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My passion is genealogy and family history. I host a podcast about Australian family history, Genies Down Under. In my day job, I work as a lecturer and a researcher in higher education, teaching pre-service teachers.

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Tuesday, 15 March 2011

What were they really like?

Are you like me ... wondering what your ancestors were really like? I love the experience of collecting dates, photos of old houses, names of people, names of places and old wrinkly papers and photos. All of these facts, figures and photos are fascinating. However, I can't help but wonder and imagine what the lives of my ancestors were like between and beyond the records they have left. Were they happy? Were they generous? Were they kind to their neighbours? What were their worries? What were their regrets and their joys? What did they like to do if they ever had spare time? What did their voices sound like? What did they laugh about?

From my experience of researching my wonderful family's history, I often get the most exciting information from unexpected places. Recently, my Mum and I were searching random phrases and old addresses on the internet. "Type in 13 York St, Forest Lodge," said Mum, remembering the address her first home as a child in Sydney. Her first few years of life were spent in this small terrace house in inner Sydney with her parents and her paternal grandparents, the Walters family. Apparently, her grandmother, Margaret Walters (nee Fleming) was known to spend most of her pension money on my Mum, her only grand-daughter at the time. This old lady would spend hours and hours looking after her small grand-daughter on the tiny front verandah of this terrace house.

Photo of the house in 2010

After typing in the old address where the Walters family lived from the late 1930s, we found a little snippet of information - it may not sound much to others but to us it was very touching. It was a notice on page 1 of the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 30 December 1932. Obviously the family had been shopping at the David Jones store a few days before, probably in the city. They had found a purse in the store and took the trouble to put an advertisement in the paper in an attempt to reunite the purse with its owner.

Mum and I both smiled when we found this tiny treasure in the form of a newspaper clipping. "So, they were honest!" It's funny how a small discovery like this can extend your understanding of people who are long gone. Their deeds live on in many ways. Of course, we'll never know if the owners ever contacted the Walters family to claim their lost purse but what we do know is that the Walters family took the trouble to attempt to find the owners.

Margaret (nee Fleming) and John Walters lived at 13 Forest Lodge from about 1909 until the late 1930s. Margaret was known to walk to the tram station to meet her husband on his way home from work and they would walk back home, hand-in-hand, to 13 York St, Forest Lodge, like a couple of sweethearts. They were my mother's father's parents, my great-grandparents.


  1. I'm preparing a talk on Google for genealogists and will remember to add the tip to search for old family addresses - one never knows what one will find.
    Trove is certainly overflowing with treasure.