As I go through the family tree and look at all the members of my family that fought in conflicts around the world I feel so sad for all those young men whose lives were lost or their futures irreparably damaged by war. Another family member who I have not mentioned is from my mother’s Chisholm side of the family. Robert Stanley Chisholm was one of my New Zealand first cousins and like my Uncle Roy, he joined the RAF during the Second World War and lost his life flying in a bombing raid over Europe. You can read more about him by clicking here.
There is a strong link to farming on both sides of my family, not that unusual in any family tree. However, my 2 x great grandmother, Margaret Henderson had an enormously strong connection to her beloved family home of “Seven Oaks” in Kent. So much so that the farm they purchased at Homebush near Sydney was named Seven Oaks in its memory. I wondered if there was anything else in the records that points to a DNA memory of the love of the country life.
When the Henderson family immigrated to Australia they settled in Newtown, and I initially thought, here are a family who like the hustle and bustle of the city, the big smoke. That was not the case. They had moved to the country suburb of Burwood by 1858, a very different place than it is today.
Thomas Henderson’s son Charles must have enjoyed this move as he described this area in “Recollections”. Surrounding the area where they lived was Edrop’s Bush where he was captivated by the birds he saw there.
“Close to our residence was Edrop’s Bush, consisting of about fifteen acres of the original forest. Edrop’s Bush was the home of many birds. Any birds coming to the district would naturally make for so fine a shelter. Here one might see large hawks, cranes, moorporks, kookaburras and gill-birds when in season. I saw a kookaburra dart down on a snake here and carry it to the top of a tall tree, then drop it, and repeat the process. The Kingfishers had a nest here in an old leaning apple-tree. Small birds were also plentiful, yellow robins, black caps, silver eyes, yellow hummers, ring coachmen, the diamond bird, a ventriloquist and many others. Then there were Blue Mountain parrots, King parrots, parroquits and green leeks in their season, but there were no magpies that I remember except the peewhit.”
Charles Henderson “Recollections”
Source: Trove, National Library of Australia
Certainly not the Burwood we know today!
Charles also mentioned that the family were friends with Mrs Charlotte Barton and “her talented daughter, Miss Louisa Atkinson, a great botanist”. Well of ahead of her time, by the 1860s Atkinson was aware of the impact of European agriculture on native flora. She wrote about this on several occasions, making such statements as “It needs no fertile imagination to foresee that in, say, half-a-century’s time, tracts of hundreds of miles will be treeless”. What an amazing woman to have a connection with through family.
You can read more about her on this National Library site: https://www.nla.gov.au/blogs/behind-the-scenes/2015/05/20/the-road-to-louisa-atkinsons-nature-notes.
One other passage from her writings still remains very true today:
In these busy times, and in the universal pursuit of wealth which characterizes the universal state of things among us, the beauties of nature are in danger of being overlooked. We believe that there are many old inhabitants … who know little of the natural history of this great continent. Confined to the town, and engrossed by its pursuits, as they are, the thousand wonders of the creation vainly invite their attention. Perhaps a few remarks on our natural history, in a simple and popular style, may be acceptable.
The trigger word for this week was Nurture and it seemed appropriate with Mother’s Day almost here. Instead of a mother though, I have examined the life of one of my “maiden” grand aunts, Emily Biggs.
It is so easy to overlook the lives of these unmarried women when doing family history as they had no descendants, but it is often the case, that these women who were regarded by society as unfulfilled spinsters held the family together in tough social and economic times and that is certainly true in the case of my unmarried grand aunts.
Emily and her older sister Alice, raised my father and his younger brother after their mother was admitted to Callan Park. When their youngest brother, Francis turned to them for support they continued a family role of being capable, responsible and loving carers to his sons as well as a major source of support to their brother during a terrible situation.
Both Emily and her sister Alice had a great impact on my father and his brother Fred and I think of them with kindness and thanks that due to their care and concern the two young boys grew into wonderful, loving and caring men. Thank you so much Aunty Em and Aunty Al.
To read more about Emily click here
It was not until the early 60s that my family owned a car, and the meaning of the word road trip came into existence for us. By that time there were only two little fledglings left in the nest, my 6-year-old brother, Tony, and myself a somewhat temperamental 13-year-old. These road trips almost seemed like a rite of passage as I changed from a child to an adult wanting the security and support of my family but fighting for the need to be independent.
Our two-tone Vanguard built like a tank and appropriately named after a British battleship, had a spacious interior, a heater (no air conditioning in those days) and no radio (although as anyone in my family will tell you I was not averse to singing whether appreciated by the rest of the family or not). The car would be loaded the day before all ready for an early start on the big day so that we could “beat the traffic”.
My father was not a confident driver, and he took his job preparing for the trip and keeping his family safe extremely seriously. Apart from servicing and fastidiously cleaning the car including making sure the rubber strip was hanging from the bumper bar to prevent car sickness (did that really work?) he also made a trip to the NRMA to order strip maps for our specific journey. Not only did they tell you what route to take and distances between towns but also exciting places to visit. On every trip, I hoped that I would be allowed to hold the maps which were like the holy grail to me. How proud I was to be trusted with them making sure we would not get lost and telling Dad about every approaching curve in the road.
While it is almost traditional for siblings to fight when on a road trip, whether it was the roominess of the rear seat or the large difference in our ages it seemed that I grew closer to my little brother during these trips sharing the scenery as it zoomed past without having to fight for a window seat. Maybe it was because he put up with my singing and didn’t try to take possession of my road maps?
