A friend of mine has been tracing his family tree. In fact it is his sister who has done most the work; between them they have come up with some interesting facts which I intend to share with you.
The family was established in the area around Manchester in the latter years of the nineteenth century; they had moved there in the middle of the century. Before that the senior branch of the family had come from Nottinghamshire; with their Norse name they had been part of the landscape since Viking raiders settled there over a thousand years before. In the 1800s they were still farm labourers, but by Victorian times the railway was drawing people from all across the country to service the burgeoning Manchester cotton trade. It was not just this country that supplied this growth in population; one of my friend’s great-great grandfathers was a Jew whose ancestors had lived in the Netherlands for generations, but who had originally lived in Spain. This ancestor had moved with the rest of his family from Amsterdam in his early youth. His name was Abraham and he was an engraver by trade. His father Aaron was working as a draper in Salford as young Abraham was growing up. The son must have abandoned the faith of his ancestors, for in 1851 aged 23 he married a girl called Margaret in Manchester Cathedral. She had moved to Lancashire from Ayrshire in Scotland.
On the side of the family that had moved from Nottinghamshire my friend’s great-grandfather was working as a shoemaker in Manchester. By now we have reached the beginning of the 20th century; the family was slowly starting to climb the social ladder. His son was in training as a pupil-teacher in 1900, and went on to be a school master at a Manchester school. The living quarters where he brought up his children were modest; a two-up two-down terraced house with basic amenities. From those humble beginnings my friend’s father was able to secure a place at University to read Metallurgy.
As a graduate of Manchester University he gained employment in the major engineering group GKN, where he spent the years of the Second World War on vital developments for the war effort. His career went from strength to strength, and he ended his career on the Board of Directors of the company. By the time his son (i.e. my friend) was approaching his teenage years he was living in a large house in about an acre of grounds in the most elegant village in Cheshire, Prestbury.
We met at the boarding school in Norfolk where we had both been sent by our fathers to further our education. My friend did rather better than I did in that respect; with a degree from London University, when he was only 28 he was appointed CEO of a hospital in Yorkshire. For the past thirty years he has been living in the charming Cotswold village of Bourton-on-the-Water. He never married, but has nephews an nieces across the world, including in Chile. Still working, he spends his holidays going on cruises, now that he is rather too old to do more energetic things like hang gliding in the Andes.
I have by no means covered the most interesting part of the story; his great-uncle David was pursuing an ordinary career in Manchester at the beginning of the twentieth century. He was working as a journeyman carpenter, and raising a family of six children. All this was soon to change however; he abandoned his life in England, his wife and young children, and took off to travel the world as circus entertainer. He changed his name to a vaguely Spanish sounding one and in 1909 he was working in Hong Kong. He eventually fetched up in San Francisco, USA. In Kentucky he began yet another career as an insurance agent. He married a new bride, but without of first divorcing his English wife, who was languishing at home in Manchester. There is now an American family that has belatedly discovered their exotic past. My friend too has only recently discovered the existence the family of his great-uncle David, because his English relatives never talked about him. Whether they knew of his new identity or not, the whole episode would have been deemed too disgraceful to mention.
As I said, it an interesting family.