Sunday, July 29, 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet - "L" for Local History

Local History and Genealogy

An old map of Sydney showing the original Commons, including my own area which was once part of The Field of Mars Common.


Local history is the story of a neighbourhood or a  community and the people who lived there. It is also the evidence which links people to the larger world. Local history is a reminder that history begins at home. Understanding the places in which our ancestors lived provides us with extraordinary insight into the way in which they lived and enriches our understanding of the many and varied folk who make up our ancestry.  Most places we research have local history or family history societies or centres which have accumulated a wealth of local information to draw upon, from oral anecdotes and personal stories to photographs, cemetery transcriptions, parish registers, land records including valuations, maps and many more valuable local records. Knowledge of local history can place our forebears into a geographical, economic, religious and social context. Local history plays an valuable role in family history research.  It provides evidence of the type of geographical countryside  which our ancestors inhabited. It informs us as to whether they lived in rural or agricultural regions, ports, in country towns or in cities. From local history we can discover how our ancestors worked, where they married, what type of home they lived in, as well as topographical evidence of surname origins. Through the study of local history, we can understand our ancestors and their environment. It is this type of broader understanding which provides us with a much closer perspective of our ancestors' lives  and which puts the meat on the bare bones of our family history research. Local history makes family history more than just a family tree.


The study of local history has its origins in the antiquarian writings of the past, which were for the most part, topographical descriptions, largely affiliated with the study of heraldry and genealogy. The works of early 'local historians' are of significant value today to historians and especially to family historians, for without local history... the larger pattern could never be completed. [V.Hicken "The Continuing Significance of Local History] In my own family history research in Northumberland, England, I have drawn upon the writings of Bede, in his well known Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum, or An Ecclesiastical History of the English People which he completed in around 731. and which is a most excellent source of reference regarding the topography and the people of ancient Northumbria. 

Bede, the father of English History and local historian.

Maps, and especially old maps, afford us clues as to where our ancestors lived and significantly, where  to search for records. Old local maps, may be helpful in finding the place where an ancestor lived if the place name has changed. Studying maps of the locality in which our ancestors lived can tell us much about how they lived. Details such as the locale of a river or bridge or a dense wood, could indicate whether an ancestor travelled by foot or perhaps by water from place to place, or might suggest something about the recreational activities of an ancestor, for example,  hunting or fishing.  Old maps sometimes note precise details about the locality in which forebears lived, and if you are especially fortunate, as I have been, may detail the outline of the actual home your ancestor lived in. Local history centres and libraries hold old gazetteers, maps and other topographical records which may be of assistance in your research.


An old map showing the location of my great grandparents' flax farm and house in Brookend, Co. Tyrone

Many Libraries today have a Local History Collection. which may be accessed by members of the public. Usually this collection of local resources is for reference, however, some books may be available for borrowing. Most libraries have a Local Studies Officer to help you with your research. Below is an example of the local resources offered by my own Shire Library:
  • Books covering a range of local topics.
  • Newspapers, periodicals and newspapers published locally.
  • Pamphlet files on a number of subjects, containing clippings from local newspapers, brochures, and other material.


  • Maps and plans on a miscellaneous range of subjects, including local subdivisions, early parish maps, and local projects.
  • Council reports on environmental, planning and administration issues from all sections of [the] Library Council.
  • Archives, including annual reports, newsletters, minutes,and letters donated by local organisations such as schools, sporting clubs, and community associations.
  • Microfilm resources including local newspapers, Council Rate Books, phone books, and the Sands Street Directory going back a century.
  • Street and Place Name Database which gives historical origins of local streets and localities in the Shire.
  • Photographs and prints of locations around the Shire,..... which show how the area has changed over time.
  • The Library also provides a Family History Reference Collection which is adjacent to the Local Studies Reading Room. This Collection includes handbooks, reference works, and historical records on CD-ROM, microfiche, and microfilm. 



Council Rate Book on Microfilm 

There are numerous Local History resources available to assist in the search for family history. The following website  provides 16 pages of valuable links to Australian Local History resources.

  •  http://www.coraweb.com.au/local.htm   


Queensland Post Office Guide.

For UK Local History resources, there are more than 150 links to helpful websites at

  • http://www.local-history.co.uk/links/historical.html 

Websites such as Ancestry.com and FindmyPast.com offer subscriptions to collections of local records including, gazetteers, probate and land records, parish records, electoral rolls, directories, almanacs and maps. 

