Sunday, August 30, 2009

Ancestors I've known

As part of Randy Seaver’s ‘Saturday Night Genealogy Fun’, here is my reply to the latest challenge:

1) Write down which of your ancestors that you have met in person (yes, even if you were too young to remember them).

2) Tell us their names, where they lived, and their relationship to you in a blog post, or in comments to this post, or in comments on Facebook.

This one’s going to be relatively brief.

The only ancestors I’ve met are my dad, mum and my nanna (my dad’s mother). My paternal grandfather died in 1957, twenty years before I was born, and my maternal grandparents died in 1950.

John Trevor PATTEN (1936 - ), my father, resided in Baryulgil, Copmanhurst, Grafton, Sydney, Engadine, Bomaderry, Gulargambone, Wantabadgery, Cummeragunja, Ulmarra, Melbourne, The Philippines, Yamba, Brushgrove, Newcastle, Lithgow, and probably a few that we’ve both forgotten.

Margaret Ruth FISHER / SMITH (1943 - ), my mother, resided in Sydney, Melbourne, Ulmarra, Baryulgil, Yamba, Brushgrove, Newcastle, Lithgow

Selina PATTEN (nee AVERY, 1909 – 1983), my grandmother (my dad’s mum), resided in Baryulgil, Tabulam, Grafton, Sydney, Engadine, Casino and Bomaderry.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

American Storytelling & The Stolen Generations

Recently I’ve been exploring the world of genea-blogs, which isn’t too surprising, given that I’ve only just thrown my own hat into the ring, after having given it previous consideration, weighing up firstly whether I can afford the time required to make a descent fist of the matter. A genealogical blog is however a change of pace for me. Previously I’d always used my blog as a form of personal diary, a means to let off some steam, or entertain myself, rather than writing in the hope of gaining the attention of others. The change in direction has been well worth it though.

Seeing what other genealogy researchers have to offer, be it as pure research, statistics, stories, advice or any number of combinations of those and more factors, is both an eye opening privilege and an enjoyable adventure. In exploring the genea-blogopshere I’ve recently come across one of the finest examples in the genre, maintained by George Geder.

George Geder's blog is first and foremost a well researched genealogical record, but beyond that it is a fantastic collection of well written and thoughtful stories. Each family tale invites the reader into a welcoming embrace and allows for the research of an unfamiliar author and researcher to be become both accessible and highly enjoyable.

Personally, I found great interest not just in a well presented blog filled with great family stories, but in the parallels to be drawn between George’s African American history and my own Aboriginal Australian history.

Despite the common perceptions of most Australians, slavery did happen in this country. Segregation was common to both the US and Australia, and prejudice was, and still is a major issue, despite the many forward steps continually being made across the board. On top of the socio-economic and political similarities between black Australia and America, there are also the many cultural parallels as well. So there are many factors that make African American history and American history in general an interesting and captivating point of conversation and thought.

Having commented on George’s blog after reading one of many subjects of interest, I drew a response and a question regarding my own culture, and one I’d already planned to write about, sooner rather than later. I was asked for my thoughts on the Australian film “Rabbit-Proof Fence.” My first and immediate thought was – good movie. Only a moment later however, I was keyed into the more serious side, and how it related to my own family.

As best described by Wikipedia: Rabbit-Proof Fence is a 2002 Australian film based on the book Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington Garimara. It is a true story concerning the author's mother, as well as two other young mixed-race Aboriginal girls, who ran away from the Moore River Native Settlement, north of Perth, in order to return to their Aboriginal families, after having been placed there in 1931. The film follows the girls as they trek/walk for nine weeks along 1,500 miles (2,400 km) of the Australian rabbit-proof fence to return to their community at Jigalong, while being tracked by a white authority figure and an Aboriginal tracker.

An important film, Rabbit-Proof Fence is a tale that practically every Aboriginal person in the Eastern States of Australia, along with a high percentage in every other State and Territory can identify with, as having impacted their own families.

