A family history blog from the UK to Australia and back again

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A little fun…

As most of you know, I have been ‘doing’ my family history for quite a while now. When I first started looking at it, there were not too many people my age who were into it and so I didn’t talk about it too much.

But now when I talk about it I find a lot of people are interested; and it’s not just the old maids like me but ones much younger than me too.

To my mind, there is a bit of a shift from family history as a hobby just for the old folk; to now people of all ages and backgrounds are interested.

I think a lot of it is down to the large commercial companies, TV shows, and DNA testing – people are either thinking of taking a test but aren’t sure, or have taken the test and have no idea what it all means.

So I am asking for your help to be my guinea pigs….my test samples….to see if there is a way I can help people on their journey. Maybe this will just mean more specific blog posts, or maybe I’ll write a short e-book, or maybe one day I can do the research for people, or maybe I’ll just happily keep on researching my own family as I have been doing for years now.

If you have 4 minutes, I would love it if you could complete the following survey…

Thank you! xo


The lost art of Flower Making

Recently I told a friend about a trip to Hastings where we found a flower maker’s museum – just like an ancestor used to do. My friend laughed and that I seem to find a family history link to everything! I took that as a compliment (rather than a comment on my slightly obsessive hobby!). Then after a minute, I realised that actually, she was right – I do find family history links in most things! 

An adventure south-east

A few weeks ago, we ventured along the south-east coast to Hastings. I had never been there before and with only a few days to get away, were keen to look around. Looking online the night before, I stumbled across a link to the Flower Makers Museum.

In Australia, our family used to run a florist shop. And yes … I also have that relative who was a flower maker! Well, we were definitely going to be visiting that particular corner of Hastings! Even Dad was vaguely interested…

Arriving in the older part of Hastings, we turned up a side street and found two quaint shopfront window’s full of flowers and leaves!

The shop was stacked to the roof with boxes and materials. Inside, we were directed downstairs to the basement containing an amazing museum dedicated to the lost art of flower making. The premises are a working shop – they still make artificial flowers but times, and I think methods, have changed – but not entirely. 

And it wasn’t just flowers that they made. Surrounding the stairs heading down to the basement were displays of nuts and seeds and petals. They were all samples of the work produced in this shop and many other shops like it.

At the bottom of the stairs were cabinets full of tools and stamps in the shapes of every sort of leaf and petal you can imagine. The back room was taken over by an enormous stamping machine that is still used today. Over the years it seems the industry became increasingly mechanised (as with almost everything else!). In the Edwardian and Victorian times, women would work at home using hand tools – hot irons. Usually one would be in the fire warming up while the other was being used to curl and ‘vein’ the material into the shape of petals and leaves. These were then wired together to make the flowers and bouquets. 
Homeworking was usually a family affair. Mum would get the children to help by getting the hot irons out of the fire / stove and swapping them with the cooler one the mother had just been working with. I’m guessing there were more than a few injuries as this work took place not only at home, but often in small cramped lodgings of one or two rooms! In the cold dark winters you would have a mother working and kids running around underfoot with no tv to occupy them!

A display of homeworkers tools

Why so many artificial flowers?

So what were all these flowers used for you wonder? Well, these days we think nothing of popping into a florist and picking up a fresh bunch of flowers. Maybe it’s a special occasion for a friend on the weekend and you order a bunch of roses in advance. Or perhaps someone is organising their wedding and need fresh flowers for the church, the wedding party, the dinner venue, the cake, the throw away bouquet, hair crowns, button holes, thank you gifts, arrangements for the bathrooms…..so where do all these fresh flowers come from? 

In Europe, there is a large flower auction that takes place in Alsmere in Holland. If you see those creamy yellow square plastic stands at your florist…then that is usually where they come from. Flower selling…and stock markets, of course originated with the tulip (a story for another time) but now buyers and sellers trade all kinds of flowers like the London or New York stock exchange. It is an amazing place to visit. Flowers arrive from all over the world and are then dispatched off to wholesalers.

Here in London you can go to the flower markets at Columbia Road or in Covent Garden…but those flowers weren’t grown here of course. Often they have come from the market in Alsmere, or perhaps direct from growers in lands far away. 

Back in Australia our wholesaler would drive 5 hours to the Sydney flower markets and pick our orders before delivering to the florists in the local area….5 hours drive! On Monday you could order a bunch of roses for a special occasion that weekend and by Friday we would be making the arrangement using roses grown in Columbia. Today, fresh flowers travel far and wide around the globe. They are transported in refrigerated planes and trucks, bought and sold many times along the way. Like fruit and vegetables, this also means that flowers can be grown in different seasons on the other side of the world and still be sold to us where ever we are. 

But, 150 years ago there wasn’t quite the same global travel that we have today. Museums and galleries were full of exotic plants that Europeans had never seen before. Wealthy land owners would travel far and wide to collect specimens. They would then grow them in hothouses to replicate the tropical climates they came from. For example, the pineapple was so exotic, that the wealthy would rent a fruit for their dinner party (at an exorbitant cost) just as the centre piece. They wouldn’t even eat it! The pineapple was then taken to another dinner party and rented for the evening. It was a real symbol of wealth and power. If you look at many of the stonework decorations and motif’s on buildings in London and you will see pineapples. Even the Wimbledon Cup is topped with a gold pineapple as a symbol from a bygone era! 

