Friday, 19 April 2013

understanding a CHANGE OF NAME

I have just begun to paddle in the lake of ancestry - the 'in' hobby for the retired.  No, I'm not making fun of it, just teasing a little until I get used to this stage of life. It was almost a year ago, at my favourite aunt's 95th birthday party - well done Aunty Joan - when Heather, a relative of Aunty Joan's late husband, mentioned her ancestry work and asked me a question about my grandfather. Then she whipped out her pink laptop and clicked on to show me what she thought was an error. 

I've always had an interest in family history. As a child my favourite bedtime stories were those Mum told of her childhood and I picked up some of the names and relationships.  These stories formed a base for the rest of my life and looking back I can see how important they were.  Maybe if more families went into details about who they are and where they come from our young adults would be more secure and able to see the big picture, instead of just their selfies.

I've talked to other relatives at times so my family story collection is constantly being added to, and edited as I discover the 'true' facts about events and lives. Funny how people are happy to talk openly about some things but add to or change details of events they feel a sensitive about. There was great fear about how you appeared to other people 100 years ago. 

Sadly, it's mostly my mother's family story as Dad's was out of reach geographically and also personally as they/we did not keep in touch. I have not yet joined - because I haven't had the time to devote to this that would justify the expense.  But Heather introduced me to Trove - a collection of scans of newspapers and magazines from something like the 1750's up to the 1950's, and this has certainly kept me busy. I've found amazing things including my grandmother's wedding notice, lists of people who attended the charity balls she organised after WWl, my parents wedding notice and my birth etc.  I've even discovered a few bits and pieces about my father's family which is exciting. Back in the days before emails and facebook every event or announcement went into the newspaper. Heather also put me in touch with the daughter of my grandfather's brother and that led to some very interesting insights.

So, the error in Ancestory was to do with Mother's father.  Mum's sister is Aunty Joan but she, understandably, gets a little confused these days and I became the back up memory.  I knew that my grandfather had changed his name at one time - I thought it was before he married Eva, my grandmother.

I found this in some notes Aunty Joan wrote for me about 10 years ago, and these are her words:
'I was born on 2nd May 1917 in our family home, which had been designed by my father, at Ryde, NSW.  The house had gardens and an orchard. Other houses were few and far between. Opposite us was a Chinese (market) garden where men worked all day, often carrying two buckets of water on sticks across their shoulders. They had a primitive hut in the garden.
Father had been born Otto Wilhelm Schwertmann, but the war of 1914 – 1918 forced some businessmen to adopt more English names. Father chose the names of English towns and became Otford Wilton Weston. Hundreds of people with German names were interned in camps though they had been nothing but good citizens. German names were frowned on for many years. Even when I went to school at ten or twelve years of age, we called out rude things to children with German names. I’m glad Margaret and I were saved from this, although we were completely unaware of our good luck at the time'.

This is a good family story, but from talking to other people and checking in Trove I've found that it wasn't my grandfather who changed his name, it was my great-grandmother who insisted on it.  And, it was done after Ot, as they called him, married my grandmother, Eva. They married on 20th June 1914. A newspaper notice dates the name change as 24th June 1915. My grandmother, who I knew very well as she lived with us for years, never let on that she had originally been Mrs Schwertmann. I have no memory of my grandfather who died when I was a baby.

There was a bad reaction from a number of family members to Eva marrying a German. Many years later, when my mother divorced my father and then married an actual German that negative reaction surfaced again. BUT ... and this is delicious, my cousin discovered that my grandfather had not really come from Germany. The town where my great-grandfather was born is/was technically in Denmark! The borders moved back and forth a bit over the years. I think it's really wonderful and would like to blow a few raspberries to that long gone generation who protected themselves with hate and also, because my father's grandfather was Danish and that gives me Danish blood on both sides. Sadly Mum and Dad never knew that.

