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


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: 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.

In the absence of census records in Australia?

Unlike countries such as England, Scotland, Wales and the United States, genealogists researching their Australian ancestors are not privileged in having access to the wealth of information that a census provides.  Many genealogists have utilised the data collected through the census collections of the 1800’s and up to 1911, to find ancestors and to learn more about their families.  Reviewing data sheets for each census in your families life span enables the genealogist to build a picture of family composition, place of residence, occupations, year of birth and location of birth.  In 1911, additional information was added, including years married, number of children, those children still living, those that had passed away, whether the individual was deaf, blind, a lunatic (a term used for a range of illnesses), were an imbecile or of feeble-mind.

On the 2 April 1911, Australia held its first census night, and the decades following.  Then in 1961 the five yearly census was introduced.  Despite the rich data that the Australian census could provide to researchers, the Census and Statistics Act 1905 and the Privacy Act 1988 guaranteed that no personally-identifiable data could be released.  As such, as far back as the first census in 1911, all record sheets have been destroyed.  In good news for future genealogists in 2001 the option to preserve personal data and held by the National Archives of Australia.  The bad news is that data is not available until well after the current generation has long gone, 99 years after the census occurred.

It is not all bad, in the absence of the census, the government’s electoral roll is available to the public and datasets accessible by numerous online platforms, including  From 1903 various forms of electoral rolls were created by the collection of data for those eligible to vote in Federal, State and Local Government elections.  Details included in the roll and accessible by genealogists include full name, address and occupation (excluded as of 1983) in alphabetical order and sub-division (a geographical area). Importantly the electoral roll not only tells us where our ancestors lived from 1903 onwards but also allows the researcher to following their residential location over time and trace any other adults in the household.

In some states prior to 1903, for example parts of New South Wales, had muster rolls, which documented those living in particular colonies.  However, many muster rolls have been lost or destroyed over time but some are still available in libraries and private collections.

For the family researcher, tracing the first locations of your ancestors on arrival into Australia prior to 1903 is not easy.  However, the availability of vital records has provided small pieces of the puzzle and with more datasets being made available, genealogists are creating a bigger picture of life before Federation.

Genealogy Brickwalls – Part 1: The Cramp – Freer Family

As a genealogist we all have that one elusive ancestor that along the journey of finding their ancestors the record trail runs dry and we are faced with a genealogy brickwall. Where you can’t pin point the parents, sometimes the siblings, and it appears that they landed on earth by aliens and the lives before them are just a mystery.

With ever increasing vital records and other datasets becoming available, after years of researching, wondering and frustration, you can come across that record that all of sudden puts a dint in that brickwall. We all just need to be patient, have a well documented research plan, log and paper trail of both primary and secondary (if you can find them) records to find that mystery ancestor that has been bugging you for years.

My ancestors unlike other families have presented me with several brickwalls, where it appears that they just mysteriously came to be somewhere with no record trail of where they had been prior to that first vital record being found.

Through the writing of my family history it has allowed me to review records I do have with fresh eyes. By reviewing these I have found it helps to uncover that one little clue that has the potential to break down a brickwall or at least rattle a few bricks loose.

William Cramp and Miriam Freer (Watts) were my third great grandparents in my grandfather’s maternal line. Their lives turned up not just a brickwall related to the parentage of William but also presented a multitude of inconsistencies, challenges and frustrations in the records I discovered for the couple.

In this blog, Ancestor Detective (me), will take you through the lives of William and Miriam and discusses both the challenges and how I overcome these challenges and hopefully smash down that elusive brickwall of William’s parentage. This blog will start with the records found, will present the challenges and issues with the records and then will go on to discuss how further records uncovered started to bring down that big brickwall.

I was researching my second great grandfather, Edward John Cramp, when his parentage started to appear as hints in my family tree. At the time I had learnt from experience not to take hints on Ancestry on face value. Hints from other members trees were often dates of vital events (birth, deaths or marriage) occurring with no source attached and hints could often be for someone of the same name but not your ancestor.

Edward was born on the 16 January 1854 in Upper Sturt, Adelaide, South Australia William Cramp and Miriam Watts. What was rare about this record of birth was the index had recorded the actual date of birth and not just the year which was usually the case.

Australia, Birth Index, 1788 – 1922

Initially my research for the vital records of William pointed me towards a baptism of a William Cramp on 29 June 1813 in Quorndon, Leicester, England. His parents were recorded as Henry Cramp and Elizabeth (no surname provided). From other family trees on Ancestry, this seemed to be the William I was looking for.

