It’s been a long time since I posted a blog entry tagged with “genealogy” (over three years, in fact). I find it to be a hobby that I pursue in fits and starts – periods of all-encompassing obsession followed by long periods of total inactivity. But the old Family Tree has been fleshed out nicely since I last updated you, dear reader. It has also acquired a most surprising and welcome addition.

My Dad and his Granny, Isabella Birrell
My Dad and his Granny, Isabella Birrell

I’ve continued to concentrate on improving the quality and depth of the records and sources that I hold for more recent generations, rather than attempting to trace lines far into the dim and distant past. As more and more contemporary records are released into the public domain (and increasingly placed online as a matter of course), this task becomes easier, and throws up the possibility of making the kind of startling discovery that I encountered last Wednesday evening.

Those of you living in the U.K. will be aware that every household was required by law to complete a decennial census return last month. A few days later, under the 100 year rule, the 1911 census of Scotland was made available online at the Scotland’s People website. I had been eagerly anticipating this event since developing an interest in my family history, so I wasted no time in scouring the records for additional details of my relatives from north of the border.

It wasn’t long before this new trove of data revealed that my great-grandmother, Isabella Birrell, had an additional sibling that I wasn’t previously aware of, named on the 1911 census as “Annie”, aged 5.

A quick cross-reference with the birth records and I learned that the full name of my newly-found great-great-aunt was Ann Cunningham Birrell, born 1905.

I then searched the marriage records to see if Ann had ever wed, which was when things started to take an unexpected twist:

Marriage_JohnConners_AnnBirrell_1933

John Conners from Dundee? Now why does that ring a bell?

jc

Oh yeah! That’ll be it! I have a very good friend named John Conners who I met when we worked together at Marshalls for a little over two years, and he hails from Dundee too! Coincidence? I dropped him a quick email containing details of Ann and his namesake. Thirty minutes later I received his reply:

jcemail

Well, it looks like this. John’s grandmother is the younger sister (by almost 20 years) of my great-grandmother Isabella. Which makes John and I second cousins once removed!

JamesBirrell

To be honest this news is still sinking in, and I’m not sure what comments to make or conclusions to draw. Except to say that it truly is a small world, and when embarking on seemingly prosaic family tree investigations, you just never know what you might discover. After five years of “bone-digging” and adding the names of often ancient and obscure relatives into my family tree, it’s a very strange feeling to be adding the details of a good friend and erstwhile colleague to that same database.

Oh, and John – welcome to the family, cousin!