But I digress…

So back to my flower makers…well people loved flowers 100 years ago too. But without refrigeration (or global markets) it wasn’t quite so easy to pop into Sainsbury’s and pick up a loaf of bread and bunch of flowers for the hall stand. Ladies also wore hats – and what adorned those hats? Flowers of course. Flowers were also stitched onto dresses too.

My ancestor Amelia Franklin, a Flower Maker living in London when the 1861 UK Census was taken. Also in the record is her Mum/Aunt the dressmaker – did she make flowers to adorn the dresses too?

But it didn’t stop there – flowers were used for advertising displays and marketing. A perfumed spray of flowers was sometimes attached to scent bottles. And without TV people went to the theatre. Artificial flowers were used on the backdrops to make it look more realistic. But they had to be made flame proofed so they wouldn’t set fire to the place from the stage lights!

Even today, this little flower making shop in Hastings is used for movie sets. They have recreated an entire vineyard for a movie set, and even made gold leaves for the trees near the London Eye to celebrate an exhibition of Tutankhamen. 

The museum is entirely privately owned and receives no government grants or lottery aid funding. It is the only museum of it’s kind in Europe. The rooms are full to the brim with unique artifacts and working pieces that show how this craft was done, and how it has changed, over the years. If you are in the area – pop in for a visit to the Flower Makers’ Museum in Hastings. Even if you didn’t have any family who made flowers – you more than certainly had family that bought flowers!

Horses and Ferrari’s

I have written and re-written this so many times, and then chickened out and not done anything with it. But it is a subject that has been bothering me for quite some time now – so here goes. 

It has made me incredibly sad over the past year or so, to see a constant stream of letters to the ed, facebook posts, and instagram comments where ones complain that their ‘tree’ has been stolen, or people have incorrect information and have not changed it when told, or moaned about obviously incorrect information on online trees. As a result, many no longer share their family tree on the various websites or DNA. That makes me incredibly sad and upset – much more so than someone having a distant (or near) relatives details wrong on their tree!  

And I do completely understand why incorrect information makes some upset. Those of us who have been doing this for a long time, have spent a lot of time and money and emotional energy in this. We are personally invested in our Ancestors lives. But can I say that, whatever we may think, we don’t ‘own’ them. The information we have used is available to others. We have not created these stories for ourselves – they were stories made a long time ago by our ancestors and we are simply here following the breadcrumbs. 

I firmly believe that family history is at a cross roads though. Not too many years ago, this was a hobby for the older generations. They had the time and means to spend hours in dusty archive rooms looking at microfiche screens just to find one census record. Or to go trawling through old ledgers to find a possible ancestor in a workhouse. Although that kind of research is still needed sometimes, those days are really well and truly gone. Online resources, and DNA of course, have changed the game in a massive way. 

The impact of that sudden shift in the technology we now use and the increase in the volume of data available for this hobby is simply phenomenal. But it is somewhat surpassed by the dramatic shift in the demographic who are interested in the topic. I have a 15 year old friend who is interested in her family history. Most of my 20 something year old work colleagues are keen to know more. They have either taken, or would like to take a DNA test and want to know what it is all about. This is no longer the hobby of retirees – this is a hobby you can do sitting up in bed with a glass of red. And right or wrong, these are not usually the type of people you will find at the SoG on a Saturday afternoon, or interested enough to sign up to local history talk, and will probably read the WDYTYA blog before they read the magazine. 

The diametric shift in this hobby has been like going from riding a horse to driving a Ferrari. You would struggle with the speed of change if you went from a horse to a Ferrari overnight. Equally though, a 15 year old behind the wheels of a Ferarri is bound to do some damage. But with time, the horse riders would get used to the wind in their hair, and after a little tuition the 15 year olds would grow up to be expert drivers. It would be silly to say “This is too much trouble. Let’s keep the Ferrari in the garage!”. 

But this is where we’re at with family history. The older generation are perhaps a little unsure and intimidated of the technology. The files and downloading and blogs and vlogs and Instagram and DNA and .jpg files and Google and Facebook and…… It’s too fast and they’re packing up and parking the Ferrari in the garage. 

Meanwhile the new generation are used to this technology and having information at their fingertips and hastags and 280 characters in a tweet and clicking on to the new thing and rush, rush, rush. They have not yet learnt to be patient, enjoy the ride, look at the detail, think about the dates. To ponder. That is not the world that they have grown up in. They’re crunching the gears and damaging the paintwork on that beautiful car. 

But remember – it’s the new generation that are helping to fund the records and companies in many instances. Like it or not they are here to stay and in every sense, are the new generation. If you want to go back to your horse days, then fair play to you. But I urge you to put on your seat-belt and embrace a ride in the Ferrari with the rest of us. 

And I also implore you to not ‘hide your toys from the kids’. Share your trees please – but share judiciously. I don’t have every last scrap of detail on my tree. I have the bare bones – things that are already accessible through Ancestry etc. But safely stored on my laptop and separate to any fee paying website, all my research is saved away. If someone thinks we’re related and wants to know more I am more than happy to share. I’m overjoyed. But it is on my terms and in the spirit of sharing and learning. 

