Monday, 9 February 2015


Edwin Mather Hartley
Leaving his life as a farmer at Dairyville near Coffs Harbour, Edwin Mather Hartley, aged about 36, enlisted in the Australian Imperial Forces to fight overseas in WW1. It was 2nd August 1915 and he had put his age down to 31. Soon afterwards, he was shipped to Egypt with the 2nd Infantry Battalion, 12th reinforcements, arriving there on Monday 18 February1916.

Five weeks later “to the day”, as he wrote to his distant cousin Emily back in Australia, he had been in the camp hospital for a week with “Henflewenza” but was quite well now. That letter was kept in a tin box of “Aunty Em’s letters” for decades along with its sad companion – the letter, really only a note, which Em penned in reply – stamped “Return to Sender – Unable to Trace”. Over the years my mother and her cousin wondered, “Whatever happened to poor Edwin?” and vaguely thought about writing to Canberra.

Determined to find the answer to this mystery I clicked a few times with the computer mouse on the Australian War Memorial Site and found the news we half expected. Edwin was killed at Pozieres in France between 22nd and 25th July 1916. I was shocked by documents from a detailed investigation conducted throughout 1917 into whether he was actually killed and then, whether his body had even been buried. Five facsimiles of letters in the old-fashioned blotchy Times font of a manual typewriter are reproduced on the website and all the gory details from the eyewitnesses to Hartley’s death are included. I felt enormous sympathy for his poor father Henry Hartley, who had already suffered the tragic loss of Edwin’s mother just as their ship arrived in Australia in 1880.

Edwin’s accent was still strongly that of a Yorkshire man, even though he came to this country as a child of two, for he put the extra “H” sound in front of the word “influenza” which he spelled so imaginatively. In the one and half pages he wrote to Em he expressed his wonderment at the “wonderful sightes to see here the Pyrmids is a wonderful piece of work the big stones in it, and the heights of them is marvelious.... old boats & Coffins in glass cases, [in the museums] so that you can not touch them, as they are crumbling away with old age”. He observed “the cow & calf [being led] around the town selling milk, from house to house, anyone with a camera could get some good snaps here”.

His pen and ink handwriting is executed in neat and well-formed copperplate letters with a very even slope and I get a sense of his thoughts and impressions flowing out keenly and effortlessly. The teachers at Leichhardt Public School in the 1880s and early 90s impressed this skill into him even if his spelling is more erratic.

Until I read the details his brother John Henry Hartley of Karangi provided to the War Memorial I knew nothing about his parents Henry and Elizabeth Hartley. My gran had never mentioned her great uncle and his two sons who had already been in Australia for 25 years when she arrived here with her family in 1907, but obviously the families were in touch or there would never have been a letter from Edwin to Emily.

There are still many people in the Coffs Harbour and Bellingen districts and also in more far-flung parts of Australia who are descended from Edwin’s brother and sister-in-law, John Henry Hartley and Mary E. Pearson.  Edwin’s niece was Nellie Ruthetta Hartley born in 1917 who married Herbert A. Shephard in 1937 in Coffs Harbour. Edwin sent a souvenir silk cushion showing the sights of Egypt to Nellie Ruthetta and you can see it proudly displayed in the Coffs Harbour RSL to this day.  And to this day, Hartley relatives talk in hushed tones about his little nephew John William Hartley born 9 July1919 who sadly drowned in the Orana River aged 4.

From Edwin Mather Hartley's War Record
(viewable on the National Archives of Australia website)

Ruthetta was the name of Henry Hartley’s sister back in England and I have a huge family tree of all ten siblings and Hartley's reaching back to the 1700s in Yorkshire. One more recent connection says Muriel Hartley, another of Edwin’s nieces, was a nurse to the famous Sara Quads. I have started to get to know my 3rd and 4th cousins from the Coffs Harbour and Bellingen districts and added their names to the family tree too.
by Linda Combe
(Linda is one of the volunteer genealogy helpers available at the Stanton Library Help Desk on Friday mornings. Thanks for sharing this fascinating piece of your family's history Linda!)

