Looking back at the past is always interesting, at least I’ve always found it so. I love reading about history and I watch lots of TV history documentaries. Shakespeare once said ‘what is past is prologue’ and he was right! One area of the past I’ve been looking into recently was my own and my Christmas present to myself was a DNA test.
I got the test from the website Ancestry.co.uk and I received my testing kit just before Christmas and sent it off on the 24th December. I kept checking the website to see if the ancestry people had received it yet but nothing came up. Maybe Christmas Eve wasn’t such a great day to post something so important. Anyway, they finally got the sample and to make things exciting, on the ancestry web site you can see how things are progressing with updates like sample received, sample ready for testing, sample tested, DNA extracted, checking DNA and so on.
While I was waiting for all that to happen, I still seemed to be getting nowhere tracing my great grandfather Patrick Henry Higgins. He is mentioned on my grandfather’s marriage certificate of 1920 as being deceased so clearly he passed away sometime before that date. A distant cousin on the Ancestry site seems to think he was born in Roscommon in Ireland. Perhaps so but Patrick Henry Higginses are ten a penny in that part of the world so I turned my attention to my grandmother who was born Ellen Beresford. I vaguely remember my dad mentioning that he had relatives in the Staffordshire area and that Ellen originally came from there. I know from her marriage certificate that her father was George Beresford, a collier and Ellen was born into a mining community in Leycett, Staffordshire.
A few clicks on the internet and I find that the village of Leycett, as well as having a colliery, also had a miners’ institute, a church, a village shop with off-licence, a post office, a butcher’s, and a railway station. They also had a recreation ground built by the miners which had a cricket and football pitch and later tennis courts and a bowling green.
The colliery closed down in 1957 and by the mid-sixties the main part of the village had been demolished. The terraced houses which formed the main part of the Leycett community are now completely gone.
My father told me that Ellen left Staffordshire and came to Manchester when she was only young. Dad told me she was ‘in service’ to a rich family. In the census of 1911, when Ellen was 15, I found her registered as a domestic servant to the family of Mr Chilton. His occupation was registered as a beer seller and his address was the Queens Arms on Brunswick Street in Rusholme, Manchester. Brunswick Street runs from Rusholme to Ardwick and today has almost been completely redeveloped. No Queens Arms exists in 2023 which is a little surprising. Back in the late 1970’s I used to travel up and down through Ardwick and Gorton many times when I was a trainee bus driver at the GM Buses driver training school at Hyde Road. The area was in the process of redevelopment back then and many buildings were being knocked down although it seemed to me that the pubs always seemed to escape the destruction. The Queens Arms sadly did not. Ellen and my grandad were married in Gorton Monastery in 1920 and I suppose it is not inconceivable that the two met in the Queens Arms.
I joined GM Buses in 1976 or 77 and little did I know at the time that Hyde Road was an area that my Grandparents were very familiar with.
Looking at the tips for tracing relatives it seems that the main one is talking to older relatives. My dad died in 2000 and my mother is aged 93 and stricken with dementia and is not in a position to tell me anything, although such are the quirks of memory that when I sometimes show her old pictures, she can sometime name those in the picture and tell me a little of the background. My only other relative, my dad’s sister, is someone I haven’t seen for years although I do have Facebook contact with her daughter, my cousin.
Alas, my messages to her on Facebook had not been answered for a long time although happily I did get a reply from her recently. She didn’t have much to add to our family story except she knew that George Higgins worked for the Manchester Tramways Department at Hyde Road and was injured after something hit him on the head. My brother remembered that it was something that connects the tram to the overhead electric cables. As a result of that he suffered with epilepsy for the remainder of his life. George died in 1954, two years before I was born.
Quite often, I try to rack my brains and think about the memories my dad shared with me years ago. I know he mentioned family in Staffordshire which is how I was able to trace my grandmother’s background. On the ancestry site I use, I found a record of her birth and applied to Staffordshire council for a copy of her birth certificate, hoping that might divulge some further information. One interesting thing that it revealed was that her maiden name and her married name were both Beresford
Eventually my DNA results finally arrived. I can now reveal that I am 56% Northern British and European, 19% Irish, 17% Scottish 6% Swedish and 2% Welsh. The site also threw up 24,785 DNA matches, mostly distant cousins although one of my cousins, the son of my mother’s sister, came up as my closest DNA match. Strangely, not a single person named Higgins was on the list although that only means that few on the Higgins side of the family are interested in DNA testing.
I’m not sure why but I actually wondered whether the DNA test might show up some unknown brother or sister. Perhaps I’ve been watching too much of that TV show Long Lost Family.
A lot of this looking back into the past makes me sometimes wonder about how impermanent our existence seems. Dad used to tell many stories about his time in the army. I honestly think his army life was probably the most exciting thing that ever happened to him. He travelled to Germany, Northern Ireland and Hong Kong. Once he mentioned that he and his best mate who went by the name of ‘Lulu’ Lownes (I’m not sure why he was nicknamed Lulu) were in Hong Kong for a night out. They jumped on a bus or tram at the traffic lights. The bus conductor wasn’t happy and when they went to pay asked them for the full fare, even though servicemen were entitled to either free or reduced fare. Lulu was so upset by this he decided to throw a punch at the conductor and the two of them, Lulu and Dad, jumped off the bus and ran off into the night despite the conductor blowing a whistle and calling for the MPs.
That must have been back in the 1950s and Dad and presumably Lulu are now long gone. Probably the conductor and driver are gone too as well as the MPs who gave chase. The conductor may have reported the incident and the bus company may have in turn reported the matter to the police. The police officers who dealt with the case, if indeed there was a case, are also long dead as well as the Royal Hong Kong Police themselves as back in 1997 control of Hong Kong was returned to China.
It may be then that only myself and my brother are the only ones who know about this event and the only actual record of it may be in this blog post. One day when I am gone WordPress will send a message to my email asking me to pay the small amount for my dedicated website address, stevehigginslive.com. No answer will be forthcoming and stevehigginslive.com will presumably either revert to its original WordPress web address or just vanish into cyberspace.
One day some search engine might flag up this blog post in return to some query about Hong Kong and British servicemen and the researcher will click the link only to find something like ‘502 error: Bad gateway’ or ‘site not found’.
If the researcher is not happy with that, he may wonder who Steve Higgins was and decide to do a further search for Steve Higgins, writer and blogger. Then he might even find my YouTube page. There he will find me, just as I used to be back in the 2020’s asking the viewer to buy Floating in Space or to read my blog posts that may no longer exist.
Nothing lasts for ever.