Thursday, 16 May 2013

looking at THE FAMILY TREE ...

I hate housework, but if you can do it on automatic you can use the time to meditate on other areas of life. While vacuuming the bedroom I went over the interesting discoveries I'd made on an ancestry site the night before.  Taking my Dyson out to empty I passed the TV  - showing a Star Trek episode.  Seeing the 'SS Enterprise' uniforms, reminded me of the old sci fi movies that predicted we'd all be wearing skin tight metallic onesies by now when I realised the characters were talking about family history and almost the exact thoughts I'd had a few moments before - family stories can be passed down incorrectly, names mispelled or confused, secrets hidden ... etc.

In the days before the wikis and sites like Trove  and all those ancestor-dot-coms, learning family history relied on the family memory. Researching details involved finding birth, death and marriage certificates which often had to be viewed in the archives of the church where they were registered, head stones, newspaper archives and military records, also requiring you to be there in person or finding old letters and diaries. Now we save all that time and travelling because libraries, history buffs and anyone who has worked out a way to make money from this interest, have put so much on line you can almost do it all from your desk.  

Ancestry is usually the activity of the over 50's, possibly because that is when people are adjusting to changes in their life and many find they have the time and also because you need to live quite a few years before looking back is interesting .

Once you begin you can become addicted, a bit like a metal detector on the beach, you don't know what you'll find but there is no end to the finds. My family tree now has over 300 'characters', many of them people I'd never heard of until this year and twenty of them new this week.   Only the closest branch of my tree resembles the family group I knew of - amazing how people will gloss over some things, leave someone out, just never pass on information and every generation has those who are not interested.  I relied on conversations with my mother and her mother ...  and they had reasons for not sharing the whole truth or for getting it wrong.

One problem is finding family.  For those of us who are of British descent the easiest way is to follow the surname - fine if it's something fairly simple like Stone or Frost - easy and common enough to work with. Then you get some difficult ones like some European family names, changes in spelling or language as people move around. In Denmark the number of surnames is limited and it's not easy to trace an Anderson or Jensen. My grandfather's family changed their name to Weston at the start of WWl.  Before that the name had been Swertman, or Schwertmann or even Schwertdmann - the further back you go the more letters in the name.  I'm not sure how other cultures would do it.

So, it occurs to me that we limit ourselves.  What about the women? - and what is this 'family name' thing we have invented, for boys only.  I can see that following the surname is the easy way - the Family Name or Blood line - except that it isn't. Every man who marries and has children has mixed that precious blood line with another - it's watered down by the blood line of another family, over and over, with each generation.

When I look at my mother's family I started with two surnames but by following the women as well as the men I now have more names from each generation ... more than several, those families had 8 - 10 children and if half of them were women who married that is 4 or 5 new surnames in the family and their children are related to me as blood cousins.  This is why it's fun... but also dangerous ... can you imagine how much time it all takes?

I planned to limit my search to those who were born overseas and died in Australia. This shortens the paternal branches of both my grandfathers as their fathers immigrated but both mothers are from old Aussie families and there seem to be some very feisty ladies on the list. I'm interested in finding out more about the one wife from Tasmania, maybe they were convicts (shhhh, don't tell Ma-ma). The new surnames I've found through the woman in my family include Wilmington, Weeks, McHugh and Earlam on my mother's side and on my father's, King, Noble, Styles, Hammond, Kirk, Webster, Wood and Green.  Not too difficult and makes me feel very rich in relatives.

My big find this week was one Russell Henry Morehead, or Henry Russell Morehead, depending on which document you read. He was born in 1897 at Greendale, near Wallacia NSW, one of seven children. At the age of 21 his occupation was Dairyman when he enlisted in the AIF and went off to fight in the Great War. His sister, Ivy Elizabeth Morehead, of "Wanatta" Ewart St, Dulwich Hill, was listed as his next of kin, possibly because their father, Thomas Morehead was deceased. 

My grandmother was Eva Morehead. Her grandparents arrived in Australia on a ship named Wanatta.  She grew up on a dairy farm at Wallacia, NSW and had relatives living at Dulwich Hill, so this is definitely my family.  Russell would have been my grandmother's cousin. He was 9 years younger than Eva, and his father, Thomas, would have been her uncle or great uncle, a branch of the family I have not yet pursued - and this is exciting.

On 17th July 1918 Russell's ship left Sydney, but on the 31st July he was taken to the ships hospital and diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. A week later he was admitted to hospital in Durban, then sent to Cape Town and returned to Sydney in September - discharged as medically unfit in October 1918, one month before the war ended. 

He later married Dorothy Emily Weeks, who was 13 years his junior, bought property at Wiseman's Ferry and they both lived happily and prosperously until 1999, always including his sister Ivy in their lives. If only I'd known, I was not far from them through the 1970's and 80's. I had lost touch with all my mother's family because some relatives suffered embarrassment over situations during the depression - but that's another long story.

Russell Henry Morehead - photo 1918



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