Decamot of the month

31 Aug 2020-Heir and a Spare

Decamot inspired by the following items: Ian, Cup, Joshua Tree, Binoculars, Ecuador, Tailor, Valley Bottom, Rattle, Crude Oil, Campaigner

Josh had always fancied researching his ancestors, but he had been put off by the ribbing he thought he would get from his friends at school. But that was ‘back in the day’ whereas now, in these woke times, organised peer pressure at school can just as easily be interpreted as bullying from which compensation can be sought, even thirty years after alleged offences are perpetrated. Times they are a changing he thought.

Josh had always been self-effacing to the outside world, comfortable in his own skin but sensitive to criticism. Why invite ridicule if you could survive without it? That was his basic mantra. He thought that once he embarked on constructing his family’s back story, his pun loving mates would have a field day at his expense. His surname was the problem. A fan of Bond movies, he knew no movie franchise would ever get made with the eponymous hero announcing.

“My name’s Tree, Joshua Tree”

He thought that once it became known he was involved in research for his family tree, the mickey taking would begin.

“Oh, tell me, how many branches have you got?”

“Does one of them live on route 66? … Geddit?”

“Try leafing through old editions of Gardeners World magazines, mate”

“Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin one yours is he?”

“Or Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones?”

“Always said your Mum was barking mad”

“U2 named an album after you, was it a family album?”

The craze for researching ancestors in the UK took on cult status in the late nineteen nineties when Census information first became available online to a wider public. Censuses have been conducted every ten years since 1801 but are not published for general inspection until 100 years has elapsed from compilation.

Ardent constructers of family trees are wetting their knickers in anticipation of the 1921 edition, which will become available to them for the first time next year. It will be eagerly poured over to see which parts of the family were upwardly mobile and which were moving in the opposite direction. The impact of the Great War will be painfully obvious from missing entries.

Josh shared the general fascination with discovering where your forebears lived, what they did for a living and what characteristics you may have inherited from them, good or bad. Oliver Cromwell famously told his portraitist, Samuel Cooper, to ‘paint me warts and all’. Cromwell lived from 1599 to 1658. Remarkably, there is still some residual facial resemblance remaining in his great great great great great great grandson, one James Oliver Hopgood of Peterborough, who Josh could call an acquaintance.

Josh and James met in Hong Kong a few years earlier where Chinese respect for their ancestors is very visible and on a completely different level to their Western counterparts.

Chinese ancestor veneration is a religion which revolves around the ritual celebration of deified ancestors and tutelary deities of people with the same surname organised into lineage societies in ancestral shrines. Ancestors, their ghosts, or spirits, and gods are considered part of "this world". They are neither supernatural (in the sense of being outside nature) nor transcendent in the sense of being beyond nature.

Josh had learnt with much interest that, to the Chinese, ancestors are humans who have become godly beings who keep their individual identities. Ancestors are a means of connection to the supreme power of Tian (the heavens) as they are considered embodiments or reproducers of the creative order of Heaven. It also appealed to Josh’s subversive genes that modern feminist campaigners would have trouble accepting the philosophy.

Ancestor veneration is almost exclusively focused on males, hence one of its names being "Chinese patriarchal religion”. As women did not pass down surnames, they were considered incapable of carrying down a bloodline. Han Chinese especially trace their ancestry through their male lineages which are recorded in genealogy books. They consider their ancestral home to be where their patrilineal ancestor was born (usually about five generations back) or the origin of their surname.

Even if you thought this was superstitious twaddle, thought Josh, you had to admire the stabilizing contribution the belief system of filial piety had given to the Chinese over thousands of years as it became absorbed into Confucian, Buddhist, Taoist and even communist ethics.

So it came to pass that Joshua Tree cast aside his reservations and dived into the construction of his own family tree with typical gusto. It helped that he was an only child and that his parents had both died when he was in his early twenties although he cursed himself during the process of construction for not having asked them more about their parents and grandparents which might have saved him some time and expense.

However, he was able to make a start with their birth, marriage and death certificates plus a subscription to Ancestry.com which gave him access to similar documents for most of his forbears plus all those wonderful juicy censuses and much else besides including electoral rolls, old parish entries, military records, wills and probate, immigration and travel, schools directories and church histories, multiple cuttings from local newspapers and, almost as important as the rest, the family trees of other active members of Ancestry.

He discovered that the GRO (Government Records Office) was very efficient in sending certified copies of birth deaths and marriage certificates provided they are given the correct references which were normally arranged by:

Year, Qtr., District, Vol, Page, Reg, Ent No, DOR

Josh became adept at getting this information via Ancestry.com then placing the order directly with GRO thus saving himself about £15 per entry. It took him two years to finally be satisfied with his work.

During the process he was impressed to discover that some of his ancestors had led quite exotic lives. He felt rather ashamed that he had put off the exercise for so long as he cast his eye down the opening entries and the notes he had prepared.

He was planning to surprise his Aunt Emily and his Uncle George. Both were successful career individuals; Emily was in PR; George was an up market tailor. They had resisted all attempts at family matchmaking over the years but remained convivial company. Josh always enjoyed the badinage that came with their regular get togethers.

