Fearless Female 31 March: A retrospective on Bridget McSharry nee Furlong

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. The final challenge for the month is to write a 500 word mini-profile of a female ancestor. I’ve chosen one of my lines that I don’t write about often, and a female ancestor who rarely appears in my blog spotlight.

Bridget Furlong was born to Martin Furlong and his wife, Margaret nee Sta(u)nton and baptised on 29 December 1840 at the Roman Catholic Church, Tullamore, Kings County (Offaly).  The Griffith Valuations place the family in the townland of Shr(u)agh, but their absence from the church records suggests they were not native to Tullamore. Nothing is known of Bridget’s early life other than that she lived through the devastating experience of Ireland’s Great Famine. Later generations of Furlong men would be skilled Gaelic footballers. Were Bridget’s brothers, John and Martin, similarly talented?

Bridget married James Sharry, a railway man, in Tullamore on 21 May 1859 (witnesses John Horan and Maria Slavin). Their sons, Peter (1861) and James (1865) were both baptised in Tullamore but their second son, Martin, was baptised in 1863 at Arklow, Wicklow. Their childrens’ baptisms track the family’s movement from Tullamore to Arklow to Gorey, Co Wexford where the family settled in the townland of Knockina, probably in a railway house.

Around the time of their 23rd anniversary the couple made the decision to emigrate. Queensland was building its extensive railway network and James would have readily gained employment as an experienced railwayman. James and Bridget and eight of their ten known children (James, John, Mary Agatha, Margaret, Bridget Agnes, Catherine, Esther Anne, and Patrick) arrived in Rockhampton on board the Melpomene on 20 January 1883. The family name changed to McSharry, possibly to piggyback on the renowned railway company, McSharry and O’Rourke. Son Martin may have died in Ireland[i]. Eldest son Peter, wife Mary, and his young family would arrive in Australia a year later, changing his name to McSherry.

The McSharrys settled first in Rockhampton where James worked as a railway platelayer[ii]. As with the Irish records, BDM events track their geographic movement. Daughter Margaret died in Rockhampton in 1884, aged 12, of shock from burns. John, aged 19, drowned in the flooded Claude River in March 1887 while working as a labourer on/near Mantuan Downs station. Their youngest son, Patrick, died in Gympie in 1889 of pericarditis, aged 8 years. Newspaper reports seem strangely silent on the deaths except John’s. James McSharry is not listed as the informant on the certificates.

Bridget reappears running boarding houses, first in Maryborough (1892-93) and then in Derby St, Rockhampton (1894-97). James disappears entirely from view and nothing has been found of his death. Did James desert her as I suspect, or has his death gone unreported somehow? Certainly life went badly wrong for her and the family not very long after their arrival. Down all these years I feel the terrible sorrow of her loneliness and the betrayal of her dreams, but no loss of faith.

Bridget McSharry née Furlong, a widow aged 59, died in Rockhampton on 13 July 1900 and is buried in the North Rockhampton cemetery.

SOURCES:

Tullamore Parish register – information received from Offaly Historical Society. Confirmed through LDS microfilm 926186.

Griffith Valuations on microfiche (Tullamore).

Gorey parish records viewed on site.

Queensland Immigration records.

Official Queensland death certificates.


[i] Bridget’s death certificate lists three sons and one daughter deceased: John, Patrick, probably Martin and Margaret.

[ii] Queensland Death Certificate for daughter Margaret McSharry.

Beyond the Internet Week 13: Lest we forget: War Memorials

This is Week 13 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Memorial and Plaques.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Of the Beyond the Internet topics, this is probably one of the most obvious. It’s likely that if you had ancestors or relatives who served in a war, you will have tried to find some memorial to them. In Australia there would hardly be a town, no matter how small, that doesn’t have a memorial to the men (and some women) of the district who served and especially for those who gave their lives. Depending on the size of the town you may find the servicemen on one side of the memorial and those who died on another. There is often a commonality to the type of monument with the Digger, arms at rest, on the top. Still there are others which show a different stylistic approach.

