Tuesday, 8 October 2013

How old were they?

The great German-American physicist, Albert Einstein, is generally given credit for realising that the passage of time is not a fixed property of our universe. But I believe that there may be evidence of a prior Welsh discovery that time passing can be perceived differently by different observers.

Consider these data taken from the Census Forms completed by the residents of 64 Vale Road, Rhyl.

NameAge at Census
Jane Davies55 60
John Davies29 36
Susy Davies33 40
Maggie Davies7 16
Jennie Davies7 months10

Perhaps the most basic statement of the principle of special relativity should be — the older you are, bach, the more slowly you age.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

I told you I was ill!

One of my early blog posts concerned the absence from her employment of our 3xgreat grandmother, Caroline Kuhn. At the time, I wondered what she might have been doing that caused her to miss her work.

While the exact cause of her absence is still unknown, there is evidence that suggests that she was genuinely unwell.

The Journal of Accounts for Treatment of Patients1 at the Brisbane Hospital records that Caroline was hospitalised from 11 November to 28 November 1859. She was charged at the rate of one shilling and sixpence per day; at a time long before health insurance was widely available.

The facing page of the ledger was used by hospital officials to note when and how each patient's debt was settled. It appears to show that Caroline did not ever pay the £1-4-0 she owed. No doubt, Mr Bell stopped her pay while she was ill which would make finding such a sum nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, Caroline must have made a full recovery because she lived until 1906 and played her part in the development of our family history.

1Queensland State Archives Item ID2888, Journal (cash)

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A sad tale retold

Family historians always get excited about finding a new source. At worst, you can cite some further support for information that you already have. At best, there may be completely new evidence to add to the narrative of your ancestor.

As the anniversary of the death of Robert Burton at Suvla Bay approached, I have been reviewing what (little) I know about his military career. In the course of that search, I came upon a report of IRELAND’S MEMORIAL RECORDS 1914-1918: Being the Names of Irishmen Who Fell in the Great European War 1914-18

This very beautiful, but very expensive, publication was described as being a "Roll of Honour listing over 49,000 of Irish birth or residence at the time of death, who served and died during the Great War, compiled by The Committee of the Irish National War Memorial with Decorative Borders by Harry Clarke". In the early 1920s, £5,000 of Ireland's War Memorial funds was spent collecting the records of over 49,000 fatal casualties and publishing them in eight volumes. The men and women commemorated either served in Irish Regiments or were born in, or resident in, Ireland at the time of their death serving with units from Britain and its empire.

For those without the several hundred euro required to purchase a hard-bound set of the books, digital images can be viewed on Ancestry or FindMyPast. There I found the entry for Robert Burton. Sadly, it provides no new information.

A young man marched away bravely in search of adventure; never to return. However exquisitely the page may be decorated, everything else is emptiness.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

An angel remembered

Jack Wilkinson's active service with the 15th Battalion in 1919 lasted just six months, but it created a connection that would endure for the rest of his life.

After the war, many returned men resolved to preserve the bonds forged in battle through clubs or associations. The troops of the 15th Battalion had used "Angels" as a code word in the trenches and so named their group the Angels Remembrance Club . Jack was an enthusiastic member and frequent office bearer over the next quarter century.

The Angels Remembrance Club was noteworthy not only for its work in supporting those who came home but also for the vigour with which they fought to protect the memory of those who did not. When the observance of Armistice Day waned in the late 1930s, it was the Angels (with Jack as Secretary) who strove to maintain its importance in the public eye. They were vocal critics of any plans for military reorganisation that might lessen the perceived stature of the 15th.

Many ex-service organisations held annual dinners during Exhibition Week when members who had returned to their homes in the bush might be in town. But the most significant gathering of old soldiers was always for Anzac Day.

Jack Wilkinson died on 24 April 1944 and some might say that he missed Anzac Day. Few who did attend the march would have noticed that the men of the 15th Battalion gave a second salute that day; and fewer still would have recognised its significance. In its report of the Parade on the following morning, The Courier Mail showed that some connections can never be broken.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Which Sergeant?

The image of Jack Wilkinson that illustrated the post about his Military Medal is a detail taken from a postcard that he had made in England on Boxing Day 1917 and sent home early in the new year.

On the back he wrote "Snap of self and my pal Larry ...". Of course, the family members who were delighted to receive news that he was safe and well did not need him to add "that is me on the left" because they would all recognise him immediately. A family historian working almost a century later needs a little help. I have no other photograph that I know to be him.

Fortunately, at the time of enlistment, the AIF recorded and preserved a range of physical characteristics of each man. So I have a sworn statement from Captain Cummins that Jack was 5 feet 5 inches (165 cm) tall and 190 pounds (86 kg).

Measurements made on the postcard indicate that the ratio of the heights of the two pals outside the Sergeants Mess was 17:19. So Larry must be either less than 150 or more than 180 cm tall.

Since the Australian forces did not ever recruit bantam units, Larry must be the towering 6 footer and cousin Jack is indeed the square-built iron worker on the left.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Schwartze Tag

Today is the 95th anniversary of the day that General Erich Ludendorff called the schwartze Tag des deutschen Heeres (the dark day for German forces). August 8, 1918 was the first day of the Battle of Amiens that (with hindsight) came to be recognised as the beginning of the 100-day offensive that ended the Great War.

It was also the day on which Sergeant Jack Wilkinson of the 15th battalion AIF earned the Military Medal for his part in the capture of the occupied village of Cerisy on the bank of the Somme.

Jack Wilkinson was a grandson of John Davies (1846-1920) and so was our first cousin at three generations removed. Both his parents had migrated to Australia as adolescents with their parents; which meant that Jack, his siblings, and their cousins were the first Australian-born generation of that branch of our family tree.

Born 16 December 1895 and named John (the given name of both his grandfathers), Jack Wilkinson was apprenticed as an Iron Turner at the Bundaberg Foundry.

He did not rush to join up at the first sounds of the clarion call. It was 1 March 1917 when he signed up at the age of 21 years 2 months. By this time, the demand for fresh reinforcements was becoming acute and the first Conscription Referendum had been lost. Three cousins (two older and one younger) were already serving in France.

When describing his previous military experience prior to enlistment, Jack listed 4 years in the Senior Cadets and 2 years with the Citizen Forces 4th Brigade, and (most significantly) almost 18 months on the Instructional Staff where he held the rank of Sergeant.

With this background, Jack's initial deployment in Europe was obvious. He spent the first year of his service with the 11th Training Battalion in England, preparing other new recruits. In November and December of 1917, he was an instructor at the Rapid Wiring School where he could apply his knowledge as a metal worker to a task vital to the preservation of life and limb in static trench warfare.

When Jack left Australia he had been designated as part of the 8th Reinforcements for the 41st Battalion. However when he eventually joined a fighting unit in France in March 1918, it was the 15th Battalion where (unusually) he retained his Citizen Forces and Training Battalion rank.

The 15th Battalion was one of the original battalions of the 4th Brigade raised in 1914 and was made up predominantly of men from Queensland and Tasmania. In 1916, it had been divided to provide a core of men with battle experience for the newly-created 41st (also a Queensland-based unit) when it arrived on the Western Front. One must assume that Jack's deployment was part of a plan to strengthen the now battle-weary and depleted 15th before a planned long summer campaign.

In the manner of many military records, Jack Wilkinson's summary of active service is not very informative.

  • 15.04.18 Taken on Strength 15th Btn
  • 25.10.18 Admitted to Hospital sick
  • 03.11.18 Awarded Military Medal

A little more detail can be found in the formal recommendation for the decoration that (then) ranked behind only the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Conduct Medal for other ranks.

For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in the attack on Cerisy on 8th August 1918 E of Corbie.

