Genes Reunited Blog

Top tip - Genes Reunited blogs

Welcome to the new Genes Reunited blog!

  • We regularly add blogs covering a variety of topics. You can add your own comments at the bottom.
  • The Genes Reunited Team will be writing blogs and keeping you up to date with changes happening on the site.
  • In the future we hope to have guest bloggers that will be able to give you tips and advice as to how to trace your family history.
  • The blogs will have various privacy settings, so that you can choose who you share your blog with.

The British Newspaper Archive

British Newspaper Archive

Read about historical events at the time they were happening. Perhaps you'll discover your ancestor in their local newspaper?

Start searching

Who Do You Think You Are? J K Rowling - Episode 2

Published on 16 Aug 2011 09:24 : rowling who do you think you are : 2 comments : 2780 views

Series eight of Who Do You Think You Are? started last week by looking at the fascinating family history of June Brown. We will be delving into the past of each celebrity to see what interesting finds we can make and we will ask you to rise to the challenge and see what else you can discover! This week we are looking into the family tree of J.K. Rowling and our resident genealogist, Anthony Adolph, has found some interesting discoveries. Can you uncover any more of J.K. Rowling's ancestors?

J.K. Rowling's Great Grandfather Revealed by Anthony Adolph

Research into the family history of J.K. Rowling was going well until I came to the writer's maternal grandmother, known as Freda, who was born Louisa Caroline Watts Smith on 6 May 1916 at a private nursing home, 6, Fairmead Road, the illegitimate daughter of Mary Smith, a book-keeper.

That could have been the end of the line. Seeking an unmarried Mary Smith in General Registration would have been near-on impossible, so it was fortunate that I was able to locate J.K. Rowling's aunt Marian through Genes Reunited. I explained the problem, and she kindly agreed to help him out.

She told me that the Watts' owned the nursing home and informally adopted the abandoned baby, calling her Freda Louisa Caroline Watts. "My mother didn't know she was adopted until she was 20 and while she was alive she didn't want any enquiries made", Marian told me. Formal adoption did not exist until 1927, which is why Freda/Louise married under her original name, but was known as Freda all her life.

My Mother remembered that until she was about 18, wrote Marian, two gentlemen visited her "parents' every year and she was duly paraded and asked questions about her education and wellbeing (she was privately educated). At the time she had no reason to query this and when she found out the truth, having overheard a conversation and questioned this, she was just told her father was a Doctor Campbell! From this she assumed that both her father and mother were Scottish and obviously unmarried. The Watts family, having been presumably well reimbursed, refused to give any other information.

On Freda/Louise's birth certificate, 'Mary' gave her address as 42 Belleville Road, Clapham. It was presumably in this neighbourhood that she conceived the baby. A search of medical and post office directories for the years around 1916 revealed only one Dr Campbell in South London- Dugald Campbell, M.B, C.M, of 57 Josephine Avenue, Brixton. The two addresses are remarkably close together, little more than two miles apart or a short journey, literally, on the Clapham Omnibus. "Mary' may even have been book-keeper at Dr Campbell's surgery. Although one can never be 100% certain in such cases of illegitimacy, the facts fit Marion's family story remarkably well.

What a fascinating ancestor for J.K. Rowling to have had. Educated at Edinburgh and Glasgow Universities (he registered at the latter in 1882), Dugald Campbell took a post at Lugar, East Ayrshire, not far from Glasgow, but then took a more exotic posting- as government physician for the Kilauea district of Kauai in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Kauai, where Dugald arrived in January 1885, is the northern-most of the Hawaiian Islands- the very one, indeed, whose natives murdered Captain Cook on his landing there in 1779. In Dugald's day, the islands were an independent kingdom, and much friendlier to foreigners. Kilauea is on the northern slopes of the volcanic island but, in July 1887, the previous incumbent having died, Dugald became government physician for the Waimea district on the southern side, with a salary of $1,500 a year. Dugald campaigned vigorously for a hospital in Waimea, eventually building one through private subscription and eventually obtained a grant of $500 a quarter for its maintenance, with the proviso- which he happily accepted- that indigent Hawaiians be treated free of charge. Besides being an enthusiastic cricketer, Dugald organized the first ever paper chase on Kauai, in January 1893, its participants galloping across the hillsides on horseback. He gave the winner a bridle and hosted lunch on his lawn for all the participants. He was on the committee planning celebrations for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee Ball, which was held at Waimea in June 1897, at which Dugald himself proudly proposed the toast.

Dugald married a British Columbian, Mabel Sidney Rhodes, at St Andrew's Cathedral, Honolulu, on in 1890 and they had two sons, Colin and David. One cannot help but wonder, though, whether the sight of the scantily-dressed Hawaiian girls was a little too much for a man of Dugald's decidedly dour background, and whether his later affair in Clapham may have been preceded by similar infidelities in the Pacific, maybe resulting in a few unexpected Hawaiian cousins for J.K. Rowling.

Having witnessed Hawaii become a republic (1894) and then a subject of United States sovereignty (1898), Dugald and his family left Kauai in June 1899, for London. Here he practised first in Kensington and then at Brixton Hill, where he fathered Freda/Louise at the age of about 58, before retiring to his native Lamlash where he died on 16 November 1940, aged 82. Both his known sons served in the Royal Navy in the 1st World War, one being killed off Zeebruge just before the Armistice.

For Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling dreamed up the idea of Quidditch, in which children go hurtling round the sky in a competitive game. Dugald Campbell, the great grandfather whose identity was a mere blur to her until this research was undertaken, sent men and women hurtling over the lush volcanic slopes of Kauai in the first ever horseback paper chase known in Hawaii. And ask yourself: is that really a coincidence?

It's amazing that she had such a dynamic ancestor, and that I was able to find him. Without the inside family knowledge which came from J.K. Rowling's aunt, I could never have found Dugald and I- and she- would never have known who her great grandfather really was. And if it wasn't for Genes Reunited, I may never have found her aunt. It's another example of Genes Reunited working amazingly well, and quickly, putting people in touch with each other in order to further their knowledge of family trees.


Profile Picture
Send Message
by Patricia (Pat) on 16 Aug 2011 15:56 :
What an inspiring and amazing story. I can't wait to see it unfold on WDYTYA tomorrow night. :)
Profile Picture
Send Message
by Bumble on 27 Aug 2011 15:39 :
J K's story was absolutely brilliant and so interesting to watch I loved every minute of it.....she is so down to earth and there is no edge to her at all....I have to say that I have read all her Harry Potter Books and watched all of the films and loved every minute of them is very strange knowing there will be no more Harry Potter and Gang and I for one will miss them all.....we can all live in hopes I guess but I dont feel that I will find anything that will take their place....I am a 64 year old grandmother and a huge Potter fan .......