Sunday, 2 July 2017

Two history Saturdays and seeing what one never ever expected to see

To begin with next Saturday, 8 July 2017. I am reprising my 35 bus history day out from Bulwell to Angel Row Central Library thanks to St Martin's Church, Bilborough, and Nottingham City Transport.

I only received the poster yesterday evening, so apologies for the short notice. Somehow I have been morphed into a 'tour guide' — not a claim I would make for myself, but I am not going to argue about. I'm not even sure of the 'historian' bit, given that I have been so busy consuming history that I have done little original research from primary sources.

I have posted another take on the 35 bus route using a 1959 Nottingham street map on my History By Bus blog.

Last Saturday I spent the best part of the day at the newly opened Canalside Heritage Centre by Beeston Lock helping on the Beeston & District Civic Society stall. It was an interesting day and saw the launch of my latest Beeston map. It seemed to be well received and got me into a good few discussions, as did the Civic Society display. There is undoubtedly a lot of interest in what is going to happen to the old Beeston Bus Station and Fire Station site. Most of those I spoke to were of the view that Beeston will end up getting less than it hopes for because developers promise one thing and deliver another. Experience suggests this is a reasonable view. Wanting a cinema came up time and again. Judy Sleath, the Civic Society's Chair worked her socks off last Saturday and, at times, those speaking with her seem to think she was Broxtowe Borough Council. With luck, she made have persuaded a couple of folk to join and think about becoming actively involved.

There was plenty going on all day and long queues for food. The view across to Clifton Hall is something special. A good day by any measure and from a conversation I overheard between two people wearing 'Trustee' badges they were pretty pleased too.

I left at 4-15pm, when the Canalside Heritage Centre's first day open to the public was fifteen minutes away from ending by which time there had been just over 2,200 visitors. Not a bad start by any measure.

I was too busy to take photographs, but I did manage a few. No captions, except to say that the last photograph is of my next door neighbours. I hope you enjoy them.

For me the big event of the week and, in some ways, one of the big events of my life (which is quite a claim to make at 73) was seeing a photograph of my father, someone I never knew, nor did I know the name of for sure until Wednesday. Before mid-April 2017 I had no idea of who my father might be. 

At my mother's funeral in 2006, my one remaining uncle confirmed my father was Irish, something I suspected after my one and only row with my maternal grandfather back in the early-1960s. He had said, at the time, 'It's the bloody Irish in you'. It wasn't something the family spoke about and I did not trust my mother to tell me the truth, so I never asked her about my father.

When I was growing up in the centre of Wembley in a three bedroom semi-detached house we always had lodgers in the front upstairs bedroom. For a long time it was two Irish ladies, who I called 'Auntie Lily' and 'Auntie Mary'. Both their names appear on electoral roll entries for the house between 1946 and 1952. It was house into which people came from what like seemed the world to me — Ireland, India, Belgium, Poland, Australia. Scotland didn't count as I had two Scottish aunties from Grantown-on-Spey, somewhere I regarded as a second home whilst I was growing up, then my mother married my step-father, who was from Glasgow. Back then, racism was directed at the Irish and Jews. There were not enough coloured faces about to take any notice of then and, anyway, what few there were, went to the same church as me. When I found out that I might be half-Irish I was proud of the fact.

In early-2015 a DNA test via the Ancestry website, which Susan organised, told me I was 55% Irish, 28% Scandinavian, 8% British, 3% Iberian, 3% West European and 3% Russian-Finnish. So, for the first time in my life, I knew the Irish story about my unknown father was true.  Then in April this year whilst recovering from my open heart surgery, a ping on the Ancestry website alerted us to the fact that a DNA match for a '2nd cousin' had been found. At this point we knew no more. After Susan exchanged a couple of emails with the person we knew we had found the Irish connection and at this point, just possibly, a half-brother. In May the person in question had a DNA test and last week it was established for sure that we are half-brothers. I also found out about three half-sisters to add to the two I already have. Sad to say all three of the half-sisters who share my Irish father died young, so I wll never get to meet them, but at some point before too long I hope to meet my half-brother for the first time.

You will have noticed I mention no names. This is because this is not my story to tell in any detail and I will almost certainly write about it with the person who established the link back in mid-April. We have come a long way in less than three months and there is still a way to go.

On Wednesday I did next to nothing, seeing a photograph of my father, knowing the DNA result confirmed this, was an overwhelming experience. Finding out I was Irish for sure was something I never expected, then when DNA testing came along and it got cheaper, it became a possibility (Susan paid £134 for our DNA tests with Ancestry at the end of 2015, now they can cost as little as £50). That this would lead me to people who already see me as part of their family is also overwhelming. We speak on the telephone like family and will have our first meeting in the next few weeks.

It is a story full of amazing coincidences, as one so often hears, especially if you watch 'Long Lost Families' on ITV or 'Who Do You Think You Are?' on BBC-TV. My half-brother and I share a name, as do our wives and grand-daughters. Our maternal grandparents brought us up.

Do I see me in my father? The answer is 'no', but I do catch a glimpse of my son, and in my half-brother, who is nine years older than me I catch a shared smile. Once we meet, other mannerisms will come into view. The take of close friends and family who have seen the photographs is mixed. Some see similarities whilst others see none.

Growing up in 1940s and 50s there were plenty of other children around you without fathers, most killed in the Second World War. Not having a father was not a problem for me. I had my maternal grandfather who I called 'Pop'. I did know other kids who began to develop problems when they got into their mid and late-teens. Even I was nervous about telling the girl who was to become my first wife, but it made no difference. No one ever reproached for not knowing who my father was so it has simply never mattered to me as anything other than as something I was curious about and, occasionally, my children would ask me about.

Of course I wanted to know, but I have lived my life never expecting to know, so when I did find out for sure this week I say I was 'overwhelmed'. I may have actually been in shock. All I know is that, as I have done throughout my life, I went to bed early, slept soundly and woke up on Thursday as if I had always known my half-brother and my father.

DNA tests are enabling others like me to make familial connections they never knew they had. Thinking about it, what has happened to me in the last three months could happened to you!

No comments:

Post a Comment