Matthew Munson: From Kettering to Hollywood

Researching the family tree

Family history’s fascinating, isn’t it? Well, actually, let me qualify that; our own family history is fascinating. The family history of people we’re close to – partners and close friends, maybe – is definitely interesting. The histories of people we’re acquainted with might be vaguely intriguing in a general sort of way.

Beyond that … sorry.

Hence me talking about family history today and ignoring everything that I’ve just said above, because I love learning about the families and the lives that brought me to this place at this time; it’s a wonderful challenge to be able to understand where I’ve come from and how I ended up as a 36-year-old man living in Thanet in 2017, as opposed to a forty-three year old living in Kettering.

(By the by, I’ve never met anyone who lived in Kettering, have you? I don’t think the place exists, personally)

No scandal – sigh

I’m of the first Munson generation to be born in Thanet; us Munsons come from the Medway towns and Essex, it would seem, and although I’ve been into Rochester a number of times, and I think I’ve driven through the outskirts of Essex once or twice, I’ve never had any particular urge to set up shop there.

There doesn’t seem to be any hugely significant scandal in my family history, much to my disappointment; I was hoping for an illegitimate connection to a monarch somewhere along the line so that I could claim the British throne, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

A Munson in Hollywood

Apparently, there are lots of Munsons now in America, particularly in Philadelphia and in Hollywood. There was even a character called Munson in the 1996 Woody Harrelson film, leading to my surname enjoying a brief vogue as slang for failure. Ouch.

Munson comes from the French word “moun”, meaning “monk” – either a literal monk or someone of monkish habits, and there’s also a Swedish variation of Magnesson, so we’re from everywhere. Words seem to permeate my immediate family; my dad’s a journalist, his three brothers were all printers, and my mum’s dad once wrote a book that I’m devastated I’ll never see. I don’t see much monkish behaviour from any of us, but that’s another story.

I’m quite fortunate in that I have an unusual surname; it stands out from the ground. My mum’s maiden name, bless her, is Wilson, which makes family history research a lot more complicated for her. But still, that’s not insurmountable; the online family research site Ancestry allows for a lot of cross-referencing, and I’m just getting used to it, so I’m confident that I’ll be able to give her some information in the future about her family history.


We should all be fascinated by our own family history, as it tells us where we’re from and what experiences have been influenced by our genetics and how they shaped individual parenting styles and group dynamics within families. I’m the product of generations of Munsons and Wilsons that have made me the slightly eccentric person I am today (that’s a compliment to my ancestors, in case you were worried – and still is a compliment even if you’re not); now I just need to find out what they did when they were alive.