Friday, 22 November 2013

Sorry it's been so quiet!

Every November, I dedicate my genealogy time to an ongoing project: researching World War 1 servicemen from my area for the local RSL. I get through about five per year, so it's going to take a long time to finish them, but it's helping to flesh out details of the lives of some very courageous men and their families. The research is put up in the local library each year as part of a Remembrance Day display.

So, apologies for the deafening silence, but I'll be back!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels #2: John Rendall Cave

So, a while ago I posted about the fact I had relatives in SA whose surname was Cave. At the time I made quite a joke about famous Caves, possible connections, yada yada. Anyway, after a little further investigating, it turns out that in their day they WERE famous Caves, and not the ones in Naracoorte either.

Susanna Darby, my ancestor George's sister, married Charles Cave. He had formerly been a yeoman farmer at Stoke Parsonage, these days known as The Priory. Her own father was also a yeoman farmer, in Pitney. I remember reading the excellent book about the Darbys in South Australia written by Basil Darby, who found it unusual that George and Mary could afford their own passage to SA (I believe he even used the words 'scraped together their passage'), and I had always shared the assumption they would not have been well off. Since reading about the Caves I've realised that a yeoman farmer owned upwards of 100 acres of his own land and was considered part of the middle class, which explains a lot about what happened when they got to Australia.

Stoke Priory. Not bad, hey?
George set up farming in Coromandel Valley, while his sister Susanna and brother-in-law Charles owned a farm at Sturt and a property on King William Street. Several female members of the family married prominent businessmen, one married the former aide-de-camp of Governor Macquarie, and some married regular joes (that would be my branch of the family. Typical.) Several male members of the family became prominent businessmen and public officials, including William Rendall Cave, explorer, merchant, ship owner, composer, Consul to Chile,  and all-round over achiever. Hell, he even started a wheat buying scandal decades before the AWB got in on the act! South Australian readers will see the genealogy on his Wikipedia page contains some of the most eminent names in our state. Nobody else I'm related to has ever aspired to the lofty (pun-intended) heights of owning not one but TWO mansions.

While every family has its shining light, they also have their black sheep, and it just happens in this particular branch of the family they are father and son. Yeah, that's him... near the bottom of the Wikipedia article. John Rendall Cave.

John was without a doubt educated at one of Adelaide's finest schools (*note to self - find out which schools the kids went to. Bet it's something with its own archive*), possibly succeeded his father as Consul to Chile, and would have been set up to be successful in business. He would have been given every possible advantage in life. But for what did he appear in the papers? His enormous profit margins? Civic service? Philanthropy? Being a stalwart of the Church? No: he appeared most regularly for getting sentenced to 12 months in gaol (and then avoiding serving the term) for pressuring a domestic servant to abort his child, a move which resulted in the death of the unborn baby and Antonie Hedwig Klemich, the young woman in question.

Grave of Antonie "Tonie" Klemich
The flowers were from me. I felt so bad when I read about her yesterday that I headed off to see her straight away. One thing which was something of a relief was that it seems someone has really looked after her plot. It is in pristine condition, despite being 105 years old. Antonie was not from a family of means. She 'got into trouble', and tried to remedy the situation by taking some very drastic measures. There's many a family that would have pretended not to know her on her deathbed, much less interred her with due respect. While she said that she was "very bad", it's obvious that those who knew and loved her did not feel the same way. Kudos to them for ensuring their poor darling girl received a decent burial. If this whole story reveals the despicable, exploiting behaviour of John Rendall Cave, it also shows the absolute decency of Alwyn (pronounced 'Alvin' I would presume) Klemich and his family.
To follow up, in 1930 Cave was written up in the Police Gazette for failing to provide maintenance to his wife and children. The newspaper trail clearly indicates a marriage break-down, the children staying with their mother who tragically died only seven years later.
Most of his family are buried together, but there is no sign of him. Perhaps he went to Chile? Perhaps he changed his name and moved away? Naturally I'm curious to find out what happened. I have contact details for someone I am certain would know, but what elderly person wants a phone call about their father when he's a guy like that?
Yeah... so not going to be dialling that number any time soon.
Edited to add: have heard from a relative who informs me that John formed a succession of somewhat dodgy relationships before dying in 1957 at the home of his last love interest, the woman who ran the Royal Admiral Hotel and farmed pigs at Port Adelaide. It seems somehow appropriate.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Stop! Collaborate and Listen!

You know you're GenX if you 'got' that one!
Every so often in genea-circles there are discussions about collaboration. Some people seem to think it is some solo endeavour, of old biddy pitted against the fiendish microfilm in a bid to read every document and visit every archive. Not me! I find it hilarious that as a student at school and uni, and in the workplace, I loathe group work, but when it comes to my genealogy I am a total convert to collaboration.
Firstly, there's all the wonderful collaboration with genealogists via Twitter, blogs and FB groups, to assist each other on the journey of collecting, analysing, recording and sharing our research. Then there's the mailing lists, helping out with specific areas of interest, particularly look-ups. I live very close by a particular cemetery, other people own particular CDs or subscribe to various websites.
The most important collaboration though would definitely be with relatives who are also researchers.
I am fortunate to have quite a few researchers on various lines, and in each instance there's been a different form of collaboration which has evolved.
Type 1: The one-off exchange
I copy all my stuff and send it off, the other person copies all his/her stuff and sends it to me, and then we both have the benefit of our collected research findings. Great for discovering odd, missed tid-bits, acquiring new photos and confirming previous avenues of research.
Type 2: The staged exchange
This has been the most common one I've found. We do the initial swap, then update each other should there be any major new breakthrough. My husband's relatives are good at this one.
Type 3: The round-table discussion
Rather like the above, but in person with biscuits. Far more fun!! My Evans relatives are fond of this approach.
Type 4: Full collaboration
I have a Dorey relative and a Sykes relative who are especially good at this. Not only do we update each other on our findings, but we vet each other's theories, double-check each other's conclusions, and strategically acquire resources so we don't double-up. It's terrific. We get the best possible bang for our buck and our time.
The only alternative is doing it all yourself, and there is just not enough time or money in the world for doing all the things that need to be done in our research!!