Remember the first time you went into that dusty archives room? You were so nervous but some kind person showed you how to load the film? Remember that kind librarian who explained to you the difference between a baptism record and birth certificate? What about that person who gave you a clue on an ancestors occupation and you smashed a brick wall? Collaboration and learning is what this is all about. If you don’t share, then all your hard work will be wasted and, I hate to say, die with you.

Equally, I view other peoples trees as nothing but a resource – for this is what it is. If you think it is gospel then think back to all the variations in spelling you have for that frustrating surname in your family. Some poor illiterate ancestor moved in from the countryside and had no idea how to spell Smith. Well today it’s a different sort of illiteracy – anyone can write anything on the internet. And right or wrong, this is the culture that these newer ones have come from. How many times have we looked at a census and used logic to work out it is not our ancestor. The same applies to online family trees. They are a fantastic resource and should simply be viewed as such.

Please also show some patience with some who may not change the information on their tree too. Perhaps they are a working mum who joined up on a free promotion for a subscription website. Or maybe they got a DNA test for their birthday. Perhaps they have a million emails in their inbox and the last one they have time to read about, is a hobby they started on their summer holidays. An ancestry forum user recently pointed out that there are many reasons a person may not change their tree – they have passed away, someone else asked them to do a DNA test, they don’t have email notifications turned on, the emails go to spam, they don’t know anything about their family, your email is a surprise and they don’t know what to do next, or quite simply there are other things going on in their life and they don’t have time to deal with the birth date of a distant great aunt who died in 1873. 

I would go one step further and suggest Ancestry etc. make it possible to ‘flag’ errors on trees or note trees / people that were copied entirely from someone else’s tree. This straight away tells any user to be cautious – new or experienced researcher. I also use my tree to test theories (who doesn’t love exploring those shaking leaves…). But it would be helpful if we ourselves could identify hunches and theories to alert others that we are unsure of our facts. 

And finally, I recently read a letter to the editor, where they were shocked that people don’t know things such as where English counties are. A slightly snobby comment, but fair enough – we can just look it up online after all. But sometimes it’s simply not that easy. Funnily enough though, the English seemed to go conquering foreign lands quite a bit back in the day. And now their descendants from all corners of the globe want to know about the motherland! Most did not do English history at school and I can tell you that not everyone knows how to say ‘Southwark’ like a local, or knows the difference between Devon and Plymouth, or even where all the English Counties are (and why that is even important!).

The same would apply the other way – how many people know which part of Australia was colonised first, or that you had to change trains at the border when travelling between Melbourne and Sydney – or even that many traveled by ship between Australian cities (hence shipping records are vital). If I got upset every time I saw someone assume that Ballarat was just over the hill from Melbourne then I too would be mad. 

It’s all about perspective. Please everyone – relax. It’s a hobby. Strap in and enjoy your ride in the Ferrari. 

Record, record, record…

Recently a work colleague (yes…sadly I have a day job) took an Ancestry DNA test. It was quite exciting and he had some very interesting results with a mix of asian (or oriental as they sometimes say in the UK) and English heritage. But now he didn’t know where to start with the research.

And it made me think that with the growing popularity of these tests, there are many more people that may have taken a DNA test, and they now have a lovely map with dot’s on it…and a percentage of different countries, ethnic groups and continents…but simply don’t know what to do next.

“Easy!…talk to your family!” Well, that was the advice I gave my workmate.

Why? Because that is always the best place to start with your family history research – your family!

And what better time to do this than over the Christmas / New Year break.

Although I personally don’t celebrate Christmas, I do enjoy the fact that much of the world is on holidays and spending time with family. Often that may also be with extended family and one’s we don’t see very often. If that is true for you, then I suggest that you take this golden opportunity to make a start on your family history. Even if you do no more research for months, make wise use of time with family now over the next week or so.

But what do I do!?

The main thing is to get the conversation flowing.

The best thing about this time of year is that everyone is relaxed (well almost everyone). And you know what it’s like when we’re all chilled out and there is a nice bottle of red on the go or a good strong coffee…we start blabbing away, reminiscing, thinking of the good old days and how things have changed.

No? It’s just me? (Oh…this is awkward.)

In all seriousness though, when you’re all together and relaxed, try and steer the conversation around to family.

“Dad, where did you go to school?”

“What did Uncle Ronnie do for work Nan?”

“Was there someone in the family that was famous?”

Ask who your grandparents were? When were they born? Where?

Is there anyone in the family who has already looked at the family history?

Ask about your immediate families lives too…where did they live, go to school, first job?

How did your parents meet?

Just get the conversation started. Get those tongues wagging! I don’t mean to be morbid, but who knows what the next year will bring and maybe you won’t have the opportunity to ask those questions again.

And my top tip…record those family chats.

We all have phones these days and no matter how old or what brand, your phone will have a voice record function…use it! Just start it recording and leave it on the table while the family chats away.

This has two benefits.

In the first place – recordings are great for reminiscing. I have recordings of the time we visited my Grandpa in the hospital. He has now passed away, but it is so lovely to listen to his voice some days…and usually I end up in tears.