This NCO, when the Company was temporarily held up by heavy machine gun fire, pushed his Lewis Gun forward and enabled his platoon to advance. When reaching the village, he started mopping up and captured a number of prisoners and material. He showed great coolness throughout the attack and gave most valuable assistance. He has previously been commended for his good work.

B Sampson (Maj-Gen)
CO 15th Bn

Perhaps the news (almost three months after the "stunt") that he had been awarded the Military Medal helped to boost Jack's spirits as he was moved through four different hospitals with a case of bronchial pneumonia that it was feared would be fatal. He eventually recuperated in the 4th Canadian General Hospital in Basingstoke until he was able to return to Brisbane for discharge in April 1919.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Have you read it all?

In a recent post, I stated that I knew that Jane Davies traveled to Queensland with three sisters. To be entirely honest, that is both a simplification and an exaggeration.

It is a simplification because the passenger list for the Corona includes others. The document shows that the party included her father (John), step-mother (Elizabeth), brother (William) and half-sister (Mary, who died on the voyage).

The exaggeration is because that page of the list actually does not show Ellen. And I "know" that she came, only after having exhausted all avenues for confirming my original inference that the oldest daughter was not part of the family emigration. I scoured UK census and marriage records for confirmation that Ellen did not travel.

Eventually, I admitted defeat on my left-behind theory and returned to examine the passenger list more carefully. A line-by-line review of every page revealed that while Ellen was not listed as part of the family group, she was included elsewhere among the single women. (And, of course, her surname is recorded as Davis.)

It seems that the passenger list was intended to reflect the organisation of the passengers on the ship not their family relationships. So perhaps I should say that Jane, Susannah and Sarah arrived with their sister Ellen, rather than traveled with her.

And the lesson to be learned? Read the whole of every document carefully. The first piece of relevant information that you find may not be only important evidence it contains.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

For the loss of a letter

When our 2xgreat grandmother Jane Davies arrived in Queensland, she traveled with her three sisters: Ellen, Susannah and Sarah.

Until recently, I knew little more about them than their names and ages upon embarkation. In particular, I knew nothing of their married names.

There was, however, a brute force approach to finding that information. Since they were young women in 1885, it was probable that they had married before 1905 and died before 1975. It should be possible to generate a list of all marriages in Queensland by women with their names (in the relevant period) and then to investigate the registration of deaths for each one identified. Anyone listed as having the correct parents (John and Jane) was very likely to be our great-aunt.

Although the technique was a little tedious, it bore fruit. I was able to identify the married names of both Ellen and Susannah in a relatively short time; but Sarah remained elusive.

Then another source gave me a name for Sarah's husband and the opportunity to check why I had not been able to locate them earlier. At the marriage, Sarah Davies had been listed as Sarah Davis. It was not a deliberate name change because at the birth of each child, Sarah's maiden name was spelled as expected. I had been thwarted by a simple slip of the pen.

Image courtesy of Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Are good manners a barrier to genealogy?

Until the 1960s, it was unthinkable that any well-brought-up child would use the given name of an adult in conversation. You learned very early that the proper way to address your parent's friends was as Mr and Mrs Brown.

Of course, if the visitors were well known to the family and you saw them often, you might be invited to call them Uncle Fred and Aunt Gladys. And therein lies the problem.

Over the years I think I managed to sort out the distinction between my "real" uncles and those who had a courtesy title (for want of a better description); but what happens if I am reviewing some old letters that contain a reference to Uncle Bill.

Should I look for a link to an actual blood-relation of the distant cousin who penned the note (someone who might also be in our tree) or just his father's good friend from the tennis club?

I am a great believer in FAN genealogy (tracking friends, associates and neighbours of our ancestors) but when children spoke of them with the same title they used for their parents' siblings, it can be quite a challenge.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Catherine found at last

Our 3xgreat grandmother Catherine has proved to be something of an enigma.

When she died on 3 May 1878, 2xgreat grandfather Thomas Henry Suddaby was just sixteen months old, so he must have had very few personal memories of his mother. Even the possibility of hearing stories about her was cut short when his father Henry died just a few days after Thomas' fifth birthday.

Nevertheless when Thomas had a daughter in 1897, he gave her his mother's name, Catherine Corry Suddaby. With just one exception each of the Suddaby's 8 children had their maternal grandmother's family name as a given name.

It would be more accurate to say that that the children had a name that Thomas believed to be that of his lost mother. It seems that the source of his information was a record of the marriage in 1888 between Henry Suddaby and Catherine Corry. Unfortunately almost all the other evidence is conflicting.

When Henry registered the details of Catherine's death at Quilpie, he stated that she was the daughter of James Currie and Mary O'Donnell of County Armagh, Ireland. There is no record that either of these people were ever in Queensland, so Catherine must have been an immigrant. But there are numerous possibilities including a Catherine Corrie born at sea and even a Catherine Coary.

Henry provided one other piece of information in recording Catherine's untimely death. It was that she had lived in Queensland for approximately 3½ years.

The continuing program to index the migration records held by the Queensland State Archives has now made available (in csv files) lists of all assisted immigrants from 1848 to 1912. That opens up the possibility of some brute-force genealogy. I could download all migrants with names at the beginning of the alphabet and filter that list to extract all females with family name C*, who arrived May 1874 to April 1875 aged 17 to 19 years. After that, all it should take would be a line-by-line examination …

Unfortunately the downloaded file does not have a gender field and there were 284 young adults immigrants in that year. Adding a filter of C* for given name reduced the list to just 9 people including four Catherines - Carty, Connelly, Corrigan and Curry.

So there she was: one of the 89 single female passengers on the Gauntlet that arrived at Maryborough on New Years Day of 1875. They had sailed from London on 4 October 1874 under the supervision of the Matron, Miss Collins, along with 87 single men and just 16 family groups (7 of whom lost a child on the voyage).

Now the speculations can be swept aside and Catherine given her true history. But how should I record the spelling of her name from among the myriad options? That is an easy choice. She is Catherine Corry, just how Thomas wanted his mother to be remembered.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Keeping up to date

The recent availability for on-line purchase of digital images of historical Queensland BDM registration documents has caused a flurry of renewed interest in what is now open but then (predictably) focused our interest on those things that remain inaccessible.

Policies to protect the private information of living individuals mean that there are time limitations on what information is on open access. The site sets out that

You can search for births which occurred more than 100 years ago; marriages which occurred more than 75 years ago and deaths which occurred more than 30 years ago.

So if a death occurred in January of 1984, you can not yet obtain the details without a special application (citing an appropriate relationship and justification). But just when will its status change to become available as an historical record?

Users certainly hope that the next update cycle is shorter than the last when online availability of the index to Death Registrations jumped from 1963 to 1983 in one step. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find any statement that indicates when the next batch of records will be transferred from closed to open (that is, historical) status.

If the Attorney-General is looking for an example of world-leading practice in the field to emulate, I commend to him the following

The records available are updated nightly as the embargo period is reached.
from https://bdmhistoricalrecords.dia.govt.nz/home/

Yes, you did read that correctly. BDM records in New Zealand are updated every 24 hours, so that you can access grandfather's birth registration on the day after the 100th anniversary of the event. There is no further waiting period.

I learned this from what I consider an exemplary model of how to present a "how to use the ... records". If you have any interest in the area, devote twenty minutes to a look at the presentation New Zealand Births, Deaths, and Marriages Online from the Family Search Learning Center.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Whose history?

Recently, I was sitting in a group of family historians asked to respond to the question "What names are you researching?". I recognised immediately that neither of my obvious answers was appropriate to the setting. (For the record: (i) All of them or (ii) Ones that look interesting.)

I sat transfixed as my companions reported that they were "working on my X ancestors" or "focusing on a 2xgreat grandmother's maternal line" or even "investigating the parish of Y in the county Z". I could not decide whether I admired their single-minded focus or pitied their lack of imagination.

