Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 7 – Grandparents and family history

4 x 7UP collage

Why we pursue our family history is a common question among geneabloggers and other genealogists. I’ve reflected on this over the years and have never had an entirely satisfactory response to that question. Why I continue with it is so much easier: the search continues and the questions remain. I can’t simply say “my family history is done”.

Denis and Kit Kunkel

My paternal grandparents and also my neighbours growing up. I was very close to them.

In my midnight mental rambles the other night, at least one of the reasons came to me. Behind both of my grandfathers lay an abyss of silence. I knew so little about each of them and their families. My grandparents were between 61 and 69 when I was born yet they seemed so old to me. When our first grandchild was born, we were not dissimilar ages, only 57 yet this seems quite a sobering comparison.

My paternal grandfather circa WWI.

My paternal grandfather circa WWI, an old moth or cockroach-eaten photo.

About my paternal grandfather I knew his unusual surname, definitely another of the reasons for starting on this quest: I wanted to know where it came from in Germany and who the first Kunkel was to come to Australia. The sole bits of “knowledge” I had acquired over the years were:

  • my grandfather was brought up Catholic
  • He had walked out of a church in Roma (western Queensland) after being told to stand up for the local squatter (true or fiction I don’t know)
  • there had been a falling-out with all but two of my grandfather’s siblings (he had 10)
  • my ancestor (who???) had “jumped ship”
  • one Kunkel came to Australia but two brothers went to “America”
  • All Kunkels in Australia were related.
  • He had gone to war (I think I knew this from his medals) and perhaps because of the paintings of Egypt on their dining room walls.
  • He had sent back souvenirs from France and Egypt but they had been “pinched” somewhere along the way.

Put like this, I seemed to know a bit but these bare facts camouflage just how much I didn’t know. What is even more surprising is that for 16 years I lived next to my grandfather and was very close to him: as the eldest grandchild of the original immigrants to Australia there would have been so much he could have told me and which I may have know except for the religious disputes in the background. The family stories I uncovered as I researched were a revelation to me, but not necessarily to my father, who had always known his great-grandparents lived at Murphys Creek but hadn’t told me until I discovered it for myself. Have I mentioned my family’s oyster-like tendencies?

My maternal grandfather was an incredibly hard worker.

My maternal grandfather was an incredibly hard worker.

Of my maternal grandfather’s family I knew even less:

  • He was born in Ireland, possibly Cork
  • I had met one of his sisters in Townsville once (he had 14 siblings, some deceased as children)
  • He was a devout Catholic with strong ties to the Hibernian society and a ready volunteer for St Vincent de Paul society and local Catholic church members.

Little did I know that my great-grandfather had only died seven weeks after my own birth.

My grandmothers were slightly more informative and I knew more of their families even though my maternal grandmother had died when I was only three years old.

My paternal grandmother and my neighbour.

My paternal grandmother and my neighbour.

My neighbouring Scottish-born grandmother had inculcated her love of Scotland, bagpipes and music in me. I have no memory of her trying to sway me from my Catholic religion despite her less-than-charitable comments to my mother. All that I experienced from her was the dedication to work hard, succeed in life, and her on-going love and devotion to me. It’s a surprise to me to discover that she was much the same age as I am in relation to my own grandchildren –like all kids she seemed incredibly old to me. I didn’t learn a great deal from her about family other than how close she was to her sisters but I did know:

  • Her brothers were champion pipers
  • She came from Edinburgh (actually she came from Glasgow though her mother came from Stirling. No doubt the capital did sound more refined)
  • Her mother’s maiden name (though I don’t believe I knew she emigrated with her mother and siblings)
  • She had three sisters with whom she was close and I knew of a couple of brothers
  • It was only later that among her newspaper clippings my mother found (and saved) her brother’s death notice in a vehicle accident in Sydney.
  • I knew nothing of her mother’s early illegitimate daughter or her emigration with them.
My grandmother as I knew her when I was a small girl.

My grandmother as I knew her when I was a small girl.

On my maternal grandmother’s side I “knew” only that:

  • Her father had owned a “chocolate factory”
  • That the family had lived in Charters Towers
  • She had not been a Catholic when she married
  • She had two sisters (one of whom you’ll meet in a few days, and another who was deceased) but of her eight brothers I knew nothing

Like my mother I did not know for many years that she had been divorced in 1913, nor did I know of her first child, Jack Tredrea.

