Dr William Murdoch (1805 – 1866)

This post doesn’t have much to do with the topics I normally write about. The recent (and thoroughly puzzling) furore over Richard Dawkins’ fifth great-grandfather being a slave owner is probably to blame for what follows.

In today’s episode of my quotidian procrastinations, I was going through my family tree, which was prepared by my cousin Michael Bailey. Because there’s some 142 generations, I decided to start from my name and trace up to my maternal grandmother, and then to follow the her direct paternal line as far back as I could.

My grandmother is a bit of a proto-hippy (in a good way); a semi-lapsed Catholic who believes in God, ghosts and reincarnation; she’s also fun, genuinely open-minded, and very witty; and she is practically responsible for raising me when I was going to kindergarten. (So naturally, I mean no disrespect.) She has often said that I should look into her family tree because my “great, great, great, great granddad” is where my “genes must come from.” (She used the term ‘reincarnation’ before that, but curiously changed it once I told her I was an atheist.)

So I did, and I found this ‘memoir’, written by my third great-uncle about my fourth great-grandfather Dr William Murdoch, who, if there’s anything to be said for genetic homeopathy, I’m flattered to think she was talking about this guy.

Dr Murdoch was a polymath, a polyglot, a public advocate for liberal values, and other things. That’s pretty awesome, and I’m humbled to know that four of the 128 genes in my genome – about 3.1% or so – come from him, so my grandmother deserves credit for being partially correct. I’m just hoping those genes weren’t the ones that contributed to the hemorrhagic stroke that killed him at 61.

A cleaned up version of the briefish memoir is reproduced under the fold below (simply because there’s no real reason that you should be forced to sit through something as potentially self-centred as a relatively unimportant fact about my genealogy), but I’ve endeavoured to clean it up – though I tried to leave the grammar and punctuation intact – because it looks like the product of an OCR scan of a PDF document that was scanned from really old paper. You can find the original here and elsewhere. (Naturally, the page for my name and all of my living relatives is password protected.) My immediate and extended family, as well as my Google-armed distant cousins, might find this interesting.

Before we continue, I should add that Adam and Eve would be my 106th great-grandparents; and Dr Murdoch’s sins were two generations away from being visited upon me. Which is good I suppose, because from this, I gather that he wasn’t a particularly religious man.

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