Illustration by Josie Moir

Towards the end of the last term, I started thinking about writing something for this column that wasn’t just an extended diary entry. Shockingly. I wanted to embark upon something that would be more of a project, something that I could mould into a series of sorts, something that made a point in a more detailed and broadened way.

I was also thinking more about family history — my Grandad has been working on a family tree that, thanks to a serendipitous combination of his extremely diligent work and the quality of Mauritius’ archives, reaches far back into the 17th century. Whilst these ancestors exist to me now as French and Indian names beneath grainy black and white photos in an Excel spreadsheet, they did of course have rich and individual lives of which we now know very little. And even for the people about whom we have some biographical information, whilst we can flesh them out with birth places and professions, we simply cannot know who they were when it comes to the contents of their thoughts. We know who they married, but not how they felt about their spouse. We know how many children they had, but nothing about those relationships. We have the who, what, and where, but no why and how.

Of course, when future generations delve into their family archives, they will have a lot more to find. Our children’s children’s children might be constructing family trees using profile pictures instead of portrait photos, with a wealth of content through which to understand who their ancestors were. But having access to more information does not necessarily mean having an interest in it — in the same perverse way that the first place you look up on Google Street View is your own house, we are often far more consumed by (and concerned about) our own lives and our own bubbles than the wider world. It may be that lives are simply more captivating when you know the person living them.

Thinking about all of this — about creating something bigger, about looking back, about looking forward — and thinking about the way that what I’ve written for this column so far has been some kind of self-centred investigation into who I am and why, I’ve decided on a project for this term. Over the vac, I interviewed my two grandmothers and my mother, asking them about their upbringings; their families; their careers; their mental health; their children. We talked about childhood and motherhood and personhood. We talked about what we absorb from those around us, and what we pass on. We talked about who we are and why.

I ended up with over 8,000 words of content, which I cannot just give to you. I wish I could because I do genuinely believe that every word of it is worth a huge amount, and that the overall comprehension that you can achieve from these conversations is really quite something. But I can’t. Nonetheless, over the next few weeks, I plan on presenting three  remarkable people: my mother Deborah, and my grandmothers Jill and Christine.

I am not trying to construct a universal portrait of womanhood or make any massive general points about this. I don’t think that everything has to be incredibly profound and simultaneously very widely applicable in order to be interesting or useful. Actually, I think that the stories and experiences and thoughts of individuals – marketed as exactly that – are most valuable of all. I do also think, however, that there are larger social comments to be drawn from studying generations — studying patterns and cycles, what changes and what doesn’t.

When I turned 19 over the vac, I made myself a birthday resolution: to get better at listening to myself. Whilst it may seem as though that would be an intrinsically self-contained process, possibly the most effective thing in helping me move towards this resolution was listening to the women who have shaped me and feeling the power that is knowing that I am part of them and they are part of me. As well as existing as our own people, we exist as, through and in each other. I like so much more of myself when I can see where it has come from.

It feels like a natural progression to move from self-analysis and writing about aspects of my identity to exploring similar ideas as applied to the people around me, who so kindly have let me pick their brains and write them down. I’m excited to see what this amounts to, and to be able to share some of what makes me love the people I love. I hope you will enjoy reading this series as much as I have enjoyed constructing it.