They were due within a few days at his house for their regular Sunday lunch together, a tradition which they had instigated when Josh’s parents had died unexpectedly in 2016.

Elmer Tree      m       Martha Wood                                George Bush      m      Daisy Cheyne 
1920 - 1990   1948      1920 - 1985                                1923 - 1988    1945     1920 - 1989
                *                                                                   *
*************************                                               *************************
*                       *                                               *                       *
Emily Tree            Henry Tree                m                  Rose Bush                 George Jnr
  1955                1950-2016                1989                1948-2016                   1948
                                                *
                                                *
                                             Joshua Tree
                                               1990

Josh had hoped to be related to Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree who was a genuine giant of the theatre whose reputation was built between 1870 and 1917 when he was an actor, manager and theatre owner of international standing. Sadly, he discovered that the “Tree” in his surname was an affectation. Sir Herbert added it to make it easier for adoring audiences to shout for encores at the end of performances; “Tree! Tree!” being easier than “Beerbohm! Beerbohm!’, “Bohm” apparently being north German dialect for “tree”

The great Shakespearean actor would also have presented family tree constructors with insuperable logistical problems of presentation as he had four children with his wife, Helen Maud Holt, and multiple illegitimate offspring including six with Beatrice May Pinney. These included Carol Reed the Oscar winning director and Peter Reed, the father of Oliver Reed the famous film actor.

Undeterred, Josh thought his aunt and uncle would be impressed with references in his accompanying notes to a variety of great uncles, aunts, and cousins many times removed who were worthy of annotation like:

* Explorer Dame Cheyne – Walker who killed a rattle snake in Ecuador whilst on a safari thus saving a local chieftain whose forebears ruled the region during the Inca era. Her binoculars are on display at the Royal Geographical Society’s headquarters in Kensington.

* A fourth cousin once removed who took the wicket of Ian Botham with his first delivery when playing for Milford Junior School in Yeovil in 1963.

* A great great uncle who was part of a consortium who discovered crude oil in Texas in 1901 but sold his shares before the Gusher Age took off.

* A third cousin twice removed who played at the Valley for Charlton Athletic FC in 1946/7 but was not selected, due to injury, when they won the 1947 FA Cup for the first and only time in their history.

As Sunday approached, Josh toyed with the idea of putting together a PowerPoint presentation to further impress his relatives but decided against as he thought it would look like showing off. But there was no doubt in his mind that they would be impressed with the work that he had done to unearth the family history. Getting to the bottom of some family conundrums had been frustrating but, overall, he felt relatively pleased with his efforts; forgive the pun.

Sunday duly arrived and he was not disappointed with Aunt Emily and Uncle George’s reaction.

“My word that’s amazing!” said Aunt Emily as she examined the tree which Josh had created on a 6ft by 5ft board propped against the wall of his study. She took a small magnifying glass which Josh had provided and let out little yells of appreciation when she discovered particular entries.

“Wow! Didn’t he order the Charge of the Light brigade?” she ruminated at one point

“I bet their property must have been listed in the Doomsday Book” she squealed at another unearthed relative of ancient repute.

“You’ve done one hell of a thorough job Josh you really have” added Uncle George approvingly “It must have taken you months and months”

“A couple of years all told” admitted Josh “But I thought you might appreciate seeing how far I have progressed as I don’t really expect to uncover much more to be honest. There are a few obvious gaps on mother’s side of the tree which might get filled in one day. Last month I put my DNA on a matching site on the off chance something might turn up, but I have my doubts that it will reveal anything significant”

Uncle George and Aunt Emily looked at each other askance. An ominous silence changed the mood.

Josh picked it up immediately and asked nervously

“Are you alright? Is it something I said?”

Uncle George immediately took up the challenge of explaining the reason behind his and Emily’s change of mood.

“Take a seat Josh, pour us all a glass of your excellent Malbec, and I will do my best to explain as much as we know ourselves”

Josh did as requested and sat back to listen, clearly concerned with the serious tone adopted by Uncle George and the now furrowed brow of Aunt Emily.

“In 1990, your mother was rushed to hospital as the baby she was carrying was causing the medics some concern. Rose was in a bad way. Your Dad went with her in the ambulance although he was a bag of nerves himself as you can imagine. Well, as Emily and I discovered later, the baby did not survive sadly but Rose returned from hospital after two weeks with you!”

Aunt Emily took up the story as Josh struggled to absorb the news he was hearing.

“Henry told me it was the darkest hour of his life. He felt Rose might be suicidal such was her mental state. He really didn’t know what to do when a visiting Vicar suggested adoption”

“Adoption!” said Josh astonished “Are you saying that I was adopted?”

“In short, yes” said George “But that is all we can tell you because they swore us to secrecy except to confirm that you were formally adopted. They had both intended to tell you as soon as they thought you would be able to cope with the knowledge. I am sure that they would have honoured that pledge but for the car crash which took them both way in 2016”

Aunt Emily could see Josh was upset and put her hand on his shoulder. “If it is any consolation, I know you were the love of their lives. They would not have survived as a couple if it were not for you”

Uncle George was quick to reassure his nephew along similar lines.

