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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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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Great-great signatures

One of the aims in my family history research has always been to fill in the gaps between the names and dates of my ancestors. This context of my ancestors' lives is fascinating to me - probably because the details are so obscured by time. Anyway, I love finding out a little bit of info here and there about their personal lives, their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their happy times and not-so-happy times. For me, this process brings them to life and makes me feel a bit closer to them.

In recent years, I've been fortunate enough to get my hands on some original documents with some of my ancestors' signatures - that is, the ancestors of mine who could write, or at least the ones who could sign their name.

Below are a few signatures of my great-great grandparents. What do they really tell us about the person behind the signature? Possibly a lot, possibly not much. Even so, I love looking at these signatures because they were created by the great-greats in our family. In some ways, I think their essence is somehow still visible in these signatures. What do you think?

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The signature of my great-grandmother, Margaret REILY (also spelled RILEY, REILLY, RIELY), on her marriage certificate in 1866.

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The signature of Margaret REILY in 1890, as Margaret NORTHCOTE, on bankruptcy records.

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The signature of Margaret's husband, William Walter NORTHCOTE, also on bankruptcy records in 1886.
At this point in time, he was going by the name, Walter Stafford NORTHCOTE.

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The signature of one of my great-great grandparents, George KINGSBURY, on his marriage certificate in 1865.

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The signature of George KINGSBURY's wife, Mary HOLLOWAY, one of my great-great grandmothers, on her marriage certificate in 1865.

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Mary KINGSBURY's (nee HOLLOWAY) signature on the 1911 UK Census.
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Any handwriting experts out there?

Friday, 25 November 2011

Digging into the records and finding gold diggings

In the convict chapter of my family history, I've been trying to track down where my great-great grandfather, Thomas Riley, and his wife, Harriet Lycett, lived after they were married at St Michel's Catholic Church in Bathurst on 27 November 1841.

By examining records like birth, death and marriage certificates, church baptism records, newspaper articles and convict records, I've managed to work out that they lived in Kelso, Bathurst and Orange. Thomas worked as a publican and a shoemaker over the years, so the family tended to live within the more populated towns of western NSW rather than living on far-reaching properties.

1835 Bathurst (Thomas’ convict records)
1841 Bathurst (Marriage certificate, Thomas and Harriet)
1843 Clear Creek, near Kelso (Daughter, Margaret’s baptism records)
1849 Kelso (Daughter, Fanny’s baptism records)
1849 Kelso (Daughter, Anne Jane’s baptism records)
1850 Kelso (Newspaper articles in the Bathurst Free Press)
1851 Kelso (Source: Newspaper articles in the Bathurst Free Press)
1851 Kelso (Source: Son, Thomas’ baptism records)
1853 Kelso (Source: Son, William’s baptism records)
1856 Kelso (Source: Son, Patrick James’ baptism records)
1859 Kelso, Roxburgh (Source: Son, Joseph’s birth certificate)
1859 Kelso (Source: Son, Joseph’s baptism records)
1861 Kelso, Roxburgh (Source: Daughter, Mary’s birth certificate)
1861 Kelso (Source: Daughter, Mary’s baptism records)
June 1864 Rankin St, Bathurst (Son, Edward’s death certificate)
1867 Lucknow, Orange (Source: Source: Daughter, Catherine's birth certificate)
1868 Orange (Source: Harriet’s death certificate)

However, it wasn't until I recently purchased their son's (Edward Riley's) death certificate from 1864 that I realised the Rileys lived for a time at the Wentworth Diggings, Frederick’s Valley where their son, Edward was born (Source: Son, Edward’s death certificate). Here is the excerpt from Edward's death certificate. Until now, this fact of their location in early 1864 had been hidden, especially since Edward's birth certificate has not yet been found.

Although most of the activity around the Wentworth Diggings in Frederick's Valley, near Lucknown, near Orange NSW occurrred in the 1850s, the following article on page 5 of the Sydney Morning Herald on 18 April 1863 suggests that there was still gold being found there in April 1863, just a few months before Edward was born.

Wentworth Diggings from the Central NSW Museums site:

Friday, 18 November 2011

Dear photograph - Dear me!