Saturday, 31 January 2015


Gertie's twins
I bought this ‘Cabinet Card’ photo a few years ago through the ebay website. It was taken in the Adelaide studio of a South Australian photographer. This photo was completely unlabelled except for the words ‘Gertie’s Twins 1901” written on the back. I thought as a random act of genealogical kindness I would try to identify these two handsome babies.

I think everyone who has a large collection of family photos will often find a photo or two that might be unlabelled or labelled but are of people not apparently related to the family that has the photo. What do you do with photos like these? It’s sadder still to think of how many people there are interested in researching their own family history who have no old family photos of their own whatsoever. I’m sure there are many photos like these that would be treasured if they were in the right photo collection. How do you reunite these photos with their appropriate ‘families’?

When I started researching the identity of Gertie’s twins the only clue I had was that their mother was named Gertie and they were probably born around 1899 or 1900, and of course that they were twins. I hoped they had been born in the place where they had been photographed as this would narrow down the records I needed to search considerably.  I began an exhaustive process of looking at South Australian birth records for twins from these years that had a mother named Gertrude. I was very sorry to discover how common a name ‘Gertie’ was back then. It took many hours.
I eventually had three possible candidates. Were they John and Marguerite Brennan born 12 April 1900 or Dorothy and Thomas Crookall born 14 April 1900? I thought that the babies looked to be identical and of the same sex so I went with the third pair I had identified as a most likely; Leonard and Reginald Balls whose mother was named Clara Gertrude Balls (nee Jones) the father was Edward Henry Balls.

Through the website I managed to contact a living descendant of the ‘Balls’. She thought they did in fact belong in her family tree and were Leonard Harry Balls (13th March 1900-18th Dec 1957 and Reginald John Balls 13th March 1900-31 Dec 1965). I sent her a digital copy of the image. I don’t know if it was the satisfaction of identifying the photo after many hours of searching, or just the knowledge that there are people whose surnames are slightly funnier than my own, but it was a great moment of triumph that I will never forget. This was my small random act of genealogical kindness.

It is very hard to reunite a photo like this with their ‘family’. You can often see a family tree that someone has created on the website that it would fit into nicely but how do you put it on there? I have found that when you try and contact owners of a tree with a photo like this you can be met with a lot of suspicion. I was lucky with ‘Gertie’s twins’ that my own surname was so similar to the person I was contacting that this wasn’t a problem as the person I contacted initially thought I was related. There is no facility on to upload family photos that are not part of your own family tree. I suppose you could start a new Ancestry tree for each photo you have but you would end up with a lot of one person trees if you did this. I don’t think it would work.
There really should be some kind of a website where you can reunite photos like these with living descendants, for whom a photo like this would be a real treasure.

While I use the phrase random acts of genealogical kindness it is not my own. There is a group of volunteers with that name who help people with family history research. They don’t unfortunately reunite photos with families as I have just described here but they do other research for people and have just now got their website going (Jan 2015) after many years of being offline.

For anyone who hasn’t heard of the RAOGK group Wikipedia describes them as:

a web-based genealogical research co-op that functions solely by the services of volunteers. Volunteers from any part of the world may offer services to any requester, such as research of birth, marriage, and death records, public records, obituaries, and deeds. Some volunteers photograph burial sites, cemeteries and tombstones. Volunteers also offer "lookup" services in various history and genealogy books, such as those books owned by the volunteer or books held in libraries and historical societies. Any fees requested by the volunteers are reimbursements for actual costs involved, such as gas mileage, photocopying, record fees, or postage. However, in most cases, the services are rendered free of charge in the spirit of offering a random act of kindness to a stranger in search of family ties.

