Saturday, 28 January 2023

Are there family secrets between the men and not the women?

 A family secret came to light because my great-uncle Gus (Thomas Augustine O'NEILL) told his brother, Cyril. Before he died, Cyril told his daughter, Monica, and she told me a few years ago.

Thomas Augustine ("Gus") O'NEILL 1908-1998

Gus told Cyril that he was paying child support for the child of a female friend of his. This baby wasn't his, but he was a beautiful, generous man and was doing this to help his friend, and I guess, to spare her some shame in the insular mining town of Cessnock, New South Wales, in the 1920s and 1930s.

The child was actually fathered by the local Catholic priest. Gus was aged 18 in 1926 and 28 in 1936, so I have concentrated on those years. Using Trove, Electoral Rolls on Ancestry, and the Official Directory of the Catholic Church in Australia website I was able to compile the table below of which priests were based at Cessnock parish during this time. Nobody alive can be sure about which priest (if any) is the baby's father, but hopefully if one of that child's descendants is ever curious they'll have some information to start working from. Obviously, this child and their descendants won't show up in my DNA matches. In case their family story is this Gus was their father, I have added a comment to Gus' public profile in Ancestry to state otherwise.

I don't know that Gus ever told any of his five sisters about this, but he did tell his brother. I know that women keep their own secrets within a family, for example, that somebody "had to get married", that someone else went away for a few months to stay with an aunty and came back thinner than they left, and stories like that. Hearing this story from Monica made me wonder if there are certain stories that are only passed around by the men in a family. 

What do you think? Do you have any family stories that are particularly gendered?

Saturday, 5 March 2022

Why original documents are best

My great-great-grandfather was Henry Burgess GIBB. He was born in Paddington (an inner-city suburb of Sydney) in 1864, and died near Teralba, near Lake Macquarie, New South Wales in November 1901. He died in his tent as he worked as part of the unemployed relief works at the railway. The coroner suggested that his fatal wound was self-inflicted, which is sad to read, especially about a relative. Henry had a letter from his father, John GIBB, on him when he died, so thankfully he was able to be identified. There are a few newspaper articles outlining the gory details if that's your thing...The Teralba Suicide, Brevities, and Supposed Suicide.

Henry is fascinating to me. He fathered my great-grandfather, Andrew Gibb BARRETT (aka George Andrew BARRETT, and later George Andrew (Andy) COLLINS) who was born in the Sydney Benevolent Asylum in 1885. I've written about Andy here. The baby's mother was Ada BARRETT (nee MORRANT). Her husband, William Joshua BARRETT, was in Goulburn Gaol for the attempted murder of their infant son, William James BARRETT. During his incarceration, Ada has had a relationship (of sorts) with Henry. Did Henry know about baby George/Andrew? Henry didn't marry or have any other children that I could find records for. Did Henry's family know about this baby that was fostered into the COLLINS family at Wallsend, New South Wales? Thankfully, a paper trail left by the Sydney Benevolent Asylum named Henry as the father, and Ancestry DNA has since proven this to be true.
Ancestry has the Registers of Coroners' Inquests and Magisterial Inquiries, 1834-1942 in its database, and this dataset popped up as a hint about the death of my Henry. 

The transcription has the place of death as the Railway Cinedeiration; Near Teralba. Without looking at the original I presumed that Cinedeiration was a specific but obscure railway term that I might one day find out the meaning of. One night I was Googling for the meaning and found nothing. I was about to look for a railway enthusiasts group to enquire with when I thought I should have a look at the original in case they wanted to see a copy of it. 

What was obvious when I saw the original was that the place of death was actually the Railway line deviations, which makes a lot more sense! No need to hunt down a railway group, and look silly in the process. This is why it's important to view the original record rather than rely on a transcription.

I've since edited Ancestry's transcription, to make the record more easily readable for future researchers. 

Friday, 3 January 2020

Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2019, as prompted by Jill from GeniAus

Thanks to Jill from GeniAus for kicking us off in 2020 with her Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2019.

1.  An elusive ancestor I found was Les Snider, a half-brother to my grandfather, George Millard Kerville. I only found him because the boy's mother, Marion Snider, was advertising in the Melbourne newspapers for my great-grandfather, Leo Brenell Gabriel, to claim child maintenance from him. The poor little mite died at six weeks, only two weeks after the Police Gazette entry. He was admitted to the Receiving Depot for Neglected Children at Brunswick, Victoria. Very sad.

