Saturday, 5 April 2014

Which ancestor are you going out for a drink/latte with?

Things have been a little hectic on the home front of late, but there's something genealogical which I have continued to ponder during this time: which ancestors you would just love to sit down and have a chat to. Not for information gathering purposes, but because you would really love to have them share the wisdom gathered over their lifetime.

I have a number of ancestors I think it would be particularly fun or interesting to have met, but there's one person above all others who I would most like to go out for a coffee or a champers with, to have a chat to her about her life and what she learned from it. That's my 2x great grandmother, Eliza Jane Duffield.



Eliza was born in 1838 in Kennett, Cambridge, to a family of labourers (not landed gentry as the family legend often tells!) At the age of about 17 she came to Australia. At this point she had either met and married or was about to meet and marry Edwin Francis Gough, believed to be a native of County Meath in Ireland.

The couple moved about a variety of places because of Edwin's work. Initially they were in Burra where he worked as the turnkey for Redruth Gaol, but he lost his job after an allegation was made that he had assaulted a prisoner. Edwin took his appeals against this all the way to State Parliament, but to no avail. For a while he was a clerk/overseer and then ran a store in Moonta, but then the couple came to Adelaide where Edwin later ran a boarding house. According to her death certificate and burial order, Elizabeth had 7 sons and 6 daughters, and only two of the boys and four of the girls were living when she died. We have so far only traced 9 of the children, so suspect a number of still births, particularly as 7 predeceased her.

There appears to have been some serious friction in the Gough household. At least two of the daughters married using assumed names, despite being of legal age etc. and with no obvious impediments (aside from their Catholic faith when marrying Protestants) to marriage. Most descendants are only aware of some parts of the family, and very few are recorded in the family Bible. At least one of Eliza's sons was regularly before the courts, in one instance for failing to pay his widowed mother her support payments. At least one of the daughters had a messy divorce and an affair with a man who was convicted of sexually assaulting women in the Parklands (plus ca change!) Another daughter got divorced after deserting her alcoholic husband, and then totally disappears from the record books. Something had obviously gone very wrong.

Eliza's final residence, No 6 Jerningham Street, North Adelaide

Eliza must have been a strong woman, She survived so much in her lifetime. If I could, she's the ancestor I would most like to sit down with on a lazy sunny Sunday afternoon, to talk to her about her life and hear what she made of it all. I bet she'd be a granny with some amazing advice.

In Memoriam Notices

Monday, 10 March 2014

Enlisted on the Other Front

So, sensational news during the week. Yours truly is being sent by work to the French battlefields for the Villers-Bretonneux dawn service, ANZAC Day '15. Naturally this is terribly exciting for all sorts of reasons, but part of the excitement is definitely because of the genealogy potential. Before I go I will be checking the locations of service for all my relatives who served in WW1, especially those who never returned.

It will be almost 100 years since, in September 1915, my great-grandfather Francis enlisted for the war. He left his wife, toddler and four month old baby and travelled to France, no doubt spending time in Paris as I will, before heading to the Front where he was a Driver in the Field Ambulance. Francis was shot in the jaw in August 1917. It was a near thing for him, but Francis and his brothers (all three of whom served) were lucky: they all came home at the war's conclusion. His son would not be so lucky when the next war rolled around.

Like most, I have my share of family World War 1 stories that didn't end very well at all, like William Matthew Colbert who entered the war underage using an assumed name, confessing on his death bed to his real details so his mother would be told what had happened. He was 17. However, the person I'm going to write about today had quite a different situation:

In 1915, Victorian Blacksmith James Arthur Pearson White enlisted to serve in the Australian Imperial Force. The Darby book tells us that Jim enlisted in the 27th Battalian of the AIF. He was been sent home to recuperate from a knee injury, but he re-embarked and joined the 43rd Battalian. He was killed only eleven days after arriving back at the front, on 10 Oct 1917. Family legend has it that Walter (Jim's brother who was also at the Front)  had spoken to Jim late in 1917 and they had arranged to meet the day he was killed. It also says he married while away and that his wife and daughter came out to Australia after the war.

