Saturday, 30 June 2012

Mothers who fib

If any of my descendents investigate my life through the School Admission Register, they will believe that I was born in January rather than February. This is not an "error" in the Register but rather a deliberate deception to subvert the school enrolment system.

Like most Australian states, Queensland had (and still has) a single entry system. On a particular date each year, all those children deemed to be old enough begin schooling and those who have not reached the magic age must wait for another year. It does not really matter what date is selected, there will always be groups of children either advantaged or disadvantaged by being required to start schooling "early" or "late".

I recent times, it has been not uncommon to argue that some children who have reached the legislated age are not yet ready for formal lessons. In the 1950s you were more likely to hear "I'm not keeping him at home for another year."

In my case, my actual birthday missed the cut-off by a few weeks, but my sister was 13 months old and making unreasonable demands on my mother's time that I was used to commanding. In addition, my kindergarten had apparently indicated that they would not disappointed if I did not return.

So Mum lied about my date of birth! In those days, a Birth Certificate or other documentary proof was not required. The word of a responsible parent was good enough.

As result, I began school at 4 years 11 months (although the Register shows 5-0) and 12 years later began my University education before my seventeenth birthday.

How could such a thing happen in the law-abiding, conservative 1950s? Surely respect for the proper authorities ought to have prevented such irresponsible behaviour.

However, I need to remember that not 20 years earlier, my father had lied about his own age (by rather more than my one month) in order to join the Navy. It must have seemed a small thing to get me off to school early. And if it were found out, who would condemn him. After all, almost everyone knew someone who put their age up to enlist between 1939 and 1945.

All of which prompts me to wonder "How common was it for other parents to adjust their child's date of birth?". I knew of one other case in my school year because David and I shared birthdays (both actual and according to the official record), but never suspected that there may be others.

Data from the School Admission Register allow me to investigate the question. The following plot shows the frequency of birth date by month.

The first column (February births) shows the number of children kept waiting for a year to begin school. The last column (January) shows those who just sneak into the current enrolment by accident of birth or by parental connivance.

Now in a sample size of only 101, we should not expect to find an even distrubution throughout the year. But how likely is 7 times more births in January than February? The disparity is large enough that I can confidently claim that mine was not the only mother who fibbed!

Friday, 29 June 2012

Gold in a School Admission Register

A wonderful source of information that many overlook is the School Admission Register that records family details at the time of initial enrolment and (sometimes) changes as a child moves through schooling.

In Queensland, these (mainly hand-written) records are available on microfilm at the State Archives, which also provides a detailed Search Procedure (#14) on how to use them.

It can be quite nostalgic to peruse the list of all those with whom you began school (especially so, if you have a class photo nearby); but the records can also provide intriguing insights into wider issues.

On my own first day of school in the 1950s, 101 new Grade 1 pupils were enrolled along with 26 children in higher grades. The most recent Annual Report of the same school reported that the whole school enrolment in 2011 (Years Prep to 7) stood at 194 and had been "stable" for several years.

Of the 101 new Infants, three were what is today described as being "in care" (that is, they were housed in a church-run institution). One of the 98 identified parents had the occupation listed as "housewife", all of the rest have a male parent in employment.

The most frequent single occupations listed were public servant (7) and clerk (7) just ahead of PMG employee (6) and soldier (6).

When occupations are grouped, the most frequent classifications were clerical (19) building and construction (13) motor trades (12) and communication (9).

There were very few professionals (two accountants, an architect, an engineer and a school teacher) or low-skilled workers (three hospital wardsmen, one waterside worker, a railway fettler, a school cleaner and a single general labourer).

In 2011 the school has an above-average rating for the Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage, with 32% of enrolled students being drawn from the top quarter of parental incomes (albeit with 29% drawn from the lowest quarter). In just over half a century, the entire population of the area has been transformed.

The national census now collects data on the proportion of homes with broadband data connections rather than dial-up as a measure of technological sophistication. In my class group of the 1950s,just 20 families had a telephone number recorded as a means of contact.