When my turn came, I said that was in an eclectic phase and mentioned one or two that were "of current interest". There the matter might have rested (with me feeling a little odd) but for the fact that on the following day James Tanner's blog was concerned with what aspects of our genealogy receive attention (and which are ignored).

First and obviously, your own surname plays a major part in determining your genealogical research interest. This is natural and is wrapped up with issues of identity and family traditions. But how we form our predilection to one family or another is a little more complex.

That post on Genealogy's Star prompted me to revisit the uncomfortable thought that perhaps I do not "do genealogy" in the same way as serious family historians.

The scope of my own research is directly related to my motivation for undertaking it. I have no religious purpose; nor do I hold out any hope of establishing a connection to (inheritable) wealth or power. I understand that the achievements of those with whom I share a name reflect no particular credit on me. I don't crave contact with dozens of distant cousins.

I do what I do for the intellectual satisfaction of confronting a mass of obscured and/or tangled information and transforming it into something accessible to others who may have an interest. It is the same reason that I headed off to work each day for 40 years. I enjoy puzzle-solving and explaining.

For my own purposes, any genetic or legal connection that I have with those I study is almost irrelevant. The suggestion that I would study "my" ancestors but not those of my spouse is incomprehensible to me. This blog adopts the perspective of our children and always refers to "our family" because the principal audience for my research is our descendants.

An analysis of the first year of posts on this blog reveals that there are costs associated with my broad (alright, scatter-gun) approach. I do have more dangling story lines awaiting closure than might be desirable, but how could I decide that someone's tale was not worthy of attention?

Insofar as we are the product of our ancestry, it is illogical to laud the sturdy yeoman farmer while trying to hide the dipsomaniac barber. The family tree will have some gnarled branches and a few feeble shoots that also warrant (even demand) investigation.

In my defence, I call James Tanner again.

I guess the challenge we have as genealogists is to attempt to level the playing field, that is, to find information on all of the family members so that the family gets its genealogy recorded and not just certain individuals.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The government giveth ... and taketh away

Family historians love records of death because they provide a jumping-off point to explore the previous generation. From this registration of the death of John Gaskell in Queensland in 1912, I was able to obtain the names of his parents and then begin the search for records of their marriage, then for the birth of siblings, and so on.

So when the website of the authority responsible for BDM in Queensland (Department of Justice and Attorney-General) moved to a new government services portal yesterday, I was anxious to see what (if any) impact this might have on users.

Obviously the very prominent shopping cart was a pointer that the previously-free site had been commercialised. There was a new function enabling me to purchase digital images of selected historical records for (almost) immediate download and to order printed "replica" certificates. That is clearly a worthwhile service enhancement, although we may quibble about the prices.

It is annoying that instead of being able to link directly to the search page for one type of records, I must go through the Terms and Conditions page every time I connect and take three extra clicks to reach the tool I want; but I can understand that is considered necessary in a commercial environment.

I am sure that I will learn to live with these procedural changes, just so long as the information I need is still readily accessible on the redesigned page.

Did you spot the huge difference? No, not the very tasteful Order Product button. The fact that the maiden name of John Gaskell's mother is not displayed. The content of the single most valuable field in the record (for a family historian) has been truncated to the extent that the information provided is useless!

It is clearly not the case that the information is not in the file. In 2011 when I captured the top screenshot, it was displayed in full without charge. In 2013, I can provide my credit card details and be charged $20 for each and every record that I want to use.

I might become a paying customer; or I might just treat this on-line service as a flawed and incomplete index to the microfiche collection held at my local library where I can read all the fields in full.

Because the capability of new technology is irrelevant without some common sense from those who implement it. That would be smart service, Queensland.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Take nothing on faith

In my recent post concerning the life of Gus Seal after the Brisbane Band, I made the following assertions involving his sons.

  • In 1887, Gus stated that his son Charles Henry was a seaman but he did not know his whereabouts. The absence of any official records other than his birth suggests that he had left the colony and never returned.
  • Harriet continued to use the Seal (Siegel) name until her death in 1904 when she was buried in the same grave as Gus in Toowong Cemetery by their son William.

Each statement contains a fact that is soundly based in documented evidence and an inference that it transpires is completely unfounded. My only defence for having made two such blunders in one post is that one followed logically from the other. I have at least been internally consistent.

This morning I took the time to read the full text of the inscription on Grave 67 in Portion 5 of what is now called Toowong Cemetery, but was known as Brisbane General Cemetery at the turn of the twentieth century.

William August Siegel
d 10 June 1901 aged 80
Also his wife Harriet
d 6 August 1904 aged 67
Erected by their son Charles

Here was the evidence showing Charles Henry Siegel in Queensland after 1887 which I originally said that I could not find. To my eternal shame, it was literally carved in stone. My challenge now is to locate further confirmation.

Of course, as soon as you learn that a claim is wrong, the evidence that it was becomes glaringly obvious. I already had identified the fact that William outlived his mother by less than a month. Thus is is implausible that he was the one who arranged for the monument on her grave.

All of this has reinforced an important principle: When publishing a claim, check the evidence once more. Next time, I will try doing that in the other order.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The elder Seal

Although the public record of the Brisbane Band is dominated by the figure of Professor (sic) Andrew Seal (born Andreas Siegel) through the sometimes idiosyncratic recollections of his daughter Pauline; there is quite good documentary evidence of two other players from the 1857 line-up.

We know that August William Seal was admitted to the Dunwich Benevolent Asylum (an antecedent of the Eventide Home, Sandgate) on September 20, 1887. There can be no doubt that this is the same man who arrived in Moreton Bay 20 years earlier with his brother Andreas because the admission register lists both his profession (musician) and migrant ship (Pacific 1855).

The notes on admission refer to Gus being married twice and having two sons. However it appears that he was estranged from his family and had no option other than to enter the Asylum when unable to work for medical reasons. He remained a resident (inmate?) until six days before his death (10 June 1901). During those 14 years of residence, he was "absent on leave" for periods of one to two weeks on 12 occasions.

Gus reported that he was 66 in 1887 which indicates a date of birth in 1821-2. That date is broadly consistent with one derived from the age (31) given on the crew list of the Pacific in 1854. He stated that he had been born in Nassau, Germany; the son of John Seal and Elizabeth, whose maiden name he did not know. Curiously, the registration of his death records his mother's name was Elizabeth Burrison. The only person in Brisbane who might have known this (if Gus himself did not) was his brother Andreas; but at Andreas' death three years later, there is no name listed for his (their) mother.

Gus married Harriet Wiles in Sydney's St James Church of England in 1855. In 1887, he reported that he was 33 years old when he married. Their first son, William Andrew Siegel, was born in Sydney in 1857 before the Band traveled to Moreton Bay. His brother, Charles Henry Siegel, was born in what was then called the Northern Districts of New South Wales in February 1859 (although his mother's name was spelled Wilds in this case).

We know that the marriage was not stable because in July 1861 Gus placed an advertisement in The Sydney Morning Herald warning that he would not be responsible for any debts incurred by Harriet, whom he accused of deserting him and their two boys and returning to Sydney "without any provocation". Harriet continued to use the Seal (Siegel) name until her death in 1904 when she was buried in the same grave as Gus in Toowong Cemetery by their son William.

On his Asylum admission, Gus reported that he had a second marriage to Catherine Mills in Brisbane when he was aged 48 (presumably in 1869-70). There is no official record of that marriage; but a birth was registered in January 1872 of Emily Siegel, the daughter of Augustus William Siegel and Catherine Helms Mills Tuckey. One must wonder why Gus reported a marriage that apparently did not take place but failed to mention a very real daughter.