Roma's Avenue of Heroes: a row of bottle trees.

The town of Roma in western Queensland chose to honour its fallen men by an avenue of bottle trees, called the Heroes Avenue. One of my grandfather’s cousins, James Paterson, is honoured in the Avenue. The historic Gallipoli Memorial near the Roma St Transit centre in Brisbane has certainly not registered with me. More recent memorials take a less stylised structure than the World War I structures. The ultimate memorial is of course the Australian War Memorial’s bronze Rolls of Honour near the Hall of Memory.

How did these memorials become such an important architectural feature of our townscapes? The impact of the war affected every town, and directly or indirectly, almost every family. The Australian War Memorialsays that from a population of less than five million, 416,809 men enlisted and 60,000 were killed while 156,000 were wounded gassed or taken prisoner. In practical terms this means that about 15 men in every hundred men served, and of these half were killed, injured etc.

Returned soldiers in uniform surrounding the Digger War Memorial in Chinchilla ca. 1920 SLQ image 4579, copyright expired.

At the recent talk by Dr Tom Lewis, he suggested that these monuments were a way for families to honour their men-folk whose graves they were unlikely to ever see. This seems quite a logical conclusion to me, but perhaps they also served another purpose: to give the families some practical way to ensure their dead would not be forgotten.

If you’re unable to visit your Australian ancestral town in person right now, the internet does provide an alternative way of seeing these memorials. Picture Australiaand Google both provide a way of seeing these iconic features. The notes on the photographs may also tell you more. For example I’ve learnt that the War Memorial in Chinchilla includes the original base while the Digger has been moved to the RSL Club…shame I didn’t know that when I visited.

The updated Chinchilla War Memorial photographed in 2011.

Without a doubt using the internet to help us locate these memorials can be invaluable and we’d be foolish to forgo that complementary process.  For example I’ve just found there is a huge memorial to all Toowoomba Railway employees who served in World War I: something to add to my “to do” list for the next visit. Queensland has a War Memorials Register as I’ve just discovered and it would be an invaluable tool. Other states seem to have similar resources.

A word of caution: there are plaques I’m aware of that are that I’m not finding on the register. There is/was an honour board at Central Railway Station for WWI railway employees which I’ve not found in situor on the register (another “to do” activity). Wallumbilla’s honour board does not appear nor does the small one for Murphys Creek.

The Murphys Creek (Qld) World War I Memorial Board taken P Cass c1988.

Some of these only come to light by reading local or occupation histories, and may include your relative’s name.

As we move into April and Australia’s remembrance of Anzac Day, you might like to research your family’s presence on a memorial, either in person, or if that’s impossible, then online.

Wallumbilla Roll of Honour. Murphys Creek is really a small hamlet while Wallumbilla is a small rural town. Despite this their wartime contributions were significant.

Murphys Creek WWII War memorial

Fearless Females #2: Thoughts from a photograph: Annie Sim McCorkindale

The photo which inspired this post is the same as that for the Carnival of Genealogy  post on Catherine McCorkindale for Women’s History Month 2012. It shows my great-grandmother, Annie Sim McCorkindale seated with her daughters Catherine, Jean and Edith around her. Her eldest daughter Isabel is not in this photograph. I’ve estimated the date of this photo at c1900 which makes me suspect it may have been taken to give to sons Duncan and Peter before they left for Australia.  She looks composed in this photograph and I’m guessing she’s holding her bible.

Annie Sim, second wife of Duncan McCorkindale, gives every evidence of being a strong woman capable of dealing with life’s challenges. She grew up on Backrow farm at Bothkennar, Stirling, daughter of James Sim and his wife Ann Wood. The farm had been in the family’s management for generations, though it’s likely they only leased it, but it does mean that she came from a family with rather more money than many of my ancestors. Backrow farm faces the Bothkennar church and school and Annie’s parents are buried in the kirkyard.