Of course, we must remember that School Admission Registers were compiled by one person writing in information provided by another and interpret them with appropriate caution. My own date of birth is incorrect; with the "wrong" month. Just why, is a tale for another time.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

A little Welsh girl

Our 2xgreatgrandmother Jane SUDDABY (nee DAVIES) lived in Queensland from 1884 until 1972 and throughout that time, no-one was ever in any doubt that she was Welsh. Specifically, that she came from Rhyl. Her attachment to Rhyl was such that two of her great granddaughters were given names based on that of the town.

So it was with surprise and some amusement that the family learned, after Nan's death, that she had been born in Salford. Her birth certificate (long tucked away) was unequivocal. Not only had Jave Davies not been born in Rhyl, there was only a slim possibility that she could ever have been there.

Why would someone go through life making such a patently false claim?

While a purely historical approach to the documents cannot answer that question, it does provide a context that may explain it. If, as I have noted elsewhere in my blog, home is where the heart is, then Rhyl was truly Jane's home.

Although the fifth child of John and Jane Davies was indisputably born in Salford in 1877, her older siblings Ellen (b 1868), William (b 1870), Susannah (b 1872) and Sarah (b 1874) were all born in Rhyl. This had been the home of her mother's family for at least three generations and where she met and married John (from Liverpool).

It was not until 1875-6 that the family moved to the Manchester region where a building boom created opportunities for bricklayers, John's trade. Salford was where the older Jane died in 1881 and where John remarried.

When the family set sail for Queensland in November of 1883, Jane was just six years old with a stepmother and a new baby sister.

The first few years living in the Rockhampton district must have seemed strange. It would not be surprising if, when looking out at a harsh dry landscape, Ellen or Susannah might say "Remember when we walked with Mam on the pier to watch the waves" or reminisced about the boating lake or the sand hills that made Rhyl a holiday destination. Jane, of course, could not remember those happy times because she had not been there; but desperate to preserve a connection to the mother she had lost, she might easily imagine it.

Rhyl, as described by her siblings, was the place they had shared the time with their mother that she had been denied. Little wonder that it took on a special meaning. Regardless of the geographical facts concerning where Jane was born, I have no doubt that Rhyl was where she was from.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Place of death

I have continued to explore my fan charts for their ability to highlight pieces of information that otherwise tend to be lost in the noise.

Some interesting features emerge when you contrast place of birth (as shown in my 17 June post, Where do you think you are from) with a corresponding place of death chart.

Obviously, it shows that a few of us are still living (which I must admit to being quietly pleased about). It also highlights the number of people born elsewhere but who died here in Queensland -- those shown a little differently in On the move.

The surprises came in identifying the two ancestors who died in a place other than their birth, but not in Australia.

Our 3xgreat grandmother Jane Davies (not to be confused with her mother, Jane Davies, or her daughter, Jane Davies) left her birth-place Wales to live in England. Only after her death, did the rest of the family set sail for Queensland.

Our great grandfather Robert Joseph McAllister (not to be confused with his son, Robert Joseph, or his grandson, Robert Joseph) was born in Northern Ireland but died in North America (probably, Canada). He apparently set sail for Quebec with the expectation that his wife and children would follow. That they did not defines our family history.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Unauthorised absence

At the beginning of summer, many residents of Brisbane town may have the feeling that they just don't feel like going to work that day. Employers might not like it, but there is not much they can do about it when a worker takes a "sickie".

It was not always so. This advertisement appeared in The Moreton Bay Courier of Wednesday 19 October 1859.

There were two gentlmen in the colony who could have signed themself as "H Bell". It seems likely that Dr Hugh Bell (staff surgeon at the Hospital) would have used his title (as he did in other advertisements he placed), so the aggrieved employer was probably H Bell, Engineer and Gunsmith, of Edward Street.

Perhaps Caroline was a domestic servant. It would be fascinating to know what our 3xgreat grandmother was up to; and, if she did return to the employ of Mr Bell, what was the penalty for her absence without leave.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Ancestry, Birth and Culture

In the week that I have been reflecting on the knotty questions of who we think we are and why, the Australian Bureau of Statistics has released the preliminary findings of its 2011 National Census.

Last year, I wrote this piece about my difficulties with Question 18.