In my own family, I believe that my great grandfather was the first in the family to have been removed from his parents. By the age of 10 in 1884, he was living on an Aboriginal reserve called Coranderrk, near Healesville in the state of Victoria, studying at the station school, receiving good marks and slowly recovering from typhoid that had almost claimed his life a year earlier. There my great grandfather lived as an orphan, despite both his parents’ names having been known to him. What had happened to them, I have yet to discover, but standard practice at the time was to round up every Aboriginal child and to place them into government care on one of several reserves, with or without parents or other family.

For the next generation, matters only went down hill. Although my great grandfather grew into manhood, had married and had a productive life, as a sergeant and tracker, working with the NSW Police, that stood for very little, when the government tried to take away his children. My great grandfather moved across state borders and went west in order to protect his children. My great grandparents, John and Christina were lucky, and none of their 6 surviving (out of 16) children were taken from them. However, Theresa - my great grandmother’s sister, wasn’t as fortunate.

My great Aunt Theresa CLEMENTS (nee MIDDLETON) had four daughters of which only the youngest was spared. Their tale is preserved for future generations in the autobiography “If Everyone Cared” by my cousin, Margaret TUCKER (nee CLEMENTS). The book recounts how Margaret was taken by the police one day when she was at school and how her white school teacher had stalled the officers long enough that word could be sent to Margaret’s mother. When she arrived, Theresa pleaded, and the police seemingly relented, at least allowing her to accompany the two children. This however was only the cruelest of tricks, and Theresa was forced from the police car many miles outside of town. There she would lie, crying, like a wounded and tortured animal on the side of the road, until her family found her.

The same sort of story was told time and time again in my family. My dad and his five sisters were also taken, as re-counted on the page I’ve dedicated to my grandfather, Jack PATTEN.

To many Australians the recent (2008) Apology to the Stolen Generations, as offered by the current Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, isn’t an action that made a lot of sense, and that’s a damn shame. It was seen as the government apologising for something that is generally seen and taught to be ancient history, rather than a matter that people are still trying to come to terms with. The apology, on behalf of all Australians was seen as being one where the government was helping the general population to take the blame and guilt, when the reality is that sorry sometimes means nothing more than “I am sorry that your family had to go through such pain”, which is all that was really hoped for in this case; no more than an extended hand, some understanding and reasonable empathy.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

King or a pauper - Telling the stories

I've always found it a surprising matter that my parents each have such wildly contrasting ancestral lines. Not in regard to ethnicity or social background, but in the exploits of ancestors, be they famous, known or partially forgotten. This I believe is due to how little I know of my mother's family, and how I have a long way to go in being able to release the many stories that are still entombed within the genealogical ether.

On mum's side of the family I've so far found interest in the stories of a famous land owner and state politician, a pair of First Fleet convicts, one among the first three European females born in New Zealand, the founder of a township in the North West of New South Wales and a child who had allegedly been the first European male born or christened in New South Wales. They make for interesting starting points, but without real in-depth research they aren't worth a hill of beans in terms of value as research, self enlightenment and or shared entertainment.

There are others too, but the list of characters I've any in-depth knowledge of shortens rather quickly, and perhaps that is because I am yet to truly rip in, grapple and tear open such family lines with the focus and zeal required. Granted, it's only a matter of time, but for now I have several key brick walls that far too easily borrow my concentration and time.

For my dad's side of the family, I find people who stand out in a few particular categories: Sports stars, artists and political activists. The list is astonishingly long. I count professional boxers, including world and Australian title holders, dozens of professional Australian rules and Rugby League football players and many of the pioneers of the black civil rights movement in Australia. All are fascinating individuals, and are found in numerous academic volumes and archives.