I suppose a reasonable question would be “what have you learned from your family history?” The response is wide-spread and subtle. I now know so much about how my immigrant families came to Australia, where they originated, their joys and crosses, the ups and downs of life for people who were the grassroots of our founding society in Australia. I’ve learnt that I’m a Queenslander not just by birth but by virtue of being born in the place before it even became a separate state. I’ve learned that my genetic and cultural heritage comes from many countries and religions, though my surname is embedded in the former German kingdom of Bavaria, or Bayern.

My life is so much richer for these discoveries though occasionally I have to admit my brain is muddled from having to absorb all these facts. Would I do it again? Absolutely, without any hesitation!! After 27 years are there any discoveries still to be made and mysteries resolved? Absolutely!!! Is there any advice for other researchers? Yes, expand your search beyond your direct ancestors to their kith and kin who may well answer your questions, or open new avenues of research.

Were you close to your grandparents and did you learn about your family history from them? Did they play a role in your family history quest?

What genealogical bequest will you leave for your family? Or will they have to start anew on this quest?

Fab Feb image

Family Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

S slips into Sandon and Strachur

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). My goal is to hand down the stories of the important places in our family history, and some travel memories, to our family.

S is for Sandon (Hertfordshire, England)

Sightseeing in Sandon © P Cass 2010

Sandon, Hertfordshire was the home of my Kent family for a couple of centuries and for at least some of this time they were publicans in Red Hill and Roe Green, nearby hamlets in this parish. Last year I talked about my discoveries in the enclosure records and how they helped knocked down some brick walls in my research.

Sandon remains a rural area, reflecting its agricultural heritage, but it’s also now in the “stockbroker belt”, close enough to commute to London and there’s no shortage of houses with heritage listings and big prices. The village seems to me to lack a “centre”, other than the old church which stands imposingly, solidly. Somehow the lychgate appeals to me as an entry point. The house opposite used to be a pub when we first visited, but no longer. I love the pond across the way with its ducks…very restful.

Roe Green is similarly peaceful, revealing only by its buildings that there’s a long history here. There’s a village green where no doubt cricket is played in summer, horses being walked and a general air of tranquillity; who wouldn’t want to live here.

S is for Strachur (Argyll, Scotland)

Strachur church.

My Morrison family lived in Strachur on Loch Fyne for many years on a farm called Inverglen. Like my Sim ancestors in Bothkennar, they were more established than others family lines, being involved in local business and community as well as farming. Luckily for me one of my 2xgreat-aunts was with the Morrison family on the 1841 census as a small child. I’d have liked it to be the 1851 census with relationships stated, but I’m reasonably sure that she was with her grandparents.

Some years ago we met a very elderly man from the Morrison family in Strachur, but at the time we couldn’t be sure of our relationship. We loved that he offered Mr Cassmob a whisky (at about 10am), which he accepted to be hospitable. As several fingers of single malt were poured Mr Morrison announced he never touched the stuff…needless to say I was the chauffeur that morning. Mr Morrison had a memory of meeting a Fergus McCorkindale, a person who at the time meant nothing to me. It was only later that I established he was a grandson to my great-grandfather through his first marriage and so my grandmother’s nephew.

Outside Creggans Inn is a plaque commemorating the spot where Mary Queen of Scots came ashore.

I’ve posted about Loch Fyne and how it feels like home to me. Sometime I’d love to see it on a clear blue day rather than in its grey winter clothes with scarves of fog and cloud. One visit we stayed at the historic Creggans Inn in Strachur, with its view across the loch to Inveraray. We were amused during our stay when the waitress slipped us some fresh raspberries to accompany our porridge, with the injunction “don’t tell cook”.

S is for Sadds Ridge Road (Charters Towers, Queensland)

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign

I wrote previously how my husband found this old street sign on a coconut plantation near Gurney in Milne Bay. This is where Australian troops were stationed around the time of the Battle of Milne Bay. We’ve always assumed it was a souvenir that a soldier too with him, but have never been able to unearth anyone who might know more.

Did you have a relative who went from Charters Towers to Milne Bay?

C is a very busy letter…

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

C is for Clare, Cairndow, Coleford and Charters Towers

It looks like C has been a busy letter of the alphabet in our family, and that’s without going into names!

