Monday, December 21, 2009

'The very touch of the letter was as if you had all taken me into your arms.' Anais Nin 1903-77: letter to Henry Miller, 6th August, 1932

What love and comfort, a letter from James MCDADE's mother Elizabeth, pictured left, must have brought him as he bravely endured the horrors of war. I can only imagine the joy and relief a letter from their son would have brought to my great grandparents, John and Elizabeth as they waited for news of him, in their home in Cumbernauld, Scotland. letters are a wealth of information. Throughout the years they have delivered good tidings, sad news, the happy announcement of a birth and news of the death of a parent. They tell of the trials and triumphs of long voyages far from home, send news of safe arrivals, describe the horrors of war and extraordinary tales of comradeship. Letters pass on recipes, exchange knitting patterns, offer heart felt apologies, carry forth declarations of love, reveal secrets; treasured emotions all tucked inside an envelope and sent around the world to loved ones awaiting contact.

Letters, for the family historian are a wonderful portal to the past. They provide the human stories behind names and dates on the family tree. Words, written by hand, and from the heart, are an irreplaceable wealth of information. They tell us where our ancestors lived, who their friends were and how they lived their lives. Letters reveal much about the personality of an ancestor, his or her degree of literacy and sometimes just tell some jolly rollicking yarns. A death certificate is able to provide us with a date and cause of death, but a letter written to a relative provides a window through which we are privileged to view the emotions and reality of deaths, births, marriages, illness and the daily life of our predecessors. The humble letter is a window to the past.

My family members don't appear to have been prolific letter writers. Unlike myself, perhaps they were just not prolific hoarders. Of course, there is the very strong possibility, that in my family, letters were not preserved in order to hide some 'tiny' untruths! If my family had kept letters, I might have discovered earlier, that a very grand old family Welsh Castle does exist, but definitely not in my family! A letter might have saved me from years of searching for the grandfather in the Royal Welsh Fencibles.. who wasn't! These stories were myths, created to carefully guard well kept family secrets. ( I understand the desire for secrecy, and I do admit that the Royal Welsh Fencibles does sound a touch nicer than jail!) I might have discovered that letters were sent to Australia from Northumberland and Nottinghamshire and not from Wales where contrary to family tales, we have no ancestors at all. Not one! Disappointingly, no Fencibles, no Castle, no Welsh ancestors!

I know that letters arrived from America in the 1980's, and that, had they not been destroyed, they would have informed me that my grandfather's youngest brother, Alexander, was not a brother at all, but actually a nephew.  I would have known the reason that the entire family left Scotland and came to live in Australia (family 'scandals' are a popular reason for emigration!) and why a family member emigrated to America having no contact with family for over 40 years. A letter might have told me that my grandfather on my mother's side was not a politician but instead, a bit of a rogue - quite possibly why there are no surviving letters ! How much easier my job would have been if letters had been stored away for me to read.

Documents such as divorce papers and shipping records and even photographs provide some useful information, but the letter remains the family historian's best friend. Letters are rich in detail, they are a part of the real fabric of life in the past and sometimes they are more importantly, proof of identity,and a key to unlocking the past, as in the case of my husband David's great, great grandfather.

David's side of the family, fortunately were both prolific writers and horders. Such a treasure trove for me! There are letters from Bedfordshire, England to the BEARD family, some from South Africa from Polly Brown (nee Beard) to her family in the Gippsland area of Victoria, letters from Kent, England to the DUNSTER family who settled in the Kiama area in NSW and letters from new Zealand to the WHITE family that tell of farming life on the Canterbury Plains.

Mathew MACDONALD, great, great grandfather of David White, was born in about 1812 in Sleat, Isle of Skye, Scotland. There has been no birth record found for him, although this has been well checked. Family lore says that he was born on his grandfather Alexander MacDonald's farm, Gillin Farm on the Isle of Skye. His death certificate states that his father was Charles MacDonald of Ord, David's father, Brian was proud to tell everyone that he was descended from the great Lord John of the Isles through Charles of Ord. There is no marriage record for Mathew to Mary McPherson who travelled with him on the ship 'William Nichol' to Sydney, Australia, in 1837. It is only from a letter to Mathew, when he was almost 90 years old from a half brother in Scotland, that we can verify this ancestry. The author of the letter, Keith Norman MacDonald was a well known musician and writer of Scottish Reels and Spreys, as well as being a medical doctor. He was also the son of Charles MacDonald of Ord House, Ord, on the Isle of Skye, by his wife Anne McLeod who he married in 1828 and therefore a half brother to Mathew. In his letter, Keith referred to Mathew as his brother and informed him that 'their' father, Charles was buried in the churchyard of Kilmore, as were both his mother, Anne and Mathew's mother. So here was proof that Keith and Mathew were half brothers and that Mathew was the son of Charles MacDonald of Ord, whose ancestry is well documented, not only back to John, Lord of the Isles but to the Royal Stewart Kings and the McKenneth Kings. Unfortunately the letter did not tell us who Mathew's mother was. The letter also revealed that Mathew's wife, Mary McPherson, was a nanny to Keith and the other MacDonald children and that Keith still remembered her fondly. It is obvious that Keith's letter was in reply to a letter from Mathew and that this had been Mathew's first contact with his family since leaving Scotland some 60 years earlier. We might deduce from this that Mathew had a falling out with his father, possibly over his relationship with Mary McPherson. Keith Norman's letter describes beautifully, the scenery in Skye that Mathew might have wistfully recalled and offers colourful character sketches of local identities. This letter is a valuable document, without which, David's MacDonald ancestry could not have been traced back to Scottish Royalty. The photograph above, pictures Mathew and Mary (McPherson) MacDonald with their children, at their farm at Crookwell which is still in the MacDonald family today. It is sad to think that Mathew and Mary had no contact with their families for so many years and one wonders whether old age prompted Mathew to write to his half brother. It is a blessing that he did, for without that letter the Royal MacDonald connection would have been lost with the passing of time.

Some years ago, in a clean out, I threw away a bundle of letters from my mother and from friends. Now, I regret that I do not have those precious letters, the contents of which are lost forever.

Letters, for most people are now a thing of the past. I do receive several typed 'news letters' from friends who live overseas or in other parts of the country. Although these are, strictly speaking, letters, they are missing that special touch of a hand written personal letter. They are 'speaking' to many and not just to me. I am fortunate enough not to have to wait long weeks or even months for news of a loved one at war or to learn of the death of a family member. I can contact instantly on Skype, relatives in London and New York and not only speak to them but see them as well. My sister and I correspond by telephone or by email daily. Our emails are a record of our daily lives. They concern our families, the antics of our pets, the swapping of recipes, gossip and news of family and friends. Often our emails are quite silly and sometimes very humorous and they give us great pleasure. Then we press the delete button on our computers and any record of our conversation is lost. No one is going to find old deleted emails nicely tied with ribbon in a drawer one day in the future.

Now, I have to admit, that I am not likely to take up letter writing as I am quite comfortable living in an age of instant communication. I have, however, come to appreciate the value of communications of the past to the preservation of history, whether it be world, local or family history.

In keeping with technology, through my blog entries, I hope that my stories will be written from the heart, for the future. I am trusting that somewhere out there in cyberspace, my good tidings and recipes and family stories and even some secrets will be discovered by someone who will appreciate them and perhaps even discover a family tree through them. These blogs are a record of lives past and present. They are my 'letters'.

