Have you ever tried to trace your family tree? If you go back far enough you could discover your ancestors were royalty, or more likely convicts. 😀
It’s a theme woven into the book I’m working on at the moment, provisionally entitled ‘Murder of Changes,’ which I hope to release early next year. Meanwhile, here’s a short story to amuse you.
‘So great aunt Paula was married to great Uncle Reg then?’
‘No, they were cousins. Paula was Mary’s daughter, who was married to Jack.’
‘But Jack is only a few years older than me.’
‘Not that Jack, silly. The one he was named after, your great, great something or other. Actually, Paula and Jack never married. When Paula fell pregnant with their son John, who was known as Jack, they moved to a different area and pretended they were husband and wife.
‘She was legally still married to Fred, but as he had never officially been declared dead, she wasn’t free to wed anyone else. Jack senior had also been married but his wife, June, Jean, something like that, had died in childbirth so he was left a widower with a young son. In those days men never looked after the children so the baby was farmed out to be brought up by an elderly aunt.’
‘What was the baby’s name? Don’t tell me….’
‘Yes, his firstborn was named Jack after his father. It was a right palaver when he died, and both sons tried to claim their inheritance. It took years to sort it all out. Apparently, he had been quite a rich man but the main winners were the legal people who took a great chunk out of the estate in fees.’
‘What happened in the end? Which son inherited?’
‘Well it was eventually settled in favour of the legitimate child from his first wife, but the son didn’t live to enjoy it. After the verdict he went to an ale house to celebrate, had a few too many, and was attacked by vagabonds on his way home and killed. Maybe word had got around about his inheritance or perhaps he was just unlucky.’
‘How do you know all this?’
‘I was interested in researching the family history, then discovered a library of old letters and photos, chatted to some of the older family members, and with a bit of professional help, pieced it all together.
‘The second son, John, put in another claim and was actually granted what was left of the funds. That was very unusual in those days, and it’s not clear how he managed it. There were different laws in Wales and England about bastards inheriting so he might have used that, or Paula’s first husband might have been officially declared dead and they married secretly, or he could have used his contacts to bribe the right people. Who knows?’
‘So the money passed down through him?’
‘Not exactly. To add to the mix another son appeared claiming to be the first-born of Jack and Jane. That was her name, Jane, not June.’
‘Please don’t tell me he was also named Jack.’
‘No, his name was James. It was never clearly explained why he wasn’t on the scene when Jane died, or why he left the other two boys to fight it out and only pitched in when his younger brother died. It seems he was a bit of a black sheep so he could have been sent off to a monastery, or perhaps to one of the colonies until he mended his ways. Whatever the reason, he didn’t have the funds to dispute the latest ruling so the cash stayed with Jack, I mean John.’
‘This is fascinating. Where did the family tree go from there? How far back did you manage to discover?’
‘It was very common to give sons the same name as their fathers, and the ancient relatives did seem to move around quite a lot so we can’t be 100% sure it’s accurate. Usually young men stayed within the confines of their own parish and married local girls, so it was fairly easy to check church records, gravestones and so on. Our ancestors tended to be more nomadic but we’ve traced back to about 1540.’
‘How did it work out between John and James? What happened to the family fortune?’
‘James disappeared again, John married and had three children, all daughters. Two remained old maids, one married but after losing her first child, a boy, was unable to have any more so there were no direct male descendants.
‘After many years, James came back on the scene when John died, and resurrected the court case. This time he appeared to have plenty of money, and after another protracted court case was able to prove his claim. He was awarded the residue of the estate, and even entitled to the riches John had built up from various business interests. John’s wife had died by now and it seems James was totally ruthless, and the two spinsters ended up destitute.’
‘Tell me more about our recent relatives. I remember Grandma and Grandpa. How were their parents related to John or James?’
Not tonight, son. It’s late and I need my sleep. We can talk more tomorrow.’
‘Well at least I’ve now got an idea about how you got to be so rich, despite exorbitant inheritance tax.’
‘No Jack. That’s not how I ended up so wealthy. It wasn’t through an inheritance.’
‘What did you do then? I know how difficult it is to make money from running a business these days.’
‘Simple. I robbed a bank. See you in the morning. Goodnight.’
© Voinks September 2018