As a young woman, Annie defended her father when some hooligans entered the farm property and took her father into the corn fields to rough him up, apparently all because the family dog barked at them.[i] I loved discovering my female ancestor was a feisty woman!

Annie had an illegitimate daughter, Annie Lindsay Sim. I’m waiting on the release of the online Kirk Sessions to see what they tell me about the circumstances surrounding her daughter’s illegitimacy. Annie Lindsay Sim was essentially brought up by her grandparents after Annie’s marriage to Duncan.  I wonder how Annie felt having to care for the two children of her husband’s first wife while forgoing her own first-born child. She did not inherit under her father’s will because he had brought up his granddaughter. However history proves that the family links remained close as we’ll see later.

Family legend tells that shortly before Annie’s husband Duncan died in 1906, her wedding ring came off and rolled across the floor. She went to give him a cup of tea, only to find him dead. Of course these may be only family stories, impossible to verify. Four years after Duncan’s death, Annie and most of her children emigrated to Australia. Her sons, Duncan and Peter, had come to Australia about 10 years earlier, supposedly to separate them from the 2nd cousins they wanted to marry. Annie’s first-born child, Annie Lindsay Sim, who by then had been widowed and remarried, arrived in Australia with her husband Daniel McVey and his family, around the same time. It’s interesting that the whole family, minus one son (Thomas Sim McCorkindale), had decided to make the big move.  Annie Lindsay Sim’s son from her first marriage, Robert Anderson, also made emigrated.

I admire Annie Sim McCorkindale’s fortitude at making this international migration when she was 59 years old. She arrived in Queensland as a sponsored migrant, nominated by Alex McCulloch of Paddington, and documented as “married” rather than widowed[ii].  I’m still trying to work out what the connection was between Alex McCulloch and the McCorkindales.

Annie Sim McCorkindale in her old age, near their house in Brisbane. Do you think this might be the same dress revamped? The chain looks the same to me.

In her old age Annie lived with her daughter and son-in-law in Guildford St, Kelvin Grove. A granddaughter remembered that Annie had blue and white jugs in the kitchen, loved “wee brown eggs” and the family grew a coffee plant and ground coffee (people after my own heart!). It’s safe to assume that Annie would have met my father as an infant and toddler, since she lived quite close to my grandparents’ home. Annie Sim McCorkindale died in 1926, aged 75, and is buried at Toowong Cemetery with an infant grandson.

Annie’s relocation was worthwhile for her adopted country as well as the family. Her descendants made their impact on Australian society in various ways, small and large. Her son Duncan was a foreman at the Kingston joinery works and so instrumental in the construction of Canberra. He also contributed to the development of a Caledonian tradition in Canberra, acting as a judge of the pipers and dancing at the first Highland Games held by the Burns Club in 1925. His early death in 1928 was a loss to the Caledonian community as well as his family. Duncan’s daughter Ida was also worked in Canberra but subsequently vanishes. Annie’s other sons Peter and Malcolm were great pipers and Highland dancers, and although my father said Malcolm was the better piper, his nerves affected his performances. Newspaper reports reveal Peter winning one competition after the other at various Highland or Caledonian games as well as being Pipe Major with Brisbane’s Caledonian Band. (I wonder if there’s anyone still alive who was taught or mentored by one of the McCorkindale pipers). Annie’s step-grandson, Sir Daniel McVey, had a pivotal role in post-war aviation and was also Director of Posts and Telegraphs.

——-

[i] A discovery from the recently released British Newspaper Archives. Falkirk Herald Saturday 14 September 1872.

[ii] Queensland State Archives microfilm Z3985 IMM 132 p57.

Family Search experts share their knowledge in Darwin

Dan Poffenberger seemed to enjoy his time presenting in the Northern Territory Library.

