A Prospector, A Genealogist, and A Daughter

Charles William Robinson was born in Mildura on 22 February 1917, the son of George Frederick Robinson and Elizabeth Cramp.  After growing up in Mildura, Charles enlisted into the Australian Imperial Force and stationed at Balcombe Military Camp in Mornington, Victoria where he trained before being deployed overseas.  At the same time, Charles met his future wife, and they married at St. Peter’s Church in Mornington on 20 October 1940.

Charles started his operational service deployed to New Guinea on 24 April 1944, and the Solomon Islands on 18 April 1945 as part of the 7th Australian Infantry Battalion.  After serving his country for some 1,448 days, Private Charles William Robinson was discharged from service on 4 December 1945.  In recognition for his operational service, Charles was awarded the 1939/45 Star Medal, the Pacific Star Medal, the War medal, and the Defence Medal.

Years later, on the 28 February 1953, the Australian Military Board received a letter from Charles stating that while moving his wife and daughter from Mildura to Adelaide his war medals were lost.  He writes that “during their trip to Adelaide his suitcase came off his car and burst open ,and this he said, his medals were lost”.

Letter written by Charles Robinson, Service Records

During World War II, Camp Pell in Parkville, Melbourne was filled with tents for returning Soldiers to live while in transit between their discharge from the Military and returning to their family homes.  Camp Pell was said to be wet and cold with mess facilities that were poorly organised.  Upon discharge, Charles spent some time at Camp Pell before heading home to Mildura.

Image of Camp Pell

PHOTO: Argus Collection, State Library of Victoria

Fast forward to May 2018 and The Prospector…..

Prospector, Andrew Lawless, searching for war relics with a metal detector in Gowanbrae Park near the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, unearths a World War II, 1939-1945 Star Medal inscribed with C W Robinson VX137169.  The Prospector and his wife wished to return the medal back to any living relatives of Charles and used both social media and print media, particularly in Mildura where he was born, in the hope of tracking down Charles’s family.

With the popularity of social media, the posts were shared widely to a range of Facebook groups and individuals.  A member of the genealogy website, Ancestry.com, found the post and after completing a search on Ancestry found records of Charles William Robinson attached to my Robinson family tree.

In steps The Genealogist……

Charles William Robinson was my grandfather’s oldest brother.  Not a lot was known about my great Uncle’s life, who I never met, and after contacting my relatives to find out if they knew of his family and any children, I found myself at a brick wall.  While family members could remember meeting Charles, they could not recall if he had a wife and children. Putting my genealogy hat on I started a mission to find any relatives that may be related to Charles.

Going through Charles’s military file, found in the National Archives of Australia, I discovered, in addition to Charles’s letter written 28 February 1953 requesting replacements of his lost medals, the name of his wife, along with a few different addresses, and his date of death, 11 July 1989 in Townsville, Queensland.  Using the electoral roll I traced Charles from Mildura through to Adelaide, and onto Townsville where I found his grave in the Woongarra Crematorium.

First stop, the War Memorial of Australia in the hope they would have additional records.  Unfortunately they do not keep or maintain records beyond Soldiers service history. With the Military insignia on Charles’s headstone I made contact with the War Graves office who approve the use of the insignia but they too, had no record of anyone contacting them.  After having no success with anybody attached to the military, I headed to the cemetery in the hope they could help.  The cemetery looked up Charles’ file and found the name of the funeral director and they became my next port of call.

I spoke to a lovely lady at the funeral directors who was moved by the story and why I was trying to track down any next of kin, and said they had kept all the records of past funerals and would dig into the archives to see what information she could find.  I learnt that a R.S.L Chaplain conducted the service and, more importantly, she was able to tell me a name on the file who had arranged the funeral, let’s call her “Mary”.  To my disappointment the telephone number written in the file was missing a number so i started thinking that maybe I was at another brick wall and that I may have to apply for the death certificate which should list any children.

Never to give up on a mission such as this, I took to the internet and social media to see if I could find Mary.  After typing Mary’s name into Facebook I came across one name matching Mary’s.  Could it possibly be that simple to find her?  Just by typing a name into Facebook, surely not!  Looking through her friends our found a friend with the surname of Robinson. I messaged Mary, and let’s call her “Elizabeth”, to see if they were related to Charles.  I wrote….Hi “Mary”, I hope you don’t mind me tracking you down like this, as my mind was thinking am I actually a stalker, but I am looking for the children of my Great Uncle, Charles William Robinson who died on 6 July, 1989.  Through my family tree on Ancestry, I was contacted by several people who saw postings about someone finding a lost war medal.  I am wondering if you may be his daughter?……

First Elizabeth wrote back that night and then her sister Mary, who wrote telling me that Charles was her Dad!  Yes, it was as simple as typing a name into Facebook, who would have thought?  This story is not just about a Prospector finding a war medal nor is it about a Genealogist on a mission to find living relatives.  This is also a story about a Daughter who knew very little about her Dad’s family and being tracked down by her first cousin, the Genealogist.  This is a story reuniting a war medal with next of kin and cousins getting in contact for the first time.  Who would have thought a war medal lost in 1951 could bring cousins together for the first time in 2018?