'Letters of thanks, letters from banks, Letters of joy from girl and boy, Receipted bills and invitations To inspect new stock or to visit relations, And applications for situations, And timid lovers' declarations, And gossip, gossip from all the nations. W. H. Auden 1907-73: 'Night Mail' 1936

Monday, December 14, 2009

'Mother o' mine, Mother o' mine.' Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936)

Recently, a friend of mine, said to me,'I remember your mother as such a lovely lady. She was always gracious and kind. She was such a 'proper' lady.' Sadly, whilst only in her 40's, my mother developed Alzheimers Disease before her three daughters could learn much about her childhood. I have snippets of memories from anecdotes told to me as a young child and so from my memories and from gathered documents I will try to tell my mother's story. Alwynne Jean Reece-Hoyes was born on the 24th of September, 1931 to parents Ian Cuthbert Reece-Hoyes and Hilda Lillian (Weston)Reece-Hoyes. She was born in Brisbane, Queensland. Alwynne Jean's parents, Ian and Hilda were married at St Andrew's Church of England, in South Brisbane, on the 12th of August , 1929. Ian, a motor mechanic was 18 years of age and Hilda, working as a waitress, was aged 21. At some time before Alwynne was 7 months old, Ian and Hilda left Australia and travelled with their young baby daughter to New Zealand, to make a home there. Ian's father, Leonard Cuthbert Reece-Hoyes had been born in new Zealand and in 1931 all of his father's siblings still lived there. The early 1930's were years of depression so perhaps Alwynne's parents moved to New Zealand in search of work. Ian's paternal grandfather , James Berry Hoyes and his wife Elizabeth (Morley) had settled in Auckland in the 1860's and it is possible that he found employment with a family company. His grandfather, James had died in Auckland in 1910 after being hit by a bicycle as he stepped off a tram, on his way to buy his wife Elizabeth a bonnet for Christmas, but he had been a successful business man involved in gold mining and other enterprises. Nothing is known of Ian's employment in new Zealand but it is certain that Alwynne Jean met her New Zealand family in Rotarua and Auckland as that was one of the few memories she recalled. The photograph above shows the baby Alwynne Jean aged 7 months in Rotarua, New Zealand.

In the photograph on the right, taken in Auckland, Alwynne at 18 months, appears a happy, well loved and very cute toddler. Someone, possibly her maternal grandmother, Lillie Weston who lived in Brisbane had knitted, lovingly the dress she was wearing. My mother still had the little shoes that she is wearing in this photo when I was a child. I remember that they fastened with tiny buttons.

I imagine that it was difficult for Alwynne Jean's maternal family to be separated from their only grandchild and neice however I am certain that photographs such as these taken of her she grew would have been a source of comfort to the families back in Australia.

Hilda and Ian separated when Alwynne Jean was only three years old and Hilda filed for and was granted a divorce in Auckland in 1934. She returned to Australia with her young daughter Alwynne, some time prior to 1936. In this year she appears on the Queensland electoral roll as Hilda Hoyes.

When Alwynne Jean returned to live in Brisbane, she and her mother, Hilda, lived with her maternal grandmother, Lillie Herminnie Weston (Nargar), at 52 Amelia Street, Fortitude Valley. Her grandmother Lillie was to have a very strong, positive and loving influence on young Alwynne's life. Lillie was a very religious woman and very particular about good manners. She took young Alwynne to Church every week at the Baptist Tabernacle in Wickham Terrace in Brisbane. It was Lillie, Alwynne's grandmother as well as her aunt Dorothy May Weston, Hilda's youger sister, who introduced her to to cooking and to sewing and instructed her in the rules of social etiquette

Alwynne Jean possibly never knew that she was named after a sister of her father who had died in 1918 aged 18 months. My mother did not tell me this and I only discovered this fact from the Births, Deaths and Marriage records at the Queensland State Archives in 2008. Alwynne's father, Ian Cuthbert Reece-Hoyes would have been an impressionable 8 year old when his baby sister Alwynne Jean died of convulsions and so named his first child after her. Alwynne was the middle name of Ian's mother Florence Alwynne Reece-Hoyes (Morrison).

In 1936 or 1937, at the Fortitude Valley State School, Alwynne Jean began her education whilst living with her grandmother. At the age of 12 years she attended Brisbane State High School which was a selective girls school. Although her parents had divorced and her mother Hilda worked hard to support her, Alwynne was much loved and supported by both her grandmother and mother. She did not meet her father again until she was 21 years of age when he took her to dinner for her birthday. Alwynne Jean did not see her father again after this meeting, although I have recently discovered that he died in Brisbane in the mid 1980's. Her paternal grandmother, Florence Alwynne Reece-Hoyes also lived in Brisbane until her death in the 1980's however as far as I know, my mother had no contact with her or any other member of the Reece-Hoyes family as she grew up. As an adult my mother contacted her father's brother, Leonard John Reece-Hoyes, who was 7 years Ian's junior. Sadly, too late for Alwynne, my sister, Reece and I have now become firm friends with Leonard's son, also called Leonard Reece-Hoyes and his lovely wife Jan. How proud Alwynne Jean would have been to see the Reece-Hoyes (and Hoyes) family tree that we have discovered together.

Alwynne Jean's grandmother, Lillie, had been a single mother since 1920 when her husband William Joseph Weston had left her for another woman. She ran a busy fruit shop to support her family and although money must have been in short supply, Alwynne was always beautifully dressed, well spoken and well loved. One memory that she shared with me, however, was of having to take bread and dripping to school for her lunch when finances were difficult. She told that story many times when I was a child to encourage me to appreciate the things I had. Lillie was determined to provide her grandaughter, Alwynne with everything she needed. Alwynne Jean learned to play the piano from a young age from the same piano teacher who taught music to my father, Colin John MacDade. My parents first met when they were quite young and amusingly, I do recall my mother relating her early impresions of my father as a child being a 'spoilt little Lord Fauntleroy'. My father was the teacher's favourite student being an extremely talented pianist and as a young child, Alwynne Jean thought him quite 'full of himself'. Obviously, she thought differently in later years as she married him.

Alwynne's grandmother Lillie and Aunt Dorothy taught her to sew. From the age of 13 Alwynne sewed all of her own clothes. She quickly became an exceptionally competent seamstress. Perhaps Lillie or Dorothy sewed the pretty dress worn by the five year old Alwynne Jean in the photograph on the right which was taken in Auckland before her return to Australia.

Alwynne's early life in Brisbane would have been strongly influenced by her grandmother's committment to her church, although her own mother, Hilda was not a religious person. A family friend, Amelia Gertude Hansen, always known as Aunty Gertie, also lived at Amelia Street. She had been helping to care for the family since Hilda's father had left them. Gertie, or Aunty Stewie' as she became known after her married surname became Stewart, was a deeply religious woman. She became the prison chaplin at the Women's Prison in Brisbane and was very much respected and loved by the prisoners and all who knew her. Alwynne Jean remained very close to her all of her life, Much of Alwynne's strong faith had been formed in her early years in her grandmother's home and remained wih her throughout her lfe as she taught Sunday School and regulary attended and was very involved in her local churches.

When Alwynne Jean was 8 or 9 years old, her mother, Hilda remarried. Alwynne's stepfather, David John Schmith, was very fond of his young step-daughter and formally adopted her on the 29th of February. 1940. For Alwynne, Dave, as she called him, became a positive male role model in her life. This marriage entered into at the outset of the Second World War, was not destined to last. Dave enlisted in the army and was sent overseas to fight. The subsequent separation took a toll on the marriage and once again Alwynne's parents divorced. Alwynne Jean did not have happy memories of the war years. As much as her mother, Hilda loved her, she also loved to socialise and Alwynne found herself left on her own much of the time. With noisy and often drunken American soldiers in Brisbane during the war, Alwynne recalled being quite afraid on many occasions whilst alone at night. Although Hilda and Dave divorced, Alwynne remained in contact with Dave for the rest of her life. She cared for him in his later years until he died and then cared for her mother until she could no longer do so because of her own health.