In 1999, the RAOGK website was founded by two researchers, Bridgett and Doc Schneider, who saw the need for such a volunteer service in their local area. The small website grew very rapidly from being solely a statewide offering in the United States to an international global volunteer organization with some 4,300 volunteers around the world and a staff of about eight, also volunteering their time. In 2007, more than 71,000 requests were handled by the system, 10% of them to volunteers outside of the USA.

This is a really worthwhile group and should be supported. I can see why it would have started in the US where looking up things like ‘vital’ (BDM) records can be a nightmare as they all seem to be state based. The RAOGK group is not just in the US it is international. When I last looked at their website there were 4 volunteers listed to help people with Australian records.

You can check out their new website through this link.

Unfortunately the RAOGK Group do not provide a service that reunites people with lost family photos. I think this is something that is sorely needed. If anyone has any ideas about this please leave a comment.

Friday, 9 January 2015


                 Marine Terrace, Geraldton, Western Australia c.1910

One of my favourite hobbies is collecting old photographs. You can buy them fairly cheaply at antique stores, at post card fairs and through internet sites like ebay. The photos I like best are the ones that have a bit of a mystery to them. I particularly like unlabelled or partially labelled photos which I think might be able to be identified with a little detective work using online genealogical resources like the website.
There is often a lot of historical information in a photograph that you might not realise is there until you look at them closely. This is especially true for photos of streetscapes or buildings. Old photos can have a lot of resolution in them and, when scanned, can be blown up to reveal a lot of interesting detail. With careful cropping you can often find smaller pictures within the larger one. You can discover things you didn’t know were there.
I bought the photo I feature here in a post card fair in Melbourne. It is what is called a ‘real photo’ postcard. It’s a photo taken by someone with their own camera and developed as a post card so it could be sent through the post to friends or family. It’s an original image, there might have been only a dozen or so printed. It’s usually unlikely to find that another copy of a photo like this has survived. If you own it you own the only one. This kind of post card started at the end of the 1800s and was most popular in the first few decades of the 20th century. The motor cars in this photo suggested it was taken in the early 1900s.
The postal service back then had a morning and an afternoon delivery. The quickness and magic of receiving a family photo like this through the post in a day or too must have seemed like email or text messaging does to us today.
When I bought this photo it was completely unlabelled. The back was blank except for the Kodak Australia marking which identified it as developed in Australia. I thought it was probably taken somewhere in Melbourne as that’s where I bought it. I thought the business signs within the photo might be the best way to identify it. The shop sign ‘Misses Andrews & Billett Lady Drapers and Costumiers’ looked promising but I could find nothing in the Melbourne street directories for the period in which it would have been taken. Nothing came up when I did a search in the Trove website and nothing came up in the Ancestry website using the slightly unusual name Billett either.
But it was the word Magriplis in the shop sign Magriplis Leading Fruiterer and Confectioner that identified the photo. I hadn’t realised that that was a family name when I first looked at it and, when searching, I discovered that families with the name Magriplis, only seemed to be living in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Using website I found that the Magriplis fruit shop was on Marine Terrace, the main road of Geraldton, Western Australia. Doing a Trove search using the words ‘Andrews & Billett Drapers and Costumiers Geraldton’ also brought up a newspaper article that identified this same location. I had a look at a ‘Streetview’ of Marine Terrace, Geraldton today from ‘Google Maps’ I could see what was left of the Andrews & Billett building, which looked it had been extensively renovated over the years. It was on Marine Terrace, this verified the location of the post card.
A digital image of this photo has been donated to the collection of the Geraldton Regional Library. If anyone would like a copy please contact the friendly librarians at that library.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