James Arthur Pearson White, from The Darby Book

Most of you will have realised I'm not one to take things at face value, so of course I revisited everything to see what I could find out about James myself.  In his war record, there is a conflict alluded to between my great-great-grandmother, Lydia White nee Pearson, and James' English wife, Elsie, over whether Lydia or Elsie's daughter Diana (also referred to as Dinnia) were entitled to James' war medals etc. There is a date of marriage given (Registrar's Office, Cardiff Street Oxford, on 12 May 1917), and an address for Diana, 5 Bath Place, Holywell, which is turns out is a tiny lane off a road which passes through Oxford University, now the site of a hotel.


Bath Place off Holywell Street, Oxford

After extensive digging, I have been unable to locate any marriage between the two. Elsewhere in Jim's war record Elsie is referred to as his "unmarried wife", so I have formed the view they were never actually legally married but only said they were to meet some army administrative requirement. I did, however, find an Elsie at 5 Bath Place, Holywell, in the 1911 census: Elsie Walklett, daughter of John and Mary. While there are two other Elsie Walkletts who married in the 1920s, the only marriage I could find in Oxford, or during WW1, for an Elsie Walklett was to Albert E Drewett in 1915. I also found a birth entry for Diana Drewett in Oxford in the first quarter 1917. Naturally the correlation of names meant that I wanted to find out more about the Drewetts to see if there was a connection. 

The BBC's Remembrance Page says that Albert E Drewett enlisted in the 1/4 Bn, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, previously residing in Oxford, Oxfordshire. The author of this post also wrote on Genforum that Albert married Elsie Walklett. He died on active service on 21 May 1917 and was laid to rest at Hermes British Cemetery in Pas de Calais. He was 24. 
Unfortunately, in a rather unusual case of the opposite of genealogical serendipity, the only person I can find researching the Drewetts was a niece of Elsie's who died only a few months before I made it that far into my research. However, I suspect were we to compare notes, we would find that Elsie and Albert married when she was expecting Ivy, her first child. Albert then enlisted, and Elsie met a young Australian soldier who became her lover. When she fell pregnant, she and the soldier deemed it expedient to claim they had married.

The whole story is tragic. Jim's mother (my 2x great grandmother) had separated from her husband and was reliant on her sons for income. In addition to her grief, his death had serious financial implications for her. She was very shocked about his relationship and the probability he had fathered a child. Meanwhile, Elsie suffered the loss of her husband and her lover, and was left to raise a baby alone. The daughter, Diana, was left without her father, and who knows what the Drewetts thought about the whole situation!

Letter from Elsie Walklett to the Red Cross

I have not been able to discover exactly what happened to Elsie and Diana after the war. There is a Diana Drewett who married a Mr. Nutt in the 30s in Oxford, who may be our Diana, but with three different surnames and two different countries to look in it has proved quite difficult. I wonder what Elsie and Diana's relations know about Diana's paternity, given the documents relating to it are probably only in Australian records which they may never have thought to look at (and why would you?)

Most blog entries about War service very rightly focus on the lives and deaths of those men who enlisted for active duty, but whenever I become aware of a story like this I am reminded of the truth of Milton's words, that truly "They also serve who only stand and wait".