We’ve had an unusually good run of family history experts here in Darwin this year. Last Saturday we were lucky enough to have preview presentations by two of the speakers, Dan Poffenberger and Todd Knowles who were en route to the AFFHO Congress 2012.  Both were amusing, engaging and knowledgeable presenters who work at the Family History Centre at Salt Lake City and both have wide experience in their subjects. They were welcomed by about 50 or so family history researchers who seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning from Todd and Dan’s experience.

Using Family Search (Don Poffenberger)

Dan kicked off the day with a joke about his son and their surname, but I won’t give it away in case he’s using it in Adelaide. He spoke to us about five critical elements of the new Family Search: Records, Trees, Books (digital), Learning Resources (Wiki) and Classes and Forums. While none of these elements were news to me, it did remind me I need to schedule time to look at some of the videos by professionals on particular topics. Dan also talked about the contribution by volunteers to the wiki and the indexing projects which has spurred me on to lift my game with indexing.

I’ve used the wikis already in my research but there’s obviously far more that I need to look at. Some of these which Dan mentioned were English probate info by parish and Chancery Court and Equity pleadings.

Dan highlighted the need to selectively choose your search parameters when using Family Search through the advanced search option – his motto “you set the parameters not the computer”. He also emphasised that the LDS Church has a program to digitise its current holdings of microfilmed records in what will be a comparatively short time line given the sheer volume. Of course anyone who followed Roots Tech will have known about this huge digitisation project. He did warn us that they will not get permission to digitise certain records because this option wasn’t envisaged when they first got authority to film them.

One bit of news which stood out for me was that there are now 33 million Dutch records digitised online at Family Search. Dan didn’t think this was particularly important to Australian research but I grew up in a parish which had a huge post-war Dutch migrant population. So for all of them, this will be a massive advantage.

Another item of relevance is Dan’s emphasis on Family Search being “good neighbours in the family history community”. This is why you’ll see some digitised records are free and others might refer you to a paid site which first did the digitisation. Do keep a look out for the digital option on the search results page.

Dan also suggested that the forums provide a great way for getting expert assistance with your problems eg getting a translation of old German script.

Irish family research online

Todd Knowles empathised with all of us with Irish ancestry and how Irish research throws up brick walls and can drive us nuts. However he suggested that not all is lost and there are options out there to help sort out our Irish families. I disagree with his hypothesis that most people start out knowing their ancestors’ townland. Even in the Australian context, where we were can often learn our ancestors’ place of origin from the shipping records, the townland is often unknown in the beginning. I personally think it’s more likely we know a county or town rather than townland. I agree with him that knowing the parish is so important. (As a sideline, any new researchers might be interested in posts from Findmypast Ireland, here and here, about the responsibilities and definitions of Irish administrative areas such as these). Todd shared just how many resources are actually online to help us out: Irish Origins, Roots Ireland, Irish Genealogy, Irish Ancestors, and others. I did feel that a major oversight was the omission of Findmypast Ireland which is offering us increasingly diverse Irish research opportunities. A word of warning too, that it’s important to read the background information to see just what records are included.

Todd also referred us to the great information available on the Family Search’s Irish Wikis and the videos of expert presenters. He reminded us that we should look at the Church of Ireland records especially in relation to probate or burials as this Church had responsibility for these matters even where your ancestor was Catholic. He tantalised us with the wealth of data on the 1851 census, only for it to be destroyed –truly enough to make you weep. None of us would have brick walls if they still existed!

Some lucky people may have family members who submitted a copy of this census to obtain their old age pension, but even though I had relations to whom this should apply, nary a record was found in the National Archives of Ireland when I visited. Todd suggested that you might be lucky enough to find these old age pensions through the county heritage centre– but definitely worth enquiring first, and getting a quote for price and what they can provide.

I for one am off to check out the US Passport applications on Ancestry in the hope of finding some collateral lines of nieces and nephews.

All in all, great presentations which provided lots of learning opportunities for the attendees…the conference delegates at Congress 2012 are in for a treat. Thanks to the Northern Territory Library and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory as well as Family Search.