I'm hoping one day, when I have more time, to set up a Wiki to help facilitate family research. For example, I have about five Dawson researchers I keep in touch with. It would be so much simpler if we got a group share on the go, especially when it comes to files etc.
Anyone got any interesting experiences to share about how they manage their collaboration?
When I have time... Good one!!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Ethical Dilemmas #2 - Geneabloggers Open Thread Thursday

It's been very busy lately, so I'm going to be using my genealogy time to utilise my new spiffy Findmypast subscription rather than blogging this weekend - I need to relax! However, I had to chip in on the Geneabloggers Open Thread Thursday topic for the week: Ethical Dilemmas. I'm not going to blog about specific ethical dilemmas, as that's something I do regularly in  my blog (eg Mervyn Dawson, THAT family heirloom etc.) However, I'm going to list my key considerations when it comes to disclosing information.

1. I firstly always consider those who are living. If it's going to be deeply distressing or humiliating for a living relative, negative about them or adversely affect them, then there's no question I'd keep it on the down-low.

2. I also consider whether social attitudes have changed on the issue at hand. For example, illegitimacy has no social stigma now, so it doesn't trouble me to find out about that or share it. Nobody who hears it is going to think any the worse of my ancestor/relative now. In fact, often it's quite the opposite: people have more admiration for them for having faced adversity, or they enjoy having a connection to a good scandal or a total scoundrel.

3. If I think it will be a bit upsetting to someone, I may still share if I think there's a greater interest or another angle on things. For example, there are some cousins who might find the lack of genuine Scottish DNA on the part of Samuel McPherson a cause for concern. However, I maintain ongoing interest in all things Scottish is perfectly appropriate to those descended from someone raised by a Scotsman. It was part of how Samuel was brought up and what he was taught. The fact his actual genes came from elsewhere doesn't alter or lessen the impact that has had on our family and their identity. We know he saw John McPherson as his father. Not only that, I think the story of his true biological heritage brings another degree of richness to our family, and has always been part of our family story too (you can't turf his 'real' dad without turfing his 'real' grandma, who it turned out was also part of the heritage we'd been handed on.)

Apart from that, I've got to say I'm from the Publish and be damned club. Nobody wants to read a genealogy which makes the entire family sound like a bunch of sanctimonious fuckers. In addition, I'm not a big fan of cherry-picking in any form of life: you deal with the facts as they are and in their entirety. Then of course there's the fact that I'm generally lacking in gentle/subtle approaches or the ability to give a shit what anyone else thinks: those who know me personally know that for me, every day is Tell It Like It Is Tuesday! (I am, conversely, very hard to offend or upset.)

In answer to the title question, is there a 'right' to do genealogy? I say 'damn straight'!

And just to further get into the Tell It Like It Is Tuesday spirit...
As a totally off-topic addition, today I received a rather exhilarating geneaboost. I have many of my media files on Ancestry, including the marriage certificate of my semi-brick wall great-grandfather, Patrick McDermott, for whom I have never located a living relative aside from my immediate family. Consequently I went temporarily insane with excitement today to discover the following comment added to the file, which has been there unremarked upon for three and a half years: "Found this Certificate of Marriage in with family documents."
Can it be? Has someone found a copy of this certificate in a box they are clearing out, and checked on Ancestry to see what they can find out about the people it belonged to? Could this person turn out to be related to Patrick's brother who was alleged to have moved to Australia? Could his/her ancestors have known my ancestors? Will I find out more about Patrick? I shelled out $10 for a pay-per-record Ancestry subscription* just so I could message the comment's author, so I hope I hear back SOON!
*I have previously had a World Heritage subscription, but have rather exhausted the current records so decided to switch to Findmypast for the financial year and check out their stuff instead.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Geneahulk Coming Through

I've always been prone to being an angry person. My ethnic origin is Celtic (cue bad temper running rampant through the family tree), I work in a school and I have young children so I am chronically in a state of frazzled over-tiredness. However, this has really tipped me over the edge and turned me into the little-known Geneahulk.

A great many people in my family tree are buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery, SA. Half of my great-grandparents are in there, just for starters.

Luckily it's over the road from Bunnings, which is handy when I need more glue to re-attach the lettering!
South Australian readers will know that our metropolitan cemeteries here are without a doubt some of the biggest bastards out when it comes to redeveloping plots about thirty seconds after the ever-decreasing lease period has passed. Consequently it's no surprise that a large number of my family's plots have been redeveloped, or are currently adorned with the genealogical equivalent of the Black Spot, the 'about to be redeveloped' sticker. That hurts me. Not quite as badly as the time I turned up to Alberton to find the entire cemetery had been redeveloped, but nearly.
Even Success Kid likes headstones

I've often been prone to fits of moaning and bitching about the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, the body charged with looking after the Cheltenham, over one grave in particular. The oldest Sykes to emigrate to Australia, the first Alberton Station Master, John Sykes, is buried in the Cheltenham, after somewhat ironically being disinterred from the Alberton Cemetery by his son-in-law who was worried the graves weren't being properly cared for. By a stroke of good fortune, his great-grandson Mervyn White, son of J E White, is buried in the plot and as such someone in the family extended the lease. That meant was still current when that section of the cemetery was last up for redevelopment. However, this has now expired. The ACA have said they haven't heard from any family members in years and are quite happy to hand over rights for renewal etc. to us provided that:
1) We take on responsibility for all three plots which share a common stone
2) We get the leaseholder's oldest descendant (who we think is still alive, but neither we or the ACA have been able to find out where to contact her) to sign a form giving us permission to take on the lease
3) We pay the thousands of dollars of fees to bring the lease up to date to now and then extend it.
Of all the cemeteries I have ever dealt with, this approach is by so far the most legalistic, profit-driven and painful I have encountered. They would seriously rather dig up our ancestors and bury total strangers in their plot than let us buy the remaining space in it and join our family when the time comes.  
The subject of my usual Cheltenham Cemetery frustrations!

