Sunday, 30 December 2012

"I was wondering if you are

distantly related to me?"
I was asked this question yesterday as I was about to leave the library. I have often seen this woman sitting at one of the computers available there. Apparently she is an enthusiastic researcher of her family history.
Not content with immediate family she has apparently explored every branch she can find and then the spouses and their siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and more. I am sure you know the sort of thing.
I could not imagine we were related - and we are not as she had actually discovered for herself. In her searching however she had come across two people with the same name. One of them is her relation and one of them is my maternal grandfather.
The name is not that common but there was a much smaller group of given names used here in that era so the two men had the same name.
It was not that however which was so curious. I had actually been aware of both men. The local council historian had come across both of them when researching the dairy business owned by the other man.
No, what was interesting was this woman's discovery about my maternal grandmother. My maternal grandmother was not a nice person. She was, to put it mildly, a difficult one. Part of the problem, we believe, was the fact that at about the age of two she was given to an aunt and uncle who then cared for her - she claimed it was for some years. It is something she deeply resented all her life. She claimed it was because her mother "could not afford" to keep all the children and "just gave" my grandmother away.
But yesterday I made a rather interesting discovery. We always believed that my grandmother had one brother (with whom she never had contact) and two sisters. Of those two sisters she really only had contact with one but we were, vaguely, aware that there was a second sister.
Yesterday I discovered she had a second brother, a younger brother. He was never mentioned. I doubt my mother knew she had a second brother. My mother's brother almost certainly never knew either. If they had cousins on the maternal side of their family then they never knew of them. They never knew their uncles and only knew one of their aunts. Both my grandmother and their aunt kept the knowledge of the younger brother to themselves.
My guess now is that my grandmother's mother was ill, perhaps bedridden, during the pregnancy and that all the children were given to relatives for the duration of the pregnancy. They were returned once the baby was born and their mother had recovered. I may be wrong but it seems very likely.
So, the story my mother was told and the story we were told is, in all possibility, quite wrong. My mother had an uncle she almost certainly knew nothing about. It is a strange, sad piece of family history.
It makes me very glad that my father had a very close relationship with both his father's family and his mother's family. His father's family is particularly close even now. Much of it has to do with the long letters my maternal great-grandmother wrote to all the family - so that they would know what each was doing.
The letter writers of the past did us a service in more ways than one.


Miriam said...

I had an aunt I only heard about in my forties, and a half brother.I think it was common, years ago, to hush up things that happened in the family. Things as bad as divorce!

catdownunder said...

I agree Miriam - although this was not something to have been ashamed of, more something to sympathise with! The version my grandmother told was, I suspect, the one that suited her. It made her look "unwanted" - when the reality was probably very different.