Thursday, April 15, 2010

Who We Think We Are

Had an enjoyable meeting yesterday with Allison Odgen Newton from Social Enterprise London. We got onto the election and the class system in this country. Upper-class, she was remarking, is really about your relationship to the Doomsday Book.

Although I didn't ask, I sensed Allison's own relationship to the Doomsday Book might be a bit closer than my own! But, like millions of people who, until very recently knew next-to-nothing about their ancestry, my family have done some interesting recent digging.

The main discovery is that my lot aren't quite as straightforwardly working class as I thought. Because my grandparents all worked in the Lancs cotton mills I kind of assumed that at some stage in the 18th century we came off the land. Not quite so.

On my materal grandfather's side, the journey to Lancashire was via Scarborough. My great, great Grandfather, we discoved, was an architect, a Liberal Councillor and once stood for Parliament for the Liberals. He had several sons, one of whom, my Great Grandfather, married `below' himself, was cut out and moved to the thriving mills of Lancashire to start-over. He then had 12 sons, including my Grandfather, all of whom played a part in the Second World War and all of whom survived. A photo of them all back home in 1945 survives in the the local library.

On my Dad's side, my Great Grandfather, Tom MacWilliam was, we knew in domestic service in the late 19th century. He was in fact coachman to the Grant brother, mill owners who were the inspiration for Charles Dickens' `The Cheeryble Brothers'. The coachman in that novel is known as "Tommy" and is, apparently based on Tom MacWilliam. A small literary footnote I know but I felt strangely proud to know this.

I actually don't enjoy `Who Do You Think You Are' very much. All that faux-emotion at events 100 years ago. We often forget that we are all what Morrisey termed `Pale Descendents' of these characters, diluted many times by the generations. But it is good, I think to know where you've come from, even if it isn't the Doomsday book!

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