Timeline of Events:
Jan 1915 Albert and Elsie marry
August 1915 Jim enlists for the war
Mar 1916 Jim is in France
Mar 1916 Jim injures his knee, three days after arriving at the Front
May 1916 He is sent to the UK to recuperate
Diana is conceived
Jun 1916 Jim is sent back to Australia for three months
Jan – Mar 1917 Diana is born
Feb 1917 Jim arrives back in the UK
May 1917 Jim allegedly marries Elsie
Albert dies
Sep 1917 Jim is sent back to France
Oct 1917 Jim is killed, only a couple of weeks after arriving back at the Front


Saturday, 22 February 2014

Murder Most Horrid - A Follow Up

I blogged recently about the very tragic death of my ancestor's cousin, Ellen "Nellie" Cunningham, found dead in the Bridgewater Creek in 1890. I still have to fully develop my response, but here's the basic follow up:

Despite Dr. Henderson's later assertions about possible heart disease, I believe Ellen was murdered. Her body was found in a place which had already been searched. There was no initial claims about illnesses from either Dr. Henderson or Jane Sr. Too many people were obviously lying about what they knew. That begs many questions:

- Why was the knife deemed so significant, and what was Ellen doing with it?

- Were the wild flowers just growing along the river, or had they been placed there?

- Whose was the carpet bag, and what was in it? Where was it in relation to Ellen's body?

- What happened to Ellen's clothes? Were they ever found?

- Was Evan Jenkins the same Evan Jenkins who killed himself in 1923, and if so was there a connection between the events? There are two Evan Jenkinses with brothers named William in SA, one of whom has Hills connections (his father died in Crafers and he married in Glen Osmond). That would be the one who shot himself on Glenelg beach 33 years later. His wife had died shortly before, which no doubt was the primary cause, but you have to wonder all the same.

- Why was the coroner so focused on when Hart threatened Jane, and the colour of the dress having been reported incorrectly, rather than issues like the inconsistencies in the 'last sightings' and Jane Sr's weirdness about Evan lodging at the Cunningham residence (face it, the family had precious little reputation to ruin)?

- Why were Hart and Jane fighting? Was it really about the cows, and if so, why did she do that to begin with?

Some of these could have been answered by more thorough reporting. While the existing reports are often verbatim, they lack the contextual details needed to make sense of the lines of questioning. My theory is that either there was some manner of love triangle operating between Ellen, Jane Jr and Evan, or Jane Jr and Evan were involved and Ellen found out. Either way, it sounds like the news reporters felt there was something fishing going on and it lead to her violent and untimely death, and without having any further facts I am inclined to agree.

So, what happened next?

Jane Sr. died age 66 in 1912. The newspapers indicate she is buried at Stirling, but she has no gravestone and there aren't any other records of her burial.

After the trial, two of the sisters moved to Western Australia - Agnes (Mrs. Bartsch) and Margaret, who married in Boulder in 1898. Possibly they were trying to avoid further scandal, or it may just have been job opportunities coming up with the mining industry's development. I believe my great-grandmother Margaret was sent to stay with them at one point (why, I'm not sure) and met my great-grandfather there.

Jane Jr. sadly did not live much longer, dying age 17 in 1892. I am curious to order her death certificate to see how she died, although I'm sure it will be a common, garden variety illness. I hope.

Annie, the sister after Margaret, does not appear to have been mentioned at her sister's trial, nor does she appear in any other records I can find aside from her birth. I assume she died young and her death was not registered, as the family often skipped registrations.

Marion remained unmarried and died in 1957. Elizabeth, the youngest, married William Dalton and remained living in the Aldgate area. Of all the family, she was the only one still there when Jane Sr. died.

Ellen has no known memorial. I assume she was probably buried with her grandfather, Archibald, who died during the course of the inquest. I've never been able to find either Archibald or his wife, Euphemia, in any local cemetery and neither has a local researcher who holds all the burial registers for the Mount Barker district. Ellen is entirely forgotten, apart from here on this blog, and by me, especially whenever I read Tracey Chevalier's "Falling Angels". The novel contains a fatal (and probably sexual) attack on Ivy May, the introverted younger sister of one of the main characters. Ivy May's only line in the novel (which is told from a variety of perspectives) is this:

Over his shoulder I saw a star fall. It was me.



Rest in peace, Ellen.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Murder Most Horrid - Text Heavy!

