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: 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.

#52 Ancestors: Challenging

the drovers wifeToday women who take up the challenge of successfully combining home and family with a career are often labelled “superwomen”. Having attempted to do the same I greatly admire those women who from necessity or desire take this road and are able to balance their home and life without burning out. I used to think how great it would be to live in a time when men were the breadwinners and the women had only the responsibility to look after home and children.  One thing genealogy has taught me is that my female ancestors did not have an easy time, and I doubt that I could cope with the challenges they faced throughout their lives.

In tracing my ancestors, it is clear that households were a patriarchy; men controlled every aspect of the household. Women acted as subordinates to men. Men were the decision-makers usually in charge of all household finances even if their wife provided some income either through their dowry/inheritance or by selling produce that she grew or made. The man was the owner of all property of the household and women rarely spoke against or divorced their husband. Women could not vote, own land while married, go to a university, earn equal wages, enter many professions, and even report domestic abuse. Would I be willing to live without my education, my work and the recognition of my contribution to our family and the community as a whole…definitely not!

My ancestors were middle class and the women were responsible for running the household, for cooking and feeding the family, tending the garden and animals, raising their children and of course, seeing their husband’s needs were met. While I nod my head thinking I could probably do that then I remember not only the labour-saving devices we have today but also that simplest of “luxuries”; running water at the turn of a tap, sewerage whisked away unseen, light and heating at the touch of a button So no thanks, I will forgo that challenge as well.

My 2x great grandmother, Margaret Henderson (nee Crosby), gave birth to eleven children between 1838 and 1858, or the average of one child every two years. All except one infant survived to adulthood. Women assumed that after marriage children would follow promptly and regularly and that is certainly the case with nearly all my married female ancestors who had at least six children unless they died in childbirth. With no birth control, the prevailing sense was that children just ‘came’ and that there was little to be done about it, besides it was also regarded as a married woman’s duty.  Babies were born at home, usually with the assistance of family or a “midwife” with no formal training. With no anaesthetics or antisepsis, childbirth was both dangerous and painful. Married women regarded it as their place to endure this suffering. Given most of my ancestors abided strictly by their religious beliefs I am sure the woman in labour was reminded of the quote from Genesis (3:16) while they were in labour “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain, you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.” So no thanks to that challenge as well!

My maternal ancestors were amazing when I think of the lives they endured. Would I take on the challenge of trying to live like them? The answer would have to be a definite no… I can already hear my husband suggesting that a “scold’s bridle” would be definitely needed for such an argumentative wife.

#52 Ancestors: Independence

I have wondered what made my great grandfather, Alfred Wilson Chisholm, leave home and family in New Zealand and strike out on his own in Australia. I can only think that it was his bid for independence.

He was one of eleven children being raised in a strict Methodist family. His father was a lay preacher and all of the children were expected to attend Sunday School and Bible studies as well as sing in the church choir. The Methodist religion frowned on gambling and the drinking of alcohol both habits that Alfred took up during his life in Australia.

Although he had a good position in a printer’s firm and was learning the trade it appears that he wanted adventure and freedom especially from the rules and responsibilities of being in a family setting.  By moving to Australia he had a chance to go out and conquer the world and as far as records show he never returned to his family in New Zealand. To read more about his life click here