We are family…….

Anyone reading this hoping for a blog about the 1970’s band Sister Sledge who had a hit of that same title…be prepared to be dissapointed now when you read on, to see that the post is about genealogy.

And for those aged 40 or younger, do take note, and look them up…you will probably one day find you have a serious gap in your musical knowledge as questions about Sister Sledge and their profusion of similar sounding hits will often feature on ‘pop music’ quizzes and you will be none the wiser.

Time now to dig out your parents compilation cassettes..and find a device to play them on…..

Anyway having recently had another birthday ending with a zero, it focussed my mind on not only where do I come from, but who were the people and what were there lives like? A recent gift to me of a DNA analysis test identified that I was 97.5% Irish…so no surprise there, but also 2.5% Akenazi….huge surprise there. But it’s not just the country or culture, I want to know more about the people.

My mother’s family tree is well documented and my origins are from mostly shop keepers but also an assortment of engineers, doctors and other professions.

In the scale of things, quite prosperous and financially comfortable people owning their own homes and businesses, employing people and in some cases having domestic staff!

On the contrsry, my father’s family had previously not been documented but now armed with some family tree software, some sketchy notes of 10 years ago collected from a now deceased relative, I have been tracing my paternal blood line.

Emigrants from Ireland to the UK but a very different story – many of my family including my paternal grand father and great grandfather lived and worked in Bermondsey, London as labourers in the docks. There are also a number of my female relatives working as chars (cleaners), washerwoman and domestic servants. So several generations of people working in tough and not well rewarded roles.

It was not until the last generation that life improved. My own father and one of his brothers were the first to go beyond this and study and train to go into professional roles.

As I unfold more detail it is very evident to me that life in my grandparents generation was really harsh and challenging…but considerably better than the Irish potato famine that they had fled that had killed over one million people literally wiping out half of the country.

So we are a family of two halves…different measures of good fortune…with one half being able to afford the domestic staff and the other providing it…but also united in a shared cultural history.

I have to admit to almost being obsessed now with this genealogical investigation and how uplifting it is in these strange times to understand and feel a connection with my descendants.

Who do you think you are?

When I was at primary school the phrase ‘who do you think you are ?’ was sometimes the retort from my teachers if they felt I had overstepped the mark on terms of individuality, free expression or indeed anything that was considered outside the norm.

That however was back in the 1970’s in Glasgow convent primary school and I am glad to say things have moved along a bit since then.

In the UK and other countries where it has been syndicated people more often associate it the TV documentary where celebrities trace their ancestry and without fail find some surprises…be that good or bad. No shortage of royal ancestry, notorious criminals and actors who thought they were first generation in the industry finding out that six generations back, great, great, great uncle was a star of silent movies. Of course what the programme doesn’t tell you is the hours of arduous research that the programme researchers have to undertake duscarding numerous celebrities who have not so much as a whiff of fame, scandal or notoriety and in fact are descendants of six generations of law abiding solicitors and accountants.

However who we are is not just about what our ancestors did, but where they came from . I was recently given a gift from my children of an ancestry DNA test. I had some strong pre conceived ideas about whst the results would be …on my mother’s side of family, the family tree is well documented and my expectations that this would generate more or less 100% Irish, perhaps with a bit of Spanish. There are people of Spanish origin in Ireland..myth says these descendants of ‘visitors’ grom the Spanish Armada when many ships were wrecked off the Irish coast, but the more factual reality is that several hundred years later there was much maritime trading between Ireland and Spain and an inevitable intertwining of families. And my family reasons for suspecting a Spanish connection…early photographs of my mother as a child indeed show a dark haired, swarthy skinned child that indeed would not look out of place in any Iberian family photo.

My father’s family are Irish immigrants to the UK but with my English/French origin surname, suspected that there would be Norman or Scandinavian origins too.

Anyway my results arrived…and is often the case not quite what I expected…

I am 98.5% Celt (ie Irish), so no surprise on that bit…….. and 1.5% Ashkenazi ….well that really was a surprise!!!

Do I feel different…actually I do. Very proud of my Irish roots (land always have been) but also intrigued by this other, small though it is heritage from an ancient people, who genetically can be traced back to just 300 or so people in the Middle East.

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