Thursday, 8 March 2018

Feminist ? Maybe but definitely a woman before her time….

Marlene Jewel Kerr’s Bachelor of Arts degree was conferred in May 1958. Remarkable because in those days it was  unusual for woman to undertake degrees unless they were rich. It was even more remarkable because she had paid her own way to do nighttime studies after the death of her mother in her final year of school and because for the last two years of study she had a husband and two small children.

We made it more difficult for her to attend lectures and she pleaded with the lecturers to allow her to complete some subjects from home. Marlene had always been surrounded by strong, motivated women: her Aunts Lena, Maude, Kitty, Grace, Edie, sister Airdrie and single mother Julia. Some of that example, faith and encouragement paid off.

Despite the handicap of kids and a husband she did it!

She taught briefly after graduating at Dover Heights Girls High School until her mother-in-law died prematurely leaving her without a babysitter – career on hold.

Marlene was born on 23/2/1935 to Frank and Julia Kelf who had both arrived in Australia in early 1910s. She started school at Woollahra Primary School and continued there in an opportunity class throughout primary.

From there was she was able to go to Sydney Girls High School. She was talented and loved to draw and paint like her father. There was quite a break between and her older siblings so to amuse herself she painted in water colour the sketches in her reading books. She liked to play hockey and enjoyed ice-skating with her friends. Like all teenagers she loved listening nightly to her favourite singing stars on the radio. For her it was the handsome dark haired Mario Lanza and Al Jolson “toot toot tooting” on the radio.

She gained good passes in the Leaving Certificate which allowed her to begin a university degree. As her mother was dead and her father was not wealthy she started work not as a typist but as  a clerk in the Commonwealth Public Service studying her university course at night. This is where she met her husband to be around 1954. She married Alf in 1955 and after the birth of me and my brother she continued to study until she graduated.

Mum was an avid reader and was inspired to volunteer at my brother’s Marist Bros in the library. After being goaded by me (age 13) for wasting her degree or perhaps it's because she needed to keep her brain busy she sought out a way to do librarianship by distance study and exams.

Determined to gain her qualification and with now three children she read through the required reading list, studied and sat exams. Finally in the mid 60s all her work paid off. Coincidentally a squash buddy of my Dad’s happened to find out about her studies and offered her a job at a Catholic Demonstration school in Dundas where he was the Principal. Again she was a woman before her time when she became “a working mother”  Mum coped with everything that came along- expansion of the school to high school then Senior School and transitioning to co-educational.

As the school grew and expanded she oversaw the various renovations and rebuilding of the library resources and facilities. Marlene and was responsible for the design of the Brother David Cunningham Resource Centre which at the time was argued to be the best in the Diocese of Parramatta. She took on leadership roles in the Catholic Librarians Group. She embraced new technology and was the resident Audio Visual expert at the school. A lover of local history she began to archive the school’s Marist History. Marlene was Careers Advisor, sports record keeper and introduced the new OASIS System of library administration at a time when PCs were only being introduced and in early days. Thousands of staff and students benefited from her professional and caring manner and her organisational skills and reliability was much appreciated.
Marlene at a work function

On a personal level she threw herself into the community. In 1961 she had moved to Carlingford with the family and became involved with the three schools we kids went to, our new parish of St Gerard’s and neighbourhood social activities.

That led to being an integral part of the Carlingford Camping group at Empire Bay. Many times she was sporting a paintbrush as part of working bees at the historic house. Many weekends and holidays were spent with family and friends. She had inherited the artistic gene and showed her creativity in her sewing, craft, calligraphy and cooking. I might add that she had a devious sense of humour and a video camera to back it up!

The love of history and the Video camera also came into play when my husband introduced her to a genealogy program in the 1980s together with a blank family tree. Archiving and technology were combined and she organized and recorded the family photos, videoed relatives and recorded their stories. What a treasure.

Unfortunately her preparation for retirement to travel the world and paint were cut short when she died of cancer aged 57 in 1992.

She only had enough time to influence and role model to three of the nine grandchildren. Nevertheless her three children Robyn and Paul and Helen had learnt enough to influence the rest of the grandchildren.  She would be really chuffed to see her granddaughters working in non-traditional careers and the feminist side of her would love their choices. She’d also love that they and the great grandchildren adopt the newest in technology for working smart and the creativity it inspires.
Granddaughter Erin overcame the odds to learn to drive forklifts at work

Happy 2018 International Women's Day Mum xxx

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Do you have a favourite photo?

This photo now lives in the "family history bedroom". I stare at it every day.

