Thursday, March 07, 2024

More on the maybe-aunt

Maybe I'm just slow, or naive, or dare I suggest too sweet at heart, but it has taken me a good number of days to realise I may have jumped to some premature assumptions on my grandfathers' front the other day.

When I was mulling over the mystery of the internet stranger who's in her 70s and apparently, according to DNA at least, a direct descendant of one of my grandparents and therefore a younger half sibling to either my mother or father, I naturally assumed one of my grandfathers must have been a naughty boy. That was quite a logical conclusion of course, because in my head the only other option was one of my grandmothers having an affair and giving birth a few years after my mum or dad, then giving the child up for adoption, all without anyone noticing their new addition... sounds fairly unlikely, no? Also given it was pre-DNA-test times, would they not just have kept the sibling and passed it off as a full sibling?

So, once again during my night time musings, it suddenly hit me that there's in fact a third option! What if one of my grandfathers actually wasn't my grandfather!? What if one of my grannies had an affair that resulted in my parent and simply pulled the wool over my grandfather's eyes? Then, none the wiser, the biological father could have gone on to have this maybe-aunt with a different partner; they'd still be a half aunt to me genetically. Bloody hell, my life is turning into an episode of Dallas!

This, of course, means I'm now sitting here with a magnifying glass and some very old and blurred black and white photos trying to ascertain whether my mum looks like gramps or my dad looks like granda. If that turns out to be the case, then my money would now definitely be less on mum's side of the family given rumour had it my maternal granny, how shall I put it, preferred a nice cup of tea to anything in the bedroom department, no comment there. And I could add that mum and gramps are very similar looking, the only dark-eyed, dark-haired members of what had been up to then a very blonde, blue-eyed family.

Sadly, my knowledge of Phyllis Buchanan Senior is quite limited. I was named after her as she died just six days before my birth. This untimely loss left my father orphaned at the tender age of 24, and as a result, discussions about Phyllis were infrequent and emotionally charged throughout dad's life. She, like many who depart prematurely, was revered in our family conversations, her memory enshrined as an almost celestial figure. Consequently, I am left with scant insight into her personal character or potential actions. Might she have been inclined towards indiscretions, could she have passed another man's child off as my granda's? I simply have no idea. I do know dad and granda had a wonderful and loving relationship and that granda was distraught when he lost Phyllis at the age of 50 but is this enough to rule it out? Dad had Phyllis's eye colour and his beard was red like her hair but I think he still looks like granda, a bit at least. 

And given neither of my parents had any siblings, I have no one to compare them to either physically or in personality. Arg! If mum was still about, at least I could have quizzed her about these options, and maybe asked her what her mother-in-law had been like. And I've still not tracked this woman down geographically which would help.

I think on balance last week's grandfather having an affair is still the more likely scenario, but in the meantime I'm not ruling today's option out fully.

I'll stick a pic or two on here to see if anyone else has any theories.

Mum's family: gran, mum, gramps

Dad's family: gran, granda, dad

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Genealogy tips, anyone?

Thomas got the two of us those genealogy test things for Xmas as he thought it would be fun. He knew his dad was German, his mum Danish, but had always suspected given how swarthy some of his ancestors on his mum's side were that there might be some fun little gems in there too. 

As for me, we kind of figured I'd be entirely boring. I knew my great gran was from Ashton-under-Lyne in England and my great great grandpa was Irish, but other than that to my knowledge I was entirely, boringly 100% Scottish, though like Thomas my family was entirely fair-skinned and blue and green-eyed until my gramps and mum suddenly popped out much darker than expected, and brown-eyed. A born traveller, I secretly hoped against all evidence that I would be more exotic than I realised, even just a wee 2% something else, but I didn't dare get my hopes up too high. 

So, we did the wee swab things, sent them off to Germany and more or less forgot about it after that, till ten days ago when we were in Scotland.

Then the two emails came in...

So, sadly we're still in the dark as to why Thomas has several ancestors with dark eyes and skin, which he didn't inherit himself, as his DNA came back even less exotic than just half German, half Danish; it actually pinpointed that he is half Schwäbisch, half Jutlandic! With a mum from Odder in Jutland and a dad from Stuttgart, I'm not sure that was overly enlightening. Money back time????

