Friday, 6 April 2012

Who Do I Think I Am?

I love the TV programme "Who Do You Think You Are?" It's reality TV of the best kind. History made totally relevant. I was enthralled by the episodes about David Suchet, Esther Rantzen, and J. K Rowling.
When I was a child and people at school asked me where I was from, my parents told me to say that I was "Anglo-Indian". From time to time I got asked, "Where's Anglo-India?" which was a hard question to answer. A lot of British people don't know much about the history of their own Empire. The answer is , of course, "South of the Himalayas and North of Ceylon."
About twenty years ago some of my relatives on my mother's side took up genealogy as a pastime and traced our ancestry back to England in the 19th century and even earlier. Apparently I am descended from Cocksedges, Hills and Harringtons, who lived in East Anglia. One of my ancestors was a baker in Suffolk in the 18th-century. This news gave me an odd feeling. Clearly I was more English than I ever imagined.
I always took it for granted that the Indian bit of me was on my father's side. After all, they looked obviously darker. So recently I started researching my Gasper ancestors too, using internet sources. Millions of records of births, marriages and deaths are now available on the internet and most of the archives are free or make only a very small charge. What I found surprised me. The Gaspers intermarried with the Blakes, and in earlier generations with the Andrews and the Grahams but nowhere could I find any Indian names. All were members of the Church of England and all of them lived in Calcutta, where in 1824, a Henry Gasper was the harbour master. The earliest Gasper whose records I have so far found in India was a soldier who died in Madras on 4th October 1780. He was probably a casualty of the Second Anglo-Mysore War. On 10th of September 1780, the British forces under Colonel Munro suffered considerable losses in a battle at Pollilur and retreated to nearby Madras. A soldier wounded in the battle could well have died there a few weeks later.
The Blakes, my grandmother's family, were in their turn descended from families called Morgan, Davis, Cartwright and Smith. Even tracing them back five generations did not uncover any Indian names. My great-grandmother was born Ruth Morgan and married into the Blakes, a family that had been in India since the beginning of the eighteenth-century. In 1711, Francis Blake married Katherina Darosareo at Fort St George, Madras - the very first British military fortress to be built in India. Francis Blake must have been in the forces of the old East India Company, way back even before the British Empire acquired sovereignty. Darosareo is the only foreign name I can find anywhere in all these records and it is Portuguese.
Growing more curious all the time, I traced the records back further and discovered that Gaspers had been living in England in the seventeenth century and even earlier (in Wiltshire, Somerset and Kent to be precise). Some of them had been non-conformists So where exactly are my Indian ancestors? I am puzzled and will carry on trying to solve this mystery.

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