In 1887, Gus stated that his son Charles Henry was a seaman but he did not know his whereabouts. The absence of any official records other than his birth suggests that he had left the colony and never returned. The elder son, William Andrew, trained as a painter and decorator and in February 1878 married Fanny Parsons. Two months later, Fanny gave birth to Gus's first grandchild, William Augustus. (Although from 1878 to 1881, William apparently spelled his official surname Seigel rather than Siegel, while being commonly known as Seal). By 1887, William and Fanny had two sons and three daughters (aged 0 to 9) in their home in Brunswick Street, Fortitude Valley; which may explain why they were unable to support Gus as well. They eventually had a total of seven children.

Perhaps we can see an indication that life for many a professional musician has changed little in the last 130 years in this statement on his Asylum history that Gus …

… had supported myself by my profession since my arrival. Employed during the last two years at Brisbane theatres. No property. No cash.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

Battling historical ignorance

It seems appropriate to mark my 100th post with some observations on the teaching and learning of history. As a child was enthralled by ancient history but at secondary school (utterly illogical) timetabling restrictions meant that I did not study any history beyond Year 8. As a result, my working life was spent in the fields of science and mathematics. That is how careers were shaped.

Nevertheless, I do consider myself to be reasonably well-informed about many areas of history. At least, until I come to investigate them as background for some aspect of my research into our ancestors.

The looming centenary of the Great War will focus public attention on the 1914-18 period as never before. And if my relative ignorance is any indication, then it will be much needed.

Two members of our family were among the fallen in what we now term World War I. Robert BURTON died at Gallipoli in 1915 and Charles COLEY on the Somme in 1918. I thought that I knew quite a lot about one campaign and a little about the other. I was wrong.

Like most Australian kids, I "did" Gallipoli in school every April. The dawn landing, Simpson and his donkey, the stupidity (or perfidy) of British command, Lone Pine, mateship, and bully beef tins attached to rifles for the evacuation combined to build a comprehensive picture of the ultimate ANZAC conflict.

So why was I surprised to learn that Robert died fighting in an Irish regiment a decade before anyone in that branch of the family ever contemplated moving to Australia?

I freely conceded that I knew less about the Somme — mud and weeks spent in trenches pretty much encompassed my view. The modern fascination with Villers-Bretonneux as an alternative site for Anzac Day commemoration had some association with the general area but I could not explain how.

That the momentous Battle for Mont St Quentin might rival Gallipoli for its significance in shaping Australian military lore and certainly surpasses it in terms of its impact on the course of the war did not cross my mind.

Learning that the battle in which Charles died was almost exactly the opposite of my naive preconceptions of the Western Front — short sharp skirmishes in which small groups operated almost autonomously moving rapidly over open ground — causes me to doubt many of the truths that I have always known(sic) about other historical events.

It is never too late to learn and there is no doubt that today I have a different (if not necessarily, a stronger) motivation. Yet, I cannot help but wonder what I would be missing if I were to regard genealogy as a form of philately and was happy simply to collect names and dates, while remaining blissfully ignorant of the fact that the past in which our ancestors lived and died is far more complicated that we imagine.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Artistic control

It may be that my perspective was shaped by being a teenager in the 1960s, but the idea of a band of four musicians carries with it images of free-spirits collaborating in the creation of their shared vision. The harsh truth is that throughout much of the history of popular music, the players were regarded as hired help rather than creative artists. The further I dig into the story of the Brisbane Band, the more it appears that this was still true in Moreton Bay in the 1850s.

The fact that the names of all four men were listed in the first newspaper announcements by the Band appears to be an anomaly. Within a few weeks, that practice was discontinued and both advertisements and reviews refer to the group as Andrew Seal's Band with no documented evidence of who else might have been playing.

A classified advertisement in The Moreton Bay Courier of Saturday 26 November 1859 advised that Mr Andrew Seal

... has succeeded in forming a Band of five musicians, far superior to that formerly conducted by him.

Clearly if there was magic in the original line-up, then it dissipated very quickly. As competition for the entertainment shilling came from groups such as the Choral Society formed within the School of Arts, Andrew appears to have adopted a hard-headed commercial approach. On 2 January 1860, the Band was the supporting attraction for Professor Kohler's MAGICAL ENTERTAINMENT "in the unoccupied building in Grey Street belonging to Mr. Peterson".

Perhaps there had been a backlash against the new line-up or perhaps Andreas Siegel (commonly known as Andrew Seal) was simply a master of marketing, but in The Moreton Bay Courier of Saturday 30 June 1860 the following appeared:

Public Notice.
ON account of a general wish of the inhabitants of Brisbane, I have been successful in collecting nearly all the members of my former Band, and in addition several new members, I have been requested to enter into an engagement to play twice a-week in the Government Gardens, ...

However there should be no confusion over who was in charge. The notice was signed "I remain your humble servant, ANDREW SEAL, Conductor of the Brisbane Band".

It would be wonderful to know the significance of the reference to "nearly all the members" of the 1857 Band. Which one(s) of the original four had earned the displeasure of the "Conductor" or moved on to other employment?

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Reading between the lines

I have previously expressed some doubts as to the reliability of the the recollections of Ms Pauline Seal (in 1923) as a source of information on the history of the Brisbane Band in 1857.

In the middle of Miss Seal's hagiography[1] of her father's role in the promotion of music in Brisbane, we find one curious anecdote purporting to have taken place immediately upon the arrival of the four musicians

... they went in search of a room, in which to conduct their practice. Longing eyes were centred on a room in the back of the old North Brisbane Hotel. Feeling rather nervous, Mr Seal approached the wealthy proprietor, Sergeant-Major Walker ... he was rebuked with the reply of "Tut mon, I would noo allow my hotel to be made a public show of by musicians ...
The North Brisbane Hotel was situated on the west side of Queen Street, between Edward and Albert Streets. It was destroyed by fire in April 1864. (Sketch held in State Library of Queensland)

What could be the (historical) importance of such a seemingly trivial incident in which one Scots publican declined the patronage of a group of newly-arrived non-British itinerant musicians? Particularly when the next sentence indicates that they found a suitable room just one block away.

The meaning becomes clear when you realise that Sergeant-Major Walker was Pauline's grandfather. A family tale that he had not thought much of his future son-in-law on first meeting is given an almost biblical dimension as Andreas and August and their soon-to-be-born Band are turned away from the inn into the night.

We are reminded again that this is not dispassionate reportage but deeply committed family history written in the last few months of the life of Pauline's mother and rich with personal meaning that needs to be pared away to reveal the underpinning facts.

[1] Records of Early Australian Musicians The Brisbane Courier 14 April 1923 page 17; Brisbane Bands Early Records Interesting Reminiscences 16 June 1923 page 18; Early Musicians on the Wallaby 1 December 1923 page 19

Sunday, 28 April 2013

A cultural triumph

The recreation of the inaugural concert by the Brisbane Band in the City Botanic Gardens this afternoon was a great success.

The State Library of Queensland are to be commended on the effort that they put into ensuring the authenticity of the experience. They even arranged for some simulated "urchins".

"We were sorry to observe some urchins running recklessly among the shrubs and the flowerpots. Precautions will be taken to prevent a recurrence of this by placing policemen in the gardens.Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 26 September 1857

Fortunately, all ages enjoyed the performance without the need for police intervention. While the Bellini aria and the three cavatinas might not have been to the taste of all, the polka and the galop were universally enjoyed. One cannot help but believe that the same was probably true in 1857.

My enjoyment of the afternoon makes me even more determined to strip away the legend that has been thrown up around Professor Seal and to find the truth about these four musicians.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Ending a war

In April 1919, Australians were preparing for the first peace-time commemoration of Anzac Day. For many this would truly confirm the events of Armistice Day that had ended the War to End All Wars. But for some, the terrible war was far from over.

Our great grandmother Lucy COLEY must have felt mixed emotions when she signed for a package from Army Records Branch on 19 April of that year. It was another sharp reminder that it was just six months since her son, Charles Cephas COLEY, had fallen in the Battle for Mont St Quentin on the Somme. On the other hand, this promised to bring her "the effects of No 6421 Coley C.C." by which she would remember her cherished son.