Like most genealogists, and most Gen Xers, I'm no millionaire, so in reality I'm very unlikely ever to be able to afford to extend the lease. I've always consoled myself by thinking that maybe, just maybe, given the ACA know how much we want this (and how little anyone else does) that perhaps, when the awful time comes and the plot is redeveloped, perhaps they might let us take the headstone. After all, what else would they do with it, right?
Yesterday I saw a picture which not only answered the "What else would they do with it, right?" but also sent me into a towering rage. I may have even used the C word a time or seven. I am so, so, very pissed off about this I don't even know where to start!
Photo taken this week at Cheltenham Cemetery by Lee-Ann Hamilton
So, my choice is pay thousands of dollars to the ACA, or face the absolute knowledge that my ancestors will be dug up or moved and their headstones put in the rubbish bin.
I am fucking pissed off.
If you, like me, are keen to see SA's metropolitan cemeteries start treating our ancestors with greater respect, or even cut down on the red-tape so that it's easier for us to help maintain our ancestors' resting places, then check out Saving Graves for the latest news and information. There's a Facebook group too.
Meanwhile, ACA, this one's for you (language warning): 

Friday, 6 September 2013

What Would Your Ancestors Do? #1

How to Vote
With only just over 12 hours before polling booths open for the 2014 federal election, Twitter, FB and all our other social media channels are chock full of politics. Yeah, I know some people are complaining about that, but personally I think it's a good thing. There are too many countries where people are dying for the right to vote, quite literally, for me to be anything but grateful both for voting and the right to bitch and moan about the government/opposition/unicorns without having to be concerned about who will come knocking on the door.
Anyway, it's no national secret that voting often runs in families, and people often vote for the people their parents did (to begin with, at least). I'm a little curious though about the degree to which that extends to other relatives, so I did a quick canvas of the political leanings of people who appear in my family tree whose views can be established with any certainty:
Person #1 - My Grandfather, George McDermott
Grandpa on his last day of work at Holden's Woodville plant
My grandfather ALP through and through. He always told Grandma the whole family should vote Labor, because we were working people and Labor look after the working folk. It's so imprinted on my grandmother's brain that even now she's nearly 100 and can't remember who her own great-grandchildren are, she still repeats that mantra whenever voting time rolls around. Grandpa worked in a factory as a foreman, and although he was offered many promotions to higher management positions, he always turned them down, saying he wanted to stick with the workers. Grandpa was a firebrand, and an agitator.
Person #2, My great-great grandfather, Patrick McDermott
We don't know much about Patrick. He died quite young, and for reasons I'm sure I'll blog about in future, nobody spoke about him much. One thing we do know is that he was from Derry Goolin, Galway, and that he emigrated here after the Land War had been underway for a few years. His neighbourhood was actually one of the key districts in the Land War because it was land owned by the absentee Marquis of Clanricarde, and the primary agitators in the area were young, single, Catholic, male labourers... like Patrick. One of his relations, also Patrick McDermott of Derry Goolin, later became a Nationalist MP. I know that there are conservative nationalists, but as a general rule of thumb, the Irish nationalists who emigrated to Australia have tended to be left of centre.
Person #3, My great-great-great grandfather, George Roebuck

George's Obituary
George served two decades on the Morgan Council and was plainly a man who cared about civic affairs. However, I have never been able to establish exactly what his political leanings were. Perhaps they were the same as his son's?
Person #4, Ellis Roebuck
Ellis was George's eldest son. He spent most of his adult life in the Port Pirie district. He was at one point the Councillor for Solomontown (like father, like son), and was also involved in two other organisations which still survive today:

Well, I think that's fairly conclusive, don't you?

That's it for dad's side of the family. On mum's side, I could only find out about two: my first cousin twice removed, Seymour Gough, who was a member of the Australian Communist Party, and my great-great uncle, Richard Owen Evans, embezzler of note, who was Councillor for Rosewater for several years. He owned a business, but nothing he said, did or wrote that I have clearly indicates his views one way or the other.
In fact, the only person I could find in the tree who I knew batted for the other team, so to speak, was on my husband's side, not mine. That was his grandfather, a bank manager, who stopped voting the the ALP after Chifley nationalised the banks.
So, it shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that this handsome fellow adorns the dining room wall at our house:

Yeah, I'm getting my blog on on Friday, not Saturday. Saturday I'll be slashing my wrists or crying into a whiskey. I've never been a great one for drinking whiskey, but I think it'll be a good day to start.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels #1: Thomas Skermer

When I research many of my ancestors, I admire them and their achievements. There are quite a few for whom I feel a great deal of empathy as they faced tragedies which I can't even begin to imagine surviving. Most of them are still blanks, and I wonder about them. However, I do have a (mercifully short) list of ancestors who I really would like to punch in the head, because no matter how you package it they are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling. And I don't mean in the sense that their parents were not married when they were born. One of these people was Thomas Skermer. It was actually very hard for me to locate the evidence that Thomas was part of the family*, and sometimes I wonder whether he was worth all the effort!