Emily and Richard Hinckley (1902)
My love of history has always been the small stories, the little bits and pieces of a life, a sentence that encapsulates the life or event in the life of an ancestor. The big brushstrokes of history have always left me cold. I can remember writing HSC essays in high school on questions like ‘The Treaty of Versailles provided an effective framework to contain European powers after WWI. To what extent do you agree with this statement?’……….. yuk. Someone once said to me that genealogy brings history alive to them. I knew what he meant. Any interest in the ‘big brushstrokes’ I have comes from researching an individual person’s life and where they fitted into the ‘brushstrokes’.
Historians who are not interested in genealogy don’t realise how it can be a pathway into history for many people. I remember Dr Ian Hoskins, the North Sydney Council Historian use the phrase ‘the nuts and bolts of history’. That describes it well. It’s the personal small things that people identify with that connect them with the big pictures. I think every local historical society should realise this, especially if they are trying to increase their membership. Genealogy is a hook that pulls people into history.
My family has in its possession a treasure. It’s the diary of my great grandmother Emily Hinckley, written over a three year period from 1912 to 1914. She would start on January 1st of each year writing a short entry describing the day’s events. They were brief entries of ordinary daily life. This was a typical entry.
Sun. Aug 25 (1912)
Cloudy warm day. Went to church with all the children. Anna sick. Restful day. Elmer got small pail of blackberries.
This was a typical farming family that lived in the US state of Vermont. I’m sure there were millions of families just like them all over North America.
Emily Hinckley's diary
In the diary there was always a statement about what the weather was like that day. There were little notes about her children and her husband Elmer. What Emily did during the day; baking bread, bathing children, sewing, mending clothes, cooking food, sawing firewood. There would be notes about whether a neighbour came to visit or a relative. Small business transactions were mentioned and the amount of money received. The entries are very similar to Tweets that, these days, would be put onto Twitter.
The diary doesn’t seem like much at first glance, but if you read the text closely though it really says a lot as to what life was like for her and her family back then.
For a woman at that time life was mundane, endless chores, washing, cooking and looking after the children. Hard endless work. There were occasional visits from neighbours and relatives, maybe they would go for a picnic. The entries usually stopped in late summer or autumn. Was this because of the extra effort the family all had to put in to harvest their crops? I don’t know.
A cousin of mine once pointed out one entry that is a bit different. It’s a small personal note that hints at bigger events happening at the time.
Thursday August 29th (1912) Cold Day, went to Rutland stores closed. Richard and I went to see President Roosevelt. Got home late.
Emily and her eldest son Richard, who would have been ten years of age at the time, went to see a campaign speech for the upcoming Federal election. They went to see Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt who was campaigning to be president. He toured the state of Vermont in one day making eight speeches in eight different regional cities one of which was in the city of Rutland, nine miles from where Emily Hinckley lived.
Roosevelt had already been president for almost eight years by then. For this campaign he was up against both Woodrow Wilson (Democrat) and William Taft (Republican). He was a third party candidate for the Progressive Party which a breakaway group of progressive Republicans that formed around him when he left that party.
Teddy was an amazing man by anyone’s standards. He was a man’s man, a dynamo at one time a cowboy, big game hunter, war hero, naval scholar, author and politician. He was a hugely engaging speaker popular with people from both the left and right side of politics. He was a firm believer in free market capitalism and at the same time an advocate for worker’s rights. When he wasn’t building canals in Panama he was winning Nobel Peace prizes. He was one of life’s believers. He never stopped.
Emily wouldn’t have voted in the 1912 election, as a woman she wasn’t eligible. But there were many policies of the newly formed Progressive Party that would have appealed to someone from a poor working background: Workers comp, social insurance, an eight hour working day, a national health care scheme and women’s suffrage to name a few. I suspect that when Emily and her husband Elmer named my grandfather Theodore they were naming him after the president. 
Teddy Roosevelt (1858-1919)
A few months after Roosevelt’s Vermont visit he was shot in the chest while campaigning in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Deciding that the bullet wasn’t going to kill him, he famously said it takes more than that to kill a Bull Moose’, and gave his campaign speech with blood seeping into his shirt. The Progressive Party became known as ‘The Bull Moose’ Party. The bullet stayed in his chest for the rest of his life.
Maybe Emily’s interest wasn’t in politics that day but just in seeing the great man himself. I’ll never know. But through her little bit of history I have researched and understood the bigger brushstrokes of that day much better.
They were ready for Teddy in 1912 but they got Woodrow

