Sepia Saturday 188: The Melvin/Melville Family of Leith

SS 188Despite my late response to this week’s Sepia Saturday post, this theme produced an instant image association. It was so reminiscent of photos I’ve seen of the old harbour in Leith – the port for Edinburgh, Scotland, over many centuries. Just imagine the whisky that may have been shipped!

Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Vol 6. This 1829 engraving reflects life in Leith as my ancestors would have known it.

Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Vol 6. This 1829 engraving reflects life in Leith as my ancestors would have known it.

My own Melvin (aka Melville) family were closely associated with the waterfront of Leith for many generations. Much of the time they lived either on the Shore or very close by. I first visited Leith in 1992 when it had that run-down, vaguely seedy atmosphere stereotypically associated with busy working ports. On my most recent visit in 2010, gentrification had settled in, with Michelin-starred restaurants and flash water-side apartments.

Cassell's Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Volume 6: Leith Shore.

Cassell’s Old and New Edinburgh by James Grant Volume 6: Leith Shore.

Despite this, so many of the old buildings remain that it’s easy to see where my ancestors lived and, with some imagination, envisage the bustling scenes they’d have witnessed daily as goods and ships were loaded ready for their voyages up or down the English coast or across the North Sea to Scandinavia.

Image of Leithh shore including the Martello tower. © Pauleen Cass 2010

Image of Leith Shore including the Martello tower. © Pauleen Cass 2010

My Melvin family included porters (perhaps bustling with the whisky casks being loaded) and many merchant seaman, some just ordinary seamen but a few who were also the ship’s cooks or stewards. The life of a seaman is not an easy one, with the risks of the sea and the economic hazards of getting work. The evidence suggests that my ancestors were fairly poor, living in the tenements near the waterfront in small rooms, but they presumably gained regular work.

Shore, Leith © Pauleen Cass 2010

Shore, Leith © Pauleen Cass 2010

Of all my emigrating ancestors the Melvins were perhaps the best prepared for the long voyage ahead. They would also become the first of my families to make the voyage back and forward to the old land: international voyagers. The price they paid can be counted in the graves of Janet Peterkin Melvin, my great-grandfather’s first wife, who died at Peel Island in Moreton Bay shortly after arrival in Australia or that of my great-great grandfather Laurence/Lawrence Melvin who is buried somewhere in Rotterdam.

Leith and Australia have other connections. Governor John Hunter was born here.

Leith and Australia have other connections. Governor John Hunter was born here.

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.

Racing through R in Retford, Rotterdam and Rocky

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). Today I am going to keep comments on each place succinct and refer you back to earlier posts.

R is for Retford (Nottinghamshire, England)

Grove St, Retford where Susannah Cass had her school for ladies. © P Cass 2006.

Mr Cassmob’s Cass ancestors lived in Retford where his 2xgreat grandmother Suzannah Cass and her sisters ran a school for young women with her sisters. The women lived in the adjacent area of Moorgate. Back in 2006 we had a great time on this particular leg of our family history adventures. You can read about it here.

R is for Rotterdam (Netherlands)

My 2xgreat grandfather, Laurence Melvin, worked as a merchant sailor, travelling between Leith and the northern European ports. He was a young man, with a wife and three small children, when he took ill on one of his voyages. He died overnight and is buried in Rotterdam. I’m not sure I’ll ever know precisely where.

R is for Rockhampton (Queensland)

Rockhampton was the Queensland hub for my McSherry/McSharry ancestors after they arrived in 1884/1883 respectively. Last year I posted about discovering the sale of my great-grandfather, Peter McSherry’s estate on Trove. More recently I wrote about how his mother, Bridget McSharry, had a boarding house in Rockhampton and the hardships she experienced in her new Queensland life, and the on-going mystery and brick wall of her husband, James McSharry.  Peter, his wife Mary, and mother Bridget are all buried in the Rockhampton cemeteries. Although I’ve visited Rocky briefly in recent decades, for me the mental associationis stopping there on the Sunlander train, and Dad making a mad dash to get us beautiful fish and chips for our lunch.

