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: At Worship

St Thomas Enfield

St Thomas Anglican Church, Enfield

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.

anna grave

The headstone of Stephen Biggs, his wife Margaret and their daughter Anna in the cemetery of St Thomas Church, Enfield

#52 Ancestors: Out of Place

Our Aunty Rose

aunty Rose

Our Aunty Rose with her grandniece, Rachael

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

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.

Brick Wall

The one brick wall that causes me the most grief is for my 4 x great grandfather Hugh Chisholm. Even my Chisholm family history mentor and cousin Audrey from New Zealand haven’t been able to help me crack where he was born. I know from my DNA and the link is in Scotland but I can’t seem to shift him from England when he married in Yorkshire in 1795. He was a miner so I am now checking all records that I can find with the name Chisholm or similar who had an occupation as a miner as it was a job that was almost automatically taken up by the children. Fingers crossed something comes to light

Prompts for April

Just so I won’t get lost decided to post the April prompts on my blog.  Now to think about what I am going to write.

Week 14 (April 1-7): Brick Wall
Week 15 (April 8-14): DNA
Week 16 (April 15-21): Out of Place
Week 17 (April 22-28): At Worship

In the Paper

sketch-chissyWith a prompt of “in the paper” I couldn’t go past my great grandfather, Alfred Wilson Chisholm. Born in New Zealand in 1867 he migrated to Australia and became a newspaperman, eventually becoming editor of some of the smaller publications in Northern Queensland. Unfortunately, in collecting the news he tended to drink too much and even before it was named “fake news” he found it necessary to sometimes bend or even invent a story.  A scandal erupted because of his actions in setting up a prank and reporting it as a fact, this saw his career and marriage shattered. One thing that came out of it was a sketch of Alfred published by the “Truth” newspaper as part of a story on the scandal. It is the only image I have been able to find of him. If you would like to read more click here.