Actually it captivates me.  It is quite possible that I knew it as a young child as it was more than likely hanging in my grandmother’s old flat  where I spent my early years.  It's large, stained and watermarked. When it was found it had probably spent 40 years lying flat in the top of a wardrobe hiding amongst the Kerr photos.

It's obviously been displayed in large frame at some stage. Perhaps it belonged to the bride? It took me a while to even know which side of the family came from until my eagle eyed husband spotted it in a video montage my mother had put together in the 1980s. So it went from the Kerr pile to the Gadsby pile of photos.  A little later cousin Wendy identified everyone correctly having known each of the characters.  It was taken at the wedding of my Great Aunt Selina (Lena) Gadsby 1890-1954 and Alexander Thurlow 1888-1962 in Balmain in 1918.

For the first time I was seeing my Grandmother Julia 1903-1954 and my great grandmother Selina Gadsby nee Smith 1869-1935. Young Selena aged 28 married Alec aged 30.
l-r Maude Gadsby, Robert and Alec Thurlow, Lene Gadsby, Selina Gadsby, John Robert and Julia Gadsby

The story is that Alec was a fellow travelling to Australia with his brothers; he met Lena who was travelling from London to Sydney on the “Zealandia” with her 4 sisters, baby brother and mother in 1912.  They were to meet up in Sydney  with her brothers and father Thomas as they were travelling by different transport. Lena had left behind her fiancĂ©, Ben a butcher in London but had many weeks to while away the time on the journey.   Lena struck up a friendship. Alec and his brothers were lifelong friends with the Gadsbys when they landed in Sydney.  

Mother Selina though was not happy about the friendship and dispatched letters to Ben back in London to make haste to Australia.  Details about Ben are a little sketchy but he did come to Sydney at some time later in the next  few years. In a strange turn of events Selena Sr ran off with Ben when he arrived in Sydney and literally set up shop with him a small goods store in North Sydney.  Another little Gadsby child had been born – Edith in 1914.

With Selina taken off with Ben it was left to her daughter Lena to care for the baby and other siblings  before she eventually married Alec in 1818. Dad, Thomas Gadsby with his eldest’s help had been holding the household together, working as a bricklayer to keep the wolves from the door.

It is an incomplete family photo as several of the family is missing. To me Selena, my great grandmother looks like she doesn't belong. Is it the dress?  At first I had assumed she was a maid. She’s standing at the rear behind the bride and the groom who is seated.  They don’t look entirely happy to be lining up together for the shot. Julia a shy 15 year old, my grandmother is standing to the right. In three years time she will be a bride herself.  Her older sister, Maude Rose, 18 is seated on the left. Alec had his brother Robert Thurlow (standing) as his groomsman- you can see the resemblance?

Seated in the front is Selina’s brother John Robert (Uncle Jack).  At only 20 he looks frail. When Cousin Wendy describes him she says he's just back from the war- gassed in France- but his war records show no sign of gassing. Rather he seems to have suffered from shellshock and in this shot he looks a little haunted.

Missing from the photo is Thomas Gadsby, Lena’s father. Sadly a rare chance of a photo missed- we have none of him. Within a few years all of the older children will have married but sadly this is the only wedding photo.

Also missing are brother Harold and Thomas who have been away at war.  The littlest children are not included in the shot-Kitty, Grace, William and Edith. They were probably too young to attend the wedding.

Since I started doing family history the photo with its stained backing stands on an easel over looking (supervising?) my research desk. It accompanies me on my family history journey.  Naturally it was the theme photo of our 100 year Gadsby family reunion. Other family photos of the small children didn’t come to light until years later so this is truly treasured.

It's a moment in time captured for what it’s worth – a partial gathering of the clan whether they liked it or not. I'm so glad to have it and for a while it was the only childhood photo of my grandmother.
Taken a year so so later some of the missing siblings got in the shot
l-r rear to front Harold, Frank Kelf, Kitty, Maude, Julia and Grace Gadsby c 1920

Alec and Lena were well off, owned their own business and own home. They ran a toilet towel business-Hygienic Towel Supply which later became the Snow White Towel Company. Occasionally the nieces were employed. Alec and Lena had no children but often gave their spare rooms to those in the family in need of a place to stay.