However, despite this wealth of historical significance, I feel that the most amazing stories that can come from family history are those that are far more personal tales. Those that speak of experiences both hard and heartfelt, where 'no-names' have struggled to make their way in the world and to provide a better life for their loved ones. Indeed, I would suggest that in the age of the internet, genealogy has matured somewhat, to the point where the true family historians/storytellers are common and the name collecting know-nothings are a dying breed. Or at least, I imagine that is probably and hopefully the case.

Many researchers might start out with a curious flair, searching for those names whose individual brilliance or notoriety might be linked to us in some way, but if genealogy takes hold as a passion then short focused interest in the extraordinary often gives way to long term fascination in the ordinary. What was life like in 1845? What illnesses did people have in the late 1700's? What entertained people in 1908? All of these and a million more questions are interwoven into our rich tapestries of family history, and they teach, enrich and elucidate our stories, bringing them to life in sometimes the most amazing of ways.

Finding a link to a European Monarch, a Major League baseball player or famous author should capture our attention, and perhaps offer us a small slice of pride in our ancestry, but I argue that we should take no less pride, or enjoyment from the challenge of fleshing out the lives of those who were Ag labourers, file makers and servants to the landed gentry. After all, it's the supposedly boring and mundane folk who make the high achievers shine in the first place!

Is the story of a famous explorer risking his life for adventure really any better than that of a farmer who lived his entire life in one location? One might readily say yes, but that answer would more than likely be based on the anticipated ease with which the researcher might be able to build atmosphere and depth to the tale, and not on the reality where any subject can be made interesting, provided that the writer has the skill and passion necessary to the task.

No individual in a given family tree is of any greater value as a potential noteworthy story than the next. Each person is a character subject to the same pen, and any family historian worth their salt should be given to helping their ancestors from all walks of life have their stories fleshed out, valued and held to our hearts.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Photo restoration #1

A photo restoration I did some time ago. The photo is from about 1920 and the girls from bottom left, going clockwise: Selina PATTEN (nee AVERY) my grandmother, Muriel COMBO (nee AVERY), Ellen BROWN (nee AVERY), Carrie ROBERTS (nee AVERY).

Sunday, August 23, 2009

William MORTIMER where art thou?

In what is best considered technical genealogy terminology, William MORTIMER and family are a royal pain in the backside!!

Most of us have a brick wall or three, but I’d imagine that in many cases there is a brick wall in particular which stands out as a greater challenge than the rest, or at least one that has become a primary obsession, deftly out-manoeuvring the other elusive characters we’re attempting to trace. The MORTIMER family is mine, and I’m approaching the end of my tether!

William MORTIMER (c1803-1852?) came to Australia in 1842 aboard the barque “Palestine”, arriving in Botany Bay on 6 March 1842 as an assisted immigrant, having left Plymouth in England 26 October 1841. Along with William came his wife Johannah and their four daughters: Matilda, Harriet, Johanna and Mary and a young girl by the name of Agnes HALLETT, whom William had known for several years in England. According to the immigration records William had ventured to Sydney in order to work “at the new church in Sydney.” I’m not certain as to which new church the documents refer, but one would easily assume from such wording that it was a reasonably well known, relatively new, and large church in the city and not one in an outlying town.

Amongst the MORTIMER immigration records, William’s parents are named as Elias and Mary MORTIMER. His mother is listed as being alive, and I take this tentatively to mean that his father is deceased. Johannah’s parents’ names are given as William and Elizabeth BLACK. However, this is written to the edge of the form, and it appears that the lettering continues, only that is has been obscured. This fits in with detail from Johannah’s death certificate, on which her second husband Henry LARKIN has given her maiden name as BLACKALL. With this information I’ve had a lot to work with. In addition, I’ve also got listings for William and Johannah’s place of origin, with those respectively being what appear to be “North Allerton, Devonshire” and “Winchester”. Now, I know that there isn’t a North Allerton in Devonshire, so this first part of the information I’ve taken with a grain of salt. I had until recently only been in possession of hand copied transcript of this record, in turn these had been viewed as part of a microfiche reel at the New South Wales State Library. Revisiting the record via however, I have viewed the original file, and have seen that “North Allerton” isn’t so cut and dried as I had previously thought.