I also have recordings of my nephew. He started with an Aussie accent but after living with us here in the UK for a few years, he now sounds like a proper little Londoner.

Mum even has recordings of me when I was about 4 or 5 years old, talking to my much older cousins.

Second (and most importantly), a recording is a great way to (obviously) go back and listen later. You are not having to worry about taking notes while everyone is talking. Once everyone is relaxed and happy and talking…sit back and listen. Throw in the odd question or comment every now and then to keep the conversation going, but just listen and enjoy the discussion.

Then in a months time you may have time to do some research. You can then listen back and think about the stories you want to investigate, or at least have some names to start getting on the tree.

Nan said that we had a pilot in the airforce didn’t she – I wonder where he served?

Uncle Ronnie worked at the Arnott’s factory – I wonder where he lived back then?

Aunt Mabel ran off to America – have I got cousins in the states!

As a bonus, in 20 years you will have a lovely recording full of memories of time with the family.

Of course, use your discretion here…I’m talking about interviewing Nanna…not setting a trap for the gossip mags. Mention to them you are recording at some point but don’t make a big deal out of it or people will feel awkward.

And be sure to tell them why you are recording – that you want to look into the family history. That might be enough to trigger a fascinating conversation in itself.

Everyone remembers the same event differently and while 9 times out of 10 that can lead to an amusing discussion, just be careful if things get too personal. You know your family…and can tell when you may have hit a sensitive subject – especially if people are a little tipsy!

Enjoy time with the family! 


DNA adventures (or…are there anymore surprises)

“Previously, on my epic DNA journey…”

Ok…so we’re not quite ready for voice overs on this blog but it has been 12 months since I last posted on this topic – so a brief catchup is in order…right?

  • Mum takes DNA test
  • Mum’s brother takes DNA test
  • Test results say they are half siblings (we all thought they were full siblings)
  • “Eeeeek!”
  • Mum DNA tests a paternal Uncle (her Dad’s brother) and this says they are not related!
  • “woooah! Mum’s biological dad isn’t who we thought he was!?”
  • Mum’s parents passed away long ago…what do we do!?
  • We contact the nearest DNA cousin matches…no leads
  • There are a few Anderson’s in the DNA matches (same surname as Nanna’s second husband when Mum was only very young!)
  • Ah ha! we’ve got you….the 2nd marriage started…a little ‘early’…
  • We test an Anderson family member from Nanna’s second marriage.
  • No match to the Andersons!
  • “argh!? I thought I had you Nanna!”
  • Mum calls her maternal uncle (Uncle Laurie). He says “oh yeah, my mate ‘John Smith’ was around a bit. He dated your Mum on again and off again”
  • ‘John Smith’ actually has a very uncommon surname.
  • I search Mum’s DNA matches and find people with the same unusual surname
  • “Eeeeek! This is for real!”
  • A contact one of these DNA cousins and she gives me details of a branch of her family who went to Australia in the 1800’s…
  • We might be related that way so I research the descendants of the Aussie branch of the family
  • There is a descendant that matches the location and dates of where Mum grew up…
  • He is called ‘John Smith’
  • “Eeeeeek!”
  • This descendant passed away many years ago but I track down his wife and 2 daughters on facebook…..

And breathe.

So I left my last blog post with a cliffhanger – do we or don’t we contact the daughter’s of the man we suspect is Mum’s biological father???

Well……we did contact them!

Mum was really keen to find out who her biological Dad was and put the mystery to bed. I (selfishly) wanted to know if my detective work was correct. We also wondered why he died so young…his daughters must have been only little?!  Even if the family didn’t want to know anything about us, we wondered if there were any health issues Mum (and me I guess!?) needed to know about.

Finding new family would be a bonus too – but given the circumstances, we had resigned ourselves to them not being interested. Putting myself in their shoes I wondered how I would react. We didn’t even expect a reply at this stage. I once had an interesting discussion on the wdytya forum about thisvery  dilemma and others shared their sad tales of it not going well. But despite this, Mum was keen and so I sent both the girls a private Facebook message and included my email address.

I thought that it would be some time before they contacted us….but the very next morning when I woke up there was an email! I was blown away. It turned out that one of the girls actually lived here in the UK too. We couldn’t believe it! We assumed that they were both in Australia. She sent through some photos too…the first photos Mum had seen of her (potential) father. (moist eyes all round….) I can’t say we were struck by an immediate striking resemblance though, but there was a certain familiarity with the nose? eyes? ….maybe?? Or was that just us seeing something we hoped for……after a while you just start seeing rainbow unicorns everywhere!

After a flurry of emails back and forth and getting a bit emotional, we decided to arrange to meet up on Thursday after work. We arranged to meet in the forecourt of the British Library as it was a public place and we could walk away if it wasn’t meant to be….or alternatively we wouldn’t be having hugs and tears and introductions with a waiter trying to get us to a seat! Mum and I sat nervously in the courtyard. Would she show? Would we cry? I had been nervous all day at work with butterflies in my tummy and struggling to concentrate. Mum had been the same. I wasn’t sure what to expect – we knew what she looked like as we had swapped phone numbers and some photos.

