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7 Apr 2018

Letters from 1921 and from my DNA sequence

You can't hide your letters from me, bud.

A long time ago, back in 1921 as the world settled down to a brief peace, my grandmother was due, and, later, born. "I hoped she would be called 'Ellen' after me," wrote the baby's grandmother, a crotchety old woman born before the Crimean War.

Everybody in the letter is now gone of course, including my grandmother (aged 96) who limped on until 2018.

But in the letter from the time of her birth is mentioned an abstruse relative, cousin Margaret from Westcliffe(-on-sea). One of my first tasks as a child genealogist was to peer at old maps and yes to conclude this was probably the Westcliffe near Southend rather than the one in rural Lincolnshire.

Margaret appears once, at the dawn of my grandmother's long life and is never mentioned again. It eventually transpired she was Ellen's first cousin a poor orphan thing, a jewellery polisher from Soho no less.

(And yes that is the Soho in London not the one in the Mendips!)

The shutters have long since come down on Ellen's day. The letter briefly puts Margaret and her very London childhood on the same page as Ellen, who, I slightly exaggerate, grew up in a castle. The accidents of birth and the lives of two very different sisters in the previous generation.

Well now, it is indeed very much 2018 and why am I telling you allthis?

The letters in my DNA are recently sequenced and they shout very loudly that I'm related to folk in Rensselaer county, New York, a mostly German area in the eastern upstate bordering New Hampshire. It's the place where cousin Margaret's sister Mrs Starck arrived a lonely undocumented teenage bride from Soho with her older Prussian husband, in 1863.

Margaret would hardly remember her and you'd never tell from her will, penned from Hildaville avenue, Westcliffe, that she had any relatives at all. Only her devoted cousin Ellen.

What a shock that was to learn.

So, as the dust eats us all up, memories, dislocated teenage brides (delivered to a lunatic asylum before time progressed further), hand-penned letters about long-ago babies, a silent box holding 96 years disinterestedly... My deeply encoded genetic letters back it all up.

You can't hide your letters from your genetic buds.

I'm off to marvel at the Hanoverian prinzessen and their likeness to my somehow-cousins over in Rensselaer county.

And say a quiet prayer for Sarah (yes, that was her name).

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