But back to the name change.  Mum always said her father had been born in Germany. His father, Christian, had come to Australia for the Sydney International Exhibition, held in 1879. He was so impressed with Australia that he returned home to Germany and came back with his whole family, including my grandfather who was almost 10 years old. This cemented the idea of German ancestry.  The true story as I have now discovered, is; Christian Swertman did come to Australia for the Exhibition, as a single man from Denmark, with a contact address of c/- the Bank of Hamburg, London. He married an Aussie girl named Grace Noble, a teacher from Victoria with Scottish ancestry. They had three children; Otto, Hubert and Olga. Christian was killed in a street accident in 1896 when Otto was about 10 years old.  At that young age my grandfather found he had a family to support. He went to work selling newspapers and eventually put his brother through school and himself through university while assisting his mother, grandma Weston, and sister Olga. Later Hubert disappeared and his two daughters went to live with grandma Weston. Otto became a well known Sydney Architect and a humanitarian.

About her husband, my grandmother once wrote;  'Father, (her husband Otto) had a wonderful voice, and I enjoyed singing too. It was lovely having friends and family gather around the Pianola and we would sing far into the evening, forgetting about the time'.

In 2000, my second cousin Ian, who was a bit younger than Joan and my mother, and who, until his death in 2013 was the keeper of the family history, told me;
'Eva and Ot had lived a wealthy life until the depression. When Ot didn’t have work he was depressed and often refused to get out of bed. They became very poor, eventually they were without a business and they lost the house.  They had always been the ones to help other people and didn’t like to take help. This stressed the marriage and probably contributed to their separation.'

Pride was such a problem for that generation, or was it fear of judgement or class discrimination?  In all the years that the family stories were told by my mother, grandmother and aunts, it was never mentioned that Eva and Ot lost everything in the depression. I did know that they separated. Eva took Margaret, the youngest, and moved to a small flat over a shop and Eva went back to nursing.  Mum told me that her mother 'worked with a doctor, visiting sick people in their homes, to change dressings etc. She got to know many people and their life stories.'  It sounds a lot like the District Nurse work that my sister did in the 1970's.
Joan went to live with relatives and Ot moved in with his former secretary and her children, who soon became more his children than his own daughters. In Eva's family it was always hinted that the hard times were caused by (bad) Otford leaving Eva and the girls. Eva was still angry with him forty years later.  Isn't life interesting - it's like a soap opera?

I am so glad I listened to the stories my relatives told. While it's only a tiny part of the full story it is somewhere to begin and so much better than nothing. And it's very entertaining to smooth out the wrinkles and discover a fuller picture of people with real lives, and jobs and mistakes and problems. I think they all did the best they could for the time they lived in... and what more can any of us do?  I'd encourage everyone to ask about their family history and/or write their own life story to hand down to the next generation, it could be important to at least some of them one day.

Oh, and that error on (I'm not promoting them, it just keeps coming up), someone had changed my grandfather's Christian names to the new ones he'd chosen but left the original surname.  It's all fixed now.

Photos taken between 1928 and 1932
My grandfather, Otford - my grandmother, Eva - my aunt, Joan and my mother, Margaret

"It doesn't matter how many say it cannot be done
or how many people have tried it before;
it's important to realize that whatever you're doing,
it's your first attempt at it."

Monday, 15 April 2013


Free to air TV is not as interesting as it once was for us.  We checked the program at dinner time and marked our favorites so we wouldn't forget to watch the good shows and we often had to choose or take turns. Looking forward to two or three hours of relaxation and entertainment at the end of a busy day was like a reward. Big R often fell asleep on the couch, and I must admit I did too, occasionally, but usually at least one of us enjoyed the chosen programs. I tend to be a night owl so I get to watch more TV - while I'm washing up I can see the reflection of the TV screen in the window, and I can usually follow the story while ironing, cleaning out the fridge or sewing so it was rarely just sitting and watching. 

We are both such home bodies, we never go out these days - movies? we eventually see them on DVD, - eat out? more and more we like to know what is in the food we eat, - visiting friends? we are often too tired to socialise at night and just want to flop in our jammies, so friends have become a daytime activity.

Sadly, if I didn't have Call the Midwife, Modern Family, The Middle and reruns of The Closer to look at there would be no weekly viewing.  It is possible to catch a good episode of Global Village or someone interesting on Big Ideas or a great documentary on art history or nature, but they have to be discovered on the day and when you are in the right mood.  Interesting shows like Grand Designs and Megabridges are into their third or fourth rerun and you just get a little tired of that.

