Today we have a very special treat in the form of a guest blogger on My Pakistani Ancestry, a good friend of mine, who has been sharing with me his research story. His trip to Pakistan was his first and was exciting in terms of him visiting his ancestral country and learning about his family roots.
Here is his own account:
Both my ancestral lines – maternal as well as paternal – can be traced back to Pakistan. On my paternal side, my great-grandfather Bostan Khan had migrated from Campbellpur (present day Attock) to Singapore before the First World War. On my maternal side, it was my mother’s father who made the journey from Mansehra to Singapore. My maternal grandfather, Hayat Shah served in colonial police force like many other men from his country. He married my grandmother in 1950 – a second-generation Pakistani herself – and passed away in March 1969, when my mother was just thirteen.
This past June, more than 40 years since my grandfather passed away, I brought my mother to visit Pakistan, for the first time in all our lives!
Rekindling family ties
Years after he had somewhat established himself here, my grandfather was joined by his younger brother, Mohammed Younis Shah. Following in his elder brother’s footsteps, he too joined the police force and married a local here in Singapore. Yet three years after the death of my grandfather, my granduncle Younis Shah returned back to Pakistan, with his wife and four children. He used to correspond with my mother and her siblings until his death in 1994. After 17 years, we managed to renew correspondence.
It was a trip filled with much anticipation. For me, I had two very broad aims – to strengthen family ties and to learn as much as I could about our family history.
From the moment I head my name being called out by my uncle when exiting the airport in Islamabad, I just knew that the trip was worth the wait. It was a three-hour journey by road to Mansehra, and throughout the car ride, my aunt and uncles who had come to fetch us wasted no time in showering us with the warm Pakistani hospitality I had often read about. The cold night air was filled with warm chatter and laughter throughout.
Upon his return to Pakistan, my granduncle settled in Mansehra city, just a few kilometers away from his ancestral village of Hado Bandi. And it was in this house that my mother and I stayed in. On the first day, we were brought to visit numerous graveyards where we paid our respects to my granduncle, my great-grandparents as well as our forefathers who had first settled in Hado Bandi.
On the second day, we were brought to Oghi – a town about 30 kilometers away from Mansehra. Here, in the village of Bandi Sadiq, was the family of my grandfather’s only sister. She had been married off to a man from this village. Sadly, she passed away only last year. We were told that she often expressed hope that she would see the children of her eldest brother – my grandfather. It was a surreal feeling, to meet my cousins, who up to that point, had merely been an abstract idea in my thoughts. Again, like in Mansehra and Hado Bandi, we visited the graves of the departed and offered our prayers for them.
Love and lineage, the common languages between us
The only languages I speak are English and Malay. Over a hundred years of cultural assimilation had seen us lose the ability to speak in our native languages of Hindko and Urdu.
I suppose you can say we were truly fortunate, because even in Pakistan, we continued to speak English and Malay! My granduncle’s wife was a local from Singapore who spoke Malay. Thus, upon migrating to Pakistan, the language was still used within the family. The use of a language known only to us made my mother and I feel more attached to our family there. There is no doubt that despite the years of separation, there still was a level of cultural similarity between our families.
In Bandi Sadiq, we were also fortunate that many of our relatives there had gone through various degrees of education and could speak English proficiently. For those who were unable to communicate with us, they did so through my uncle who acted as an interpreter. And when he wasn’t around, we will attempt to speak in each other’s tongues anyway. I think we barely made it, but the smiles that resulted were priceless. When we left after three days in the village, tears were shed, as a testimony to the love that had been forged in that short period of time.
The research project – Pen, paper and photographs
It was a genealogical researcher’s dream come true. I had prepared myself with a notebook and a pen, as well as a camera if I needed it. Most of my uncles and aunts knew of my intention to research the family history and they were ever so patient to sit down with me to draw up the family tree and answer any queries that I had.
Additionally, my aunt who had known of my research project had brought me to visit an elderly 72-year-old man who knew the history of the people in the village, but also of Pakistani folk who had migrated to Singapore! In fact, his wife was born in Singapore and moved to Pakistan when she was 12. My aunt patiently acted as the translator and scribe as I asked questions about my late grandfather, his family as well as some other personalities who had migrated to Singapore.
I realised one of the best things I did was to have printed the pictures of my family, my grandparents, as well as other relatives and people of Pakistani origin in Singapore. Though not exactly comprehensive, it had helped me a lot in discovering information I had never expected to find.
A case in point was when one of my aunts saw the photograph of my mother’s maternal grandfather. She asked who the man in the picture was. And when we told her that it was the father-in-law of my late grandfather, she surprised us by informing us that she knew of his origin. She told us that he was from Tilli – the Black Mountain of Hazara (Tor Ghar). This was a golden nugget of information that not a single descendent of my great-grandfather knew, but was communicated by my late grandfather (his son-in-law) to his sister. This was a bonus I had never expected to discover.
Tips for genealogists visiting the ancestral land
Never leave behind any information back home. Though apparently painstaking, it may be worth to make copies, or back up of research you have done thus far, and bring the copy with you on your trip. You wouldn’t want to be in a situation where you stumbled upon a valuable lead, only that you cannot pursue it because some important information you require is sitting pretty at home, thousands of miles away from you. Even the most mundane of information can be frustrating to recall should you suddenly require it. It may be a name, an address, a relationship or a date.
Another tip is to strike a balance between research and recreation. Sometimes you may need to be firm and decline invitations, in order to pursue a particular lead – like visiting a place or interviewing a person. On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to be completely immersed in research that you forget to enjoy the experience. Take the time to immerse yourself in the environment and imagine what it might have been like for your ancestor to live through it. After all, how often do we get to visit the ancestral land?
If you'd like to read more about Abbas' trip to Pakistan, then head over to his blog.