August is Family History Month – Reflections of a Genealogist….

Today, 1 August 2020, is the launch of Australian and New Zealand Family History Month….over the course of August, Ancestor Detective, will reflect upon her journey as a genealogist and the lessons and history she has uncovered….


When I started my genealogy journey I had no expectations or knowledge of what family history was out there and what family history stories were yet to be uncovered and written. Nor was I expecting to uncover that some of the facts and stories told to me by family members would be in fact incorrect. But that is history and what happens when stories of our ancestors are handed down to the generations. It is somewhere along the line that folklore is retold with added narrative that changes these stories, that for a genealogist adds an extra layer of facts to be explored and a layer of mystery to these ancestors and their lives.

I have previously written about some of these family stories and while I research to find out more about the folklore told to me and the generations before me. Family history month in Australia provides the opportunity for me to write about my experiences and how my research has influenced my approach to genealogy and the stories told to me growing up.

My first reflection is the story told to me about my grandfather’s grandfather, James Robinson. Growing up my family told us that James came to Australia on a migrant ship when he was a very young boy (some have said an infant). Off the coast of Australia, it was told that the ship that James was onboard became shipwrecked and he was the only survivor.

My research took me to uncover in the Biographical Index of South Australians (1836 – 1885) a record for James and his family. In that record I was able to confirm that Thomas and Ann (nee Paterson) Robinson, were the parents of James and that he was born in c1848 in Liverpool, LAN, ENG. These details were confirmed upon review of his Marriage Certificate for his first marriage to Hannah SLADE in 1873. More importantly, the record states “James was brought to SA by an aunt and uncle. His parents were drowned when the Cumberland was wrecked“. The record also states his residence in Adelaide and infers that following the ship wreck he entered Australia through South Australia.

Biographical Index of South Australians 1836 – 1885

As any genealogist or historian will tell you, the records you find are only as good as the person who has reported the details. These new findings provided additional information to explore in my quest to confirm; a) who his parents were and his birth date, b) that he was onboard a ship, possibly the “Cumberland” that wrecked off the coast of Australia, where he was the only survivor, and c) where he entered Australia as a migrant.

Up until his marriage to Hannah SLADE in 1873, I was unable to find where James lived once he entered Australia as, what has been told, as a young boy. However, after an extensive search of English records I finally came across a baptism record where he was recorded as Jacobus Robinson. The baptism record is written in Latin, with a Latin variation of his name (outlined in the source description of the record), hence Jacobus translates to James in English. and confirmed his parents to be Thomas and Ann Robinson. From that I was able to trace James with his parents in the 1851 census where he is one month old.

Liverpool, England Catholic Baptism, 20 August 1848

Finding both the baptism of James and the census recording his family in 1851, aged one month, and in 1861, aged 10 years. These records provided me with confirmation that the following in the index was correct; a) from the baptism record his parents were Thomas and Ann Robinson, and b) the baptism record shows James was born on 11 August 1848 in Liverpool, Lancashire, England.

The second time I came across a ship name was in James’s obituary from the Mildura Cultivator on 17 October 1923 following his death on 14 October 1923. The obituary reads “that he [James] came to Australia 68 years ago, having a mostly adventurous voyage out in the ship “Schomberg”, which was wrecked off Curdie’s River, near Cape Otway. He was then a boy of seven years, and was providentially saved from the wreck, the passengers being taken off by another steamer“.

While this may explain the family folklore, no passenger list of the Schomberg can be found to date, nor a passenger list of the steamer, which has been reported in the Colonial Times of 31 December 1855, as the steamer Queen. Records further state that all passengers survived.

If, as the obituary states, James died after being in Australia since he was about seven years old, this has me asking, have I got the right family now in the England census records of 1851 and 1861?


Family history is initially drawn from the family stories handed down to each generation about the lives of our ancestors. When we are young, we are left in awe when hearing of some of these stories but they are never questioned to be true or not. It is only when, like me, I start to explore my family history that I come to question folklore handed down to me because despite hours upon hours of research I am unable to find the evidence to support these stories. I like most genealogists would like to think that the folklore I heard as a young girl, and even now, is true but one must question the authenticity of some of these stories and how much was added to them as they were handed down the generations. How much is fact and how much is exaggeration? How much is told, to cover up the real truth? Without the evidence to support these stories, are we left to just assume they are correct, or do we then believe them to be fairy tales, because the facts told can not be proven with recorded evidence? As a researcher I am a critic if I am unable to find the evidence to support what has been told to me.

Family history month has provided me with the opportunity to reflect on my journey as genealogist and the research I have undertaken to write my blog, Ancestor Detective, and the history I’ve written for friends. There are always challenges when delving into the depths of records that the internet now provides to us, but at the end of those challenges finding that one gem of evidence can be the biggest reward. Uncovering the histories of families left unknown to many descendants and being able to provide those histories to people, is all the reward you need at the end of a long research process. History that until now, was a gap in the family who they are descended from their ancestors many years after they paved the way for the lives we lead now.