2.  A great newspaper article I found was in the Kyneton Observer in 1875, where my great-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Ambrose, was sent to gaol for 14 days for house-breaking and larceny. She was 16 years of age at the time. More research required!

3.  A geneajourney I took was all the way to London for my first RootsTech!

4.  I located an important record: rates assessment notices for a property my 4G-aunt, Helen Brownlow Dixon Cruckshank, used as a boarding house in Macquarie Street Sydney in the late 1800s. I'm writing her biography at the moment. I say at the moment, but it's been five years in the pipeline. I'm determined to have it finished by the middle of January when my three-year university course starts.

5.  A newly found family member, Marilyn, shared information on her ancestor, who is a brother to my ancestor. Then I was lucky enough to meet up with her at DNA Down Under in Sydney in August. Another newly found cousin was Penny, a descendant of convict Esther, from England but living in Finland. She flew to London to meet me, which was fabulous. Also Bella, another one of Esther's descendants. She lives in England and we spent my last day there visiting some churches as well as Bevis Marks Synagogue.

6.  A geneasurprise I received was a distant DNA match with genealogy & Facebook friend Maureen.

7.   My 2019 social media post that I was particularly proud of was consolidating many years of research and speculation into a blog post about the 16 children of my ancestor, Esther Salamon Spencer.

8.   I made a new genimate who lives nearby, Regina. We met up prior to travelling to London. Before our lunch date I thought "Do I really have time for this?", but when we did meet we had a million things in common & I'm so glad I made the time.

9.  A new piece of technology or skill I mastered was DNA painting, thanks to Jonny Perl's website.

10. I joined the crowd of Aussies going to RootsTech, along with my 3rd cousin Cheryl. We had a fantastic time.

11. A genealogy education session or event from which I learned something new was RootsTech London!! What an amazing experience in so many ways.

12. A blog post that taught me something new was: all the posts written by State Archives, the National Archives of Australia, The National Archives UK, etc. I love seeing what's new, and the tips they provide.

13. A DNA discovery I made was visual phasing, thanks to Blaine Bettinger at DNA Down Under in August, although it will take some more practice before I'm proficient.

14. I taught a genimate how to interpret their father's y-DNA results

15. A brick wall I demolished was figuring out all of Esther's 16 children when there were only 13 that we could account for up to now (see #7)

16. A great site I visited was (not a website, a real site) 3 churches and a Synagogue in London where some of my ancestors were baptised. Seeing Stonehenge and St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle was pretty special too.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was Nathan Dylan Goodwin's novels, as well as meeting the man himself!

18. It was exciting to finally meet Blaine Bettinger in August at DNA Down Under where I was lucky enough to be an Ambassador.

19. I am excited for 2020 because the NSW state conference is being held fairly close to home, in Newcastle. I'll still stay onsite though, so I can easily join in with the after-hours get-togethers and spend more time with friends who have travelled from further away to be there.

20. Another positive I would like to share is back in March I attended a UTP event at Ryde called Researching Your Irish Ancestors, because I have lots of them. One of the speakers was David Rencher from FamilySearch. He blew me away with the breadth of his knowledge about his subject matter, in all the talks he presented. When I was in London for RootsTech I couldn't get into the talk that I wanted to because it was oversubscribed, so I chose a beginner's FamilySearch talk just because David was the presenter. Although I'm frequently on FamilySearch, I still learned things at this talk. I went to see David at the end to tell him that he was THE best presenter I'd ever heard, & he was gracious about the praise, but I think he was happy to hear it as well.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Meeting author Nathan Dylan Goodwin

While at a RootsTech London pre-conference dinner in October I finally got to meet genealogical crime mystery author Nathan Dylan Goodwin, whose books I have written about here. My father is a DNA match with his aunt, and while he has cracked the case and worked out the exact link, I don't recognise any of the family names.

My relative, Barry, lives near the setting of Nathan's books, so he gave me a guided tour of his local area and all of the prominent locations. We visited Rye together, the location of Morton's home, The House With Two Front Doors. It was a dream come true to visit Rye. It's long been on my list of places to visit, and to have Barry as my local tour guide was fantastic.

Barry & I in Rye
What's left of The Asylum, the setting of Nathan's most recent book

What's left of The Asylum, the setting of Nathan's most recent book

Hailsham Anglican Church

Hailsham Library

The Kings Head Cacklebury where Morton & Juliette had their first date

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

History Week at State Archives Kingswood

In September a few friends and I attended a celebration for History Week at State Archives in Kingswood, NSW. This included a tour of their back rooms and kilometres of archival shelving.
The number of stories contained in this shelving is enormous.