Sunday, 26 October 2014


Phar Lap (1926-1932) Australia's Wonder Horse
Over the past week there has been a huge response to my last blog post from right across Australia. I have been flooded with emails about the idea of a Wikipedia Ancestor Challenge, with people wanting to know more about it, suggesting ways that it could be run successfully and offering help.
Also the idea of choosing our national leader by their Wikigree number has also been creating a lot of chatter on various social media sites. A Wikigree number, I might remind you, is the number of ancestors you can find in your family tree who have their own Wikipedia page. It’s similar to your pedigree but it’s a measure of how interesting your ancestors are rather than what genetic material you inherited from them.
We have been doing much searching to find the Australian who has the highest Wikigree number and at this stage I think we have found a winner. I think we have found a great leader for our nation.  It’s not quite who you would have imagined I can tell you that. No it’s not Ray Martin or Dick Smith or Germaine Greer or one of the artistic Boyd family. We have found a better candidate. I would like to announce it on this blog for the first time here. It is……….none other than………………Phar Lap. Yes, Phar Lap. The horse of course, who did you think I meant. Australia’s ‘Wonder Horse’, ‘Big Red’, ‘The Red Terror’.
You might be questioning at this point the suitability of choosing Phar Lap as having the highest Wikigree number. Yes the judges know he was …… put it bluntly, a horse, but we think that an exception should be made in this case. We do this based on the size of his heart, bigger than any other Australians. I can verify that, I’ve seen it bottled in a jar in a museum.  It’s big. It really is.
Phar Lap really does have a huge number of ancestors with their own Wikipedia pages.  His father ‘Night Raid’ has his own page. There is his Great Grandfathers Spearmint, BendOr and William the Third (no, of course not the man, the horse) and there is also his Great Great Grandfathers St Frusquin, St Simon, Doncaster, Carbine, Isonomy. They all have Wikipedia pages and if you look on the Wikipedia pages of those ancestors of Phar Lap and you can find links to even more. I’m not making this up. Look on Phar Lap’s Wikipedia page and you will see.  In fact there are many horses with their own Wikipedia pages both here and overseas. It’s quite amazing.
Night Raid (1918-abt1932 ) Phar Lap's Dad
Why do so many horses have Wikipedia pages anyway? They can’t read them. They can’t use social media. Their hooves are too big to use a computer keyboard.
Horses are the main non-human animal that we human animals create family trees for. There are others, like dogs, that can be well documented but horses are different. Some are bred for racing speed and are an expensive investment. It’s the direct ancestors that are important here not the siblings or second cousins twice removed or more distant relations. When you buy a racehorse, a reliable record of it’s pedigree is essential.
Spearmint (1903-1924) Phar Lap's Great Grandpa
Not every horse owner is motivated by how much money their horse could win for them. Some people just love horses. We know that. They are just ‘horsey’, and I guess for them one of the biggest thrills in their life is finding that their horse has THEIR OWN WIKIPEDIA PAGE!   I’m very surprised that the big genealogical record companies haven’t cottoned on to this. There is lots of money to be made here. Why doesn’t have a Horse Edition ©. They could have a section they charge extra for, just for war horses. They could call it something like ‘Foal 3’. There could be a site called, there are many possibilities.

