Who do we think we are?
Olympic oarsman Sir Matthew Pinsent was surprised when BBC One's Who do you think you are? revealed not only his true relationship to William the Conqueror but also his more questionable descent from Jesus Christ and Adam and Eve.
Not all surprises are pleasant
My great grandmother Caroline Norcliffe died in 1919 after almost twenty years in the Menston Pauper Lunatic Asylum where she had been committed, with post-natal depression, by my devoutly Methodist great grandfather Albert, who was planning to live over th' brush with Polly his housekeeper.
On your bike!
The Australian branch of my family is convinced that Great
Uncle George had a silver-spoon upbringing as the illegitimate son of James Ludovic Lindsay, the Earl
of Crawford & Balcarres (left). He didn't and he wasn't. Young George was a messenger boy who bicycled around town and village delivering telegrams. His real father was A.N. Other, who was particularly active in Victorian Wigan. Clearly, he too had a bike.
My distant cousin Tom Marsden was murdered in a Chicago altercation. For more than a hundred years his
descendants have treasured the legend that he was the long lost heir of a noble
English family. His dad
actually worked (and drowned) in a Wigan sewage plant.
are sometimes true
The Man who Killed a King
It is surprising how many 'ordinary' people really are descended from characters who have fretted and strutted their brief hour upon the stage of history. My grandchildren Joseph and Claire's maternal Axtell ancestors sailed for New England in 1660 after Colonel Daniel Axtell was hanged, drawn and quartered at Tyburn as a regicide of King Charles I. Daniel is the subject of a chapter in my book Six Steps from Wigan Pier.
Joseph and Claire's Welsh ancestors include Elihu Yale, endower of the great Ivy League university and Owain Gyndwr, that
highly successful rebel against King Henry IV.
They are also distantly related to Winston Churchill through his American mother Jeanette Jerome.
How do I know all this? By finding the all-important 'gateway' ancestor linking my grandchildren's maternal line to families whose pedigree has been researched by professional genealogists.