Monday, 9 December 2019

Convict bonnet exhibition and book launch for They Sent Me North

Looking back over 2019 it has been a wonderful year for family history, with many conferences attended, my first trip to England for RootsTech London, and the launch of a book I contributed an ancestor biography to.

On 30th July, I went with Maria from the Genies Down Under podcast to the Lovett Gallery at Newcastle Library to attend a book launch and Blessing of the Bonnets as part of a worldwide female convict bonnets exhibition. There were over 1000 bonnets on display, lovingly made by a descendant of these convict women, or a volunteer.

Since 2007, Dr Christina Henri has been working on Roses from the Heart, the first ever memorial to the 25,566 women sentenced as convicts and transported to Australia from 1788 to 1853. Roses from the Heart invites people from around the world to make and contribute a servant's bonnet to symbolise the life of each convict woman. The link to Newcastle and the Hunter Region of NSW is a strong one, with many female convicts being sent there from Sydney. My ancestor, Sarah Morris, was one of these women, arriving with her daughter, Jane. Stories about these women and their lives were compiled into a book They Sent me North: Female Convicts in the Hunter. The night was a collaboration between the Newcastle Family History Society, Maitland and Beyond Family History Society, and the Raymond Terrace Historical Society.

Roses from the Heart

Cr Loretta Baker, Mayor of Maitland
Dr Ann Hardy, University of Newcastle

Left: Jane Ison, Newcastle Family History Society
Centre: Vicki Osborn, Maitland & Beyond Family History Society
Right: Dr Christina Henri, Roses From the Heart project

Melodie Woodford, Newcastle Family History Society

Vicki Osborn, Maitland & Beyond Family History Society

Jane Ison, Newcastle Family History Society
The bonnets were blessed by
Left: Rev Dean Andrew Doohan, Dean of Newcastle Catholic Church
Right: Very Reverend Katherine Bowyer, Dean of Newcastle Anglican Church

My convict's bonnet

My convict's bonnet was sewn by Roma from the Maitland & Beyond Family History Society. A huge thanks to Roma for her talent and generosity. Sarah Morris arrived on the ship Princess Charlotte in 1827. Her two-year-old daughter, Jane, arrived with her, so Roma has included a teddy bear motif around the bonnet to symbolise their shared journey to Sydney. I love that the bonnets were displayed on washing lines, highlighting that washing and laundry tasks were traditionally women's work.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

RootsTech London 2019

In November I returned from a 2-week trip to England where I attended my first RootsTech extravaganza. I arrived the weekend before so I could spend a few days with relatives in Hailsham, East Sussex. The conference ran for three full days, and I squeezed in everything possible so as to maximise my time there. I was lucky and had won a free pass from John at Antecedentia.

Jill from Geniaus is an experienced RootsTech attendee and she organised a dinner the night before for us Aussies. Meeting a few other people was great, although I already knew most of them from previous conferences in Australia. It's great to catch up with genie friends anywhere, but especially in London. There were around 50 Aussies there, among the almost 10,000 attendees. At our conferences in Australia we're lucky to have 400 people, so this was like genealogy on steroids for me.

Jill & I at the pre-conference dinner
The conference was held at the ExCeL Conference Centre in London's Docklands area, which was an easy walk from my Canning Town accommodation. The Thames looked beautiful and calm each morning. ComiCon was on at the other end of ExCeL at the same time, and the range of costumes and the enthusiasm of those attendees was great to see.

View from ExCeL Conference Centre

View from ExCeL Conference Centre
The subjects were a mixture of basic and advanced family history, with a predominately UK focus, some European and Jewish strands, plus DNA of course. We could keep track of all our classes on an app, which had room allocations and a link to the handout as well. There were 11 classes in each timeslot. I started off by putting a star next to my favourites, but had to narrow it down to only one in each time, which was really hard. My clones will hopefully be operational by the next conference I attend.  I prioritised speakers that I had come all that way to hear, such as Jonny Perl, Maurice Gleeson, and Myko Clelland. At least one of the classes was oversubscribed and the extra attendees were not allowed to enter. I ended up choosing a basic FamilySearch talk, which was still great because David Rencher is a fantastic speaker. I still learned some things even after many years of family history research and conferences. To make sure this doesn't happen again the RootsTech organisers could ask us through the app to rank in order of preference the talks we want to go to, so they can calculate what size room is required.  