A story must be told or there’ll be no story, yet it is the untold stories that are most moving“…..J.R.R. Tolkien


References:

Statton, Jill & South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society, (1996), Biographical Index of South Australians 1836 – 1885, Marden, S. Aust : South Australian Genealogy and Heraldry Society.

Registration of Marriage, James Robinson to Hannah Slade, 29 May 1873, Wentworth, NSW. NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Sydney, NSW. Copy in possession of author.

Liverpool, England Catholic Baptisms, 1741-1919, ROBINSON, Jacobus, 20 August 1848. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011. Reference Number: 282MAR/1/3.

1851 England Census, Civil Parish: Manchester; County: Lancashire, Class: RG9; Piece: 2950; Folio: 28; Page: 43; GSU roll: 543054.

Mildura Cultivator, 17 October 1923, A Pioneers Death – The Late Mr J. A Robinson of Mildura.

Colonial Times, 31 December 1855, Wreck of the Schomberg, Hobart, Tas: 1828 – 1857.

Peeling away the paint of history – A Reflection of a Genealogist

Listening to a zoom conversation between two of Australia’s prolific genealogists and history buffs has made me reflect upon my own writings of ancestors and the history that surrounded their lives.

Michael Adams and Brad Argent spoke of how doing a history piece on a ancestor can delve you into research that you never knew existed and leads you to tell their stories in a different perspective.

They tell how history writing can be like removing a small piece of paint from an aging wall and how it forces you to peel away more paint just to see what is underneath. A great analogy that my writings has led me to do as well.

I look back on my recent research and writing about a friends 1890’s cottage in Violet Town and the owners of her home before her. Not only did I write narratives of their lives, I also uncovered a social history within this small town that highlighted a division that I have described as “the wrong side of the tracks”.

While one can envisage a small town, such as Violet Town, being united in a time when their lives and businesses were just starting out in the harsh environment of rural Victoria, you don’t expect during your research to uncover how a railway line can not just divide a town physically but can do so socially.

As such, upon reading the centenary writings of Violet Town it infers how the railway line being built divided the town into two. It is not until you uncover the history of some of the residents that lived there that you notice that those living on one side of the railway station are forgotten in the town’s history, despite owning hotels, boarding houses and numerous shops.

Years on, this divide is not apparent to my friend, but it is a shame that when we delve into the archives and peel away that paint we see a part of Violet Town’s history that has been forgotten.


There are a lot of aging walls outside just waiting for genealogists and historians to peel away the paint to unearth the untold stories of our ancestors”. Ancestor Detective


Read more about Violet Town in Ancestor Detective’s, “Who lived here?” series….

Who lived here? Part 1 John Kelly

Who lived here? Part 2 – Alfred Curtis and Maria Tuckett

Who lived here? Part 3 – Herman Gerhard Meier

A journey through my DNA…..

After receiving her DNA results from Ancestry.com, Ancestor Detective, reflects upon her results and her Italian history.


I grew up knowing my Dad as being born to Silvio Giueppe (1915 – 1996) and Gioconda Maria (1917 – 1984) who were, like my Dad, both born in the small village of San Donato di Lamon in the Province of Belluno in northern Italy. After their marriage on 25 January 1939 and the birth of their sons, Silvio immigrated to Australia on 2 March 1951 where he was employed by the Wonthaggi State Cole Mine from 23 June 1952 until 20 December 1968.

Three years after leaving Italy and using his income to build the family home and send for his family, Gioconda and her two sons, immigrated to Australia and arrived in Australia on 22 March 1954 where they settled in Wonthaggi. Silvio and Gioconda would live out their lives in Wonthaggi, where many migrants from northern Italy settled.

As a young child I grew up listening to my Nonno and Nonna speaking Italian, eating Italian meals and seeing my Nonno making red wine and salami. My Nonno was an avid grower of vegetables and grapes, I remember the smell leading up to their front door of the grape vines. I also remember as a young girl, watching my Nonna making gnocchi, I could just see the top of the table, where all the little parcels sat on tea towels where she was pressing her fork into each, my love of gnocchi continues today.

When I received my DNA results recently the ethnicity estimates had me somewhat confused, which I wrote of here. How does one who knows her paternal lineage to be all Italian, come up with DNA results showing ethnicity estimates of 26% French and 24% Germanic European? Who in my paternal ancestors are not born with parents in northern Italy but France or Germany? Are the records I have received from the commune in Lamon incorrect? Were these results influenced by the world wars and the soldiers that may have been based near the small village where the Austrian border was in the valley below the town? Or are the estimates dated back further when migration patterns from other parts of Europe into Italy influenced the DNA of my ancestors?

