Woman’s shocking message brought my tree tumbling down

Family trees are awkward customers: they can lead you badly astray. For many moons, thanks to sloppy detective work and a series of guesses, I was under the impression that my mother’s family – the Browns – came from Cambridge, probably en route from Brighton.

This was based mainly on the fact that my grandfather was a gardener, and maybe he came from a long line of gardeners. I found a gardening Brown in Cambridge, and another in Brighton. Other things seemed to fit.

Brown of course is not a helpful name. It’s right up there with Smith on the unhelpfulness level where family trees are concerned, with the additional complication that you can spell it with an additional e if the fancy takes you.

To say I was confused would be an understatement. I was completely deceived. And I might have gone on with my self-deception for ever, if I had not had a shocking message from a woman called Nicola.

She had been dabbling in DNA and had discovered that she was my second cousin. Her grandmother was my mother’s cousin. Great! New relatives: what’s not to like?

In this case, nothing at all. Both Nicola and her mum, Jill, were delightful, and Jill turned out to be something of a Miss Marple (her daughter’s phrase). She had done some proper detective work, found that her grandfather was my grandfather’s brother, but almost 20 years younger. It was a big family.

What’s more, it was about as solidly Norfolk as you could get. Not a trace of Cambridge or Brighton. More Cringleford, Hethersett, Thurton and Bawburgh – among others. And many of them living in Norwich, just down the road, as it were, from my grandparents’ house on Hall Road, next to the butcher’s and now demolished.

I don’t know why my mother never mentioned them. Maybe she did, and I wasn’t listening. I am now returning to look at the maternal tree with more diligence and intelligence, and hope I can add to Miss Marple’s already impressive investigations. Relatively speaking, that is.

(Incidentally Nicola and Jill are not their real names. We don’t want to make this too easy, do we?)