I am mystified as to why there are so many Wikipedia pages for horses. There really are lots of them. Besides the fact that their economic value is based on their ancestry I know they are important historically, particularly if they were winning big races, but I think there must be more to it than that. I have never been interested in horse racing so that might explain why I don't get it. If anyone has some thoughts about this I would love to hear them.
Carbine (1885-1914) Phar Lap's Great Great Grandpa
As far as choosing our national Wikigree leader I know what you’re thinking. Phar Lap can’t be counted because he’s dead, it should be one of his living descendants. That’s true I can’t argue with that but unfortunately there are no descendants. Phar Lap was a gelding. They didn’t have Wikipedia pages back then so no one was fully appreciating the consequences when they got out the gelding scissors. It also explains Phar Lap’s rather high pitched whinny but that’s a story.
Musket (1867-1885) Phar Lap's Great Great Great Grandpa
In conclusion, dear reader, if you don’t want your leader to be a, like Phar Lap then you should be doing more research into your family history so you can increase your own Wikigree number.  I don’t know how many times I have to keep repeating this. You should be spending more time on the website and less time reading other people’s silly blogs.
The time is now! Do it!
PS I have been informed after writing this that Phar Lap was in fact born in NZ, like Russell Crowe, and unfortunately we can’t count him as one of our own.
PPS I mean to say that it’s unfortunate that we can’t claim Phar Lap as one of our own.

Friday, 17 October 2014


It’s a great feeling when you find an ancestor you didn’t know you had for the first time. It’s an AHA moment, a moment of recognition. You might let out a little sigh or scream or swear word. But when you have been doing genealogy for a while it’s not as much of a thrill. You start thinking Okay I found another 4th cousin twice removed from my great uncle’s third marriage, where do I stick them in my family tree? If you can even be bothered. But what I find really interesting and gets me really excited is when you find an ancestor that you didn’t know you had, you Google their name and you find THEY HAVE THEIR OWN WIKIPEDIA PAGE!

Yes sir, there is nothing like a Wikipedia page about one of your ancestors. I can’t say I have many. But when I find one you could peel me off the ceiling. It’s an amazing feeling. All that information about an ancestor’s life, often with a picture of them, and with references underneath. Genealogical Heaven!

I propose that there should be a competition to see who has the most number of ancestors that they can find in their family tree who have a Wikipedia page dedicated to them. I think it could be called something like the WIKIPEDIA ANCESTOR CHALLENGE. It could be a national or international event held every year. First prize would be something like a life subscription to or a copy of the 12 volume Encyclopedia of Ahnentafel (2014 edition), or a well written book that someone has written about their family history (eg Eckhart Tolle’s book ‘The Power of Then’)
Eckhart Tolle's Family History Memoir
There would have to be some very strict rules to the competition to make sure it’s fair. I propose these seven rules to begin with.

Rule One: You cannot count any ancestor who has a Wikipedia page that you created for them. For obvious reasons.

Rule Two: You cannot count any ancestor who created their own Wikipedia page (sorry Dad)

Rule Three: You cannot count any ancestor who has a Wikipedia page that another family member has created for them. For a similar reason to Rule One.

Rule Four: The Wikipedia page about your ancestor must solely be about him/her. (ie you cannot count a Wikipedia page where they only get a mention.)

Rule Five: You cannot count any ancestor more distant than a second cousin from your direct line of descent. (Okay if you can’t find one we will accept your 5th cousin twice removed of you Great Great Uncle by marriage but we will only make that acception once. The judges won't be totally devoid of genealogical compassion.)

Rule Six: You must be able to verify your connections to each Wikipedia ancestor you claim you have.

Rule Seven: Queen Elizabeth II or any member of the Royal Family of Great Britain is forbidden to enter this competition.  They would win it hands down every time.
Queen Elizabeth II
Now for all of you who might be saying, but I don’t have any ancestors who have their own Wikipedia page, I say to you, humbug. You’re just not trying hard enough. You will have to spend some time at a genealogical boot camp. Have you looked through page after page of the parish records of your ancestor’s village for 300 years to find the record that has been misread by’s OCR (Optical Character Recognition) program that you can’t find? You know that the parish priest back then, who had a drinking problem and needed glasses, couldn’t write his Os and Rs legibly especially when he was in the throes of delirium tremens. Do you expect’s computers to pick out your ancestor’ name from that illegible mess? Come on, I have no sympathy, you’ll just have to try harder.
I want you to be up at 5am doing genealogical push ups out in your back yard. I want you to be cleaning your genealogical toilet with a genealogical toothbrush. You’re in the Genealogical Army now and you’ll have to start carrying your weight.
Genealogical Boot Camp
(Training Centre, Kapooka, NSW)  
You might say you have no Wikipedia ancestors just out of modesty. Total hogwash! Modesty is not a virtue when it comes to the Wikipedia Ancestor Challenge. I think people who say that should have their Wikipedia ancestor’s names tattooed on their foreheads for all to see or banners with their Wikipedia ancestor’s names on them displayed from their houses.

