Guess who’s coming to dinner…my ancestors.

Julie over on Angler’s Rest totally inspired me to write this post in her story for NaBloPoMo on Relatives. Thanks Julie for the inspiration!

I’d love to welcome my earliest Australian ancestors to an early evening dinner party so I could get to meet them as real people. I think it would have to be a typical outdoor event, under the shade of a spreading Banyan tree or a Moreton Bay fig so everyone felt at home. We’d have long tables and folding chairs. I’d buy some brightly-coloured melamine plates and drinking glasses to match pretty place mats and napkins (of course).  Hurricane lamps with lightly scented candles would light the tables so the mood was familiar and cosy, and I’d hang some lamps from the trees.

To welcome everyone we’d have a good malt beer to honour my Kent family who were Hertfordshire publicans…before they became Methodists…and some spring water for those who were traditionally abstemious. Thinking on my maternal 2x great grandfather, William Partridge from Coleford, I think we’d need a good Gloucester cheese to go with the beer.

We would have to serve roast pork in honour of my Bavarian 2 x great grandfather, George Kunkel, who was a pork butcher. Instead of slaving over a hot oven in the kitchen we’d cook the pork in our Weber Q – would that seem familiar to them or somewhat wondrous? George also made his own wine and so we’d drink a white wine similar to that traditional in his birthplace…and again that spring water.

The pork would be accompanied by crispy roast tatties for my Irish ancestors, Mary O’Brien Kunkel and the Gavin and (Mc)Sherry families, and, come to that, my Highlanders, the McCorkindales. We might even introduce them to multi-cultural 21st century Australia with an Asian-inspired salad as an accompaniment.

While we ate we’d play some Scottish reels and Irish fiddle music to cross the cultural borders of my ancestry. How much nicer it would be to have a real fiddler play rather than a 21st century i-touch and if our feet wouldn’t stop tapping, we’d dance a quick reel in the twilight. There are so many questions I’d love to ask my ancestral visitors about their lives…another reason to keep that wine and beer flowing. I think they’ll be glad to escape by the end of the night!

McCorkindale brothers informal jam session. Gift of a family member c1988.

Dessert would certainly have to be spectacular to impress my pastry chef ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, with perhaps a real Aussie pavlova (great pic) decorated with King Island cream and superb fruits like passionfruit, mango, kiwi fruit and fresh summer berries. Maybe we could even buy some delicious Haig’s hand-made chocolates to see if they match SGM’s standards…I’m realistic here, I couldn’t make them myself.

As this wonderful inter-temporal gathering came to a close, I would ask one of my McCorkindale great-uncles to play Auld Lang Syne on the pipes, and with a wee dram, toast the courage of these ancestors who came to Australia. I’ve nary a doubt I’d share more than a few tears as I farewelled my guests who’d visited all too briefly.

I raise my glass to all my Aussie immigrants: George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien, Denis and Ellen Gavin, Annie Sim McCorkindale and her adult daughter Catherine, Peter and Mary McSherry/Sherry and their son James Joseph, Stephen Melvin and later his mother Margaret Gillespie Melvin/Ward/Wheaton, James and Bridget McSharry/Sherry, Richard and Mary Kent and their adult daughter Hannah and her future husband William Partridge.

My “Most Wanted” family member: who was James Sherry?

From clker.com in public domain. Intended as a question about going green, it also represents my questions about where James Sherry came from, where he went.

Geniaus raised the Saturday challenged initiated by Thomas McEntee On his Destination Austin Family Blog, which in turn revived Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie‘s meme from 2009. For today I’m going to focus on my “most wanted” family member and leave the surnames to Surname Saturday.

Ever since I started family history all those years ago, one ancestor has provided me with an “impenetrable” brick wall.