I, on the other hand, got much more than I was bargaining for and it more than made up for Thomas's yawn-worthy results! Mine came back only 78% Celtic, which was a shock, but more of a surprise was that I was 15% Scandinavian. Given I thought even my Scandy kids were only 25% Scandinavian until last week, this is a huge surprise for everyone. I did chuckle to myself thinking that even my French kids were part Scandinavian. I'm not sure my ex-husband would approve. He might even accuse me of having had an affair with Thomas five years before I met him! 😂 

So, maybe I was originally Danish and could find some loophole to actually qualify for a Danish passport after all these years here as it is one of the hardest passports to qualify for! Moving further across Europe I'm also apparently 7% Eastern European, probably Polish/Ukrainian! Having booked to meet up with my bigger kids in Gdańsk for a week next month, I might go looking for some long-lost rellies while I'm over there! 😃

So, blown away by this info, I hardly noticed the other info attached to my findings and went off to bed mulling over my new multifacteted, jet-setting background. At 3am however I found myself fully awake, sitting bolt upright...

My subconscious had well and truly kicked in. Wtaf did I read under my ethnicity results? Sleeping in my nephew's bedroom, I searched the floor under his futon with my fingertips till I found both my phone and glasses. Under my ethnicity results was a list of people on their database that I was very distantly related to. Our DNA matched 2%, 1.6%, 0.8%. This wasn't overly interesting, but one person on their long list stood out: a woman. The only info on the database was her name, her age (70-79) and that she is resident in the UK. Our DNA match was over 12.5% and it stated that she could only be one of two relationships: a first cousin or a half aunt. And they indicated with a neat graph that half aunt was much more likely than cousin. 

But here's the Halloween-sized family skeleton! Because both my parents were only children, I knew I definitely didn't have any first cousins. But till last week I didn't think I could have any half aunts either! 70s would make her most likely a half sibling to one of my parents who currently would have been 79 and 80 had they lived. My dad's parents were never apart, not even during the war as granda was an essential munitions worker at Glasgow forge with flat feet into the bargain and though dad was an only child, he was more an only surviving child as his parents had two further kids after him who died at birth of Rhesus disease. I'm not fully ruling out dad's dad having an affair or a drunken one-night stand but it seems highly unlikely. Gramps (mum's dad) however was a different kettle of fish. In the RAF till 1948, stationed around Blackpool, while mum and gran lived in Springburn alone, he spent the majority of the first four years of mum's life leading a very separate life from his wife and child. Later in the 1940s my gran had to move to England (Wolverhampton) to care for her older sister who was dying of cancer, so once again the family was apart for some time.

And here's the most frustrating thing. There's a contact email for this half aunt, so of course I contacted her (extremely tactfully!) to try to work out at least from geography who she's most likely to be related to, but she hasn't replied. Is she in shock? Hasn't she seen it? Has she died since her DNA was analysed? Arg, I'm so frustrated!!!!

I don't know if the surname on her DNA results is her birth name, married name or other. Her first name is a diminutive form too, so is that her real full name or has she shortened it? Anyway, the bottom line is that I have checked the birth records from 69-80 years ago for anyone of that name in Scotland, England and Wales and when that drew a blank, I looked for anyone with that first name to see if she'd married a man of that surname any time between the 60s and now and that drew a blank too! So what now?! Just a hint as to where this woman was born could confirm or negate any of my grandfather suspicions. I don't know where to look now, but the bottom line is that someone covered up something big in my family back in the forties. It's sad to think that if I do manage to do some sleuthing neither mum nor dad is about to find out about their potential long lost half sibling.

Oh the scandal and intrigue!

Monday, February 26, 2024

Mum and her mum

I'm not usually much of an anniversaries kind of person. If someone forgets my wedding anniversary, I'm not devastated. After all it falls on an arbitrary date nearly 3 years after we actually wanted to hold it, decided partly by the date my ex finally gave up his nearly 4-year battle to not let me divorce him and was brought forward when my husband was threatened with redundancy leaving us without the funds to marry when we'd actually planned. Romantic, huh? I always wanted a summer wedding as I love summer. My wedding anniversary is in February🙄

Maybe it runs in the family? As a child I remember asking my granny when she got married, to which she replied 'it was either 6 o'clock on September 7th or 7 o'clock on September 6th. I can't remember...' either that or she didn't want to, she always found my gramps a bit of a handful. 

My own mother, her daughter, was the opposite. Birthdays, anniversaries, Mother's Day etc were big. Expensive cards and flowers marked every occasion and you daren't forget. Long after I had given up sending Christmas cards, for the sake of the planet, honest, I still sent one - to my mother. Dad was a bit more forgetful, often wishing me a happy birthday on my brother's birthday or similar, but he wouldn't have dared forget one of their special couple dates. 

