About Biggs family

Retirement has given me the time to really delve into my passion for family history - not just the facts but reading about the times and places where they lived and gaining an understanding of what their lives would have been like.

#52 Ancestors: School days

We all have those school photos where we are lined up in rows with our classmates for our annual school photo. It is nice to look back on them and wonder what happened to all of our fellow students.

For my Mum, her early years of school in Brisbane were not happy ones. With her coffee-coloured skin, that turned a few shades darker from playing in the sun, and black hair she drew the attention of the school bullies who decided that she was an “Abo” and not worthy of their friendship. I can imagine her tears as the word’s and behaviour that were cruel and thoughtless made her feel ashamed and humiliated.  Such overt racism was prevalent in the 19th and 20th centuries and, it is not difficult to imagine the psychological damage that such loathing towards her caused making her feel less than her classmates.

Her parents did all they could to make her feel proud, telling her she was really an Indian princess (think of the sari’s I could wear if that were the truth!) and finally removing her from the State school and placing her in the local Catholic school where thankfully she was accepted for the beautiful young girl she was. By the time they had moved to Sydney, she had a large group of friends and recognised that the comments from her childhood were meaningless.

My research and DNA results confirm that my mother was not Aboriginal, nor any other dark-skinned race. I have to admit to being a bit disappointed at this as it would be wonderful to have such ancestry. The dark colouring comes from her Scottish Chisholm heritage with many of the NZ Chisholms sharing the same colouring.

My Mum was probably around eight years old in this school photo, attending Dutton Park Primary School in 1923. She is the fifth child from the left marked with an X (Mum did this so that we knew which one was her).

Mum school 1923

Has anything changed much? I had to laugh when my daughter came home from High School one day (yep, she has the olive skin and dark hair) to say that the “Greek” girls thought she was one of them and wanted to know which part of Greece her family came from!

#52 Ancestors: At Work

Mum Cake shop.jpgMulled over this trigger word a bit as there were so many choices. I decided that I would share one of my favourite photos of my Mum, Hazel Edith Biggs (nee Chisholm). Before she married she worked in a cakeshop and it is here that my memory lets me down so I hope my siblings can remind me. I think the shop was in Beverly Hills and she managed the shop front and sales assistants.  Mum is the one in the middle marked with a small x. She remained a life long friend with the owner who I think was called Sid Ward. Anyway here is the photo … I can almost smell the cream buns!

#52 Ancestors: Tragedy

When you research family history you come across some many tragedies that have occurred over the years and wonder at the resilience of the family and their ability to keep on going. There can be no greater tragedy than the death of a child and while in years gone past it was expected that infants may not survive and illnesses such as tuberculosis and other infectious diseases preyed on the young and the frail what an awful thing it would be to lose a child through a tragic accident.

This is what happened to the Biggs family when their daughter Caroline Elizabeth Biggs who was only three years old died in 1869. The terrible pain this must have caused as they struggled to understand why, withstood the investigation and outcomes of the coroner’s inquiry and finally attempted to put into place all those things required of mourning in the Victorian era.

You can read more about the story of Caroline and her family by clicking here.

#52 Ancestors: Comedy

dorothea maunsellTo find something suitable for this trigger word I have had to resort to my husband’s family tree and the Maunsell family. Dorothea Maunsell, John’s 5 x great aunt, was born to Thomas Maunsell and his wife, Dorothea (nee Waller) about 1750.

Dorothea’s father was a wealthy Dublin barrister, king’s counsellor in the court of the exchequer and MP for Kilmallock, co Limerick. His wife was descended from the landed Irish gentry and grew up in Castle Waller in Kilnareth. As would be expected during this period in history, as the family patriarch, Thomas had selected a suitable husband for his daughter by the time that she had entered her early teenage years.

Around this time the famous Italian castrato, Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci, was successfully appearing in operas and concerts in the British Isles. He was both good looking, personable and at the height of his operatic powers. Lured by high fees to Dublin in 1765, the castrato became a guest and music teacher in the house of Thomas Maunsell. The stage was now set for what I can only describe as a grand operatic farce.