The report on its analysis entitled Cultural Diversity in Australia does little to reduce the concerns I expressed then.

The report reiterates the official view that Ancestry is not necessarily related to a person's place of birth but is an indication of the cultural group that they most closely identify with. It gives insight into the cultural background of both the Australian-born and overseas-born populations when ancestry differs from country of birth.

So how has this been interpreted by 20+ million Australians. The ABS states Just under a third (32%) of people who responded to the ancestry question reported two ancestries. Or to put it another way, more than 68% of people selected one option only. I was one of almost 4.7 million people who ticked "Australian" and moved on.

English was selected by almost 140,000 more people than Australian, but more than half of them made a second choice. Only 38.5% of those nominating Australian ancestry selected a second option. Of the top ten responses, the only groups with a lower multiple selection rate were Indian, Chinese and Greek.

What interpretations can be drawn from these data?

Garbage in - garbage out remains as true as ever it was in the world of data processing.
Unless you make some brave assumptions about how each and every respondent interpreted the instructions, you should take the conclusions with a hefty pinch of salt.
Context is everything.
In Cultural Diversity in Australia, the number of persons nominating Australian ancestry (7098.5 thousand) is said to represent 35.4% of total population (presumably the population of all responses, not people responding). In 2011 Census QuickStats, we read that the second most popular of Ancestry, top responses was [Australian 7,098,486 25.4%]. But, 25.4% of what? Never mind, the explanation under the table is that The most common ancestries in Australia were English 25.9%, Australian 25.4%, Irish 7.5%, Scottish 6.4% and Italian 3.3%. The fact that the percentage of Australian-ness has apparently declined from 29% in 2006 attracts no comment. Pass the salt please.
Pretty graphics can have very little underlying support.
The following screenshot from The Courier Mail of 23 June bears no relation to any number in the published ABS data.

But the fact that our Australian-ness on this measure has increased 6.7% since 2006 must be a good thing.

Perceptions of ancestry are highly individual. To some (including 2xgreat grandmothers, Jane and Agnes) it was a constant in times of great change. To others (like this writer) it is a subject for analysis against specific contextual variables.

Does it have any meaning when aggregated across a diverse population? Can it make a contribution to public policy development? I think that 4.7 million Australians expressed a view on that last August.

Friday, 22 June 2012

On the move

When you look at data in a new way, they raise new questions. That, in turn, can send you off in search of new (or at least, more) data.

The fan chart showing the country of birth of each direct ancestor for seven generations inevitably led to making a place of death chart. While the new chart was interesting, it was the differences that really attracted attention. An ancestor born in one place but who died in another must have been a migrant.

We could ask many questions about migration -- how?, why?, when? ... I chose to begin by examining the time period in which the travel occurred. It seems likely that the motivation and the means will be linked to when the migration took place.

The chart identifies three clusters of journey. Blue shows people who came to the colony of New South Wales and settled in its northern districts. Maroon segments indicate people who came to the newer colony of Queensland. Wattle yellow illustrates migrants to the Commonwealth of Australia.

The dates that actually divide the spans were 6 June 1859 (separation of the colonies) and 1 January 1901 (federation) but there were periods around those borders when none of our ancestors were travelling.

There were very good reasons why no one made the move to Australia between 1914 and 1918 and compelling motivation to do so when the War ended. But what of the quarter century before? Were there simply fewer migrants coming or did our Australian ancestors not associate with the "new chums" of that period?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Storing the evidence

How do you keep the evidence that rebuts the family legend that great-aunt Dora was actually the lost heir to the Romanoffs? A physical document is obviously ideal but it is simply not practical to obtain actual certificates for all the claims that we find in exploring an extensive family tree.

If you use Family Search (the extensive free service provided by the Church of the Latter Day Saints) or other on-line database, then you may have collected a list of URLs that allow you to return to previously searched pages. You could store them as a set of browser bookmarks (or Favorites) or in a separate document (such as a spreadsheet).

My favourite genealogy software (Gramps) allows me to save the search link within the record for the person concerned. But I need to be constantly alert to copy data from one place to another and reformat for each different store. When you are hot on a trail, this (very necessary) housekeeping can interrupt the flow. Or worse still, you come to tidy up at the end of a session and find that there was one URL you did not collect!