My mother’s role in all of this was to see bags were packed with appropriate clothing and most important of all the provision of refreshments for our journey. The cake tin, chock-a-block with homemade cake and biscuits, a thermos of tea, homemade sandwiches or a loaf of bread and “the makings” and cold drinks packed into the boot with instructions to make sure “it’s easy to get to”.
Arriving at our destination was only half the fun. My Dad was a cautious driver making for a slow trip with pulling over for tea and a snack and stops at places of interest. My Dad was certainly an early adopter of what we today call “slow travel” where it is not just about the destination but the journey as well. As part of that philosophy, we would naturally turn off the road to a motel or a caravan park after four or five hours driving (including stops) with the standard comment from Dad “that’s enough driving for one day”. Instead of flying past the small towns that dotted the coast it always allowed time for us to see the “sights”, try our luck at a bit of fishing off the pier or have a dip at the local beach.
These trips created the most beautiful memories for me and are also part of our family’s story. When I think of my parents the memories of these road trips seem to bring them to life. Did they know they were creating cherished memories, that would last not only long after the end of the journey but all through my life?
Down through our family history, the connection to religion and church has been strong whether they were dissidents in 18th Century England (my 4 x great grandfather James Biggs from Potterne); leading the establishment of the Orange Order in Northern Ireland (John’s 4 x great grandfather, The Rev George Maunsell from Carlow in Ireland); being an itinerant Wesleyan preacher in the untamed bush of New Zealand (my 2 x great grandfather, Joseph Wilson Chisholm); or coming as immigrants to a new country and finding a place to worship (the Henderson family).
After immigrating to Australia, my 2 x great grandfather Thomas Henderson, his wife Margaret and their children worshipped at the Church of St Thomas at Enfield after they established themselves on a farm at Strathfield. It is also where my great grandfather Stephen Biggs married my grandmother Margaret Henderson on 19 February 1859.
Built of sandstone in the style of a typical English Village Church it is in the grounds of St Thomas that you will find the graves and headstones of many pioneering families including the final resting place of many of the Henderson and Biggs family who were the roots of our family in Australia.
Our Aunty Rose
As my sister said in Aunty Rose’s eulogy, every family should have an Aunty Rose. We were one of the lucky ones that did, and I remember Aunty Rose being the Aunt that brought laughter and fun to our many family gatherings.
It might be said that she is “out of place” on our family tree. You see Rose Margaret Francis parents were Thomas Francis, of Barbados, West India and Rose Margaret Isherwood, from what would be called a “colourful” New Zealand family. They had two much older daughters, Evelyn and Norah who were 14 and 12 when Rose was born.
Rose is not a blood relative on either side of our family but rather a lifelong friend of my mother, Hazel. She was my mother’s closest friend, her confidant and support through good times and bad. With no children of her own, it seemed natural that she should become Aunty Rose when Hazel’s children were born. Their relationship was so close that Hazel’s first daughter was named Margaret Rose in her honour.
Aunty Rose was raised in a very strict household with her friendships monitored closely and few being found to be acceptable. Fortunately for Rose, my mother Hazel was well regarded by her family even though she was four years older and their friendship grew throughout their lives. Rose talked little of her family, but much later in life, she described her family as “dysfunctional” and a cause of mental health problems that beset her.
It was not until after Aunty Rose’s death that I was contacted by one of her relatives in New Zealand, a very friendly and funny young woman called Belinda, a relative of Rose Isherwood, who was researching her family tree. Together we started to unravel Aunty Rose’s life story and that of her family. It took some time, and much frustration before the evidence confirmed that Francis and Rose were not her birth parents, though formal documentation leads us to believe this.
Rose had married Walter Sharpe in 1947. Rose’s maiden name on their marriage certificate was Rose Margaret Francis, but her birth date was incorrect, the first hint that something was not quite right. Working back in time, she was Rose Margaret Faulkner-Francis in the 1943 census. A solid hint that we needed to look for a birth certificate for a Faulkner in the year of Rose’s birth. It was then that we found her correct birth details. She had been born to Frances May Faulkner, a single woman who had died during childbirth. Whether she was boarding with the Francis family or had been befriended by Mrs Francis is not known, but Mrs Francis undertook the death notification and funeral arrangements and unofficially adopted her daughter raising her as her own.
The information makes little difference to me and my family. So today I am adding her to our family tree and have to say she is definitely not “out of place” to me.
DNA can be somewhat of a contentious and confusing issue but for someone like me it is incredibly helpful and slots in well with solid research when tracing a family tree. DNA has shown me that you can’t always believe oral history handed down through the family and you can’t always believe the formal documentation that more often than not you use for proof.
It was thanks to a DNA test that I “met” a very close match online. I thought I had thoroughly researched my family history over three generations but this relationship did not appear and given the match, it should have. I have a huge amount of collated information, oral family history, birth certificates, court notes, newspaper articles that I have used to prove that William Shute, my grandmother’s husband, is my grandfather. My match was descended from the Doherty’s so we compared notes/trees and realised that my Shute connection was unlikely. A descendant of my supposed grandfather William Shute kindly agreed to have her DNA tested and there was no match.
My grandmother separated from her husband very early in her marriage and to all intents and purposes Jack Doherty became her husband and my mother’s father. My mother was told that Jack was not her biological father when she had to provide a birth certificate on her marriage. Her birth had been registered under William Shutes name probably to ensure her legitimacy. My mother was very distressed to be told that Jack was not her biological father but she always regarded him as her father and the man that had raised and loved her.
For me, this makes DNA testing worthwhile and our family celebrated the confirmation that our Pop was definitely our biological grandfather as well as the Pop we loved. I can imagine this would not be the experience in other cases and why some are wary of having their DNA checked.