Some stories have happy endings. Some have a sad endings. Some have no endings at all, only beginnings as the one displayed below.
163 years later I stood in Christchurch’s Cathedral Square last weekend, gazing upon the names of my ancestors. I descended from James Junior (aged 4 at time of voyage). In the midst of a ruined central city, giant crab claw machinery tearing down buildings, dust storms from hundreds of vacant lots and a beautiful array of wildflowers taking over, I thought about the Bakers’ journey.
They set out to start a new story in 1850, living in Lyttelton for six months in a tin shack before making it over the hill to settle just North of Christchurch in Kaiapoi, where the family stayed for well over a hundred years. I recently found a picture of Sarah Baker, when she lived in Otaki Street in Kaiapoi in 1900. Ninety years later, a nine year old me ran around my nana's rosebushes and collected walnuts from the giant tree in the backyard in Otaki Street.
The Bakers' story has not yet ended. It lives on in me and my sister, in my mother and hers. In my cousins, aunts, great uncles, second-cousins and a countless number of other relatives spanning back a century and a half. I know only a fraction of them by name, even less by character.
It used to not matter to me at all, these collections of names of dead people. It was mildly interesting, but not a point of identity for me – I mean, I’m still not entirely sure if James and Sarah Baker are my fifth or sixth generation ancestors. But nowadays, I look up at a ruined cathedral and think of the times they ventured inside and I wonder how many times, why they went in, whether they prayed, reflected in the same way I'm doing now. I walk the banks of the Waimakariri River, knowing my blood runs through these waters.
The earthquakes have strangely strengthened my connection with Christchurch and with my own genealogy. Many generations ago, the Bakers began a story in a part of our country, which has undergone multiple transformations, times of creation and destruction.
Standing among vacant lots and crumbling masonry, ghost stories grace my shoes. I am humbled by the beautiful realisation that with each turn I make, my forebears story continues....