But as soon as she walked up to us I recognised her and saw that same familiarity we had seen in the photos….especially to my baby sister.

Me, Mum and Aunty moments after meeting for the first time

It was quite a surreal experience actually. Straight away we noticed we were all the same height too (short 😉 )! And then she looks at me and says “You’re missing a tooth aren’t you?”. I was taken back. Not many people realise this – I am indeed missing an incisor and still have a baby incisor on the other side. The new teeth simply didn’t form. It turns out that my middle sister has the same thing, but I don’t know anyone else with it. But now I do – my Aunty (well the one in Australia at least)…and apparently it is hereditary. Both the girls had noticed it straight away in the pictures we sent. And that was just the beginning of strange coincidences that evening as we chatted over dinner.

For example, it turns out that both of her sons are colourblind and so was her Dad. I never realised (or forgot) but this is a genetic thing that, as I understand it, is passed on by the mother to the children through the X chromosome (or so i read). Girls are carriers (and occasionally have it) but it will generally just affect boys. So their Dad was colourblind and then passed it on to his daughter who passed it on to her sons.

The reason I spell this out , is that my nephew is colourblind. No one else in our family is colourblind and so we just always thought it came from his Dad’s side of the family. But it can’t have – fathers don’t pass it on (they pass on the Y chromosome to their son’s which is apparently not the colourblind one). Mum’s Dad (the one on her birth certificate…) was in the Navy and presumably, if he was colourblind, it would have been noted on his service record at the least, or maybe even stopped him joining back in the day?! If we’d thought about all this and researched it years ago it might have perhaps raised a question in our minds.

So our interests were piqued as we discussed this over dinner.  It was looking more and more likely that there was a relationship there.

Aunty continued to tell us about her Dad. Apparently, he was quite tall (Nanna was tall too so how did Mum end up only 5’2″!), and he was also quite the inventor.  Mum asked where he worked, and well that was a real game changer. He worked at Victa Lawnmowers (a well known Australian lawnmower company) as a Mechanical Engineer until he passed away in 1976. Mum nearly fell off her seat! Her first job was at Victa Mowers, also at the Milperra factory and at the same time he worked there! Although she was in the office and only worked there for a short time, it seems almost certain that they would have perhaps passed each other at some point. At this moment the waiter came over to see if we wanted more drinks and to clear the table. I can’t even begin to imagine what he thought was going on – three of us sat there in stunned silence with our mouths open! I get goosebumps thinking about it even now!

We continued to talk about our families and experiences growing up. Mum grew up in Sefton/Chester Hill (Western Sydney) which is also where the girls were – just streets away. They both knew the same places, and even though there is an age gap between them, it’s possible they may have passed each other around the shops at Sefton and Chester Hill. And from this it seems that their Dad was definitely the one who dated Nanna over the years!

Aunty told us about her Dad and Mum. Because he died so young both the girls were only little and had few memories of him. While he did leave them reasonably provided for, there is no doubt their Mum would have worked very hard to look after them. Aunty told us how their Mum would knit gloves and sell them in the local haberdashery in Sefton to help make a few extra dollars. Again Mum couldn’t believe it…they compared notes to make sure they were talking about the same store (and they were). The haberdashery in Sefton was owned by Nanna’s second husbands family – Nanna Anderson! Mum would visit regularly as a child as her family also owned the produce store….and Aunty remembered that store too! Mind. Blown. …..again.

There were other coincidences too. Random little things…years later in the 1990’s Aunty went to Sydney Uni doing accountancy at the same time I was next door at the technical college doing drafting! Their family had a house on the central coast and would spend the summer there. But so did Mum’s family…it was the Sydney thing to do. They would all have been in the same area and now maybe Mum passed her half sisters when on summer holidays too!

By this stage, we were all head and heart weary. It had been a long, and emotional few hours and so we said our goodbyes and headed home. Before we went we agreed the girls should take a DNA test to confirm the link, but in our heart of hearts, I think it seemed certain. There were just too many coincidences for it to be anything else.

The next day going to work on the tube, Mum messaged an old friend who worked with her at Victa. They were high school friends and both got a job together at Victa after leaving school. Mums friend stayed on at Victa for years, long after Mum had moved away. So Mum thought perhaps there was a chance that her old friend might have remembered this guy, since he died in his 40’s and had a young family…that would have stuck in my mind at least. After Mum messaged her friend she got a message straight back saying “What a blast from the past, he used to give me a lift to work sometimes!”. Mind blown x 10! Unfortunately, she can’t remember much about him other than he was a nice guy (otherwise she wouldn’t have got a lift)!

I then get to work and there is a message from Aunty in the UK telling me to check out some photos sent on facebook from Aunty in Australia. Apparently, they were photos of their Dad’s that were in the attic and they never knew who the people were. They had thought perhaps they were relatives and held on to them after their Dad died, but in light of me contacting them, they wondered….?!

I looked at the pics over lunch and gasped. There were various photos of school classes and girls with their Dad – it looked like most of them were taken at a deb ball perhaps. In one photo he is with the woman who later becomes Uncle Laurie’s wife (the paternal Uncle who told Mum that his mate ‘John Smith’ dated Nanna…).

But quite a lot of the pictures they sent had the same woman in them……my Nanna!!