Thomas was born in about 1826, in Bagworth, Liecestershire. He was the youngest son in a family who would go on to have two more daughters, Harriet and Jane (my great-great grandmother). In 1846 he was working as a book-keeper in Everton, Lancashire, and living at 5 Roscommon Street. It was at this time that he married Margaret Bowes, believed to be the daughter of Valentine Bowes, an Irishman. He gave his age as 24. By the 1851 census they had two children, and lived with Margaret's mother. Thomas had taken on work as a policeman, and his sister Jane had moved to the area where she was working as a housekeeper.

Looks rather nice, really!

From 1857 to 1861 Thomas served in Coventry, Warwickshire as "Chief Constable and Superintendent", only the second person to hold that position. However, he absconded when there was an investigation into the force's accounts in November 1861, causing his predecessor Mr. Prosser to resume control. Perhaps his previous employment as a book-keeper had inspired him to do some creative accounting. We'll never know for sure.

Thomas is sadly not the only embezzler in my family**, however, his poor form didn't stop there. In 1861 he had returned to Liverpool, where he is recorded as a guest of his sister Mrs. Ann Parsons and her husband Charles. His youngest sister, Jane, had moved to Australia before 1853 and married a sea captain, Richard Evans, and in 1858 they had travelled to the UK and brought Harriet back to Australia with them. Thomas may have seen this as a chance to start afresh, and so some time in 1862 Thomas left his wife and three sons, who were in Warwickshire, and emigrated to Australia.

At the time the family were quite comfortable, even having a servant, but this wasn't to last without Thomas about. By 1871 they were lodgers in another family's home, Margaret was working as a needlewoman and the youngest two boys were working, one as an errand boy. By 1891, Thomas' boys were living in London in Aldgate, the suburb adjoining Whitechapel.

It was a very classy neighbourhood at the time known for its friendly and safe streets. Of course there was that thing with all the slums, poverty, gin-houses, prostitutes and Jack the Ripper, but apart from that...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Thomas joined the SA police force on 02 Dec 1862. He was recorded as being born in 1831 in England, and a former Inspector in the Liverpool Constabulary. Much of his service was in the mid-north of the state including time in Melrose and a posting in Lake Hope in 1867. This would have included experiencing the difficulties caused in the area by the drought of 1865 when a number of outposts had to be closed due to lack of fodder for the horses.

A typical case, reported in The Register, 02 Apr 1863

At the time, the area was still a rather wild frontier. There were conflicts with the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land the pastoralists wanted to take, and the troopers were often left in highly dangerous situations trying to keep tension to a minimum and "quell disturbances from the blacks". I don't even want to know what THAT'S a euphemism for.

Thomas was no doubt very relieved to be moved to the considerably more staid neighbourhood of Woodside, where he met Johanna Johns nee Ferk, the local publican's daughter. In somewhat unorthodox fashion the couple had a daughter, Martha, in 1865, and then married in 1868. It is possible that Johanna's first husband was still alive until then. Thomas' wife certainly was, but then she was alive for at least three years afterwards too... Thomas resigned his position as a Trooper on 28 Feb 1869 and went into the Ferk family business of inn-keeping.

By 1871 Thomas was an innkeeper at the Talunga Hotel in Mount Pleasant. It was during this time that Martha sadly passed away from Typhoid fever. I wonder if losing her reminded him of the three sons he had abandoned back in England, and how that made him feel. Bad, I hope. He was very highly regarded by the locals who gave him effusive praise in newspaper reports. Thomas later switched to a premises on Carrington Street (quite possibly the General Havelock). This was quite profitable and enabled him to buy the legendary German Arms Hotel at Hahndorf, although he never took on the license or ran it himself.

In 1877, Thomas also worked as a District Constable for the Mitcham area, and in 1878 he and Johanna separated. At the time he was involved in St. Mary's Church at Sturt where he volunteered as a Churchwarden. He continued to run the hotel on Carrington Street. In 1889 he placed death notices when his wife died, and organised her a grave very near the entrance to West Terrace, with an elaborate headstone. He joined her in that plot, under the very fancy stone, two years later when he passed away, leaving a sizeable estate including three houses, vehicles and horses. His beneficiaries were my great-great grandmother Jane, and her two sons, Richard and William (my great-grandfather). The boys continued to own the German Arms for several years afterwards.

No mention of embezzlement, bigamy or being a deadbeat dad, then? How 'bout that!
William named the next son he had after his uncle, and I can understand why he memorialised him in this way: his uncle was probably always very good to him, they had lived with him in the hills for a while after his father had passed away, and he had been left enough money that both he and his brother were able to set themselves up in business. He was a child when Thomas began living with Johanna, and he probably never knew about what had happened in Warwickshire, or who had been left behind. However, Jane would have known it all, and yet she still was so attached to her brother that when she died, nine years later, she was buried in the plot next to him! It's good for family to stick together and all, but how could she be so accepting of someone who abandoned her young nephews!
Since then, someone has vandalised his super fancy-schmancy headstone. I promise it wasn't me! That's what happens when you are that close to the entrance of an inner-city cemetery.

A year or two ago when I did some DNA testing with ftdna I got contacted by a Skermer relative. Of course with such an uncommon surname it took us all of three seconds to work out that was the point of connection. When she asked where I was and I replied Australia, I got the oddest response. She emailed "Oh, you're part of that branch", or words to that effect. I could almost hear the dismissive sniff at the end. I never heard from her again. I suspect I have Thomas to thank for that.

*Of course, once Trove got going I found items which would have proved the whole thing in three seconds flat. Always the bloody way!! I'd been piecing together Bagworth Skermers, trying to work out if there was a connection between the ones who had emigrated to SA, and how Liverpool fitted in, and meanwhile there was an obituary stating it's where he lived and an advertisement out there saying that my great-uncle Richard was the executor for Thomas' estate.