Lucy was obviously a strong woman. The undeniable shock of finding military paraphernalia rather than his personal items sent her not to her bed, but to her writing desk. She dutifully acknowledged the delivery and enclosed the official receipt but then added the following plaintive postscript (spelled as she wrote it).

Could you please tell me if there is anything els belonging to this soldier comming to me, he had a good many things which he treasured & I would so like to have them for remembrance.

To the credit of the staff in Victoria Barracks, they responded promptly. On Anzac Day (which was not yet a public holiday) the Major in Charge of Base Records signed a reply indicating that another package had been located and would be despatched post haste.

On May 5, Lucy received the second parcel. This one contained "2 wallets, testament, notebook".

These simple items no doubt gave her greater comfort than either the medals forwarded in May 1921 or the Commemorative Scroll and King's Message that she was eventually to receive in December 1922.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Travelling from Europe

Pauline Seal places the beginnings of the Brisbane Band in London in 1854 when her father "attracted the notice of the famous tragedian G.V. Brooke and was induced to accompany him on his first visit to Australia". She refers to eight musicians who "accepted an engagement on the ship Pacific to play on an excursion trip out to Australia"

The Pacific is claimed to have left Plymouth on November 26 1854 and made its Australian landfall in Sydney on 27 February 1855. Brook and Seal were then supposed to have continued on to Melbourne to complete an engagement.

It is certainly true that the Pacific sailed from Plymouth in November 1854 and that when it arrived in Melbourne on February 23, Gustavus Vaughan Brooke and his party (including his wife Marianne Elizabeth Woolcott Bray, the leading lady Fanny Cathcart and Richard Younge, stage manager) were among the first class passengers to leave the ship. The ship continued on to Sydney and when it arrived on February 27, the crew were listed by the port authorities. They included four "bandsmen" whose nationality is given variously as Hanover or Germany.

The handwritten page of the crew list has apparently been bound and then cut loose at some point with the loss of some information on the left-hand edge. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to accept that (And)rew Sieghill and (Aug)ust ----------- (aged 23 and 31 respectively) are two of the musicians. One transcriber has interpreted the other names as (Fred)erick Schmidt aged 20 and (unknown) Smith aged 23. Although these are plausible readings, they are by no means the only ones possible.

What is clear is that none of the bandsmen were named Cramer. We can be certain because further up the page was written the name of the 4th Salon Steward, (Hen)ry Cramer aged 24, who I believe to have been our 3xgreat grandfather.

A possible explanation for the mismatch between the documentary evidence and the newspaper recount is that in passing on the tales of his voyage from the other side of the world to his daughters, Professor Seal (as he was styled in Brisbane) recalled his shipmate Cramer (the steward) but conflated him with one or other of the members of the Brisbane Band of the same name (although they had not been on the voyage).

That does not explain Pauline Seal's assertion that the musicians on the Pacific included "the Cramer Brothers (4)", but later instalments of our investigation may cast some light on that. It also does not explain why Erickson "edited" Pauline's claim to read "the Cramer brothers (at least two, but possibly four)" unless of course he regarded her version as simply too good to be true, which it has been shown to be.

While it was correct that Adreas and Augustus Siegel travelled to Australia on the same vessel as the Irish actor G V Brooke and that, given Brooke's proclivity to perform at the drop of a hat, they may have worked with him during the voyage; there is no evidence that Brooke played any part in encouraging them to migrate or that they ever appeared together in Australia. Brooke opened in Othello in Melbourne before the Pacific had reached Sydney and reports of his 200-performance tour are mainly in Victoria while the Siegels worked in Sydney before travelling north.

There is a terrible temptation to declare that in mixing up the Cramers in his stories, Andrew Seal was actually confusing Henry (on the ship) with his brother George (in the band). But to do so would be to fall prey to the same romantic fiction of which Pauline Seal was guilty. I need more hard evidence.

Sunday, 24 March 2013


It is a great advantage for a family historian to be curious and open to new directions because that enables you to find unexpected nuggets of information about the lives of your ancestors.

It is a terrible handicap for a family historian to be curious and open to new directions because that leads you into fascinating and unproductive by-ways that take time away from studying your ancestors.

When a researcher has one of the second type of days, he should just try to hide the shameful secret and promise to focus on the main task tomorrow.

But sometimes the thing you stumble across is so cool that you have to tell other people about it.

In the course of compiling a list of references in Trove to the Brisbane Band, I came across a most intriguing tool developed by Wragge Labs called querypic. This creates "a quick snapshot of your search query, displaying the total number of articles your query matches over a span of years". In fact it gives the choice of either absolute or relative frequency of matching articles; and it was the differences between these that led me astray.

Could there be a clearer indication of the effect of increasing size of each issue and increasing frequency of publication over a century than in these two plots. The real growth in the absolute number of matching references is swamped by the much greater increase in the total pool as the industry grows.

I did manage to justify some of time spent on this new toy by noting the strong peaks between 1857 and 1875 just as I expected. But, even in the relative frequency plot, the spike at 1929-30 demands further investigation. Except that I promised to focus ...

Saturday, 23 March 2013

The accepted history of the Brisbane Band

When viewed from the vantage point of more than 155 years, the efforts of the Brisbane Band in bringing regular musical performances to Brisbane seem significant. At the time, the four members were just a few more foreigners around town who did not have a proper job. Contemporary reports of their activities are limited to classified advertisements and occasional references in the gossip columns[1] of the Moreton Bay Courier .

The accepted version of the history of the Band, as set out in Ericksen's 1987 dissertation[2], is based entirely upon three short pieces that appeared in the The Brisbane Courier in 1923 under the byline of Pauline Seal[3] .

Those articles appear to have been prompted by the fact that late in 1922 both major Queensland papers had published (in full) material provided by W.H. Paling & Co Ltd[4] to promote their music store brand through association with the deeds of its founder. From a twenty-first century perspective, this marketing attempt looks clumsy and poorly targeted, but it clearly struck a nerve with those who saw Queensland musical history being rewritten without Andreas Siegel (aka Andrew Seal)

Miss Seal was the daughter of the leader of the Brisbane Band but her articles describe events that occurred before she was born and were published almost two decades after the death of the principal protagonist. They cannot be considered primary sources.

It also may be significant that in 1911, a Letter to the Editor[5] of the Brisbane Courier (signed PS of Toowong) reported that Miss Seal and her sister Mrs Pizey were receiving communications from beyond the grave that would enable them to write out sections of their father's great last work, the D Major Symphony. That there is no record of this piece being performed may be attributed to the fact that it was scored for "heavenly instruments named therein, including the argentic harp [and] grand heavenly organ" which were apparently not widely available in Queensland.

It seems prudent to re-examine critically each of the claims made by Pauline Seal (and then transcribed by Ericksen).

  • [1] Domestic Intelligence The Moreton Bay Courier Saturday 26 September 1857 page 2
  • [2] Erickson, Frederick J 1987, The bands and orchestras of colonial Brisbane , St. Lucia available online at: http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:190026
  • [3] Records of Early Australian Musicians The Brisbane Courier 14 April 1923 page 17; Brisbane Bands Early Records Interesting Reminiscences 16 June 1923 page 18; Early Musicians on the Wallaby 1 December 1923 page 19
  • [4] A Famous Firm - History of W H Paling & Co Ltd The Queenslander Saturday 30 December 1922 page 15
  • [5] Inspired Musical Compositions The Brisbane Courier Wednesday 28 June 1911, page 21

Friday, 22 March 2013

Who was the fourth bandsman?

On Sunday 28th of April 2013, there will be concert in the Brisbane Botanic Gardens that will seek to recreate the first public performance of the Brisbane Band in September 1857.

