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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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Thursday, 7 January 2021

Finding family history facts in the DARNdest of places

There are so many sources to find family history information ... old letters, certificates, conversations with relatives, the list goes on. Over the last few days I dug out a very old craft project that I started over 20 years ago - a candlewicking quilt that I began sewing in the 1990s. 

In an old calico bag, along with a bunch of quilt squares that might one day become a whole quilt, I found my paternal grandmother's old embroidery hoop that had been given to me many years ago as a memory of her.  For those not familiar with the tools of embroidery,  fabric is stretched between two hoops to hold the fabric taut, making it easier for the embroiderer to hold and sew the fabric. The fabric is stretched between two hoops, the outer hoop being slightly larger than the inner hoop.

My paternal grandmother, Ellen Mary/Maria KENELLEY, became Ellen (Nellie) NORTHCOTE when she married my paternal grandfather in 1930. She was born in in the nineteenth century, in 1893, she died in the twentieth century, in 1985, and is remembered today in the twenty-first century. She used to call embroidery "handiwork". Her embroidery hoops were used by her when she was a young woman, in the early 1900s.

To record her ownership of these hoops, she recorded her name and address on them. On the outer rim of the large hoop and on the inner rim of the small hoop, my grandmother had written her full name and the address of her childhood home:

Ellen Mary Margaret Kenelley, Killea, Renwick St, Drummoyne


Killea was the name her parents gave to the house where she lived much of her early life: 26 Renwick St, Drummoyne. This house was named after the town of Killea (near Templemore) in County Tipperary, Ireland, where her father, William Joseph Kenelley, was born in 1860. He had travelled to Australia in 1888. He met his wife-to-be, Margaret Anne BUTLER, in Sydney and they married at St Augustus Catholic Church in Balmain in 1890. Margaret was from Doolough (near the town of Kilmihil) in County Clare and she had arrived in Australia in 1880. After they married, William and Margaret Kenelley made their home in Drummoyne and owned a number of houses in Renwick St, Drummoyne. One of these homes was 26 Renwick St, Drummoyne, also known as "Killea". 

26 Renwick St, Drummoyne
(Photo taken by Maria Northcote, 22 February 2020)

Although I had previously found out this information a few years before about the name of her childhood home in Renwick St, Drummoyne, it was still nice to see it recorded in such a quirky location. Thanks, Grandma, for speaking to me through your handiwork tool, down through the ages.

I think the sweetest thing of all about this discovery is the little shamrock she has drawn at the beginning of her name and at the end of her address. It shows how connected she felt to her parents' home country.

Ellen KENELLEY, around 1910

As my grandmother's embroidery hoops show, family history facts can be found in the darndest of places.

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