So, this weekend I got to go to the totally awesome Unlock the Past Seminar with Chris Paton, Thomas McEntee of course some fellow geneabloggers: Kylie Helen, and the very thoughtful Alona. I had planned a topic for this weekend's blog, but then Chris mentioned something which caught my attention: just how excited genealogists get when they find out an ancestor was murdered.

Another lady who gets excited about a good murder

Now, it has been my serious misfortune in life to actually know two people who were murdered (in quite separate incidents) so I get it's very serious yada yada, but I knew exactly what he meant, because I have had one of my long-dead relations prematurely assisted to the grave, and I know what a gold-mine the resulting documentation can be. So no lectures about bad taste, please!

This story relates to one of my SA pioneer families. I find it hilariously ironic that they are one of the families which would entitle me to join the SA Pioneers Society, a thoroughly respectable institution, when actually they were very disreputable. The father, Archibald Gall, was a serial petty criminal and drunkard. He had a pronounced dislike for authority, which manifested itself (among other things) in a tendency not to register his children's births. His wife tried to get him committed to an asylum in 1870, his neighbours were always dobbing him into the council, and was a notorious flouter of licensing laws and disrespecter of property boundaries - notorious, even though he lived in an area full of such people.

One of his daughters, Jane, was very deaf, and as a young lass alleged she was a victim of sexual assault along a road in a nearby area and that the alleged perpetrator threatened to cut her throat. It turned into a he-said-she-said case as both confirmed intercourse had taken place, but couldn't agree on the issue of consent. The judge was very unsympathetic, particularly when it emerged in the trial that Jane had, shall we say, been around the block a time or two with several of the local lads. She later married someone who was sometimes known as Andrew Cunningham and sometimes known as Andrew Sharkey. The couple were quite poor and at some point, Jane was left a widow (possibly 1881, meaning her last child had a different father). It was their daughter who was murdered in what became known as The Bridgewater Mystery. As an aside, this story also perfectly illustrates why newspapers are so useful. We had no idea about this family story, much less knowledge of all the family details contained in the report.

On 3rd October, 1890, 13 year old Ellen Cunningham (known as Nellie) disappeared after being seen walking from her home in Aldgate Valley towards Aldgate. By the 14th, the papers were starting to report this with increasing concern and a full scale search was conducted by about 60 local residents. The family had placed advertisements in the paper seeking information to help them find Ellen.

Pure genealogical gold!


Some time before the 17th (and I'm sure Chris will tell me I should browse through the papers for the intervening days to find the exact specifics, and he's right) her badly decomposed body was found by Dr. A E Wigg at Cox's Creek in a fairly heavily frequented place which had been searched several times already. The body was partly in the water, with the legs drawn up in a pose the paper said had lead locals to "draw inferences". A post-mortem was carried out by Dr. J H Henderson.

The general area: the red stars indicate Aldgate and Cox's Creek

The body had marks and bruises on the face and abdomen. Her head showed no signs of injury, and there was no proof that she had swallowed water as was expected at the time in cases of drowning. The initial report said that there was a gush of blood from her liver, but Dr. Henderson later wrote to the paper to make some corrections to their report, including stating that the blood was from "another part of the body altogether". She was estimated to have been dead about two weeks. Dr. Henderson felt quite strongly that she was not drowned. She was not pregnant, but her body was too decomposed for Dr. Henderson to ascertain if she had "been tampered with".

Ellen's sister, Agnes, identified the body and the nightgown and ring being won as Ellen's. Agnes said there was no reason for Ellen to have left home, and that when she last visited the family on 24th September (Agnes was married and in Stirling East) there was no evidence of any quarrels. The earliest news report then states that "the carpet bag and its contents weren't hers" and she hadn't seen Ellen's clothes since she left home.

Jane, Ellen's mother, said that she'd last seen her daughter at 7:30 am on the 3rd. She was fully dressed and in good spirits. She left Ellen with two of the youngest in the family and an older daughter, also Jane. The clothes had not been seen since. Jane returned at 4:30 to find Ellen gone. The previous day Ellen had asked to go and bathe and permission had been refused. Ellen was in the habit of bathing, but Jane did not know whereabouts.