Death anniversaries, well deaths that marked her, mattered too. I once noticed the symbol 'x' on her kitchen wall calendar. The year was 1986 and there seemed to be an 'x' on the 11th of each month, starting in March. I enquired what the 'x' meant and was told each 'x' marked a month on from the day someone had run over her cat, Snoopy. A decade later there were no 'x's on 27, the date of her own father's death. Hmmmm.

I've always found grieving to be more something that can hit you unexpectedly. I can hear a song I associated with my dad, happen upon an old photo, smell mum's perfume or catch a look in my kids' eyes that reminds me of how one of them looked, or I even a glimpse of myself in the mirror first thing in the morning with no makeup and that sets off the pain much more than a simple date on a calendar. 

Maybe I relate less to dates because I have moved time zone in my life. Had I had my boys where I live now, both would have a different birthday to the one they actually have, given both were born in the UK after 11pm, so dates are less set in my head.

Years later, mum's date obsession became an issue for me. My dad died on May 11 2012. Every 11th of the month that year, her usually sad and lost demeanour visibly worsened and she wanted to talk about little other than how awful the 11th made her feel. This broke my heart at first; she had never been without him in her adult life; she, like dad, was only in her 60s; it just wasn't fair but as the months passed I got more agitated. It felt almost like she was deliberately gearing herself up to be extra miserable on the 11th of each month, than she already was and I had a vested interest. Of all 8 of her grandchildren, only one had a birthday that fell on the 11th and she was one of mine. Approaching 3, I didn't want her birthday tied up in the spiral of sadness that the 11th was becoming. And give her her due, she didn't let that one 11th descend into depression just eight months on, but I certainly dreaded it more than I should had dreaded my baby's birthday that year.

So, today my mum has been dead for two years. It feels both like she's been gone for a decade, and simultaneously like she died last week. Growing up, February 26 was always a fun day as it was my gran's birthday. We knew we'd get nice fairy cakes and we'd spend the weeks beforehand saving up to buy her a little something: a cotton hanky with flowers on, a pin cushion, a hairbrush, a vase from a corner shop, something small that would be greeted with great appreciation. Even after she died, I still tended to remember Feb 26 with a smile as it had always been a big deal. It also marked the beginning of a big surge of birthdays in our tiny family. There were only the four of us, two grandfathers and one grandmother and of those all except my brother had their birthdays in the six weeks around Feb 26. To me that date was synonymous with endless cake and the making of cards. And by adulthood one of my best friends also had that birthday so there was always something to celebrate, usually over a shared plate of chips in the Collins canteen.

So now I'm not really sure how I am meant to feel about Feb 26 anymore. There's something rather unnerving about mum dying on her own mum's birthday. 

I really am at a loss.

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Animal farm revisited

Yesterday's post left me ruminating on the concept of equality, and its impact struck me more profoundly than I initially realised, beneath the veneer of my flippant tone.

For any immigrant in Denmark, especially during their initial decade of residency, the foremost stressor is often the instability stemming from the lack of either permanent residency or citizenship. Let's juxtapose the journeys of two couples. It starts out along the same path:

  • one partner is born in 1968, the other in 1972
  • he is a Dane, she is a UK citizen or a dual UK/Aussie citizen
  • they meet in the home of the non-Danish partner in the early 2000s
  • they have a few kids together and stay married till at least 2024, with no plans to change that
So far so good but things diverge then...

In couple one, they marry and the non-Dane is granted full citizenship on the day of their marriage just four years after their first meeting and less than two years after arriving permanently in Denmark. Hey, the government even rewrites the immigration rules for her and has the Monarch okay the change and it's given the cutesy title 'Mary's law', because after all it only applies to one person, Mary. 

Let's look at the other couple now... 

With only eight weeks preparation they move to Denmark in 2019 unimaginably stressed because of how precarious their predicament has become in the UK, where they had set up home together in 2006, four years after they first met. They are up against the Brexit clock because moving after the UK's exit would have huge repercussions. The date for Brexit keeps changing so they have no idea what they are up against. She has just undergone a full hysterectomy because of two pre-cancerous grapefruit-sized tumours on her ovaries so can barely stand up but be that as it may they have no option but to move before Brexit to be ensured a future as a family. After the magical, yet illusory Brexit date:
  • She wouldn't be allowed to own a house in Denmark for the first five years as she would have lost her EU citizenship
  • Her rights to stay with her family wouldn't be covered by the UK's EU withdrawal agreement
  • Her driving licence wouldn't be valid any more
Thanks Britain, just thanks!