These days the word Pedigree has fallen out of fashion. It has connotations of elitism, racism, snobbery, exclusion etc. It’s all bad. I think though it should be replaced with a new exciting word. Wikigree. It’s not who you inherited your genetic makeup from that is important it’s how interesting your ancestors are! How many of them are worthy of having their own Wikipedia page. Can you drop a few into a casual dinner conversation and see who can be the most interesting.

The word Wikigree could have a number attached to it depending on how many ancestors in your family tree have a Wikipedia page. This would be your Wikigree number. You could be a Wikigree 3 or a Wikigree 7 etc. This could be quite useful for many things, for example, when visiting genealogical dinner parties and events.
The Genealogical Dinner Party
(by Peder Severin Kroyer 1851-1909)
Obviously you don’t want to go to a party with other people who have a Wikigree number different than your own. If you had a high Wikigree number you went to a party for people with low Wikigree numbers you might find the conversation a little dull. You would be bored. Similarly if you had a low Wikigree number and you went to a party for high Wikigree number people you might find that you run out of things to say and felt a little out of place.

It would be interesting to see who we’d get if our national leaders were chosen  by the person with the highest Wikigree number. For Great Britain it would be one of Queen Elizabeth II (or one of her grandchildren), So not much change there. For the USA it would be easy too. It would be a Kennedy and with the occasional Schwarzenegger thrown in as well. Australia would be a tricky one. Would it be Malcolm Turnbull, Paul Hogan, Dick Smith or Ray Martin? It’s very hard to say until people have worked out what their Wikigree number is.

So this is what I urge you to do. Go out there and work on your family trees. Right now! No excuses! You shouldn’t be wasting your time reading other people’s silly frivolous genealogy blogs. You should be researching and writing one yourself.