Even if some of this was the case, knowing my grand parents were born in Italy, as were their parents, as far as I know, I should still have some percentage of Italian in me, should I?

I have so many questions and so many things I don’t know about migration patterns, DNA ethnicity and how my results can be what they area……


Do not get me wrong I know my Dad is my Dad, after all I have what has been termed as the ‘Tiziani nose’, which has been past down apparently through the generations. I guess, for me, seeing my ethnicity was a shock and has left me with so many thoughts about how I can have no Northern Italy in my ethnicity despite my paternal line all being born in Italy for many generations.

I contacted a cousin, now confirmed from our DNA, whose parents, like my Dad, were all born in the small village of San Donato di Lamon in northern Italy. We compared our ethnicity break down and like me he had a proportion of French in his DNA, significantly higher than mine at 67% but, importantly, he has an estimate of 27% Italian, specifically northern Italy. My ethnicity estimates do not have an Italian breakdown.


My next step in this journey is to try and get someone else in my paternal lineage to complete a DNA test, preferably my Dad, his older brother, my sister or a cousin. I also need to read up more on northern Italy DNA and how migration patterns in Europe have influenced my DNA.

Like with anything new, I still have a lot to learn about DNA, particularly understanding the cM and segments and interpreting this and how it can assist my research.



To be continued……

Who lived here?…Part 3 – Herman Gerhard Meier…

In the next series of “Who lived here?“, Ancestor Detective explores the lives of residents in the small rural town of Violet Town who had owned a little cottage at Lot 11, Primrose Street, Violet Town. This journey started when the current owner of the cottage became intrigued how a German family came to be not only living in her cottage but also working in such a rural and remote community in northern Victoria.

Through the Certificate of Title for the property in the first part of this series began by looking into the life of John Kelly, the Traveller’s Rest Hotel publican, and wife Mary Jane Block who bought Lot 11 for fifteen pounds in 1882. At this time, it is likely that the Primrose property featured a small shanty made from bark and wood and it wasn’t until after the property was sold that the current cottage was built. John’s life in Violet Town centered around the ownership of his pub, which was popular amongst those travelling through the small town from Sydney to Melbourne. On 1 October 1884 John Kelly sold Lot 11 Primrose Street in Violet Town to Maria Tuckett.

Part 2 of this series introduces Maria Tuckett and husband, Alfred Curtis Tuckett, both business owners of boarding houses, a colonial wine shop, small shops and the owner of the Temperance Hotel. Alfred Curtis’s property at Marraweeney hosted the first inaugural horse race for Violet Town in 1887. Despite their business ownership, the Tuckett’s were also subject to court proceedings against them and a series of fires that burnt down several businesses and their luxury boarding house were they resided. Eventually the Tuckett’s sold their property and businesses and moved to Caulfield and following Alfred Curtis’s death, Maria moved to Perth were their sons lived.

In Part 3 of “Who lived here?“, Ancestor Detective introduces you to Hermann Gerhard Meyer who purchased Lot 11, Primrose Street, Violet Town on 19 April 1905 from Maria Tuckett. Unlike the previous owners of the cottage, Hermann, was not in the local newspapers for business ownership, court proceedings or the social pages. Regardless, Hermann, was successful, along with his father Johann Christian Meyer, within the Violet Town community where he resided with his wife and children until his death on 18 October 1936.


Meyer family portrait, 1907 – 1914

Johann Christian Meier (Meyer) (abt. 1813 – 1897) was born in Hanover, Germany and immigrated to London where he arrived on 21 May 1838. Anna Margaret Henrietta Knoops (abt. 1831 – 1913) was also born in Hanover, Germany and following her immigration to England, she met and married Johann on 17 September 1854 in Middlesex, England. Herman Gerhard Meier (Meyer) was the second son to Johann and Anna and was born on 3 March 1856 in London, England to Johann and Anna.

By 24 February 1861, the Meyer family are found in Fryers Creek near Bendigo where Anna gives birth to a daughter, Annie Rebecca Catherine Meyer. Anna would go on to have another five children who were all born in the area of Fryers Creek. Prior to moving to Violet Town, Johann is naturalised on 6 July 1871 where he is recorded as a gold miner, however no record can be found of Anna and her two oldest sons being naturalised.

Violet Town Parish Map, 1873

Violet Town is located in 174 kilometres north east of Melbourne at the base of the Strathbogie Ranges. The town was first surveyed in 1838 when on a stop over on is Australia Felix exploration, Major Thomas Mitchell camps on the banks of a creek he named Violet Creek, later becoming Honeysuckle Creek. While settlement was slow, once the gold mines became popular and Sydney Road became a thoroughfare between Melbourne and Sydney land started to sell and the town grew. In 1873, Johann leases land four miles west of Violet Town where he builds a homestead, known as “Springfield”, where the family farm sheep and cattle.


