The Quest for My Roots Begins
Even as a child I was curious to know more about where I came from. My father told me when I was only 5 years old, I said “Mein soch rahi hoon kay mein kon hoon?” (I am wondering who I am?) I loved trying to solve mysteries in life. I found it spooky that the people who were so close to my family don’t live in this world anymore.
Initially, we heard the stories of our ancestors from our parents and grandparents a lot, but gradually they seemed to get distant. Sadly, we all were busy with our own lives and never gave our earlier generations (who gave up a lot for us) any thought.
My great grandparents Gerald William Flynn Young (1907-1983)
& Freda Dorothy May Kilburn (1910-1957)
Around the age of 8, I made my first family tree on a paper with colored markers. After a few sessions with my grandfather, I knew I needed something bigger, maybe a chart paper to fit all my relatives. My dad was also interested in this hobby. On his trip abroad, he got a CD for making family trees. I remember I was fascinated by the fact that I won’t need a huge chart paper anymore.
Details of my dear father Air Commodore Muhammad Najib Khan
My Nani (my maternal grandmother) is an only child. After marriage, she lost contact with most of her family; so my family tree from her side was always a mystery. I was always curious to know more about her side. I used to keep asking her questions where her relatives are.
It was sad to see the melancholy in her expression when she replied “Woh tu sab meri loag gum hi ho gaya’ (All my relatives have been lost). Although she spent 67 years in Pakistan, she never really understood our language properly. So the way she talks in Urdu even today, makes me want to hug her more.
My Nani Rosemary Anne with my mother Shireen and my Nana Sarfaraz Khan in 1958
According to Wikipedia, Genealogy also known as family history is ‘the study of families and the tracing of their lineages and history’. Genealogists use oral interviews, historical records, genetic analysis and other records to obtain information about a family and to demonstrate kinship and pedigrees of its members.
The goal in Genealogy is to have the following information of each person in your tree:
Date of Birth
Place of Birth
Date of Death
Place of Death
It goes without saying that it is impossible to get all these details in your tree. This is what makes this hobby so challenging. One is constantly trying to dig deeper for more details. Like stamp collection, the older details you gather, the more valuable they are. In Genealogy, progress is always a step backward.
My great great grandfather Sergeant Major Fred Kilburn 1870-1913
Ancestry website lets you add personal details about a person as well. Genealogists actually gather details about their ancestors like profession, hobbies, family circumstances, where they lived, (where, when and to whom) they got married, worked, along with copies of marriage/death certificates. This is actually very interesting as you get to know why your ancestors lived the way they did. And how you ended up where you are today.
My grandmother (1934) with her father Gerald William Flynn Young (1907-1983)
My Nani (grandmother) Rosemary Anne was born on 7th November 1934 in Calcutta, India. She is the daughter of Gerald William Flynn Young, who worked for the British Railways and was posted to India before partition of the subcontinent. Nani and her family lived in Calcutta and she studied from Dow Hill, Kurseong. In 1947 at the time of Partition, Nani’s family moved to Dhaka. In 1948, they moved from Dhaka to Saidpur, East Pakistan. At the age of 21, she got married to Malik Muhammad Sarfaraz Khan who was in the Army and both moved to Rawalpindi, Pakistan in June 1956.
Newspaper cutting from ‘The Statesman’ the Indian Newspaper
My Nani’s mother Freda Dorothy passed away in 1957 when my Nani was expecting her only child Shireen (my mother). That telegram was a nightmare for her. Her father Gerald Young married Mavis Doyle in 1969, after 12 years of his first wife’s death. He moved to Australia in 1972 with his second wife.
Nani’s father Gerald William Flynn Young with his second wife Mavis Doyle in Australia
Her father kept writing letters to my Nani with his beautiful handwriting and sweet words. They helped Nani adjust to the cultural, social and religious differences in Pakistan.
Letters from my Nani’s father to her
My grandmother’s father passed away in a sudden road accident in Sydney, Australia on 6th of August 1983. Nani says that that was the most devastating news she ever heard in her life as she was very close to her father. She felt shattered. At that time, she had her husband and daughter to console her. However, it was her 4-month-old granddaughter Nataliya Najib (my elder sister) who helped restore her spirits.
My grandparents Rosemary Anne Young (1934-) and Sarfaraz Khan (1927-)
My Nani has childhood memories with many of her cousins and aunts but she mentioned her younger cousin Robin Frederick Charles Kilburn a lot. He is Nani’s maternal uncle’s son and the only cousin who is the closest to her. Since my Nani was an only child, Robin was a brother to her. After the partition in 1947, Robin moved back to the United Kingdom around 1953.
My grandparents’ wedding in Saidpur, East Pakistan
Telegram and postal mail were the main sources of communication in those days. International calls were inefficient. My Nani would get odd telegrams, letters and pictures to say her aunt’s (her dad’s step-siblings) are doing well.
My grandmother’s paternal aunt Clarice (1879-1966) with Uncle William Horace Shea (1872-?)
My Nani and Robin wrote letters to each other to keep in touch as well. Since my Nana was in the army, they were posted to different parts of Pakistan every few years. Gradually, the addresses were lost and my gran Rosemary and Robin lost contact completely around 1962. By that time, most of her aunts who had been writing to her, had become quite old, had also moved to UK and the addresses had been misplaced. She never even heard about their death and kept speculating all these years.
An envelope from Robin to my grandmother from 1958
My Nani had been mentioning Robin along with her aunts all our lives. She had often asked us to look for Robin on the internet. In recent years, she hoped that he was still alive and her wish to find him seemed too far-fetched.
I have always loved my Nani from the bottom of my heart. She and I share a special bond. I always genuinely wanted to help her find the missing pieces in her story but didn’t know how to go about it.
Part of my tree showing how Robin is related to my Nani
This concludes the first part my quest to find the missing leaves on my tree. There is a very interesting story on what happened next. Here
is the link to the final part. Have a lovely day.