When I visited my mother a few weeks before she died, her husband Bully, my stepfather, turned over to me a pile of old photos that had been in a box in the attic for years. He said he guessed they were “Your mom’s people.”
Since she was in a terminal stage of dementia and recognized no one and could not speak, I couldn’t ask her who they were, what were their names, what was their history.
She’d told me earlier that a great-great-grandfather (she wasn’t sure how many greats) named Jack Joyce was convicted of sheep stealing in Ireland during the Great Famine, and transported to a penal colony in Australia. After serving his sentence he married, and had children, a few of whom migrated to America to work on the railroad.
Now these are my father’s ancestors, of whom I know nothing because he refused to talk about any of them. He died, leaving little to no history.
It might be useful to just make up some biographies for these nameless people, a sort of historical revisionism. Make them interesting. They’d be folks who I’d be drawn to, and who would naturally be drawn to me.