Friday, May 31, 2013

The Genealogy Happy Dance

I'm doing the Genealogy Happy Dance today J.

I had my father's DNA tested.  His surname (and therefore my maiden name) is Gibbons, and his grandfather was John Lawrence Gibbons.  We know very little about him, except that he was born in Limerick, Ireland. He first appears on the records in Victoria, Australia, in 1887 when he marries Elizabeth Margaret Williams in Richmond, Victoria (I can't find his arrival in Australia).  His marriage certificate, death certificate and the birth certificates all give his place of birth as Limerick. His age keeps varying in the records, but they suggest a birth about 1842 or 43.  He says that his parents are George Gibbons and Ellen Sweeney. He was Catholic.
Dad came up with a couple of close matches to his Y-DNA, both to people called Fitzgibbon, one in Limerick and one in Cork.  I have been communicating with one of them by email, and this person had a spreadsheet of Fitzgibbon & Gibbon events, and these included
  • the marriage of George Fitzgibbon to Ellen Sweeney in 1830 in Newcastle West, Limerick
  • the birth of a son, William, in Newcastle West in 1831
  • the birth of a son, John, in Dromcollogher in 1834
  • the birth of a son, Roger, in Dromcollogher in 1835

I then looked to see what I could find on the web site, and found an additional birth
  • a son, Luke, in St Michael's, Limerick in 1836
Now I know that Gibbons isn't exactly the same as Fitzgibbon, but apparently the Irish records show many cases of people changing between the two versions of the name, and we have Y-DNA evidence to point to a close relationship between Dad (and me) and people named Fitzgibbon.  There is no middle name "Lawrence" shown for John on the baptism, but I have seen cases before when someone has adopted a middle name well after their birth.  The dates for John's birth don't match, but as I said, the records in Australia all have conflicting ages, and he did marry a woman much younger than himself, so may have altered his age accordingly.

I grant you, it's not what I would consider proof yet, but it's something to go on and investigate further, which has been sadly lacking until now.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Brick Walls: Why some might remain unbroken

This is my second "brick walls" blog, inspired by James Tanner's recent posts.  In this case I want to explain why some brick walls will never be breached, no matter how many obscure sources you know about and check.  This is because sometimes there never were any records about a person created in the first place. This could be the case (at least in New South Wales) well into the 19th century.

The example I am going to use is William Flynn, known to have existed in the Parramatta area of NSW in the 1850s.  How do we know he existed? He first came to light on the death certificate of his daughter, Mary Ann Julia Annesley (nee Flynn).  She died in 1930, aged 78 (indicating a birth about 1852).  Her death certificate gives her parents as William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia.  As an aside, we are lucky with New South Wales and Victorian death certificates, which contain much more information than their English equivalents.  They are much closer to Scottish death certificates. The NSW death indexes also contain the death of a William Flynn aged 76 in 1919 (thus born about 1843). His parents were William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia Haslam. The NSW birth indexes include a reference to a baptism of Albert Flinn, son of William and Lucretia Flinn, at Parramatta in 1852.  This is before the start of civil registration in NSW (which commenced in 1856), so this is a church record.  It is a baptism in St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church at Parramatta, and says that Albert was born 6 Jun 1852 and baptised on 10 June.  His father is stated to be a labourer, living in Parramatta. 
St Patrick's in Parramatta c1860.  Photo from National Library
of Australia
So we appear to have three children, but there is only a baptism of one of them.  I have checked through the microfilm of the original register in case a relevant entry was omitted or mis-transcribed, but there was nothing else for the name Flynn or Flinn (or other variant).

William and Lucretia obviously married before civil registration started. That is if, indeed, they ever did marry.  No record can be found in the church records of a marriage between them. I then tried to look for deaths.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of deaths of people named William Flynn/Flinn (47 in NSW between 1850 and 1930, none of them from the Parramatta area), so the logical step would be to find Lucretia's death (nice unusual name, isn't it) and see if there was a clue as to whether William was alive or not at that time. But no death can be found for Lucretia (or any obvious variant of that name) in any state of Australia or New Zealand. Their son Albert is probably the infant who died in 1852, though I haven't checked that church record. William the son died in country NSW in 1919, and had married a woman called Annie Amelia King.  His death certificate says that the marriage took place in Parramatta, but doesn't give a date.  No such marriage can be found. There is nothing else on his death certificate that gives us any further clues about his parents.

So that is the sum total of what I can find about William Flynn the father.  He had children William (c.1843), Mary Ann Julia (c. 1852) and Albert (born 1852).  He was a labourer, and lived in Parramatta. He baptised one child in the RC church, so we can deduce that he was probably RC himself.  Given that, and that his name was William Flynn, it is probable that he was either born in Ireland, or the descendant of someone who was. But we don't have any clues as to where or when he was born, or the names of his parents.

So here comes the reason why I may never find anything else.  It is possible that both William and Lucretia died before civil registration started in 1856, which would account for the failure to find death certificates.  As a labourer he probably would not have owned land. He wasn't a tradesman advertising his services.  If he did not get into trouble he would not be in official records (like court records).  And if he did nothing notable he would not be mentioned in the newspapers (I forgot to say that I keep checking those with no success).  Even if there was a baptism for him in NSW (and at various times Catholic masses and churches were banned within the colony) I wouldn't have the information to know that a baptism I had found was the correct person.  He just didn't leave a paper trail.