** The other embezzler of note was Thomas' nephew, Richard, who took his uncle's lead in a big way! A post for another time!


Saturday, 31 August 2013

Geniaus' Blogger Geneameme

Jill over at Geniaus has created a bloggers' geneameme: a questionnaire which bloggers are filling in to share their processes with others and generate discussion. You can find the questions here.
What are the titles and URLs of your genealogy blog/s?
Do you have a wonderful "Cousin Bait" blog story? A link to a previous blog post might answer this question. 
Sadly not yet, but I hope one day that will change! So far my online Ancestry tree has proved far and to be my most successful cousin bait.
Why did you start blogging? Is there someone who inspired you to start blogging?
I'm the only person in my immediate family who is 'into' genealogy, and I don't get to share the excitement of new discoveries with others. I also wanted to document phases of my research, as well as get starters on write-ups for my ancestors. 
How did you decide on your blog/s title/s?
Initially the blog title was a play on my first name, because it was all about my personal genealogy. However, I soon realised that both the way I wrote and the type of things I wanted to include were really shaped by my age group, and I thought that might be something which would make sense as well as allowing me to contribute to a particular kind of discussion in the genealogy world.
Do you ever blog from mobile devices? What are they?
No,  unless you count my laptop.
How do you let others know when you have published a new post?
Via Twitter.
How long have you been blogging?
Only a few months.
What widgets or elements do you consider essential on a genealogy blog? 
An email contact form, so cousins who don't wish to 'comment' can get in touch!
What is the purpose of your blog/s? Who is your intended audience?
Sharing discoveries and processes, plus sharing the younger (haha) person's perspective on genealogy. My audience is people who don't fear profanity and pop culture. ;)
Which of your posts are you particularly proud of?
This one here. It's a cracking story about my discovery that my great-grandfather was not the grand auld Scot we'd all been lead to believe, and I'd like to think I did it justice.
How do you keep up with your blog reading?
With difficulty!! There's so much stuff coming in all the time.
What platform do you use for publishing your blog/s?
What new features would you like to see in your blogging software?
A "follow me on Twitter" widget. There was one, but it now wants a URL link to work, not the HTML coding which Twitter provide.
Which of your posts has been the most popular with readers?
 This one here on Ethical Dilemmas I have faced with heirlooms.
Are you a sole blogger or do you contribute to a shared blog?
It's just me! No-one else is willing to accept responsibility. ;)
How do you compose your blog posts?
I park my arse on the couch, stare at the screen and think "Oh shit! It's the weekend again. I really should blog something!!" Not very inspired as an approach, but I hope to get better.
Do you have any blogs that are not genealogy related? If you wish please share their titles and URLs.
No. I can hardly keep up with this one! 
Have you listed your blog/s at Geneabloggers?
No. I worry my language will scare them.  If  you're thinking "well don't swear then", sorry, I can't do that. I don't swear at work (kids) and I don't swear at home (more kids). I don't swear with family (oldies) and I don't swear with friends (they all have kids). I tried typing this with no swearing, but it appears that was just one no-swearing too far! Blame the sailors in my family!!
Which resources have helped you with your blogging?
None spring to mind. 
What advice would you give to a new Geneablogger?
Just get started! You can always tweak it later if you change direction. As the saying goes, "A year from now you'll wish you had started it today".

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Celebrating National Family History Month like a Belieber: GenYalogy

Welcome to any new readers who have joined me after reading the wonderful article about Stereotyping in Genealogy by the good folks at Gould Genealogy.

As some of you will have picked up, among other things I am a teacher, and each year I teach a four week unit to year 9s (14 year olds) on family history. This year it just happened to coincide with National Family History Month, which was pretty good timing! Although it's slightly off topic in that it's not pertaining to my family, I thought some readers might be interested in hearing about the experience of working with the really young'uns on their genealogy, and how I've come to be probably the only teacher in the southern hemisphere who refers to Elizabeth Shown Mills in class!

Anything to get them to stop talking about this guy!

The kids undertake this as part of a compulsory unit, so there's a whole range of abilities and motivation levels on the go each year.

1) Preparing the kids

Being a persnickity old cow rather particular about things being done properly, I begin the unit by getting kids to fill in both a pedigree chart and a family group sheet, explaining the relevant conventions for how they are to be filled in. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there's a couple of reasons. One is that it gets them talking amongst themselves about what they know about their families, one is that it encourages good habits (how many of us had to go back and redo sections of our early genealogical efforts because they weren't 'done right'?) and finally it is how we approach everything else! That's also when I hand out the assignment sheet as the kids need time to organise visits to grandparents, rummages in the cupboards for their family's archives etc. I supply a load of useful weblinks as well.

2) Now for the 'story'

As people who write about engaging newbies in genealogy always identify, everyone loves to think that their family will have some great stories. It's at this point I show one (or two, time permitting) episodes of WDYTYA, to show the kids how they can use records to discover a story. Sometimes I use the Paul Mercurio episode, sometimes the Shaun Micallef one, depending on my class. If I get a boys' class I'd consider doing Ron Barassi or Michael O'Loughlin. I think one thing that show almost always shows really clearly is the connection between interviewing relatives, finding records, and developing the family narrative, then sharing it with others, which is what I want the kids to do.

3) "Sources" is not a dirty word

This is when I introduce the concept of sources. The kids are used to locating sources, evaluating them and referencing them, so there's a base level of understanding in place already. What they aren't used to is the range of things which constitute a source in family history, how to reference such diverse sources, and the importance of doing so even for a personal history. I show them a PowerPoint containing categories of sources, pictures of examples from my own family tree (we have quite a bit of fun with that!), how each is referenced (go EE!) and then we have a discussion about problematic sources, again with some examples from my own tree. It's about this point that we also talk about avoiding common research mistakes.