On 3 March 1897, Herman Gerhard Meier (Meyer) married Jean McKenzie in Violet Town. Jean McKenzie was the daughter of Davidson McKenzie and Elizabeth McIntosh, also from Violet Town. Just months later, on 27 July 1897, Hermann’s father, Johann dies. With his older brother, Johann, also deceased, Herman, a wood merchant, is left the property by his father in his final will and testament and continues running the family homestead until its sale on 24 July 1939, along with the sawmill who he owns and operates in town.

Herman Meyer, 1907 – 1914

On 19 April 1905, Herman purchases Lot 11, Primrose Street, Violet Town from Maria Tuckett which is described in Herman’s will and testament as a five room weather board house valued at £720 comprising of two roods, eight perches. As a saw miller it is likely that Herman made renovations of the cottage. Following his death, the property was bequeathed to Herman’s daughter, Jessie Helena Meyer, in his will and testament, she later sold the property to Albert and Dorothy Corp on 29 November 1957.

Public Records Office Victoria, 1905, Certificate of Title

In 1936, the Meyer family faced the death of both Jean and Herman just months apart, with Jean passing away on 10 July 1936 and Herman on 18 October 1936. Folklore often says that those truly in love will die within minutes, days or just months following the death of their spouse. We don’t know the circumstances of the death of Jean and Herman, but I would like to think that their love brought them back together because they could not bare to be without one another.


References:

London, England, Surrey Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1932, MEIER, Johann Christian, 17 September 1854. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.

England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers, 1567-1970, MEIER, Hermann Gerhard, 3 March 1856. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Victoria, Australia, Index of Naturalisation Certificates, 1851-1928, MEYER, Johann Christian, 6 July 1871, 572/9, VPRS 4396, Reel 3, Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Violet Town Centenary Celebrations Committee, 1949, Violet Town Centenary Celebrations, Matthews Publishing Company, Melbourne.

Parker, Darryl, n.d, What it was like then, Parker, Darryl.

Fairfax Media, Australia, Ancestry.com, Australia, Newspaper Vital Notices, 1831 – 2001, Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

Public Records Office Victoria, 1873, Violet Township Map, Parish of Shadforth.

Goulburn Valley Stock and Property Journal, 19 July 1939, Advertisement, Victoria, p. 2.

Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Victoria; Victorian Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925; MEYER, Johann Christian.

Public Records Office Victoria, 1905, Certificate of Title Lot 11 Primrose Street, Violet Town, Melbourne.

Public Record Office Victoria; North Melbourne, Victoria; Victorian Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925; MEYER, Herman Christian.

Death Index. Australia. Victoria. 1936.  MEYER, Herman Gerard. Australia, Death Index 1836 – 1988.

Death Index. Australia. Victoria. 1936.  MEYER, Jean. Australia, Death Index 1836 – 1988.

Public Records Office Victoria, 1957, Certificate of Title Lot 11 Primrose Street, Violet Town, Melbourne.

A journey through my DNA…..

I have completed three Ancestry.com DNA tests, which involved spitting into a vial up to a line marked and adding a blue liquid to the saliva and then sending it off to Ancestry.com for testing. How hard can it be? The first two attempts returned a result of ‘failed’, meaning that the lab could not extract enough DNA to test. At this point, I was starting to think there was something wrong with me. On the third go, I tried to scrape my gums while making saliva and on Thursday my results came through, and just like receiving an A+ at school, I was super excited that I got a ‘pass’ and my DNA results were back.

My desire to test my DNA was mostly out of curiosity as an obsessed genealogist but I was hoping it would help me in breaking down a few of my genealogy brickwalls where parentage of some of my ancestors were unknown.

Based firstly on what I knew of my family and secondly, on what records of my ancestors I had found I was confident that my DNA would show that my ethnicity would be English, Scottish and Italian.

On my Mum’s side of the family, my Grandma was born to a Scottish Mother and an English Father. Records to date show that their ancestors were born to parents in these countries.

My Dad, is 100% Italian both his parents, my Nonno and Nonna, were both born in Northern Italy, in the small village of San Donato di Lamon, Belluno, Italy and as far as the family have told me and seem to know, all ancestors before them were likewise born in San Donato.

Despite it being a Thursday and I was at work, well technically at home where I have to work due to COVID-19, I dropped everything to log into Ancestry.com to look at my DNA results.

What was clearly my maternal DNA was no surprise, I was 50% English, Wales, Northeastern Europe, Scottish and Irish. However, looking at the remainder of my ethnicity had me somewhat confused as there was no estimate for Italy, according to my DNA I am not 50% Italian. The ethnicity showed that I was 26% French and 24% Germanic European.

You can imagine at this point, what was going through my brain! Maybe there was a postman out there who was half French and half German……..

To be continued.