Jane Cunningham testified that she had been milking the cow at about 11:00 when her sister left to get the other cows on the 3rd. At 5:00 the dog came home, wet, uneasy and tired. It had not rained that day and was quite warm. Jane had last seen her sister fully dressed and talking to Tommy Mullins, a schoolboy. She was using her nightdress as a bustle. Jane believed Ellen was in the habit of bathing at the creek by Mr. Rudd's. Jane identified a pocket knife which seems to have been found either with or near her sister as belonging to W Jenkins. She said she last saw the knife when her sister passed it to her at the table the week before Ellen disappeared, and Jane had given the knife back to Jenkins. Jane said that Ellen was rarely away from home alone, but would often go to the Salvation Army Chapel with Jane. She did not know if Ellen and Jenkins were on good terms, but Ellen was not in any quarrels, and when Jane realised Ellen was gone she and her brother in law, Paul Bartsch, went looking. They saw a man's footprints by the creek, and there were wild-flowers on the other side. They ran into a young boy who said he'd heard someone scream, but Jane Sr. had written it off as just being a jackass.

Thomas Mullins said he was at the home that morning, and saw Ellen heading off around 8 without the dog, saying something about taking Jenkins his knife. Mullins ended up with the knife, and Ellen went to the Galls (obviously one of the family) which was where Jenkins lived. Mullins was able to accurately describe the knife.

Andrew Hart, a neighbour, said he'd seen Ellen and Jane at about 11am out on the road. They had their hats on and were headed to the waterhole. There was no dog with them. He felt the need to point out, at this juncture, that he did not tell Jennie (Jane's nickname) he would get her in trouble or smash her head under the wheel.

Euphemia, one of the youngest of the girls, agreed with Jane's story, with the addition that she had seen Ellen go off with Tommy on her hunt for the cows. Margaret, the youngest (she was 5 at the time), also confirmed the story, but said that Jane had accompanied Ellen on the walk.

Part of Cox's Creek (Picture by Paul Scott, author of the Adelaide Hills Walking blog)

While none of the news reports stated there were any concerns, it's plain someone was very suspicious about what was going on. The inquest was adjourned to enable further investigation to be carried out. It was at this point that some additional work was undertaken by a Professor of Chemistry at Adelaide University. He stated there was no evidence of any kind of poison, but that she had just eaten a number of native berries a very short time before her death. Dr. Henderson suddenly came forward with the notion that perhaps Ellen had fluid on the heart and had dropped dead of shock on falling in the water. Jane presented a description of  Ellen being prone to rheumatic fever, struggling with mysterious pains and suffering a cold which had hung on for several months. Jane vehemently denied having a boarder in the house at that time or any other.

Evan Jenkins said that he had known the family about five years, and that he often used to bring his food to the house where they would cook it. He didn't pay for board or lodging, but worked occasionally. On the Monday night, he saw Jane Sr. at the Aldgate Hotel Monday night and paid her 12 shillings for board, but then forgot all about it. He had meals with them and slept in the house, but that Mrs. Cunningham wasn't there then. He denied having said that "the police would get nothing out of me tonight" and that he left the Cunninghams because Ellen locked him out one night. He denied the Cunninghams had instructed him on what to say. It was at this point the Foreman of the jury suggested Mr. Jenkins knew more than he was telling. Jenkins denied having a quarrel with Ellen, and said she probably locked him out because he was taking too long over his dinner. Again he denied committing perjury, or that Jane had ever said "policemen will never get anything out of me". Jane Sr interjected to say she'd never received any board money, and Jenkins responded by saying she hadn't, because he was behind in paying. He said he slept on the couch at the old place and now at the new, while the family (Jane Sr. and her four unmarried daughters) slept in the other room. Jane responded by saying this was only when it rained. Jenkins further elaborated that he had thought Ellen would be at the Hancocks, hence his claims he could find her in two hours, but she had not been there.

