Rounding up the relatives

2009-01-12 00:00

My mother has recently embarked upon a voyage of discovery. Not only has she discovered the many wonders of the Internet, but she has also found it to be an invaluable source of information in the compilation of her family tree — well, a couple of twigs of it anyway, given its sprawling size.

Personally, I find it difficult enough dealing with relatives who are living in the same era, without adding to their numbers by digging around the archives trying to unearth any more.

I mean who cares whether in the days of yore some roughneck uncle set forth across the ocean with nothing but a bottle of whisky, resulting in one now being related to half the population of Wisconsin? And does it really matter if a ditzy, wayward cousin found herself in the family way, in more ways than one, and ran off with a member of the Mafia? Okay, maybe that would matter — that’s definitely a connection one could do without.

But, regardless of what dodgy relatives might crawl from the woodwork, or what skeletons may emerge from the cupboard, my mother proceeded with her mission.

Even cautious suggestions that she could inadvertently uncover a link that associated us with undesirables like Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin was met with righteous indignation — according to her, us being purebred Englishmen rendered that prospect impossible.

Within a few weeks however, our thoroughbred status was in serious jeopardy as ancestors began raising their foreign heads in places that don’t deserve a mention.

But as distressing as this was, the juiciest secret was yet to reveal itself.

An elderly aunt, whom I visited on a trip to England last year, swore on her granny’s Ming vase that my mother’s family are direct descendants of gypsies — a detail I assure you that had my father grinning in delight and my mother determined to prove otherwise.

But to her exasperation, no amount of shaking the family tree could alter the fact that her grandmother was indeed a Romany gypsy. More scandalous still, her great-grandfather was a legendary figure known as the King of the Fiddlers (one can only hope this refers to violin playing as opposed to anything else).

Sadly, any romantic notions I had of my great-granny being a sultry, dark-haired beauty who danced around a fire wearing gold trinkets and colourful skirts were swiftly dispelled on closer inspection of an ancient black and white photograph.

Fortunately, what my dowdy great-granny lacked in glamour and romance, her daughter —my great aunt — more than made up for.

At 16, great-aunt Alice eloped with an authentic gypsy rover, who moved from town to town with a travelling funfair. Rumour has it that he owned the coconut shy, but while Alice may have been impressed with his lovely bunch of coconuts, she was no doubt equally delighted with his beautiful painted caravan.

By the time Alice died, over 65 years later, she had produced 12 children and had become a renowned figure known as The Queen of the Gypsies. Such was her fame, that her funeral — a huge, flamboyant affair — was televised across Britain in 1967.

So you see, I have royal blood running through my veins – albeit royal Tinker blood.

I’m now trying to encourage my very reluctant father to look into his side of the family in the hope that we may uncover some real blue-blood royalty — although to be honest it wouldn’t be quite so romantic to find ourselves descendants of Henry VIII or someone equally vile.

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