By Dr Nick Barratt
Last updated 2011-02-17
David makes no secret of the fact that he has had a colourful life, including a spell in prison. What is also well documented is the fact that he was adopted, though some of the circumstances around his natural family remain a mystery. He set out to uncover his real roots.
David's adoptive parents were Jim and Joyce Dickenson, who lived in a working class street in Cheadle Heath, Stockport. David only discovered that he was adopted when he was 12, though he says that he always felt different from the other kids. He left school early and went into trading in the textile business - just like his natural grandfather, Hrant Gulessarian, even before he knew his real background. He stumbled across the secret by chance, finding a document about himself and then confronting his parents. They claimed that they had found him as an abandoned child in Barnados, and said that his mother was Eugene (Jenny) Gulessarian, an Armenian woman who lived locally and whose parents were Hrant and Marie Adelaide.
Yet David's research led him to question this story. He could find no record that he had ever been in a Barnados home, and his natural mother's younger sister Marie agreed that the adoption was probably a private arrangement - Joyce Dickenson was actually Jenny's hairdresser and knew her well. It appears that Jenny felt she had no choice but to give up David, as her lover was married and her father had strict values that no-one should bring shame on the family. Trapped, she arranged for Joyce to take care of David. She then met and married Bert Moss and moved to Jersey, where they had a son. After some years, David decided he wanted to meet his mother, but this never took place. She had completely reinvented herself on Jersey and had told no-one about his existence.
According to Marie, Hrant had come to Manchester in the early 1900s, partly to exploit the strong textile trading links between Manchester and the Ottoman Empire. Some of Hrant's business records survive and these show he built up a thriving international company. Yet his personal life was tinged with tragedy. His wife, Marie Adelaide, left him in 1935 having had an affair with a doctor, Frederick Williams. Hrant later divorced her on the grounds of adultery and refused to let any of the children see her again. His last years were of decline, both in terms of health and fortune, and by the time of his death most of his wealth had gone.
Yet it was possible for David to go further back in time. Naturalisation documents reveal that the names of Hrant's parents were Boghos and Hayganoush, and that his uncle Stephen also came to the UK. Hrant arrived here in 1904 aged 16. Armed with these clues, David travelled to Istanbul to see what else he could find. A burial notice showed that Boghos died in 1919, but no trace of a family tomb could be found. This was mainly due to events in 1915, when thousands of Armenians were killed in an act of genocide that the Turkish government still refuses to acknowledge. Boghos and his family survived because of Western influences in Constantinople at the time.
The final step was to visit Psamatia, mentioned in the naturalisation papers as the family church, where David discovered records of the Gulessarian family tree, including Boghos's brothers and sisters and other family members who were baptised there. He also uncovered records of the family business in Constantinople in the late 19th century, but nothing beyond the early 1920s. Tragically, it appeared that all the brothers had died within a few years of each other, spelling the end of the family business in Turkey and leaving Hrant to carry on the profession - and name - in Manchester.
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