What you need is a one-click method to record the location data without leaving the search and store it securely for later review and processing. In recent weeks, FamilySearch has introduced My Source Box that does just that.

If, like me, you have been using Family Search anonymously, now is the time to create a (free) account. This will allow you to create a Source Box and return to it each time you use the site. Create folders to group records (or remove them when you change your mind).

Any item in the box can be opened to link directly to the record you made it from or to enable information to be backed-up into my spreadsheet or Gramps at my convenience.

This is one part of a new service called FamilyTree that has been built on genealogy tools previously restricted to members of the LDS Church but now being opened to the public. Not all parts of FamilyTree work yet but if My Source Box is any indication, the rest should be worth waiting for.

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Home is where...

In a world where international travel is so easy and migration common-place, the concepts of residency and even citizenship have become fluid. The nationality with which one identifies, however, tends to be more firmly fixed.

Andrew BURTON (our 2xgreat grandfather) was born in Ireland in 1866 but moved to Scotland with his family and in 1887 married Agnes CAMERON there. The 1901 Census shows them resident in Glasgow with several children.

By the 1911 Census, Agnes and more children were living in Belfast. At some time in the intervening years, Andrew had died and the family had travelled back to Ireland (but not necessarily in that order). Investigating the dates and places of birth of the younger children led me to belive that the move occured between 1907 and 1910 after his death.

I tested my theory in conversation with an older cousin. He told me I was completely wrong. The shift was much earlier than that and Andrew died in Belfast. But Susan was born in Scotland, I insisted.

"Oh, they all were. Whenever Grandma was near her time, she caught the ferry home to have the baby. That way she made sure that all the kids were Scots!"

Little wonder then that when Agnes applied to migrate to Australia, after a quarter century of living in Belfast, she listed her nationality as Scot. And so did every one of her children!

Our (then four-year-old) grandfather Robert McALLISTER was also identified as a Scot despite having lived all his life in Belfast and having an Irish father who was then resident in Canada. But that is a far more complicated story.

Footnote: Actually Agnes has to nominate herself as Scotch not Scots (after all it was an Australian form).

Monday, 18 June 2012

Born on the high seas

My analysis of our ancestors' country of origin based on where individuals were born obscured the fact that two of them did not have a place of birth in the usual sense. Each was born after her parents left their old home, but before they arrived in Australia.

Sailing halfway across the world during the nineteenth century was a hazardous undertaking for anyone, but there were particular risks for children.

In November 1883, the SS Corona left Plymouth bound for Queensland with 407 souls on board. There were five births during the 115 day voyage but only 394 disembarked in Queensland. Of the 13 deaths, 12 were infants and children.

Perhaps we can judge the suitability of the vessel for carrying young families by the fact that, just 18 years earlier, the Corona had been used to transport convicts and their guards to Western Australia.

Corona in Australian waters ca 1888
(Collection of State Library of South Australia)

Nevertheless, two families of our forebears set out on a perilous voyage to begin a new life while expecting another child.

Anthony CORRY and Catherine KENNY (4xgreat grandparents) left their home in Co Clare with five children and set sail from Plymouth on 25 May 1852 aboard the SS Rajahgopaul. Their daughter Catherine was born on 9 September, 2 days before landing in Moreton Bay.

Emily, the daughter of James FINLAY and Mary CREASE (3xgreat grandparents), was given the middle name Waroonga after the ship on which she was born on 6 May 1887. Her parents and three-year old sister had left London a month earlier after travelling from Scotland and the growing family would not reach Brisbane for another four weeks.

Although they shared a quirk of birth, Catherine and Emily had very different lives in Queensland.

Emily and Alfred NOYES had 7 children and although she died relatively young (not quite 40), Emily saw the wedding of her daughter Doreen to Alexander COLEY (our great grandparents).

Catherine died at only 25 after losing her second child with Henry SUDDABY. Their first son, our 2xgreat grandfather Thomas, was just 16 months old at the time. We remember the Corry name largely through the efforts of Tom to recognise the mother he barely knew. But that is a tale for another time.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Where do you think you are from?