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538 – 1975

I started building Wiliam’s family tree based on the premise that his parents were Henry Cramp and Elizabeth Fox. I found that they had quiet a few children and this was where I started to wonder if this could be my ancestor. I came to this conclusion when reviewing their dates of birth and what I reaslised was that it was impossible for William to be born into this family in 1813, with another record for their son, Charles, showing his date of birth just months after William’s birth, which unless they were twins or their mother had some kind of miracle pregnancy, it made it impossible for them both to be the sons of Henry and Elizabeth.

With many William Cramp’s in England at the time, I started researching Miriam Watts and like her husband I started to face some challenges. Based on the age of her children I through she would have been born in about 1826 but finding a vital record to confirm this was not an easy process.

I was finding it difficult to locate a registration of marriage in England for William and Miriam and with no records apart from the birth of Edward John, I refocused my research to Miriam before their marriage. I started with the England and Wales census, and it was here that I found a Miriam Watts, aged 14 years, in the 1841 census living with a John Watts, his wife Ann and a son, Pharash (record corrected to Pharoah), aged 5 years. Despite John and Ann seeming too old, at age 55 years, to be the parents of Miriam and Pharash, I assumed that this was her family.

1841 England Census, Civil Parish of Barrow Upon Soar

The next census record I found for Miriam was in 1851 where she is married to William and both recorded as being 24 years old. Based on the 1841 census, 24 years would have been correct for Miriam, assuming that the enumerator had not rounded up or rounded down her age by five years, which was common practice. All of a sudden though, William was now also 24, despite the baptism record showing he was born in 1813, meaning that his age should have been 38 years old.

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Was William Cramp lying about his age so he could marry Miriam with her father’s consent? What did John and Ann think of Miriam marrying a man nearly 15 years her senior?

I wondered what Miriam’s parents thought of her marrying someone who was so much older, but recognised that during the 1800’s marriage was not always based on love but a father’s consent and in some cases, certainly who he chose his daughter to marry.

England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837 – 1915

With the census in 1851 recording Miriam’s place of birth as Castle Donington, I thought this was a good place to start to find her birth record. I searched using the birth year 1826 and location Castle Donington. Several Miriam Watts were uncovered in Ancestry, but there was not match based on what I knew so far. The same results appeared in FamilySearch and Find My Past.

The other record I had was the record in the 1841 census for Pharash (Pharoah) then aged five years. I thought if I could find a record of his baptism then it might be easier to find Miriam’s, assuming they were baptised in the same church. This didn’t lead to anything helpful apart from additional census records for his household.

Why on earth was it so hard to find a baptism record for both Miriam and Parash (Pharoah)?

I had learnt from researching my second great grandfather, James Robinson, whose birth/baptism and family was also a mystery for some time. I found it useful researching James that researching from their date of death, if known, and working backwards often uncovered clues of their early life. I started this approach with both William and Miriam.

From the birth index of their son, I knew that by 1854 William and Miriam were living in South Australia. This record linked me to another for William, which was of his death in Adelaide, South Australia on 19 January 1878. The record told me he was aged 56 years old at the time of his death, with his year of birth recorded as ‘abt. 1822’. This was another year of birth for William, in addition to the baptism record saying 1813 and the 1851 census recording it as 1826. It was becoming more apparent that William may not have known his actual date of birth at all or he wasn’t a very good lier!

Australia, Death Index, 1787 – 1985

I ordered William’s registration of death, surely this would provide more details. I knew that most records of death showed birth details and the names of parents. I was soon to learn that assuming I would uncover where William was born and to whom, was not going to be as easy as reading his death certificate.

South Australian District Death Certificate Transcript

Apart from learning the William Cramp died in the Adelaide Destitute Asylum from marasmus, a severe form of malnutrition, I learnt nothing else. Details I was hoping for, like birthplace, were not recorded! It appeared I had reached another dead end in finding out more of William’s life before marrying Miriam.

What did family trees created by others listing Edward John Cramp provide any additional clues of William and Miriam?

As much as I had learnt long ago not to take other family trees as gospel, I thought I would start reviewing those trees that had William and Miriam in common.

Initially I noticed two things; other trees were adding ‘Freer’ to Miriam’s surname, William had the middle name of ‘Henry’ and they had two additional sons, Charles and Frederick. New clues for me to explore! The middle name of Henry made sense if the birth record I had found was correct and his father was in fact Henry Cramp but the name Freer was a mystery so far.

I started messaging a few members of who had William or Miriam in their family trees hoping they could provide more information to the endless list of questions I had on the couple.