Could I be looking at SOUTH Allerton?

A lot of options: North Allerton, South Allerton, South Allington, Alvington, Aller, Northallerton in Yorkshire.. and none of these increasingly unlikely options can be definitively ruled out.

So, to William’s father Elias; could he be the keystone in this mystery? Well, I had hoped he might, for quite some time. Now I only find Elias to be a nuisance as great as his son.

Will the real Elias MORTIMER please stand up?

In the 1841 Census of England and Wales, William, Johannah and their four daughters all appear. This little ray of hope I was very thankful for, given that many of my family branches had left England and Ireland long before this important opportunity for tracking had materialised. In the Census return however William and co are shown to be living not in Devon or Winchester, but St. Leonards, Sussex. Why were they there?

According to the Census, Johannah and her daughters were all born in Sussex. ARGHH!!

Given that civil registrations had begun in 1837, there was a chance that Willy and family were among those who did the right thing and had their children registered where born in 1837 and beyond. BZZT, wrong. Or at least, I haven’t found the right record yet. It was probably too much to ask for, especially since only one daughter (Mary Jemima) could possibly have fit into the required time frame. Bugger! (yes, this is yet another one of those important technical terms used in genealogical research).

So far, Parish records have turned up little, although that might have something to do with being limited by distance and to and the few other scraps of viable sources that venture forth onto the Weird Wild Web.

Having done a search for the name Elias MORTIMER in as many sources as I could find, I’ve come across several individuals who I thought might potentially be a brother to William and son to Elias and only one early enough to qualify as the man himself (c1761 North Bovey, Devon). It’s going out on a limb to draw links between Elias and his namesakes, but Elias isn’t exactly the most common name, and it never did appear to have been a common one, so what could it hurt to check? Interestingly, the candidates live only in: Devon, Sussex and further a field in Wales. They do occasionally appear listed as MORTIMOR or MORTIMORE, but then so does William in both his daughters marriage certificates and in Sydney Morning Herald marriage notices.

Searching for MORTIMER and BLACKALL candidates has so far proved fruitless in English results. In Australia, it’s been slightly better record-wise, but not by much. I know that William and family were living in Dixon Street, Sydney, not long after establishing themselves in their new country. I am familiar enough with Dixon Street today. It’s the heart of Sydney’s Chinatown, and somehow I don’t think trees dripping in gold and guardant dragons clutching spheres are what the MORTIMER family had come to know in their day.

Australia had been both cruel and kind to the MORTIMER family. Late in life, William was described as a gentleman of Independent means, whilst on the other hand, Johannah had fallen pregnant a further three times, in 1843, 1846 and 1848, with none of those children surviving their first year.

Starting in 1850 and on through onto 1854, all four of the surviving MORTIMER children grew into womanhood and married. Matilda, the eldest daughter married James MARSHALL, a mystery man from Manchester in 1850. Johanna married in 1851 and then again, moving to Queensland with her husband William LANGFORD. Harriet married in 1852 and remarried in 1861, finding herself with her husband Austin ABBOTT in the thick of the California gold rush, settling in Tuolumne County. Finally, in 1854 Mary married Simon ONSLOW, and the pair lived variously in Sydney and other parts of New South Wales.

This wild and unkempt early branch of my family had an adventurous spirit and a grand touch of wanderlust. They ventured from one side of the Earth to its antipodes and explored many points on the Australian map in the ensuing generations. It annoys me that I cannot as yet dig further back into their and my history, but as is the case with any good genealogist – I love a good challenge.

