Resurrecting Her 19th Century Tangier Consular Uncle

TALIM Burke Ilona Karen One of the joys of this job – a mix of citizen cultural diplomat, curator, and tour guide – is meeting some of the Americans who make their way to the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies.  TALIM, which means education in Arabic, is primarily a research center for scholars (we are the AIMS center in Morocco), but there's no reason family members can't use the library to locate their long-lost relatives.

Which is what Ilona Zsolnay (photo, with great-great uncle David Burke and partner Karen Morian) was able to do, armed only with the knowledge that her 19th century relative had spent a couple of years here at the American Legation. Not only had we, completely serependitiously, uncovered David N. Burke's portrait from 1896-97, but Ilona and Karen were able to research the Tangier Gazette from the same period.

The Tangier Gazette, a multi-lingual gossip sheet of enormous interest to historians (TALIM has leather-bound copies dating back to the 19th century), was a treasure trove for Consul Burke's descendant.  She learned that he had suffered from a tummy bug early on in his assignment, that his brother joined him as Vice Consul, and that for "political reasons" (losing party affiliation?), his assignment in Tangier was cut short.  Burke was apparently missed by the Tangerois, who deplored the short-sightedness of his Washington superiors.

The American Legation ceased to be a Legation when Morocco regained its independence in 1956, but its history is the story of America's long relationship with Morocco.  Glad that our archives yielded this personal story to Ilona, and I hope that more diplomatic descendants descend upon us here on the Strait of Gibraltar.  Scholarly research can be fun, too: our sleuths were rewarded not only with documentary evidence of a long-departed uncle, but we also enjoyed a Ramadan nightcap on the roof terrace looking over to Spain.

Maybe just like uncle David Burke would have done, over a century ago.

Gerald Loftus

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