Of course we have other things to keep us busy. After 8 years of house building we are still not finished and still spend hours making drawings, looking at ideas and products on line, and just discussing what we might do here or there. We design as we go. Much of the house interior was plastered and painted at night, Big R was up in the ceiling for weeks and weeks, with a light on a lead, pushing and shoving the Dacron insulation bats into place.  He even built himself a trolley up there, mounted on old skateboard wheels that run on steel rails, to move the bats and tools around.  It's fun to show visitors. I've worked on mosaic tiling and sewing curtains at night as well as my volunteer jobs and all of my hobbies.  Big R might be up the ladder putting cornice in place while I'm covering a bottle with papier mache to make a doll.  I know his activity is useful and important but I like to think I am learning something too.

This year we've given ourselves a break from working on the house. The last room and the finishing touches can wait a while. A lot of earth moving and planting and some concreting has happened outside and it's amazing how much better we feel now that the place doesn't look like a building site or a gypsy camp.  Even the little concrete mixer and the pile of sand is out of sight.  The huge space under the house, which was intended as a workshop but became storage for everyone has been tidied, sorted and re-arranged.

And we are learning to get rid of things that we never use.  We are both very good at hanging onto potentially useful stuff - Big R likes to stockpile bits of steel, timber - even really old timbers, building leftovers, screws and other fixings as well as broken things that will make spare parts for some other broken thing. I collect any and all pieces of fabric and scraps for patchwork, lace, braid, ribbon, buttons - I have a great button collection, as well as paper and cardboard, brown paper, old phone books and anything else for papier mache. Also interesting pictures for collage and book making and anything for paper craft. I make rag dolls and toys and dabble in fabric sculpture. I have boxes of broken tiles to finish the mosaics that just need a little bit more work, cartons and cartons of photos, every birthday card I've ever been given and I save boxes and cardboard rolls for kids in Prep.  We both collect books and magazines so you can imagine how difficult it is to get anything into the rubbish bin. It usually goes out half empty. Sometimes I  manage to throw something in and it might stay there for a few hours before Big R takes it out again. Grrrrr

But this blog post is called The YouTube scene, because that is what we have discovered since TV stopped entertaining us. This is what happens to people when the kids have all grown up and away.  We both have a desk in our living area, mine is for my PC and the printer and Big R has his laptop with the extra large monitor. I can watch patchwork and quilting demonstrations (I enjoy the Missouri Star Quilt Company clips because Jenny is such a darling) while he is checking out Detroit diesel trucks or tractor drags - and he wears headphones.

I've found clips on growing herbs and making herbal remedies, training dogs and training kids, drawing cartoons and creating art works.  Big R loves lectures on science and solving mathematical problems. He's also into classic rock clips and movie trivia - especially James Bond and after watching Skyfall recently he visited several James Bond forums and watched the clips of all the James Bond movie themes. He could probably talk on Skyfall for an hour, if he wanted to.  We are both interested in history and language and many web sites we visit or blogs we follow have links back to YouTube.

Our latest discovery is cover bands such as the Beatnix singing a Beatles sounding version of Stairway to Heaven. I noticed a link to The Doors singing Stairway in their style while Big R found a clip of someone singing the words of the Gilligan's Island theme, to the tune of Stairway to Heaven. It's great fun!  And we learnt that in the opening sequence of the first series of Gilligan's Island, you can see a flag flying at half mast, in the background,  because it was filmed less than 30 days after the death of President Kennedy. Big R reads ALL the comments under the clips and often reads them out loud to me! 

We email the links to each other and various family members, so we can chat about them later. Our chairs are less than two metres apart but the technology is fun. We don't often watch people doing stupid things on YouTube but there are some that make you laugh and I love clips of kids doing funny things and dogs having fun or being cute (not being teased though).

The only problem with YouTube is that no-one falls asleep on the couch anymore, except the dog.  The washing up doesn't get done because the sink is too far from the monitor and I certainly can't sew or clean. The computer screen is much more stimulating than the TV screen and as it's interactive we both stay up later and later. Time flies without adds or program changes. 

So I say, bring back good TV shows so we can get our work done, enjoy our veg-out time and get more sleep.

And speaking of JB - I really like the song ....

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles 
We will stand tall 
Or face it all together 

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall 
Or face it all together 
At skyfall 

Let the sky fall 
We will stand tall 
At skyfall  


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