Researching Local History, in the places where my own ancestors came from or migrated to, has not only allowed me  to understand the social and cultural context of their lives but more significantly it has enabled me to build  picture of them as 'real' people/ Local History has opened a window to the past. from a visit  the Toowoomba Local History Library, in South east Queensland, I learned that my great great grandfather, Gottlieb Nerger donated 1 Pound in 1961, towards the building of the first Lutheran Church in Toowoomba. By comparing this amount to other local donations, I could ascertain that he was faring quite well as a farmer in Drayton after arriving from Prussia in 1852 on board the Caesar Godeffroy. 

Toowoomba Local History Library. 


On a trip to Cooroy, I visited the local history centre in the new Cooroy Library. There I discovered a  photograph of not only the private hospital which my Morrison family had owned and operated, which no longer exists, but I was thrilled to find that two of my great aunts were pictured standing on the verandah of the old hospital. No current family member had ever seen this photograph. Another picture showed the exact location of the hospital in the town amongst the neighbouring buildings. 

My great Aunts on the verandah of their private hospital in Cooroy.


Although I had visited the Cooroy Butter Factory, which my great great grandfather John Morrison was a part owner of,  (the brick building pictured bottom below) it was at a local history museum in Pomona, a neighbouring town of Cooroy in Queensland, that I discovered a photograph of the original Butter Factory which would have been the actual building at the time he lived in Cooroy. I was unaware that this building had burned to the ground and been rebuilt. 


The original Cooroy Butter Factory 


The Cooroy Butter Factory today, now an Arts centre.

With the assistance of the Centenary Historical Society in Brisbane, I learned that the first ever attempt to fly a light aircraft took place on the land which became my great grandfather's farm at Seventeen Mile Rocks. A plaque in honour of this flight has been placed on the land which belonged to my family recently. But for this independently collected and conserved local history, I would not have known that my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland had owned this particular piece of land. Further to this information, I learned that he had purchased a significant number of  parcels of farming land at what is now known as the suburb of Jindalee in Brisbane, (the suburb in which I grew up) and this knowledge has allowed me to understand that he was not merely a farmer, but he was a considerably a well to do Gentleman farmer. I have been able to place my ancestor into a realistic social context.  


Hugh Eston White and his wife Sarah (Thompson) at Carrig-Na-Gule Seventeen Mile Rocks

The individual and personal histories of our ancestors are inherently local histories, however, collectively, their historical  impact is of national and world significance. For family historians, Local History adds immeasurable depth to the stories of our forebears. 























Saturday, July 21, 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet - K for Kelly's Handbook.

Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes




As family historians, we need to stay abreast of the continually expanding resources available to us both online and in books and  records in libraries and in archives. Occasionally you will be fortunate enough to find evidence of your ancestors in unexpected places, as I did, when searching for my great uncle Rex Morley Hoyes. I will relate my own experience with finding genealogical information in  Kelly's handbook before detailing a short history of this excellent family history resource.

Uncle Rex was one of my most fascinating but extremely elusive relatives, possibly because he was involved in a considerable number of either secret or 'not quite legal' activities. Much of my information concerning him was discovered in newspapers, where court cases he was involved in were reported. Suspected of bribery and corruption during World War 2, he and his wife's ( or wives 'names ) name frequented the London Times. Being a 'high roller' and an  unexplainable society figure in London, his wife's name appeared in the social columns regularly. especially when she was presented to the King and Queen of England. Rex was named in the London Times on occasions when he dined with Lord Mountbatten and attended horse racing events with other members nobility.   Rex's story of  intrigue continued throughout the press which informed of  activities such as when he became involved in illegal gun running to Hyderabad with Australian pilot Sidney Cotton in 1948.

 In a google book search his name appeared in the Guy Liddell Diaries (MI5) as he was suspected of being a spy during WW2. His work for the war effort is well documented in aircraft journals because he constructed a secret air strip as well as aircraft hangars on his property in Hampshire known as Marwell Hall (once belonging to King Henry VIII). From here he helped to convert Sea Fire aircraft to Spitfires. The aircraft flew test flights, using mainly female test pilots,  at  Marwell Hall's  secret airstrip which was well away from the frequent bombings in Southampton (Eastleigh) where the Aircraft Company he managed (Cunliffe-Owen) was located. 

Despite the wealth of information I was able to find about my uncle Rex's life, I knew relatively little about his earlier years and I suspected from the information I had already discovered, that there was much more to his interesting life story.  Then I found an entry for him in the Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes dated 1966, which I almost overlooked because he had changed his name from Rex Morley Hoyes to Rex Morley-Morley. (This followed an earlier name changed whereby he hyphenated Morley and Hoyes thus becoming Rex Morley-Hoyes. If uncle Rex did not wish to leave a trail of evidence about his life, he did not bargain on THIS determined family historian!