C is for County Clare, Ireland

County Clare is my 2xgreat grandmother’s home place and her granddaughter remembered her saying always that she was “Mary O’Brien from Co Clare”. I talked a little about Mary in “B for Ballykelly” so I won’t detour here. Because I’ve never managed to locate her immigration records despite years of searching, I started looking at all the migration records for O’Briens from Clare to Australia. One thing led to another, and the next thing I was researching the immigration of anyone from East County Clare, with a focus on the baronies of Tulla Lower and Upper. This has been a pretty interesting voyage including clerical intrigue to ensure young parishioners could come to Australia during the American Civil War era. This research project has been languishing a little, while I decide “where to from here” but I’d love to hear from anyone who comes from the Clare parishes east of Ennis. You can read more about my interest here.

Kilmorich Parish Church at Cairndow. Isabella’s grave on the right side of the path is starred.

C is for Cairndow, Scotland

Cairndow aka Cairndhu is one of my favourite places. It’s a tiny hamlet near the head of Loch Fyne in Argyll, Scotland and close to Ardkinglas, which we’ve already discussed. Although I had done lots of family history homework before I went to Scotland in the late 1980s, Cairndow hadn’t come up, so as we came off the highway we took the left turn and headed further down the loch to Strachur, another ancestral site. Some time after my return, while roaming through my old memorabilia I found a postcard from my paternal grandmother’s belongings. On the front it had an image of the church at Cairndow and on the reverse the notation “Doesn’t it put in mind of puir old Scotland”…you might imagine my frustration.

Pauleen visiting with Isabella. Daffodils planted on her grave, but snow still on the hills

Eventually I found out that the Cairndow church pictured was the final resting place of my paternal grandmother’s grandmother, Isabella Morrison wife of James McCorkindale (love the way Scottish women kept their identity!). The little church at Cairndow is actually the Kilmorich Parish church and is an absolute delight. It rests below a Scottish hill covered in bracken, heather or snow, and is hexagonal in shape with a small tower. Inside it’s simplicity itself, probably typical of Presbyterian churches, but I find it so much more soothing than ostentatious cathedrals of any denomination. Inside the door there’s an ancient baptismal font from the late 15th century. Just outside the door as you leave the church, on your left as you walk down the path, you will see Isabella’s grave. The inscription at the base is beautiful “My star of life is set, I await the morning sun”.  I often wonder if the daffodils we planted on her grave one early spring, burst forth anew each year, echoing her hope of eternal life.

Not much happening in the World on this particular morning in 2008… I spy an NT X-Trail. You can see the different styles of architecture remaining today.

Charters Towers, Australia

Charters Towers, the town they called The World, was a boom mining town of the late 19thcentury and it was there that my great-grandfather and his family repaired to rebuild both his reputation and their fortune after various family disasters in southern Queensland. Stephen Gillespie Melvin established refreshment rooms in Gill Street, with a confectionery factory behind. It was a family business and Stephen was supported by his wife Emily and children. Charters Towers lost its economic oomph when mining ceased to be such a key industry after World War I, and this probably helped preserve the significant number of heritage buildings. Sadly the Melvin’s shop was not one of the current survivors…it was demolished decades ago.

The Melvin grave (2008) makes its own social statement in the Charters Towers cemetery. Easily the largest and most ostentatious of my family history gravestones.

The cemetery is a family heritage site Stephen’s wife, Emily, and his mother, Margaret nee Gilhespy/Gillespie, are both buried there and remembered with a rather ostentatious gravestone.

C is for Coleford, England

Coleford is a market town in the Forest of Deanin the very west of England not far from the Welsh border. Although my 2xgreat grandfather on my maternal side, William Partridge, was born in London, his family subsequently lived in Coleford, Gloucestershire. It seems the family’s roots were not in Coleford specifically but rather the general area. William’s parents John and Eliza Partridge are buried in the cemetery there. While the town doesn’t excite me, or speak to me greatly, the surrounding areas can be quite beautiful and one wonderful place to visit is the Cathedral of the Forest.

The tower in the centre of Coleford is the remains of a C19th church.

This is a fantastic website for anyone with Forest of Dean ancestry: Forest of Dean Family History.

Fearless Females 13: Moments of Strength – Emily Melvin

Emily Melvin (nee Partridge) with her husband Stephen Gillespie Melvin, probably c1906-1910.

In honour of Women’s History  Month, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month. This post is my response to Day 13, Moments of Strength.

Emily Partridge was the second wife of Stephen Gillespie Melvin. His fist wife, Janet Melvin, had died fifteen months earlier on Peel Island shortly after arriving on Australian soil.

