Lines And Ladders Performance Diary 24: My thesis is performance

I should be writing my thesis. Whatever else I am doing, I should be writing my thesis. This is a constant pin pricking my conscience. It’s a long time since I have posted to this performance diary, because I have been concentrating on the thesis. Channelling my ideas in the more formal tone of academic writing.

A thing that I need to remember is that Lines And Ladders is the thesis. The written element of my thesis will be shorter than most, by about 30,000 words, because this practice is the thesis. This public exchange of personal stories enabled through play is the nub of my research. It is an exploration of the principles and methods that guide family historians. Each game is the same and each game is different; each time it is a chapter of my thesis.

By playing a game, participants are a part of the research. They contribute to the thesis not as focus group studies, but as active players who steer the chapter. At Family Tree Live, I played with James Halstead, who at the start stated that he hoped he would land on a particular prompt, but did not reveal which space this was. As the game progressed he mentioned this again, saying it was now looking unlikely. Doing this he built my suspense and shifted the control of the game’s narrative. I was intrigued. The game ended. James won. And as a prize was able to select one more story to tell … perhaps one that we had missed … This new rule, invented to fit this particular game, may well be introduced into future play, but it was only introduced that day because of the way that James had increased the intrigue.

In another game on the same day, I played with Elizabeth Lloyd and her daughter Natalie Pithers. In this game Elizabeth raced ahead. Her dice throws propelling her towards an early win, whilst Natalie and I trailed behind. This led to a game of two halves. In the first part Elizabeth had more opportunities to tell stories, but once she had won it became Natalie’s turn.

At Family Tree Live there were many organisations and companies who would help you to document your family history. Three that stood out were who will help you to create a bright and colourful poster of your family tree, who will interview you then turn it into a book and CD, and who provide an online platform where you can curate your family history to share with your chosen audience. Lines And Ladders is something different. Lines And Ladders is not a way of recording family histories, but it is a way of sharing them. It’s about making time to tell your stories and about being interested in other people’s stories.

In this blog about Family Tree Live, Janet Few points out the importance of making time for the interests of others. Having spent more than 30 hours playing Lines And Ladders in 2018 and 2019, I can verify it’s well worth listening to other people’s family histories because everyone has gems to share.

And sometimes, this will help you with your own research. One player told a story of an ancestor who had changed their name. As she told the story aloud, she raised a question for herself. Had this man’s step-father died, before the son changed his name to his biological father’s name? A new avenue to follow prompted by the conversation.

And James’ story? The one that I had to wait for? Prompted by ‘You find something that you cannot share’, this was a cautionary tale to take care when talking about family histories to those involved. Events that may be common knowledge in one branch of the family may be unknown to another.


Natalie Pithers, Elizabeth Lloyd and I play Lines And Ladders at Family Tree Live last April.

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