FindmyPast has now added Kelly's Handbook the many wonderful records they have on their site. http://www.findmypast.co.uk  

I discovered enough tantalizing information to know that I needed to find a 1966 copy of Kelly's Handbook to purchase for myself. After much searching, I finally discovered a copy with Harrowden Books  in High Street, Finedon, Wellingborough, UK. The copy of Kellys' Handbook was described by the book seller as 'red cloth binding with gilt titles and decor  to front and spine. Rear board has 5' long split and remainder is ribbed.....'

The Front Cover of my copy of Kelly' Handbook, 1966.


The Rear Cover of my copy of Kelly's Handbook, 1966.
The Spine of my copy of Kelly's Handbook 1966

The entry for my great uncle on page 1432,  was a wealth of genealogical information. I learned his year of birth in New Zealand and that he was educated at King's College in Auckland and also that he was further educated in the USA. I was furnished with details about each of his marriages as well as the names of the parents of his wives. The listing described Rex's very interesting occupational  history and the various clubs which he was members of, such as the Royal New Zealand Yacht Club, The Royal Cornwall Yacht Club and the Royal Southampton Yacht Club. This information led me on to new line of investigation whereby I discovered that he had owned a number of boats and a large steam yacht named Warrior ( one of the largest of its kind in the world).

Warrior,  built in 1901 for Frederick Vanderbilt and purchased by my uncle in 1934.

I was surprised to learn that in 1947, my uncle Rex was the Air Advisor to the Nizam of Hyderabad, the wealthiest man in the world. This information explained to me why Rex would have felt compelled to offer help to the Nizam when in 1948, India launched an attack on the small province in an attempt to take it over. ( I am certain that there was a monetary remuneration of interest as well). 

From information in the Kelly's Handbook, 1966, about my great uncle's involvement in the Royal Automobile Clubs in France and Monaco, I was able to discover that he had listings for residential addresses in countries other than England. One of his addresses was the King George V Hotel, in Paris,  which is the same hotel where Princess Diana and Dodi were dining just before their death. His other addresses included exotic places such as Geneva, Morocco, Bel-Air, and 34 Boulevard Antee, Tangiers. As you might imagine there are new and exciting avenues of research which will arise from this information. 

Finding my great Uncle in the Kelly's Handbook of Titled, Landed and Official Classes, was, to say the least, a surprising discovery and a significant one because it eventually led me to knock down a stubborn brick wall and to finally find his death in 1984 under the titled name of Fessenden Charles, R. Morley- Morley Viscompt de Borenden. I am still researching how he came to be known by the name under which he died. There is much more, I am sure, to the intriguing life of Rex Morley Hoyes aka Morley-Hoyes, aka Morley-Morley, aka Viscompt de Borenden. I am currently searching for his fourth wife whom I suspect may still be alive. 

Kelly's Handbook is possibly a commonly overlooked family history resource. I would never have expected a man such as my great uncle, born in New Zealand in 1901, to a furniture maker and a dentist, who became a stockbroker before managing a number of Aircraft Companies, who was pursued by MI5 for many years to be listed in a publication of Titled and Upper Classes of England.  Never overlook any resource is now my family history research motto, especially, Kelly's Handbook.



Entry in Kelly's Handbook for Rex Morley-Morley



History of Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes

Kelly's Handbook began as an exclusive alphabetical listing of all members of noble families and was first published in 1875 under the title, The Upper Ten Thousand. In 1878 the name of this publication's name was changed to Kelly's Handbook of the Upper Ten Thousand and in 1880 becme known as Kelly's Handbook to the Titled, Landed and Official Classes. 

The handbook's name from 1880.

From 1880 this publication placed even more importance on listing the names of members of the British Upper Class. This continued until 1973. Each entry in the Kelly's Handbook, features the main events in the lives of those persons mentioned in the publication. A significant feature for family historians is the wonderful genealogical information to be found with regard to individuals. Kelly's Handbook is well worth a look at. If you are fortunate, as I was, you just might find the key to your ancestor's life in this publication unexpectedly.


PS: I would also like to add a word about The genealogists for Families Project which I am involed in. This project is a su group of  KIVA, a non profit organisation which organises micro loans to peole throughout the world to help them enrich thrie lives with dignity. Have a look at  http://www.kiva.org 
You don't have to be a genealogist - you just need to care.