A photo of Nanna from ‘John Smiths’ photos in the attic

I waited till I saw Mum later that day to confirm (I didn’t want to be imagining it!) but she also grinned and recognised her Mum straight away…she even has copies of some of the photos herself back in Australia. My sister got Nannas photos out of storage and we sent a photo to my Aunties.

Nanna’s photo basket in storage at my sisters in Australia

So 60 odd years ago, he held on to these photos and had them in the attic. Then when he died 20 years later, no one knew who the people were! This is just one of the pictures of my Nanna that he had in the attic…


A photo of Nanna from ‘John Smith’s’ attic….

The same photo in my Nanna’s photo album at my sister’ place

All of this has been an emotional roller coaster. We have shared photos and regularly whatsapp. Whatever the results of any DNA tests, our families lives have really been intertwined in so many ways. To have a photo of your Nanna found in the attic of an ex-boyfriends house after so many years is just….wow! Mum working in the same factory as him! …Oh. My. Days! And then their widowed Mum selling gloves to the Anderson family.  …..just stop.

After all that drama though, it almost feels like a bit of a footnote to say that the DNA results came in – and a little sooner than we expected too. The Ancestry DNA results confirmed they were ‘close relatives’ which includes cousins….and half-siblings. So it’s for real. Mum now has two sisters and I have a whole new set of relatives to trace! With so many half-siblings though, Mum’s tree is starting to look a little complicated!?

Mum’s family tree is starting to get complicated….. (Nanna is the top circle!)

But like my Uncle (the brother of the Dad on Mums’ birth certificate) said right back when this all first started, he didn’t care about the results of the test, Mum would always be his niece. And so rather than lose anyone, we have just gained a whole extra branch from the tree trunk that is my family history.

The girls are excited about this whole thing but we do worry about their Mum. In some instances when you see this sort of thing on TV, it really affects some people and they need closure (e.g. if they were adopted). In this case though, none of the girls – Mum or my Aunties, really knew their Dads (biological or ones on the birth certificate!). So it seems a little different – although discovering your Dad isn’t who you thought is still a bit dramatic!  We simply never knew each other existed, and so for me at least, it feels like new beginnings!

The next step is to try and meet up again and maybe all together in Australia in the New Year. Will see how we go.

Oh, and of course you’re wondering what the man himself looked like! Well…meet my grandparents Nanna (Betty Morgan) and Kenny Snodgrass (aka the famous ‘John Smith’).  This was one of the photos his family found in the attic. Goosebumps or what!

Nanna and Kenny Snodgrass (aka ‘John Smith’)


Kenny Snodgrass


DNA, paternity questions and living relatives

So this month’s post is ethically challenging.  A few weekends ago, I had so much to do.  You know those weekends…..best of intentions to spring clean etc.  Well, my sock drawer remains a mess as I spent the whole time on family history.  But had a major break through in the case of Mum’s DNA and her search for new relatives.  So, I thought it would be good to share the process I went through – at the very least so I remember how I arrived at my conclusions and perhaps it will help or inspire someone else to look for their relatives.

When Mum’s DNA results came in and her DNA paternity was suddenly brought into question,  a name came to mind straight away.  I will call him ‘John Smith’ because it is in fact quite a distinct name and I don’t want this all getting back to the ‘Smith’ family before we can confirm things.  Mum spoke to her Uncle about her DNA test ‘problem’.  She didn’t mention her suspicions but asked her Uncle if there was anyone at the time who Nanna may have been seeing.  Oddly enough ‘John Smith’ was the first, and only, name her Uncle mentioned.  Apparently, Nana and ‘John Smith’ were a well known item at various times.

As mentioned it is a pretty distinct name, and so I went through Mum’s DNA results on both Ancestry and FamilyTreeDNA and……there in her matches with DNA cousins, is this same distinct name! And there are enough occurrences that it couldn’t really be a coincidence. Then last week, we had a message from one of these DNA ‘cousins’, who is in New Zealand.  She has that same very distinctive surname too.  It seems the DNA cousin wasn’t related to our ‘John Smith’, but gave us the name of a branch of the family who were known to have settled in Australia in the 1800’s – ‘William and Marth Smith’.  With only those two names, I spent Friday evening starting a new family tree in ancestry – madly following green leaves and hints off other trees to find all their descendants.

That evening, I had a pretty well developed family tree for ‘William and Martha Smith’.  There is no confirmed paper trail (like all good genealogists should have) but it was a rough tree.  And from it I discovered that ‘William and Martha Smith’ had son ‘John’ who also had a son ‘John’!  And the ages and locations more or less match with our ‘John Smith’.  It was beginning to look more and more positive.

For obvious privacy and security reasons, you can’t get records for living people (ie. no birth certificates for the past 100 years).  But as it was such a distinct surname, I searched Trove (Australia’s online newspaper record) and found a lot of Family Notices for that name.  Family Notices in the newspapers are great.  I found funeral notices for people that listed their brothers and sisters (married names) and children.  Everything but the family dog.  A family historians dream.  My weekend was then spent piecing together dozens of these notices, and filling out the tree with dates and even more names.  I now have a half decent looking tree – not bad for a Saturday.