St Mary's Rushden is just delightful. © P Cass 2010

R is for Rushden (Hertfordshire, England)

Although my Kent (name, not place) ancestors belonged to the Sandon parish in Hertfordshire, it’s likely they also visited the Rushden church from time to time as it was just as close to the Red Hill area of Sandon. I too have visited this church several times over the decades. It may only be “just another 14th century church” to quote a family member, but I love its simplicity and its peace, tucked away up a lane. When the daffodils flower in the churchyard among the graves it is simply lovely. The village has many gorgeous old homes with timber work and thatched roofs. I’m also enamoured with the name of the local pub The Moon and Stars. In one of those flights of fancy I usually never apply to my ancestry, wouldn’t it be nice to think my Kent publicans might have worked there once.

H hops into Hughenden, Herston, Hastings Point and H ships

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).

H is for Hughenden

Hughenden is a small town on the road between Mt Isa and Charters Towers and Townsville. We’ve visited in passing a few times but I can’t say I feel any empathy or true understanding of it…perhaps the most noticeable feature is this stretch of road is ancient dinosaur country and the locals are making the most of this tourism opportunity.

Hughenden's main drag. I love those old country pubs with their imposing presence.

My great-grandfather McSherry and his family lived in Hughenden for several years when he was an inspector with the railways. My grandfather McSherry was also working here with the railway when he met my grandmother who lived in Charters Towers. How they came to meet I don’t know, but I’ve always assumed (yes, I know!) it was through her family’s refreshment rooms in Charters Towers. I’ve heard the Melvins also had railway refreshment rooms but I’ve found no evidence whatsoever of that, so I’m assuming it was probably a furphy, albeit a credible one.

On our last visit the people at the Visitor Centre were very helpful and tried to put me in touch with the local historian who wasn’t available. This H post reminds me that I’ve still not followed this up….the “to do” list is growing with each letter.

H is for Herston

Clydesdale c1900 John Oxley Library image, copyright expired. This was the convent during my school years.

School days, school days, good old golden rule days! My school and parish church were both “over the border” into the Brisbane suburb of Herston. Neither the church nor the school remain, replaced by a post-Vatican II church of simple architecture, while the old building shared by church and school have disappeared into memory…another job on my “to do” list is find a photo. Time, it’s always time, that catches us out.  I talked quite a lot about the school here so I won’t repeat myself in this post.

One thing of relevance to family historians: if you find your relative has been buried from St Joan of Arc church Herston and are wondering why…it’s because the priests were the curates for the hospital, and some people either converted at the last minute or came back to the church. I recall singing as part of the school choir at any number of funerals, many with no connection to the parish.

The other interesting aspect to Herston parish was the influx of European immigrants in the 1950s and especially the Dutch migrants. Don’t ask me why so many came to Herston, because I really don’t know, but as a result of the numbers, we ended up with Dutch priests for a number of years. Recently I commented on the fact that Family Search has digitised parish registers from the Netherlands: an invaluable resource for Australians with Dutch ancestry.

H is for Hastings Point

View south from Hastings Point

Hastings Point is part personal history and part travelogue. An inconspicuous mark on a map but for our family it’s been a special part of our story, filled with memories and fun times, shared over the years with friends and children’s friends. We have always camped as close to the beach as possible which means that the strong wind bent every tent pole we had. After a day of down-time from the normal rush of urban life with busy jobs and children, we’d take to exploring the rock waterholes which might conceal all manner of marine life. The area off the point is a marine park so there was usually plenty to see on these mini-expeditions and there was always the fun (perhaps less so for the feet) of navigating from one rock to the other. Most of the time there was a small spa-sized pool near the rocks which made the perfect spot for lolling around, unless you were mad keen to get into the surf, which swimming across the creek first, or wading, carefully avoiding the oyster-shelled rocks. On the southern side of the Point the surf near the rocks could be quite fierce and not all that safe for swimming unless you were a strong swimmer or out on a board.

Google Earth aerial view of Hastings Point, New South Wales

Each visit the path of the creek would have changed with tidal and weather conditions so you never knew what you’d find. One visit the creek would have a lovely sandy bank which might luminesce at night time as you walked up to the toilet block. Another time there’d be little sand on the bank and you’d be dodging around the rocks. One visit we even found a low tide mini-aquarium of marine life in a tiny pool in the creek…great fun.