Friday, July 13, 2012

Illuminating Blogger Award

It's Lovely to be Appreciated....
Illuminating Blogger Award

One of the greatest rewards for a blogger is to have readers of your writing appreciate your effort. Awards, for me are a much appreciated, although unexpected, reward for the research and time spent writing my family history blogs. 

Merron Riddiford of the Western District Families blog  http://mywdfamilies.wordpress.com/2012/07/11/illuminating-blogger-award/   
 has graciously nominated me for the above award for my FamilyHistory4u blog and in particular for my recent post which as part of the Family History through the Alphabet challenge, featured "I" for the Immigration research centre on Ellis Island, a place which I recently visited. 

Thank you also to the official award site, which is  the Food Stories Blog
http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/ 

Merron, of Western District Families, very kindly wrote of my blog FamilyHistory4u: The research and detail that goes into each post is fantastic.... 
There is no greater praise than that from another writer. So, thank you Merron for appreciating my blog and I do hope you get to Ellis Island to see for yourself where your Riddiford ancestors arrived in the USA. 

I began blogging as a way of combining my love of writing and my passion for family history and historical research. Well...to be completely honest, I started blogging after watching the movie Julie/Julia. I had never even thought of blogging until that evening in 2009, when the true story of a food blogger changed my life!  I sat down immediately following the film, and set up my first blog. Then I sat wondering, "Now what on earth will I blog about?" With my passion for family history and history, it took me all of two seconds to answer that question! I had no idea that there was a whole world of genealogy bloggers as well as other fascinating bloggers out in cyberpace waiting for me to join them. I have learned so much from the wonderful world of blogging. Blogging has connected me to relatives and fellow researchers and many new friends all around the world. It is just about the best thing I have ever done and that others enjoy reading my blog posts is a bonus. 

As a condition of accepting this award I am going to nominate six blogs which I enjoy following and from each of which I have taken away some new and exciting knowledge.

Dance Skeletons  ( http://www.danceskeletons.blogspot.com.au )  Fi welcomes you to her blog by announcing that she is 'having a heap of fun making those family skeletons dance" and it seems that she is certainly enjoying blogging about her finds. With a fascinating variety of titles, such as Gallipoli in his own words and  Interesting facts or things I thought only happened in other families, Fi's writing keeps me entertained as well as being interesting and informative. I particularly enjoy reading her Favourite Finds series of blogs which puts me in touch with new blogs that Fi has discovered. Most exciting, is, that Fi and I finally met in person recently at the UnlockthePast Expo 2012 in Brisbane and although we didn't have nearly enough time to chat, we did end up in a couple of geneabloggers photos for posterity!

Geneabloggers at the Brisbane UnlockthePast Expo 

Inside History Magazine  ( www.insidehistorymagazine.blogspot.com.au  )
Inside History Magazine's blog is a favourite of mine. As well as keeping me abreast of  events to be held by historical groups or libraries, every blog post informs me of something interesting about Australian and New Zealand history and heritage. Blog posts are always accompanied by excellent and relevant illustrations which are well sourced from libraries and Trove for example. One of the most exciting features of this particular blog is the 'Ask Our Experts" facility. For anyone who has a genealogical problem or question related to a historical document, you can email or post an inquiry to Inside History ( address displayed on the blog) which kindly offers free assistance by experts in the field. There is a also link to the very helpful 'Bob's your Uncle' section in the magazine which offers researchers the opportunity to connect with historians or others researching the same topic or family history. Even though I subscribe to this excellent  magazine which is published six times per year, I enjoy reading the Inside History Magazine blog and always take something new away with me from each blog post. Cassie and Ben from Inside History Magazine must be very busy people!

A Family Tapestry   ( www.afamilytapestry.blogspot.com.au )
Jacqi Stevens' sets the scene  for her beautifully  written blog in her profile where she says,  From my family I receive my heritage: through family I leave a legacy. With family I weave a tapestry. These are my strands.
Jacqi's wonderful way with words is enhanced by the soft 'old world' colour scheme in the layout of her blog which also makes each blog easy to read. Blog posts with titles such as Inspiration for a  Namesake and More Hats and Bonnets are  creatively written and beautifully illustrated as well as featuring well highlighted links. I love nothing more than to sit down with a cup of tea and read this blog.