The Brisbane Band (reputed to be the first professional ensemble in what was to become Queensland) has been of interest to me because of the presence among their number of one G Cramer.

Three members of the Band can be identified with some degree of certainty and their personal and professional lives tracked both before and after the historic concert. The fourth (G Cramer) remains an enigma. By all accounts, he simply appears in, and then disappears from, the record.

Our 3xgreat grandfather Heinrich (Henry) CRAMER had a brother George who died in Toowoomba in 1866 under tragic circumstances. In 1859, George had advertised in the Toowoomba press that he “attends parties with the trombone”. Might Uncle George be this enigma who contributed to the foundations of the cultural life of our state?

I have explored the life of George half-heartedly in the past, but the date of the re-creation concert gives me a target for a more focused study. Was George Cramer one of the boys in the band?

Footnote: Attentive readers should note that there were literals (typographical errors) even in the Moreton Bay Courier. The musical instrument identified in the advertisement as a sextuba (sic) should be a saxtuba.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Bring out your dead

At some time in the last few weeks, the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General has quietly updated its website to include the following:

The Queensland Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) classifies a historical life event as a birth that occurred more than 100 years ago, a death that occurred more than 30 years ago, or a marriage that took place more than 75 years ago.

That means that twenty years of death registration records (1963-83) that had been closed are now available for online search. And they did not tell anyone!

Well, that clears up any doubts about how I planned to spend the next dew days.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

On the street where you live

Census records allow us to see our ancestors as family groups rather than simply as collections of individuals. We can track their movement in space and time.

In 1851, Thomas and Susannah DAVIES (our 4xgreat grandparents) were living with seven children in a village of agricultural labourers. They were approximately 30 minutes walk inland from the seaside town of Rhyl in North Wales along what is now known as the A252 motorway. They have lived there for at least 10 years.

The death of Thomas in 1856 after two more children had been born must have caused great disruption for the family. By 1861, Susannah had shifted them away from the farms toward the business centre of Rhyl and found employment Keeping Carts.

They moved in at 86 Vale Road near the intersection with Victoria Road. By this time, two of the older boys had moved out, while two more were employed as drivers in Susannah's business.

In 1871, Susannah was still resident at 86 Vale Road. She is listed as Head of the Household but her occupation is now Housekeeper in the home shared with eldest son John, now 35 but still unmarried, her youngest daughter Elizabeth a domestic servant aged 18 and Thomas a two-year-old listed as "son" in the relationship column.

The other driver, Joseph, has established his own young family at 84 Vale Road. Two daughters, Jane and Sarah, have also married and are living at numbers 64 and 65 Vale Road respectively. Another sister, Martha aged 20, is recorded as being a domestic servant living in at John Macaulay's Establishment for Young Gentleman at 18 Vale Street. The baby of the family, Edward now 16, is unaccounted for in this census.

By 1881, John has moved out of 86 Vale Road but Susannah stayed to be joined by Sarah and her children. Also living there was another granddaughter, Sarah Davies, the daughter of Joseph. He had moved the rest of his growing family (but not far) to 123 Vale Road.

Our 3xgreat grandparents, John and Jane DAVIES, have left 64 Vale Road far behind and were living in Salford. Elizabeth had also left Rhyl and is living with young Thomas, now clearly acknowledged as her son, and his sister Martha Anne. The whereabouts of their Aunt Martha and Uncle Edward are unknown.

After the death of Susannah in 1887, life continued much as before for the Davies. It appears that they gave up number 86 and Sarah and her family moved into 80 Vale Road. In the 1891 Census, Joseph listed his occupation as Cab/Carriage Proprietor (not an employee) still operating from 123 Vale Road.

By this time, our 3xgreat grandfather John has made the greatest move of all and is settled in Rockhampton (central Queensland) with our 2xgreat grandmother Jane and her siblings. His wife (also Jane) had been buried in Salford before they left.

It must have taken enormous strength of mind (or unbearable desperation) to move young children thousands of kilometres across the world away from an extended family that had lived within a literal stone's throw of one another for half a century.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Socially acceptable stalking?

I do not often spend time contemplating why I work on our family history. After all, there are too many fascinating (but unproductive) by-ways to take time away from my real research to need to waste more on introspection.

But as I checked progress on my efforts to define a particular ancestor, I did muse just a little on what I was doing. I had not only listed his parents and his children but also gathered information on his schooling and employment history, his home addresses (with details of neighbours) and was about to embark on a search of the newspapers for more background.

It occurred to me that if I knew that someone was collecting all that about me, I would probably feel a little uncomfortable and question his motives.

As I look across a collection of dossiers that include a suspicious death, three (or was it four) husbands, court appearances and an apparent complete change of identity, I wonder whether the uniform of a family historian should include a trench coat, snap-brim fedora and a battered pair of tan wingtip shoes.

Perhaps it is as well that there is no right to privacy post mortem or some of what we do routinely might attract unfavourable attention.

Nevertheless I will continue to carry out my research without fear or favour. If any of our ancestors want to opt-out of the story, they need only send me a message.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Finding J T Hollingworth

The fact that J T Hollingworth was present in the marital home on Census Day 1891 was crucial to finding more information about him.

From that, I knew that I was looking for a man born about 1845 in Lancaster. Unfortunately, birth records for Lancashire showed no matching person.

Family Search Standard Finder revealed that Staley Bridge (or Staleybridge or Stalybridge) actually lies in Cheshire and that is where the birth of John Thomas was recorded. It also was where he was living with an uncle in 1861 (prior to his marriage to Sarah) when he was employed as a cotton piecer.

While this leaves me no closer to answering my original question -- Where was John at the 1871 and 1881 Censuses? -- it does raise two new questions -- How did a boy in a cotton mill become a Gas Fitter? What brought John Hollingworth across the border into Wales?

In fact, the new questions may be related. Although spinning and weaving factories were widespread throughout the English midlands, there was little evidence of this industry in North Wales. There is only a small chance that J T Hollingworth moved to follow the same line of work.

This suggestion is supported by the next Census return; but in a manner that further complicates the issue. John is neither a cotton mill worker nor a gas fitter. In April 1871 (after his marriage to Sarah) he was a railway porter living in Tranmere, Birkenhead.

It seems most likely that he would have been employed by the Great Western Railway which ran a Birkenhead to London Express service as well as servicing most of Wales (including Rhyl, where the station opened in 1848).

It is certainly plausible that John joined the railway company and was posted to serve in Rhyl before being moved elsewhere in the network. One might be tempted to comment on the fact that he was lodging on Merseyside with the Davies family; were it not for the fact that the name is so common.

It is easy to understand that a young man might decide to change employment yet again if his second career took him away from his family for extended periods.

Although the scientific curiosity of destructively-distilling coal to produce a flammable gas had been known since the mid-seventeenth century, the widespread availability of a suitable technology was a recent development. The 1860s were the golden age of coal gas development. For a young man seeking a stable career in a growing industry, a trade supporting the reticulation of gas to households would have been very attractive (in much the same way that digital communication is today).

If there was one thing that Wales had plentiful supplies of, it was coal. So there would be no shortage of work as one town after another established furnaces and networks of pipes connecting them to homes. So it is not all strange that John Hollingworth should go home to train as a gas fitter, but it did not enable him to settle. It is the nature of an infrastructure roll-out that it demands an itinerant workforce.

John's growing family shows that he returned to Vale Road in Rhyl regularly and was unlikely to have established a "home" elsewhere. So I expected to find him in the Census of 1881 as a lodger wherever he happened to be employed at the time, and this document shows him staying in a pub in Ecclesfield (Yorkshire).

So was his presence at Vale Road on 5 April 1891 merely another weekend at home before leaving for more work or a sign that he had settled? His stated occupation suggests John was probably still a mobile worker at this time.

