Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 1st December: The Christmas Tree

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

As a child we always had a live tree – in fact I’m not sure artificial trees were even available then in Australia. However our live tree was nothing like what anyone in the northern hemisphere would imagine. It wasn’t a fir of any sort, tall and thick with a pine-needle smell. Instead in the week before Christmas my father would go down to the creek bank near us and select a small gum (eucalyptus) tree which he’d cut and bring to the house. I don’t know how common this was as I honestly can’t recall other people’s trees. As soon as the gum tree was in the house there would be the pervasive smell of eucalyptus throughout.

"Onion bagging" Christmas trees in Miltenberg, Bavaria, 1992

The tree would last till a bit after Christmas before it started dropping all its leaves.

In my adult family we’ve mostly had an artificial tree as we’ve often been in places where there are limited other choices. I remember when we first visited Europe near Christmas-time being intrigued by those weird contraptions that wrap your tree in what I think of as onion-bag netting. I don’t recall ever seeing anything like that in Australia anywhere…but perhaps it happens in the southern states? Anyone want to comment?

Our first own-family tree was a casuarina which my husband said was collected from near the club at Alotau in the Milne Bay District of Papua (as it was then).

Similarly when we moved to Goroka in the Eastern Highlands we also had a casuarina.

Long ago and far away: Christmas in Goroka, PNG. Eldest daughter and her first "big girl" Christmas.

When we moved to Port Moresby we bought an artificial tree which was quite sizable…probably close to 2 metres, and lasted throughout our children’s growing-up years.

When we downsized to Darwin, we left the big tree with the family in Brisbane and downsized our tree as well. Now we have grandchildren in the family, last year we upsized again.…the cycles of life. Besides which the cat, who loves to climb in the tree and remove decorations, needed a bigger tree to mangle! The small one had taken a battering over the past few years.

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun (on Monday): Thanksgiving for family history blessings

Randy Seaver at Genea-musings set this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun exercise: a special Thanksgiving Edition. In Australia we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t give thanks for the wonderful people and information we encounter in our family history searching.

Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to:

1)  Think about the answers to these questions and

2)  Tell us about it in a blog post of your own; in a comment to this blog post; in a Facebook status line or a Google Plus stream post.

a.  Which ancestor are you most thankful for, and why?

Mary O'Brien from County Clare, later Mary Kunkel from Murphys Creek, Qld. I think her character and strength show through in this photo.

Just one? Okay, I’ve decided on my Mary O’Brien from County Clare. Why? Well she was obviously robust and healthy having survived the Great Irish Famine (An Gorta Mór) and then safely delivering 10 children in those pioneering days. She had the courage to marry a man from another nationality (German) though they shared a common Catholic faith. While her husband was away working she kept the family going,  raised their family and helped to establish the family farm to ensure they could acquire and keep their land. I love the fact that on an early electoral roll she is identified as a farmer[i]. Thanks to the fact that she shared her family story with her grand-daughter, I found clues that identified her home in Ireland and connected her siblings and extended family around the world.

b.  Which author (book, periodical, website, etc.) are you most thankful for, and why?
No, sorry can’t do a tie-breaker on this question. If I really had to, I’d pick Georg Veh.

BOOK: I am most grateful to Georg Veh, the local historian from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria for his excellent local history books about the village: he and his team of co-workers have provided me with superb background to the village in general, and to my Happ ancestors’ lives as inn-keepers….not to mention challenging hours refreshing my German skills.

WEBSITE: Clare Library has been an innovator in the sphere of family and local history within the Irish context for many years. Thanks to their vision and the hard work of volunteers many records have been indexed and made available free of charge. Knowing that the indexing work is cross-checked gives confidence when searching.

c.  Which historical record set (paper or website) are you most thankful for, and why?

After much consideration I have opted for the Board’s Immigration Lists (shipping records) from the State Records Authority of New South Wales. Where available, these provide more detail on the immigrants’ family and place of origin than the Agent’s Immigrant Lists (latter now online) – sometimes critical clues on their life, pre-Australia. It’s definitely worth-while looking at the Board Lists on microfilm if it’s available. Although I still can’t find some of my ancestors arriving in Australia, this record set has been invaluable for others and for my East Clare research.


[i] Queensland State Electoral Roll 1915, district of Drayton, division of Helidon, registered 22 June 1905. Queensland women first gained suffrage on 24 January 1905, although at the federal level they had been entitled to vote since 1902. Mary obviously took her entitlement seriously and her first opportunities to cast her vote would have been in 1903 (Federal) and 1907 (Queensland). It has to be said that South Australia was well ahead of the other states/colonies, giving their women the right to vote as early as 1895.