Dorothea was not happy with father’s choice for her husband and she rejected his attempts at matchmaking. In her book The Castrato and His Wife, Berry described the relationship between Dorothea and her music teacher as “a crush” on the part of the young women and that Tenducci had developed a genuine attachment to her. To me, Dorothea appears to be a calculating young minx manipulating Tenducci to escape an unwanted marriage. The pair eloped and were married by a bedridden Catholic priest in the parlour of a private house in Cork. As she was underage and Catholic marriages were not valid in Protestant England they would both have been aware that the marriage was not legal.

Attempts to stand their ground against the fury of the Maunsell family and the extensive newspaper coverage that gripped the imagination of the lascivious public were useless. Dorothea even published her own account of the marriage A True and Genuine Narrative of Mr and Mrs Tenducci, representing herself as the victim of parental cruelty and judicial intransigence.

In 1768, Dorothea gave birth to a son, whom Tenducci claimed as his own.  Dorothea, bored with the novelty of her marriage, had started an affair with a rich, young man, William Long Kingsman. Once again Dorothea took action to remove herself from the life she did not want and again eloped, this time with Kingsman, her lover, who was the child’s real father. Another clandestine wedding took place, now with her father’s full consent, returning to England where the union with Tenducci was annulled on the grounds of non-consummation.

Tenducci, though apparently devastated by the loss of his wife, returned to London, where he remained a favourite with concert audiences. A final brush with the bankruptcy courts in 1788 sent him back to Italy for good, and two years later he died in Genoa of an apoplectic fit.

Dorothea does not appear to have paid a high price for her manipulation or wicked behaviour. She went on to have four children to William Kingman and remained married to him until his death in 1793 when she was in her early forties. She did not remarry and died in 1814 in London.

Now, all it needs for this comic opera to be complete is some musical genius to transport it to the stage, and hopefully, they will not portray Dorothea with too much sympathy!

#52 Ancestors: Sister

After writing about my grandmother’s brother with the trigger word of ” sister”, it seemed appropriate to look at her only sister Ethel Edith Chisholm.

My mother remembered that the two sisters did not get on and she recalled having no contact with her aunt after they left Brisbane to live in Sydney. Once again I turned to the “Chisholm Cameos” written by Audrey Barney to find some clues to her life.

To read more about her click here

# 52 Ancestors: Brother

Albert ChisholmWith the trigger word of ” brother”, it reminded me of my grandmother’s “missing” brother. I think it most likely that the connection was severed when her brother became a Baptist minister.

My grandmother, Hazel Annie Chisholm,  had separated from her husband after less than two years of marriage. She began a relationship with a Catholic who was the love of her life and my grandfather. When she sent her daughter to the local Catholic school I imagine that this would have been the final straw for Albert who had wholeheartedly become a Baptist. This would have meant strong opposition to divorce and the holding of anti-catholic/papist sentiments.

Thanks to his granddaughter, Robyn Rayner and the Chisholm family researcher, Audrey Barney, it is now possible to share his story. To read more about him click here

#52 Ancestors: Easy

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My early attempts to trace my ancestors was a pen and paper effort, not only was it difficult but also frustrating. Today it is so much easier with the internet. So many records and documents are easily accessible especially those related to Australia.

Searching for family history has become big business but for all that, some may complain about the cost of Ancestry or similar genealogical sites, it has really revolutionised the process of maintaining a tree and searching records and connections.

It’s great to have so many tools available at my fingertips – but I also relish the times when I leave the screen and keyboard behind. There is nothing like a trip to an old cemetery, or browsing through the original records at the State Archives but best of all are the opportunities to meet up with a newly discovered relation to share information. Easiest of all is when one of them has already done loads of research, like Audrey Barney, my New Zealand Chisholm cousin, who has researched and published a book on this line of the family.

For me, it is a perfect retirement hobby and the use of technology has made it so much more accessible. There is one glitch though. Secrets about the past are an emotional and psychological inheritance, passed on across the generations, and I can feel the effects of it even in my own life. I am also aware that some of my ancestors would be turning in their graves to think that all of the family secrets are now available for anyone to see. What was once a family secret and kept hidden for years if not centuries is now regarded as an incredible find and celebrated!  Times have certainly changed.