29 April 2019

Relatively speaking

I don't have many surviving relatives. (Cue for violins.) I am an only child, a widow, both parents are dead, and I have no aunts or uncles or cousins. Strictly speaking, my daughter Kay is my one and only close living relative. 

My mother was one of three sisters, so technically I did have aunts, but they died under the age of five. My mother had loads of aunts and cousins, so technically I have many great aunts and second cousins, although I can only count about three that I just about stay in Christmas card contact with, the rest having disappeared into the ether many decades ago before I was even born and are now presumed dead.

On my father's side, it is a whole different ball game altogether. Having escaped from Nazi Germany, the family was pretty much fragmented. My father's mother came from dubious Jewish stock. Dubious in that they were not practicing Jews at all, but merely had some strains of it going back generations. Enough for Mr Hitler to want them gone. No matter that my father and his brother  were christened as Protestants and confirmed too. My paternal grandmother had two sisters and five brothers.  The two sisters, my great aunts, although married,  never had children and managed to ride out the war by hiding in Germany. I met them both in the 1960s and 1970s before they died. Two of my grandmother's brothers died before the war, leaving three brothers, whom we believed never made it out of concentration camps.  If you are a little confused by the above account, here is my father's side of my tree.

I am therefore the sole surviving member of that family.....or so I thought.

About 12 years or so ago, I put my family tree on a website called Genes Reunited. The German side looked pretty much like the one above. Very vague, few dates and no other descendants except me. Time went on and I forgot all about that entry on Genes Reunited. About a year ago, I was contacted by a man (Peter) in Hertford who said he thought we might be related on the German side, as my German grandmother's (rare) maiden name was in common with one in his family.  It turned out after some digging, that we weren't related, but he put me in touch with another man called Ed with the same (rare) surname as my grandmother. It turns out Ed and I are related. We are second cousins. Ed's grandfather, Richard, was the brother of my grandmother.  It is true that Richard and his son Alfred had both ended up in a concentration camp. Richard had been killed, but Alfred had survived the war and been liberated by Americans in 1945. Out of gratitude, Alfred emigrated to America and lived there raising a family - Ed and his twin brother also called Richard. 

Ed wrote to me recently and said he and his family were coming to Scotland/England for a holiday and would love to see me briefly in London on their way through back home. I met my second cousin for the first time at the weekend, together with his wife, two grown-up daughters  and Peter who had put us in touch in the first place. We met in an Italian restaurant in central London and the hours just flew by, as we swapped stories of what we knew of our respective grandparents, great aunts or uncles and our own lives. I had brought along many old photographs of ancestors that Ed had never seen, as his family had not had the good luck to keep or pass on photos in the holocaust.

From having nobody surviving on my father's side, I now have a whole unit living in New Jersey as shown by the tree below. Without the internet, this would not have not been possible. If only my father were still alive to tell that he had a cousin he knew nothing about. Bittersweet or Schadenfreude, as the Germans would say.

In other news, today would have been Greg's 70th birthday. Kay and I intend to celebrate in his honour at his favourite local restaurant. To remember the good times and less of the bad.

08 April 2019

My local park

I have written before about the amazing parks that are within walking distance of where I live. One is wild woodland with a stream, but, bizarrely, with a few football pitches tacked on. The other is more cultivated with a big lake and tended rose beds, a children's playground, a cafe and an information centre. I have visited the latter one so many times, when I used to take Kay as a child to the playground, then later to walk the dog on a daily basis and in the last few years to work as a volunteer at the information centre. I also go once a week to help an elderly friend walk her dog, as without me, she is afraid of falling. I have taken many foreign visitors to my local park and many comment on how amazing it is to have so much greenery in the middle of one of the world's largest cities.

The lake is full of all kinds of ducks, swans and geese. The island in the lake contains one of London's largest and most spectacular colonies of breeding herons. Once a year, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds comes along to hold a Heron Watch event and yesterday was that day. The banks of the lake were littered with binoculars on tripods. The trees on the island are littered with grey heron nests and the heron babies are now about 4 weeks old, but to my surprise are almost fully grown, except they are fluffier than the adults. There must have been at least 30 babies.

The weather was not brilliant and I had forgotten to charge my camera, so to my annoyance the battery gave out after only a few photos. Here is the best I can offer...

Heron island. Click on the picture to zoom in and see how many herons you can spot

So many herons living in one tree

A mandarin duck having a nap

An Egyptian goose eyeing me up