Monday, October 23, 2006

Where's my crown?

Over the weekend I received an email from an unknown relative living in California. This enterprising fellow is on my mother's side of the family, and has succeeded in tracing his lineage all the way back to King Edward I - old longshanks himself. Even more impressive, he's managed to find two separate lines that lead back to Maleus Scotorum (which you don't want to mis-type).

I've always been a bit wary of genealogy. It's very seductive, tracing your ancestry, but it's also all too easy to spend vast amounts of time and money building up a picture of all the people who have come before you. And yet in the end it makes bugger all difference to the person you are right now. On my father's side of the family, thanks to my Uncle's tireless work, I can trace very easily back to the Glasgow tobacco barons (and slave traders), who made a great deal of money out of that unhappy period in the history of the British Empire. But I can also see from that tree that I am the second son of a second son for seven generations - no great inheritance coming my way.

As it happens, the Oswald family fortune - a large estate covering much of South Ayrshire - was gambled away by my great great uncle. His one lasting legacy is Ayr race-course, which he gave to a grateful town. The estate at Auchincruive* had dwindled to a shade of its former grandeur when it was sold to a certain Mr John Hannah, who himself bequeathed it to the nation to form the Hannah Institute for Dairy Research. Auchencruive is now part of the Scottish Agricultural College.

There is one interesting, if meaningless, fact that springs from Harry McLaughlin's great work. Right down at the bottom of the third page, alongside my nephews and nieces, is a certain Rocco John Ritchie, born in 2000. Yes, my great, great grandfather was Guy Ritchie's great, great, great grandfather. But more importantly, his and Madge's young son can legitimately claim to be descended from five Kings of England.

It's a rum old world.

* someone sent my dad a list of all the farms that made up the Auchincruive estate at the end of the nineteenth century. The Horse Doctor, who was born in Ayr,** looked over it and was able to tell us that almost all of them were now the names of housing and industrial estates around the town.
** her uncle Danny works at Auchincruive and came across evidence there that her family have been in service to mine for generations. Rum old world indeed.

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