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)

Friday, 3 October 2014


How do you put a price on history? I am always amazed at how cheaply you can buy a historical artefact. I love visiting antique shops. When I do, I see such amazing things, clothing, furniture, crockery, items the function of which has been forgotten. I particularly like old photos and postcards, they will often have a little writing on the back the name of the person in the photo or, if a postcard, will have a little note written on the back by the sender. If it was displayed in a museum it would look priceless but in an antique shop the price be very small.
I personally enjoy visiting antique shops better than visiting museums. In an antique shop you can touch things, pick them up, turn them over and look at what’s underneath. Maybe, if the shop keeper isn’t looking, you can also give things a little shake or see how they smell. 
I bought this photo on ebay a couple of years ago for $10. It’s a handsome photo of a very well dressed mature man with, what I thought, was a sympathetic face. ‘Rev F L Kelly’ was written on the back. On the front it had the photographer’s name ‘Brenton R Rice’ and the location of his studio: North Sydney. As a local history librarian I thought this would be a great one to research and add to North Sydney Library’s photo collection.
The surname Kelly is not the easiest name to research but the fact that he was a Reverend narrows it down quite considerably. It is a cabinet card photograph. I thought, from the quality of the photo and backing cardboard, probably taken in the late 1890s. I looked in the Sands Sydney directory of the time and found nothing. I tried the Trove website and looked through library files on the various churches that were in our area. Nothing there either.
I thought Rev Kelly might have only been visiting North Sydney when he decided to get his photo taken here. But where was he visiting from? I approached the nearby archivist of St Mary’s Church (North Sydney) but he knew nothing. What was going on here? I was completely stumped.
I thought I’d try researching the photographer. Even if I couldn’t find the subject the photo would be a great artefact of a local North Sydney business.
You might know that the best reference sourcebook for this kind of thing is a book entitled, ‘The Mechanical Eye in Australia: photography 1841-1900’ by Alan Davies & Peter Stanbury. It really is the bible of Australian historical photography. It has a complete listing of every commercial photographer in Australia, when they operated and what address their business operated from. Every photograph that was commercially produced back then had the business name of the photography studio printed on it. This can be really helpful when dating old photographs and finding where they were taken. This book is now out of print but there is usually a copy kept in the reference section of most libraries. The information in it is priceless I don’t know why they don’t reprint it.
Unfortunately ‘Brenton R Rice’ was not listed in that book as a photographer anywhere in Australia. I was amazed.
A friend pointed out to me something else mysterious about the photograph. Under the words NORTH SYDNEY were the initials C.B. What did that mean? CBD would have meant Central Business District but it was only C.B.
It was during breakfast when I was pouring some maple syrup on my pancake and about to tuck into a large helping of chocolate moose that I realised that there is another city named Sydney on this earth. That city is located in Nova Scotia, Canada. Looking on Google Maps revealed that it is on an island in Nova Scotia named Cape Breton island – C.B. and sure enough Google Maps showed there is a North Sydney there too.
I contacted Ian MacIntosh the librarian at the Cape Breton Regional Library in Sydney Nova Scotia and he said the photographer was from Cape Breton island and that the Rev Fenwick Lionel Kelly was a local of North Sydney, Nova Scotia.
Not only, it turns out, was Fenwick Lionel Kelly (1863-1944) a prominent local he was prominent nationally as, at one time, the Liberal Party member of the Canadian parliament for the seat of ‘North Cape Breton and Victoria’. He was part of Prime Minister William Lyon MacKenzie King’s government from July 1923 – September 1925.  He has his own brief Wikipedia page if you are interested.
I don’t know if the person who sold me the photo thought he was being clever by advertising it as being from North Sydney, Australia. He certainly wouldn’t have thought he was clever if he realised that he only got $10AUS from me when he could have got more like $50CAN from someone else if he knew who Rev F L Kelly really was.
I, in the end, did what I always intended to do and donated the photo to the North Sydney public library photo collection for the inhabitants of North Sydney to enjoy in perpetuity. Of course that is the North Sydney public library in Canada not the North Sydney public library here in Australia.
I had the hopeful thought that someday, if a local history librarian over there should happen to find a photo in their collection of, for example, a kangaroo hopping down one of the main streets there in Nova Scotia, that they might realise it came from an erroneous ebay purchase and send it here to add to the photo collection of Stanton Library, so that we, the inhabitants of North Sydney Municipality, could enjoy in perpetuity instead.
Ps I never found out why someone wrote he was a ‘Rev’ on the back of the photo. Any ideas or info about this is welcome.