Hastings Point was where we went to see Halley’s Comet uncontaminated by urban lights. Our viewing was much better on an early visit than on the date they’d say it would be optimal.

This aerial view from Google Earth shows some of the beauty of the place. Time was when the northern approach to Hastings was equally beautiful, driving through native bush of banksias. Sadly much has been altered with the bush replaced by resorts.

If you’d like to know a little more about this wonderful place you may wish to read a couple of my posts from last year, here and here.

H is for H-named ships

A ship called Hotspur, but is it the one which brought the Irish immigrants? State Library of Queensland Negative number: 63060, copyright expired.

I have done some research into emigrants from east County Clare, Ireland to Australia. When I was looking at the names yesterday I realised a number of these immigrants arrived on ships whose names started with the letter H. So here’s to them…name of ship (year) [number of east Clare people on board]. You can see the increase in numbers in the 1860s with the American Civil War.

Humbolt (1852) [4]; Himalaya (1855) [3]; Hilton (1855) [2]; Herald of the Morning (1858) [9]; Hornet (1859) [3]; Hotspur (1863) [26]; Himalaya (1865) [6]; and Hornet (1865) [15]

The original source for this data came from the Board’s Immigrant Lists from State Records NSW. The east Clare data has been extracted from my own database.

Today’s A to Z 2012 recommendation:

Somebody has to say it…I love this woman’s bolshie attitude. Her position is set out clearly and logically on her topic of the day. She reminds me of a friend and former colleague of mine.

Aspirations and goals for 2012: PROWLS

First and foremost, Happy New Year/Happy Hogmanay to my readers. I hope 2012 brings you an abundance of discoveries and excitement in your family history.

Having felt a tad unfocused in 2011, I’ve been giving some thought to want I want to achieve with my family history in 2012. So here it is – my goals and aspirations…maybe they (and you!) will keep me “honest” over the year. I’m hoping my acronym will help keep me focused on these points.

PUBLISH

Seems a bit cart-before-the-horse putting this first, but it’s at the head of my list because it’s the thing I most want to achieve. I have a draft history written for my Melvin family which needs gaps filled, research added, and editing done. It’s possible it may even need a re-write as I’m undecided about the style I’ve used….sigh.

A lower-priority “wish list” publication is a small book for my grandchildren about their ancestors.

RESEARCH

Somehow in 2011 my research felt like it took a back seat. Did it in reality? I’m not sure, but either way I want to get down and dirty in the records more often in 2012. I’d love that to be in the archives but if that’s just not possible geographically, then it will have to be online or microfilm.

This is the year when I decide whether I do more detailed research on the east Clare immigrants to eastern Australia, and if so, what I do with that. I also need to leave time for evolving research opportunities.

ORGANISE

More scanning of documents and (tagging of) photographs … I have lots of “stuff” from pre-computers that I really need to digitise.

Monitoring of what I’m actually doing and staying focused is important also.

Genealogy Program: I’ve mentioned before that family history computer software makes me feel like I’m hobbled. Perhaps it’s time to revisit this attitude and perhaps try a new program in lieu of Relatively Yours which I’ve had for years because of its holistic information approach (atypical in those years). Can’t decide whether to upgrade my copy of The Master Genealogist to Version 8 or try Family Historian.

WRITING

I much prefer to write up my findings than to put them into a genealogy database. It feels less confining and enables me to add the background story and pictures as well as the data and source references. It also lets me highlight the gaps in my information and where I need to dig deeper.

In an ideal world I’ll keep a running file on each family to which I add. Note, this is my ideal but I’d like to get back into this habit in 2012, with greater clarity and focus.

LEARNING

Once again I plan to do some more Pharos courses while the pound is weak and the Aussie dollar is strong.

I’ll also be following blogs on Google Reader throughout the year to learn what everyone else is up to, as well as listening in to some RootsTech presentations and webinars.