I never knew Lena or Julia. They died in 1954 the year before I was born.  This shot of them laughing and playing with my cousins looks like a much happier shot. Perhaps it's a few little squirming cuties that is missing from the wedding shot above. 
Julia, Jillian, Lena and little Airdrie c1952

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Making a start on the family tree - start with what you know

Every Christmas we were reunited with some relatives of my mother’s. There were older uncles and aunties, cousins and much discussion about second cousins once removed. That was us the young ones. I had no idea how we all fitted together. My Mum and her cousins are always referred to as “cousin” as in cousin  Marlene(my mother), cousin Wendy, cousin Bet etc. What confused me was when my dad was called Uncle Alf and cousin Bet’s husband was called Uncle Ray.

One day when I was about 12, I asked my mum how it all fitted together and who were these Aunties, cousins etc. She drew me a little tree which I kept for future reference. 

In 1988 my husband did Mum a Family Tree print out on our first computer. That dot matrix family tree was the start of Mum’s genealogy interest and subsequently a good start for me. We have a video of that printout been passed around at a party gathering information from all the grown up cousins. That printout survived which is a good thing as Mum died four years later. 

When my husband and I eventually decided to record our trees seriously my husband found a similar printout he had supplied to his mother in 1988 with copious hand written details.  

Before he died Dad had asked me to finish his family tree – are they ever finished? I was putting it off. For his part he had done some haphazard research and not a lot was recorded. After a discussion with my Dad shortly before he died he had shown me two James Kerr families and stated how he liked the look of one rather more fortunate family than another. He thought he’d take that one! Actually, can you see why I was a bit skeptical about the process? 

Six years ago we fronted up to the Kiama Family History Centre and asked how you “started”.  “Start with what you know dear” the volunteer replied.

Armed with the tree from my mother and my great grandparent’s names the volunteer quickly found them in the newly released 1911 English census which showed Mum’s information when I was 12 was remarkably correct. We were hooked. Hook, line and started…. never to finish.

With time on our hands we’ve built the tree, taken and explored DNA tests, We’ve visited places and cemeteries, poured over newspapers, postulated and researched.  Our database on Family tree maker expands daily and it’s a powerful tool for reporting and recording. But to put all this to good use I’ve loved writing up my people, exploring their lives and times and recording it to share with others.

It's a great hobby one I suspect I had a talent for from the age of 12 when I asked my mother about the family.  Technology tempted us with the earliest genealogy programs and the early printouts of two-three generations were a novelty.

Genealogy became really popular in the Bicentennial Year in Australia as people searched for a First or Second Fleet convicts- our Australian Royalty. It seemed there should be a start and finish. There never is. When someone says  an old Aunty “did” our family history in the 1980s- they are dreaming .It’s 40 years out of date and a lot has changed. Besides the new records available online there’s new generations with  births, deaths and marriages that happen in every family. It’s only a start –it’s never finished.

Starting your family history research:

  1. Gather relevant information from living relatives sooner rather than later.
  2. Bring out the family photo albums at your next function. Record what is said.
  3. Find any records from personal files that might be available such as birth, marriage, death certificates, news clippings, family papers etc
  4. Start looking for online information from BDM data bases, Trove digital newspaper resources, National Archives of Australia and historical resources about your district.
  5. Make time to email or contact relatives who might have more information.
  6. Download some family tree templates and start recording your findings.
#52ancestors  Some of my blogs this year will be following the 52 Ancestors hints.

Saturday, 30 December 2017

I'm still counting relatives…… 2017 update

Happy New Year....

A friend asked me how many hours I put in each week. I don't know and I'm not telling. But as for results I can tell you I am meeting my KPIs. My research this year has come from writing my blogs or is it vice versa writing blogs causes more research? Expanding my data base of “people in the tree” comes from more research into elusive DNA matches.

My blog has now over 80 block postings with nearly 20 this year. The big result is the 13500 hits on the blog which nearly doubles the hits up to the end of last year. So thanks for reading and sharing along with me this year.

"I can tell you I am meeting my KPIs"

This year a number of people asked about researching their own grandparents etc. Steve and I can't help ourselves when we get a chance to start on a new family. So assistance has been given to an unrelated Gadsby family, the Hoarty family of Iluka, the McKinnons of Grafton and my friend Sue’s grandfather.

I'm still identifying unnamed photographs and have labelled even more. Take a look at the blog identifying  neighbours at Park Avenue.  Do Something With The Photos

Here are a few stats….. People in my tree have increased by 1300 to 7494. Doing DNA research keeps us busy with fourth cousins or less growing up 70 to 160 in the year. Steve has 109 4th cousins on his page. There's never a dull moment on the DNA scene celebrating discoveries with others and the thrill of nutting things out with a distant and likeminded relative.
People in my tree have increased by 1300 to 7494

I'm active in a number of genealogy Facebook pages and it's amazing the insight and help people give with your Scottish, Irish or Aussie family members. People are really generous with their assistance to struggling researchers on their DNA “L” plates.