By 1901, he has changed his job description to Standing Engine Driver, indicating that he has turned his skills to a new field to enable him to live full-time at home. In 1911, John Thomas was living in retirement at 80 Vale Road with his eldest son John. (Sarah had died in 1906.) But in a sense he had returned to the trade that shaped so much of the lives of his family. His occupation is listed as retired Gas Fitter.

That should conclude my study of J T Hollingworth. After all, however fascinating his story may be, he is not a direct ancestor. The husband of a sister of our 3xgreat grandmother is about as tangential to my main concerns as you are likely to get.

And yet ... I know nothing about Samuel Fielding, the uncle (presumably his mother's brother) with whom he was living in 1861. Where were John's parents?

Why would anyone believe that a family history can ever be finished?

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Is he talking about me?

Last week I wrote a (slightly) light-hearted list of things that I wished my ancestors had done and it included the following

Have everyone practise spelling the family name in the same way; all the time.

Then just a few days later, James Tanner had a post called Is Spelling Important? in which he highlighted the damage that can be done by a dogmatic emphasis on spelling names in just one way.

... the real issue for genealogists is whether the way a name is spelled has any significance whatsoever? This becomes an issue because of some researcher's dogmatic ignorance of spelling changes. They insist on establishing relationships based almost entirely on the way the name is spelled. They also change the spelling of names found in source records to conform to their preconceived notions of how the name should be spelled. ... You don't have to be involved with helping people with their research for long before you run into this problem and it is a real problem.

Oh dear, was I guilty of the sorts of irrational behaviour that James had identified as barriers to success in genealogy?

I plead not guilty. I do not automatically accept or reject potential ancestors on the basis of how their names are spelled. I recognise that there have been variations through time. I acknowledge that people whose names are recorded in different forms are actually part of the same family. I accept the right of each person to adopt their own form of the name; whether by accident or design.

I just wish that they did not do it! It's not about them. This is all about me and my comfort.

There is nothing so frustrating as having constructed a search query that absolutely must catch the target person (if they exist) and to have it return empty. And then to realise that the spelling setting in on "exact". Toggle that switch and (as if by magic) 2xgreat grandfather appears with an extra "s" or without the "e".

Before you judge me harshly for complaining about the need to set one switch on a search engine, let me tell you how some major products deal with spelling variants.

On the left is Family Search and on the right is FindMyPast. Each one includes a simple tick box to control the spelling searched. There is a small but significant difference. The effects are exactly opposite. If you tick both boxes, then FS will ignore any spelling other than what is entered while FMP will look for any acceptable variations.

If you work with both these tools open in tabs on your browser (as I tend to do), then you need to remember that the ticks must be opposite to have the same effect. Whatever you do on one site, must be matched by the reverse action on the other.

Ancestry does things in the Family Search way. WeRelate has a drop down list that defaults to the FindMyPast approach. Feel free to make up your own list of other search engines.

Occasionally I am tempted to write a stern letter to someone-in-authority about the need to adopt a consistent user interface for the sake of the clients; or I could just go back to abusing the ancestors for their sloppy habits. I suspect it will have as much effect.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Tips to ensure you are remembered fondly


In general, I like my ancestors. They seem to be decent people that you would be happy to have as friends and neighbours, even if they weren't family.

But every so often, I stumble across a record that makes me think less kindly of them. At times, they frustrate me terribly. Which is a shame, because it all could have been avoided if only they had rid themselves of a few bad habits.

Since any one of us might end up as the subject of genealogical research, I thought that the following tips might help to preserve your reputation (and your descendant's hair).

  • Have everyone practise spelling the family name in the same way; all the time. The letters "e" and "s" are small but important.
  • Do not adjust your stated age (up or down) at any stage of your life. Honesty is always the best policy.
  • If you don't like your given name, choose another ONE and stick to it. In matters of personal identification, variety is not the spice of life.
  • If you feel that you must marry someone with the same given name as your parent, allow that name a rest in the next generation. Your child will be perfectly happy with something else.
  • Your affection for your sibling does not need to be demonstrated by marrying someone with the same name. If he or she reciprocates, you create a literal Gordian knot.
  • Investigate some variants of the beloved great grandfather's name. Four cousins given the same name within five years is plenty.
  • Follow the census instructions precisely. "She usually lives here, just not tonight" can only end in genealogical tears.
  • If you marry someone with the same family name, make a fuss about it so the information passes down through many generations. A widely-circulated news report about this odd coincidence would be useful.
  • Check an atlas for the location of your place of birth and memorise it. Give that same response each time you are asked; even after you have moved up in the world.
  • If it is necessary to transfer a child to the household of grandparents or an aunt, ensure he or she is labelled unambiguously. Micro-chipping is probably out of the question, but a barcode can be unobtrusive.
  • As the first step in any plans to migrate to a new home, learn to say your name as it would be spoken by a minimally educated man at your destination. Then he will write it down in a way that you (and I) will recognise.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

An absent brother-in-law

In 1861, our 3xgreat grandmother Jane and her sister Sarah were living at home. The two girls, then aged 15 and 12, must have had important roles in looking after their three younger siblings while Susannah ran the family business with their older brothers John and Joseph. By the Census of 1871, both girls had moved out; probably to begin families of their own.

Since Jane was our director ancestor, I knew her married name (Davies) and that should make her easy to locate. I expected that tracing Sarah might be a little more difficult.

Jane and John Davies were quickly found living with their two small children. By a stroke of good fortune, their neighbour (also with two toddlers) was named Sarah and just three years younger than Jane. Was Sarah Hollingworth formerly Sarah Davies?

A search of the registration of marriages confirmed that Sarah had in fact married John Thomas Hollingworth early in 1867. In most cases that would be all that I wanted to know about the brother-in-law of an ancestor, but for one odd feature — J T Hollingworth had not been at home on the census day.

There could be many possible explanations for this. He might be dead, or in prison or hospital, or simply working in another area. To check these possibilities through a more extensive census search, I needed to know his year and place of birth. That should be easy enough to find by looking for he and Sarah in the next (1881) census.

In 1881, Sarah and her children were living in the old family home with her mother Susannah. Sarah reported that she was still "married" and with her son Samuel Hollingworth being 10 months old, there are sound grounds for believing that her husband had at least visited recently. But once again, John Thomas was missing from the census record of the Hollingworth family.

When the next census was conducted on 5 April 1891, John Hollingworth was at home and listed as head of a household made up of Sarah and seven children ranging in age from less than 1 to 23 years old. His birth data, so long a mystery, indicated that he had been born in Stalybridge, Lancashire in 1845. Of particular interest is that, while Sarah had described herself as a "labourer's wife", John was a Gas Fitter by trade.

That should provide an ample basis for returning to the Census of 1871 and 1881 to find just where JT Hollingworth had been.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Who is family?

Traditional genealogies focussed on a single pedigree, or bloodline, that showed the line of descent linking the client to his (preferably rich and powerful) ancestor. Females were necessary for the process of producing progeny but, unless she had a very powerful father, there was no reason to include more than the individual concerned. The idea of including references to the mother's ancestors was not only too difficult, it was simply unnecessary.

Modern family historians have gone beyond the surname obsession and recognise that ancestors on the distaff side are just as worthy of study. Our understanding of our family history is now immeasurably richer than in times past because of this; but the amount of research required has grown even more.

For all practical purposes, each family historian has an "infinite" number of direct ancestors to be researched. Even if you have located every one of your ancestors after a particular point, when you step back in time by one generation you add as many unknown ancestors as you have researched to date. It is an inverse Xeno's paradox that really does mean that you can never finish.

So why would anyone choose to research people who are not their direct ancestors? A collateral ancestor is someone related but not in your direct line of descent such as an aunt, uncle, or cousin. They are people with whom you share a common ancestor. Collateral ancestors in the current or recent generations may be personally known to you. They are the people you refer to collectively as the relatives or the relations with affection or sometimes exasperation. Remember "you can pick your friends but not your relations". You may learn about other collateral ancestors when you find that someone else is researching "your" 2xxgreat grandfather. Your common ancestor may form part of many different collateral lines. A few of those lines may seem worthy of further investigation.