It was during the war years, that Alwynne's aunt, Dorothy, now married to a wealthy Hotelier and property Investor, William Holme Cameron, asked Hilda if she and 'Jock' could adopt Alwynne. She felt that they would be able to offer her neice a more stable lifestyle than that provided for by her Hilda. My great Aunt Dorothy told me this tale. She was unable to have children of her own and loved Alwynne like a daughter. Hilda broke down at this request and cried. She replied,' I know I haven't been the best mother to Alwynne, but she's all I have . I love her. Please don't take her away.'

When Alwynne Jean was about 13 or 14 tragedy struck her mother and herself. Whilst on an afternoon outing to the movie theatre, their home burned down destroying all but one room of the house. Almost all of their possessions were lost and all of Alwynne's childhood photographs were burned. For a short while Hilda attempted to live in the one room of the burnt out house in the Valley, but Alwynne soon found herself back living with her grandmother,Lillie again. This was an incident in my mother's life that she talked about a great deal. She never really recovered from losing her home and everything in it.

As a teenager, Alwynne socialised and played tennis. Lillie had made certain that her grandaughter learned the skills necessary to enable her to socialise correctly, including providing dancing and tennis lessons for her as a child. One of Alwynne's favourite pastimes was to go to the famous Brisbane icon, Cloudland, (sadly now demolished) to dance. She was very popular and very attractive. I am certain that her dance card would have been constantly full. In fact, Alwynne Jean was crowned Miss Cloudland on more than one occasion. In the photo at left, Alwynne is pictured in a dress of her own creation, at her 'coming out' ball. She would have been 18 or 19 years old when this photograph of her as a debutant was taken. Although the child of divorced parents, Alwynne Jean grew up in the company of all the social niceties.

From the age of 13, Alwynne often travelled to Mackay and later Sydney to stay with her aunt Dorothy. Together they would go in to the city to shop or to have their hair done. In later years, Dorothy recalled a story about Alwynne that made us laugh. On one of her visits to Sydney, Alwynne and Dorothy were catching a tram into the city from Randwick where Dorothy then lived. Alwynne had spent a very long time doing her hair and when she stepped outside the wind blew it everywhere. Dorothy could see the tram making its way along the street but 14 year old Alwynne refused to budge. They had to return inside the home so that she could re-do her hair all over again. Aunt Dorothy laughed as she said to me , "I kept telling her that as soon as she stepped outside, the wind would do the same again, but she was very stubborn, your mother.' Of course that was exactly what happened and according to Dorothy, the young Alwynne sulked all the way to the city.

So, how did Alwynne Jean come to court and marry the boy she had once thought a spoilt young pianist? My paternal grandmother related the story to me. She was proud that she had been intrumental in helping to bring Alwynne and her own son Colin together. At the age of 22, Alwynne Jean was engaged to be married to a chap named Mervyn. There were problems in the relationship, however, because Mervyn was Catholic and Alwynne was Baptist. Mervyn's mother very much wanted him to marry a previous girlfriend who was also Catholic. Every time Alwynne and Mervyn attended a function, Mervyn's mother made certain his ex girlfriend was there as well. Alwynne began to rethink her decision.

As it turned out, fate (named Alma and Florence) stepped in and changed Alwynne's plans for her. Over the years, Alwynne's aunt by marriage, Alma Weston, had befriended my father's mother, Florence Jemima Macdade as they frequently travelled by the same tram to the city in Brisbane for shopping expeditions. Alma, also eager to end Alwynne's engagement to the Catholic Mervyn gave Florence a photograph of Alwynne. She asked Florence to place the photograph on her son Colin's pillow that night. Florence happily played along and did as she was bid. That evening after he had returned from work the 22 year old Colin came rushing into the kitchen at his home in Garfield Drive, Paddington Heights, asking, 'Who is the gorgeous girl on my bed?' My father loved to tell that story. Colin was besotted immediately but Alwynne's attentions were not won so easily. Pictured above, are the co- conspiritors Florence MacDade. Alma Weston and also Alwynne Jean's mother Hilda.

While Alwynne was at a dance with her fiance Mervyn, on one Saturday night, Colin John MacDade was quite jealous. He had tried in vain to court the lovely Alwynne Jean. Alma's husband, Mervyn, uncle of Alwynne, who was never one to give up easily, thought up a plan to help young Colin to win the affections of his niece. While the dance was under way Mervyn and Colin let down the tires on the younger Mervyn's car. They then waited outside the dance hall. When Alwynne and Mervyn appeared it quickly became obvious that Mervyn was not gong to be able to ecort Alwynne home (such bad luck to have four flat tyres!) . The gallant Colin, who just 'happened' to be on hand, stepped up and offered his services. Not to help fix the tyres though! He left poor Mervyn with the car and drove Alwynne home himself. Colin charmed his way into her heart and Alwynne was hooked. 'Hook, line and sinker,' to quote Colin (a keen fisherman).

Alwynne Jean Reece-Hoyes ( aka Schmith)married Colin John MacDade in March of 1954, at St Paul's Presbyterian Church, St Pauls Terrace, Spring Hill, Brisbane. Alwyyne was named Bride of the Year and her wedding photo was displayed in the Brisbane Courier mail and a shop window in the city. Alwynne and Colin honeymooned in Lismore during which time there was such a heavy rainfall that Lismore was severely flooded. Alwynne
s new husband kept the hotel guest entertained by playing the piano every evening of their honeymoon. 

Alwynne Jean (Reece-Hoyes) and Colin John MacDade had three daughters of which I am the eldest.

Alwynne Jean MacDade died from Pneumonia as a result of Alzheimers Disease on October 29th, 1996.

Alwynne Jean MacDade

24-9-1931 - 29-10-1996

'I will spend my heaven doing good on earth.' St Terese of Lisieux, 1912

I began my family tree on my mother's side of my family in 1998. To date I have traced the Reece-Hoyes (Hoyes) family back through New Zealand to England and Scotland with the surnames of GAIR, BERRY, BERRIF in Northumberland, England, as far back as the early 1700's; MORRISON in Scotland to the late 1700's: HOYES in Lincolnshire to the early 1800's; MORLEY in Nottinghamshire to the 1700's. I have also added to the tree the surnames of HABERLING, RYSER and many other names in Switzerland as far back as 1520; WESTON and TURNER in Suffolk, England to the 1700's, NERGER (NARGAR) in Prussia to the late 1700's; SIEGLER, SEGLEN in Weuttemburg, Germany to the 1700's and FRAYNE in Ireland (convicts) back to Dublin in the late 1700's. Along the way I have discovered convicts, including one who was on Norflok island and was the only convict to leave a written narrative describing the harsh treatment he received during his incarceration. This 74 page document is held by the NSW State Library (Mitchell) and is an important part of the 'Colonial Papers' in the library's collection. I have found a great Uncle who was a millionaire , who owned and lived in Marwell Hall, a home which belonged to King Henry VIII which he had given to the Boleyn family, owned a huge steam yacht built for the American billionaire Frederick Vanderbuilt, played an integral part in winning the Second World War for Britain, was involved in suspicious 'activities' in Spain and France during the war, Air Advisor to the Nizam of Hyderabad, gun-running in Hyderabad in 1948 after India became independent from Britain, and died as the Vicompte (Viscount) de Borenden just to mention a few fascinating things about him. Along the journey, I have 'met' many extraordinary and ordinary people. People who came to Australia to make a new home for themselves and their families. They came from all over the globe and settled in Maryborough, Queensland, Sydney, NSW, Maitland in the Hunter Valley, The Darling Downs, went to Gympie during the Gold Rushes and were farmers, bootmakers, miners. nurses, sawyers ( that was a disappointment - I read it as Lawyer!), piano tuners, furniture makers and felons. I am here because of them all and their stories are fascinating. They deserve to be told.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