I was despairing that I might need to cross off my Johnson and Strelley lines from my tree. DNA results were not putting up much in the way of matches despite exploring lots of avenues with these relatives who have departed the UK and Scotland for Canada America, Australia New Zealand. As you have read I had a dubious paper trail back to the Strelleys and Johnstons- two families I rather like being attached to. A concentrated effort going back over old records and channeling the relatives while writing a few blogs seemed to be enough to stir up the genie angels and duly they sent me some clues.

 Anyway the clincher was a DNA match to a distant fifth cousin related to the Johnsons. If I was related to the Johnstons everyone agreed that I had to be a Strelley. But the Strelley relatives were not going to be outdone. It was sweet when a week later two matches to Strelley rellies based in British Columbia clenched that dubious paper trail and put it beyond doubt. Whatever the reasons the unmarried couples were trying to conceal their relationships or deny their children they were no match for DNA.

So out of my four grandparents Kerr, Strelley, Kelf and Gadsby only Gadsby needs confirmation.  I have this year found DNA matches that stretch far and beyond the nearest grandparents not to mention some good matches on Steve’s line. Beware, some of the brick walls still stand especially on my Huguenot and Irish lines. Watch this space.

Blog tags and online ancestry services connect me with people who are researching similar people to those in my tree. One such case was that of Violet Harrison’s great niece who wrote to me and shared stories and photos of my Mum’s long lost uncle.

Violet and Tom Gadsby

A Strelley relative wrote to me in amazement that she was reading all about the Strelley mysteries and myths she had grown up with. She had no clue how we were related but I had been researching in cahoots with her brother and cousin for years.

Others contacted me regarding the Allan story I wrote. 6 Degrees of Separation- It's a small world for David Allan and Sophia Johnston As a result we have a collection of people descended from Allan relatives each contributing their skills and knowledge towards connecting the very impressive family in Australia and beyond. One is writing a book and more blog stories are warranted for this fabulous family.

This blog is also dedicated to “cousins reunited”. A close relative match- Elizabeth R had only five names on her tree and barely enough time to digest her results. I immediately recognised the names. Her 2x great grandmother and my 2x great grandfather were brother and sister. Not only that she had previously I had previously corresponded with her long lost cousin. A swap of email addresses and cousins were you reunited between Scotland and Canada. I got photos of my grandfather’s cousin so I'm happy.
Maggie Revington Tinman and William Burbidge

A second new good news story brought tears to my eyes. After discovering earlier this year that Steve’s grandfather’s brother Archibald have not died at sea but married and had 5 daughters  (4 still living in their 80s and 90s) I was set to rewrite the Ford stories.  A week or two later a fellow contacted Steve through his DNA match he mentioned his grandfather's name Archibald. Mark comes from a second cousin DNA match with my husband. Within hours we were able to put him in touch with cousins he had never met. He didn't waste any time in gaining a passport and meeting his aunts and cousins across the pond and then didn’t waste any time travelling to southern parts of the USA to meet other cousins. Now I have more photos to rewrite the true and correct part of Archibald Ford’s story.

Archibald Ford 1956

Finally I scored a bingo when I discovered that my uncle’s step son is related to him via the Johnston (Allan) family and so I’m related to my step cousin too. This restored some of my credibility in the family. Look where the paper trail leads to...

Tip of the Year:  Next year I hope to break through the brick wall of my McLaughlin great grandmother. I received the smallest of hints from a professional genealogist- use the wild card search. When I used a very wild WILD CARD search on Scotlands’ People Yay! A small hole developed. Believe me I had tried all sorts of permutations before and for many years.  Finally, I found one mention of my grandmother (using a different name) on a census and her mother with her. At last an age and a place of birth for Mary McLaughlin.  I now love the asterisk * and use it all the time. #*** #usethewildcard

Technology Tip of the Year: I must say I love the “snipping tool”.  Just download it to your tool bar, use it to cut down screen documents, draw, highlight, edit, print and save. I use it every day. #lovingthesnippingtool

Happy New Year to all my readers, my collaborators, my Blogging buddies and my long suffering, eye rolling  relatives.

May your trees grow and your mysteries resolve.

I hope 2018 lets all your wishes come true.

Robyn xx

Sunday, 24 December 2017


It's Christmas time.. the cards are sent, presents wrapped and Nanna's shortbread recipe is being pulled out for the Shortbread bakeoff.