4) Time to go and apply!

The kids embark on their two week research phase while we do other classwork. When we revisit the topic, they have their sources collected. It's a special moment. Kids come in with scans of gorgeous old photos, photocopied letters and an abundance of stories which are new to them. They are always itching to share what they found with each other. We work on preparing our pedigree charts, timelines, source evaluations and a report on an area of interest which emerged in their research. Sometimes that's one branch of the family, sometimes it's an individual, sometimes it's a couple and sometimes it's a particular family unit. I assist with brick walls if anyone has identified one they are particularly keen to break down.

Like all other History assignments, there are no marks for 'pretty', only conforming to presentation conventions (eg how to structure a report, using capital letters for surnames in a pedigree chart etc.) However, the kids almost all spend hours making elaborate display folders full of their findings, because they all know by this point of the task that this is one assignment which is not going into the bin once it's marked or even at the end of the year. They all report having a great time and being fascinated by some of the stories they discovered existed in their own families. We revisit our research skills in Term Four when we apply them to finding out about a local World War 1 serviceman.

I got into genealogy because of a basic family tree I was asked to complete in year 8. I really hope that in 20 years time, at least a few of those kids are blogging a similar story to mine about how a school assignment lead to a lifelong interest in researching their family history.

No pics today, for obvious reasons, so here's a meme instead!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

My Token Canadian

Since everyone has been talking Canadian research with the release of the 1921 census, I thought I'd post about my token Canadian, Patricia MacKay. She was born in about 1889 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan* and later married to my great great uncle Werner (pronounced 'Verner') Henry McPherson.

The McPhersons were deeply patriotic when it came to WW1. All of the boys in the family enlisted and headed off to the Western Front (and, rather more remarkably, from whence they all returned alive, albeit not safe and sound). Werner had a rather distinguished war service, getting promoted to Lieutenant and winning a Military Cross for 'gallantry in action' when he cut down opposition trench wires with his machine gun while under heavy fire from the enemy. While he was away at the war, he met a young Canadian woman named Patricia M L H MacKay, and the two married in Warminster, Wiltshire in Jun 1918. He was a dashing young Australian-German-African-Scottish Apparently officer with a chestful of medals. It was summer in the northern hemisphere. The war really would be over by Christmas. I can imagine how exciting and romantic it all must have been.

What a man! What a moustache!

After the war Werner sailed to Canada with Patricia before returning to Australia to live. I'm still working on what they did, but the leading theory at the moment is that they settled in Lismore where Werner worked for a sugar refining company and was active in the local RSL.

Mac, ANZAC Day 1929, Sydney

According to Grandma, he worked for a while in Fiji. Grandma also says Werner made quite a bit of money on the Stock Exchange. I guess having your cousin as the President probably helps with that, but we won't go there!

Great-grandpa Francis, his sister Ivy, brothers Roy and Werner (seated)
Yes, they are from the branch of my family who are part African, and yes, Werner had just come back from Fiji so was on his more tanned end of the spectrum.

However, it's true as they say that money can't buy happiness. Werner's wife Patricia left him at some point and he never had a family of his own. When he died at the sadly young age of 63, he was buried with his fellow ANZACs at the Kendrew Oval at West Terrace.

It doesn't seem that things were any better for Patricia. As far as I can tell, she died of breast cancer just days after Christmas in 1967. The informant on her death certificate was one of the hospital staff, who wasn't 100% certain about a great deal of her information and registered the death some time after it took place. It gives the impression of a woman who is living with no family, and that's quite sad.

*Update: Nov 2016.
I have recently obtained Werner and Patricia's marriage certificate. Her full name was Patricia Maureen Liresay Henneker Rick, and she was born in Prince Albert to Francis Liresay Henneker Rick. She has previously been married (thus acquiring the surname MacKay).

The Brick Fortress

 Once upon a time I thought my great-grandfather was going to be my perennial brick wall. We all know about Irish records, right? I love the heroes of the Easter Rising to bits but I'd love to slap each and every one of them silly for burning all those wonderful records in the Four Courts. I'm partially right: I still haven't got any further back than his parents and siblings and working out he almost certainly was a young nationalist fleeing conflict, which had always been my suspicion.

An early photo of Great-Grandfather Patrick McDermott, taken just after his arrival from Galway.

However, it turns out since I married and begun delving into the in-laws' family, that in fact, my biggest brick wall is actually hubby's mum's family. They have presented so many obstacles that I have dubbed that line the Brick Fortress and all but given up on ever finding a solution. In fact, I have even started assembling questions to put to the Genealogy Psychic, I'm that desperate for a lead! I know, right?

So, here in no particular order are the problem people:

1) Her mother, Sheila May Smith.
Yep, Smith.
Daughter of Nellie Smith and... who? Nope, we don't know.

Column 4... Thanks a fucking bunch

Nellie Smith has proven elusive, connections to any Stanleys have been untraceable. I do know that Sheila changed her name in 1940 and that the paperwork was witnessed by her future brother-in-law, William Taylor. MIL has not shed any light on any of it and seems to have been happy to live in ignorance about her grandparents (which, frankly, I find hard to believe given she is Mrs. Nosy Questions!)

But Smith, that's something to go on with... right?

2) Her father, Kenneth Taylor.
His mother was Elsie May James. According to the records, she was born in Blinman, or Hay, in 1883, 1887 or 1890. There are no SA or NSW records even close to being her. You get where I am headed here... Elsie's unreliability with her personal information has made her very difficult to trace. One record says her father's name was Samuel, so that's the main thing I've been working on.