William Jenkins, Evan's brother, said that he had received his knife Friday night from Jane while he was helping search for Ellen. He had not seen Ellen since Wednesday. He had heard the girls having words, but never a quarrel, and he had no quarrel with them either.

Andrew Hart spoke again, alleging that William and Jane in fact did have a quarrel. Two years before, Jane had claimed Jenkins' cow was in the pound and had obtained money from him to organised the cow's release (the Galls and Doreys, her family, were involved in pound-keeping at various times, so it may have been a relation of hers in charge of the process). As it turned out this was a lie and the cow was never impounded.

Charles Garbie, aged 7, said he saw Ellen near the Aldgate Post Office between 8 and 9, reading a letter. She did not have the dog with her. Mary Johns, aged 11, said she saw Ellen at about 8:50, with two cows but no dog. Another local said she'd seen Agnes with a sister, possibly Ellen,, at 8:30, and another local described the search. The inquest was again adjourned.

Jane Sr. was called to testify again. She revealed that on October 7th she found Ellen's stays in her room, and that it was very unusual for Ellen to go out without them on. She also said that both Ellen and her own father, Archibald, were prone to fits.

Paul Bartsch talked about the advertisements the family placed, and was questioned about a mistake in the colour of the dress they had said Ellen was wearing. Agnes talked about Jane telling her of conflict with Hart over cows, and the threats he made to the girls when they were out on the road. Agnes said her mother was prone to fits and that her grand-father had just died only days before of a heart problem (Archibald died on 29 Nov 1890). Her uncle had chronic pain and two aunts had fits. Jane confirmed she had told Agnes, but said she had done so after the funeral. This was immediately identified as untrue it apparently the threats had not been used until later. The Coroner went to town on her, telling her she was telling falsehoods and acting like this cast doubt on everything she had said. I don't know if he was suspicious for other reasons, or just being a dick to an 15 year old girl (reported as being 18) whose family were completely dysfunctional and who had just lost her sister in bizarre circumstances. Of course the family's extensive reputation for serial dishonesty (even my great-grandmother is described as "handling the truth a bit carelessly") would hardly have helped!!

Local woman Jemima Harris said that Jane had come to her home on the evening of that fateful day, and that Jane claimed their dog had blood on it. Others testified to hearing her say the same thing. James Gall, Jane Sr's youngest brother, got up and suggested if anyone was lying it was Evan Jenkins. In response Evan's brother William implied James had been attempting to intimidate both Evan and Andrew Hart. The new focus became the brown skirt which the family had siad Ellen was wearing but which many people had seen around their home after Ellen's death, and it is clear the jury thought that was a critical piece of evidence.

By this time the case had made national papers, and it is in those that it is recorded that the jury censured Jane Cunningham Sr and the Bartshes for their approach to giving evidence, and suggested the authorities should further investigate the evidence given my James Gall, Jane Jr. and Evan Jenkins. The jury made clear their avowed belief that some key facts were being suppressed by the family, but could only conclude from the evidence at hand that Ellen Cunningham met her death in some way unknown. The remaining articles on the issue focus on criticism of the selection of a local GP as the pathologist in the case rather than an expert in the field, leaving poor Ellen's mystery unsolved.

Murder in seemingly idyllic village... Intrigue at every turn... Where's Miss Marple when you need her?


Got a theory? I'd love to hear it!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

I bet you can relate to this!

So, today I was at the supermarket when this completely random woman in her 40s wandered up to me and said something to the effect of "I know this sounds really weird, but I like doing nice things for strangers, and I thought you might like these flowers", and then presented me with a bunch of roses!

They were very lovely, but my first thought... actually, no, my first thought was "Sounds weird? Damn straight!" My second thought was "I can't take these home. What ever will my husband think?" So, I decided I'd have to move those roses on pronto!