So I then went to the New South Wales (NSW) BDM database and searched all the ‘Smiths’…just to see what came up.  Although you don’t get all the details, the search record result gives you enough clues to work out who you are looking for, so you can then order the certificate.  And there was a record for our ‘John Smith’ marrying an ‘Anne Jones’ – the dates and location all seem about right.  So I think I am on the right track.  (For the record, Nanna and Grandad were divorced not too long after Mum was born; and long before ‘John Smith’ married Anne, so he at least was not having an affair.)

I then tried a google search for ‘John Smith’ and now found some hits on the Myheritage website that seemed to match.  I signed up for a free one month trial and was away……now I was even able to find photos of ‘William and Martha Smith’ and their children on one of the online trees.  No obvious resemblance to Mum, but there is the same distinct smile in the great-grandmother.

One of the family trees on Myheritage, is managed by a reasonably close relative.  Sadly it noted that our ‘John Smith’ had died many decades ago at quite a young age.  It gave his wife’s name as (nee Jones) which is the same as NSW BDM records, and also had the married surnames of his two daughters (no first names).  So close. Oh so close!

How do I now find living relatives? I decided then to go back a step and fill in some details on ‘John Smith’.  My ancestry account doesn’t include access to Australian records.  Instead, I searched Findmypast and the first record I opened was a transcript of his headstone.  There, on the transcript, is the name of his wife and two daughters.  Now I have their first and married names!

In what felt very stalkerish, I then went to a more modern tool….Facebook.  Within moments I found both girls, and their mother!  I can’t say the resemblance is overwhelming between the girls and my Mum.  It’s certainly not enough that you could say for sure that they were half-sisters.  But can you say there is a resemblance just from a couple of photos alone?  I certainly don’t think I look a lot like my own sisters.   But my younger sister is the only blonde hair blue eyed one in our family,  and there is a resemblance with her and this possible new family.  Funny though – it was always thought my sister took after our grandad on our Dads side?!

But now, where does that leave us?!  Have I really found them? Do we want to contact htem? It is one thing to email someone interested in family history about a common ancestor.  It’s an entirely different matter to tell someone that you think they are half-sisters with your Mum, and would they mind taking a DNA test to be sure!  Thinking about how I would feel in their situation, I am inclined to leave it – at least for now.  Mum has a family already and is happy.  And so do they.  They looked happy and there is no burning need or desire from us to get in touch…not like some on ‘Find my Family’ who really need closure.

But, ‘John Smith’ died very young….what if there is a genetic illness we should know about?  Ultimately the decisions is Mum’s to take. Perhaps in the meantime I might just order his death certificate.

There is no manual on this situation.  And if there is…..can you please email me? We’d really like to read it.

DNA update

OK, so…I’ll be honest…of late I have been a little focused on connecting through DNA and not spent a lot of time on the paper connections.  I have now gone through and updated the DNA page on the website to try and made the connections clearer for people who may have a match to one of our families DNA tests.  Please have a look – I have broken it down to my maternal line and paternal line and thrown in some family trees as well.

But, I should say though, that I have gone against all of my principles, and published trees where some of the connections are not 100% based on solid paper trail.  I ask you forgiveness for this…and plead that I have a couple of MASSIVE brick walls and need all the help and clues and hints and theories I can get….. I have of course noted if I’m not 100% sure of a connection though, so that my ‘theories’ don’t creep in as fact for someone else!

For my Dad’s family it’s pretty clear and I have two trees up now showing the various names and connections.  Most of these connections I am confident of – the Duncans are more recent and less researched but I’m keen to find connections through DNA if I can.

My mum’s maternal side is pretty well researched, but as you know her dad’s side is very much a ‘work in progress’.  We have a little theory going – nothing confirmed, but if we have a DNA match and you have Snodgrass in your family tree then I’d be keen to hear from you.

Only a short blog this time.  My summer holiday plans include genealogy of course.  A recent trip to Scotland was enlightening, and I have a trip to Devon planned next week.  I promise stories of illegitimacy, travel, a chimney sweep and dodgy chip shop owners still to come.  So watch this space….


3 years ago today…

Many years ago….many, many years ago in fact, my ancestors travelled much further than they had ever been before.  No….this isn’t the intro to Star Wars – it is a tale of migration.

All my family, have come from Britain as far back as I can find (except possibly my maternal grandfather if you’ve read the last few blog posts).  And for a variety of reasons they moved to Australia.   Like most others before them, it was seen as the land of milk and honey.  For some it was the lure of gold.  For others took skills from the UK and established a name for themselves in cities far away.  Later on others saw the economic benefits, and followed a (hideously racist) immigration policy targeted squarely at Britains wanting to make a better life for themselves.

The obvious exception, are the convicts that were sent as punishment.  So far I haven’t found any in my ancestry (aka. Australian royalty!).   And also in this group of those with little choice on their arrival to Australia, were the child migrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, like my paternal grandfather, John Scott.

As a child in Glasgow, he was told he was going on a holiday.  He had a little bag packed for him and went on a long boat trip that he remembered fondly all his life.  Sadly though he eventually worked out it was a one way ticket.  Over the years he lost all connection with his Scottish roots – no accent except when he ‘turned it on’.  In the end, he did ok for himself…better than many others.  But he said of Britain – they abandoned me, so I don’t care about them.

