Another Genealogy letter:
My partner’s maternal Grandfather is a bit of an enigma: He vanished, apparently without trace, leaving his wife with three young children. The children suffered a great deal as a result, their mother took them back to live with her parents, but as the progeny of a broken home, they were shunned by what passed for society, never invited to parties, at best pitied. His daughter never told my partner much about him, only that she had nightmares about him returning.
Although he appears on the memorial for the Boer War in his wife’s northern home town, where all who served are commemorated, not just those who died; his identity is obscured with initials where everyone else has their full name.
On the wedding certificate the first names and father he gives do not tally with official records, and the date of birth is wrong, although the man he claims as father does live at the address he gives in the west country.
He did not apparently know his wife before his return from the Boer War in the 1901 and married her within 3 months; in the census for that year the man he claimed to be appears as a tinker in another county. And why would he come to the north where he knew no one, rather than return to the west country where he claimed to have been born?
In a family swamped by photographs, there is only one picture which may be him (it may be his brother-in-law) However his first child was given an unmistakable name which proves that he must somehow be related to the family he claims. There is no record of him serving during WWI. It is possible he returned to South Africa, but again there is no record to prove it.
Subsequent research shows no evidence that he ever returned to the west country nor the north and has tracked him to a seaside town hundreds of miles from his children and his potential parents, where the trail once more goes cold in an air raid in 1944.
The shop he worked in and lived above is still a hole in the ground. But was he there on the night of the raid?
In this ‘letter’ in which I imagine what finally sent him into hiding, I have changed the names. I’m not sure why, but the uncertainty over his identity makes me want to continue to disguise him.
17th February 1913
Although I now know this is not your name, how else can I address you-
I have long believed that you were a bounder, and as you bring Edith and the children more grief with each passing year, I have finally set myself to discover the truth.
I wrote to the man you claim as your father, and he never had a son James. Moreover the only James Wyatt he knows, a young nephew, was born with a defect and made his living as a tinker in Yorkshire, and is dead. Mr Wyatt’s only son, John, he has heard nothing from, since he set sail for Capetown in 1898. He is rumoured dead also.
I shudder to think what secret history has caused you to hide behind the name of another, nor how you came by it. Are you in fact John Wyatt, and happy to let your father believe you dead; or another man completely? Are your rank and medals as false as your name?
I beg you, come to me by noon tomorrow with an explanation, or take the enclosed money and go back to the colony from which you came to ruin my daughter’s happiness. If neither action is forthcoming, I will be taking my suspicions to the authorities.
Better by far that Edith suffer the shame of abandonment, than the discovery that her husband is perhaps a bigamist, perhaps a murderer; but without doubt an impostor.
S. W. Barry
Copyright Cherry Potts 2010