Time for a new blog look

If you’ve previously logged into my page and are bewildered today, it’s because I’ve introduced a new look to my blog. For some time I’ve been feeling that my blog is a bit “squashed” and made it harder to read. Hopefully there’s not too much open space now.. Let me know what you think…is it easier to read?

The header takes up a bit more space than in my old-style blog but nearly all the images relate to my family history as I’ve used images of ancestral sites. I’d like to be able to link specific images with specific pages but that doesn’t appear to be possible. Happy for any tips if other WordPress people can offer some.

So what images will you be seeing:

The old red-roofed shed on my O’Brien family land in Ballykelly, Broadford, Parish Kilseily, Co Clare, Ireland.

Shore in Leith, Scotland, where my Melvin ancestors lived for many decades before emigrating: they could return now and be familiar with all these buildings.

Dorfprozelten, Bavaria from across the River Main, showing the village church, boats and vineyards: home of my Kunkel ancestor.

A beach scene from Achill in County Mayo because for me it typifies life on Ireland’s coast even though none of my rellies come from here.

A view over Dorfprozelten on the River Main, Bavaria. The river is a boundary and across the river is Baden.

Snow capped hills not far from near Drimuirk on south Loch Awe, Argyll, Scotland: McCorkindale country..

A view over Loch Awe from Kilchrenan parish: my McCorkindale ancestors moved from one side of the lake to the other but the north side (Kilchrenan) is where the McCorquodales came from in the long distant past.

A typical Irish scene in County Clare:patchwork fields.

Inveraray in Argyll, Scotland, home of Clan Campbell, and a focal point for families living in the area -they were inevitably influenced by this family. It is situated on Loch Fyne and my McCorkindales also lived at Ardkinglas at the top of Loch Fyne while my Morrisons lived across the loch from Inveraray.

Hmm, not sure all the images are scrolling randomly as intended, so please bear with me on that one..but at least you’ll get some.

I do hope you enjoy the new look.

Australia Day 2011 meme: the importance of church records and archives to my early documents.

Shelley from http://twigsofyore.blogspot.com/ has invited us to submit an Australia Day post on our blogs. She suggests that we “Find the earliest piece of documentation you have about an ancestor in Australia. If you don’t have an Australian ancestor, then choose the earliest piece of documentation you have for a relative in Australia”

On Wednesday 26 January 2011 post your answers to these questions:

  1. What is the document?
  2. Do you remember the research process that lead you to it? How and where did you find it?
  3. Tell us the story(ies) of the document. You may like to consider the nature of the document, the people mentioned, the place and the time. Be as long or short, broad or narrow in your story telling as you like!

The earliest Australian documents I have for many of my ancestors is their shipping documents: the extended Kent family on the General Hewitt into Moreton Bay in 1854 or two lines of my families arriving on the Fortune into Moreton Bay in 1855: the Gavin family along with another ancestor, William Partridge on the same ship, even though they had differing views of the success of the voyage.

But these documents posed no real challenge so I opted for ones that were a little later but were absolutely pivotal to my family history research. [It didn’t help that these ancestors don’t appear anywhere in the shipping records and have defied all my attempts over 20+ years.]

Like pretty much everyone else I started out buying the marriage certificates of my first Australian couples. In particular the one I was most curious about was George Kunkel’s marriage to Mary O’Brien. The certificate duly arrived, probably helpfully collected from the Registry by my daughters on their way home from school. You might well imagine I had visions of every section of our wonderful certificates comprehensively completed and sending me back to my ancestors’  “Old Country” to locate further branches of their families.

My early-research illusions were quickly shattered when the certificate revealed the following:

THE OFFICIAL MARRIAGE CERTIFICATE

When & where married: 26 September 1857 at Ipswich
Name & Surname: George Hatheas Kunkel Mary O’Brien
Condition: Bachelor Spinster
Birthplace:
Profession: Servant Housemaid
Age:
Usual place of residence Ipswich Ipswich
Parents-Father’s name and surname, mother’s name and maiden surname
Father’s rank or profession

George had signed and Mary made her mark. The witnesses were stated to be Carl Blomai and Sarah O’Brien. Officiating Minister was Wm McGinly. (Qld Birth certificate 140/81 of 1857 registered in the Colony of NSW)

I could have wept….so many blanks just where I needed them and an additional puzzle because I knew nothing about Sarah O’Brien. Somehow I concluded George & Mary were married in the Catholic Church Ipswich (because I knew they were Catholic, and I suppose I’d read that Wm McGinly was actually Father William McGinty, parish priest of Ipswich. In those days in the late 1980s I was allowed to look at the parish registers (no longer possible) but still there were blanks.