James Sherry is first identified in the “public” record in Tullamore, County Offaly (Kings County as it was then). On 21 May 1859 he married Bridget Furlong, a local girl from the townland of Shruagh, in the old Catholic Church, with witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin.Their first two surviving sons, Peter and James Joseph, were also christened there, on the same date 29 May, in 1861 and 1865. Peter, is my direct ancestor. Their second-born son, Martin Sherry (named for Bridget’s father) was baptised in Arklow, Wicklow on 15 July 1863 with witnesses James and Margaret Halpin. Martin did not emigrate with the family and nothing is known about whether he died or remained in Ireland.

A typical Irish cottage at Knockina, complete with cat.

During their years in Arklow, James was working as a ganger on the railway, presumably on the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford line. Several children were born and baptised in Arklow before the family moved to Gorey, Wexford where they settled for about 10 years. At the baptism of each child born in Gorey, the family states their townland as Knockina, just outside Gorey township. Having researched the Griffith Valuation revision lists for the period, it seems that the Sherry family must have been living in a caretaker’s cottage owned by the railway as all other properties are accounted for. This would suggest that James had reached some level of responsibility with the railway.

The interior of St Michael's Church, Gorey, Wexford 1992. Site of Sherry baptisms and Peter's marriage.

So far, so good, you’re wondering why I have a problem….after all I have quite a bit of information on them, thanks to the baptism of all those children. But there’s one thing missing – where did James come from and what’s his ancestry? Name distributions suggest he probably came from one of Ireland’s northern counties, possibly Monaghan, Fermanagh, or Meath. Dublin is also a strong contender but surely if he was from there one of his family would be a witness to at least one of the baptisms.

In 1882 James and Bridget Sherry emigrated to Queensland with all their children, except eldest son Peter. On arrival in January 1883, the family changed their name to McSharry, supposedly with the idea that he would ride on the coat tails of another James McSharry, the partner in O’Rourke & McSharry, railway construction contractors. If this was his goal, he certainly succeeded from one point of view. From that time forward my James McSharry cannot be readily identified. Despite the family’s horrendous luck with three children dying within a few years of arrival, James does not appear as the informant on any of the death certificates. By 1892, Bridget McSharry was listed in the post office directories as a boarding house keeper in Maryborough and later in Rockhampton, where she died in 1900. Had James died so that she needed to take up this work?

No problems, surely his death certificate can be found, and this will most likely tell us his place of origin and his parents’ names? Good theory, nil outcome. Despite searching around the country, this James McSharry/Sherry appears to have disappeared off the face of Australia at least. I’ve looked for him in Police Gazettes thinking he might appear there – if he had “done a runner” and left his wife with the children, they might have chased him for maintenance. Of itself this seems strange given they’d been married over 20 years and just made the tremendous decision to emigrate, but perhaps he hadn’t coped with the death of his children. I’ve searched cemeteries, inquest indexes and hospital admissions all to no avail. Trove throws up innumerable references to the construction company and even occasional documents found at the Archives remain ambiguous.

One clue appears when his daughter marries in Rockhampton in 1903, said to be the daughter of James McSharry, late of Sydney. Does that mean “recently of Sydney” or deceased…but I suspect it meant the latter.  My suspicion is that it is a red herring to infer he may be the partner in McSharry & O’Rourke who was by then in Sydney. Searches of NSW death certificates were not forthcoming.

To confuse matters further this James’s eldest son, Peter, arriving in Queensland in early 1884 with his family, changed his name to McSherry and also joined the railway immediately. To this day, many of the leaves on this family’s branches do not know of the interconnection between the McSherry and McSharry families or indeed within some branches of either.

Did James emigrate to New Zealand or elsewhere to work on the railways? Did he return to Ireland? Did he die but never make it into the records? Was he admitted to a mental asylum somewhere? Was there some sort of scandal? Questions, questions!

My bet is that his father’s name was Peter Sherry and that he was probably born somewhere in Ireland’s northern counties. Searches at RootsIreland have been unproductive or inconclusive. Without some proof, or some clue about what happened to James, or where he went from Australia, this line is stone-walled.