Who Do You Think You Are?

rove3_billboardRove, a new work by one of our Associate Artists, J. Fergus Evans, is a personal exploration into family stories, heritage and ancestry, running until this Sunday 22 March. This emotional piece, infused with Evans’ poetic charm and gorgeous folk music by Rhiannon Armstrong, follows his family history stretching back to his Irish grandfather’s early days in the United States. In the final week of performances, our Marketing Coordinator, Allison Gold, looks into her own family history as well as those of other Albany staff.

As I watched Rove, I couldn’t help but relate Fergus’ experience to my own; he’s from the southern United States with Irish ancestry, while I’m from Canada with a very mixed bag of ancestry. It’s the North American plight for the most part; to be uprooted from your ancestral home and start from the ground up in a new country. Ancestry is such a hot topic in North America compared to the United Kingdom. While many people have lived here for generations, in places like Canada, it is very much the opposite.

I have always wondered what my family might look like if they hadn’t immigrated so long ago to Canada, it might not even exist today. I have family from all walks of life and from all different cultures. While much of my background remains a mystery to me, the things I do know of it are extremely varied. I do know that on my maternal line, the last Turner left Waterford, Ireland for a new home in Canada in the 1800s. I have also been told (so this may not even be true – could very well be one of my grandfather’s tall tales) that we’re descendent from actual Vikings. I am also part French Canadian (as a Brazeau family member) which means I’m a fluent French speaker too.

My paternal line is even more cryptic. I’m aware that one of my grandmothers was Northern Irish, even part of the Orange Order, meaning she was fiercely opposed to my parents marrying in a Catholic Church. But the most recent discovery was made when I first moved here to the United Kingdom to study my MA at Goldsmiths, my father told me about my great-grandfather Henry Gold, who last lived in a small town in Hertfordshire before immigrating. Imagine, here I am a foreigner to this country, taking a risk and moving here, when one of my close ancestors did the exact opposite move not long before.

Again though, I really have no evidence of any of these stories being true. Such is the plight of a 3rd, 4th or even 5th generation Canadian – a lot of us have lost any previous identity and have literally been absorbed into a whole new cultural identity. Canada is still such a young country, but it has been even more years in the making, building upon the cumulative lives of all those who decided to pack up their existence and take a chance somewhere new. I really envy those who have more of an idea of who their family actually were, who can track their beginnings hundreds of years back. Thinking of all the people it took, all the chances that were made that led up to my own existence here is all so humbling. Suppose one of my ancestors hadn’t left their home country for Canada, taken a chance on a foreign country and made the scary leap-of-faith that is emigrating? Then I wouldn’t be here in this ‘new’ country now.

Allison Gold, Marketing Coordinator, The Albany

Have a look at some other ancestral stories collected from the rest of the Albany team:

-There is a rumour that when my family moved over from Ireland, we changed our name from Montague to McCall in order to avoid some tax thing. This was many moons ago so we can’t confirm it, but it’s one of those family stories that we love to tell.

-Even though I wasn’t born in London, I’ve managed to find my way back to the neighbourhood my great-grandfather was born in, Deptford. William was a bare knuckle fighter (around the late 1800’s), as well as a beer bottler in one of the local breweries.  The first time he met his prospective son-in-law, also named William (Bill), they had a fight in the street. Bill must have won because he married Williams’ Daughter in the borough of Greenwich, where I now life. When I walk down the high street I often wonder if my great-grandad would recognise anything here now – probably not. I’m not sure how far my London family tree goes back, around 5 generations at least. I’ll investigate properly one day.

-I’m a direct descendant of Edward I, and also Charles Blomfield, the former Bishop of London, who has a huge, larger-than-life effigy on his grave in St Paul’s Cathedral. My great great-grandfather, Arthur Blomfield, was a noted architect who employed Thomas Hardy. One day they were excavating a graveyard as part of a building project. A coffin was dropped and split open to reveal a skeleton – with two skulls.

-My surname originates from Ireland not England believe it or not as a group of English traveled over there & began working in the role as we now know to be a Butler. When they came back over to England half went North which is where my family are from & the other South.

-I’m a descendant of Samuel Smiles, who wrote the book ‘Self-Help’ in 1855 which is still in print today: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Smiles Who actually, come to think of it, has a local connection – although Scottish, he ended up living on Granville Park road in Blackheath​ -a short walk from the Albs!

-I moved to Rotherhithe from New Zealand only to find out my ancestors worked on the docks in Rotherhithe and were all married/baptised in the church I walk past every day (I thought they were Scottish). Then my great great-grandfather (William George Cornelius Hingston) sailed to NZ in one of the ships built in the area!  I don’t know as much about the Golds, but I know that they were a well-known baking family in Lanarkshire in Scotland and had award winning oatcakes! Oh, and I am somehow related to Oscar Wilde, but I am not sure exactly how – something like a great great great uncle…

To hear more fascinating stories of family roots, don’t miss J. Fergus Evans in Rove. Performances run until Sunday 22 March. For more information and to book tickets, click here.

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