I am a curious soul. Always have been. I love exploring and researching stuff just for the sake of knowing, and for the past couple of years, I have been spending pockets of time digging around in an online genealogy site to see how far back I could get on my family tree to figure out where my ancestors came from. I made a little headway and then a big leap on Dad’s side of the family when I discovered a family tree built by a fellow that turned out to be one of dad’s cousins. (They had lost touch decades ago but have since met up and have become reacquainted!) I wasn’t getting very far on particular branches; lots of dead ends and false leads, and early last year my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to do one of those DNA tests that gives an estimate of one’s ethnicity in a very low-fi kind of way (you can read more about the accuracy of those tests and how they work here ) to see if I could find any leads through DNA matches which I could then cross-reference with other family trees to find common ancestors and work backwards from there. I know this post is somewhat self-indulgent, so please forgive, but I hope some of what I found may be a little interesting to at least a couple of you!
Let’s crack on.
Here’s what I discovered about my roots when I opened the email with my results:
My first thought? Where on earth did all that Scandi blood come from? That is the biggest mystery! At the time, I knew that my dad’s family had English roots, and mum’s family, were from South Africa with English and German roots back a couple of generations.
As it turns out I was able to get back to the 1500s on the patrilineal line – i.e. following the fathers of each generation back each time. I can see ancestors scattered all over Britain from the West Midlands and further south and west to Cornwall. There are some Irish and Scottish rellies thrown in there too, so that all made sense. I was especially excited to see the ones that were alive during the reign of Elizabeth I, one of my feminist heroes! My conclusion at that point was that the Scandi blood was remnants of Danish or the other Nordic immigrants to England — it is apparently quite common for UK people to have Scandinavian ancestry show up in their results. I was illogically chuffed to think that perhaps I had Viking blood! This also amused me greatly because my mother’s nickname for my husband is The Viking; owing to his colouring and stature rather than his actual nationality. He is very, very English!
A fancy soldier
One fellow that captured my imagination on the Collier patrilineal line was a man called Francis who lived near Stafford in the West Midlands in the late 1700s (seven generations back!)
He was a military man; a Captain with the Windsor Foresters. Each of these regiments had their own uniforms and rank structures – it was the time before England had a structured and uniform military. The gentlemen at the Berkshire Yeomanry Museum in Windsor were extremely helpful when I reached out to them for more information. They provided a document that mentions Francis and describes a little of what he was involved in, and a photo of a painting of a Captain from his unit. According to the document there were three Captains in the Windsor Foresters, and since the gent in the painting is not named, there is no way of knowing if it is Francis or one of the others, but isn’t it a fabulous uniform? Incidentally the painting itself is in the hands of an Italian collector and well out of my price range. Blast!
So… did I marry my cousin?
Well…there are always moments of trepidation when digging around in the past, wondering what one might find when you strip away the years, and I had an episode of mild panic when I saw that I had ancestors from the West Midlands. That is where my husband hails from! I have to admit that spurred me on to dig deeper into the family tree, hoping that I wouldn’t find him in a parallel branch somewhere along the line! Not that it really matters if the branches join far enough back, and in all reality we all share a common ancestor through the matrilineal lines if we go back far enough anyway. But as it stands I have not discovered any of my husband’s people lurking in the gnarled and twisted branches of antiquity on my tree. I did not marry my long-lost cousin several times removed! Phew! Sigh of relief!
Skeletons in the closet
I did manage to dig up a couple of interesting skeletons on Mum’s mum’s side of the family, though not on a pure matrilineal line. The fellow in the photo below is Petrus Jacobus Joubert (known as Piet Joubert) and he is my third cousin four times removed. He was the Commandant General of the South African Republic and a Boer War hero and had a town named after him. He served as the country’s Vice President for a short while after the war too! Oh wow! Looking at that photo, I think I know where I got my forehead from….
There is also a possible link to an infamous Boer, and then German, spy who went by various names — including the Black Panther — and claimed to have been involved in killing Field Marshall Kitchener during WWI. He told people that he was the nephew of General Joubert, though this is disputed, as is his claim about Kitchener, and I haven’t managed to find him in any of the family trees that I’ve found in my research thus far, though his mother’s name lines up with the General’s sister’s name, so who knows. I am hoping it’s a coincidence or another of his fabrications!
There’s also a distinct possibility that my husband’s ancestors fought against Piet Joubert in the Boer Wars. The pendant that I wear, pictured below, was worn into battle by my husband’s Royal Marine ancestor during those wars. I wonder if they ever met each other on the battle field? What if my distant cousin saw this around the neck of my husband’s antecedent? What a strange and connected world we live in.
Thankfully the skeletons in my closet are all now long dead and I cannot be disowned by my Royal Marine husband for having enemy ranks lurking in the closet!
On the upside I managed to trace the Joubert family line back into France in the mid 1500s where they were Huguenots who eventually fled as refugees to South Africa in the late 1680s. They lived down in the south near Avignon and Aix en Provence. How exciting is that? I wonder if that is why I have always been a bit of a Francophile? Does that sort of thing run in the genes? Hmmmmm. From the look of DNA matches from this side of the family, this is where at least some of the Scandinavian blood comes from, though I cannot see where. So probably not a Viking. 🙁 Perhaps there were Dutch Reformers further back, since that’s where the roots of the Huguenot movement started. Why could they not have stayed and bequeathed me a chateau in the south of France? Sigh!
Other parts of Ouma’s line were from Kent in the south east of England who immigrated to South Africa in the mid 1800s, but I doubt they were refugees of any sort. They may have needed a change of scenery? No idea!
Related to a US President???
When dad was young his grandmother used to tell him, and others, that they were related to George Washington and would apparently not elaborate further than that. Over the years it developed into a bit of folklore in the family, we assumed that there was some very distant connection to the first president of the United States (hoped? That would be a bit cool!). As it turns out there was nothing particularly interesting about our George Washington. Our George was her cousin that lived in the Bendigo area 1881-1967 and had eight 😮 brothers and sisters. Apparently Grandma Hazel had quite the sense of humour.
The dead ends and ghosts
I have not had a lot of luck with dad’s mum’s family or mum’s dad’s family….confused yet? You don’t know the half of it…I am thoroughly confused! I shall keep digging.
Judging by the number of people taking these quick and easy and not so accurate DNA tests and creating genealogy charts online, it’s natural for humans to wonder what came before us. On the whole it is interesting and has helped me pull together some pieces and build an interesting picture. I have a jigsaw puzzle in front of me with about half the puzzle pieces missing. And because I am a perpetually curious soul, I shall plug away with making more connections and slotting in the pieces if for no other reason than to satisfy my inquiring mind. Perhaps one day I will figure out where that Eastern European and Iberian DNA comes in!
At the end of the day I am an Australian by accident of birth with some UK and European blood mixed in there for good measure (I am editing this on Brexit day). I would love to do a tour sometime and visit the places my ancestors have walked before. I wonder if I will feel their ghosts?
I am having a whole lot of fun on this personal scavenger hunt! Have you ever traced your family tree or taken a DNA ancestry test? Were you surprised by what you found?