Friday, August 21, 2009

DNA Testing

For some time I've been considering the possibility of taking a DNA test, to see what if anything I might uncover about my genealogy. I had previously understood that a Y chromosome test would be the most useful, as it tracks the paternal line and would enable to me to test some proven links along with those that remain theoretical. However, having someone spell everything out in black & white rather than in a dazzling display of techno-geek intermeshed with sci-babble is one very important aspect I've been in need of. Thankfully then I've come across the UK National Archives Podcasts, and one in particular focusing on DNA testing as applied to genealogy, and presented by Chris Pomeroy. I heartily recommend it as being both an interesting listen and one that is also highly informative.

As to why I'm interested in DNA testing, that I can answer in three parts. The first is that I am curious just how closely I am related to various kin (those who are my distant cousins via tribal links). The second is the question of my Patten family, one that is predominantly an Aboriginal one, and if we are at all related to those Patten families that came from Europe, as has been suggested by some among them from time to time.

The third part is the most exciting, but also most unlikely prospect, and that is the possible link to having Tasmanian Aboriginal or even African ancestry. There are several anecdotal pointers to this, but without any DNA evidence to support the suggestion and circumstantial evidence so far unearthed, it's a leap in the dark.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Remembering Jack Patten

Whilst I would consider that my mother's genealogy began as the great unknown, my dad's has been quite the opposite. My paternal heritage is known, only that I want to fill in the gaps and unearth the dormant stories, sharing them with anyone who will listen!

When I had begun my research I knew a good few things about my paternal grandfather, Jack PATTEN (1905-1957). I knew that he had written and published the first Aboriginal newspaper, the "Abo Call", had led the Cummeragunja walk-off in 1939, had been arrested and labelled variously a NAZI and communist in the Sydney press, and that his father had been a tracker with the police force in West Wyalong for 30 years. There was plenty more that my Dad had shared with me, along with my Nan, but those listed above were the key points to granddad's life and they would provide the platform for my further research.

Since beginning my research into Jack's history I've found mention of the man in more than 50 books, and have been lucky enough to dig up a treasure trove of stories in sources ranging from oral accounts and newspapers, to scholarly papers and military records.

Some of the key elements to Jack's life that I've collated is shared with the public here, on a dedicated website: Remembering Jack Patten.

I take great pride and inspiration in being descended from Jack. His life has made a great difference to the plight of Indigenous Australians, and he served to inspire the actions of his contemporaries and those that came afterwards as well.

Whilst I continue to scour bookstores and dusty archives for further tales of my grandfather's exploits, I'm satisfied that I've done a reasonable job in putting the jigsaw back together, and in documenting the man that Jack was.

Now my attention has turned primarily to my great grandfather, a much more elusive fellow, Jack PATTEN Snr. His story is an equally interesting one, but there are a number of gaps to fill and they are probably going to take a few more years to satisfy my curiosity enough that I might better construct the book(s) I'm writing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Playing catch up: my 16 g-greats

In belated answer to a somewhat recently posted genealogy game, over on Randy Seaver's fantastic 'Genea Musings' blog:

1) List your 16 great-grandparents in pedigree chart order. List their birth and death years and places.
2) Figure out the dominant ethnicity or nationality of each of them.
3) Calculate your ancestral ethnicity or nationality by adding them up for the 16 - 6.25% for each (obviously, this is approximate).
4) If you don't know all 16 of your great-grandparents, then do it for the last full generation you have.
5) Write your own blog post, or make a comment on Facebook or in this post.

OK, this one's a lot of fun, although it really does expose just how much work I have ahead of me!

