When researching Alexander Burnes, one of the questions which kept nagging at me was whether he had any children by any of his Indian partners. I was unable to identify any individual Indian partners, other than the fact he had by the end of his career a harem of women from Kashmir. It would have been unusual if he did not have Indian partners right from the beginning of his career in India, but I could not establish that. Besides Burnes was unusual, as the story of his love for, and legacy to, the prostitute Emma Graham reveals.
Since the book was published I am very pleased to have been contacted by direct descendants of the Burnes family, now living in the United States. The family tradition of naming the eldest son James has continued down to the present day, and Mr James Burnes has provided me with photographs of a whole line of James Burnes’s.
But what is more he tells this rather heartwarming story. He recently sent away for a DNA ancestry test, of the type that identifies, among other things, others who have done the test and to whom you are related. The result threw up a senior Indian engineer, now retired and living in the United States, as a distant cousin. Contacted, the gentleman was delighted and said there was a family tradition that his great great grandmother had been the partner of Alexander Burnes.
Historians of course cannot generally give too much credit to that kind of oral history, but the DNA evidence validates it. Establishing family relationship by such DNA tests carries a high degree of certainty. While the ethnic group/origin profiling aspect of these tests is more open to criticism, I rather like it because it proves beyond dispute that we are all mongrels and that notions of ethnic purity are utter nonsense. Nadira found unexpectedly that her ancestry includes Jewish and Inuit, which is rather lovely.