There have been tears and goosebumps, photos and stories shared and after meeting in person, we now have a bond that only cousins share!

Camp Pell, Melbourne Formally Royal Park During WW2.  https://www.ozatwar.com/ozatwar/camppell.htm; accessed 23 July 2018.

Find A Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 23 July 2018), memorial page for PVT Charles William Robinson (22 Feb 1917–6 Jul 1989), Find A Grave Memorial no. 180165398, citing Woongarra Crematorium, Townsville, Townsville City, Queensland, Australia.

National Archives of Australia: Second Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1939-1947; B883, Army Personnel Files 1939 – 1948; B2458 for item number VX137169.  16 January 2008.

Marriage Index. Australia. Victoria. 1940.  ROBINSON, Charles William. 18199/1940. The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages; Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; Victoria, Australia, Marriage Records.

Soldiers World War II medal lost from a flapping suitcase in the 1950s found by prospector in park.  http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-11/mildura-soldiers-war-medal-dug-up-in-melbourne/9747772; accessed 23 Jul 2018.

Finding Jean Fleming

I was at the start of my genealogy journey to uncover my Nana Jean’s ancestors.  Not a lot was known about my Nana’s family and I was too little when she was alive to ask her questions about her life.  Our family knew that Nana was born in 1893 in Bathgate, Scotland and was the second eldest of 16 children, although I didn’t know how many siblings there were at the time.  One thing my family remembers was my Nana always said she was a descendant of Mary Queen of Scots, whether that is true or not I am yet to discover.

I didn’t know what to expect during this genealogy journey but I was keen to find out…..

I located Nana’s birth date, 9 September 1893, on her grave record at the Springvale Botanical Cemetery and her parent’s names, Andrew Fleming and Rachel Brown, from her record of death.  So, with my Nana’s birth date and the names of her parents in hand I headed to Scotland, in cyber world, to find out who my Nana’s family were. 

My initial search began when I entered Nana’s name and her parent’s names into a family tree I started on Ancestry.com.  These details triggered a range of hints of information available on both my Nana and her parents.  Ancestry took me to the 1901 Scotland Census (you can learn more about the census here) for the household of Andrew and Rachel Fleming and their six children (Rachel aged 9, Jane aged 7, Andrew aged 5, Christina aged 3, Mary aged 1, and Elizabeth aged one month). No Jean! Maybe it was the wrong Fleming family?

Searches through other census records for 1901 and West Lothian did not uncover another Fleming family headed by Andrew and Rachel Fleming.

My next port of call was ScotlandsPeople (find out more on ScotlandsPeople in future posts) for a registration of birth for my Nana Jean.  The initial search using year of birth and Nana’s name found no records and an advanced search revealed no records.  How was this possible?

Searching the Fleming line for more information I found a photograph that identified possible ancestors of Andrew Fleming, so I contacted the owner of that family tree on Ancestry.com.  I asked about the photograph and the people in it, to see if they were possibly my Nana’s ancestors.  After some initial emails I learnt about naming traditions in Scotland and the use of alternative given names.  I was told that those named Jean were also called Jane, just to add to the confusion!

This was to be my first genealogy lesson and here lay my first challenge in finding both Nana’s birth certificate and her family through the Scotland Census!

Back to the census record I found from 1901. I noted that one of the children in the Fleming household was a daughter, Jane aged 7 years, born about 1894…..maybe this was my Nana Jean?

I headed back to ScotlandsPeople, searching, for Jane Fleming, born about 1893 in Bathgate, West Lothian, Scotland and there she was born Jane. Her registration of birth recorded her birth as 10 September 1983, to Andrew Fleming and Rachel Fleming “Mrs Brown” (you will learn more about Scottish name conventions in a future post).  I noted that her birth date recorded on her registration of birth was different to the date on her cemetery record – one day out.

Lessons you can take from this research:

  • A given name for an ancestor used in their lifetime is not necessarily the name given to them at birth – look for alternative names and spelling;
  • Years of birth recorded on non-vital records such as registrations of birth and death, may not be accurate, such as Nana’s cemetery record – always source the vital record to verify;
  • Census records only record the approximate year of birth and age and may not be accurate – vital records are important to verify this information; and
  • Names recorded and the spelling of the same, may not be accurate, as often in the 1800 and 1900’s phonetic spelling was used or sometimes the person the census recorder asked did not know the details of all family members.

Records to check for you Scottish ancestors used for this post:

  • ScotlandsPeople found at https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk
  • Ancestry.com – 1901 Scotland Census (also found in ScotlandsPeople)
  • Cemetery records, if you know where they died or were buried, otherwise Find A Grave is a great source

Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, accessed on 23 November 2019 at https://smct.org.au/deceased-search/284032

Death Certificate for Jean Downes, Registration No. 14030/1987, The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Victoria, Australia.  Certified copy in possession of author.

1901 Scotland Census, Bathgate Township, West Lothian, Scotland, ED. 4, p. 3, line, 19, Roll. CSSCT1901_354, Registration No. 662/1.  Certified copy in possession of author.

Index of Death, Downes J, 1987, BDM Victoria, Reg #14030. Certified copy in possession of author.