Who do you think you are?
Alistair McGowan

Alistair McGowan

Alistair McGowan has always wondered about his dark colouring, which often leads him to be mistaken for French or Italian. He wonders if he has any Indian blood, an idea which his father, George, always vehemently denied, explaining away the colouring by claiming Portuguese blood long ago. But George was born and grew up in India, and on his birth certificate is listed as 'Anglo-Indian'. Thus the scene is set for a true voyage into the unknown.

Alistair heads to India, the only place where he feels he will be able to uncover the truth. With his uncle, Rusty, he explores his father's childhood home in Calcutta. He also discovers from a local historian that the term 'Anglo-Indian' means that one of the women in the family was Indian at some time in the family's history. Travelling around India to search for baptism, marriage and military records, to meet family historians and other McGowans, and to visit towns in which his family lived and cemeteries in which they were buried, Alistair traces his family back through the generations, contrasting their English-sounding names to their increasingly Indian appearance in photographs. And when he reaches Ralph McGowan he notices something strange. Ralph was born in 1836 to a Suetonius McGowan - but the mother's name is missing from the baptism entry. Suetonius is simply listed as a magistrate. This is different to the baptism entries that Alistair has found for his other ancestors.

But help is at hand. With the assistance of a local historian, Alistair finds a reference to Suetonius McGowan in a religious pamphlet. He learns that Suetonius married a noble Muslim lady, whose name was omitted from the baptism record because she refused to convert to Christianity. And thus the mystery is solved: here is the Indian link that Alistair had felt sure he would find. He does have Indian blood after all.

But Alistair is also keen to go further back and investigate his Scottish sounding name, McGowan. When did the McGowans come to India, and why did they come all the way from Scotland? It is a book of Christian tombs and monuments that holds the key to this mystery. Through it, Alistair learns that Suetonius's father was also called Suetonius, and was born in Bengal in 1775. Alistair now knows of six generations of McGowans born in India. He discovers that Suetonius's parents were John McGowen and Mary de Cruz - so there may have been a Portuguese link after all. But there is no sign that John was born in India, so the trail there has come to an end.

Back in England, Alistair takes his query about John to a military historian at the British Library. He learns from the records that John McGowan went to India as a private soldier, and worked his way up to the rank of major. But the muster books for Fort St George have another surprise in store. There is a column stating the country of origin of the soldiers - and John McGowan came from Ireland.

Bang go Alistair's visions of his Scottish roots - but it has been a magnificent journey all the same, and has laid some long-standing question to rest.

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