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Ian Maxwell and Bill

Ian Maxwell and Bill

Roger McGough reads Keats’ ‘Ode to Autumn’. It is nice to hear. It’s advertising Waitrose… Next, The Mail on Sunday is giving away The Sound of Music CD tomorrow: oh good, my copy is scratched. And hang on, The Sunday Times is giving away – what?! – Strange Days by The Doors. Strange days…


I know I’m a bit obsessed with family history, but this has been an unusual week. It seems reasonable to have met up with four first cousins (family funeral), but I’ve just spent the afternoon with a second cousin, and, earlier in the week, had email conversations with two third cousins (different branches), one fourth cousin – another fourth cousin phoned me – and also with three fifth cousins.

My second cousin, Ian Maxwell – his father’s father and my mother’s mother were siblings – has news of a step backwards and also forwards in family history. I’ve always been interested in coming forward and meeting the live cousins. But most family historians are working backwards (I am not immune to this, but it’s not my main interest), in which case they usually hit a wall in the eighteenth century, when documents start to be unavailable (unless you are aristocratically well-connected). The Maxwell family – well, a group of its members – has now tried to cross that wall by using DNA testing, and Ian was approached as a male descendant from a known Maxwell through at least six or seven generations, to provide a swab.

The result is in. It seems that the hot match (a slang term used by one family history site) is with a group in a Northern American state. Which seems, apparently, to suggest that one of our Maxwell forebears was sent to the penal colony in what is now the USA, and that one of his descendants somehow managed to get back to Scotland, join the army, go to the West Indies, come back with a mistress and an illegitimate son, and then leave nature to run its course (much of it in an area north of the Tyne from Walker through Wallsend to Tynemouth). As a result: Ian, me and a cast of several hundred others.

Not sure how I feel about these swabs. Possibly a growing sense of insanity. But it has to be said, some of my best friends are distant cousins.


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