I used my ipad throughout the talks to take notes on google documents. It was also useful to follow along with some of the sites as it was easier than seeing detail of some slides.

Fearless Females #10 Religion: Catholic branches in my ancestry.

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month #10: What role did religion play in your family? How did your female ancestors practice their faith? If they did not, why didn’t they? Did you have any female ancestors who served their churches in some capacity?

Religion played a pivotal role in my family and that of many of my ancestors. Unfortunately sometimes it was a divisive influence in situations where there were mixed marriages (Catholic+Other), or where adult “children” left the church causing separation from siblings or parents. As my family history research has taught me more about my families’ long term religious affiliations, I’ve often found it ironic that my “Catholic branch” actually has a mixed Methodist/Baptist and Catholic ancestry while my nominally “non-Catholic branch” was Catholic through-and-through for generations. Life’s little paradoxes.

The old decommissioned church from Murphys Creek now on a rural block at Upper Laidley. Photo copyright P Cass 2011.

I’ll talk a little about the Catholic branches of my family as I’ve found out more about them, and have a better understanding myself. In the early days of Queensland there were no churches and much depended on gaining the support of the community, Catholic and non-Catholic, to build new churches for the community. My family members were among those who subscribedto these collections to ensure that they could practice their faith in a place of worship. Before churches were built however, they were also said to be among those who had the Mass celebrated in their own home. This oral history was known in Ireland, even 150 years later, which is quite astonishing.

I wonder if they tired of funding one church after the other, as they moved to progressively more rural areas. Thanks to the local historian I learned that the little Catholic church which was built at Murphys Creek (no doubt with the aid of money from the Kunkels), is now a home library on a private block of land not too far away. While there’s quite a lot in the papers about its consecration at the time, I’ve not found a subscription list.

.

Consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart: this would have hung in the farmhouse owned by the original Australian Kunkel family.

Father Dunne (later Bishop), who is known to have said Mass in bush homes around Toowoomba where my Kunkel ancestors lived, believed firmly that “in every country, and in every age, the farming districts were the chief abode of Faith, the choicest dwelling place of virtue”. He knew those agricultural areas around Toowoomba “to be studded over with pure and beautiful homes, as is heaven studded over with its silvery stars. In those homes the parents teach their children goodness, and the children repay by their innocence the parent’s care a hundredfold”.[1] I like this quote and the imagery it provides of parents bringing up their children in faith despite their distance from regular worship. Nonetheless I suspect Dunne was also prone to romanticising the rural lifestyle, glossing over the level of sheer hard work involved.

Catholic homes and families would be blessed and dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  Very recently I’ve been given one of these Consecration “posters” which hung in my Kunkel ancestors’ first home, possibly when it was rededicated after my 2xgreat grandmother’s death.

Although I have no firm evidence for my view, I believe that it was probably my women ancestors who ensured the faith was carried forward, by teaching the children their prayers and taking them along to Mass when it was held. In those early pioneering days Mass was far from a weekly event but when the priest arrived on horseback, the faithful would gather together to celebrate: shepherds, stockmen, railway workers, wives and children.

My Catholic ancestry includes the following names: Kunkel, O’Brien, Gavin, McSherry/Sherry/McSharry.

My Methodist and Presybterian families remain under-researched, waiting for me to have discretionary time to follow them up in Queensland. One day!

My non-Catholic families are Melvin, Partridge, McCorkindale, Kent.

——

[1] Published in the Catholic newspaper of the time, The Australian, 1 March 1884.

Beyond the Internet: Week 12 – Church histories

This is Week 12 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is Church Histories.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

Does this sound like one big yawn to you? Lynn Palermo over at The Armchair Genealogist has written this week about the importance of background reading for our family history. Learning more about our ancestors’ parish churches is important to our understanding of their day-to-day lives at a time when the church used to be such an integral part of peoples’ lives.

