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.

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