Friday, 10 October 2014


View of Sydney Harbour from Waverton c1895 (watercolour by C H Woolcott)
This was a question was received by local history staff at Stanton Library. It was pointed out to us that there are two places in England with this name, one in Cumbria and the other in Cheshire, and the one in Cheshire had a place named Crows Nest right near to it, similar to the Sydney suburb of Waverton which adjoins the suburb of Crows Nest. We had anecdotal evidence that our Waverton had been named after the Waverton in Cumbria, but we did not know for certain.
At first glance you would not think that this historical question would be solved by looking at genealogical records. But once you know that the suburb Waverton was named after Waverton House, one of the first homes built in the area and you know that many house names came from the place of origin of its inhabitants then you know this is a good place to start looking.
Waverton House c1880
William and Charlotte Carr bought the estate which included Waverton House in 1849. The estate was originally owned by Joseph Henry Purser (1818-1848) who built the house in 1845. William and Charlotte Carr were probably the Mr & Mrs Carr who arrived on the ship ‘The Australian’ from London on 5 May 1840 with two children. They had two sons Mark and Henry. William Carr died in 1854 (aged 50) and was buried in nearby St Thomas Cemetery, North Sydney. His widow Charlotte Carr was thought to have moved to St Leonards Cottage, 6 Napier St North Sydney (today’s Don Bank Museum) after her husband’s death. She returned to live in the UK around 1865.
So where did they come from? I started the search by looking for where Charlotte died.
In the English Probate Index there is a Charlotte Jefferson Carr who died on 16th September 1885 in St Andrews, Scotland. It says she lived at ‘St Leonards Cottage’ but there is no mention that this is a cottage in Australia, indeed there is a St Leonards parish close to where she lived in St Andrews, Scotland.
from the English Probate Index
I retrieved Charlotte Jefferson Carr’s Will from the ScotlandsPeople website, it says she was ‘sometimes residing at no 4 Lockhart Place afterwards at St Leonards Cottage, St Andrews, and widow of William Carr of Sydney.”   
This connects her with Sydney and William Carr.
St Leonards Cottage (now Don Bank Museum, 6 Napier St, North Sydney)
Looking at the benefactors in her Will, there were a few named Jefferson (Henry, Jane, Mary, Elizabeth). The Probate Index suggests her maiden name was Jefferson. In both her Will and the Probate Index her relatives with the surname Jefferson come from Springfield near Whitehaven. Looking at a current map of England Whitehaven is a small coastal town in present day Cumbria (formerly Cumberland). It is 44Km from the village named Waverton in Cumbria.
There is a birth record for a Charlotte Jefferson who was born on 25 Feb 1806 (chr 7 Mar 1806) at Holy Trinity Church in Whitehaven as well as a marriage record of a Charlotte Jefferson marrying a William Carr in the same church on 1 May 1832. If this is the right person the dates look plausible. She was married when 26 yrs of age they left for Australia in 1840 with the two children they had in the previous years.
According to the parish records of St Andrews in Scotland the Charlotte Jefferson Carr who died there in 1885 was 79 years of age when she died. She would therefore have been born in 1806 which is the right birth year.
Looking at records for her husband William Carr, he died of dysentery in Sydney in 1854 aged 50 so he should have been born around 1804. Looking at the records for Holy Trinity Church in Whitehaven there was a William Carr born there on 13 May 1805 (chr 14 May 1805) whose parents were William and Mary Carr. Looking at William Carr’s headstone date this would mean that, if this was him, he would have died two months short of his 50th birthday.  That is a close date but not exact. Possibly a mistake on his headstone.

(A more likely explanation is that the William Carr of Whitehaven was not this William Carr. See KatyNick's comment at the bottom of this blog post showing that Hexham, Northumberland was a more likely place of origin for William Carr)
(More research is being done into this and a follow up blog post will be coming soon. Thanks KatyNick for the info you provided!)
William Carr's Tombstone St Thomas Cemetery
Although close these are still not direct references to the village of Waverton which is 44km from Whitehaven.
Waverton, Cumberland is in the parish of Wigton. The parish records of St Mary's Wigton, which is the local church, are available transcribed on line. There isn’t a William Carr christened there, or anyone named Charlotte Jefferson, but there is a marriage between:
Wm Carr batchr of this parish aged 24 and Mary Watson Spinster of this parish aged 25 by Banns in the Presence of John Peet & Mary Ismay (26 March 1798). Could that be William Carr’s parents who shortly afterwards moved to Whitehaven?
Unfortunately the records of land ownership for Waverton are not available online or in any local library so we cannot be sure if the Carr family owned land there.
Another possible connection with the Carr family and Waverton Cumberland was the small boarding school in that village called Waver House Academy (it had about 20 boys in 1841). William might have been a student there but there are no online lists of the school’s students from around 1820’s so this can’t be confirmed. There is a James Carr there in the 1841 census but no connection between him and William has been found.
While the connection between the Carr’s and the village of Waverton is not totally clear, there is a definite link between the Carr’s and the county of Cumberland. The place of the Carr’s marriage and Mrs Carr’s birth, Whitehaven, being 44 km from Waverton, makes that village a more likely source for their house name in Sydney than Waverton in Cheshire.
It’s always interesting to me that you can find answers to historical puzzles like this from looking at genealogical records. It’s not the first place you would think of looking but I’ve seen a lot of examples like this. I think a good understanding of family history research should be an essential skill for every local history librarian.

Dedication of Brennan Park, Waverton 1913
(photos copyright North Sydney Heritage Centre, Stanton Library)