I will never stop looking for him when any new information becomes available, but I'm not holding out any hope.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: William James Spiller

My great-grandfather, William James Spiller (born Ireland c1856, died Melbourne 1933)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Brick wall solution

Inspired by James Tanner's recent blogs posts about Brick Walls, I thought I'd put together a couple of posts on the subject. In this first one I want to tell you one method I use to break down a brick wall.  I do nothing.  Well, to be more specific, I wait. Let me explain how this works.

The first family I got interested in tracing were the Highett family.  My grandmother, Dorothy Voila Highett, was born in Melbourne in 1901.  She knew a bit about the Highetts (even though she had been bought up by her maternal grandparents, the Alway family), and the stories she told were what got me interested in family history.  It was very easy to trace back to her great-grandfather, John Highett, who arrived in Van Diemen's Land (as Tasmania was then called) in 1830 in company with his brother, William.  Skipping over their time in VDL, John moved to what is now called Victoria in 1836 – just one year after the first settlement of Melbourne. You don't have to do a great deal when you arrive that early to make it into the history books, and it really helps when your brother William, who came over to Melbourne from VDL in 1838, became the first manager of the Union Bank in Victoria and a general pillar of the community.  This means that William and John got an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  The family also got an entry in Burke's Colonial Gentry.  Both of these sources said that William and John were born at Weymouth in Dorset in 1807 and 1810 respectively.  Back in the pre-internet days I went to the Dorset County Records office to find their baptisms.  The ONLY entry for anyone named Highett in the registers was for the baptism of John son of Joseph and Elizabeth Highett on 27 Sep 1809 in Melcombe Regis.  Joseph and Elizabeth (maiden name Harding) match the known names of John and William's parents, but the 1809 date doesn't match.  And there are NO baptisms of any of the other siblings of John and William, or anything relating to Joseph (baptism, marriage, etc). The latter didn't worry me, as Burke's said that Joseph was born at Rodmede in Wiltshire, and Melcombe Regis didn't worry me as it is one of the parishes in Weymouth.  But I was still left me with two interpretations for the lack of other Highett baptisms: either the 1810 date for John's birth was wrong and heavens knows where everyone else was baptised, or there were two sons named John and this one baptised in 1809 was baptised in a hurry because he was sickly and subsequently died, and all other children of Joseph & Elizabeth were taken back to their home town of Rodmede to be baptised, including a second John in 1810. The problem was I could (at that time) find no reference to the Highetts in Rodmede either.
William Highett (sadly, I have no picture of John)

Now Highett is obviously not a common name, so I looked for other people of that name in the IGI (as it was then) and found a smattering of them, but lots of them in Burbage in Wiltshire. Purely because the name was so rare I recorded everything I could find about the Burbage Highetts, and also posted my interest in the descendants of Joseph Highett and Elizabeth Harding on various mailing lists. After that I could proceed no further.

Time passed.  I focused on other families instead. 

Then one day I got an email from someone who had been researching the Harding family. Not only had Joseph married Elizabeth Harding, but Joseph's sister Hannah had married Elizabeth's brother, William Harding.  I hadn't known about any of Joseph's siblings. William and Hannah had no children of their own, but had their niece, Sarah Highett, living with them who was mentioned in their wills, along with Joseph Highett (stipulated as being the brother-in-law of William Harding), Elizabeth Highett nee Harding and lots of other members of the Highett family. I went back and checked the Burbage Highetts, and the families seemed to match.  Further checking of wills, land transactions etc convinced me I had the right connection. Rodmede had been a red herring.  I eventually found that Joseph's father was living in Rodmead (note the different spelling) at the time of his death, but had been born and baptised in Burbage, as were all his children.  I could now proceed to trace the Highett family back further.

The moral of the story is to post your interests in mailing lists, or blogs, or any where that will "stick around" and can be found in a Google search, and you may one day make contact with someone who will have the information to help you break down your brick wall.

By the way, I never have found a baptism for William or a 1810 baptism for John.  Two of their sisters Sarah (born 1812) and Mary (born 1817) where not baptised until 1822 (in Middle Chinnock, Somerset), so perhaps Joseph & Elizabeth just didn't feel any compulsion to get their children baptised.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review - Paul Bushell: Second Fleeter

I recently read a fascinating book about the early years of the Hawkesbury River settlements.  It is called Paul Bushell: Second Fleeter, by Louise Wilson. I have absolutely no connection to the Bushell family, but I do have Hawkesbury ancestors. This book gave a terrific sense of the history of this area, as seen through the eyes of and effects on one family.  This is always important, as it is vital to place our ancestors in the social, economic and political climate of the times in which they lived.
Amongst other things I learnt, while reading this book, about the difference between burglary and housebreaking.  The former happens at night, when people were likely to be sleeping in the house. It is therefore a more serious crime than housebreaking.
In this book Louise Wilson uses (amoungst other things) land transactions and similar records to show how Bushell's holdings grew over time, and manages to identify where they were likely to have been living at any point in time. This is a great example of something that all family historians should look at, but rarely do.  Land records in general are a little understood and largely ignored resource. This is a pity, as they can in some cases contain real gold mines.
This book also contains frequent references to other Hawkesbury people. Again, the people who live in the same community as our ancestors may have had an impact on their lives and should not be ignored.
This book has been written in a style that makes for easy reading. Each chapter covers an aspect of the Bushell family's lives ora period of their lives. There are plenty of illustrations and maps (though there is no list of illustrations).
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the early history of the Hawkesbury area.
Louise's web page gives details of how to purchase the book.