Indigenous Australians place great importance on the question "Where's your country?" From the answer, they can obtain an enormous amount of information about another's background and family connections.

This apparently simple question is challenging for immigrant Australians who now form an overwhelming majority of the population. If a grandfather was born in one country and great-grandparents in at least three others, where are we from?

My exploration of name clouds prompted me to find a visual representation for the distribution of our geographic origins. The same seven-generation ancestor chart can be converted to a fan chart colour-coded for the place of birth of each person

The result:

  • Legend:
  • England
  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Ireland
  • Germany
  • Australia

From the chart, we can read that of our 64 4xgreat grandparents there were 32 English, 16 Irish, 8 Scots, 4 Welsh and 4 Germans.

By the time we reach 2xgreat grandparents, there were 8 English, 3 Irish, 2 Scots and 3 colonial-born.

Of course, Nanna Davies would be mortified to be labelled "English". But, that is another story entirely.

Footnote: A geographical purist may complain that two "countries" (Germany and Australia) formed from smaller units during the time period shown while another (Ireland) broke apart. I claim artistic licence in ignoring those complexities for the moment.

Peering into clouds

I took a break from the rigours of interpreting eighteenth century record-keeping and caught up on some of Maria Northcote's Genies DownUnder podcasts. The March episode on using images included the suggestion to use Wordle to present family names in the form of a word cloud.

I collapsed a seven-generation ancestor tree into a list of surnames weighted by the frequency with which they occur. When I fed the list to Wordle and selected a font and colour scheme to suit my personality, this was the result:

I probably should not be surprised at the power of an image to convey new information. Nevertheless, the pictorial representation did give me pause to think. How can Davies be so prominent when there have been none for several generations. Had I made an error in the name count? Never under-estimate a Welsh influence. A quick check confirmed that young Jane had no fewer than three grandparents born Davies (and the fourth is still uncertain!)

Less obvious but equally significant is the prominent "male" line actually headed by an unmarried mother. How easily that name could have been much less obvious.

Hidden entirely in the image but highlighted on my To-Do list is the fact that there are still 25 unknown in the seven-generation tree. Incentive enough to get back to the records.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

What's in a name?

On May 5 1780, James LOUDEN married Christian McGARNIE in the parish of Whitekirk and Tynninghame. A fortnight later, on 19 May 1780, James LOTHIAN married Christian BEGARNEY in the parish church of Dunbar.

The two villages are described as being an eight-minute drive (or in 1780, a one-hour walk) apart.

Is this an amazing coincidence or the same couple being married twice, and if so why?

  • I have previously found that Christian McGarnie was baptised Christian BELGARNIE and that her "correct" maiden name was recorded at the christening of some of her later children with James.
  • I have found no other record of Christian BEGARNEY.
  • There was a child of Christian BALGONIE and James LOTHIAN christened Janet in Dunbar on 30 December 1780, apparently an only child.
  • Christian and James of Whitekirk had seven children between 1783 and 1796; none were called Janet, although that was the name of Christian's mother and had been given to two of her sisters.

The temptation to declare that these two families are one and the same is almost overwhelming. But why were there two kirk weddings?

Friday, 15 June 2012

A puzzling mis-spelling.

Christian BALGARNIE is our 6xgreat grandmother born on 29 November 1754 in the East Lothian region of Scotland. Yes, Christian was the name given to a female at her christening (although in some later records, she is Christina).

By 1790, when Christian married James LOUDEN in the same parish church of Whitekirk where she had been christened, her family name has been recorded as McGARNIE.

In 1794, when 5xgreat grandmother Christian LOUDEN was christened, her mother was listed as Christian MACGARNIE. But in 1796, at the christening of Siblie LOUDEN, her mother has reverted to the original spelling of BALGARNIE.

For a time, this quirk in the records obscured the fact that 4xgreat grandmother Helen PURVES  (b 1829) (the grand-daughter of Christian BALGARNIE||McGARNIE) had another granny named Elspeth BALGARNIE -- Christian's younger sister. But that is a tale for another time.

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