Identifying Ancestors is Not for the Feint Hearted

by Gael McCarte

Digging for ancestral roots is not for the feint hearted.

My father’s Scottish accent, his expressions like “wee lambies”, “hen”, “duck”, and his insistence that my English mother pressure cook tripe and Scottish Broth provided our cultural frame in Australia.  We were Scots. Even non Scots agree “if you are lucky enough to be Scottish, then you are lucky enough.”

Scots have been described as “…some of the kindest, most generous people… the pace of (Highland) life is gentler than that elsewhere…”  I own that.

My Scottish ancestors were entrepreneurs, a baker with a string of bakery stores and a butcher who owned a number of shops, females both.

My grandfather lived in the old Gorbals.  His WW1 Royal Dublin Fusilier regiment was all but annihilated at Gallipoli.  Lucky to survive, he went to the Western front.  In a book written by one who was there was a photograph of blinded men.  With bandages or one hand over their eyes, other hand on the shoulder of the one in front they stood.  My granddad was blinded there.  In the confusion he was demobbed to Wales, near the fire station in Flynt.  Another researcher’s grandmother (as a girl) remembered the stir when the blinded Scot came to town.  Tradesmen were in short supply and high demand, so with help he opened a carpentry business.   My online contact would take photographs of the area and return the disposable camera so I could develop the pictures.  I never heard from him or my camera again.  Another on line researcher sent me historical photographs.

I claim this history as grandparents fighting at Gallipoli confirms an Australian’s personhood.

Innuendo whispered that my English roots were potted plants, gypsies. I dismissed it, focusing on my English grandmother.   I procured her birth certificate.  It was not hers, it belonged to her namesake with the same birthday.   My English research screeched to a halt.

Our maternal grandfather owned a store.  He sold from the store and from his horse and cart as he drove wares to the countryside.  A rag and bone man, he also sold horses.   We had pugilists, circus owners and performers in our tree.

Somehow the “therefore” eluded me.  My cousin discovered that our maternal grandfather, the rag and bone man was a full-blooded Celtic gypsy.  Taking his mother’s name, the identity of his father remains unknown.  Illiterate, he loved to be read to.

Travellers call themselves Minceir or Pavees. In Irish they’re Lucht Siúil, meaning “the walking people”.  Some books idealize their life on the road, some call travellers “cons”, “tinkers” while others claim traveller life involves alcoholism, violence and grinding poverty.  Some of these books have input from travellers, some do not.

Travellers experienced enforced showers and separation from other children at school, inadequate education and stigmatization within the greater community as adults.

The destruction of traveller camps that leaves bewildered children homeless has spawned supporting social media sites.  On one “Jimbo” wrote “i was born a tinker ill tell u no lie a tinker ill live and a tinker ill die now dont get me wrong i carry no shame the lord made me a tinker and im proud ov me name.”

A non traveller, reviewing a documentary where Scottish travellers were harassed by Police wrote “I couldn’t believe…the levels of bigotry they face(d) everywhere … it was shocking…they were basically told nobody wanted them in their town (so) they moved on…2011 can you believe it?”

Responses to the 2011 series, “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” range from

“I … struggle to see what the ‘Traveller community’ contributes to our society. They cheat our old people, turn rural towns into battlegrounds, and raise children who have no aspiration except to join the ‘welfare queue’… friendly or devout, they seem to be in a cul de sac, not good for them or the rest of us”, to “I have been in travelling people’s camps many years ago and found them friendly and respectful, unlike the racist stereo types you lot are portraying.”

I equally embrace my Scottish and my traveller genes.  As the renown historian and philosopher (Pop Eye) said, “I yam what I yam”.

What have you unearthed digging up your family’s past?

Gael is a psychologist, marriage and family therapist, part of a team of forensic psychologists intervening with offenders in the Department of Justice, and a consultant and mediator within the Family Court. She is also a wife and mother to 3 as well as a published author, blogger, and seminar speaker.

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