Extract from Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane, op cit, p272 (footnotes). I believe Tazilia Dining is probably Cecilia Dümig/Dimig/Dimmock nee Füller.

You might be surprised at the treasures hiding within these books: sometimes information about specific people even though more often it will be general information. Obviously we’ll mostly each need our own reference reading list, given our ancestors’ different geographical areas.

Even biographies of senior churchmen can be helpful. One of the most informative church books for my own family was the biography of Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane. There are countless references to how Dunne interacted with his parishioners (which included my Kunkels), his visits to the railway camps and how he viewed them, his encouragement of land purchases etc. It also documents how he got into strife for not providing sufficient pastoral care for his German-speaking Catholics. The petition transcription includes the names of four of “my” Dorfprozelten families, not to mention quite a number of other German Catholics (I’d love to see the original but they have been unable to locate it).

Centenary histories of churches can be particularly useful though they may have a variable standard of documentation.

Catechism Class St Stephen's Cathedral Brisbane 1860, Foundations of the Catholic Church in Queensland, op cit, page 148.

These are some of the things I’ve found in the church histories or biographies:

  1. References to petitions and signatories.
  2. Details of subscription lists for the construction or improvement of churches.
  3. Donations of specific items for the church interior –stained glass windows, communion vessels.
  4. Extracts of old church newsletters.
  5. Reference to Rev Benjamin Glennie’s diary entries and remote pastoral travel on behalf of his Anglican flock. I have wondered if the teamsters who helped him cross the Condamine River in 1857 included my 2x great grandfather, Denis Gavin who was working as a teamster in that area.
  6. The catechism class at St Stephen’s Catholic Church, Brisbane in January 1860 (wouldn’t you love to find a family member in this list? I would!)
  7. Sunday School prizes.
  8. The names of churchwardens in 1907 for Anglican parishes in Childers, Cleveland, Dalby, Drayton, Esk, Gayndah (Warra history)
  9. Photos/sketches of old churches, now demolished or decommissioned.
  10. Early baptisms in the pioneer churches as priests rode hundreds of miles to marry people or baptise children.
  11. Early confirmation ceremonies reported in the newspapers.

Among my collection of church histories to which I’ve referred in this post are:

Robert Dunne, Archbishop of Brisbane. Byrne, N J. The University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1991.

St Michael’s Church, Gorey (Wexford) 1839-1989, Forde,W (ed) 1989

The Foundation of the Catholic Church in Queensland, Martin D W, Church Archivists’ Press, Brisbane 1998

St Mary’s Story: a history of St Mary’s Catholic Parish, Ipswich 1849-1999, St Mary’s Parish Historical Society, Ipswich, 1999.

A Century of Service, All Saints’ Warra 1907-2007, All Saints’ Restoration Committee.

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 17: Social Butterflies? More Martha than Mary

Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. #17 – Social Butterly? What social organisations or groups did your mother or grandmother belong to?

My first thought was “social butterly?” “My family?” Even Trove is unable to turn up stories of my mother’s or grandmothers’ involvement in such social events. One of my grandmothers died in her sixties, which of course I think is quite young as she was a similar age to me now. My other grandmother lived into her 80s but I have virtually no recollection of her even leaving the house. Surely she must have? I’m certain though that she was not involved in any social events or service organisations.

Perhaps not “social butterfly” in the generally accepted meaning of the phrase but nonetheless my mother has a history of service which evokes more Martha than Mary for those with a biblical background. The Catholic church has always been my mother’s linch-pin and she has been part of various committees within it as well as doing the church flowers and the like. She and Dad also did Meals on Wheels for some time too after his retirement. Throughout my school years she was also involved in supporting my schools in various practical ways.

Around the time I married and left home to live in Papua New Guinea my mother also took on a role as Commissioner with the local Girl Guides, of which I’d been a member for some years. She seemed to enjoy this activity but because I wasn’t around I didn’t really learn too much about what she did with them.  Before her own marriage she’d been part of the Women’s Air Training Corps learning aircraft identification etc during World War II and assisting with the library.