'A garden of Love grows in a Grandmother's heart.' Unknown Author

There is an old saying that 'grandmothers never run out of hugs and cookies.' The source of the quote may be unknown but the sentiment perfectly describes my paternal grandmother, Jemima Florence MacDade (m.s. White). If any one of Nana's grandchildren were to be asked to recall their most treasured memories of her , I suspect that ahead of her hugs and devoted unconditional love, would be her scrumptious cooking. I well remember her mouthwatering Irish Bap , tempting Gem Scones, rich thick Caramel Custard, tantalisingly delicious Rosella Jam (if you are a Queenslander you'll know how good Rosella Jam was! ) perfect shortbread biscuits delicately patterned with the bottom of a crystal glass, pikelets, every single one, so incredibly light and fluffy, so absolutely even coloured and so perfectly round that they defied the laws of possibility, and the creamiest home made vanilla ice-cream I have ever tasted. All served with lashings of love. My memories of my Irish grandmother , begin at 16 Garfield Drive, Paddington Heights in Brisbane were she lived with my Scottish born grandfather, Colin Hamilton MacDade. I have warm memories of that house, with Nana's fern room at the entance and patterned carpet and comfortable big couch in the lounge room , the big picture window at the rear, overlooking the steep hills and deep valleys of Paddington, Bardon and Ashgrove, the window seat in her bedroom where I loved to sit and read, louvre windows on built in verandahs. There was the delightful thrill of exploring the dark world beneath this house built high on stilts in Queensland. Most significantly, it was a place where I spent many contented hours in the company of this very special lady. My earliest memories are of trips to the beach at Redcliffe or Wynnum with my grandparents in their two toned blue and white holden, picnics and frollicking in the shallow calm water. I recall holidays and weekends spent at Garfield Drive, playing with cousins, Scott, Mark and John and the children next door, Terry, Tony, Alana -Lee and Lorelei Lewis (children of later police commissioner Terry Lewis ) as well as sisters Jane and Robin Shaw who lived across the road. Together we climbed the huge mango tree that grew in the corner of the backyard, ate delicious sweet mangoes whilst sitting high on the branches of the old tree, swinging legs, dripping juice to the ground below, laughing and sticky. We picked cumquats for Nana to make jam with, and sweet paw paws from the tree which grew at the bottom of the back stairs. Shrieking and laughing, we slid fast down the steeply sloping back yard on pieces of cardboard and though forbidden, we continually tried to climb the big council water tank that towered on the block of land adjoining the house. My grandmother worried terribly that someone would fall and be injured and I'm sure we would have tried the patience of a saint. Perhaps my memory is mistaken, but I can't recall Nana becoming cross. I'm certain that we, her precious grandchildren, gave her cause to worry a great deal and I am amazed now, looking back, at how calm she remained as we hurtled through her garden, racing each other through our 'secret' paths with careless regard for the hydrangeas and the frangipanis that she had planted. Recently, I returned to look at the house at Garfield Drive and quietly pirated a cutting of one of Nana's frangipani trees from near the front fence. I have planted the frangipani in my back garden in Sydney where it reminds me every morning of Nana. Sadly, the mango tree is gone from Garfield Drive and the house is greatly changed, but I recognised much of the garden that my grandmother planted. If I am to be truthful, I must admit, that I do recall one incident where my grandmother became quite angry, but her anger was directed at my grandfather and as for me, I thought the whole incident rather funny. It happened that we, my grandparents and I, were returning from a lovely day's outing to somewhere at the beach, perhaps Southport, when a very strange sight befell us. As we drove along the road, a wheel off a car went rolling past us, gathering speed as it flew along the road towards a steep hill. As clearly as if it were yesterday, I can hear my grandfather laughing as he said, "Some poor fellow has lost a wheel." No sooner were the words out than the rear right side of our car hit the road and sparks flew as the realisation sunk in to my poor grandfather's horror! He had changed the rear tyre not long before , and had obviously forgotten to replace the wheel nuts. My recall of this encounter has always been one of immense hilarity, but I am not certain if this is due to the sheer unexpectedness of seeing that wheel rolling at high speed past us, or the absolute incredulousness of hearing my usually calm and composed grandmother, shrieking, ' You stupid man, Colin! You stupid man'! I have no doubt that I can attribute her response to shock, but as for me, I could hardly contain my fit of giggles as I struggled to remain sitting upright in the steeply inclined back seat. The car is pictured in the photograph above, although pictured here with the blue and white Holden is my mother, Alwynne Jean, her mother Hilda Lillian and myself and sister Reece. My poor grandmother continued to mutter something about 'stupid' the entire time,while we waited for my grandfather to make the long trek down the hill to retrieve the tyre. It had landed in someone's front yard, much to their surprise. Years later, in the retelling of that event, Nana did see the funny side, but explained that at the time, her concern had been that I, her precious first born grandchild might have been injured. A special treat for me as a child, was a bowl of Nana's caramel custard, which was, without a doubt, my favourite. Many years later, Nana divulged to me the 'secret ingredient' that made her custard so rich and delicious. At the time she told me, Nana was blind from glaucoma, and was visiting my own family in Sydney. How she laughed at my surprise when she told me that her secret ingredient had been nothing more than simple golden syrup! 'My' caramel custard is now legendary and oops, now I've let the secret out! Even after losing her eyesight, Nana still made a treat for us to have after dinner every evening when she was staying with us. Her pumpkin scones would have given Flo Bjelke Petersen's a run for their money! My grandmother taught me how to crochet when I was 7 years old. She patiently demonstrated each complicated stitch, back to front, for this left handed grandchild. Years later when I tried to pass the skill of crochet on to my three daughters, I marvelled at how she did that. I couldn't teach my right handed girls! She taught me to knit, although I must confess that I was not as interested in knitting, but crochet really became a relaxing and enjoyable hobby for many years of my life. My sister, Reece and I, as children, wore with pride, the beautiful crocheted tops and dresses and berets that Nana lovingly made for us. To this day I still possess one of her creations - a cream, long sleeved jumper that one of my own daughters, Rhiannon, also wore as a little girl. She treasured this lacy patterned top all the more because her Great- Nana had made it for me. I was very proud of my Irish Nana as a child. I considered myself quite Irish despite my very scottish surname. Nana's stories 'of Ireland' were legendary in our family. The most memorable of Nana's stories was one about how she almost drowned in a flax bog as a very young girl in Brookend, County Tyrone in Northern Ireland. This incident, which happened when she fell and became trapped beneath the heavy layers of flax on her 'gentleman farmer', father's farm must have quite traumatised my grandmother, for although she came to live in Australia on the Darling Downs aged 11 years, she never learned to swim and always remained frightened of going into water. I requested this story every time I saw my grandmother and she never tired of telling it. I sat quiet and wide eyed, mesmerized by every detail. No matter how many times I listened to that story, it seemed more exciting with each narration. For some reason, most of the stories of childhood, that I recall my grandmother telling, were set against the background of her home at 'Carrig-na-gule', Brookend, Co Tyrone. I wish, now that I had asked her about the journey to Australia by ship or the long train trip to Kaimkillenbun on the Darling Downs in Queensland. What, I wonder, were her impressions of her new home? How was school different in Australia from that in Ireland? As a child and even as a young adult, I didn't think to ask these questions and so, now as a family historian, I must surmise as to what life was like as a new Australian child. I am fortunate to have some evidence on which to build a picture of her life, such as local newspaper articles and family treasures including a testimonial presented to her father when the family left Kaimkillenbun. Although from these I can discover a story of my grandmother's past, no story will be as vivid as those that she told me herself, in her soft, still slightly Irish, lilting voice. In another blog, I will attempt to tell the story of Nana's life, but for now, I will remain with my own memories. Whenever my parents went away for a weekend, which was always to stay at the Pink Poodle Motel or the Chevron Hotel at the Gold Coast, Nana would come to stay with us. She also stayed with us while my mother was in hospital having my youngest sister, Stacey. My only memory of that stay was of how she settled an argument between my sister, Reece and myself. I can clearly see her patiently trying to calm us down as we fought over a broken toy rolling pin! Each of us was claiming to own the undamaged one. There is another saying, that,' Grandmothers are people with more patience than when they were mothers.' I don't know if this is true of my own grandmother, but I do know that she possessed the patience of a saint that day. In the end she removed both the offending rolling pins and left the argument for our poor mother to settle when she returned home with our new sister. Such are the privileges of a grandmother! Nana started losing her eyesight, as far as I can remember, in her 60's. Our memories of childhood are often flawed, so this may not be correct. Age is not something that children are accutely aware of. I seem to remember that, as a child, every adult seemed 'old'. I remember my grandmother sitting before her dressing table mirror in her bedroom at the front of the house in Garfield Drive, brushing her long brown hair 100 times before going to bed. I thought she was quite old then but now, as I revisit that memory, I realise that she would have only been 58 or 59 years of age. To my four or five years she seemed a 'a very old lady'. I can see her just as clearly in my mind today, brushing her hair, as I did when I watched her almost 50 years ago. By the time I was 17, Nana had very little eyesight left. She was 72 years old. She could no longer see enough to use her beloved Pfaff sewing machine. My grandmother sewed magnificently. She made all her own and her daughters' clothing and she was always the most beautifully dressed woman in the room! Nana and my mother had each bought a Pfaff sewing machine whilst shopping together. It was quite an expensive purchase but it was the rolls royce of sewing machines at that time. When Nana gave me her precious Pfaff machine in my early 20's, I wondered what on earth she was thinking. I hated sewing! Some years later, when married,with two young children of my own, I pulled that machine out from its packing box and soon understood the pleasure that my grandmother had found in sewing. As I appliqued beautiful little dresses, romper suits and T-shirts for my children, I also appreciated the faith that my grandmother had in me when she gave me her precious Pfaff. I know that she was overjoyed that I had not wasted her kind gesture. I loved that sewing machine right up until its death in the 1990's. I have never enjoyed sewing so much with another machine. My own mother had also been a beautiful seamstress but she had never been able to pass on to me her enjoyment of sewing. One of my grandmother's most beautiful gifts to me was that Pfaff sewing machine which I gratefully treasured. Even with her eyesight failing, Nana was undaunted. In her private moments, I have no doubt that she must have felt that her life had taken an unfair turn, however, I never heard her complain. When I attended teachers' college at Kelvin Grove, in Brisbane in the early 1970's, I often drove to The Gap where Nana lived, to have dinner with her in the evenings. Despite being almost completely blind, she always had a wonderful meal cooked for me and would not hear of my helping her. She knew that I especially loved her meat loaf and so she often cooked it for me. Many times I marvelled at how she had managed to cook such a delicious meal and always a dessert for me as well. We never tired of each other's company and never, ever, ran out of conversation. Over those meals we laughed together and talked of things of the present and things of the past. One of the things I admired in my grandmother was her sense of humour. When staying with us in Sydney in the mid 1980's, she told us a story that to this day makes me laugh. One of Nana's legacies to me is the ability to remain positive in the face of misfortune, and to see things in the light of good humour. This was her story. One day while living with one of her daughters at the Gap in Brisbane, Nana, who was completely blind by then, decided to make lunch for herself. She took the black sausage that she knew was on the top shelf of the fridge, carefully sliced it and placed it on buttered bread. That evening as the family sat down to dinner, Nana announced that she had very much enjoyed the black sausage for lunch. Being blind, she was unaware of the puzzled glances exchanged around the table. Finally someone looked in the refrigerator and found that poor Nana had neatly sliced the Pal dog food that had been removed from its tin and placed on a plate in the fridge. When Nana heard what she had eaten, she sat quite silently for a moment and then announced," Oh well, it was delicious!" For me, that was the true character of my grandmother. She chose to laugh rather than weep! Blindness as well as a heart problem necessitated a move for my grandmother to Sinnamon Retirement Village at Jindalee. By coincidence she was now back living right next door to the farm at Seventeen Mile Rocks where her family had moved when she was 19. The neighbouring Sinnamon family had owned much of the land where the suburb of Jindalee now stood (where I myself had spent all of my teenage years). Despite being blind, Nana attended weekly craft classes. Christmas was a treat for my own children with always a special gift, hand made by Nana, such as crocheted coat hangers and a variety of ornaments all created at her classes. Since a child, I had collected many beautifully made 'glory box' items that Nana regularly made for me. When I married, I used the place mats, table cloths, tea towels with crocheted edges and aprons that she had lovingly sewn for me through the years of my childhood. At my wedding, I felt honoured to kneel on the 'wedding' cushion that my grandmother had knelt on at her own wedding. This photograph on the right is of my grandmother, Florence Jemima MacDade at my wedding reception. She had been known by her middle name since she had arrived in Australia aged 11 in 1913. She told me that she had thought the name Jemima to be 'very old fashioned' and that Florence was 'much more modern'. I gave my second daughter the middle name Jemima after my grandmother but she couldn't understand how I liked the name. But I think she was secretly pleased, and I had, after all, spent my childhood with a favourite big walking talking doll named Florence in her honour! My grandmother was a great presence in my life. I am sure that she had her faults as we all do, but to me she was a wonderful role model and in my admiring eyes, close to perfect. She loved me unconditionally and she always made me feel special. I know that other people will have their own memories of Nana that probably will be quite different from mine. I believe that it was a wonderful privilege to be graced with the grandmother I had. She gave me many gifts throughout my life, the greatest of which was herself. I have been blessed to know and love her. Jemima Florence MacDade (White) 19-12-1902 - 15-10-1995