01. John PATTEN: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, is likely to be ENGLISH

02. Maggie SIMMS: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, likely to be ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

03. George MIDDLETON: b. circa 1840 Woperana NSW, Australia, d. 1925 Barham, VIC Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

04. TOOLANYAGAN / Maggie TOODLES: b. circa 1849 Moira District, VIC/NSW Australia, d. 1899 Moama NSW, Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

05. James AVERY: b. unknown, d. unknown - unknown, either ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN or ENGLISH

06. Sarah MORGAN: b. unknown, d. unknown - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

07. "Charlie" CHARLES: b. date unknown, Northern Rivers, NSW Australia, d. date unknown, Baryulgil NSW, Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

08. Mariah LITTLE: b. circa 1855 Baryulgil NSW, Australia, d. 1930 Baryulgil, NSW Australia - ABORIGINAL AUSTRALIAN

09. Samuel Hallett FISHER: b. circa 1846 Dorset, England, d. 1932 Sydney, NSW Australia - ENGLISH

10. Emma Jane DEMPSEY: b. 1850 Camden NSW, Australia, d. 1909 Sydney, NSW Australia - IRISH

11. James Andrew MARSHALL: b. circa 1856 Chippendale NSW, d. 1906 Grafton, NSWAustralia - ENGLISH

12. Elizabeth Caroline TATHAM: b. 1867 Middlesbrough, England, d. 1943 Rockdale, NSWAustralia - ENGLISH

13. John Alfred MCNAMARA: b. 1853 Dubbo NSW, Australia, d. 1916 Surry Hills, NSWAustralia - IRISH

14. Maria MORRIS: b. 1853 Wellington NSW, Australia, d. 1928 Surry Hills, NSW Australia - ENGLISH

15. John SMITH: b. circa 1846 Stockholm, Sweden, d. 1928 Walgett, NSW Australia - SWEDISH

16. Ruth GAUNT: b. 1856 Chewton, VIC Australia, d. 1933 Marrickville, NSW Australia - ENGLISH


An enjoyable exercise and one that gave me another way to look at my ancestry, which itself is always a positive thing. Being able to see matters from a new perspective can help to break down the walls that one might normally see as too great an obstacle.

You'll note however, that in this exercise I didn't include my "ancestral ethnicity percentage." The reason for its exclusion is that for most Aboriginal Australians, like myself, being asked to attach a percentage to our Indigenous heritage has become a sore point and for a variety of reasons, as I will endeavour to explain. Before I do go on though, I'll also hastily point out that I did not take any offense to the question of ethnicity as offered on the Genea Musings blog.

The Australian Government has had a long history of wanting to classify Aboriginal people in one way or another, via the White Australia policy (this is the model that South Africa's apartheid policy was based on), assimilationist policies and preparing for an imagined extinction. All of these and more were a series of methodologies that was very quickly and easilyadopted by the general population in this country.

People in some cases really can't help but want to try and put Aboriginal people with mixed ancestry (me included) into a category that fits with their own particular world view. Racist terms were invented in the 1800's to help satisfy that urge. Halfcaste, Quadroon and a myriad others were used to not only classify, but to dehumanize Indigenous Australians and those of mixed heritage in many other parts of the world, irrespective of their particular cultural and ethnic makeup. This was done in order to separate those with non-Indigenous ancestry from our darker skinned families, to exploit us as lowly paid and non-paid servants (slavery) and to control all other facets of our lives; a policy which only really fell by the wayside in Australia during the mid 1970's, the decade in which I was born.

Today, when occasionally asked if I'm Aboriginal, or what percentage Aboriginal I am, I will reply politely that such questions are offensive to most who find themselves being asked that question, but I don't hold it against the person for asking. On the surface it's a reasonable enough question, but in this country it ignores historical usage, and sidelines current issues as well. "You don't look Aboriginal" however is an entirely different matter, which is offensive no matter which way it is said, despite usually being said innocently enough. To me, that would be like suggesting that General Colin Powell doesn't look very Irish, despite his having an Irish ancestral line as pronounced as that of his African side. Why should anyone be prejudged, or categorised to fit into the narrow views of the ill informed?

Yes, I'm Aboriginal, yes I am of English descent, and yes I have Irish and Swedish ancestry. But I am not part of an impossible to formulate, mathematical equation. How can anyone be a quarter or an eighth of anything?

