11 August 2014

Who do I think I am?

I've always been a big fan of the programme Who do you think you are? I find it fascinating to delve back into the pasts of celebrities and learn that their forebears were criminals or rich landowners or destitute and living in a workhouse.  I have always been interested in my own ancestors, although I have lacked time to go into my ancestry in any sort of systematised way. I have mentioned that I had an English grandfather and a German one, and from the little I know, their lives are worth documenting, but I have never had the time to go into it in more depth.

Other relations in my English family have done some of the foot-slogging work for me, so I have quite a bit of information about them, but I would love to go back further when I  have the time to research it.  My mother was one of three children, but the other two died in their infancy, so I have no cousins or aunts on that side. As an only child and a widow, I am aware that in time I shall have very few relations, if any,  to count on and at times feel a little saddened by that.

On my German side of the family, I have very paltry information, particularly as my father's only brother deliberately broke off from the family and did not stay in touch. We later learned that he had died and nobody had thought to tell us. He did not have any children though and so I grew up with not a single cousin to call my own on either side of the family. I also imagined researching the German side would be difficult, both because I do not know the system for tracing relatives in Germany, but also because somewhere way back in the past, there were some Jewish connections, so I imagined many had perished in the holocaust, not to mention a lot of records had gone missing or been burnt.

Some years ago I joined Genes Reunited and started to put a bare skeleton of a family tree on there. Occasionally I would get approached by someone asking me if my Joe Bloggs or John Smith was the same as theirs and, when the dates or place of birth or siblings were not in common, that was the end of that. I had in fact in the intervening years forgotten all about Genes Reunited.

On Thursday I received an email  from a man called Ed via Genes Reunited.  He was trying to trace a family member who had my German ancestor's name in common. It's a very rare name, even by German standards, so the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. He sent me his tree and I sent him mine. Turns out we are second cousins twice removed or whatever the terminology. We share a great-grandfather and his wife. He even sent me photos of their gravestones in Berlin. Well, blow me down with a feather!

He is the direct descendant of my grandmother's brother. My German grandmother was one of eight children - three girls, who all stayed in touch, and five boys, whom we lost track of, presumed dead in the holocaust. However, the line of two of the boys did survive. One (Louis) eventually died in a Polish ghetto but his children survived and moved to the North of England; the other (Richard) was shot in Berlin but his son was taken to a concentration camp in Holland, liberated in 1945 and emigrated to the USA.  Ed was Richard's grandson who contacted me from the USA on Thursday!  He was delighted to have found me, as I was able to fill him in on the fate/history of the three girls, one being my grandmother, whom they knew very little about. He meanwhile has filled me in on the fate/history of the 5 boys, especially the two whose families survived. I  am suddenly awash with relatives I didn't know existed.

Changing the subject,  Kay contacted me over the weekend to say she was mugged in Tanzania on Friday. She and nine of her new friends had been out for the afternoon sunbathing at a hotel pool and were returning along a quiet road in a group about a minute away from their hostel, when a motorbike with two men roared up to her, the passenger grabbed her bag strap which was across her body, cut it off and they rode off into the distance with it. Fortunately not a lot of money was in it, no bank cards, but a brand new Kindle I had given her for her birthday a few weeks ago, a cracked crappy camera and her university-issue i-phone with all medical apps and contacts on it. She was shaken, but, as I said to her, at least alive and well, given the fate of those two poor boys in Borneo. She went to the police station to report it and apparently they don't work at weekends. I'm guessing the robbers knew that, as the theft took place at 18:45 on Friday. They could be anywhere from Alaska to New Zealand by the time the cop shop opens again on Monday. That's Africa for you.


Ellen said...

Poor Kay, what a dreadful thing to happen to her. You must both have been very shaken by this awful incident. I hope this doesn't spoil the rest of Kay's time in Tanzania for her and that the many wonderful times and experiences she has there help to mitigate what happened. Chin up Addy, she'll be home soon.

How wonderful for you to receive such an exciting communication from Ed and to discover all those unknown relatives. I wonder where it will lead to, some interesting meetings in the future maybe? Best wishes to you.

Nota Bene said...

Not just Africa...that's a shame, and hopefully the experience will not spoil her time too much...

To know your family history must be magnificent...

K Ville said...

well that's just rotten for Kay but hopefully that is her piece of bad luck out of the way and as you say, it could have been worse. But won't we all be glad when she is home, even if this trip is great for her overall.

great news about the family though, the internet has so many good uses doesn't it. your history is so interesting, no matter that they are few, it's the quality not quantity. I have a ga-zallion 'ordinary' rellies!

Flowerpot said...

How very frightening - poor Kay - and poor you. But great news about the family -isnt the internet amazing?

Strawberry Jam Anne said...

I am so sorry to hear about what happened to Kay and hope she has fully recovered from such a shock (and you too Addy).

How thrilling that you have been contacted by a distant relative after so much time, it makes your research so worthwhile.