So in a rush, they arrive in Denmark in early 2019. She finds out that to obtain a guaranteed secure future in the country of her husband and children's citizenship, she needs to go through the following steps:

  • Live in Denmark continuously for 5 years to apply for permanent residence (it's usually 8 if you're Australian)
  • Apply for no money from the Danish state, and therefore remain ineligible for all help in finding employment for the first five years. You're on your own with that task.
  • Be fully self-sufficient
  • Have no breaks in your residence in Denmark
  • Pass a C1 Danish language exam
  • Pass the knowledge of Denmark Naturalisation exam
  • Have no criminal convictions
  • Live in Denmark a further 2+ years after the 5 you needed for your permanent residency card before attempting to get citizenship
  • Have a full-time job for at least 3 years and 6 months within the 4 years prior to applying for citizenship*... lose it for 7 months and you're back to square one requiring a further 3.5 years work. Non-EU citizens must earn a minimum of DKK 487,000. (Covid getting you laid off is not a valid excuse, neither is serious illness!) It's like playing a grotesque game of snakes and ladders with your life and future.
  • Swear allegiance to the state and the monarch (I guess the two couples converge again here momentarily!)
  • Sign up for a naturalisation ceremony
  • Pay DKK 3,800
The journey becomes even more stressful with changes in government over the course of that decade often moving the goalposts after years of diligent effort.

Finding and sustaining full-time employment in one's mid to late 50s poses a significant challenge, particularly when seeking further training or assistance from the local job centre would nullify the terms of your residency for the first five years. So far I am no closer to my goal as I can only find freelance jobs, and as I turn 56 next month I suspect the insurmountable 3.5 year rule will be the hurdle at which my ability to ever gain the same citizenship as my husband and children ultimately falls. And with that goal goes all hope of security and a guarantee of a future no state can remove from us at a whim.🙁

Reflecting on the divergent trajectories of these initially parallel paths, I'm compelled to acknowledge that the concept of equality seems to have slipped through the cracks. Fully 22 years after I met my Dane and five years after our move, I am no closer to what she magically achieved in four short years than I have ever been. Her family matters much more than mine; the trauma they would suffer if she was no longer allowed to reside with her husband and kids is considered somehow greater and more important than the trauma my kids and husband would feel in the same situation...  It all feels kinda sucky. 🙁 

I come from a country where even Royal foreigners are made to jump through hideous hoops to be allowed the peace of mind that lets them stay with their partner, married or not, parent of a UK citizen or not. Don't get me wrong, I am not part of the school that adheres to the idea that I had to suffer so you bloody well should too. I am more someone who thinks that this modern situation where parents do not have an automatic right to live in the country where there kids have citizenship or with their partner of many years, without fearing which whim of the current administration will potentially send them into a tailspin of terror is a sad place to be. 

Eighteen years and several kids down the line, ours obviously wasn't a marriage of convenience, so it would be nice if one of our governments saw us as human beings rather than just statistics.

*Education doesn't count towards citizenship, so if like Léon you came here at 13, you can only start to work towards your 3.5 years of work requirement once you finish your uni degree at the age of 25, so in his case citizenship will have taken much more than half his lifetime to achieve: Arriving at 13, working till 28.5 (15.5 years later).  

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

Queen out, King in

It would appear Denmark has a new monarch. 

Back on New Year's Eve I happened to see the Queen's speech. Normally I don't make a habit of watching it, but I'd been ill all Xmas with some flu-like thing and hadn't been outside so I was lying on the couch when it came on so I just let it roll. It's actually quite a compliment that I bothered given I have never, not even once in my life, seen the UK monarch's Christmas speech! As a good Scottish republican family, I was brought up to know that the one thing you really must never do is sit down to watch old Lizzie address the nation, though I guess it is probably Charlie these days. 

I saw the Danish one the first year after I arrived here as my homework for Danish class was to listen to it to see what I understood. Unlike most Danes the old Queen speaks very slowly and clearly and is positively a delight if you're a foreigner, from a comprehension point of view anyway, even if you have your reservations constitutionally! Most foreigners coming here really struggle to understand spoken Danish more than any other form of the language as Danes mumble, swallow the ends of their words and speak quickly. Given I learnt Danish passively by hearing it over many years, understanding spoken Danish is what I find easiest, even today. It definitely outstripped my ability to speak the language back then for sure, but I followed the teacher's instructions as my first lesson on arrival here was the last one before Xmas, only to find out that when I went back in January that I had been moved into a whole different class with a different teacher and completely different homework!

