Pensioner tracing his family tree discovers his great-grandmother had affair with Italian lothario 130 years ago – and he has 3,000 relatives he has never met

Photo of author
Written By Maya Cantina
  • Bob Brooker, 72, discovered his great grandmother Annie had an affair in 1891 
  • Annie had a fling with Italian lothario Antonio Tocci while her husband was away

A pensioner tracing his family tree has discovered he has 3,000 Italian relatives after his great grandmother had an affair.

Retired computer engineer Bob Brooker, 72, decided to look into his heritage during lockdown after his mother Doris died.

He entered his DNA into Ancestry.com and was soon contacted by a man called Jack Torch. Based on their DNA, the site said they were related but they could not find a common ancestor.

It was only when he started digging deeper that Mr Brooker discovered that Mr Torch’s grandfather, Italian ice cream salesman and organ grinder Antonio Tocci, lived opposite his great grandmother in Tooting, south London in 1891 when her husband Thomas Woombell was away serving in the Royal Marines.

It turned out Antonio was ‘quite the lad’ and fathered at least 13 children in Victorian London. A DNA test confirmed that Tocci was also Mr Brooker’s great-grandfather and Mr Brooker now has 3,136 living relatives all descended from the Italian.

Retired computer engineer Bob Brooker, 72, who has discovered he has 3,000 Italian relatives after his great grandmother had an affair 130 years ago

Italian ice cream salesman and organ grinder Antonio Tocci, above, who had an affair with Mr Brooker's great grandmother in 1891

Italian ice cream salesman and organ grinder Antonio Tocci, above, who had an affair with Mr Brooker’s great grandmother in 1891

Mr Brooker's great grandmother Annie Webster (pictured)  lived opposite his great Mr Tocci in Tooting, south London, while her husband Thomas Woombell was away serving in the Royal Marines

Mr Brooker’s great grandmother Annie Webster (pictured)  lived opposite his great Mr Tocci in Tooting, south London, while her husband Thomas Woombell was away serving in the Royal Marines

Antonio was such a character that there is even a Facebook group for all his descendants.

‘It appears that great-granny Annie got a bit too close to Antonio’s organ grinding while my supposed great-grandad Tom was away from home serving in the Royal Marines,’ he said.

‘I don’t know if even Thomas knew. But Annie was married to an Italian before she married Thomas Woombell, so she was obviously fond of Italians.

‘I was surprised to learn I am part-Italian but I was even more shocked to discover my extended Italian family runs to more than 3,000 relatives I didn’t know I had.’ 

Mr Brooker, who grew up in south London but retired to Lyme Regis, where he now lives with third wife Hilary, an artist, plays guitar as a hobby, has now written a song about his incredible discovery called ‘Me and Mr Torch’.

Mr Brooker said he decided to look into his family’s past after his mum Doris in 2016 died and left him lots of old photos.

But he got more than he bargained for when he discovered his biological great-grandfather was not Royal Marine Thomas Woombell but the Italian lothario called Antonio Tocci.

Mr Brooker has been able to speak to some of his new family and he hopes to make a trip to Frosinone, the Italian city Antonio was from, and meet up with a relative there in the near future.

Mr Brooker believes that the old gentleman circled in this picture is also Antonio

Mr Brooker believes that the old gentleman circled in this picture is also Antonio

Annie Webster's husband Thomas Woombell, who Mr Brooker thought was his biological great-grandfather

Annie Webster’s husband Thomas Woombell, who Mr Brooker thought was his biological great-grandfather

Mr Brooker, who has one child – a daughter – from his second marriage, said: ‘When my mum passed away she left me with a suitcase full of photographs. She was one of six children and so was my dad so I decided to do a family tree.

‘All my life I had believed that I was descended from my great-granny Annie Webster and her husband Thomas Woombell, a working class couple from 19th century Tooting.

‘But my search on Ancestry.com and a subsequent DNA test has revealed that my actual great-grandad was an Italian immigrant called Antonio Tocci, who settled in south London and worked locally as a popular organ grinder.

‘I was contacted by a man called Jack Torch, who seemed closely related to me, based on our DNA matches, but we couldn’t find a common ancestor.’ 

He later found an 1891 census which listed his great grandmother as the householder. 

The man he believed to be his great-grandfather was in barracks during the census and Jack Torch’s grandfather, Antonio, lived in the house opposite. 

While her husband was overseas serving with the Royal Marines, Annie was one of several local women Antonio became romantically involved with.

She fell pregnant to the Italian organ-grinder, although Mr Brooker’s grandmother, Ellen, was never told the truth about who her real father was.

It remained a family secret for 130 years until Mr Brooker subscribed to Ancestry.co.uk to help find his past.

Bob Brooker holding a picture of his Italian lothario great-grandfather Antonio Tocci

Bob Brooker holding a picture of his Italian lothario great-grandfather Antonio Tocci

‘I had no idea and I don’t think my nan knew. She left a load of notes and postcards and she had a sort of ‘story of my life’ which said where she was born and that Thomas Woombell was her father.

‘I don’t know if even Thomas knew. But Annie was married to an Italian before she married Thomas Woombell, so she was obviously fond of Italians.

‘I was surprised to learn I am part-Italian but I was even more shocked to discover my extended Italian family runs to more than 3,000 relatives I didn’t know I had.’ He was popular on the streets of Victorian Tooting, where he was known to everyone as Mr Torch, an anglicised version of Tocci.

‘I found his obituary from 1938, he sounded like a character with colourful clothes and the children following him around,’ he said.

‘It’s a great story. If I was a novelist I’d have written a book about it but I’m a musician so I wrote a song instead.

‘There’s so many in my new-found family that if all of my relatives each buy a copy, it’ll be a hit.’

FacebookLondon

ᴀʀᴛɪᴄʟᴇ ꜱᴏᴜʀᴄᴇ

Leave a Comment

c7KB 6aIw KjHD bGQO VDgH Qm6v voSO A6Mn zVKh l97N ywEt y5TR WrVz XQ1D bZE6 mPMb 95ZA dFLY EPaQ IIb4 oOv4 P5Gi dUK7 MAuL qlYL aUtZ DlZv 54ls qExm maQO rAsa AfzH gTfU iCvR jv8B hh7G 5AiP SMzZ UgaW Jc8e uKEv Ku2c n4Np VAqr xm8a hBTY M7Wr e9Nn 5zbu AKAN