Family history

My sisters and I have been notifying relatives and friends of our father’s death. One of them got a card from our mother’s father’s cousin. Given that our grandfather would be 115, how old is his cousin? One sister found a family history website that gives her year of birth as 1926, so she’s 92 – her father married late.

That’s a very big family history website. How far back does that go? One section (a family tree showing names only) traces that side of the family back to Scotland in 1520 (with a lot of Majors and The Reverends along the way). (At one point there were three Major John [surname]s in a row. The first was the son of Sir John, just to be different.) Impressive. But another section of the site (giving more or fewer biographical details for each person) traces the family back through earls of various places in Scotland (at one point there were three Earl Patricks in a row) to King Duncan – you know, the one fictionally killed by Macbeth (apparently the real Macbeth didn’t kill the real Duncan, but defeated him in battle) (you mean Shakespeare made stuff up?). The male line stops at Duncan’s father, but Duncan’s wife’s family traces back to Kenneth MacAlpin, the first ‘King of Scots’ (my 35x great-grandfather, if I’ve counted correctly) and past him to semi-history/semi-legend then complete legend.

I may have written a different essay for year 11 English if I’d known that.

Until this, we had more information about our two grandmothers’ sides of the the family, because they were more actively interested than our two grandfathers. We knew that that grandfather’s family was Scottish and Irish, but not how far back it went.

I have never considered myself as anything other than ‘Australian’ (with due recognition of Australia’s Aboriginal history). At times I’ve described myself as ‘Australian of mixed British Isles descent’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Norman-Roman’ [added later: possibly Danish/Viking] (approximately 1/2 English, 1/4 Irish, 1/8 Scottish and 1/8 Cornish). At primary school we had a ‘heritage day’, and I said I didn’t want to go as ‘English’ or ‘Irish’ or ‘Scottish’ or ‘Cornish’ (that we definitely knew/know about – there’s probably Welsh there too), so I went as an Australian swagman. (My best friend, of German extraction, went as a nazi.)

PS There’s more. As I was clicking back through successive generations, I encountered Earl Gospatric. And this father Earl Gospatric. And his father Earl Gospatric. At the back of mind a little bell rang. 

Many years ago, I bought a book called Our names. Our selves by Mary Lasssiter, which is about names and social and personal attitudes to them. In one section she talks about males’ names being more restricted than females’ (see the Johns and Patricks above). She gives the examples of Earl Cospatric, who had a son (also earl) and three grandsons (two of whom were not earl) named Cospatric. She said ‘Pity the three Cospatric cousins, particularly Cospatric, son of Cospatric, son of Cospatric’. Just as well I rarely throw away books, and I’ve got an astonishing memory for these kinds of obscure details in books. Yup, same name, same earls – my (however many)-great-grandfathers. She continues ‘I wonder what original ideas would have entered his head on naming his son?’. We don’t have to guess. It was ‘Waldeve or Waltheof’, which name also belonged to two other members of the same family (the brother and great-nephew of the first Cospatric). Waldeve or Waltheof, by the way, was the father of the first Earl Patrick.


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