I was recently listening to Lisa Louise Cooke's podcast, Genealogy Gems, and she mentioned this nifty idea called "Dear Photograph". If you're interested in the past, change, families or photographs, you've got to have a look at this site. It's a very low tech way of mixing the past and the present in one easy click of your camera. All you need is:
  1. an old photograph
  2. a camera
  3. a place (get yourself to the place where the original photograph was taken)
If it sounds a bit weird, the best way to understand this technique is to see a few examples. Here is one example of my own Dear Photograph attempts. Here are my grandparents on a day out, taken at Central Station Sydney in the 1930s or 1940s, against a background of a recently snapped Central Station in 2011:
(Notice the stylish coats - you're looking at a tailor and a tailoress walking arm-in-arm.)

Here are a couple of my favourites from the Dear Photograph site:


Dear Photograph, If I could turn the corner in 1942 and walk right into my mother, I’d ask her “May I walk beside you one more time?”Love, Your Daughter


Dear Photograph, Those were the days, when Mom would put us in matching clothes. Fabio

I love this technique and think it would be a great way to get children to think about the real link between the past and present. It's also a great way to link the history of your family with the present. Happy snapping ...

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Memorial poetry about a much-missed mother

Margaret Ann NORTHCOTE (nee RILEY)

Margaret Northcote, nee Riley, had nine sons who were born between 1860 and 1887 in the NSW towns of Orange, Bodangora (near Wellington), Dubbo, Warren, Girilambone and Bourke.

Margaret lived to the good age of 84 years old. Here is a photo of her shortly before her death with two of her sons (Alf and Leo) at the front of the home she was living in at Five Dock.

All of her sons adored their mother and were very distraught when she died on 10 May 1927 at the home of her youngest son, Leo, in Five Dock (a suburb of Sydney). Her sons were known to regularly visit and tend her grave after her death. Here is Leo, her youngest son, near his mother's grave soon after her death in 1927. A year or so later, Leo met his future wife at this spot - at the foot of his mother’s grave while visiting the Field of Mars Cemetery one weekend. See the story: Love in the graveyard.

Soon after her death, some of her sons published lamenting poems in memory of their dear mother for three years on the anniversary of her death in 1928, 1929 and 1930.

The first memorial poems were published on page 10 of the Sydney Morning Herald, Thursday 10 May 1928:

In silent prayer and aching heart
I watched you day by day,
Although I loved you dearly, mother,
I could not make you stay.
The silent grief that’s in my heart
No human eye can trace,
For many a broken heart
Lies hidden beneath a smiling face

Inserted by her loving and lonely son, Leo

~ ~ . ~ ~

My heart just aches with sadness
For the face I cannot see.
God alone knows how I miss you,
Oh, why, why must it be.

Inserted by her loving son, Alf

~ ~ . ~ ~

Dearer to memory than words can tell,
Thoughts of a mother we loved so well.

Inserted by her loving son and daughter-in-law, Percy, Mary and grandchildren

~ ~ . ~ ~

Love’s last gift – remembrance.

Inserted by her loving son and daughter-in-law, Carew, Edie and Joyce

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A beautiful memory left behind
Of a mother ever so gentle and kind.
We have lost, heaven has gained
The dearest mother God ever gave.

Inserted by her son, daughter-in-law and grandson, Will, Mary and William Northcote

~ ~ . ~ ~

Two years after Margaret's death, her sons were still publishing memorial poems about their mother. These poems appeared on page 10 of the Sydney Morning Herald, Friday 10 May 1929:

In tears I saw you sinking, mother,
And watched you fade away.
It’s God alone knows how I miss you
As it dawns two years today

Inserted by her loving son, Leo

~ ~ . ~ ~

Time may pass and bring its changes,
Fresh with every coming year.
But your loving memory I will cherish, mother.
Is the heart that loved you dear.

Inserted by her loving son, Alf.

~ ~ . ~ ~

One of the best that God could send,
A loving mother right to the end.

Inserted by her loving son, daughter and grandson, W. Northcote

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For all of us she did her best,
May God grant her eternal rest.

Inserted by her loving son and daughter-in-law, Carew, Edie and Joyce

~ ~ . ~ ~

Even three years after her death, memorial poetry by three of her sons were still being published in the newspaper. The following three poems were published on page 13 of the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday 10 May 1930.

Till memory fades and life departs,

You will live forever in our hearts.

Inserted by her loving sons, Alf and Leo

~ ~ . ~ ~

Sweetest memories are all that are left,
Of my dear mother, who has gone to rest.

Inserted by her loving son, Will, and family

~ ~ . ~ ~

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Ancestors in the movies?