But some of us cast the research net even wider. The term "tangent line" can be used to refer to a line of descent that touches one in which you are interested. Think about the younger brother of great grandfather's second wife. He has no genetic or legal connection to you in any way, but if he is rich or famous or evil or outrageous enough, then he can exercise a fascination that draws you into his story.

In my case, it is enough that these passers-by in the stream of history are puzzling. One of the powerful motivations for me as a family historian is problem-solving. If I encounter an individual or family group with information that is incomplete or inconsistent, then I want to resolve the issue. Whether the people involved are direct or even collateral ancestors does not really influence my level of enthusiasm.

I know it seems very disrespectful to my many-times great grandparents, but sometimes heading off on a tangent is just more fun.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

A lesson learned

I recently encountered an intriguing line in an old census, conducted a brief search, and published a plausible speculation concerning an explanation.

I did so, not because I naively believed that I had "proved" anything, but because I naively believed that I would be able to post a timely follow-up demonstrating the need to eliminate the other possibilities for the identity of Joseph Davies (b 1882).

Simple arithmetic should have shown me that I was gravely mistaken. Matching the details of each of 10 individuals at three (and possibly four) nominated points in time was always going to require at least an order of magnitude greater time than I had allowed.

I have not abandoned the task; just assigned it a lower priority.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Who is nephew Joseph?

At the 1891 Census, Joseph Davies was a Cab and Carriage Proprietor living in Vale Road with his wife Jane, their eldest son John (aged 20) and a boy named Joseph Davies. The youngster was described as the nephew of the head of the household.

Logically a nephew with the same surname would be the son of one of Joseph's bothers. There were four of them and until this point I have no firm evidence that any of them had children (or that they ever married). Locating further information on the background of this boy could add significantly to the family history. The Census form provides only three pieces of information: that he was a nine-year-old "scholar" born in Southport, Lancashire.

Since the Census was conducted on 5 April 1891, the date of birth of young Joseph could be anywhere in the period April 1881 to March 1882. There are only two parishes whose names include the word Southport and both (one established church and the other Wesleyan) share the same physical location which was (then) located within the Ormskirk Registration District.

In that District and timespan, there were just four Davies births registered and none of them was named Joseph. Even when the time constraint is relaxed to include Mar 1880 to Mar 1883, there are no births registered for Joseph Davies in Ormskirk. We must conclude that Joseph (or the Census enumerator) was "mistaken" about his nephew's place of birth.

Broadening the search to include the whole of Lancashire on the restricted timespan captured 581 Davies births, nine of which had the given name Joseph. They were registered in Ashton, Blackburn, Bolton, Chorlton, Liverpool, Salford (2), Toxteth Park, and Wigan.

Since Southport was on the edge of Ormskirk District remote from all of these possibilities, it is unlikely that any confusion over the birthplace was geographical. Perhaps it was linguistic. Might someone "mishear" Salford as Southport?

This is a suggestion worth consideration because the family does have a connection to Salford. That was where our 2xgreat grandmother Jane was born in 1877. It was also where her mother (3xgreat grandmother Jane) died in the September quarter of 1881.

One of the Salford births was also registered in the September quarter of 1881 raising the possibility that young Joseph was the son of his uncle's sister. Their surnames are the same because Jane DAVIES had married John DAVIES.

It was not unknown for a man whose wife died in childbirth to hand over the baby to a family member while he got on with raising their older children. What would make this case unusual (if that is what happened) is that in November of 1883, John (and his second wife, Elizabeth) sailed for Australia with the rest of the children. What could have caused him to leave his younger son behind?

A writer of fiction might offer (melodramatically) that he could not bear to look on the child who had "taken" his wife's life. Or perhaps that Uncle Joseph saw the boy as the heir to the family business since his own son John was employed elsewhere as a general labourer.

As an historian dedicated to evidence-based conclusions, I can only marvel at where I can be led by a single puzzling line in a census return.

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Ancient manuscripts

The recent QSA Bulletin from the Queensland State Archives describes plans for a forthcoming skills workshop titled Deciphering old handwriting.

That sounded particularly useful and I had visions of investigating long esses and the various abbreviations that were common in former times. In order to whet our appetites, the Archives posted digital images of the types of document that you might need help to interpret.

At least one of the documents selected was a very poor choice. It was not very old at all and the writing was just the same as I was taught in school ...

It can be quite confronting when you are forced to recognise that you are turning from a descendant into an ancestor!

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A bunch of roses by any other name

One of the perennial topics debated when family historians gather is How do you distinguish among family members with the same name?.

There are lots of ways to approach the problem but sometimes you encounter a situation where you think that barcoding might be appropriate.

When I began to search for our 2xgreat grandmother, I knew that her maiden name was Jane DAVIES and the family came from north Wales. She turned up quickly in the census and everything tallied but the date of birth. I knew Nan was old but she could not have been that old.

It turned out that I had not found our 2xgreat grandmother at all, but our 3xgreat grandmother whose maiden name was also Jane DAVIES before she married John DAVIES.

I was prepared to keep mother and daughter separate in my head, but my concern grew when I encountered another John and Jane Davies of similar age in the same place. I realise that there are lots of very common names in Wales, but the parallels between these couples were worrying.

It was small relief to learn that Jane (the mother) had a brother John who had married a woman called Jane. He probably thought nothing of it, since their brother Joseph had also taken a wife called Jane. And young Sarah's husband was John as well(mercifully, not Davies).

Add a couple more Johns in the next generation (cousins of our Jane the younger) and it begins to look like a naming nightmare.

Of course, when the extended family gathered, the issue probably never arose. Almost all those present would have had another name by which they were usually known to the others. Those unique nicknames would have avoided any confusion. What a shame they neglected to pass them down for the benefit of long suffering family historians in centuries to come.

Monday, 18 February 2013

What's in a name?

I have always referred to our 4xgreat grandmother as Susannah with an "h" because that was the name under which I first encountered her when studying census returns. On the other hand, her baptismal record shows that on that day in 1816 she was recorded as Susanna.

This inevitably leads to the question (much loved by genealogists) What was her real name?

It is important to recognise that Civil Registration of births, marriages and deaths started on 1 July 1837 in England and Wales. So there is no legal basis for preferring one form over another as the official name.

We might argue that the name ordinarily used by the person is in fact her "real name" for all practical purposes and that was (unconsciously) my basis for taking the form used in the census return, but there is a difficulty.

The record of the marriage of Susannah in 1835 shows that she, her husband and her mother all "made their mark" as a form of signature. Since they were unable to write their own names, they were unlikely to be able to recognise and correct an "error" made by a literate person. Almost certainly, the records of Susanna(h)'s name were all made by others

A study of the relative frequency of the two forms in printed language suggests that the with-h variant was briefly the more popular a couple of decades before our 4xgreat grandmother's birth but has been declining ever since. Why then would educated people consistently prefer the "older" version?

I suspect that the answer lies in the role of the church. A literate man in North Wales in the mid-nineteenth century would have been very familiar with his Bible and would know of the role of Susannah (with Joanna and Mary Magdalene) in the Gospel of Luke. Anyone hearing the name would immediately bring to mind the New Testament spelling. Everyone, that is, except the Rev E Roberts on the day of the baptism. Perhaps he was one of those modern vicars.

There is one other reason for believing that Susannah's name should be spelled in that way. Although their parents were illiterate, the Davies children could read and write. Two of them (Joseph and Sarah) gave daughters the name of their grandmother. Both Susannah Davies (b 1867) and Susannah Hollingsworth (b 1876) are with-h, so I reckon that their granny was too!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...