Of course I spent a couple of minutes thinking of who is living near me that might appreciate having some impromptu flowers, but there wasn't really anyone who sprang to mind. Being a genealogist, my next thought was of course of who is non-living near me who might appreciate them. Within five minutes I was on the road to the nearest cemetery with plot numbers in hand, courtesy of Family Bee which lets me keep my family history file on my phone.

I decided to pick two people (it was 42 today, so I kept it limited!) to share the roses, both mums who had lost babies. Half the bunch went to Winifred McArthur, who is buried with her daughter, Dorothy, who died at 2 days old in 1904. Winifred followed her baby to the grave five days later. I notice since I last visited the metal part of her flower holder has disappeared.

Winifred's Headstone, taken last time I visited. Her husband was a Scotsman and there is a beautiful Gaelic inscription.

I left the other half of the bunch with Winifred Evans, who had a baby in 1920 while she was unmarried and gave the baby (also a girl) up for adoption, no doubt in response to considerable pressure from her family and probably hospital staff as well.

Both of them are buried in expired plots surrounded by other expired plots... they've had the Black Spot on them for ages. :( I know one day I'll go to them and they'll be engulfed in the black marble sea, but unless I win the Lotto there's not going to be much I can do about that

Anyway. The whole exercise took only about an extra ten minutes, and the flowers are now safely moved on to a more appropriate place. *phew* Crisis averted! Family history saves the day again!

If only Bad Luck Brian had installed Family Bee!





Thursday, 23 January 2014

5 things doing Genealogy has shown me are bullshit

As a regular newspaper reader (both print and online), I find there are distinct perceptions some people seem to have of the past, which get trotted out every so often in public debate. However, after just under 20 years of genealogy research, I call SHENANIGANS on the following notions:

#1 People never used to be fat.

Yes, we all get it. There's an obesity epidemic. Electronic devices, small yards, fears of predators stealing our kiddies, processed foods etc. etc. And yes, it's certainly not how it used to be. However, one of the hilarious lines which gets paraded almost every freaking time someone writes an article about obesity is that "You fatties are just making excuses. Nobody ever used to be fat, therefore there are no fat genes/thyroid problems/whatever else and you would all look like Michelle Bridges if you weren't so damn lazy and addicted to hamburgers". Essentially, there are a pile of people who seem to think inside of every single big person is a skinny person who has been stifled, suppressed and Cadbury family-blocked to death, quite deliberately in some kind of act of self-sabotage.

HA!

I present a small selection from my extensive collection of exhibits for the defence.

My great-great grandma, Elizabeth Jane Duffield (1838-1911). In a corset. Squeezing her in to her teensiest tiniest possible size. No wonder she looks a bit tense.
 
3x Great-Grandma Elizabeth Jane Williams (1851-1909).
 
My grandmother (front) and her some of her family show why they aren't being used as promotions for Ashy Bines' Bikini Body.
 
And there they are again, this time fully dressed and with a  few more cousins along.
 
Now, I intend no disrespect to any of these lovely ladies. They are/were all beautiful people, and great-great grandma Duffield is a particular source of inspiration to me in my daily life. I don't hold with fat-shaming and don't mean to imply any one of these women should have felt bad about how they looked. In fact, I positively love that women the size of my grandma's family were so confident and secure they were ok with being photographed rocking their bathers, and keeping those photos for decades afterwards.
 
However, I think we can all agree that they are plus-size. "People never used to be fat", hey? Myth busted!
 
#2 People never used to live very long.
 
Every time there's talk of raising the pension eligibility age or something similar, some ill-informed twat writes in to the paper saying that the average age of people in generation b was 13 and therefore nobody lived long enough to pro-create, let alone retire.  (Ok, so I exaggerate just a little there.) I'm fairly notoriously not mathematically minded, but even I know an average is not the right figure to look at when considering the economic problem of retirement funding. Every genealogist with more than 30 seconds experience knows that, very sadly, a large number of our relatives were taken from us before they started school or, in so many cases, could even walk. Infant mortality was terrible (especially if you're like me and have a lot of family from Moonta). However, if you got through that, there were plenty of people who went on to quite a ripe old age.
 
