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Talking to a genealogist

The Mercury Bay Informer 14th Feb 2014

Looking at the advertisement of local optometrist, Brett Howes on the back page of The Informer the third Tuesday of every month, I always see something about this fellow, Ian Handricks doing genealogy research and publishing books. Knowing what genealogy is (but, admittedly, not knowing how to pronounce it) and having a bit of interest in all things history, I gave Ian a call. And I got much more than I bargained for.

Firstly, genealogy is pronounced, “djee-nee-a-lo-djee.”

Secondly, Ian, who’s a good friend of Brett, is not only the designer and patent holder of a very successful bifocal contact lens and one of only a few life members of the New Zealand Contact Lens Society, but also founder of the worldwide digital photo restoration company today known as Photo-Wonder.

Thirdly, Ian’s interest in genealogy came about when he found out more than 40 years ago that his ancestors, originally from Russia, went in the Netherlands under a surname resembling traders of guillotine-severed heads of the French Revolution.

Fourthly, Ian offered to look a little bit into my family history, which I somewhat excitedly agreed to (some blue blood, maybe a lost inheritance?)

Ian’s great-grandfather moved to Australia from Europe and changed his surname to something, well, less grisly. Ian shared his findings about his own family with friends and it wasn’t long before he was asked to research some of the friends’ families as well. Ian accepted, found that he really enjoyed the research, started to develop a research system and database and 27 years ago compiled his first book on the history of a family he looked into. Today he has written more than 300 books and is still as excited as he was right at the beginning when a new family asks him to research their history.

“I normally start with the family of the husband’s father,” said Ian. “Then I move on to his mother. Then it’s the wife’s father’s turn, then her mother. I often come to dead ends. I then need to look at different spellings of names and different dates. I keep digging until I get a breakthrough.

“There are always surprises. I remember this one time I researched an upstanding South Island family. It didn’t take me long to discover a family member who was a real scoundrel only three generations earlier, a jailbird and someone who didn’t care much for his children. It’s not what the family expected, but they found it really amusing. And then there’s this lady in Taupo. She’s directly related to the British Royal Family.”

Talking of blue blood, is there perhaps any flowing through my veins?

I didn’t give Ian much to work with. I’m not proud of it, but I didn’t even know the full names of all four my grandparents, not to talk about their dates of birth. I felt a little bit better when Ian told me I’m not alone. He once was guest speaker at a function and of the 800 people who attended, only four knew, or knew where to get, their grandparents’ full names. But with what I gave him, he did an amazing job. He first traced my ancestors back to Africa, then east to India and north to Europe. And yes, I am royalty. My great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandmother on my mother’s side was Catherine De Medici, member of the famous De Medici family of Venice and married to King Henry II of France.

When Ian told me that, he was quick to add that I shouldn’t get too excited. There are most probably 80 million people around the world with the same ancestry. Not happy to just take his word, I mean I really, really had to know (there maybe is a lost inheritance after all), I jumped on the computer and asked Google to do some work. And yes, people from literally everywhere are descendants from the Henry/Catherine bond, including the actress Brooke Shields.

My wife is a very, very, attractive woman, but I always thought our two girls got their stunning looks from my side of the family. And at least now I know that’s true. I mean if our girls should ever meet Brooke Shields, I’m sure she’ll say something like, “You look familiar, are you sure we’re not family?”

And just imagine, if I haven’t phoned Ian, I would never have known.

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