For some of us though, there is a strange pull back to Britain.  I once lived in Glasgow many years ago now and have visited the UK many times now.  It’s funny to say, but I feel more at home here than in Australia?!

And so it was, three years ago today, that we arrived here in the UK ready to start a new adventure.  A reverse migration if you like.  We moved to London, and I have loved every minute of it.  There is so much that culturally is the same, and so much that is also very, very different.  In time I hope to post more about this.  I often think of things and wonder how it might have been for my ancestors when they arrived in Australia.  They had no option of turning around and coming back to the UK like we do today.   They had to tough it out and make it work.  Snakes and all….


DNA – Part 3

Ok….so I am a little mean and have teased you with a long break in the DNA story between Part 2 and Part 3.  But it’s worth it….trust me.

When we first looked at doing DNA testing, the advice was always to get as many older relatives tested as you could.  My Nanna (Mum’s mum) passed away many years ago.  Her sister Kay was alive, but seriously ill with cancer and sadly passed away before she could take the test.  Uncle Bob (Mum’s brother) instead used the DNA test and with the idea of getting a clear picture of the male line.

Some time later, the results came back and Mum opened them with interest.  And now here is the tricky part.

My Nanna, well, let’s just say she had her faults.  I would like to say Nanna had a troubled childhood, to explain her self-destructive behaviour.  But she grew up in a regular, loving family.  He father, known as ‘Da’ was an absolute sweetie.  I have very fond memories of visiting him in Sydney.  But for whatever reason, Nanna had a little of the wild child about her and loved a drink (or ten).  So although she did marry the three fathers of all her children, it seems there was a little twist in the story.

Mum has three half-brothers and one ‘full blood’ brother – Uncle Bob who she shares the same Mum and Dad with.  But that all changed when Mum looked at the DNA test results – Bob was actually her half-brother too!  They have a different father! For all our joking and knowing Nanna had a naughty streak, we didn’t actually think it would happen.

It was a bit of a shock.  Although her parents split when she was very young, Mum remained close to her father’s family.  She suddenly lost a connection with family she loved dearly and was close to.  Beloved Aunty Nella, who I saw as my ‘surrogate’ Nanna, was now gone from the family tree.  However, when Mum spoke to Uncle Les, he summed it up well and said “No matter what, you’re still my niece’”  And, if Aunty Nella were still alive, she wouldn’t give two hoots about it either.  It all comes back to nature and nurture really. And in that sense, the Moore’s are still family.

Looking at it purely from a family history point of view though, in one fell swoop, an entire branch was lopped from the tree.  I have had a few brick walls on my Dad’s side of the family, but now we are now faced with a reinforced brick wall.  And this was the side of the family Mum knew about too.  It was the side of the family with an old family tree claiming royal connections (possibly a Victorian fake).  Family with a great Naval history.  A family full of Australian explorers.  And a family connected with Australian royalty (aka convicts).

This year Mum and I attended WDYTYA:live in Birmingham.  It was good to speak with various helpful experts, and we have a few ideas on where to go to from here.  But it won’t be an easy search.  And just how do you email a distant cousin about this “Do you have a relative who was in Sydney in….”

DNA – Part 2

OK. So in my last post I talked about Mum’s recent DNA test and how it was quite a surprise. Well, I guess there were two surprises really.

First – her ancestry.  When Mum was younger, she was always asked about her ancestry, and she was often asked if she has Asian ancestry.  (I mean Far-east Asian and not Indian as ‘Asian’ is usually referred to in the UK). This Asian connection was entirely plausible given Australia’s Gold Rush period and at the time many of Mum’s family lived in the Gold Rush areas around North-West NSW (between Sydney & Brisbane).  And to add to our suspicions, her grandmother (Nanna Morgan) looked very much like a sweet old Chinese lady (One day I will find a photo of her).  My sister Victoria also has had the same experience as Mum, and is always asked about her ancestry.  Once, in our local Chinese restaurant, a family came to our table and spoke to her in Chinese thinking she was a visitor!  As well as Asian ancestry, the other possibility was an Italian or Spanish connection because of the olive skin (I’m only jealous a little bit!).  Maybe some of those legendary smuggling ancestors from the Cornish coast!

Mum and vicki

Mum and Victoria (both in their late teens/early twenties)

But all of this was just supposition and family lore, because so far the paper trail showed nothing but English ancestry to the early 1800’s.  But, there was clearly a link to something exotic there somewhere and before the DNA results came in we all took a straw poll on what we thought Mum’s ancestry would be made up of – most of us had a fair percentage of Asian.  But oh how wrong we were!

In my last post I mysteriously referred to a ‘Region x’.  Well … ‘Region x’ turned out to be Scandinavia!  And at 75% Scandinavian ancestry it had to be more than just distant Viking relatives in the family!?

But this is a place that has never flagged as a connection in any research so far. Not even hinted at.  Saying Mum had Martians for ancestors might have made more sense!  But at least the olive skin was explained by 9% southern European ancestry (across Italy & Spain)…but so much Scandinavian?

So what then was the second surprise….

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