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

'When grandma was a lassie...' E V Harburg 1898-1981

Jemima Florence White was born on the 19th of December, 1902 in Brookend, Co Tyrone, Northern Ireland.The second daughter of Hugh Eston and Sarah White (M.S. Thompson) joined her older sister Violet Victoria Maude(1897), brothers William Thomas (1898) and Samuel John Clarke (1901) aged 5, 3 and 1 year. The family was later blessed by the birth of another son, Andrew Hugh Thompson in 1905. Brookend is situated on the west shore of Loch Neagh, just south of Ardboe( Arboe). In the very cold and wet winter month of December, Jemima Florence was born on the family farm ' Carrig-na-gule' in Brookend near the shores of Loch Neagh. December,the month she was born, would have seen the shoreline of the Loch, partially flooded and boggy, despite the waterline of Loch Neagh having gradually receded since 1840. Jemima's father, Hugh Eston White was a flax farmer and the farmland and shore of the Loch became the playground for Jemima and her siblings until 1913, the year that the family left Ireland for Australia.In the summer months the shores of Loch Neagh would have been transformed into a lush grassland where Jemima Florence and her sister and brothers could frolick amongst local plants such as bog cotton, ragged robin, marsh cinquefoil and flowering rush. Each Spring, the children would have awoken to the calls of cuckoos, curlews and warblers, and Brookend would have echoed with the noisy cries of black headed gulls which bred on the islands offshore. When the sun shone, Jemima would surely have delighted in seeing the waters of Loch Neagh shimmer with thousands of dancing dragonflies.