My genealogy program of choice doesn't seem to be able to generate a report on Age at Death (wouldn't that be an interesting feature!), but here's a random sampling one some of its contents:
 
Samuel Skermer, died age 88 in 1806.
Eli Roebuck, died age 81 in 1860.
William Dawson, died age 80 in 1891.
Mary Robinson, died age 82 in 1892.
Charlotte Langdown, died age 82 in 1898.
Honora Curren/Curreen, died age 87 in 1908.
Edward Fudge, died age 92 in 1911.
Elizabeth Harvey, died age 83 in 1916.
Hannah Sykes, died age 82 in 1927 (after having 13 children in 26 years during her life-time!)
Jean Cargill, died age 102 in 1925
 
And that was just the fruits of a quick 5 minute skim! Apart from the last one, none of them were especially remarked upon as having reached an uncommonly old age in their obituaries, and if my grandma's recent birthday was anything to go by, 100 is still a big deal. Only William Dawson was even described as 'old'.
 
Yes, average life expectancy was tragically short in Ireland, the UK and Australia. However, if you made it to adulthood, you weren't automatically going to die in a work-place accident, catch something dreadful or pass on trying to give birth. You were a fighting chance to make it through all of those dangers and spend quite some time sitting by the fire, watching your great (or great-great) grandchildren play.
 
#3 There's such a thing as a traditional family.

Maybe it's just that I live in Tony Abbott's Australia, but I get the regular impression that a certain segment of our society firmly believes that, until those dreadful and decadent 60s (or 70s in Australia... we always are that bit behind) every family had mum, dad, and 2.3 kids with a  puppy and a parrot. Or something like that. Yes, the myth of the nuclear family. Er... I mean the nuclear family.

Well, if that was ever true, it certainly wasn't in my family!! Again, just a random and small sampling of the many non-nuclear families in my tree:

Great grandma Margaret Dorey. Married 3 times. Raised two step-children (neither of whom had the same father) plus five of her own.
 
Great great uncle Hubert McPherson. Married before World War 1. Ran off with a Vaudeville dancer and went to live in Papua New Guinea. Remained with her for the rest of his life but never married her, even after his wife's death. Childless.
 
Thomas Skermer Evans: Married his first wife because she was 6 months pregnant, with what turned out to be someone else's baby. Enlisted in ww1 and discovered on his return the affair had continued. Divorced and remarried but remained childless. Did better than his younger brother Reginald who discovered in the divorce courts that his wife had frequented hotels and regularly 'misconducted herself'. Had two older sisters who had children prior to their marriages. In one instance the child was adopted out and the woman went on to marry a widower with children, while in the other the woman went on to marry the baby's father.
 
And that's before I even get started on William Drage, who had 11 children with his first wife before she left him and the state, then went on to have 17 children with another woman who he never married. The last one was born in 1894 when he was 68. Or before I get started on someone like Matilda Dawson, who was fostered out as a child because her widowed father couldn't look after all the children. Or Violet Tieste whose mother was widowed in the war and ran a boarding house (of questionable repute), lost most of her family to TB, had a brother made a ward of the state and became a Communist who we believe was 'barren by choice'.
 
Yep, reckon the whole mum, dad and two kids thing is pretty busted!


#4 Nobody ever used to commit adultery, or steal stuff, or get drunk, or...

Do I even need to go there on this one? There are so many stories I wouldn't know where to start! It's probably been partially addressed above anyway!

#5 There will always be a Redden.

In every country town across Australia there will always be at least one member of the Redden family buried in the local cemetery.

Actually, this last one is true.

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Y'know, some time I must get around to writing about what doing genealogy has shown me is the case on nature vs nurture.

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!