There are some records relating to an Elsie James, daughter of Samuel, but these are for Elsie Alice James in 1886 in Fitzroy, Victoria, daughter of Samuel Arthur James and Alice Cleak. There is an article in the paper in 1900 where Samuel A James of Warragul refers to his daughter's recent awards in music (West Gippsland Gazette, Warragul Guardian). Warragul is an hour and a half from Heyfield/Sale, the significance of which will become apparent later in this post. The general correlation of facts (father's name, approximate year, recurrence of the name "Alice" in our family) leave this at the leading possibility for our Elsie's birth, which of course leaves us with the question about why she just didn't provide that information?

Then of course there's the issue of Kenneth's father and step-father.

The step-father first: at her second marriage in 1927, Elsie gave her name as James, but the wedding was performed at Mrs. Taylor's residence. She married Walter Herbert Russell, who I believe was probably the one born at Anna Creek in 1888. The couple had one child, Colin. She then apparently moved to Broken Hill, became widowed and later returned to Blinman before following her children to Adelaide. What happened to Walter Herbert Russell? Who knows! No, I'm serious - who knows? I'd like to find out! However, what happened to him is nowhere near as mysterious as the issue of Kenneth's father.

Scandals and Suicide in the Scrub 
When I first heard anything about Mr. Taylor, it was from one of my mother-in-law's cousins. She said his name was William, and she believed he killed himself. I subsequently discovered that according to his children's birth records, he was born around 1877 in either Sale or Heyfield, worked in the Blinman area, had 6 children in 1916 and had died by Jan 1922 when Kenneth was born in Adelaide. Prior to his death he had been a station manager.
Those of you who know your SA geography will know I'm talking about a very remote part of the state which is fairly sparsely inhabited, so when I struggled to find William in Victorian records and couldn't find likely deaths in 1921, I did the sensible thing and searched Trove for likely matches - 'Taylor AND Blinman', that sort of thing. And what did I find? A whole pile of articles about this incident here: 

Holy Toledo!

This sounded quite a likely match up for our William, so I set about finding out as much as I could about the case and the William Taylor involved to see if he was our guy.

William Thomas Taylor was born in Sale around 1877. Tick. He started an affair with Mildred Maud (Milly) Roberts who had been born in 1896 in Blinman. She was the governess at Angorichina Station (in the Blinman/Beltana area) where he worked as a station manager. Tick. This was highly scandalous as he was married, and had six children. Tick. The couple caught the train south, got off at Whyte-Yarcowie, walked to the edge of the scrub about three miles from town and committed suicide by swallowing strychnine on the property "Greens", owned by John Hale, who knew Taylor from previous station work. The police buried the bodies in an undisclosed location on free ground in the Terowie Cemetery. The family were not recorded on his death certificate but are alluded to in several articles, and the fact they refused to claim his estate would seem to suggest they no longer wished to be associated with him in any way.

Case closed, right? This is Kenneth's dad fer shure!

You've all worked out the problem though, I know. Kenneth Taylor was born in 1922. This happened in 1916. Either that's the world's longest gestation or Elsie James told a BIG FAT LIE when she said William Taylor was Kenneth's father. I'm afraid that I'm going with the latter as the most likely, applying the Sherlock Holmes principle that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". I know Elsie was unreliable with personal details. I know there was a huge gap before Kenneth was born. I know that she gave birth in a city 100s of kilometres from her normal place of residence. I know that the exact location of his birth was a hospital which primarily served single mothers. I know that William Taylor, husband of Elsie, bears far too striking a resemblance to William Taylor, lover of Milly Roberts.

So who is Kenneth's dad? Well, she didn't marry Walter for another five years, so I'm guessing it's not him. Who else could it be? (And how long is a piece of string?)

Who knows, maybe one day hubby's DNA test will shed some light on the whole situation! In the meantime, it's back to the fortress!

 Kenneth Taylor: International DNA Man of Mystery

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Samuel McPherson... a storm in a glass of good Scotch?

It's been a big, big weekend for me, genealogically speaking (and my son started school, but back to the dead-people stuff). Jill Ball's recommendation has brought many of you over to read my blog, and there's also been some events connected to an ongoing family saga, so it's probably a good time to share this one. It's a big mess, but it's a great story, a ripping yarn even. I'd say apologies in advance to offended family members were it not for the fact I'm not sorry at all. Well, I'm sorry a few people were upset by it, but I'm not sorry it happened.
Ok... so, to begin at the beginning.
My grandmother is:
  1. A McPherson
  2. Very fond of all of her family
  3. Full of stories about their past.
My great-uncle Ron and my grandma, who is rocking a 'Black Watch' pin her dad bought her while on leave from the Western Front. Because the family is Scottish. Apparently.

One of her stories about the past was about her grandfather, Samuel James McPherson. He was a teacher at Scotch College. He dedicated many years of his life to education, and was later memorialised at the school in the naming of their History Prize (Why? He taught accounting and book-keeping!) As in the best of stories, he died of a heart-attack just outside the school property when on his way home one evening, just a few days before he was about to retire. He was at least 73 at the time.

Samuel James McPherson, as seen hanging on the wall of my grandmother's childhood home

He was very stern, and would think nothing of thumping one of the kids with his slipper at dinner-time then going back to talk as though nothing had every happened. Someone in his family was African and that's why we all tan so easily and have birth-marks. And he was Scottish. Apparently. Or, as Grandma describes it, Scotch, which I always found somewhat disconcerting. What can I say? She is virtually a teetotaller and probably doesn't realise how it sounds.

Great-great grandpa, is that you?

