When I started this blog, it was to supplement our family tree on Ancestry, to turn basic facts into a little bit of a story and share some ideas of what I thought my ancestors were like in order to bring us closer to them. I wanted to make them not just a name and a set of dates but people who have made us what we are today
There are so many places to go to find out more about our ancestors’ lives within a historical context. My favourite place is old newspapers. Trove an online site of the National Library of Australia (https://www.nla.gov.au/) is just that, a treasure trove. In the section on digitised newspapers, I have found everything from memorial notices that summarise their lives and how they were regarded by the community, articles that had been written by my ancestors that shed light on their opinions and tales of the hardships they faced whether it be accidents, drought, or bankruptcy.
Sometimes an ancestor has led me to research an occupation I knew little about. My 4 x great grandfather was a miner in Northern England. Historical research abounds in this area, and it filled in so many details of what life was like for him, his family and the community where he lived and worked. The research also led me to historical fiction which has brought it to life for me. The Durham Trilogy by Janet MacLeod Trotter which follows the lives of families in the mining village of Durham is one example. I had never heard of a “clippy mat” where the women would cut up pieces of old cloth and thread the pieces through hessian until I read these books. The mats were made as floor coverings to keep feet warm in the cold northern England winters, and I can imagine my female ancestors sitting around the fire in candlelight working on the mats.
World War 1 and 11 records held by the National Archives of Australia are extraordinary resources that have helped me discover so much about my family’s war history. Where they are gaps in the written records the Australian War Museum provides incredible information on the regiments they belonged to, where they fought and the conditions they experienced (https://www.awm.gov.au/). A visit to the museum even provided an experience of flying in a Bomber over Europe in WW2. It gave me just an inkling of what my Uncle Roy experienced before he was shot down over Germany in 1943.
The more I research the more I can put my ancestors lives in context. I am no longer satisfied with the basic facts, these are just an introduction to their story and I hope through some of my stories that I have managed to bring them to life for others in my family.
One of the family heirlooms that I treasure is a pair of plates that I think of as Harvest plates. They are majolica glazed bread platters with a moulded corn pattern and “Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread” in relief around the edges. My mother treasured these plates and they were only used on very special occasions. I especially remember them being brought out on Christmas day for our family feast. She told me they were from the Chisholm side of the family and were probably given to my great grandfather and great grandmother, Alfred Wilson Chisholm and Sarah Ann (nee Wood) as wedding presents.
The plates were made at Lithgow Pottery around 1890. The business closed in 1896 as a result of the 1890s depression. As the pottery was only in operation for 20 years the quantity of pottery coming onto the market from this source is limited. Similar examples of this type of pottery are held in the Power House Museum in Sydney.
Bread platter, ‘Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread’, earthenware with majolica glaze, Lithgow Pottery, Lithgow, New South Wales, Australia, c. 1890. From the Biggs family collection.
My favourite maps that I used to help work out the lives of my Shepherd ancestors is an old Southern Highlands map. The first map was created in 1830 when a plan of eight allotments were created at Bong Bong for Veterans from the battle of Waterloo. Pinpointing where they lived provided me with a major clue about their lives and the historical events that surrounded them.
Veterans’ allotments at Bong Bong in 1830. State Library of NSW.
The veterans were offered an engagement in Australia for two years to help rid the countryside of bushrangers. The rates of pay were relatively generous and on discharge that received a free grant of land. The eight allotments at Bong Bong were granted to William Chater, John Gilzan, Samuel Holmes, Enos McGarr, Christopher Rhall, Lynn Shepherd (my 3x great grandfather) and brothers Thomas and William Wood (my 4 x great grandfather).
Both my ancestors arrived with the Royal Veterans Corp within a year of each other. My 4x great grandfather, William Wood, arrived in 1825 on the ship the Catherine Stewart Forbes. He took up possession of his grant in 1839. My 3 x great grandfather, Lynn Shepherd, arrived on board the Orpheus in 1826 and took possession of his grant in 1830.
Each allotment was of 80 acres between Eridge Park Road (then known as Old Bong Bong Road) and the Wingecarribee River. They were given rations for 12 months, and they had to remain on and cultivate the land for seven years before being granted ownership.
The next map I came across provides names on each allotment. It looks as if not all the Veteran grantees did not take up their land or found life too difficult on the harsh swampy land but both my ancestors continue to be listed as landholders.
When I look at it against a map of today I can see why I feel so at home in this part of the world. Their allotments on what is now called Eridge Park Road are less than ten minutes walk from our back gate!