So, there it was running in the background when two minutes from the end of a fairly long and not overly riveting speech she nonchalantly announced she was going to abdicate in a fortnight. This was a bit of a shocker given no one has abdicated in Denmark for 878 years. Denmark went into meltdown. First there was a half hour of shocked silence where people acted like she'd upped and died during her speech but they all seem to worship her the way bees do their queen, so within half and hour the hive mind had collectively decided that if their beloved Daisy had decided to resign then that must be the most wonderful event ever to befall the Danish people and not only would it be ideal for her to step down but it would also be just perfect to see her son and his wife take over the throne two weeks later and they would turn their love and adoration to him as well/instead. Polls on the day said support for the monarchy was up at 80% 😮 (wtaf!) with only one in five Danes having any reservations about spending their hard-earned tax money on this family's luxurious lifestyle, oops I mean service to the nation. Wow, what an interesting take from a country that professes to prize equality over most things. I guess some really are more equal than others...

So last Sunday was the day. I figured I should get into the spirit of being Danish by buying a cake to celebrate the big event. Unfortunately the whole of Funen had the same idea and my favourite prize-winning bakery had already tweeted this before I woke up!

But when it comes to cake I am not that easily defeated, so off to the big Coop bakery in Søndersø I went instead. It was a ghost town, not to mention almost sold out too. There were maybe two cars in the car park, while the rest of Denmark sat glued to the telly or better still in the courtyard of their parliament building waiting for the new monarch to be presented.

There's nothing quite like a change of the head of state in one's new country to make you feel reeeeally foreign in your adopted home...

There were flags up in people's gardens, kids wearing crowns looking like they'd been on a mass outing to Burger King, folk waving flags galore, weeping pensioners, 90 000 people on parliament square in the freezing cold chanting 'hurrah' in unison with the Prime Minister in some vaguely culty manner! They were even all over TikTok sharing this kind of thing: 

Watching their traditions, for example that the monarch has to ride in some golden horse-drawn carriage presumably without the heated seats and comfortable suspension of the car used to transport the rest of the entourage seemed a bit to me like they'd drawn the short straw. No wonder the old girl decided to resign if it got her out the carriage into the limo! One thing I could never have in Northern Europe is a car without heated seats in the winter!

Nor have I ever been overly comfortable with all the deferential curtsying and bowing. There was King Frederik bowing to his own mother. What?! My kids sure don't so that when I'm around! It's just plain weird. And as she stood up to leave the room she proclaimed 'Gud bevare Kongen!' (God save the King). Again, it's just not something my mother ever said leaving me or my brother to go into another room! It's just all kind of unrelatable! Maybe it's actually monarchies in general rather than specifically this one that I struggle with. 

This is a little country and seems to function more like a clan than a nation. As a foreigner, I could see how they all felt, but I couldn't feel it. I didn't know how to. What makes this family different to any other here? The new King was born the same year as me, has four kids instead of five. Are we really that different? Apparently, so, but I am not sure why! I definitely felt very much an outsider watching this national family party that I felt I just hadn't been invited to, mentally at least! I secretly wonder whether the new Queen herself, a fellow foreigner, felt just a tiny bit on the outside of all this too, or maybe it's easier to feel part of it all when the crowd is going wild for you, the state is filling your bank account and instead of a ten year plus battle for Danish citizenship, you're simply given it as a freebie on your marriage!

Interestingly, when the kids went into school on Monday morning, Léon whose Gymnasium class is in their final year and full of 19-20 year olds, said that to a man they were gushing over the weekend as if a member of their own family had married and thrown the best party ever. Anna whose class is two years younger and still in the first year of Gym were on the whole the same, though a few were more neutral, however Amaia who is in her first year of the 3-year middle school, surrounded by 14 year olds, said no one mentioned it and when the history teacher tried to engage them on the topic of the historical occasion from the day before no one showed the slightest interest in any of it! Come to think of it the kids in the crowd at the actual event were all very much younger than Amaia. Maybe it is cool to rebel at 14, but by 20 you are back securely in the fold of this enormous family.

I suspect this is all very familiar to those who watched Charles' do last year in England but you see I was way too busy washing my hair that day to catch any of the footage. 😉

Anna summed it up on the day for this house succinctly... 
Anna: You see that crowd of people waiting outside in the cold to greet the new king of Denmark, mum?
Me: Yes.
Anna: I can guarantee you one thing... My future husband is not in that crowd!🤣