A Rebel Hand  ( http://www.rebelhand.wordpress.com/ )
Francis is the three times great grand daughter of Nicholas Delaney, United Irishman, transported convict, Sydney roadbuilder, NSW farmer, publican...
A Rebel Hand is one of my favourite blogs, especially as I have convict ancestors of my own. I always find Frances's research fascinating, her writing style entertaining and her highlighted links a useful source of information. Titles such as The cook, the thieves, the prostitute and the postilion - convicts transported to Australia  cannot fail to capture attention and the content of each blog never disappoints. A favourite post from this blog has been When John met Sarah - convict courtship. This blog provides most helpful sources for anyone researching convict ancestors or just for anyone interested in convict life. The header on this blog is one of the most colourful and creative designs I have seen.

The Armchair Genealogist     ( www.thearmchairgenealogist.com )
Lyn Palermo's blog deserves a mention because this generous blogger primarily focuses on offering tips on how to research your family history. Lyn shares her own journey into her ancestry as well as providing advice about how to research and write your own family history. Links at the top of the vibrantly coloured blog includes Beginners -Start Here, Family History Writing Challenge, Writing Your Family History, Self Publishing, Everyone has a Family Story - Tell me Yours.
One feature of Lyn's blog which I particularly enjoy is her Old fashioned Recipe Collection, although I must admit to being remiss in that I have not yet contributed to this despite having some wonderful old Irish recipes passed down to me.

Fur Trade Family History  (www.furtradefamilyhistory.blogspot.com/ )
This blog written by Nancy Marguerite Anderson who lives in Canada, began as a journey into the past life of her own Fur trade Ancestor, Alexander Caulfield Anderson. Nancy subsequently published her fascinating findings in a book which has been published. This blog is one of the most interesting blogs that I follow and I do so with great enthusiasm. It is a wealth of information about life in the times of the Fur trade Industry in Canada. Nancy's research has expanded over time to include many people who were employed by the Hudson's Bay Company and the NorthWest Company. She explores Indian life, medicines used and many other fascinating topics related to the Fur trade. If you had any ancestors who disappeared from Scotland (in particular the Orkney area) or England in the late 1700's and the 1800's it is worthwhile looking at this blog. You just might discover that your own forebear journeyed to the wilderness of Canada in the employ of the Fur Trade Companies. Whether or not you have ancestors in Canada, this is a wonderfully informative, detailed and extremely entertaining blog, and one well worth a look at.

Upon accepting this award, I have agreed to reveal one random fact about myself. In my twenties I learned to fly light aircraft. I took lessons in a high wing Cessna plane. As part of my training I had to sit for a radio operator's licence and my instructor decided to play a joke on me as I was only the second female to take flying lessons in the town in which I was living. Unbeknown to me, he gave me a very outdated  manual of instructions which I learned off by heart, and I was quite confident that I would achieve 100% in the exam, something no male trainee pilot had done. I answered every question correctly until I got to the last one. The examiner asked me to describe the signals on an airstrip necessary for a pilot to recognise when landing. My manual had listed smoke signals ( I HAD  thought this odd and asked my instructor about it, but unaware I was being set up, I went ahead, as advised, and  learned the information....) As I  launched into my detailed description of smoke signals, the examiner  almost died laughing at my reply. Despite my protests that I had been given the wrong information to learn, I achieved the mark of 99% and I realised that I should have known that lights are used to signal aircraft - NOT smoke signals anymore!

If you have been nominated for this award, these are the steps you need to take:

1. The Nominee should visit the award site ( http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/ ) and leave a comment indicating that they have been nominated and by whom. (This step is important as it is the only way that we can create a blogroll of award winners).


2. The Nominee should thank the person who nominated them by posting and including a link to their blog.

3.The Nominee should include a courtesy link back to the official award site  (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/ ) in their blog post.

4. The Nominee should share one random thing about themself in their blog post.

5. Select at least 5 other bloggers whose blogs you enjoy reading and find to be illuminating informative posts and nominate them for the award.

6. Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award ).

Thanks again to Merron Riddiford of Western District Families for the nomination.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Family History Through the Alphabet - I is for IMMIGRATION History Centre, Ellis Island.

The American Family Immigration History Centre - at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum



On April 17, 2001, a celebration was held at the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, to mark the opening of the American Family Immigration History Centre [AFIHC], which is located within the museum itself on Ellis Island. 
Between 1892 and 1924, over 22 million people, both passengers and ships' crew members, arrived in the United States of America, passing through the point of entry known as Ellis Island.
This research facility allows visitors to the museum to search the exceptional collection of of over 25 million passenger arrival records which are housed in the Ellis Island Archives. These records are also available to search online, however, a visit to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum is a most worthwhile experience and the research facility serves to enhances the visit and the 'immigrant experience'.


