Carnival of Genealogy – 116th edition – Catherine McCorkindale

My grandmother, a girl on the verge of young womanhood, looks at us sidelong from her position beside her mother, yet her gaze is direct and intense. I see echoes of myself in this photo, taken when she would have been about 12. This makes it likely that the photograph dates from around the time of the 1901 census, when the family was living at 3 Bolton Drive, Mt Florida, Glasgow. Catherine McCorkindale, second daughter and sixth child of Duncan McCorkindale from Argyllshire and Annie Sim from Bothkennar in Stirlingshire, was usually known as Kit by her family, yet on this census she is called Katie, obviously her childhood name.

Kit and her family were said to move often because with all four of her brothers expert pipers, the noise of their practicing was too much even for their Scottish neighbours! She was always so proud of her family’s Highland heritage, and taught me early to love the sound of the pipes and the music of the reels, even though she generally disapproved of dancing. She passed on her love of all things Scottish (except religion!)…not a good combination with the Irish Catholic ancestry on my maternal side.

As a child, Catherine attended the Cathcart Mt Florida school and among my heirlooms is her hard-bound Merit Certificate from the Scotch Education Department in April 1900, though she is still a scholar in 1901, aged 13.[i] Kit would become a dressmaker like her mother and older sister Belle, but unfortunately no oral history has survived about where or how she worked at this trade in Scotland. I certainly hope she was not forced to work in the inhuman conditions of some Glasgow factories.

Kit’s father died suddenly in 1906 and in 1910 Kit, her mother, and most of her siblings emigrated on the Perthshire to Australia where her two older brothers (and unbeknownst to us, an uncle) had already settled. Catherine and her sisters are recorded on the Queensland immigration cards as domestic servants, arriving as assisted immigrants. The family settled in Brisbane, where Kit is known to have worked for David Jones’ store as a dressmaker. David Jones was one of the more up-market department stores so presumably her needlework skills were good, as evidenced by her lovely wedding dress, which I assume she made. I’m also fortunate to have heirlooms from this time in her life – her treadle sewing machine and pair of silk pyjamas she made.

Catherine met my grandfather at a Christmas party when he asked if he could get her a drink (almost certainly non-alcoholic). I don’t know what year they met but it was possibly around the time of World War I, and it’s thought that my grandfather visited some of her relations while he was serving overseas in 1917-1918.  Even on his return the couple did not marry quickly and it’s difficult to be sure why that was. It may have been due to religious differences because my grandfather was brought up a Catholic. It may have been because he continued to contribute to the upkeep of his youngest siblings, orphaned in 1901. I’ve often wondered if he feared the consequences of marrying young and having too many children – the cause, in part, of his mother’s early death.

Dinny and Kit married in the Ithaca Presbyterian Church, Red Hill on 29 April 1922. None of Denis’s siblings were witnesses and his non-Catholic marriage was certainly a problem for many of them. As a result their social circle revolved around Kit’s family. My grandparents lived in the same house all their married life and were our next door neighbours. I spent lots of time jumping the fence to be with them both and I have very fond memories of my grandmother brushing my hair and talking to me. Her hairbrush (minus bristles) is another of my “treasures”. Catherine lived to see my marriage and the birth of her first great –grandchild. She died on 19 December 1971 aged 84.

This Carnival of Genealogy post was inspired by Jasia at Creative Gene. The challenge was to honour a woman from our family tree by starting with a photograph and telling the story of the photo or a biography of the woman. I chose my grandmother.


[i] Scottish education was compulsory from ages 5 to 13.

Fearless Females: The tragic stories of Julia Kunkel and Janet Melvin

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. March 11 — Did you have any female ancestors who died young or from tragic or unexpected circumstances? Describe and how this affected the family?

There are two tragic deaths of young women in my family tree. One was my maternal great-grandfather’s first wife, Janet Melvin nee Peterkin and the other my paternal great-grandmother, Julia Celia Kunkel nee Gavin.

Janet Melvin nee Peterkin

Janet Melvin’s story is a truly tragic one. Last Friday, 2nd March 2012, was the 135th anniversary of her death. Janet set sail for Australia from London on the Woodlark in October 1876. With her were her husband Stephen and infant son Lawrence, aged 4 months.

The family were all when the ship arrived in Moreton Bay in January 1877, but not long after Janet fell ill. She died on 2 March 1877 at Peel Island, in quarantine. I feel so sad when I think of her courage in making this voyage then knowing she would leave her infant son motherless. I was consoled that her husband and son were still with her on Peel Island when she died, and she wasn’t entirely alone. Janet had just turned 22.

Janet’s son Lawrence survived this early tragedy but I’m told his father tended to favour him above his other children – hardly surprising under the circumstances. My family descends from Stephen’s second wife Emily nee Partridge.

Julia Kunkel nee Gavin

Julia Kunkel saw more of life perhaps than young Janet but she also died young, at only 42, in what I feel was a particularly gruesome way. This was her obituary:

OBITUARY: Darling Downs Gazette 21 November 1901

We sincerely regret to have to record the death of Mrs George Kunkel, wife of the respected railway ganger of Geham, and daughter of Mr Denis Gavan (sic), of this town. The deceased was born in Dalby and was 42 years of age, and leaves a husband and 10 children to mourn the loss of a good wife and mother. Deceased, who had been ailing for some time, came in about a week ago to consult Dr McDonnell, who found her to be suffering from a serious internal disorder and at once pronounced the case to be hopeless. On account of the weak state of her heart, the doctors could not administer chloroform and had to perform an operation without its aid. Although the operation was a success, the patient’s constitution was too weak to make the recovery and she gradually sank and expired at 3.45 on Wednesday morning. The husband is at present also in a poor state of health.  Deceased throughout her life has been a particularly devout adherent of the Roman Catholic Church.  The deepest sympathy is felt for the bereaved husband and children in their terrible loss. The funeral leaves Mr D Gavin’s residence off Seaton St at 2 o’clock this afternoon.

Each time I read this I am horrified anew at the prospect of her being operated on without anaesthetic because she had a weak heart. Her husband died only five weeks later on Christmas Day 1901 leaving their children orphaned.

The impact on the family was significant because while some were old enough to be self-sufficient, they took on some responsibility for the younger ones. Over the years the siblings became alienated for different reasons and the younger ones in particular seemed to suffer the loss of their parents the most. I often wonder if my grandfather’s marriage at a rather late age wasn’t influenced by seeing what happened to his mother.

Julia Kunkel was laid to rest with her mother in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery on 21 November 1901. The full story of Julia and George Michael Kunkel is told in Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel family.

Tomorrow I’ll be visiting her grave site, so the timing of this post is particularly apt. One of my family history “bucket list” items is to put a grave stone on her grave which she shares with her mother and a friend.