SHARING

Blogging will be the key component of my sharing strategy in 2012. I hope to continue writing about my own research but thought I might use some of the items from my Beyond the Internet geneameme to highlight different resources (off line and online) and how they’ve advanced my family stories. This may or may not tie in with the new 52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy series by Amy Coffin & Geneabloggers.

My thoughts have been skirmishing around setting up two more blogs: one exclusively for my Dorfprozelten research and one which will be updates and new research on my Kunkel family history since the 2003 publication of Grassroots Queenslanders: The Kunkel family. I’m particularly undecided on the latter and whether it’s best served by being split off from Family History across the Seas.

I’m looking forward to 2012 in the genealogy world and learning and sharing with my online mates.

The Ancestors’ Geneameme challenge from Geniaus

Geniaus has set us another challenge with The Ancestors’ Geneameme. This is my response to the challenge.

The list should be annotated in the following manner:
Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize (colour optional)
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type
You are encouraged to add extra comments in brackets after each item

Which of these apply to you?

  1. Can name my 16 great-great-grandparents
  2. Can name over 50 direct ancestors
  3. Have photographs or portraits of my 8 great-grandparents
  4. Have an ancestor who was married more than three times
  5. Have an ancestor who was a bigamist (he wasn’t but his 4th wife was)
  6. Met all four of my grandparents ( I was lucky enough to have three of them into my teens or beyond.)
  7. Met one or more of my great-grandparents (all pre-deceased my arrival)
  8. Named a child after an ancestor (coincidentally though I knew it was similar)
  9. Bear an ancestor’s given name/s (not having an ancestral name was apparently intentional –ironically I’ve always felt like a Kate, a recurring family name on all sides: too late to bother changing it now)
  10. Have an ancestor from Great Britain or Ireland (all branches except my German one).
  11. Have an ancestor from Asia
  12.  Have an ancestor from Continental Europe (George Kunkel always said he was from Bavaria, not Germany)
  13. Have an ancestor from Africa
  14. Have an ancestor who was an agricultural labourer
  15. Have an ancestor who had large land holdings (a few with centuries of property either leased or owned but not large land holdings)
  16. Have an ancestor who was a holy man – minister, priest, rabbi (with all those Catholics, no direct ancestors, and none in the Protestant denominations either that I’ve found though lots in one family serving as churchwardens, overseers of the poor etc)
  17. Have an ancestor who was a midwife
  18. Have an ancestor who was an author (oh, how I wish)
  19. Have an ancestor with the surname Smith, Murphy or Jones (but try googling Partridge or Kent)
  20. Have an ancestor with the surname Wong, Kim, Suzuki or Ng
  21. Have an ancestor with a surname beginning with X
  22. Have an ancestor with a forename beginnining with Z
  23. Have an ancestor born/died on 25th December (my great-grandfather died on Xmas Day, six weeks after his wife died. They left a large family orphaned ranging from 21 to 2)
  24. Have an ancestor born on New Year’s Day (not a direct ancestor, but a few siblings)
  25. Have blue blood in your family lines (blue babies with Rh- blood, but no blue-blood royalty)
  26. Have a parent who was born in a country different from my country of birth
  27. Have a grandparent who was born in a country different from my country of birth (two: Scots Presbyterian on one side and Irish Catholic on the other)
  28. Can trace a direct family line back to the eighteenth century
  29. Can trace a direct family line back to the seventeenth century or earlier
  30. Have seen copies of the signatures of some of my great-grandparents
  31. Have ancestors who signed their marriage certificate with an X
  32. Have a grandparent or earlier ancestor who went to university (no, mine is the first university-educated generation as far as I know)
  33. Have an ancestor who was convicted of a criminal offence (he and a few others went to jail over perjury but released soon after appeals to the Qld Executive in relation to the court case)
  34. Have an ancestor who was a victim of crime (only minor events: one ancestor had his chickens stolen, as he was a butcher this would have been a hassle, another had his horse stolen. However one was a witness to an event in one of Qld’s first court cases which gave me new evidence on his own life.)
  35. Have shared an ancestor’s story online or in a magazine (I use my blog to tell some of my ancestor’s stories, have had the story of my great-grandmother’s rather gruesome death published in GSNT’s Progenitor magazine, and published a large number of short family histories as part of the Q150 projects with QFHS’s Founding Families, GSQ’s Queensland Pioneer Families 1859-1901 and Muster Roll, and TDDFHS’s Our Backyard, Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery.)
  36. Have published a family history online or in print (Grassroots Queenslanders: The Kunkel Family tells the story of the Kunkel family from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria and the O’Brien family from Ballykelly, Broadford, Co Clare, Ireland. It was published in 2003. Time for another?)
  37. Have visited an ancestor’s home from the 19th or earlier centuries: I’ve lacked the courage to door-knock current owners of most family homes overseas while in situ but we have stood on the land and among the house ruins where ancestors lived in Ireland, Scotland and Bavaria. Writing in advance to visit the surviving homes is on my courage wish list: one in Hertfordshire, one in Stirlingshire. And whoops, I forgot my Kunkel ancestor’s house in Australia which dates from the 1870s and which I have visited.
  38. Still have an ancestor’s home from the 19th or earlier centuries in the family
  39. Have a family bible from the 19th Century (I know one exists but no idea where it went to before my grandmother died).
  40. Have a pre-19th century family bible (again I could wish, and wish)