The official records told me somewhat more than that. He married a German woman while working in Melbourne. He worked at a number of elite Adelaide private schools. He was highly regarded and raised his children to succeed in professional or personal endeavours (never both: a story for another time). His mother could not write. Nobody seemed to know what year he was born in exactly, or whether he was born in South Africa or Ayrshire. But he was the son of John Henry McPherson, a Scotsman sailing from the ports of South Africa, and Betsey Geyer. And he was Scottish. Apparently.

I met cousins of my Grandmother's (who are just wonderful, wonderful people, and I wish I could have found something better for them in the research process). They told me about Samuel's career, complete with his references, showed me photographs of him, told me about his incredible children. They WERE incredible. I'll be blogging about each and every one of them at some point. There was the sailing and shipwreck stories about his arrival here from South Africa, and the stories about his mother, a great cook and boarding-house keeper, and his father, who died in a horrible accident in the St. Vincent Gulf. He was a sailor, but like most, he couldn't swim, so the one time he got knocked into the water that was it. And Samuel was Scottish. Apparently.

Report of the Death of John Henry McPherson

I don't know why, but I kept digging. Maybe it was to get facts. Maybe it was because every newspaper article which mentioned Samuel said he was John Henry McPherson's son, even the ones which were nothing to do with his father at all, and the lady doth protest too much. Either way, I ended up discovering a South African record indicating that Samuel's mother had been married before, not long before either, to a man named George Bagshaw. He was NOT SCOTTISH. Apparently.
One thing led to another, as they say, and next thing I was collaborating with a Bagshaw researcher and another McPherson cousin who was keen to discover the truth. We found out that:
  1. Samuel was the name of George's father, and James was the name of his step-father, meaning Samuel was either George's son or John, Betsy's second husband, was unusually accepting of his wife's first marriage to the extent that he would name his first-born son after people of significance to his wife's first husband. Yeah, I'm not buying it either.
  2. There was a baptismal entry for a Samuel James George Bagshaw, son of George Bagshaw, which matched Samuel's headstone's implied age of birth.

I have a clearer picture of the headstone, but this one is from my grandma's album and dates from the 1930s, so it's the oldest one

The McPherson cousin and I are pretty convinced that Samuel was the son of the first husband. We still really value the second husband. He was the man who raised Samuel; Samuel was obviously very fond of him and he had huge input into the cultural identity of our family and no doubt lots of other aspects we will never know or understand. Naturally there are a few in the family who are/would be deeply upset by this revelation that they are not genetically McPhersons and not genetically Scottish, and that's been a real downside to the whole process. I can understand their concerns: if anyone were to suggest I was not a McDermott, I know I'd really struggle to accept their theory. However, I choose to take a bigger picture view in the nature vs nurture debate and look at the fact that John McPherson still stamped his own distinctive flavour on our branch of the family, genetic input or not. He is my great-great-grandfather (adoptive) and George Bagshaw is my great-great grandfather (genetic). John Henry is one of only two people I've ever bothered to enter using the 'custom relationship' features in Family Tree Maker 2012, because as far as I'm concerned, he still rates.

To help shed some light on things my grandmother took the very avant-garde step of taking a DNA test, and we also bought one for a Bagshaw relative to try and settle matters. (Grandma is not hip with the 90-something kids!) Unfortunately it wasn't conclusive in that there was no match to Bagshaws, well, yet. However, the company (ftdna) did provide a genetic profile of my grandmother which showed that some of her DNA originated in Africa and that a further percentage was from South Asia. In case anyone is wondering, my mother's test with them shows 100% western European, so they don't just throw African in the mix for everyone to support a pre-existing human-origin hypothesis. There had always been a family story about Africa, both from Grandma and her cousin, and this proved it. At this point I supposed that given the Bagshaws originated from London, Betsy/Betsey Geyer must be the origin of this 'exotic' DNA, despite her Germanic surname.

As you've surmised, a few members of the family have been less than delighted about this discovery. Not because they have any issue with being, as my husband so charmingly put it, "part eggplant", but because they were used to thinking of themselves as having origins in the Scottish highlands.

"From the lone shieling of the misty island
Mountains divide us, and the waste of seas —
Yet still the blood is strong, the heart is Highland,
And we in dreams behold the

That sort of thing. I've been quite troubled about having robbed them of their dreams of tartan and bagpipes, although in fairness the family were raised with those by John, so they are still part of who we are.

That's been the state of play for a little while now. Fast forward to the weekend, when my Bagshaw relative forwarded me some new information he'd been working on. He still has contact with family in South Africa, and as many of you would know, you pretty much can't research South African ancestry without a local contact. He has been doing further research on the Bagshaws, and has discovered a few items of huge interest which have left me really floored, to say the least!

My Bagshaw ancestor, George, was the child of Samuel Bagshaw and Margaret Connolly. It turns out that Margaret was born a slave. By the time of her marriage to Samuel she was listed as "free slave" (still in the slave marriage register). She was the daughter of a slave and 'woman of colour', in St Helena. Her father J Connolly was a British (well, probably Irish but serving in the British army for profit) soldier in St Helena (as was Samuel Bagshaw) during the time of Napoleon Bonaparte!!!! Only just over 5000 population, and there were my ancestors and Napoleon!  There are so many potential stories there that I just can't even begin to get my head around it. The slavery, Napoleon, Samuel's grandmother's triumph against the odds and her experiences when the family lived in England for a while, Samuel Bagshaw's family's reaction to his marriage to a former slave, how a man whose grandmother was a freed slave became a school-teacher to Adelaide's establishment, how his first cousin was president of the SA Stock Exchange... I just can't even.

Now if it had turned out we were connected to this guy, THAT would have been even weirder!

Edited to add: Elizabeth, if you read this again, your message had an incorrect email address and bounced back. Please do get back in touch.