“My sister was always an emotional person, some might even have said highly strung, but you were the love of her life. She used to call you her rock. I’m only sorry that fate intervened, and it was left to Emily and myself to tell you all this ….. “

Josh gathered himself together and hugged them both.

“Thanks for letting me know” he said “I know it can’t have been easy for you, but I am glad you found the strength to tell me the truth. It won’t change my view of Mum and Dad; if anything it increases my feeling of love for them and what they went through bringing me up. I will frame this family tree as a memorial to them”

Two days later, Josh took a call on his mobile from a number he didn’t immediately recognize.

“This is Josh!” he said in his usual cheery voice “what can I do for you? I don’t recognise the number”

“Joshua Tree?” said a female voice

“That’s me!” he replied

“Forgive me for calling out of the blue Mr Tree but I am a researcher for the television programme Who Do You Think You Are? My name is Theresa Baldock, but most people call me Terri. “I was hoping to arrange a meeting with you in connection with your family Tree”

“Frankly, Terri, I’m not sure that would be of much interest to me right now. Can you tell me a little more?”

“You submitted your DNA on the Ancestry matching facility did you not?” said Terri

“Yes I did” replied Josh “But that was before ….. never mind …… why do you ask?”

“My client has a match with yours and he has asked me if we could arrange a discreet meeting somewhere to discuss. He was mightily impressed with the details of your family tree, it must have taken you years to assemble, it really is most impressive. The trouble is he doesn’t appear to be connected to anybody on it except you”

The meeting took place at the Selsdon Park Hotel near Croydon in Surrey one week later. Terri was a slim thirties something blond with longish hair tied in a ponytail and a very attractive manner. Josh immediately thought she could have been one of Aunt Emily’s employees.

“Delighted to meet you Josh. Many thanks for agreeing to meet. I am sorry about the cloak and dagger routine, but these DNA issues can be difficult to handle sometimes. My client will be here any moment. He is an actor with a growing profile hence the extra caution.

When he turned up Josh could not believe his eyes. It was like looking at himself. Same height same colour hair same eyes shape of nose – only the beard sported by Terri’s client obscured the total likeness.

“Hi Josh” he said “My name is Dave Roberts. “It would seem that we have a DNA match that makes us brothers! I couldn’t see how that might be possible, so I hired Terri here to do some research and here we are …”

Both men sat opposite each other in easy chairs whilst Terri poured some tea. The resemblances were remarkable.

Josh kept his recent revelations to himself for the time being. After all, he thought, if we are brothers we share a father who may or may not know of this meeting.

Terri took control of the meeting by asking the first question.

“You certainly look as if you could be brothers” she said “So let’s start with your dates of birth”

Dave Roberts said “Nice easy one to get started … 8th April 1990”

Josh nearly sprayed a mouthful of tea over his companions

“But that’s mine also!” he spluttered.

Terri again, calmly “And do you know which hospital you were born in?”

Josh was first to answer this time

“East Surrey Hospital in Redhill” he answered

It was Dave Roberts turn to splutter … “But that means we are twins!”

Terri again kept calm although she later admitted that this was one of the most bizarre matches she had ever worked on.

“DNA codes don’t normally lie” she said “But let’s not jump to possibly wrong conclusions for the moment. Are you both happy to continue this chat?”

Both brothers nodded their approval, so Terri asked another question.

“Did either of your parents ever say anything to you about your birth?”

Josh now felt obliged to tell Terri and Dave all about the conversations he had had with his Aunt and Uncle ten days ago.

“As you can imagine, I was flabbergasted to put it mildly, but I haven’t any regrets. My mum was clearly in a distressed state and someone clearly took pity on her”

Terri and Dave were totally sympathetic but when tears began to well up in Dave’s eyes attention focussed on him.

“Are you alright Dave?” asked Terri sensitively. “DNA matching isn’t 100% full prove. There could be some other explanation for your situation”

Dave composed himself and apologised for becoming ‘emotional’ as he put it.

“I think we can sort this out with one phone call to my Mum and Dad in New Zealand. They retired there last year. Mum Is English. They met originally when he came to England as a young trainee priest. They married after he was ordained but he served his vocation here in the UK rather than returning to his homeland. It was always his wish go back one day. Mum said she would go with him but only when her own career as a radiologist was at an end. He was acting Chaplin at East Surrey Hospital when I was born.” Terri again tried her best to keep imaginations from flights of fancy.

“If you are suggesting that he gave away a son to save another human being, isn’t that what Christianity is based on?”

“I have to admit that it is just the sort of unbelievable gesture the pair of them might have dreamt up” admitted Dave. Josh was feeling utterly drained by now but strangely moved by the thought that he might yet actually get to meet his biological parents. His thoughts were all over the place when he asked what he thought was a stupid question.

“Dave” he said, “Can I ask you, what is your father’s name?”

“Ah” replied Dave in a more upbeat tone “I should have said before. Roberts is only my professional stage name. Neither of my parents was very enthusiastic about my choice of occupation.

To give him his full moniker, my father is the Very Reverend Michael Forrest”

Terri thought “if you have a forest, you can surely spare a tree” but kept it to herself.