It must have been a beautiful vista, every summer, with the fields of Carrig-na-gule
blanketed with the blue flowers of the flax plant. Since 1952 there has been little flax grown in Northern Ireland, however in the early 1900's about 18,000 acres of land was planted with the flax plant. Carrig-na-gule was part of the thriving Linen Industry in Northern Ireland and for the White family flax provided a very substantial income. The family had domestic servants as well as farm labourers employed to help Sarah in the home and Hugh on the farm. Jemima Florence well may have loved the silky feel of the fine brown flax seed as a child, as she held them and let them run through her fingers. 40% of the flax seed is made up of oil which gives the seeds a soft feel similiar to soap. She may have watched the farm workers use the seed fiddles with a bow at the front which moved back and forth to rotate a dispenser which threw the seed in an arc onto the ploughed fields. The farm would have hummed with the 'singing' of the seed fiddles as the planting took place each spring. 
© Copyright Kenneth Allen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
If the weather was kind, at Carrig-na-gule, the harvest would have taken place in April, autumn in Ireland. Linen is the oldest woven fibre in the world and the growing of flax from which it is woven is a labour intensive process. The farm on which Jemima Florence grew up would have produced a fine quality linen because the year round damp conditions and moory ground were perfect for producing successful flax crops. Each year, when the blue flax flower appeared, life on the farm became very busy. After the harvest, the flax boles were placed in bogs where the fibres gradually separated beneath the water. The strong stench of the flax bogs would have been a familiar smell to the young Jemima Florence during the months of August to September each year. It was in one of these bogs where the flax lay in heavy layers in the murky waters, that the young Jemima Florence almost drowned after falling in and becoming trapped beneath the flax. She was lucky that a worker on the farm heard the cries of her sister and rescued her from a near death. The flax bogs were a dangerous hazard for children on these farms in Northern Ireland and many children were not so fortunate as

Jemima was.The school that Jemima and her siblings attended would have looked much like the one in the photograph below. 

Image Wikipedia ©©
There would have been no ride to school for these children of a busy farmer and his wife. The children would have walked quite a distance to attend the little school on country lanes that remained damp even in the dry weather. Perhaps when Jemima was very young, the household servant Minnie Coleman or later Lizzie Devlin might have accompanied her to school. In the 1901 Irish census, the family employed Minnie as a domestic servant and a Patrick Brady, as a farm servant. Both were of Roman Catholic faith unlike the family who were regular attenders at the Arboe Church of Ireland. In this same census Hugh is aged 30, Sarah 27, Violet 4, and William 2. Samuel John Clarke was born after the April census that same year.In the census year of 1901 the White family lived at Brookend, in the Electoral Division of Kilkopy, Parish of Ardboe in County Tyrone.

Church Ireland, Ardboe, County Tyrone Image Wikipedia ©©
Jemima Florence, along with her brothers and sister were all christened in the Arboe Church of Ireland Church. There are many White Baptisms and marriages in this church and quite a number of these Whites were cousins, aunts and uncles of Jemima Florence White. George R White who owned the farm next to Hugh White was most likely a cousin of Hugh's. George married Mary Eliza Harkness on 4 may, 1898 at the Albany Presbyterian Church, Arboe. One of George's daughters, Annie married John Watters. John and Annie were second cousins, through John's mother Sarah Louisa Watters (m.s.White). Both John Watters and Annie Watters (m.s.White) were known to be cousins of Jemima Florence. White. It is apparent that Hugh Eston White's father William White had relations if not siblings in Co Tyrone. William probably owned land in Co Tyrone which may account for his son Hugh White's move to Brookend in Co Tyone from Co Londonderry, prior to his marriage to Sarah Thompson. Many years later, in the 1970's, Hugh's son William Thomas White returned to Brookend for a visit. A cousin named John A Watters ( a grandson of Sarah Louisa White who married a Watters) who lives in Co Tyrone, has told me that he drove 'Willie' White all around Co Tyrone on that visit. Apparently William had commented on how slowly John drove. He had told John that at 'home' in Australia 'we drive very fast'. Jemima's sister, Violet ( married surname Baxter)returned many times to Brookend over the years to stay with a cousin, Violet Watters who still lives near the land on which Hugh and Sarah White farmed. jemima Florence's daughter, Charmaine also visited Brookend a few years go with her husband, Warren Sheehan and whilst there they visited Violet Watters. She excused herself for a moment, while they sat in her living room, and with true Irish hospitality, rushed into her kitchen to 'whip' up a fresh sponge cake, returning triumphantly with a cream cake to befit royalty!

Hugh Eston White and his wife Sarah (M.S. Thompson) both came from farming families in nearby County Londonderry. The marriage too place in St John's Church of Ireland, in the parish of Desertlyn, Cookstown in County Londonderry, on the 27 th of May, 1896. Hugh's address was given as Brookend, Co Tyrone and Sarah's address as Ballycomlargy, County Londonderry. Witnesses to the marriage were Thomas J Purvis and Margaret A Galway . It is likely that they were family friends or relatives. Above, is a map showing the proximity of the counties of Tyrone and Londonderry( Derry). Hugh was born in Londonderry on the 18 September, to parents William John White and Sarah McIlfatrick. William and Sarah were married in 1867 in the Churchtown Presbyterian Church, Tamlaght O'Crilly in the civil district of Margherafelt, County Londonderry. The couple had three children, Hugh, the eldest in 1868, Robert John born 21 June 1870, and a daughter, Mary Ann born 22 April, 1871, all born in Bellaghy, Ballyscullion, Magherafelt.

The parents of Sarah Thompson were Joseph Shaw Thompson and Sarah Jane Clarke. Joseph, a farmer, married Sarah Jane in 1858 in the Woods Chapel, in the Parish of Artrea, District Margherafelt in County Londonderry. Joseph's father's name is given as Andrew Thompson and Sarah's as Samuel Clarke. Witnesses to the marriage were John Marshall and James Lennox. The children of Joseph and Sarah Thompson were, Andrew, Samuel (birth dates unknown) James Richardson (1865), Martha Jane (1868) and Sarah in 1870. Joseph Shaw Thompson remarried in 1874, four years after the birth of Sarah and as his marriage certificate states he was a widower, it appears that Sarah's mother died somewhere between 1870 and 1874 when Sarah was only four years old. Joseph's second wife was Eliza Winning ( m.s. Hutchison), a widow. She had previously married Samuel Winning and had a son by him also named Samuel. The second marriage also took place in the Woods Chapel Artea, Margherafelt, Londonderry. In the 1911 census of Ireland, Eliza is aged 81 and is living with her son Samuel 44, wife Sarah Ann (m.s. Hutchison) and children, Samuel 7, Robert 3, John 2 and Elizabeth 8 months.