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.

A family word cloud

Inspired by a post by Aillin at Australian Genealogy Journeys I had to give this a go, using Wordle to produce a cloud of my families’ names and places. Haven’t figured out how to deal with double-word places eg Charters Towers but it was fun.

Wordle: A FH cloud2

And another of just my family names:

Wordle: A fh cloud3

And some places from my husband’s families’ places of interest:
Wordle: FH for u

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 13: Sweets Lollies and Desserts

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History:

Week 13′s topic is Sweets. What was your favorite childhood candy or dessert? Have your tastes changed since then?

This week’s topic intersects both my genealogy and my own personal history. As I grew up I was told that my maternal great-grandfather owned a chocolate factory. You can imagine how much my mouth watered at that! Although the sceptical side of me assumed this was an extension of the truth, I’ve subsequently managed to prove it was correct….he was a skilled confectioner and pastry cook. So I suppose it almost goes without saying that I have a “sweet tooth”. One of the benchmarks of a true dessert aficionado is the need to check what’s on the end of a restaurant menu before deciding on the main course, and whether there’s room for an entrée. Having said that, the power of the desserts is slowly losing its hold on me….perhaps because there are so few that truly live up to expectation?

Do you associate sweets/biscuits etc with your relatives? I remember my maternal grandmother (who died when I was young) by the round, jam-spliced shortbread biscuits she would bring when she came for a visit –it was her father who was the pastry chef/confectioner so I guess she had a sweet tooth too. My paternal grandmother is Orange Cream biscuits and my paternal grandfather the Ginger snaps he’d dunk in his tea. My maternal grandfather is associated with the rich, complex Hungarian cakes that neighbours would give him in exchange for home handyman work he’d do for them in those post-War migration years. My mother goes with sponge cakes and my father sums it up with “custard, cream or ice cream” to which he’d reply “yes please”. He never did bother with the “or” in that query! My grandson associates his aunt with chocolate crackles that they make together and me with making smoothies together or the tiny ice cream that they have after their afternoon nap…I wonder what their memories will be of this as they grow older.

A delicious slice of custard tart.

When I was a child my birthday request would often include home-made custard tart –delicious but temperamental to cook, especially to ensure the pastry remained firm but melt-in-the-mouth. Mum would make lamingtons with her home-made sponge cake, and these were another favourite as my mother’s sponge cakes were “to die for”.  For special events she’d sometimes even make the lamingtons with pink icing rather than chocolate…girly heaven.

But I don’t want to focus on desserts but rather on the confectionery side of this topic – lollies, sweets, candy or whatever confectionery is called where you come from.

My Easter raffle prize tin - without the lollies.

My stand-out memory of lollies is the year I won the Easter raffle at my primary school. I need to tell you that despite my strong Irish ancestry, the luck of the Irish for me involves black shrivelled shamrocks, not buckets of money at the end of the rainbow. This explains why a win of a metal tin of home-made lollies has stayed so strongly in my memory over such a long period. I’m a sucker for pretty “containers” and an even bigger one for delicious lollies so it was a double whammy. The tin still lives with me and holds some of my childhood memorabilia. The lollies inside the tin were all hand-made and included marshmellows, coconut ice, toffees, and chocolate fudge. Delicious!

