Do you really know who you are?

The advent of the internet and the profusion of social network sites have made world wide communication easy and instant.The researching of family trees and discovering your roots is now such a popular hobby that numerous websites and books are devoted to the subject, It is exciting to think that you may be descended from nobility or even from a character of notoriety with a lineage reaching back generations with a pure blood line but this is frequently NOT the case. Anyone embarking on researching the family tree must be prepared the unexpected and the unexplained and probably a few skeletons in the cupboard as well.

When my brother contacted a formerly unknown second cousin on a social network site we were excited to think that gaps could now be filled in . How wrong we were and how unsuspecting of the knowledge that would be divulged. We (my brother and I ) were always aware that the maternal side of the family would present a challenge as the family were travelling people with no written records and we had to rely on word of mouth and as most of the older generation had passed away and the younger generations now settled and integrated into the community and knew very little we did not get very far. As far as we knew our father originated from Co. Cork in Ireland but for some reason we were not encouraged to talk about the past and family history. It was a few casual words in an email to my brother that turned my world upside down and the words were 'you and your sister do not share the same grandfather'.I read those words over and over and reached the only conclusion possible. We had different fathers. We were taken aback and yet that did explain some of the things that our father had said - that when he died there would be things we would not understand and my mother's frequently expressed desire that she would outlive my father. When he died I had the task of arranging everything and dealing with his affairs as my mother had died 2 years previously and he had told me that everything I would need was in a black box and true to this word all his personal papers, will etc were there with a piece of plain paper with a Polish name on it. We thought nothing of it and carried on with our lives until the email this year. I arranged to meet the distant relative with a view to finding out more and at her request I took some family photos including one of my mother and her sister and was then told that my mother was actually my aunt, my aunt was my mother which made my brother my cousin and my cousin my half sister and my father was no relation to me at all! It appeared that my aunt had married and her husband had gone to war and she had fallen in love with a Polish soldier and I was the result. My mother had married in 1941 and had a son in 1942 after a traumatic pregnancy and birth and it was decided that it would be convenient for all parties if I were brought up as sister to the child born in 1942. This knowledge shatterd me - all that I thought was mine, my family and my roots, were swept away from me. The only certain family that I now had was my son and my daughter and their father had died when they were 4 and 5.

I accept that the parents who brought me up made a big sacrifice and I am grateful for all that did for me in my life but how I wish that they had had the courage to tell me the truth. I realise now why my 'aunt' was so close to me and my children and it could not have been easy for her watching me call her sister 'Mum' and my children calling her Nana. I often wonder if my biological father knew much of me and whether he returned to Poland and if I have any family in Poland. I accept that because all of this happened years ago I will never know the whole truth and will always wonder about the family I never knew. So to any of you tracing your family tree just be prepared for literally anything and never assume you are who you think you are!!


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