Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Family Legends, Mythology and Tall Tales, and Princess Alice of Gloucester.

Over the years I've learned to take family legends with a grain of salt. Someone will swear black and blue that the family are descended from the Duke of Suchnsuch, or that the famous artist Whosit Whatsisface is a cousin, and so on. I love these stories because they give you something to work towards - it's easier to find a connection if you know to look for it - and they may turn out to be true... but often, they are not.

A branch of my family was said to be related to a famous sporting personality, but I've been unable to find a connection between the two families. My gut feeling is that his unusual surname has made someone in my family say "We must be cousin", and that's been repeated on down the line as "We are cousins" until little ol' party pooper me came along and got facts all over the story.

My Great Great Great Grandmother Howard is, according to some members of the family, descended from THE Howard family - the Howards that produced Anne Boleyn and Katherine Howard (the two Queens of Henry VIII who exited the marriage shorter than they entered it). That's a really interesting family to be related to, but I have my doubts. One relative told me they thought perhaps our ancestry included someone who worked for the noble Howard family and took their surname when one was needed, which would fit in with what we know of our ancestors being of substantially more humble origin than THE Howards. That's the theory I subscribe to: some long forgotten ancestor of mine was the Howard's washerwoman.

My mother has a bowl, an heirloom with a story attached. It came from her mother's family, the Robertsons. The legend is that the bowl came to Australia with the Robertson family when they first emigrated here in the 19th century. It has been handed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter ever since. There are several things wrong with that story:
* If it is always handed on from daughter to daughter, then how is it the Robertson bowl? Surely the surname of the owner would change every generation.
* My mother's mother is the eldest daughter... of the youngest son. There are four sisters (and three brothers) ahead of him in line for the bowl. Why did they break tradition and give it to him?

So there was already a little niggle in my mind about the the bowl. I took it to a local antique dealer to ask if he could tell me anything more about it. He identified it straight away, and showed me a picture of an identical bowl in a book. The two big details about it that stood out to me:
* Made in Australia
* Between 1906 and the late 1920s.

So... the Robertson family bowl, brought over from Scotland in the 19th century and handed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter ever since... and nothing of that can be true! It's still a family treasure, and the truth hasn't diminished it any in my eyes. It is now my go-to story for the inaccuracy of family legends.

Now... now I've acquired Dave's family tree along with him, and there's a family legend: they are the cousins of Princess Alice of Gloucester (born Alice Christabel Montagu Douglas Scott). Like all such legends, it's vague about the connection, only calling her a "cousin" without specifying any degree of cousinship. The difference this time is that the family did move in rather more noble circles than my Howard ancestors. They were wealthy landowners in Malaysia, related to a South Australian Premier, and they were business associates and possibly family to Sir Walter Scott's close relatives. Sir Walter Scott is ultimately descended from the same family as Alice Montagu Douglas Scott, but quite distantly. If this is the connection the legend speaks of, then they had extensive knowledge of their ancestry. Why couldn't they have written it down?! The other possibility is that, if this story is true, then perhaps there's a nearer connection between the families and I haven't found it yet.

Whatever the truth, it's a better bet than finding a royal branch hiding in my tree.


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