In those days it was not uncommon for women to make their own lollies –or perhaps it was and I was just lucky to know so many who were skilled at cooking confectionery. My mother would sometimes make marshmellows, usually in winter I think, as it’s an item which can be very temperamental to make in a sub-tropical and humid environment and needed the “right” sort of day before it could be made.

Coconut ice is another confectionery item that I used to love but these days it’s remarkably difficult to find one with the right texture and taste, even among the home-made varieties. A few years back I found a commercial one at a deli in New Farm in Brisbane, and I would stock up when I went down there for a visit….not that it would last long. J  Mum’s coconut ice was pretty good too but some could be too creamy, others too sugary, some just too sweet and ikky.Wholesome Cook’s picture of coconut ice looks perfect. And just in case you were wondering about whether I really liked coconut, we’d also have home-made pink coconut ice blocks during the summer ;-)

Mum would regularly made toffees for school fetes or the birthday morning teas that were a part of our school-day celebrations. These toffees would be made in patty cake papers and usually the top was sprinkled with hundreds and thousands.

The best chocolate fudge that I remember was made by the man who lived across the road and whose daughters were childhood friends of mine. He was ahead of his time and very comfortable in the kitchen –a change of pace, and possibly stress-release, from his real job as a train driver. Jim’s fudge was smooth as silk, rich and dark and melt-in-the-mouth. Nothing since has quite matched his standards.

In the 1950s school and church fetes were huge and most of the things on sale were hand-made. Confectionery was among the many appealing things available to buy and you got to know which ones you liked best. Toffee apples were a feature and so appealing with their bright red toffee coating and crisp healthy inside: do you think the healthiness of the apple offsets the sugar factor?

Even the lollies on sale at the corner store had some ceremony rather than being packaged up as they are today: they were stored in large glass bottles with silver lids, and our shop probably had about 10 jars. For most kids a treat involved being allowed to buy a small paper bay of lollies from the corner store and the ones I remember best are the hard heart-shaped ones which had messages written on them or the bright pink musk lolly twists. There was also a stick-jaw type mint stick with chocolate coating. What were they called?? These are the ones that have stuck in my mind along with the round gold-foil-wrapped Coconut Rough chocolates- now I can only taste the copha fat in them.

In another post I’ve talked about the Ekka and its role in the life of Brisbane children. It is inextricably linked with the show bags which were so fantastic in the 50s with all sorts of miniature and real-sized lollies and treats.  Not to mention those strawberry and ice cream cones. It’s difficult to convey the sheer excitement and anticipation of this wonderful event and the treats associated with it.

It’s not surprising that hand-crafted items, be they clothing, houseware, or food are regarded as luxury items now. Once they were “normal” but we’ve become so accustomed to the mass-produced goods that the old-style things are now luxurious because they’re less common.

Having said that, one of the quite surprising things about Darwin is that we have a fabulous pastry chef here at Kurt’s Cakes who works behind a glass wall of the Bar Espresso at the interestingly-named Ducks Nuts. Kurt makes wonderful, amazingly decorated cakes that add impact to a special event. We bought my daughter’s wedding cake from him and “special” birthdays also merit his special cakes. It’s also one of the comparatively few places in Darwin where a coffee shop offers a range of delicious sweet treats to go with coffee….thanks Kurt! Its location next to the city cinema is very clever!

We recently had a week in Provence and found the most heavenly cake-shop in Aix en Provence, L’instant thé Riederer …talk about lush. Heaven and decadence rolled into one. We sampled some but if we’d been there longer we’d have made it our mission to sample more.

Delicious sweet-treats in Aix en Provence

Whatever my age or where I live, a delicious cake or a tasty sweet-treat will always make my day!