Keynote speakers were historian Nick Barratt (a favourite of mine), TV presenter Dan Snow, Olympian Kadeena Cox, and performer Donny Osmond. I'm a little (but not much) younger than his usual demographic of fans, so while he was speaking I took the time to look through the exhibition hall while it was relatively quiet. 

Exhibition hall 

My 3rd cousin, Cheryl, flew over just for the conference. Jill interviewed us and our main message was that the distance doesn't matter, just come anyway.

We tried to get as many Aussies in one place for a photo.....

Photo courtesy of Jill from Geniaus

Fellow UTAS alumni from the Diploma of Family History also gathered for a photo...

Regina, John, myself, Janet 
My 4th cousin, Penny, came over from Finland for one of the days, and I was thrilled to meet her, although we are both kicking ourselves that we forgot to take a selfie!

I would definitely come back for another RootsTech in London. I loved every single minute of my trip. One day I'll make it to RootsTech in Salt Lake City, when there's enough of a gap in more local conferences to attend, and a money tree starts growing in my back yard :)

Friday, 11 October 2019

16 children, all finally accounted for

While researching the land petitions and dealings of my convict ancestor, Esther Salamon Spencer Stubbs Bigge, I came across a document (1) at State Archives New South Wales which quoted:

That your petitioner has been a resident in this Colony thirty seven years during which period she has resided in Phillip Street Sydney and maintained herself and a numerous family by her own industry.
That your petitioner has had sixteen children Ten of whom are now alive and also Twenty one Grand-children now living.
1831 letter to Colonial Secretary (1)

This letter was written for Esther by someone unrecorded to the Colonial Secretary of New South Wales in 1833, Lieutenant-General Governor Ralph Darling. She is petitioning for a town allotment to build a house upon. I don't think she was ultimately successful as she died in her Phillip Street house in October 1855 (2).

Death notice for Esther Bigge, 1855 (2)

There have been several publications outlining Esther's children, but these could only account for up to 13 of them.

Children to convict John Fitz
1. Susannah 1797-?
2. Joseph Clark 1799 - 1800

Children to convict Thomas Stubbs
3. Mary Ann (my 4x great-grandmother) 1801 - 1860
4. Thomas 1802 - 1878
5. Sophia 1803 - 1803
6. Cecilia 1805 - 1896
7. Elizabeth 1808 - 1888
8. Annie Esther 1809 - 1837
9. George 1811 - 1838
10. John Emery 1812 - 1836
11. Godfrey 1814 - 1814

Children to husband Joseph Bigge
12. Robert 1816 - ?
13. Louisa Merrite 1817 - 1854

So where did this claim of having 16 children come from?

In the New South Wales register of Births, Deaths and Marriages there are a few entries that don't quite add up. This is pre-1856 so we only have baptismal register entries to work from.

Firstly, the child named Susannah. In the indexes there are two baptism entries per child, but Susannah has four. Looking carefully at the microfilm copy of the register it appears that Esther gave birth to a Susannah on 23 July 1797 and another one on 28 December 1798, 17 months apart.

So we have:
#1 Susannah Fitz, born 23 July 1797, baptised 20 August 1797, father: John Fitz
#2 Susannah Watson, born 28 Dec 1798, baptised 03 March 1799, father: Michael Watson

Baptism of Susannah Fitz on 20 Aug 1797 (3)

Baptism of Susannah Watson on 03 Mar 1799 (4)

Although there is no death record to be found, it looks as though Susannah Fitz died before the birth of Susannah Watson, and Esther has used the same name again to remember her infant daughter. One of these girls went on to marry boatbuilder, Thomas Day, in 1816. This must have been Susannah Watson because this same woman died on 24 April 1832, age 33 years as per her death notice in various Sydney newspapers. My conclusion is that it was more likely to be the child born in 1799, as the other child would have been 34 years old at that time.

Susannah Day death notice - Sydney Herald 1832 (5)

The same woman was in the New South Wales Census (6) in November 1828, age 29, in the household with Thomas Day and their children. Being age 29 on that date corresponds with Susannah Watson's year of birth.

Portion of New South Wales Census 1828 showing the Day family (6)

So with the two Susannahs, we've gone up to 14 children out of 16.

Next comes Elizabeth. It looks like there were two Elizabeths as well as two Susannahs.

One was born on 15 March 1807 and baptised on 03 December 1809, age two years and eight months.

