For many of us when undertaking genealogical research, we occasionally come across an illegitimate child. Sometimes we are lucky to find the father in certain records, however, most times we are not.
This is the case with my four times great grandfather, Peter Holm Brown, who was born in Copenhagen in 1778. His mother was Marie Holm, a chambermaid in the household of John Brown.
John Brown was a Scot who came to Denmark in 1746, immediately after the Battle of Culloden. He and his two brothers went into exile in Denmark and France after their father was killed on the battlefield. These Browns are said to have belonged to the Scottish clan, Broun of Colstoun, hence the variation of the name being passed through the generations.
At the time, it was not uncommon for irregular unions to occur between the wealthier class and servants where in some cases, though not often, offspring was acknowledged and given comfortable lives. However, I have no solid evidence of such a relationship between Marie Holm and John Brown and therefore cannot speculate.
Thirteen years ago, I reached the metaphorical brick wall and had to concede defeat.
However, what transpired is a remarkable story in the form of a family lore, the lore that flows from generation to generation until it becomes a trickle like in a dry creek bed before it dissipates. As a recipient of the last trickle of the family lore, the lore was somewhat fragmented, and at the time I didn't have the faintest clue as to which ancestor the lore referred to.
Over time, newfound kin have emerged with similar stories to tell. They are the distant cousins who can play an important role in one's genealogy research.
Distant cousins, many times removed, can hold pieces of the family puzzle, and in this case four have come forward with similar stories. The common thread was that Peter Holm Brown was an artist who was disowned by his father after he married a Swede. Although there are discrepancies i.e. Peter Holm Brown married in 1811 and John Brown died in 1803, what I find incredulous is that we can hold snippets of a family lore that have trickled through multiple generations for over 150 years.
Sometimes oral storytelling circulating through families can be lost in translation, however, remnants of the story lingers from one generation to the next until it is no more.
We may be the illegitimate side of the family but the name, Brown, has continued through the male lineage of the family, serving as a constant reminder of our ties to the Brown family of Scotland.
In Denmark today, with over half the population deriving their surname from the patronymic naming tradition (i.e. "son of" as in Hansen, Jensen, Pedersen, Andersen and Nielsen), which began to be phased out around the 1830s, Peter Holm Brown's children continued the family name, Petersen Brown or Pedersen Brown, as if to assert their identity. This is probably how the family lore came to be so well preserved, with each generation wondering why we carry such an unDanish surname as Brown.