Monday, August 17, 2009


My great great grandmother Lahndrigan (c1855- 1930) is one of the first ancestors that I remember being told about when I was a young boy. She had been born into a time of upheaval, when Europeans had only just begun their violent move into her home country, that of the Bundjalung Nation, a collection of about two dozen clans or tribes, whose territory stretched along the Far North Coast of New South Wales from Grafton in the south, to the Logan River in the North, and close to Tenterfield in the West. Within that vast territory, Lahndrigan and her family lived on the Clarence River at a place called Baryulgil (85km N.E from Grafton), in what would later be known as the New England and Northern Rivers region, and part of the Australian State of New South Wales.

Living a traditional way of life, Lahndrigan's first language was the Wehlabul dialect of the Bundjalung language, and she was known to sing whe
n the Wehlabul clans would hold their corroboree's (traditional ceremonial gatherings).

Unlike the Aboriginal people in most other regions and States of Eastern Australia, the Wehlabul were able to maintain strong links to their tribal heritage, culture and customs, right through to the present day. This was possible primarily due to a
n agreement made between the Wehlabul Bundjalung people and with the first Europeans to permanently encroach upon their territories at Baryulgil - the Ogilvie brothers, Edward and Frederick.

Edward Ogilvie (1814 - 1896), the son of a naval officer during the Battle of Waterloo, was a successful squatter during the 1830's in the Hunter
district of NSW. He was one of the first settlers who had imagined and then acted upon the potential for opening up the Northern Rivers to cattle, logging and other industry. To help in his efforts, Ogilvie kidnapped a young Bundjalung child by the name of Pundoon (the Wallaby), and over the next year learnt from the child how to speak the Bundjalung language. The plan was simple - learn to speak the local language and negoti
ate a peace in turn, to help minimize the battles between settlers and the local Aboriginal population.

When Ogilvie returned to the Clarence River and where he stole the child from, he called out, to the astonishment of the tribesmen, speaking to the B
undjalung people in their own language. They replied unseen, calling for Ogilvie to go away, and to leave the hills for the black man, as the Europeans had already driven them from the plains and the majority of their low lands and sources of water. Ogilvie replied that he would not take further land, and that he only wanted to run his cattle, and would allow the local tribe to continue to hunt and live traditionally, unmolested by white influence if they would promise not to kill his men and cattle.

Thus, with such a fair offer, a treaty was forged in trust. The Ogilvie family was able to build a cattle empire that still exists today, and the Wehlabul people on the Middle Clarence were largely able to avoid the massacres and brutality that prevailed in other parts of the Bundjalung Nation, and across the Australian continent as a whole.

Whilst the treaty that the Bundjalung and the Ogilvie's forged is one that benefited both parties, it was inevitable that life in Bundjalung country would change forever. Ogilvie, although more considerate in how he would treat his Aboriginal neighbours than most other settlers, was still one to take advantage of them where possible. Ogilvie set aside a small parcel of land for the tribe to live on and turned them to working in his employ. This was a kind gesture, but one that was somewhat paternally condescending. Soon, with m
uch of their hunting territories reduced by neighbouring squatters, and with little other means for feeding their children, the Wehlabul turned to working as farm hands for Ogilvie and were paid in rations, clothing and minor wages, and given occasional vegetables from the Ogilvie's gardens.
For my ancestor Lahndrigan, matters were similar. She worked for the Ogilvie's as a laundry woman (this being suggested as the source of her tribal name). Living to a ripe old age, she saw her tribal way of life become cross-pollinated, and saw the Ogilvie's establish 'Yulgilbar Castle', their family home for several generations.

The castle, built by a team of German masons imported specifically for the job, was a grand manor. It received many important visitors in its time, including the celebrated Australian artist, Tom Roberts, best known for his works - 'The Shearing Shed', and 'Bailed Up.' During his stay, Roberts chose to paint a portrait of a local Bundjalung woman working for the Ogilvie family. I came across the portrait, in its quick, half rendered state, being displayed on the NSW State Library website. Called Maria in the portrait, the woman is one whom the Europeans called Mariah LITTLE, but one whose family knew better by the name of Lahndrigan - my great great grandmother.

