WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
By Marilyn DiCara
Marilyn DiCara, Independent Housing Consultant begins her journey looking into her fascinating ancestry
Curiosity has always been one of my key characteristics. That desire to learn what we do not yet know is strong and complex. Until recently, my curiosity manifested itself in terms of being an early adopter, a strategist, second-guessing what’s on the horizon and what’s to come. I always looked forward and rarely ever back; until now.
Maybe it’s an age thing, but in the last couple of years, I’ve had this increasing urge to find out more about my family, my ancestors, about the chain of humans that brought me to where I am now, the people who made me happen.
I live in London, however, I grew up on the tiny Mediterranean island of Malta where everyone knows everything about their family. One of over 50 cousins from my father’s side, first cousins, second cousins and third cousins, all people who you know, are commonplace. People I know there have studied their family trees and traced them back over several generations, to the days of the Knights of St John, and beyond.
However, my mother’s side of the family was different. Born in 1929 of a Maltese father and an English mother meant that mum was half-English half-Maltese. My mother’s mother – my English nanna – was widowed in her early 30s; she lived with us and spoke about her previous life in Lancashire, England. Her name was Edith Emma Cox and it is her line of my ancestry that I am curious to explore.
In terms of this family tree, I’m starting with a sapling; a few branches of just three generations starting with my grandparents, my parents, my siblings and I. The few clues I have, include a copy of Edith’s birth certificate and, from this, the address where she was born in 1903.
A few moments on Google Earth and I discovered the cottage where she was born, still there today in Mossley, a village in the north of the Peak District. On my laptop, I explored her village, wondering about her life and her family (my family!) there.
One hot summer’s day in 2018, I diverted a car journey to drive through Mossley. It was easy to find the house, by then Google Earth had given me a postcode that I’d tapped into the satnav in my car. At first unsure what exactly I should do as I stood outside ‘Nanna’s house’, I knocked on the door. A woman answered and I said, “Hi, you don’t know me and this may seem strange to you, but my grandmother was born in this house”. I remember clutching the birth certificate, pointing to it as a form of evidence to support this potentially awkward incursion into the current resident’s life.
The woman was friendly but I was conscious that to her, I was a complete stranger. Thankfully, she asked if I wanted to have a look inside and she took me through a small living room, then a kitchen and out to the back of the cottage. Her neighbour popped her head around and I explained the reasons for my visit. Conversation from thereon was easy and both women gave me loads of information about the row of cottages, pointing out where the cotton mill used to stand and where, for many years, it would have provided employment for families in the village.
Nanna’s cottage overlooked a row of luscious green hills, with a valley and a little river running through the village. It was beautiful. As I explored the village further I felt I was walking in the footsteps of my ancestors, my great grandparents, perhaps great aunts and uncles too.
Another clue in my possession is a marriage certificate that tells me that, in 1928, Nanna Edith married my Maltese Grandad (who died before I was born) at a Catholic church in Islington, north London. Once again, Google Earth showed me that they lived on what is now one of London’s busiest roads, on directly opposite sides of the road from one another, the church just one mile away from their homes. More questions: how did they meet? What was my grandfather doing in London, miles away from his home and family in Malta? How did he travel here? How did he and his new bride travel to Malta where they were welcomed by the family and lived for the rest of their lives? What about Nanna’s siblings and their descendants? Do I have second and third cousins here in the UK too? Do I happen to know any of them?
It became evident that this was going to be a bigger project of discovery than a quick search on Google Earth and a visit to Mossley. A project that I am about to embark upon now and one that is perfectly suited to these Covid-19 lockdown days.
This is a project that will involve learning about history and understanding socio-economic reasons about why people took decisions to do what they did, to move around places and to live in other countries that led, eventually, to my very existence and to who I am today. I shall explore the internet apps like Ancestry.com that I know will provide some answers and satisfy some of my intense curiosity.
I’m starting this puzzle with just a few pieces and I know that I shall need to collect many more before I can start to see a proper picture: a complex puzzle that I know will be as emotional and personal as it will be exciting.