The 1858-9 Griffith's Valuation (land) shows Joseph and Andrew Thompson as occupiers of land in the Poor Law Union of Margherafelt,Barony:Loughinisland and the Parish of Artrea,Townland: Derrygarve in Co Londonderry. Andrew Thompson, Jemima Florence's maternal great grandfather died 8 february, 1876 in Largy, Co Londonderry. Both William White and Samuel Clarke are listed in the Poor Law Union of Margherafelt, Parish of Desertlyn and Townland of Ballycomlargy. The death of Samuel Clarke is recorded on 11 February, 1859 at Portstewart, Co Londonderry. Looking further back into history, in the Defenders of Londonderry list of 1689 the surnames of White, Thompson and Clarke appear, so it is very possible that these families were a part of the early plantation of Ulster

The probable origin of the surnames Thompson and Shaw was in Scotland while the White and Clarke families would have moved from England to Ireland. Only a few Mcilfatrick families appear to have been living in Ireland in the Tamlaght O'Crilly area in County Londonderry and this surname appears to also be of Scottish origin.

The 1911 census of Ireland shows Sarah White living at No. 9 Brookend aged 36, with daughter Violet Victoria,14, and sons William Thomas 12,and Hugh Thompson aged 5 years. Also at this residence on the night of the census was an uncle, John Clarke aged 75, a retired farmer and servants, David Guess, 36 and Elizabeth Devlin 24(both Roman Catholic). It is very likely that this domestic servant, Elizabeth Devlin is the same person who accompanied the family to Australia. She was always known as Lizzie by the family. Hugh was absent from the farm on that census night but can be found staying at 15 Victoria Terrace, Portstewart, Co Londonderry as a visitor of one Matilda Junk. Hugh aged 43 is accompanied by daughter Jemima Florence 8, and John Clarke 10. We can only surmise as to why Hugh and two of his children were visiting in Portstewart on that Sunday night. Perhaps one of the children needed to see a specialist doctor or perhaps they were simply visiting relatives in the area. It might be assumed that Matilda Junk may well have been an aunt on the Clarke side of the family and might have been the same Matilda Clarke who married John Campbell Junk in 1880 in Sandhills Presbyterian Church, Desertcreat, Cookstown.

In 1912 among the many signatures on the Ulster Covenant in protest against Home Rule in Ireland were those of Hugh and Sarah White. In the act of signing this petition, Hugh and Sarah demonstrated the strong feelings they had for their homeland. We can only guess as to how difficult it must have been for them to uproot their family and to undertake the long journey to Australia to make a new home for themselves.

Hugh White suffered ill health as a result of the damp Irish climate. On his doctor's advice he reluctantly agreed to immigrate. Hugh's first choice was Canada, where it is believed he had a brother. Canada was deemed as unsuitable a cold climate for Hugh's chest complaint as Ireland was and Hugh's next choice was New Zealand. Hugh's doctor made it quickly apparent that New Zealand was also not a climate in which Hugh could thrive. Sarah's siblings had all emigrated to New Zealand in the 1890's but in 1907, her eldest brother, Andrew had moved to Australia and established himself as a sheep farmer there. He had been allotted a property in a land ballot at Kaimkillenbun near Dalby on the Darling Downs in Queensland and had established himself there as a well respected part of the farming community. In 1913, Andrew Thompson sponsored Hugh and Sarah White and their children to emigrate to Australia.

This is brief account of the early years of Jemima Florence White's life in Brookend, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland as well as her Irish ancestry as far back as her great grandparents both maternal and paternal. Irish family history is not easy to trace from the distant shores of Australia. The Irish have been fairly slow to allow internet access to genealogical records and many valuable records were sadly lost in a fire in the record office in Belfast. In the future, I hope to add to this Irish family tree as more Parish records become more freely available and perhaps I may even visit the Emerald Isle myself to see where my grandmother, Jemima Florence White was born.

Hugh Eston White, his wife Sarah and children Violet, William, John, Jemima and Andrew left Ireland on board the ship 'The Aryshire'. They arrived in Brisbane, Queensland in Australia in June of 1913. In the next Chapter I hope to cover, 'A New Start' ,'The ship' 'Life on the Darling Downs', Seventeen Mile Rocks' and more.


Emerald Ancestors


The Ulster Historical Foundation PRONI ( Public Record Office of Northern Ireland)

To John A Watters who lives in Co Tyrone Northern Ireland and who has kindly looked up the Arboe C. O. I parish records for me and been a constant source of inspiration via email, Thankyou.

To my partner in the search for our White ancestry, and whose birthday I share, my aunt, Charmaine Sheehan (m.s. MacDade), my love and thanks for the support, information and photographs you have given me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

'history now comes equipped with a fast forward button' Gore Vidal 1925

I began researching my family history in 1998 after an elderly great aunt told me the story of her birth. She was not one for speaking of the past but on that day, she offered me a rare glimpse in to her childhood. She was born by the roadside after her mother who was in labour, found the trip in to the nearest town in a horse and buggy too rough.

She went on to tell me how she had run through sugar cane fields bare foot as a fearless young 3 year old despite the snakes that lurked there. With a wistful look in her eye, and passion in her voice, she painted a picture of the high standing Queensland farmhouse that was her home, of an old fashioned laundry beneath the house with nothing but a dirt floor, a copper for washing the clothes in and snakes for company. In the heat of the Queensland summers the snakes crawled up through the floorboards in the house to seek cooler air and her mother, my great grandmother, Lillie Herminnie Nargar, often had to beat them out of the house with a broom.

I listened enraptured as she recounted a story from her childhood. Her mother had gone to visit a family on a neighbouring farm and left the young four year old Dorothy at home with her father. Strong willed and stubborn and decidedly cross that she had been left at home, little Dorothy decided that she, also, was going to visit and took off on a short cut through the sugar cane felds. The cane was at its highest, ready for harvest and full of deadly snakes. She wore no shoes. Several hours later it became apparent to her family that she was lost and a search party was dispatched by her distraught parents. Four hours later, as the sun was setting, over the waving acres of cane, Dorothy arrived at the neghbour's farm, none the worse for her long walk and wondering what all the fuss was about!

I had grown up with a photograph of my great grandmother wearing a Land Army Uniform in our home and I had never even known she had lived on the land! I asked no questions that day and my great aunt died shortly after our meeting. I was left with a fierce longing to know more about my family but both my parents and all grandparents had passed away. If only I had taken an interest in my past earlier.

I had no idea where my mother was born. I knew she was living in New Zealand as a baby and until she was 5 years old from the few photographs I had. I knew nothing of my mother's father as her parents had divorced when she was very young. I had questions swirling around in my head and no one to answer them.

Time cannot be turned back and nothing can replace the stories told by those who own them. In hindsight, I regret that I did not ask my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and their friends so many things, but I am grateful that I live in an age of computer technology. A computer can never tell me how my great aunt ran barefoot through a canefield or how my parents met, but it has helped me to discover who my ancestors were and how they lived. from the facts I find through wonderfully helpful websites such as, , (and many others) I have found the names,addresses, occupations, religions, births, marriages and deaths of manyof my own and my husband's forbears. Not content to stop there, I have also traced their siblings and cousins.

By researching the places where they lived and what was happening in the world at the time they lived, I have been able to build up a picture of the past. Google maps and Google Earth can show us exactly where our ancestors lived. I have 'walked' down the streets and seen the very homes that many of my forbears lived in. History becomes very real when you look at the row of terrace houses where your coal mining great great grandparents lived in Glasgow in the 1800's or the beauty of the grounds of Heaton Hall in Northumberland where my great great great grandfather was the head gardner in the late 1700's.

