Writing runs in the blood

16:00, Feb 23 2010
FINDING FOOTPRINTS: Jan Gow has spent the last 30 years delving deep into the past. The genealogist is one of the key speakers at a new writers’ seminar which starts on Saturday.

Writing runs through the blood of Jan Gow's family.

Her great-great-aunt was accredited with being Australia’s first woman author. Her great-great-great grandfather and other distant relatives were also writers.

And last year a book about her family was published.

So it makes sense that Mrs Gow is one of the key speakers at an upcoming writers’ forum hosted by the St Helier’s Writing Group.

The Glendowie resident is not the typical storyteller who writes books for a living.

One of the country’s top genealogists, she spends her days searching through information, hunting for clues, and piecing together fragments of the past.


It’s something that captivated her in the early 1980s.

The bubbly grandmother-of-one has even traced her family tree back to Charles Darwin.

"We say it’s genealogy because once you start searching you can’t stop," she says. "It’s an allergy."

Mrs Gow would love to write an extensive family history one day, but wonders if she ever will.

"You put off writing it until you’ve got everything.

"But you’ll never have everything.

"I just found a tenth cousin of mine, and there’s hundreds of tenth cousins out there for me to find."

Mrs Gow joins a line-up of romance novelists, poets, journalists and children’s authors at the seminar series, which runs from Saturday until April 10.

She’ll be speaking about how to search for information, while Joyce Irving describes the best method to write a family history.

"It’s still important we write the story – instead of letting computers do all the work for us," she says.

Computers, however, have made a genealogist’s job so much easier.

Just recently, Mrs Gow traced a man’s family back five generations on both sides in 20 minutes.

She says gathering and compiling that information would have taken 20 weeks without the internet.

"And that wouldn’t be the slightest exaggeration."

The "bones of it" can now be searched using online genealogy programmes and databases.

Mrs Gow gives advice on how to trace your family in a regular Net Guide column, teaches night classes and takes groups of people on genealogy tours.

"I just love helping people," she says.

She wants people to get a sense of who they are by finding out where they’ve come from.

"It’s about trying to find all the footprints their
ancestors have left and getting an idea of their personality.

"That’s when a family comes alive."

• The Writers Room Seminar Series will offer writers the chance to listen to authors and speakers and take part in writing and discussion workshops.

People can learn how to develop their writing and be inspired by authors.

The seminars and workshops will include a presentation, a question-and-answer opportunity, and a chance for people to write and present their work.

It is being held in the Gallery Room at Eden Gardens over four alternate weekends from Saturday until April 10.

Visit www.seminarseries.wordpress.com for more information about the venue, speakers and dates.

East And Bays Courier