I've been doing some genealogical research recently and have turned up some exotic characters. My great grandfather is particularly fascinating. He lived one of those breathlessly active late Victorian/Edwardian lives, travelling all over the world at a time when that meant weeks, if not months, on a boat, and reinventing himself in every new country.
He was born in London in 1880 to moderately well-off parents and went on to have a remarkably varied life. By the time he was my age he'd attended a rabbinical college in Germany; left the college and enlisted in the British army at 19 (which caused his family to disown him – I don't think he ever saw them again); fought as an intelligence officer in South Africa in the Boer War; been transferred to India; demobilised; converted to Christianity and become a Methodist missionary in India; met his wife and married at the Mukti Mission in India; left the Methodist mission to set up his own mission in the highlands of Southern India; had a daughter; nearly died of some kind of fever; learned and documented the language of the Mardi people; travelled backwards and forwards between India and Dunedin (his equally adventurous wife was originally from Dunedin) to recover from illness and raise money; had one son and one more daughter; moved to Dunedin permanently and started a rabble-rousing, Pentecostal mission; and had another two daughters. He also found time somewhere in there to learn seven or eight languages.
My recollections of him involve books and age. When I knew him, he was in his late 80's and early 90's – which seemed incredibly old to a pre-school child. He used to read the morning paper through his glasses and a magnifying glass, which fascinated my small self. And I remember going into his library, a room lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves, and being indignant that so many of the books had funny writing on the spines. I was looking for nice friendly books that I could read, but that's not what I found. His library was full of scholarly tomes in Greek and Latin and various Indian languages. Not a children's picture book to be seen.