The year 1887 was to be an annus horribilis for Emily and her family, a year of many moments demanding courage, determination and loyalty. Emily was still only a young woman of 28 but she needed all the strength she could muster.

1887 started with a major flood in Ipswich, Queensland in which her husband Stephen Gillespie Melvin, nearly drowned. Some newspaper reports suggest he was trying to move goods from his bakery and confectionery store, but given the year’s subsequent events I do wonder if it was an accident. A young man, Thomas Shadrach Livermore, was awarded a bronze Humane Society medal for saving Stephen from the flooded Bremer River.

No sooner had the family recovered from that fright, than Stephen was involved in a legal case over a land dispute to develop a coal mine, in which he was one of the defendants. Around the same time his business went into liquidation, no doubt partly due to the court case and perhaps also due to stock losses from the flood and his over-ambitious expansion plans. Stephen lost the court case and the judge charged him and four others with perjury believing they had given false evidence at the land case trial. At the subsequent trial Stephen was found guilty and sentenced to 5½ years gaol. Two of the others were also found guilty while the remaining two were declared not guilty.

Throughout these terrible times, Emily would have had to keep her young family of five children together and her spirits up. The evidence suggests that she was supported in this by her parents, William and Hannah Partridge. Her family had been in Ipswich since the early days and it’s likely she found the whole experience bewildering and shameful. Her family were staunch Methodists and the Melvin business had had a good reputation, so it surely must have been humiliating to be in the public gaze in this way.

We can barely imagine how Emily felt when her husband was sent to gaol for those long years. I’ve read the trial papers in detail and I certainly felt that the evidence was ambiguous: very much a case of “he said, she said”.  Fortunately for the family, Stephen was granted a remission of his sentence after appeal to the Queensland government executive. Thanks to this, 1887 Emily’s annus horribilis ended on a positive note and the family could start to regroup. Emily’s courage and determination had been rewarded. Emily and Stephen’s reunion must have been celebratory as my great-grandmother Laura was born in due time after Stephen’s release from gaol.

Emily continued to work with Stephen to rebuild their business and some years later she bravely relocated with him to Charters Towers to start afresh. Emily went on to have another 8 children with Stephen 6 of whom survived to adulthood. She must have been both emotionally and physically strong.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories 2011: 8th December – Christmas Cookies or Biscuits

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.

My great-great-grandfather's Christmas advertisement in the Nothern Miner newspaper 22 December 1904.

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas biscuits (cookies)? How did you help? Did you have a favourite biscuit?

I think that the Christmas biscuit treat that wins hands-down is shortbread made with my Scottish grandmother’s recipe. It’s always been part of our Christmas culinary repertoire and even people who say they don’t like sweet things seem to manage quite a few <wink>. I’d guess it’s been a family tradition for something like 80 years by now.

As a child I helped by rubbing the butter into the mix, then learning to push the mix down firmly in the tray. This, too, is a tradition that has been carried on with the children in the family over the years, which means it’s time to teach it to my grandchildren this year now they’re old enough.

A couple of weeks ago while in the library reading a newspaper microfilm (on inter-library loan) I found a Christmas advertisement for the shop owned by my great-great-grandfather. He was a pastry chef and confectioner, trained in Scotland, so the Scotch shortbread he was promoting would have been the real deal.

Reading The Northern Miner: human tragedy and stories

The other afternoon I was reading The Northern Miner newspaper from Charters Towers, an old mining town in North Queensland where one branch of my family had lived for some decades. I had ordered the microfilm in on an inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia to follow up some information on a friend’s family history.

I was focused on a particular month in 1947 and what struck me afresh was just how full of human misery a newspaper can be. This sometimes seems to be more obvious decades ago when it was reported more graphically.

It also struck me that this is perhaps the one down side to Trove, though I absolutely love it in all other respects. By not sitting in a library and turning page after page on a microfilm, we lose the broader sense of what was happening in that place and at that time. We also lose a sense of perspective on how that particular editor and newspaper handled their news stories, what they focused on, and their general credibility. You also lose the sense of how they structured their paper, and where particular news features are placed. Sure, we could browse any edition on Trove, but do we really do that?

