Family history has become a popular pastime thanks to TV programmes like who Do You Think You Are?
But for Scawthorpe man Ian Jackson tracing his family tree was more than just a hobby, it was a matter of fulfilling his father’s dying wish.
Little did he know when he started in his quest to the get to the bottom of a deep dark family secret that it would lead him on a journey to the other side of the world.
It all started when Ian’s father John asked for a copy of his birth certificate back in 1967.
John’s family had done everything in their power to stop him from learning the truth about his upbringing and uncovering a family secret that had been covered up since 1923.
But after being forced to apply to Somerset House - that historically held such public records- he realised he wasn’t who he thought he was. The surname on the birth certificate was Pepper and not Jackson, the name John had known all his life.
After confronting his mother about the name she revealed the father he had grown up with wasn’t his biological dad who it transpired had emigrated to Australia in 1923.
The whole story came out that John’s father - whom he’d never met - was a bigamist who walked out on his family in England and moved to Australia, remarried and started a new family.
John longed to find his Australian relatives, including three sisters, but died before he was able too fulfil that dream.
Speaking about it Ian, 59, of Langthwaite Road, said: “My father was dying and I remember sitting at his bedside with my laptop and he asked what I could do with it.
“I joked and said I could do anything, conquer the world.
“He asked if I could find out about his three sisters in Australia and that’s where it started.”
John died in 1998 and Ian began to delve a little deeper into his father’s family tree.
After a few wild goose chases and an incorrect spelling on a birth certificate threatened to foil the search completely, Ian struck gold using Ancestry.co.uk
He went on to discover an address and phone number for his last living aunty Elva in Melbourne that dated back to 1971.
Speaking about the breakthrough after a 15 years search Ian said: “I thought it was extremely unlikely that she still lived there but I gave the number a call after several attempts I finally got through and there was a very cross lady at the other end of the phone who demanded to know who I was and what I wanted. I hadn’t realised at the time it was after midnight in Australia and I’d just woken Elva, who was 81 at that time, up.
“I explained who I was and all the background and after a while she realised I was telling the truth. “After I got off the phone I was in floods of tears, I couldn’t believe I had an aunty in Australia and I’d managed to track her down. When I started looking into the family tree I wanted to discover more about my relatives but I never expected to find a living person”
Ten minutes after the call Elva e-mailed photographs to Ian and the pair spent the next three months chatting on the phone and exchanging e-mails until Ian decided to go over and visit with his wife Vivienne.
“It was just incredible, we got through customs and there were lots of people waiting to collect their relatives and then we saw Elva standing there, I couldn’t believe it, it really opened a can of worms from there.”
Ian went on to learn about cousins and relatives who he had never known about, including relatives who died during the First World War and the colourful life of his grandfather.
He now speaks to his long lost aunty about three times a week and is planning another trip to visit.
He said: “This was obviously something that had been on my dad’s mind for a long time, he always wanted to find his sisters, I think he’d be overjoyed that I managed to track Elva down.”