Growing up in middle class, white bred Australia, my dark hair, almond eyes and wide face often elicited the question “Where did you come from ?”
Answering “my mother’s vagina” usually earned me a clip over the ear, but it also sewed the seed of desire to know more about my ancestry.
I started with my Mum’s side of the family. Her stock were comprised of garden-variety Anglo-Celtic names such as Petrie, Moore, Ogilvy and Ross. Using a little information I’d gleaned from relatives about places and dates, I was able to hit up NSW Births Deaths and Marriages to pad out the family tree.
The most notable ancestor was John Richardson – Convict and Explorer. Transported for stealing 9lbs of turnip seeds (wtf ?) he ended up a noted botanist and collector. More importantly, he has his own Wikipedia entry and I don’t – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Richardson_(convict) – conversely, I have more Instagram followers.
There was also a Mayor of Bowral, a 101 year old great grandfather who died as a result of being kicked by a cow. If a violent temper is an inherited trait, that cow was probably my great grandmother.
So far, so meh ! So I thought I’d check out Dad’s side of the family.
I spoke to my Grandmother Jessie. It was common knowledge that my Dad was the product of a WW2 liaison between Jessie and an American Marine stationed in Sydney.
I’m very tall amongst a family of Lilliputians, so I was very interested to learn how tall was my Grandfather. “I don’t know love, I never saw him standing up” was Jessie’s reply (this is crap by the way, they were together for almost the entirety of his 6 month stay, but Jessie, like her Granddaughter is a shit-stirrer of considerable renown).
However, Jessie did give me some vital clues, his name was Martin Cleary, he was from St Charles Missouri and his ship was called The Greylag.
Hmmm Cleary ? More Bog Irish ! When was I going to discover that I was going to be descended from some exotic creature like Princess Carriboo ? (who incidentally was a big fake and also bog Irish, but that’s another story).
How on Earth was I going to research an American from all the way Down Under ? Fortunately I discovered a website called Ancestry.com which is to an amateur genealogist is like me is what I imagine Pornhub.com is for perverts (yes, I’m judging you, both hands back on the keyboard thank you).
The site had everything – war records, disembarkation records, census records – I was in Heaven !
And within minutes, I’d found him ! My Grandfather ! For three blissful minutes I imagined hanging out with my Pop and doing whatever the fuck they do in Missouri.
But then, as I filtered through more material, I discovered ….. he’d died ! 5 years before ! 35 years of Christmas and Birthday presents straight out the window !
Where there’s a will, I want to be in it, so using the site I discovered that he had a daughter. Sandra. My aunt ! Did she know about the Antipodean Clearys ? Born on the wrong side of the blanket ?
Plugging her information in to whitepages.com I found her phone number. Throwing caution to the wind (and in my excitement, no regard for time zones) I gave her a call.
To say Aunt Sandra was thrilled to receive a call at 3am from an overly-excited crazy woman with a strange accent would be a complete and utter lie.
I tried the subtle approach “So hey, so sorry your Dad died but my Grandma is having a birthday and apparently she was friends with your Dad, so can you email me a picture of him or something ?”
Silence. Then tears (Sandra)
“Are you my sister ?”
Silence. Oh Fuck ! (Me)
“Ummmm, nooooo, do you have a sister in Australia ?”
“I don’t know, but there was always a rumour in our family that my Dad had a girlfriend in Australia who had a baby, but her husband came back …..”
“No, no, not me. I’m not your sister (oh fuck it !) I’m your niece ! My Dad is your brother”
“Can I speak to him ?” (Um, no lady, because he doesn’t know you exist and I suspect I’m about to get a clip over the ear)
Anyhoo, without getting too emotionally overwrought, the phone call ended on a high and we swapped details.
After the obligatory clip over the ear from my old man and a little awkwardness, Dad and I flew to Missouri to meet the family.
And. They. All. Looked. Like. Me !
Turns out Grandpa was Native American, Lakota Sioux in fact (you know, the ones that got Custer at the Battle of Little Big Horn)
I embraced my Native American ancestry, I was a Warrior Princess ! I changed my name to Dancing Flower for a couple of hours until I copped another clip over the ear.
Fascinated, I completed the Ancestry.com ancestryDNA test. A couple of weeks after hocking up a lot of spit and spilling it down the sides of a test-tube I discovered that I was 21% Native American. The rest was Nordic (because Yay ! Vikings !) Irish (explains why I love a drink) and from Western Europe.
The whole experience was a life changing one. It brought a family together. Took me to Missouri (admittedly not a destination on my bucket list, but the Arch was nice) and gave me an amazing insight in to myself and my sons (they are now always the Indians in Cowboys and Indians).
I encourage anyone who is looking for a great family project and an understanding on what makes you, well you, to log on to ancestry.com and start the journey.
Lisa (Dancing Flower) xxx