It’s interesting to see that this service heritage has passed down to me and my children as well, with engagement in various school or church activities over the years. Interesting, too, to know that this kind of parochial service stretches back to the 18th century in my mother’s family lines.

Abundant Genealogy Week 10: A collage of genie journeys

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.  Week 10: Genealogy Roadtrips. No two genealogy road trips are the same but they’re always fun and meaningful. Describe a memorable trip in your past. Where did you go? What did you find (or not find)? Did you meet any new cousins? What did the trip mean to you and your family?

A Tagxedo word cloud of genie journeys.

When I saw this topic I ran a mental scan of the genealogy trips I’ve done over the past 26 years. There have been so many that in truth I simply don’t remember each in detail –just the highlights. Many have been genealogical flight trips to places far away, either within Australia or overseas, though usually with a road trip added in. I decided on a collage of memory highlights over the decades from our genealogical journeys at home and away. The memories here focus on my Kunkel/O’Brien ancestry but I could list just as many for other ancestral families of mine, or my husband’s.

Murphys Creek and the Fifteen Mile, Queensland

Murphys Creek cemetery circa 1987/88. The Kunkel grave is on the right nearest the trees.

  • Learning my Kunkel ancestors had lived and died there we visited the cemetery. Set aside in one corner was the grave of my 2xgreat grandparents and their son, my great grandfather. It was a thrill to see it standing proud in what was probably once the Catholic part of the cemetery. It’s telling that theirs is the only gravestone in that area –presumably other Irish Catholics were too poor to manage a stone.  (Have I mentioned that my daughters have adverse memories of Queensland cemeteries with dry crackling grass and high temperatures?)
  • Driving along a gazetted roadway that felt like a private access path to other farms, so that I could see my Kunkel family farm (at a distance). Having heard that the then-resident was rather fond of his shotgun when it came to visitors I was mighty glad to have a long telephoto on my camera and wished that the cows would stop announcing my presence.

    The old property circa 1988.

  • Learning about the place through genie-visits with the Kunkels’ granddaughter in Toowoomba and finding out about their life on the farm and much family history.
  • Taking a steam train ride with a couple of my kids along the very line that my 2xgreat grandfather worked on (we all loved that trip).
  • Many decades later, being invited to see through the old farm property and walk the land.

    The steam train arrives at Murphys Creek station.

In Australia

  • Visiting St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich to see the original registers (in those days) and finding my ancestors’ marriage entry. Being able to see the second register which had more detail and gave me the clue to George Kunkel’s place of birth.
  • Meeting my third cousins in Sydney who shared wonderful family knowledge and photos, enabling me to link the Irish O’Briens.
  • Visiting Drayton &  Toowoomba cemetery and seeing the unmarked grave of my 2x great grandmother and her daughter, my great grandmother. Putting a marker on their grave remains one of my Bucket List items.
  • Holding the first reunion of all the Kunkel relatives in Toowoomba –what an experience for all of us! What a noise we made with our conversations!
  • A second reunion a few years later introduced many family members to family places they hadn’t know about before.

Dorfprozelten, Bavaria

One of the old buildings in Dorfprozelten.

  • A laborious train/walking day trip to visit the Kunkel home village of Dorfprozelten –and being told by the priest to come back another day. Protestations in German that we’d come from Australia fell on deaf ears, as had letters sent before and after the visit.
  • Convoluted conversations in churches and cemeteries in my poor German as I tried to learn more about my family. A similar experience with a later priest who was Polish-born: a multi-lingual challenge for both of us.
  • Some years later being shown the church registers by the then parish priest as he pulled them out of a metal compactus in the sacristy and nodded sagely at the various illegitimate births. We readily found my George Kunkel’s baptism entry.
  • Meeting local historians in Laufach and Dorfprozelten who shared their family and local knowledge with me. The Laufach historian was something like a 5th or 6th cousin!
  • Walking the streets of the village and getting a feel for the historical continuity of many of the buildings.

