Sunday, April 2, 2017

Nixons, Forsters and Border Reiving Ruffians



As a young person in the 60's and 70's, growing up in Montreal, I'd continually be asked, "Are you related to Richard Nixon?"

 I would reply an emphatic "No! I'm English. He's Irish."

That's what my father told me to say.

My British-born father also told me that HIS Nixons were from England and they were sheep stealers.  It all sounded a bit silly to me.

Today, 50 years on, I am engaged in working out my genealogy. I've had my DNA tested at Ancestry and I'm growing a tree on Ancestry.

Seems that my father was right..about the sheep.. possibly about Richard Nixon's Irishness...but not about our ties with Tricky Dickie. 

I've just learned the Nixons of Northumberland, as well as the Forsters of Northumberland (my father's mother is a Forster) are descended from the Border Reivers of the Scottish/English border regions.

Some English Nixons went to Ireland but were kicked out due to bad behavior.

My father, Peter, was born in Kuala Lumpur, to Dorothy Forster, born in Middleton-in-Teesdale, Durham to John Forster, born in Allendale, Northumberland. John was an itinerant Primitive Methodist Minister, changing headquarters every two years, and in 1912 he was posted in the lovely town of Helmsley, Yorkshire. 

Border Reiver alliances were made at that time, because after WWI, Dorothy took a boat to Malaya to join Robert Nixon of Helmsley, Selangor plantation manager, who in 1911 had been working as a footman at Dunscombe Abbey in the area of that pretty market town.

Romanticized image of Border Reiver

As I've written on this blog, my mother is French Canadian and I've found it easy to create her tree because of the fine records kept by the Catholic church and also found in Quebec archives, but the Nixon/Forster trees, well, I'm cutting and pasting them off other trees on Ancestry so, who knows.
I've already got 30 plus French Cousin Connections confirmed on Ancestry. That company is  confident that my 'Genetic Community" is from the French immigrants to the St-Lawrence. LOL. 

 I have proof that four branches of my French Canadian tree, back to 1700 or longer, are genuine, paper to gene.

With my English side, it's impossible to tell.  My father's paternal Nixon line goes FEMALE at 1800, with a man taking his mother's, Hannah Nixon's line.  And there's a Featherstone in the line, where the woman had my ancestor out of wedlock.

(It seems many Nixons married Featherstones in that era.)

I can't prove my English lineage with a DNA cousin tie and probably never will, but I can safely say my father's people were brigands and ruffians and real good horseback riding guerrilla fighters.

If you were on the King's side, you were SIR Ruffian.

Don't blame these people. The area around the English/Scottish border was destroyed by repeated warfare and so not arable. Raiding sheep and cattle was a way to make a living. The exact location of the border was disputed, as well. 

Horse-riding, now that's the part of the story I would have loved back as a child. Galloping over the moors, just imagine!

 The BBC did an expensive series in 1968-69 called the Borderers about these very people. The show is very "Cowboys and Indians" - but also very informative. 

 If the series came to Canada back in 1968, when I was 13, I doubt it would have appealed to me, despite the horses.

The Borderers can be found on YouTube, right now. The show features a young and very handsome Michael Gambon.

You can read more about the Border Reivers and their connection to men in the Nixon Administration here on the Historic UK website. (PS. I don't have to feel so bad. My husband is descended from the MacLeods from Isle of Lewis, just like Donald Trump.)

And, there are tonnes of books about the Border Reivers out there,often featuring colour plates of burly men in armour on beautiful steeds with windswept manes. 

Anyway, I can see from my tree that the Forsters and the Nixons aren't my only Border Reiving relations. There are also Musgraves, Bells and Grahams in my line.