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.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Free time!

Like a lot of other genealogy hounds out there I often find myself struggling for time to allocate to my favourite hobby. It's very easy to want to spend a large number of hours in succession, focusing solely on knocking down the next brick wall, or rooting around in parish records for the slender hope of making another connection, but more often than not life asks that such interests be set aside for what are really far more important matters - raising children, going to work, spending time with friends and family, eating, breathing etc. So it helps when we can sometimes cut corners, and that's best achieved by utilising the dead time that we so often fail to use to our advantage.

Five days a week I'm given three hours of dead time. Commuting to my job takes 1.5 hours each way, and that is time that I could easily find wasted, if not for the convenience that mobile devices can now bring the genealogist on the go. Ipod, iphone, android, netbooks and laptops - each and every one of them are brilliant tools with which to not only fill your dead time with, but are a means to push your genealogical productivity through the roof.

For example, let's say you've got 30 minutes to kill, waiting for an appointment, or like me you spend a lot of time on public transport. Firstly, the night before, you hook your ipod or other digital music player into itunes on your computer, and you download and perhaps subscribe to one of the many podcasts that are dedicated to genealogy. My primary interest is in Australian genealogy and history, but as a starter I'd definitely recommend "The Genealogy Guys" or "Genealogy Gems." Neither of these podcasts is focused on Australian records, but as a introduction to research methodology, the community, news, North American and occasional global sources both are great places in which to start (more on these in another post).

So, morning comes, and you disconnect your ipod one it is fully charged, and you find yourself at some point in the day with some time to kill. I do suggest that you listen to such podcasts when you really do have no distractions, or you're likely to miss something interesting simply by being distracted.

In addition to your favourite podcasts, I also recommend that you consider taking with you a mobile version of your family tree. Because when you're at a library, family history centre or anywhere else for that matter, if you need quick access to your database, accessing it via a small device that resides inside your pocket, is going to a be a lot better than having to haul around a large notebook, or page after page of family group sheets. Besides, if you're using a device that allows you the freedom of reading your entire family tree database, you're also more than likely able to access free wireless internet hotspots at academic institutions and greasy fast food chains and be able to search the web and access your email without waiting for a library computer to be free.

Notebooks are helpful - but the alternatives are going to save you both time and money in the long run, despite any initial outlay.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Subject Matter

I suppose the first question that begs to be asked is - why? Is there a particular need for this blog? Is the world screaming out to hear or read what I have to say? No, I guess not, but I think someone, somewhere, might hopefully find some of its content of interest.

I've been researching my family tree for about, oh.. 5-6 years - or there bouts. In that time perhaps the one element that has been missing in this adventure of mine is the social interaction that most other hobbies and obsessions can bring, in one form or another.

For the greatest part genealogy hasn't been like that. Not for me anyway. I've delved deep into archives, flung myself into library and internet forums and read many books, but generally I've asked few questions openly, and instead have gone looking for published answers, sidestepping healthy debate and conversation, seeing it often as an unnecessary diversion of time. Was this the right way to go? Probably not, but it certainly wasn't the wrong way. I've enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, and have unearthed a great deal, but it's been a solitary effort. So, it would be nice to not only share what I've learnt, and swap stories, but to learn about the efforts of others that share this hobby, be they solitary dimly lit room dwellers, or social butterflies flocking to the new wave of social networking websites for genealogists.

So what I'm going to do is get out there, and where time allows me this luxury, I'm going to find the best genealogy blogs the web has to offer, share some tips (some of them obscure), offer an occasional helping hand and in the process I'm going to have one hell of a fun time!

A beginning

So here it is, a new blog based on my obsession with genealogy. Join me in my madness won't you please!