So here’s my abbreviated misery list from one mere month in a country newspaper:

  • A Rockhampton woman jumped off a bridge into a river clutching her 14 month old baby to her chest. The baby’s body was recovered, the mother’s had not been. What tragedies lay behind this story?
  • A child’s arm was caught in a milking machine
  • A railway shunter was severely injured in an shunting accident (one of the most dangerous occupations, believe it or not)
  • A Javanese child stowed away on a plane and was found alive and wrapped around the landing gear when it landed in Darwin –he lived
  • A literally feral 7 year old child was found by the Salvation Army (place unidentified). He had been rejected by his parents because he was believed to have been swapped at birth. He had lived in their shed in the back yard with no clothes, toys or training and minimal human contact. He was responding well to the Salvos treatment. One family history you would not want to find.
  • A “Negro” woman had been enslaved by her employer, a “society woman” for 30 years: “reparation” for having a child to the employer’s husband. The court ordered payment of 30 years wages and a jail sentence which was revoked because the employer had otherwise been a very Christian woman
  • Inter-racial, inter-religious massacres in India

And one for the Darwinites: Darwin had no dentist and a man had to fly to Adelaide for treatment. And yes, we do have dentists now but the need/desire to fly interstate for some significant medical treatment still exists.

And a “good news” item: the wonder drug Streptomycin was to be mass produced.

Most of these stories were found easily on Trove and are reported in newspapers around Australia, demonstrating that you may find the stories you want well beyond the confines of the local newspaper.

So there we have it, what sad and tragic family stories lie behind each and every one of these news items.

Sadds Ridge Rd, Charters Towers (Qld) and WWII in Milne Bay, Papua New Guinea.

This post is really about my husband’s family and some World War II history from Papua New Guinea (then Papua). This story shows how family history intersects with local history and each can complement the other.

Let him tell the story of how this all started:

From the late-1960s my family lived at Alotau, the District Headquarters for the Milne Bay Province, for a number of years and prior to that in Samarai also in the Milne Bay District.  Alotau as a town only came into existence in the mid-1960s but service men and women who were in Milne Bay during World War II may have known the location as Sanderson’s Bay, on the northern side of Milne Bay and to the east of Koiabule (KB) Mission. Sanderson’s Bay is near near where Corporal John Alexander French won his VC  on 4 September 1942.
During a university break in 1968 I was working as a supervisor on Gili Gili Plantation, a copra plantation near Gurney Airstrip. The plantation was essentially a very large clearing in the jungle which cover the ranges of hills surrounding the Bay and extend down across the coastal plains almost to the sea. In 1968, the stands of coconut palms on the plantation were still littered with bomb craters, wrecked military vehicles and other discards of war, including quite a lot of rusted-up weapons and unexploded ordnance; they probably still are!  I was overseeing a “labour line” or work gang using grass knives or “sarifs”, a sort of primitive hand-held scythe, to clean out overgrown parts of the plantation. I was nineteen at the time, the same age as many of the soldiers who had fought over the same country twenty-six years previously.
One of the workers took a chip out of the blade of his sarif on something metal which, when he uncovered it, proved to be a street sign, but not like any street sign I’d ever seen in Papua New Guinea or, indeed, in Brisbane or Melbourne. It was a blue rectangle with a white border carrying the name Sadds Ridge Road. I took the sign home and it has graced the many houses my family of origin and later my wife and I have lived in. While we often wondered where the sign came from, the occasional search of Australian street directories did not help, and we did not solve the mystery until March 2008, although my wife had previously seen an elusive reference to it among the Queensland pension indexes.

We now live in Darwin, and were driving to Cairns on holidays, calling in at cemeteries and Family History Societies along the way, as you do if you are relly-hunting. We stopped in Charters Towers because Pauleen’s great-grandfather Stephen Gillespie Melvin had well-known refreshment rooms and a chocolate factory in Gill Street. We saw a reference to Chinese market gardens at Sadds Ridge – and there you are! I gather the name of the Road was changed to York Street years ago, and this explains why we hadn’t found it previously.
The sign was obviously souvenired and taken to Milne Bay in 1942. While it must have meant quite a bit to someone to go to that much trouble, we have no clue as to their identity – someone who lived on the Road and wanted a reminder of home, or a soldier from somewhere else who wanted a memento of their time in Charters Towers?

So the mystery is: does anyone out there know of a soldier from Charters Towers (there were many) who served in Milne Bay during World War I? It would be intriguing to fill in the final part of the puzzle.

World War I discovery in Milne Bay, Papua

Sadds Ridge Rd sign