Passport of an Immigrant who entered America through Ellis Island


Before arriving at the Immigration History Centre, located on the ground floor of the Museum, it is a good idea to have collected as much information about your ancestor as possible, such as name, country of origin and approximate age at the time of arrival. After giving your name to an attendant at the main counter,  you will be set up at a computer station where you will be able to search passenger records, view original ships manifests and view and order images of the ships on which your ancestors arrived in America. 
Although I had previously researched my own ancestors who passed journeyed through Ellis Island online from Australia, I was excited to experience the search at the American Family Immigration History centre as a part of the whole Ellis Island Museum experience.  Below is pictured the the computer station at which I conducted my search for ancestors and relatives who journeyed through Ellis Island to make a new life in America. 








One of the the Computer Stations at the AFIHC


Searching for my Great Aunt, Margaret Smith from Glasgow


A ship's manifest with passenger's names, ages and other details.



Results of my search for a GAIR ancestor.



As you find information about your ancestors you may save your searches. Copies of Ships Manifests are available free of charge at the end of your search and for a small fee, a printout of the image of the ship on which your ancestor arrived at Ellis Island can be copied for you.

Visitors to the Family Immigration Centre.


Here, you can collect your free printout of your ancestors passenger details.


When searching for ancestors, whether in the Immigration History Centre or on the Ellis Island website www.ellisisland.org/  you are able to set up your own Ellis Island File. In this file you can save searches and copies of ships manifests as well as images of the ships on which your ancestors travelled. If you are searching in person on Ellis Island at the American Family Immigration History Centre you will receive free of charge one document with the details from your ancestor's passenger manifest. For a small fee you can order and take home a printout of the image of the ship as well. There are a range of frames and other ways in which to present your certificates and images available at the centre, although if, like myself, you are travelling, you might prefer to place them in a cylinder which the centre  can also make available. 



My Certificate for Robert Crail



Information about the Ship on which Robert Crail travelled.


I chose to print out information about one of my husband's relatives, Robert Crail, who immigrated to America in 1920. Robert arrived at Ellis Island on February, 25, 1920 on board the  Kaiserin Augusta Victoria. Above are the details from the ships manifest which informed me that he left from Liverpool, England and that Robert was Irish. A second certificate provided me with interesting information about the ship itself. I also received a certificate of authenticity along with a good quality image of the ship, Kaiserin Augusta Victoria. If you happen to be travelling to New York,  I would certainly recommend a visit to the Ellis Island Museum and The American Family Immigration History centre. 


Kaiserin Augusta Victoria



Certificate of Authenticity



An Image on the Computer Screen during the Tutorial



Model of the Ellis Island Museum in the restored Immigration Centre



My Tickets for a great day at the Ellis Island Museum and IMMIGRATION History Centre.










Tuesday, July 3, 2012

"Names are not always what they seem to be" Mark Twain - Finding Mary.

Finding Mary

Note: This picture is not of my Mary Fearns but a photograph  in my collection of another Mary.



Every family historian is familiar with the many beguiling hiding places in which our forebears can lurk to avoid being found. Ancestors artfully concealed themselves behind altered or mis-spelled names and incorrectly recorded birth places. They mysteriously disappeared from census records.   They seemingly stowed away on long voyages never to appear on passenger lists. Although we may have one definite record of their existence... we simply do not seem to be able to find a trace of them anywhere else.  This is a common and frustrating problem for family historians. I have encountered this predicament on numerous occasions whilst researching my family history but perhaps no research has been  so exasperating as that of the search for my missing Mary.

 According to her marriage record, my maternal 2 x great grandmother, was  named Mary FEARNS. On her marriage certificate issued at the time of her marriage to my 2 x great grandfather, James GIBSON, on December 15, 1862 in Polmont, Stirlingshire, Scotland, according to the Banns of the Church of Scotland, Mary's parents were named as George FEARNS and Mary Ann COUPLES. Adding confusion to my search, Mary's maiden name on the Baptism records for her four children, was FARNES.  It was recorded as FEARNS again on her second and third marriage documents. I did not see this seemingly simple name variation as an impediment to finding Mary....


Marriage Certificate of Mary Fearns and James Gibson 1862

Mary's age at the time of her marriage in December, 1862 was 18, so I estimated her birth to have occurred in 1843 or 1844. I am usually wary of the accuracy of given ages, especially since I had an eternally youthful great great grandmother who remained at the age of 34 years from  her immigration to Australia in 1870 until her third marriage some 25 years later! In Mary's case, however, because she was a minor at the time of her marriage and therefore would have required consent to marry from her parents, it seemed unlikely that her age would be incorrect.  Noting that the wedding took place in the Parish of Polmont in the County of Stirling, I began my search for Mary's birth in Stirlingshire, Scotland.