Along the journey, I have learned some valuable lessons. As useful a tool that the internet is, it cannot ever really replace the 'real life' tales of the past that are past on verbally. These are the real clues to finding out about the lives of our past families. If you gather as much information from the family around you as you can, your computer will take you to places you haven't imagined. In a search for my maternal grandfather, which had been fruitless for some years, a google search of his unusual surname resulted in a match with a Facebook profile. I contacted this person on Facebook who is the son of my mother's first cousin. He lives in the USA but he put me in touch with his parents, cousins, who were previously unkown to our family. After exchanging a number of emails we arranged to meet ( no easy feat as we live in different states). We have since met up on more occasions and have become fast friends. On the way we have taken an amazing journey into the past. The internet has been our main vehicle of transport back in time but we couldn't have made the journey without the help of the memories of surviving relatives. These memories were the 'clues' that led us ever onwards and backwards and especially interestingly to the now infamous Uncle Rex. Rex Morley Hoyes, aka Rex M Morley-Hoyes, aka Rex Morley-Morley, aka Fessenden Charles Rex Morley-Morley, Viscomte de Borenden......

I think that the 'hunt', as we call it, for Uncle Rex has been all the more pleasurable because we have undertaken the journey together. So, for that, I must thank my newly found cousins and friends. As I said before, two heads are better than one......

The internet has led us to newspaper items about Rex's life, his occupations, marriages and divorces, his part played in WW2 and not least of all, his court cases! Even to the death of his sister in law in 1934, the first recorded death to be contributed to slimming pills. http://www.timesonline/ holds a fabulous wealth of information in the archives of the London Times. It is not always possible to visit Archives in person, especially if the family you are researching is on the other side of the world (most are if you live in Australia!) and without my trusty (so far) laptop I would not have taken exciting trips into many National Archives, War Memorials, Museums and Libraries all over the world.

Recently I and my computer ventured into the family history of my husband's uncle by marriage. His background was Norwegian. Now that was interesting! I speak no Norwegian. Norwegians had no fixed surnames until 1923.... and then there's a yacht with a very rude name!....... another story for another day. Sharn

Monday, November 2, 2009


Today I exhumed my forbears, dusted them off and took a pleasurable trip down memory lane. Before you decide that the buriel practices in my family are somewhat odd, I must explain that each time I encounter a dreaded 'brick wall' or seemingly the end of a search for ancestors, I carefully archive all information regarding my predecessors away in well labelled boxes. When I next resume a search for any particular ancestor I have my notes and sources at hand. 

With so many people in one's ancestry to find, it is easy to become preoccupied with placing names on the tree and forget about the people. I like to discover more than just a name. Once I have found an address through Census or Birth, Marriage and Death records a google search can reveal much about the address- if it is a freestanding house, a business or even the address of a bank as in the case of my great uncle Rex. Between operating a secret airfield at his Hampshire property during WW2, cruising the Mediterranean in his large yacht or busy acting as the Air advisor to the Nizam of Hyderabad (in the days before it became a part of India in 1948) Uncle Rex Morley Hoyes' addresses included (somewhat suspiciously) a Swiss bank, George V Hotel in Paris, Tangiers, Marjoca in Spain, Berlin among others. Clearly uncle Rex's addresses were a clear indication of the type of life he led. His Marwell Hall address in Hamphsire, was a home owned once by King Henry VIII which had been gifted to the Boleyn family. A google image search provides wonderful images of Marwell Hall and of the steam yacht 'Warrior', which sadly was requisitioned by the British navy in 1939 and sunk in the English channel in 1940 by 50 german planes. (yes it WAS that big!)

Now, how did I get onto uncle Rex again. He keeps popping up. I was talking about the ancestors in the cardboard boxes....Today, I decided to dig some of them up. I pulled old family photographs out in order to scan them to my computer - a  job I have been meaning to do for some time. Scanning was postponed, however, as every old photograph I looked at told a story about my ancestors. I marvelled at the changes in fashions over the generations. There was a wondeful photograph of my  great great grandmother Barabara Lena Haberling who came to Australia in 1871 from Switzerland as a 4 year old with her four daughters and son taken in the 1890's. I found five generation photo that appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail in October 1955 when I was 8 months old. The occasion of that photograph was my great great grandmother's 88th Birthday celebrations held in Maryborough. I suddenly wondered, how often does the five generations occur? In my case our five generations were all females - myself, my mother, my grandmother, my great grandmother and my great great grandmother. All mothers and daughters.

I spent a wonderful day pouring over pictures of old homes and farms, cars and buggies, weddings and baby pictures. Needless to say no scanning was done but I am determined not to leave the forbears 'buried' in their cardboard boxes for so long again. I recognised people that I had not previously known the identity of since last viewing the photographs and discovered clues to lead me in new directions. Over the years I have gathered family photographs from a number of family members and sometimes from unexpected sources. The email is a most useful way to connect to others. My motto is 'Be Bold' and send an email. Whether it is information I am looking for or photographs, I email everyone! I mean, they can only say no! And some do though I have generally found regarding genealogy people are extremely generous.

The old saying,'two heads are better than one' is most appropriate when it comes to family history. Someone else often has that missing piece that enables you to put the puzzle together. Recently I was looking for information about my husband David's great grandfather in New Zealand. We knew a little from a brief encounter with a half cousin some years earlier but with whom we had lost contact. I emailed almost every library in New Zealand with a request for information. A kind librarian in the Christchurch library, sent my email on to the Hawarden library, whereby another librarian sent it on to the Waipari Historical Society. The kind president there, John, cycled to his local library the very next day to look for the information I was asking about. John not only kindly found much of the information I needed, but what was most amazing, was that he found someone who knew quite a lot about the family I was searching for. After that round about generous journey, quite incredibly my new contact turned out to be the cousin we had met years before. He knew much more about the great grandfather he shared with my husband through different marriages. There's that 6 degrees of separation!!

Back to uncle Rex (I can't help it -he is most intriguing), I recently emailed an Air Museum in the UK. They had a moderate fee for information about the secret airfield that uncle Rex had built on the land at Marwell Hall. When the researcher at the Solent Sky Museum discovered something notable, that he had previously not known about this airfield, he was so excited that he waived my fee and sent me the information.

Some libraries have an 'ask a librarian' service which can be really helpful. I have been sent parcels of photocopied material at no charge through this service. The State library in Brisbane only permits you one question per year. I suppose the librarians need to go home occasionally! Don't worry if you forget and ask too many in any one year. Trust me the librarian will let you know.  'Mrs White. You have already asked your ONE question for this year. Please kindly remember, you are only permitted ONE question.' Infairness to myself, a year is a long time. It's easy to forget. (Actually, I knew that I had already asked my one question but I didn't really think they kept tabs!)

Well, I must go and study the death certificate that arrived from England today. It's great uncle Rex's. I'll have a new address to google and perhaps a clue as to how he came to be the Viscomte de Borenden after declaring himself bankrupt after not being paid by the Nizam of Hyderabad for flying in guns and ammunition to help Hyderabad from being gobbled up by India. Not to mention his arms trafficking for Israel and 'activities in France' post WW2 ( he was suspected of transporting displaced persons).

Do I seem obsessed with uncle Rex. he was, after all a 'Great' Uncle! MI5 didn't share my sentiments however and the 'Guy Liddell Diaries' (head of MI5 during the war) is full of objectional ponderings about him. I have so much more to discover about his colourful life. It will be some time before great uncle Rex is buried in a cardboard box!