Did you read the news today that a mummified woman found in the Swiss city of Basel has been identified as the great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Boris Johnson? That wasn’t something I was expecting to ever read. But the story is truly fascinating.
The body of the 18th-century woman was uncovered in 1975 when renovations were being carried out at Basel’s Barfüsser Church. But only now have scientists and historians been able to figure out who she is and where she came from. Anna Catharina Bischoff was born in Basel in 1719 and died there in 1787, according to reports by the BBC.
She was buried right in front of the altar at Barfüsser Church, so was presumably a wealthy woman. But despite her importance and highly-regarded place of burial, there was no gravestone to reveal her identity. Based on tests to see how old the corpse is, historians guessed that she might have been from a local wealthy family known as the Bischoffs.
So how did scientists confirm this? By taking DNA from the mummy’s big toe and comparing it with DNA from living descendants of the Bischoff family. The results showed a 99.8% match, confirming that the body was from the same maternal line.
Once they had her identity, genealogists were able to trace more of Anna Catharina’s descendants – with the help of records of births, marriages, and deaths – which, in those days, were only kept by the wealthier classes. Family trees weren’t something that belonged to the poor.
And now we’re getting to the juicy bit. How is she related to the UK Foreign Secretary? She apparently had seven children, only two of which survived – one also called Anna who married a Christian Hubert Baron Pfeffel von Kriegelstein… try and say that out loud after a glass of wine. Fast-forward to five generations later and you can see that a Marie Luise von Pfeffel married Stanley Fred Williams and their daughter Yvonne tied the knot with Osman Wilfred Johnson Kemal whose son, Stanley Johnson, is Boris Johnson’s father. Phew.
Later today, the man himself tweeted, “Very excited to hear about my late great grand ‘mummy’… Very proud.”