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Branches of a family tree

An old Chinese proverb goes: to forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root.

Gillian Ditchfield, 64, feels she can definitely relate to the saying.

Born and raised in London, Ms Ditchfield grew up harbouring a strong affinity with Malta. Her mother, Esther Spenceley, was born here to a Maltese mother and a British father but left the islands at the tender age of three in 1925, when her family migrated to London.

Ms Ditchfield has been to Malta five times so far and has embarked on the task of tracing her Maltese ancestral line. She has conducted as much research as she could from parish records and also enlisting the help of genealogist David Lanfranco.

“We seem to have hit a brick wall now,” she said, calling on readers of The Times to help should they have information regarding her relatives.

“It is my dearest wish to know whether I have any family left in Malta.”

The research has yielded an intriguing story, which left Ms Ditchfield yearning to find the missing links.

Her maternal grandmother, Maria Assunta Zarb, was born to Maltese parents in 1901 in Sliema. According to the family tree drawn by Mr Lanfranco, Maria was one of nine children born to Antonio Zarb and Esther Spiteri in Sliema between 1897 and 1907.

The other Zarb children were called Paolo, Carmela, Giuseppe, Giovanni, Emmanuele, Salvatore, Giuseppa and Antonia.

The family tree illustrates the fact that Maria Assunta also had five half-siblings. They acquired the family name Spiteri and their names are listed as Carmelo, Domenico, Giulia, Giovanni and Antonia. They were all born between 1909 and 1916 in Sliema.

“My grandmother, Maria Assunta, married an English army man before leaving Malta. Unfortunately, I know little about her,” said Ms Ditchfield.

“I know that she trained to be a midwife and that her education was paid for by her mother, Esther Spiteri. “I never met my grand-parents as they tragically died during the last stages of World War II when one of the last bombs of the war was dropped directly over their house in New Cross, London.

“My mother’s young sister Irene was also killed by the blast.

“I have great affection for Malta and I’m proud of my Maltese blood. With a bit of luck, someone might come forth with the missing pieces of information regarding the fate of Maria Assunta’s siblings. Hopefully, their story won’t be too sad!”

Anyone who has any information can contact Ms Ditchfield via [email protected].

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