One member messaged me explaining her relationship to William and Miriam and we emailed back and forth discussing the conflicting information to try and find more answers. Between us we still had so many unanswered questions and it appeared other members were unable to help……

What was the relationship of ‘Freer’ to Miriam? All records to date showed her name as Miriam Watts……

I began researching the connection to ‘Freer’ and Miriam and discovered that a lot of family tress had named Miriam as Miriam Watts (Freer) or Miriam Watts Freer. I ran a search on using the name Miriam Freer and came across a baptism record from 1836 in Quorndon, Leicester recording this Miriam’s father as Frederich Freer and her mother Eliza (no surname recorded).

I drew two conclusions from this record; if this was my Miriam her parents weren’t John and Ann Watts and this made Miriam considerably younger than William, a lot younger than the first records indicated if William was born in 1813. It would mean that Miriam would have been 10 years old when she married. Anything was possible in the 1800’s when it came to marriage but this seemed unlikely.

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538 – 1975 and FamilySearch could not help with any other information on this Miriam’s baptism in 1836. However, I discovered more when I went to Find My Past and found the baptism transcription with the same baptism date and also showed no record for her year of birth. I often wonder how the same record can have so many different details between databases holding these records!

England Births & Baptisms 1538 – 1975

In the same Find My Past search I found another record for this Miriam’s baptism, not a transcription but the original baptism record from the Anglican church in Quorndon, Leicestershire. One of the first things I noticed was there were several children baptised in January and February for the Watts family, this included Parash (Phoroah). Further down the page though was a baptism for a Miriam Freer on 14 February 1836 the daughter of Frederick and Eliza Freer in Quorndon. It also showed that the parents of Pharash was not John and Ann either, but recorded as the son of Cleophas and Hannah Watts in Quorndon.

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland

Was Miriam the daughter of Frederick and Eliza Freer but living with John and Ann Watts? and if this is the case, why was she and Pharash living with John and Ann Watts?

While one record of the Leicestershire Baptism record transcription recorded this Miriam’s birth year as 1836, this was not possible as the 1841 census recorded Miriam Watts as aged 14 years old, meaning she was likely born in 1826. Further searches did not turn up any records of birth for Miriam to confirm who her parents were. To verify that Miriam Freer was my Miriam Watts, I required another vital record to confirm that her parents were Frederick and Eliza.

I continued searching in Find My Past for another vital record for Miriam and discovered not just the transcript of a Leicestershire Marriage but also the original church record in the Church of Quorndon. The marriage was between William Cramp and Miriam Watts on 15 December 1846. The record showed that at the time of her marriage she was a ‘minor’, meaning she was under 21 years of age. The couple’s father’s were recorded as Frederick Freer and Edward Cramp.

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland

This second vital record confirmed for me that Miriam was the daughter of Frederick Freer and not John Watts. It also showed that if Miriam was a minor at the time of her marriage then she would have been born between 1825 and 1828. This record also provided the first clue as to who William’s parents might be, showing that William’s father was Edward Cramp.

In part 2 of the breaking down the brickwall into William Cramp, Ancestor Detective, researches the new clue that recorded William’s father to be one Edward Cramp. Ancestor Detective will discuss how she eliminates several Edward Cramp’s and how she ends up identifying William’s parents and family. Every brickwall can be broken down, no matter how slowly, it just takes patience, continued review of records and looking at ways to verify or discount new records.


Birth Index. Australia. Victoria. 16 January 1854.  CRAMP, Edward. Australia, Birth Index 1788 – 1922.

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, CRAMP, William, 29 Jun 1813. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2014.

1841 England Census, Civil Parish: Barrow Upon Soar; County: Leicestershire; Enumeration District: 4; Class: HO107; Piece: 594; Book: 8; Folio: 6; Page: 7; Line: 3; GSU roll: 438744

1851 England Census, Civil Parish: Quorndon; County: Leicestershire, Class: HO107; Piece: 2087; Folio: 230; Page: 19; GSU roll: 87714-87715

FreeBMD. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index 837-1915, Miriam Watts and William Cramp, 1846, 1 UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2006.

Death Index, Australia, South Australia. 19 Jan 1978. CRAMP, William. Australia, Death Index 1787 – 1985.

England, Select Births and Christenings, 1538-1975, Miriam Freer. Find My Past.

Record Transcription, England, Births & Baptisms, 1538 – 1975, Miriam Freer,

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland, Leicestershire Baptisms, 1836, Miriam Freer. Find My Past.

Record Transcription. Leicestershire Marriages, Miriam Watts and William Cramp, 1846. Find My Past.

Record Office for Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland, Leicestershire Marriages, 1836, Miriam Watts and William Cramp. Find My Past.