My journey so far has been something of a wild goose chase. I was interested in my great great great grandmother Esther, who is said to have helped her husband run the first slate quarry in Ffestiniog, in North Wales. Her portrait hung on the walls of houses I’ve known since childhood. Her steadfast gaze gave me a sense of the continuity in our family’s life.
But when she died in 1852, there was no obituary in the local paper; I found no record of her birth, no information about her father. A hidden life indeed. I did find a reference to her in a newspaper account of a dinner, where she had been toasted as ‘a lady whose worth was little known from her unobtrusive life’. There’s the key – not so much hidden as unobtrusive. She’s like a minor character in Chekhov – hardly any lines but there onstage, contributing to the drama.
My background is in theatre. I know how an actor builds a character from their given circumstances, what other characters say about them and from other clues; then begins to think and feel ‘as if’ they are the character.
So I’m giving life to Esther by exploring the time and place she lived in, the people around her, their preoccupations, their prejudices, their passions, as well her own contribution.