Honourable mentions ($50 book gift voucher)
As an only child of parents who were only children I began my search with little hope. How wrong can one be! Not only have I a large family tree but I have met my aunt and had my mum fly over from UK to Australia to meet her sister in law 30 years after dad died!
I have discovered my great grandmother was a tight rope walker and trapeze artist in the circus. Her uncle began the Punch and Judy show in Llandudno, which is still going after 150 plus years and is still run by family.
Another line of gypsies were horse dealers and muggers. No, they didn't hit old ladies over the head, they sold earthenware! They travelled the border between England and Scotland.
Then there was the Irish great-great-grandfather who ran away from Ireland and lost a leg under a train when preventing the train from derailing.
What a fascinating bunch I am derived from. Genealogy becomes very addictive. Never ever will I have an excuse to be bored for the rest of my days.
In 2008, I went to Ireland. The birthplace of my great grandmother was Enniskillen, county Fermanagh, c1855. I took with me a very old b&w photo, of a residence, Hamilton Lodge, written on it, found amongst my late father’s belongings. I’d prebooked two nights BnB accommodation. On arrival, I went the local library, they had a Family history section and a wonderful lady assisted me with some Irish records, and local history information. Before leaving, I showed her the photo, and asked if there was any remote chance this building was recognisable and where it may be located. She happily took it to a colleague for another opinion. On return, they suggested it could be a property on Irvinestone Road. I said that’s handy, I actually know where that road is, as it’s where my accommodation is. When they said the owner’s name, I was stunned! My BnB accommodation IS the property in the old photo. As the building now had extensions, a garden and adorned with a beautiful ivy creeper, I certainly did not recognise it as the same building. I spoke with the owner and I updated her with my discovery… she said “well, I have some news for you, ten days ago, the granddaughter of the original owner was staying here at the BnB.” Later that day I spoke with my new cousin and we were both in awe with this new connection. In 2012, I met my cousin.
A photograph of Mary Ann Chaston, from the late 1800s, shows her holding a crested cockatoo on the lap of her long, black dress. This was no eccentric choice of pet. Ellen Clacy, in her 1855 memoir of the Victorian Goldfields, described cockatoos kept as companions by women whose husbands were away working the diggings. Mary Ann’s life on the turbulent goldfields explains why a talking bird became a suitable friend.
After sailing to Melbourne and marrying Joseph Lewis in 1853 she frequently separated from him. Initially Joseph paid her one pound a week to ensure she stayed out of poverty. In 1858 he obtained a government position in the goldfields and naively took Mary Ann to distance her from the intoxicating vices of Melbourne he believed influenced her aversion to him. But by 1860 she was residing at the Royal Hotel in Castlemaine with a lover, having stated to her neighbour that Joseph was going to lose his position. The lover, Charles Topham, had form. In his native Yorkshire the legal clerk had been gaoled for forgery and uttering. In Australia he continued cashing forged cheques and landed in Pentridge Prison.
Joseph withdrew support and after being granted a divorce in 1862 was convicted of fraud. He was one of the first inmates to experience Castlemaine Gaol. Meanwhile Mary Ann had married a successful mining contractor who regularly worked on distant claims. Decades later they were photographed in front of a substantial Ballarat house with her loyal cockatoo.
A very special display cabinet sits in my living room. It’s not filled with the usual family mementoes but contains a collection of weird and wonderful finds. Bits of old pottery, interesting rocks, rusty children’s toys and, the pride of my collection, a shelf full of fossils. I’ve always been fascinated by these relics of a bygone geological era.
Imagine the thrill of discovering, in my family tree, a link to Florentino Ameghino (1853 - 1911) eminent paleontologist, anthropologist and geologist who was considered to be the founding father of Argentinian palaeontology. Having migrated to Argentina as a child from Moneglia in Italy, Florentino was supported by his brother Carlos (1865 - 1936) in pioneering the study of evolutionary history in South America.
The Ameghino Crater on the Moon is named in his honour as well as a fossil bird and the palaeontology journal Ameghiniana. Several Argentine cities are named Florentino Ameghino as are number of educational institutions, libraries, museums, squares and parks.
My maternal grandmother’s Ameghino family from Moneglia, Genoa, Liguria, Italy has been traced as far back as 1580 with the birth of Jacobus Antonios Ameghino, my ninth time great grandfather.
I began searching Trove for evidence of the family story that my great grandfather Thomas Lomas might have owned a part-share in a racehorse. While I did not find any proof of this rumour, I was shocked to find his name printed in black and white in the Melbourne Argus in April 1912 in connection to the death of a man as a result of a ‘fatal scuffle’.
Anxiously scouring Trove for more articles, I could scarcely breathe in case my great grandfather was proved to be a thug or a murderer! It couldn’t be! His son, my grandfather, had been the kindest, most law-abiding gentleman you could hope to meet.
A wealth of information unfolded in the Coroner’s Inquest: the professions of the men, addresses, wives, characters - it was family history gold.
The victim, Robert Scarlett, had been drinking on the afternoon of Good Friday. When he quarrelled with his wife Margaret and assaulted her, she ran next door to her sister Annie’s home for protection. Annie’s husband Thomas argued with his brother-in-law and in the ensuing scuffle, Robert fell to the ground knocking his head on the blue-stone curb of the lane at the back of their houses. He was taken to hospital but never regained consciousness. Thomas was arrested and charged with manslaughter.
At the inquest several witnesses corroborated Thomas’s story that he acted in self-defence. They testified that Thomas was “a quiet, well conducted man”. The verdict was established as ‘death by misadventure’.