Despite a significant amount of searching, I could not find any evidence of the birth of Mary Fearns/ Farnes, even after extending the range of birth years considerably. After expanding my hunt from Stirlingshire to the whole of Scotland,  Mary still remained elusive. Added to this frustration was the fact that I was also unable to locate a marriage for her parents George Fearns and Mary Ann Couples. I searched for George under every variation of the surname Fearns that I could think of. I even had a lady who was tracing her FARNES tree, who popped my Mary on her own family tree convinced that my Mary FEARNS and her missing Mary FARNES were one and the same person.  I wasn't so easily persuaded that this was true, especially as she, like myself, had not found a marriage for the parents, and so my search for Mary continued.

Although Mary's marriage to James Gibson occurred in Scotland I extended my search to other places with no sign of a birth of my Mary Fearns. I discovered a Mary Fearns aged 3 years in the 1841 Scottish census living with parents James and Mary in Stirling. The question was raised then as to whether her father's name was wrongly recorded as George on her marriage certificate. Or as happens frequently, did George use several names, or perhaps his middle name? As I followed this particular Mary Fearns through the census records, I realised with disappointment, that she was definitely not my Mary.

On the 1871 Scottish census on the Scotland's People website, I found Mary living with her husband James Gibson and children Margaret 4 years, Robert 2 years and Mary ages 9 months. Mary's age was given as 30 years and her birth place as Camelon, Stirling. This placed her birth around 1841 however, I am well aware that one must be wary of ages on census records. Many an enumerator, rounded ages to the nearest 0 or 5.


Mary Gibson (Fearns) on the Scottish 1871 census.

The next record of Mary I located, was in 1872, on the birth record of her daughter, Elizabeth Gibson, my great grandmother. Although I found a death for Mary's husband, James Gibson, in 1876, I once again lost the trail of Mary herself. As one does when encountering a stubborn brick wall, I reluctantly left Mary missing for a while, until one day, I had one of those family historian 'hunches' which hit, almost as a revelation.

My great grandmother's youngest 'son', (in truth, her grandson brought up by his grandparents) was named Alexander Gilmour McDade. For many years I had pondered the significance of this middle name Gilmour. My Scottish forebears were quite traditional and had afforded all of their children family surnames as middle names, however, I was at a loss to find anyone with the surname of  Gilmour in my ancestry. The Scottish naming patterns are exceedingly useful when tracing family in the past, so I decided to concentrate on the name Gilmour as a possible way of finding Mary. I was well aware of bearing in mind that my grandfather's 'family' middle name of HAMILTON had turned out to be the name of the Doctor who delivered him as a baby and NOT a family member. His parents, with nine  children,  resorted to naming their son after the doctor, having run out of family surnames!  But, with high hopes, I began to think that since I could not find a death for Mary GIBSON (FEARNS), that perhaps, widowed with a young family, she  had remarried after her husband James Gibson had died. And perhaps... just perhaps, she had married a man named GILMOUR. As the step father of Mary's children, HE may have been afforded the honour of his surname as a middle name for the a grandchild.

I had previously searched in vain for a second marriage for Mary Fearns, whose parents were George Fearns and Mary Couples. This time I searched for a marriage of Mary FEARNS to a spouse with the surname GILMOUR and there it was!  On March 1, 1880, in Denny, Stirling, Mary FEARNs had married John GILMOUR.  I had not found the marriage earlier because Mary's mother's name was incorrectly given as Mary BULLOCK instead of COUPLES on the marriage certificate. By now, having traced the ancestry of Mary's first husband, James Gibson, I knew that his mother's maiden name was Bullock and although I am mystified as to how the wrong name appeared on Mary's marriage document, after many years of researching family history, I am well used to surprises!

I now knew that by 1880, my Mary Fearns had become Mary Gilmour. This was a significant discovery as I had been unable to find Mary's children from her first marriage, including my great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson in the 1881 census. In the 1881 Scottish census I found Mary and John Gilmour with Mary's children from her marriage to James Gibson using the surname of GILMOUR. When I had searched for my my great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson and her sister Mary previously I had been unable to find them in the 1881 census because I was searching for the surname of GIBSON.

The 1891 and 1901 censuses show Mary living with her husband John Gilmour and two daughters, Helen  and Isabella, half siblings to my great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson, her sisters, Mary and Margaret and brother Robert.


Mary,  her third husband  John Gilmour and children from this marriage.