Broadford, Clare

A work colleague and friend had bought me these green socks to celebrate the ancestral trip to Ireland.

  • I visited Broadford first with my mother and daughter in the late 1980s. We drove in constant fog from our B&B wondering whether this was all we’d see after travelling half way round the world. A visit in the church and a prayer to my 2x great grandmother to plead our case – as we walked out the church door, the fog lifted like a blind rising. It remains one of my strangest family history experiences. My daughter celebrated her birthday that day, receiving her presents near the Broadford Catholic cemetery and then touring another one at Tuamgraney in the half dark with the owls hooting. A birthday she hasn’t forgotten! On this trip the attempt to pin down the right O’Brien family was unsuccessful.
  • On a subsequent visit we were taken by the visiting missionary priest to meet my relatives. Strictly speaking they weren’t blood relations but they had inherited the various properties and were so incredibly generous and hospitable to us with Paddy taking us to see the original farm at Ballykelly. Returning all muddy and damp Nancy, his wife, helped us clean up and then fed us. The memories of this trip and subsequent meetings with them are treasured ones.
  • Meeting third cousins in Broadford, over a pint and a whisky in the local pub. Great craic.

These memories are the tip of the iceberg of our genealogical road/air trips. We’ve had such great times, seen wonderful places and met hospitable people off the beaten track. Some places immediately give a sense of homecoming, others are special but don’t tug at my heart strings. It’s been worth every dollar and every moment that we’ve spent on these adventures. I’m rearing for more adventures as time and money permit.

St Patrick’s Day has many guises

There’s not much happening in Darwin for St Patrick’s Day today but I’ve been reflecting on the day and its role in my family’s history.

My immediate thoughts turned to the St Pat’s Day concerts we would sometimes hold at our school. I remember we would practice all the old Irish songs like When Irish Eyes are Smiling or Glorious St Patrick. We’d be lined up on stools to sing in the classroom that became a hall when required. My mother reminded me that in those days St Patrick’s Day would be a holiday for the Catholic schools though that changed over the years, no doubt due to government funding. It was traditional to wear a little button affair with a simple shamrock on it, and green ribbon underneath. This was done right through my school years if I recollect correctly. When at work I’d try to wear a green dress just to join the fun.

I looked at Trove (troved?) to see what was in The Courier Mail for when I was growing up but the digitisation stops before then so couldn’t add a great deal there. However I did find a story about St Patrick’s Day in Townsville in which my mother and her sister are mentioned as “maids of honour representing the purity of Erin’s daughters”.  My grandfather was a member of the Hibernian Australasian Catholic Benefit Society (HACBS) and one of the members told me that he remembered my grandfather helped to build the floats for the St Patrick’s Day procession. My grandfather was a carpenter with the Railways and always involved in parish activities so I think it’s a safe bet that this story is accurate.

From a different perspective my father witnessed the violence and aggression of the St Patrick’s Day march and Police action when the railway unions were striking in 1948, not long before he and my mother were married. A history of Queensland[i] shows a picture of the event and I would bet a winning lotto ticket that my father is the man sitting on his haunches on the side of the footpath, Gladstone bag by his side and cigarette in his hand. As was typical of him, he wouldn’t give away whether it was him, but I do know that he witnessed the violence because he warned me when the anti-Vietnam, civil liberties marches were front-and-centre in Brisbane in the 1960s. One day I’ll have the opportunity to make it to the Trades and Labour Council archives to see what other photos they have of this dramatic event.

And in a frivolous end to the story, how lucky were our children that when we left Ireland after a holiday in 2006, we didn’t buy a great big green cowboy hat for Paddy’s Day. We’d have loved to have seen their faces when we got off the plane in Australia, but we couldn’t be bothered carrying such awkward and embarrassing items. A shame really.


[i] A history of Queensland from 1915 to the 1980s / Ross Fitzgerald