Sometime later I was talking to an experienced researcher at the Genealogical Society of Queensland who told me there were actually two registers at St Mary’s Ipswich, as they’d discovered when GSQ was indexing the records. I needed to go back there and ask for the second one. This wasn’t quite as straight-forward as it sounds, because I needed to get time off work, drive to Ipswich, and then get the staff to find the correct book.

However, when the register was finally delivered to my table, all the trouble was worth it. There, in faded writing, was so much I hadn’t known and which had been omitted from the certificate!

THE PARISH REGISTER from St Mary’s Catholic Church, Ipswich (not quite in this format but easier to see how the gaps are filled)

When & where married: 26 September 1857 at the Catholic Church Ipswich
Name & Surname: George Mathias (not Hatheas) Kunkel Mary O’Brien
Condition: Bachelor Spinster
Birthplace: Dorfprozelten, Germany
Profession: Servant Housemaid
Age: 23
Usual place of residence Ipswich Ipswich
Parents-Father’s name and surname, mother’s name and maiden surname Adam KunkelCatherine Happ
Father’s rank or profession Innkeeper

You can imagine my excitement! I figured that if an Irish priest had bothered to write down a difficult name like Dorfprozelten it had to be correct. I’d earlier tried buying almost every one of George & Mary’s children’s birth certificates and he’d persistently said he came from “Bavaria” and nothing else, except for one time when he put Aschaffenburg, again, who knows why. Research into that had turned up blank prior to finding this marriage register.

Armed with the correct information I was eventually able to confirm (after multiple visits and letters) that George had been baptised Georg Mathias Kunkel in Dorfprozelten Bavaria, to parents Adam Kunkel and Catherine Happ. Technically it was Catherine who was the innkeeper as the inn had been in her family for generations. Adam came from another part of Bavaria, but that’s a story for another day.

There’s another interesting fact about this marriage: that of a German immigrant to an Irish woman. I’d been confidently told by the German expert at GSQ that there were no Bavarians and no German Catholics in Queensland. Wrong on both counts as my research, and other’s, has clearly demonstrated. So a tip for those with German ancestry: if you find a marriage in the Catholic church, there’s a good (but not inevitable) chance that they were actually Catholic, not Lutheran, which is why they sometimes married Irish men or women who shared their faith.

Still there were all those blank spaces against poor Mary’s name: did George not know this detail? was the register filled out when she wasn’t there? Actually to give him credit George did well, my best estimate is that he’d arrived in Australia c1855 and could plainly speak enough English to get by. Mary’s death certificate gave me the name of her parents but not her birth place, other than County Clare. Mary O’Brien from County Clare is like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.

It was oral history that solved the final puzzle of this couple’s ancestry. One of their youngest surviving grandchildren, Anne Kunkel, told me in the late 1980s that Mary had arrived with her sisters Bridget & Kate (actually Kate came later). She knew that Bridget had married a man named Widdup and lived in NSW. Luckily it was such an unusual name as I was also able to get her death certificate. This confirmed that her place of birth was Broadford, Co Clare, although that document had mistakenly put down her parents as Michael & Bridget not Michael & Catherine. Although the parish registers for Kilseily (Broadford) post-date the birth of Mary and Bridget, the fantastic oral history known by Anne Kunkel and other O’Brien descendants in Sydney gave such a good triangulation of data that Mary’s background could be confirmed.

But wait, we still have the mystery of the witnesses for whom I searched for many years. Carl Blomai looked more like Carl Mosrins per his signature on the church document but eventually turned out to be Carl Wörner as deciphered by the Dorprozelten local historian (thanks Georg!). Sarah O’Brien was the daughter of Daniel and Winifred O’Brien who came from Tipperary to Ipswich, Queensland. I still can’t find any family connection between these O’Briens and mine but as Broadford is in East Clare it’s quite possible, and the families do continue to witness each other’s church events for a long time.  I still haven’t managed to get to the bottom of the puzzle of these inter-connecting families.

Which just goes to show, quite often one document is just not enough to tie up the ends, but persistence, oral history, and multiple records can solve the problem if you’re lucky.