Baptism of Elizabeth Stubbs on 03 Dec 1809 (7)

The other was born one year later on 11 March 1808 and baptised along with six-month-old sister, Ann, on 18 October 1808, age 16 days. This Elizabeth lived to adulthood, marrying John Jones and dying in 1888 at age 80. Her headstone at Rookwood Cemetery shows her date of birth as 11 March 1808. I love it when there are birth dates as well as death dates on headstones. It makes it so much easier for us genealogists to narrow down the right person.

Baptism of Elizabeth Stubbs on 18 Oct 1808 (8)
Grave of Elizabeth Stubbs Jones at Rookwood (9)

Having two dates of birth recorded makes these Elizabeths obviously two separate girls. Why would she call a second daughter Elizabeth when she already had a living one? Why was the first Elizabeth baptised after the second Elizabeth was baptised? I live in hope of finding the answers to these questions.

We're up to 15 children now.

When Esther arrived on the Indispensible in 1796 she arrived alone. Looking at newspaper accounts of her trial in London in 1794 she claimed to be pregnant, although this was not mentioned at her trial, just in newspaper reports pleading for clemency. Firstly, I was not surprised that she would claim to be pregnant. Who wouldn't, if it would save you from the death penalty?

Extract from the Sun newspaper, London, England, Monday 21 July 1794 (10)

Conditions within Newgate would surely be detrimental to a healthy pregnancy, moreso to a newborn baby. I haven't found a baptism for this child, but I'm sure Esther would not have forgotten the existence of this child as she got on with her life in New South Wales. The child might have been miscarried, stillborn, or born and lived only a short while. Whatever happened, Esther would have surely counted this child in her tally of babies that she had given birth to throughout her life.

16 children. All acknowledged, and none forgotten.

1. the Newgate pregnancy 1794
2. Susannah 1797-?, daughter of John Fitz
3. Susannah 1798-1832, daughter of Michael Watson
4. Joseph Clark 1799-1800, son of John Fitz
5. Mary Ann 1801-1860, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
6. Thomas 1802-1878, son of Thomas Stubbs
7. Sophia 1803-1803, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
8. Cecilia 1805-1896, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
9. Elizabeth 1807-1809, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
10. Elizabeth 1808-1888, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
11. Annie E 1809-1837, daughter of Thomas Stubbs
12. George 1811-1838, son of Thomas Stubbs
13. John Emery 1812-1836, son of Thomas Stubbs
14. Godfrey 1814-1814, son of Thomas Stubbs
15. Robert 1816-?, son of Joseph Bigge
16. Louisa Merrite 1817-1854, daughter of Joseph Bigge

(1) Colonial Secretary’s Letters relating to Land 1826-56, item no 2/7801, reel no 1093, document no INX-14-4989. State Archives New South Wales, accessed 6 Oct 2019.  
(2) Family Notices (1855, October 29). Empire (Sydney, NSW: 1850 - 1875), Monday 29 October 1855, page 4. Retrieved October 7, 2019, from  
(3) Baptisms from New South Wales Births Deaths Marriages index for 1797. Microfilm viewed at State Archives NSW, accessed 25 Sep 2019.
(4) Baptisms from New South Wales Births Deaths Marriages index for 1799. Microfilm viewed at State Archives NSW, accessed 25 Sep 2019.
(5Family Notices (1832, April 30). The Sydney Herald (NSW: 1831 - 1842), page 4. Retrieved October 7, 2019, fro    
(6) New South Wales Census 1828, State Archives New South Wales, accessed 07 Oct 2019.,contains,NRS-1272&sortby=rank&offset=0
(7) Baptisms from New South Wales Births Deaths Marriages index for 1809. Microfilm viewed at State Archives NSW, accessed 25 Sep 2019.
(8) Baptisms from New South Wales Births Deaths Marriages index for 1808. Microfilm viewed at State Archives NSW, accessed 25 Sep 2019.
(9) Grave of Elizabeth Stubbs Jones, Find A Grave, memorial ID 199553957, accessed 11 Oct 2019.
(10) Sun (London, England), Monday July 21, 1794; issue 565. Accessed 11 Oct 2019.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Some genealogy-themed music

So not only do we have blogs and websites and Facebook groups and societies and podcasts and conferences and even universities all dedicated to genealogy, we also have some excellent music. Canadian guitarist, Michael Stewart, has written several catchy songs around the theme, his most popular being "The Genealogy Widower" which was highlighted on Lisa Louise Cook's podcast.

Michael has a YouTube channel where you can listen to his songs, including The Genealogy Widower, Genealogy Gems, 10 More Minutes, Who Do You Think You Are, and an instrumental called Paper Airplanes. Follow Michael on his Facebook page as well.

Michael Stewart