Armed with Mary's surname of GILMOUR, I easily found her death on July 20, 1913 aged 71 years at 58 Pollockshaws, Glasgow. I recognised immediately that this was my Mary, as her daughter Maggie MacKenzie was present at her death and I knew that her daughter Margaret had married a George MacKenzie.

Elizabeth Gibson McDade, Mary's daughter and my great grandmother.

I now had a paper trail of evidence of Mary's life from her marriage in 1862 to her death in 1913, however, I knew nothing at all of her life before her marriage.  Marriage, census and death records for Mary all stated that she was born in Falkirk, Stirlingshire, however, I could find no record of her birth, nor could I find Mary on the 1861 or 1851 census.

I have written an earlier blog post about my search for Mary's mother, Mary Ann COUPLES and her marriage to Mary's father George FEARNS. In summary, after trying many surname variants I eventually found the  marriage to George FARRIN, not FEARNS on January 3, 1841, in Falkirk Stirlingshire, which was the place Mary had stated as her birth place on each of the census records. I had always assumed that FARRIN was a mispelling of the name FEARNS. Ah.. perhaps I should have recalled my own earlier blog entitled "Never Assume"! 



Falkirk, Stirlingshire, where I believed Mary to be born.








The Old Parish Church Falkirk where Mary's parents were married.




Mary had consistently used the  maiden surname of FEARNS  from the time of her first marriage in 1862 until the birth of her four children when it was recorded as FARNES. The name on her death certificate was FEARNS when Mary died in 1913. I decided that it was time to consider that FARRIN might in fact be the correct surname and the all important clue to finding Mary.


I knew I needed to look for my young Mary from a different perspective. If her mother had married three times, it was possible that the children were cared for by relatives. After being widowed before she was 20 years old, Mary's mother left her first child, and Mary's half sibling, Elizabeth Gray in the care of her maternal grandparents, Alexander and Elizabeth CUPPLES. With a search of name variants I had found 'Betty' Gray with her grandparents aged 3 years in 1841.  If Mary's mother had given the care of her first child to her parents then it was entirely possible that Mary had also been left in the care of relatives when her own father died prior to 1846 and when her mother remarried. In the 1851 census Mary was not living with her mother and step father Robert McMurray and three more half siblings, William, Agnes and Elisabeth. Mary would have been aged only between 7 and 9 years in 1851, too young, hopefully, to be in service. I searched the 1851 census for the siblings of Mary's mother but my hopes were dashed when I found that Mary was not living with any of her seven Cupples aunts or uncles. 

Just this week, on an impulse, I decided to search the 1851 Scottish census records for everyone with the surname Farrin or similar variants of this name. Determined to find Mary, I googled the surname Farrin and discovered that it was a common Irish surname with variants such as  Farrins, Farren, Farrens, Ferron, Fearan, Fearns, Ferren and Ferrens. Patiently I searched Ancestry.com for each of these surnames in the 1851 Scottish census, and suddenly when I entered Mary FERRENS, I found Mary Ferrens aged 9 years, born Stirlingshire, living with her Aunt Margaret (FERRENS) and uncle George Robertson in Denny, Stirlingshire. Denny is a town in the Falkirk council area of Scotland formerly known as Stirlingshire. Denny is also the birthplace of Mary's own children. This had to be my missing Mary. Also living with this family was Mary FARRENS aged 63, born in Ireland, mother in law of George Robertson and Mary's grandmother. I knew without a doubt that I had found Mary. When I searched the Scotlands People website, I discovered that Mary's surname had been incorrectly transcribed on Ancestry.com as FERRENS and on the original census record was clearly written as  FARRENS. Sadly, at the tender age of 9 years, while her mother was living with a third husband and two more children, young Mary was working as a domestic servant.


Mary 


Discovering that Mary's grandmother and paternal aunt were born in  Ireland, explains why I have been unable to find a birth for her father George in Scotland and so in the near future my search for Mary's ancestry will take me on a journey to the Emerald Isle. And I have yet to find a record of Mary's birth.

The discrepancies in Mary's ages recorded on her marriage records and census records make it difficult to pinpoint an exact year of birth for her, however it appears that she was born between 1841 and 1844 in Stirlingshire. I believe that her actual age in 1851 may have been closer to 7 years and was possibly recorded as 9 years because she was in service. Despite searching for her birth under every possible variation of the name Farrin, I have as yet been unable to find a birth record for Mary. Mary. Mary. quite contrary, where and when were you born....

Perseverance has been so far rewarded and so I will continue my quest to find Mary....