Was Newcastle masterpiece painted by one of my ancestors?
It has become an addictive obsession. I've turned gene detective to prove I am in some way related to an artistic Geordie genius.
19th Century watercolourist John Storey created two panoramas of Newcastle. The one above is entitled "A View of Newcastle in the Reign of Queen Victoria". Thanks to the Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums service for letting me reproduce it here. The second of the pair is set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. What makes them remarkable is the aerial perspective of the viewer.
As you will have seen in the programme I went up in a balloon from the Sage Gateshead car park to see if I could establish how he achieved that high angle over the cityscape. My theory was he could have been taken up in similar fashion by the many Victorian balloonists who came to the North East around that time.
But what, you ask, is my family connection.... or put another way Who Do I Think I Am?
Well my middle name is Storey and the Jackson family yarn has it that the Storey name is connected with a painter in the family. You can see how I put 2 and 2 together but does it really add up to 4?
My parents are no longer around to explain why they named me Storey. My siblings are none the wiser either. Luckily I cut my teeth on how to unearth family histories a few series ago when I had to trace the living descendants of an ancient mariner. More often than not, any dream of royal connections or priceless heirlooms ends in bitter disappointment.
In my quest I ended up with something of a mixed bag. I finally came up with another Storey in the family. Not John, but Robert Storey Jackson. He's my Great Great Uncle - a Newcastle born painter who in his day even exhibited at the Laing Art Gallery where the John Storey pictures are now on display.
But why on earth was Robert, like me, given the middle name Storey? There are no other traces to be found in my family tree. I'm left with a hunch that Robert might have been named after the John Storey who would have been at his artistic height at the time. Perhaps he was even Robert's godfather and who later awakened his interest in art?
Hours trawling through the Tyne & Wear Archives looking at records of christenings, marriages and even Victorian pre-nuptial agreements have proved fruitless in finding hard evidence..
Was it worth all the detective work? Well yes! It was great fun rummaging around the archives, both the real dusty ones and the rather clinical online ones. On the plus side I've found the individual I was named after.
Spookily Robert was born in Spital Tongues which is where the BBC studios are today. I am literally walking in my ancestor's footsteps.
As for family fortune - I did discover that John Storey died intestate. It looks like I'll have to keep on doing the lottery.