#52 Ancestors: Beginnings

I love the start of a new year, it is a chance to start afresh and after a terrible 2020 it something I certainly need. For over 12 months due to health problems my family history research has been unfocused and random so my new years resolution is to put my formal researcher’s hat on again.

To help to get back into it, I am back to using the word prompts from Amy Crow Johnson’s 52 ancestors in 52 weeks to get me writing again so I can share tree information with my family and discover more about my ancestors and the reasons for some of the life changing decisions they made. Her week one prompt is Beginnings and as you can see I am beginning the new year with new resolve in undertaking family history.

My other new years resolution is to dig further into the Biggs family tree I have managed to research and confirm our Biggs family line back to James Biggs senior from Potterne in Wiltshire in 1724. Now if I can find out more about the exact land they farmed and maybe take it back another generation or two I would be very happy.
I hope 2021 leads us to some new and exciting places.

Sweet and Sour Sweet Peas

As a child of the 1950’s I grew up in a family that ate dinner together every night promptly at 6pm, just half an hour after Dad arrived home from work. Dinner was eaten at a large laminated table in the middle of the kitchen. It was a place that served many purposes not just for eating. It was used for doing our homework while Mum kept an eagle on our progress while she cooked dinner, a table for cutting out patterns for our new dresses, or a riotous game of monopoly with groans of ‘we haven’t finished yet’ when told to clear the table for dinner.

The dinners may not have always been to my liking but you can be assured the food was plentiful and nourishing even though it was routinely ‘meat and three vegs’. Friday nights were my favourite as it was regarded as Mum’s night off with the dinner supplied by the local take away fish and chip shop. Mum’s familiar words nearly every Friday ‘now that was a nice piece of fish’ are now embedded in family history and bring a shared chuckle whenever repeated at family gatherings.

After such a standard diet for descendants of English heritage the opening of a Chinese Restaurant in our quiet little suburb proved to be the wedge that started to change our eating habits. Mum’s night off could now be extended to take away Chinese. We ordered the usual surburban Chinese meals that were common back then, spring rolls, chicken chow mein, sweet and sour pork and of course fried rice. While my experiences have made me wonder about the authenticity of those Chinese meals I would have to say that those plastic containers filled with strange concoctions of unrecognisable vegies, meat and sauce changed my eating habits for ever.

It was Dad’s job to order and pick up the take away and, I suspect, encouraged by our big brother, Col, the quantities ordered always seemed to result in lots of leftovers. My memories of one meal in particular saw my mother throwing up her hands saying there is just too much and the resulting leftovers being consigned to a large hole in the garden.

Never one to miss a chance at a few more flowers the newly dug patch seemed like the ideal place to plant some sweet pea seeds and as it was the St Patricks Day it seemed auspicious that they were planted on that date. Now whether it was St Patrick or all that left over sweet and sour pork I don’t know the sweet peas flourished, growing to enormous heights and covering the side of the house in incredible rainbow coloured flowers for weeks.

Every year I now plant my sweet peas on St Patricks Day and remember the love, laughter and togetherness of those early family meals and the wonders of sweet and sour pork as a garden fertiliser!

#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: 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

FT
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: 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

#52 Ancestors: Dear Diary

How wonderful it would be to come across a diary written by one of my ancestors, but no such luck.  I shouldn’t be surprised as I don’t keep a diary myself although now I think about it maybe that is the role that facebook now plays. There are lots of moments that I write about maybe only mundane things like the weather, sometimes a recipe I like or maybe photos of family gatherings or holidays that I want to remember.  Sometimes it’s even someone or something from the past that I cherish. Not everyone will be interested but in some ways, it is a chronical of my life and the people I love. So here’s to the social media version of a diary … Facebook you have your place as a recorder of history.

Knitting

With winter well and truly here, the urge to knit has taken over. It is a very soothing and satisfying way to spend a cold winter’s day. As I was knitting, I remembered that the needles I was using belonged to my Mum and while they have little dollar value I do treasure them.

knitting mum

It would have been a rare thing for any family to purchase a knitted garment in the 1950s. My Mum knitted for the entire family, everything from baby jackets, school jumpers to thick pullovers for the outdoors, her hands always busy with her knitting needles. Everything was knitted with love, and that seemed to make anything she made extra cuddly and warm.

Mum knitting_2 copy

Even when Mum was in her nineties, she still continued to knit, and many of the family received her lovely coathangers. She also made a special one for her oldest granddaughter Jeanine to hang her wedding dress on.

coat hanger

As for Mum’s needles, I have been remiss in failing to teach my daughter how to knit, so I am not too sure who will end up being the keeper of the knitting needles. I do know that my sister in law is wonderful at crocheting and I will have to pass on Mum’s crochet needles to her. Like my Mum, every stitch Michelle does is made with love, and I have been fortunate to be a recipient of one of the beautiful crocheted blankets, so I know that she will carry on the tradition.

knitting

#52 Ancestors: Nurture

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.

Alice Mary Biggs

Alice Biggs c 1912. Photo in Biggs family collection

Emily Biggs

Emily Biggs c 1912. Photo in Biggs family collection

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 

#52 Ancestors: Road Trip

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.

49 Holidays mum tony carol

Our Vanguard and Mum with a couple of swim stars

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”.

nrma

An NRMA strip road map. MAAS collection 2011/73/1

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”.

30 Caravan Tony

Mum and Dad with Tony at Coffs Harbour Caravan Park

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?