an author and archaelogist who writes and presents on the past to public and academic audiences on themes ranging from poetry to computer history. I used to be a print and TV journalist before studying Archaelogy. Now I continue both my 'worlds' with a lot of travelling.

What's your story about?
Coming to terms with gaps in my own biography, archiving the peculiarity that I can dig for others' pasts without uncovering my own. It identifies my mother's and father's role in my life and each others. After nearly 40 years of trying to find out more about my mother's occupation experiences, I am resigned to that silence. Now celebrating the mystery, while acknowledging what 'home' means and what Jersey means as my birthplace. I thought others could identify with questions of 'home' and 'lost' identity.

What did you find the most rewarding aspect about the workshop?
So much! Working with such wonderful and patient professionals and sharing stories and skills with other participants. This has offered me a whole new way of telling stories that engages in a way that is personal and complete.

How has this workshop affected the way you look upon your family history?
I feel a new closeness to my mother's situation and her story - an acceptance that I might never know the stories I longed to hear, but out of that comes excitement that I have made my own story.

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