Sunday, August 16, 2009

Primary interests and mysteries

I'm in a rare situation with my genealogy. I'm one of the few people who are able to look at having both Aboriginal and colonial/convict ancestry and be able to speak with reasonable authority on both. Certainly, On my father's side of the tree I can trace my Indigenous Australian roots to the days of first contact with Europeans, and on my mother's side I find a swag of free settlers and First Fleet convicts. It is then a surprising matter to other genealogists, that I am able to point to the fact that my Indigenous genealogy is in fact better documented than my European, despite the fact that I can trace some of those ancestral lines to the mid 1600's.

I've always had a pretty good grasp of my Koori ancestry. I grew up in Northern NSW, in touch with family who speak our native tongue, who taught me to hunt for my own food, and filled my head with occasional stories of my ancestors. I knew that my grandfather had been a great political figure of the 1930's, and that he had fought for Indigenous rights, and had served in WWII. I knew that my Great great grandmother's traditional name had been Lahndrigan, and that she had worked for the aristocratic Ogilvie family, at Baryulgil Castle on the upper Clarence River. Knowing so much was wonderful, but I still wanted to know more.

My mother's side of the tree however was a totally different kettle of fish. Mum had been raised in an orphanage in Sydney, along with her younger sister, and as it turns out, she wasn't even 100% sure of her family's last name.

I grew up sharing my mother's belief that she had been abandoned by her family. Instead, upon having acquired a copy of her birth certificate, we found that both her parents had been quite ill, and that they had both died in the same year when mum was the age of 5, and possibly after having separated from each other. Having later found a photograph of the inner city shack that her parents had called a home in the 1940's it was easy to also understand how both my maternal grandparents had become so gravely ill.

I still didn't know anything really about my mum's family. I also wanted to know a lot more about where my paternal grandfather came from, and about his people in the south, living on the Murray River. So many mysteries, where was I to start?

The registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages in NSW had provided me the first clues I had been seeking and they helped greatly in the second wave of sleuthing as well. I first obtained my mother's birth certificate. This gave me not only my mother's true surname, of FISHER (rather than SMITH), but it also gave me my maternal grandparents names: Urca MCNAMARA and Horace FISHER. This provided me with the opportunity to search the online index to find evidence of some of my mother's other siblings, if there were to be any.

I also then purchased a copy of Horace and Urca's marriage and death certificates. What the certificates were able to tell me was rather confusing, and perhaps slightly confronting. Urca had died in 1950, the same year as her husband, Horace. She died in Orange NSW, and he died in Sydney. However, on Urca's death certificate, her spouse was listed as John SMITH. I was quick to consider that this John SMITH may have been my mother's stepfather, hence why she had grown up with the SMITH surname, and why she remembered visiting her father in hospital, knowing him only as Jack SMITH. On Urca's death certificate it also showed that John SMITH had listed my mother and her two siblings (a brother and a sister) as their children, and not those of Urca alone.

This was all very well and good. It all made some sense, even if it opened up a few more questions. Well, that's what I thought until I had seen the NSW Electoral Rolls and found both Horace FISHER and Jack SMITH variously living at the same residence, at the same time. Was there an affair? Were they the same guy? I have no idea, and I'm still puzzled.


Tapgenie said...

Fascinating story. Is your Mum still around? Does she know she wasn't abandonded after all?

John Patten said...

Yep, mum is alive and well, as is my dad. I shared and continue to share everything I learn about our family history with her. The knowledge that she wasn't abandoned did, I believe, take some of the pain away.