The story of brown skin, Russell and much more.


This story starts with a pre-Christmas get together with my old school friends.  We have known each other since primary school days.  On this day, we were having a chat and I was telling them about my Afghan cameleer theory for, you see, I have blotchy brown skin and I am always asked about my background.  I was barely believed when I said, “I am English on my mum’s side and Irish/Scottish on my dad’s side.”

When we were in southern Spain, an American tourist asked me directions in Spanish.  When we were in Biblos in Lebanon, locals from Beirut asked me directions in Arabic.  When I was in India, I was asked more than once whether I was Indian.  Maus and I used to frequent a Lebanese restaurant in Perth and the proprietor would mock me because I couldn’t speak Arabic.  He tried to teach me a few words because” I should know my mother language”.  He would not believe me when I told him I was not Lebanese.

My dad’s family came to WA with the gold rush.  My grandfather was born in Victoria and my grandmother in Adelaide, but they eventually made their way to the Western Australian goldfields.  My theory was that somewhere along the way, someone crossed paths, so to speak, with an Afghan cameleer.  I was telling my friends this story and one said, “I know, we will get your DNA tested for your 60th birthday”.  I thought, “What a hoot!”, and agreed.

When I got the results of the DNA test, I found it all a bit boring.  It showed I was about 36% Irish/Scottish, 42% Western European, 7% Southern European and then a bit of this and a bit of that.  I thought it was all a bit sus as my mum’s family was English so I should have been at least 50% English and I was disappointed to see no real reason for my brown skin.

A year or so passed and then, a couple of months back; I went into Ancestry to check something out and noticed it had been updated.  I was encouraged to click on the “Update” button.  The revised data showed I was 34% Irish/Scottish and 66% English/Wales/Northwestern European.  That made more sense since my mum’s family were English and I had given up on the Afghan cameleer theory by this stage.

For some unknown reason, I clicked on my matches.  I noticed the name of my second cousin on my mum’s side and thought, “How nice.  Alan has done the test”.  I then recognised the name of a cousin on my dad’s side and thought, “He is a first cousin.  Why he is coming up as a second cousin?”  I looked up the page and noticed a first cousin on my mum’s side.  I then turned my attention to a name in the “Close family” category that I did not recognise, “Russell”.  “Who is Russell?” I thought.  “I don’t have a cousin named Russell.”  That is when I got really interested in my results.

The blotchy brown skin comes from my dad’s side of the family.  We were told it came from my grandmother’s family, who were Scottish, but I didn’t really believe that story.  Well, the origin of the blotchy skin was quickly solved.  It does come from Scotland.  I was contacted by the great grandchild of my paternal grandmother’s sister and he has blotchy skin.  Our only connection is to my great grandparents who were both born in Glasgow.  But why is it so brown?  I honestly don’t know.

I then turned my mind to Russell.  It really looked like he was my half-brother but the relationship categories suggested by Ancestry are just that, “suggested”.  With a situation like this, back up was required.  I asked my two sisters and our Aunt to have their DNA tested, too.  Yep, I have a brother.  Who would have known? My dad was clearly up to something all those years ago.

For the rest of the story, I need to start at the beginning.  As I have mentioned, my paternal grandmother’s parents were born in Glasgow, Scotland, but my paternal grandfather’s parents have always been a mystery.  We were merely told they were Irish.

On his wedding certificate, my grandfather, John Currie, put his name down as John Joseph Currie and his parents as John and Mary Currie.  This was pure imagination.  There is no John Joseph Currie who is the son of a John and Mary.  There was some gentrification going on there.  John had, by now, done well for himself and, maybe, thought a new identity was appropriate.

His birth certificate shows his mother as Margaret (from Queen’s County, Ireland) and his father is not recorded.  One of my cousins found that a John Currie was placed in a boys’ home when his mother was jailed for being a destitute prostitute.  His father was recorded as Patrick Hannon (convict) and John sometimes went by the name of John Hannon.

In trying to work out who Russell might be and how related we were, I started analysing my results.  My analysis showed that on dad’s side, we were related to my paternal grandmother and a northern Italian family which, I thought, put paid to the Patrick Hannon theory.

But then, I got our Aunt’s results.  She had a second cousin with the surname Hannon!!  She also had other matches with the surname Hannon and she has lots of common relatives with them.  This strongly suggests that John Currie’s dad was most probably Patrick Hannon, the convict and his mum, Margaret Currie, the destitute prostitute.

Interestingly, my siblings and I (including Russell) only appear as our Aunt’s half nieces and nephew but our cousin comes up as her full nephew.

Further, we were not related to this Hannon lady and my Aunt and cousin are not related to the northern Italian family!

Da da!   I can only conclude that John Currie was not my dad’s father, rather, some northern Italian fellow (I am hot on his heels) who was in the goldfields trying to find his fortune.   Clearly, my grandmother was also up to something.  It appears to run in the family. 😦

So what have I found?  Three generations of illegitimacy and infidelity.

My advice is:  Don’t take a DNA test lightly and make sure you are prepared for some unexpected results.  There was no suggestion in my family that all was not pukka.  In fact, on appearances, it was very pukka indeed. 🙂

15 thoughts on “The story of brown skin, Russell and much more.

  1. Wow Glenda – this was not the post I was expecting. I have listened to two stories on the radio about DNA test kits given as gifts revealing surprising results in recent weeks. You have obviously reconciled at least some of this with yourself or you wouldn’t be sharing it. I’m sure there are lots of questions that remain and perhaps,will never be answered. Thanks for an intriguing story.

  2. Hi Glenda , I was hoping that the John’ Currie’ would actually be the lebanese’ Khoury’
    , and that would make us cousins !! Never mind.

  3. I love family history and its stories, and this one is gold. You’ve done some great research and detective work following the strands and putting it together. You’ve got me thinking now about DNA, and where it might lead me.

  4. How exciting. I’ve never put much store into the whole DNA thing, only because the results are all so nebulous. Well, your story has tilted the scales somewhat!!! I think that Boris Johnson was right when he said that…. ‘if we go back far enough, we are all related….’ so true.

    • Hi Yvonne. The ethnic origin results are a bit iffy as they are based on samples. As the samples get bigger I am sure they will get more accurate but it is a bit tricky as most of us are a mix. The DNA matches, however, are spot on. You get thousands of matches but only the closer matches are interesting. It is amazing how accurate they are even for very distant relatives. This lovely Italian family gave me access to their family tree and I was able to locate 5-8th cousin matches in it. Amazing.

  5. Oh Glenda what a story you have told. The old saying: “Be careful what you wish for.”
    I am getting my Mum’s DNA done. Kit arrived the other day. At first she didn’t really want to do the test but I have somehow managed to turn that one around. I said to Mum all the dodgy stuff will come out now !!!!!
    I find the whole process so interesting.

  6. How interesting Glenda. You just never know what you’re going to find do you? I’ve sometimes wondered about a DNA test, but am now wondering if it would be a good thing. All those things that families thought they’d swept under the carpet seem to have a habit of reappearing.

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