BTW I’m now on the rampage for some good coconut ice and today’s wonderful Portugese custard tarts, or the ones from Chinatown in Sydney…but they’re all so far away ;-(

52 Weeks of Personal History & Genealogy-Week 5 -Favourite Foods

Favourite Food

Thinking about this topic I’ve realised how strong has been the influence of my mother’s grandparents –my great-grandfather was a confectioner and pastry cook and the family owned tea rooms in Charters Towers in the late 19th century and prior to that a confectionery business in Ipswich, Queensland. Judging on a few newspaper reports found through the Trove website (www.trove.nla.gov.au) he was a very good pastry cook and confectioner at that! He should have stuck to that as his excursion into property and mining brought him financially unstuck.

The Ipswich Show “John Marstellar took first prize for the best 61b. of fresh butter, Mr. F. Whitehouse for the best bread, Mr. S. G. Melvin for confectionery, and an excellent display it was” The Queenslander, 16 December 1882.

From The Brisbane-Courier of 25 December 1882 talking about the Christmas display in Ipswich: “Mr. Melvin had a very enticing display of confectionery- about the best ever seen here-and there was no lack of purchasers of his toothsome compounds.”

My memories of favourite foods seem to focus almost entirely on cakes, biscuits and desserts.

Probably my favourite memory is around a ginger shortbread slice for which I recall my mother won a prize in one of the magazines or newspapers. The contrast between the sweetness of the gingery-golden syrup topping and the crunchiness of the shortbread base was delicious. (Recipe at the end of this story)

Another of her slices which I loved was rather tricky to make & could only be baked when the weather wasn’t too humid (sometimes a challenge in sub-tropical Brisbane). It also had a very short, cakey-shortbread base with a layered topping of marshmellow. Again, delicious! At my all-girls high school it was traditional to bring cakes and treats for lunch time celebrations and both these slices were very welcome additions to the “treats”.

It was traditional in our house for Saturday to be baking day and my mother always made a variety of biscuits and slices or cakes. Her sponges were high and feather-light with cream and when possible, fresh strawberries.

One of my birthday treats was to request a home-made custard tart for dessert. It was really delectable but again could be temperamental when the weather was hot and humid.

In those traditional days of Catholicism, we ate fish on Friday as a matter of strict religious observance. How I loathed the smoked cod we’d have fairly often! The “curried” prawns, made as they were in those days with Keen’s brand curry, were much more enjoyable. And for school lunches I’d sometimes have a treat of sandwiches made with tinned sardines and potato crisps from a packet at the tuck shop. Sounds quite revolting now but I used to really enjoy it then.

Other special foods included my mother’s wonderfully moist Christmas cake & pudding and also my Scottish grandmother’s shortbread which was only ever made at Christmas time.

As you can see, it’s “sweets” all the way for my favourites list as a child and teenager.

As I got older, we’d sometimes go to one of the good-quality Chinese restaurants where the food was both exotic and delicious. Then in high school one of my best friends was of Italian descent and through her I learned about olives, garlic and Italian food. Progressing into University, my weekend job was with a Greek-owned fruit shop and again my food knowledge expanded as I learned about mushrooms, capsicums, eggplant and a variety of vegetables which were unusual in Australia at the time and certainly not used in most homes. Not to mention having octopus sandwiches with the Greek owners!

As an adult my tastes have become vastly diverse and I love all sorts of ethnic foods but my favourites are proper Indian or Thai curries, reflecting my husband’s family’s influence and the changing times. But I still check the dessert menu first in a restaurant, then work back from there!

Ginger or Cinnamon Slice

Biscuit base:  Topping: 
4 oz butter or margarine  4 tablespoons icing sugar
2 oz sugar  1 teaspoon ginger/cinnamon
1 cup self raising flour  3 teaspoons Golden Syrup
1 rounded teaspoon ginger/cinnamon  1.5 oz butter

Process:

Biscuit base: cream butter & sugar. Sift flour and ginger/cinnamon & add to creamed mixture. Press into a greased lamington tin –flour your fingers or use a flour measuring cup to help level it out. Bake at 175C until lightly browned (approx 15 minutes). Let it cool a little before adding topping.

Topping: put all ingredients except icing sugar into a saucepan. Stir over a low heat only until melted and mixed, then take off stove and add icing sugar. Pour over biscuit base and spread evenly. Cut while still warmish as it will crumble less.