Rosanna's father Chris was born in Argentina on a farm that had been in the family for four generations. Chris' parents, Col. Charles Davison and Maeve de Burgh, married in London after WWII and, pretty broke, headed to Argentina, where there was accommodation on the farm and the chance of some work. Rosanna wanted to find out how the Davisons had ended up in Argentina to begin with, and her granny Maeve explained that the first Davison to arrive there was William, Chris' great Grandfather. Maeve had a faded copy of William's birth certificate which showed he was born in Sheffield, the son of a cutler.
Rosanna travelled to Sheffield to learn more: in the Sheffield Archives, she found the original birth entry for William, showing his parents as Joseph and Mary; from there, she found Joseph & Mary's wedding entry, which showed they were both illiterate.
On the 1841 Census, Rosanna found Joseph & Mary and their 4 year old son William. They were living on an average working class street, and Joseph was a Scale Cutter, who made the handles for knives from animal bone.
But ten years later, the family were living in a very poor part of town called Nags Head Yard, beside a stinking meat market known as 'The Shambles'. Mary was listed as a charwoman, but 53 year old Joseph had no job, no profession: he was listed as 'Blind'. The family had fallen on hard times, and Rosanna could understand why 15 year old William might jump on a boat and try to find a new life...
De Burgh Pedigree:
Rosanna's grandmother, Maeve de Burgh, comes from a very distinguished Irish family. Maeve's father was General Sir Eric de Burgh, and Rosanna visited Oldtown, the house in which Eric was born. Still in family hands, Rosanna's cousin Hubie was able to trace the house back seven generations to its original owner, Col. Thomas de Burgh. He was Ireland's Surveyor General and the architect of buildings such as Dublin Castle, Trinity College Library and what is now Collins' Barracks.
In a champagne bar on Dawson Street, genealogist & historian Turtle Bunbury was able to show Rosanna that her ancestor Col. Thomas had lived in the very building they were sitting in. Afterwards, Rosanna & Turtle worked through original pedigrees recorded by the Ulster King of Arms, now housed in the National Library. Tracing back centuries, Rosanna realised she was directly related to Bishop Odo of Bayeux: half-brother of William the Conquerer and the man who commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry! She was quite shocked at her royal ancestry, although she admitted she's been known to wear a crown herself...
Aware that her father's side of the family was hogging the limelight, Rosanna was keen to find out more about the artistic traits on her mother's family tree. Rosanna herself has a degree in Art History, and her mother Diane was able to tell her about her maternal great Grandfather, Oscar Nairn, who was an artist.
Using just birth and marriage certificates, Diane had been able to piece together an artistic lineage: Oscar's birth certificate listed his father George Ivor Nairn as an artist; George Ivor's wedding certificate listed his father John as an artist, and the same again for John's father George! And George's father in law was the celebrated water-colourist John Henry Campbell... The National Gallery was able to provide Rosanna with further proof of her artistic ancestry, as well as some samples of John Henry Campbell's work. Also, it transpired that John Nairn's sister Anne was one of the creative driving forces behind Beleek pottery.
Rosanna had one final lead to follow. Her grandmother Maeve had married a dashing young soldier in London at the end of WWII. His name was Charles Davison, and he had apparently fought behind enemy lines in Burma against the Japanese. With Maeve's permission as next of kin, Rosanna applied for Charles' military record: it confirmed he'd been a part of 'V Force' – a Special Operations task force parachuted into treacherous and dangerous environments in Burma. The records also show that Charles volunteered to enlist again in 1950 for the precursor to the SAS, but a letter in the file from his wife Maeve eventually explains that “he has taken up another post instead”.
Rosanna calls her Grandmother, eager to find out what post he took up. It seems both he and Maeve, along with sons Chris & Richard, went to Malta - apparently to train Albanian spies!
Consulting with historian Dr. Roderick Bailey, Rosanna discovers that her grandparents were caught up in 'Operation Valuable', one of the earliest Cold War attempts to overthrow the communist regime in Albania by training undercover insurgents. Rosanna's grandfather's credentials were ideal for the mission, and Maeve (who had worked for the Ministry of Information during the War) was employed as a radio operator for coding secret messages back to London!
In Malta, Rosanna discovered the ancient fort in the middle of nowhere that acted as a training base for the Albanian undercover agents. She also discovered that Operation Valuable was a catastrophic failure – not because of her Grandparents' work, but because there was a spy or mole aware of the operation who informed the Albanians. Many believe that mole to be the infamous double-agent Kim Philby.
As soon as Rosanna returned to Ireland, she headed straight to Wexford and her Granny Maeve... All the time, this quiet and gentle lady had kept innumerable secrets about a dangerous and exciting past. When Rosanna says, “you never told me!”, her grandmother calmly responds: “you never asked”.And perhaps that is the best definition of how to start researching your family tree: ask!