Watch Shaun's Story Mon. Sept. 24th at 8:30 PM!
Shaun Majumder, Gemini-award winning comedian and actor, is best known to Canadian audiences from the CBC comedy series This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Born and raised in Newfoundland, to an East-Indian father and a Canadian mother, Shaun has gained fame in the comedy world by affectionately lampooning the eccentricities of his Newfoundland culture as seen from his position as an East Indian/Canadian.
After the death of his mother in 2003, Shaun began reflecting on his ancestry, and was inspired to investigate his family history.
Shaun strongly identifies with his family's Newfoundland roots. To see just how deep those roots go, he decides to visit the small community of Burlington, Newfoundland, where he grew up and where his mother Marian Bartlett was born in 1946. In Burlington, his mother's brother, Roy Bartlett, shows Shaun the Bartlett family tree, which reveals that, while Shaun's Bartlett ancestors can be traced in Newfoundland to his great-great grandparents, there is another line -- the Mills -- which married into the Bartletts, that goes back even further. (A good place to start when trying to trace Newfoundland relatives is http://ngb.chebucto.org. Newfoundland's Grand Banks Genealogy website contains a wealth of information, collated from a wide variety of sources, including census information, church and parish records, newspapers and directories. It is the largest collection of original material relating to the province on the Web.)
Arriving in the mid-19th century, the Mills were amongst the earliest settlers in Burlington. They were shipbuilders, some of whom met with tragedy in December 1882 when their ship Kate sank off North West Arm. Among the eight people killed in the accident were Shaun's great-great-great grandfather Abraham Mills, and Abraham's brother Joseph.
To learn more about the Mills, Shaun meets with Elsa Flack, one of Newfoundland's foremost genealogists. Elsa was able to trace Shaun's earliest immigrant Newfoundland ancestor, a John Barrett of Poole, Dorset, England, to the purchase of a plantation in Old Perlican, Newfoundland in 1711. Sarah Barrett, one of his descendents, married William John Mills, in 1823. These were Abraham Mills' parents, Shaun's great-great-great-great grandparents.
For Shaun, it is a poignant discovery to learn that his family has been in Newfoundland for at least eight generations.
But what of his East Indian background? As a child, Shaun never really knew what it meant to be Indian, once even telling schoolmates that his father wore a native feathered headdress and rode a horse. Shaun visits his father, Mani Majumder, in Burlington, to learn more.
Mani was born in what was then India, in the small town of Comilla, near his village of Noakhali, now in Bangladesh. He went to university in Germany, came to Newfoundland, fell in love with both Marian and Canada, and never returned to India. Mani knows little of his family's history. Shaun's grandfather, Jasodakumar Majumder, was a strict disciplinarian, very patriotic, and a great supporter of Indian independence. Mani shows Shaun a picture of his great grandfather, Rada Ballav Halder, who was also an imposing figure.
However, Shaun's second cousin Kanak Majumder who, like Mani, settled in Canada, has compiled a
genealogy through conversations with family members during her trips back to India. She traced the family history to the mid-nineteenth century, and to a region in what is now Bangladesh. Birth, marriage and death registration were not compulsory at the time, so Kanak's oral history is vital. One name figures prominently in this history -- Rada Ballav Halder, Shaun's great grandfather.
Shaun decides he must go to India - a trip he'll make for the first time-to learn more about this man, and investigate this unfamiliar side of his heritage.
Armed with a list of Indian relatives provided by Mani and Kanak, Shaun flies to Kolkata, India to begin his search.There, he meets with his great uncle, and Rada Ballav Halder's grandson,
Benu Halder. According to Benu, Rada Ballav Halder was the family patriarch, a well-known figure in the small village of Chandkhati, Barisal District, now in Bangladesh. He was a well-educated man, a civil engineer, who made a good living in construction and business. The family lived happily in a large house in the centre of the village.
Unfortunately, the political situation in India in 1947 came to threaten the family's security. Rada Ballav Halder's family was part of a wealthy Hindu minority in a predominantly Muslim area. When the British divided India in 1947, and created the Muslim state of East Pakistan, it marked the beginning of a long period of civil unrest, and also prompted a mass migration of Hindus from East Pakistan, across the border into India. Hundreds of thousands of Hindus and Muslims died during the events following partition. Seeing the danger to his family, Rada Ballav Halder moved his business and family to Kolkata. To learn that his family survived such momentous and tragic times in India, makes a powerful impression on Shaun.
Shaun's journey ends at the Ganges where he unites the two parts of his family history by sprinkling some of his mother's ashes in the holy river. This trip to India, and the odyssey into his Indian heritage, has made Shaun feel as deeply connected to his father's roots as he is to his mother's in Newfoundland.