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.