Whether or not you have any ancestors who had links to the movies, you may be interested in Thomas MacEntee's Geneabloggers podcast/radio special being broadcast live next Friday night (18 Nov 2011, Chicago time or 11am, 19 Nov NSW time) about ancestors and their connections to movies.

Most of my ancestors weren't that famous. Some were infamous but that's another story ...

Even so, this topic has got me thinking. You see, my mother's family lived for many years in Beverly Hills, a suburb of Sydney. This suburb was known for its movie theatre. It was especially popular for its Saturday lunchtime movie sessions.

Beverly Hills was originally called Dumbleton, not a particularly attractive sounding name in my opinion. The local residents were of the same opinion and they lobbied to have the name changed to Beverly Hills around 1940. Beverly Hills was known as a suburb in Sydney that boasted one of the first movie theatres. Hence, those who grew up in the suburb during the 1940s and 1950s were frequent movie goers. My mother's family, the WALTERS family, built their home at Beverly Hills in Sydney in 1940:

So, that's one slight connection my ancestors have with the movies.

Here is how downtown Beverly Hills in NSW looks today.

File:Beverly Hills Sydney.jpg

The mystery of Henry NEWTON's death date ... solving one mystery reveals other mysteries

One of my great uncle's was Henry NEWTON. He was one of my great-grandmother's (Margaret Ann RILEY) nine sons. What I know of Henry has been passed down to me through oral family history traditions and the rare bits of information he left behind in a scant document trail that I've tracked down through my family history research over the years.

Born in about 1861 in Orange, NSW, Henry's parents were Henry (aka Harry) NEWTON and Margaret Ann RILEY. Henry Snr and Margaret had two children, Henry and Thomas. Margaret later married William Walter NORTHCOTE and had seven more sons.

Coming from a family of grave visitors, I was accustom to visiting Henry's grave, along with other ancestors' graves, from a very early age. Henry had died even before my father was born, so the only knowledge we had of Henry was from my grandfather, Henry's step-brother. The absolute date of his death wasn't a hot topic of conversation so this oral knowledge about Henry's death was lost to the ages when my grandfather died in 1970.

So, when did Henry die? Well, let's consider the "facts":

His gravestone records his death as 21 May 1936:

His funeral notice on page 9 of The Sydney Morning Herald on 22 May 1930, records his death as 21 May 1930:

So, was he born in 1930 or 1936. I suppose at this stage of solving the mystery, I was tending towards thinking he died in 1930 - it's difficult for a newspaper to predict his death in 1936 but it's not so uncommon to have a mistake on a gravestone through transcription errors.

Another piece of information was tracked down ... the cemetery office records. Despite the date on his gravestone, the cemetery office records (accessed online through the Deceased Search: http://www.catholiccemeteries.org.au/) definitely show his date of death as 21 May 1930.

So, by comparing more than one source of information, the mystery of Henry's death date was solved, long after his close relatives had passed away. As far as we know, Henry didn't have any children so there were only nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews who remained to put the record straight about Henry's death. So, it was triangulation to the rescue. Without it, I would have remained unsure about his death date. Although his grave stone remains incorrectly marked, there are enough records that have survived to show evidence that he died in 1930, not 1936.

Why did this error occur? I can't say for sure but I guess that stonemason may have made the error when interring other family members in Henry's grave, after Henry's death in 1930. The funny thing is that there are two other family members buried with Henry and knowing their death dates puts forward more questions ...

Henry is buried in the same grave as one of his nephews, Leo Percival NORTHCOTE (known as "Little Leo") who died in a tragic car accident at a very young age of 11 on 17 November 1935. So, if Henry NEWTON's gravestone was reconstructed at the time of the death of Little Leo in 1935, how could the year of 1936 be added to the gravestone when this date was in the future. Surely, someone from a family known for being regular grave visitors would have noticed this error.

Another question has also surfaced in the process of solving the mystery of Henry's death date. The cemetery records indicate that one of Henry's step-brothers, Percival Ernest NORTHCOTE (also Little Leo's grandfather) is buried in this grave. However, Perc died in 1958, years after Henry and Little Leo died (in 1930 and 1935, respectively) yet Perc's details are not recorded on the gravestone. The grave must have been opened to bury Perc and then the gravestone must have been replaced, although Perc's details were not added. Why?

So many questions ... so many dead ancestors who've taken the answers with them.