What traditions does your family have? It's that time of year when a bunch of relatives get together to rejoice, reminisce, continue traditions and invent new ones. Hence we are having the North and South degustation and the bakeoff.  Time for old stories to be rehashed and passed onto the kids. Family history is just that - history to be remembered and passed on . It's not all about dates and certificates but people, their lives- past and present. its what makes us family.

I've already sent out our family newsletter with updates on the family history research and the DNA successes. My Christmas wishes are that some relatives will agree to take a DNA test.

I'll be on the lookout for titbits to enhance the research for sure.

From my family to yours - have a happy family time. 
Thanks for reading the blog this year- it has more than doubled its hits.


Robyn xx

Sunday, 26 November 2017

William (Bill) Strelley   9/3/1870 – 6/2/1854 Boxer, Promoter, Referee

William (Bill) Strelley 1948

These cuttings were sent to my grandmother in Sydney  (source unknown) 

It's probably the result of a long running guessing game with Bill Strelley. The truth is not only was his age a mystery in his time but also until recently a definitive  parentage.  Anyway back to William.... Bill Strelley. When I started this quest records were just being made available on Scotlands people. There are very few Strelleys and variations in the form of Stralley, Strally, Strellie and Strelly in Scotland.

With the benefit of their database and wildcard searching here’s his birth certificate.  
Birth Certificate William McHardy 1870
You will notice he is registered as William McHardy and illegitimate. His birth is 9/3/1870 at Bridgeton, Glasgow. Mystery solved as to his age but what  about the name of his father. It was suspected until just recently that his father indeed was William Strally, an army pensioner and tanner who lived with his mother Lavinia McHardy for about 30 years. During this period many children were born to Lavinia –all called McHardy and all named as illegitimate.

In the 1871 Census William is William S McHardy living with his mother (Strelley and his mother are on a separate page but same address to William Strally and his McHardy grandparents. By 1881 everyone has adopted the name Strelley and the status of a family. Over time the name Strelley was used by both Lavinia and the surviving children.

1881 census
For some reason there appears to be an impediment to the couple marrying.

Here’s a list of children attributed to be half or full siblings of William (Bill). Not many survived which is a sadness in itself for the family unit.

Janet Peoples McHardy 1/9/1862 Glasgow to 15/6/1863 (half sister)

David Skinner McHardy 11/9/1867 to 8/5/1867 to 8/5/1932 (half brother)

Thomas Gilchrest McHardy 13/1/1873 to 30/12/1874 (?)

Lavinia Strelley McHardy 29/12/1875 to 5/3/1876

Barbara Strelley McHardy 29/6/1880 to 9/9/1882

Robert Strellie McHardy 2/9/1886 to 27/8/1918

At first William(3) is a “visitor” in the household in 1871. One year after his birth. William (3) he was listed as a son to William Strelley (2) in 1881 census.

The 1890s was the start of an eventful decade, the smooth talking and handsome Strelley was winning over the ladies. By 1891 census at twenty he has left home and is working as a belt finisher. He is living in a lodging home.   During that decade Strelley fathered a number of children.

One was my grandmother Lavinia Strelley. Her mother was a pottery worker, Mary McLaughlin and Bill, now a builder’s labourer was present at her birth on 4 December 1896 and signed her birth registration. When I started this quest it was assumed Mary and Bill had married. Then I found more illegitimate children. He had also met and impregnated Ellen (Helen) Brown whose daughter Williamina Strelley was born on 10 March 97 only four months after Lavinia. A brother for Williamina -Robert Strelley was born on 8 October 1898. All of these children used both their mothers’ surnames initially but eventually assumed the surname Strelley. Even Ellen used the name Strelley.

He was a busy boy as by 1901 he's boarding with the family by the name of Short. Agnes Short the daughter of Annie is a shop assistant in the confectionary shop at Dalmarnock Road and he is a Confectionary Agent. A bit over 12 months later on 13th March 1902 Agnes and William have an illegitimate son called William (4). They do not tie the knot until 17th August 1903 under the rights of the Church of Scotland. The ever youthful William has changed his age to 27 for the marriage when he is in fact 32.

During this time he has returned to his trade as a cycle fitter but stated as a confectionary agent again on the marriage certificate. You can see why he might have changed his age but did he give the incorrect mother's name on the marriage certificate?

A lot has happened to Bill in the past few years. Besides the births of two sons and two daughters he had lost both parents. Firstly William his reputed father died 1898 of disease of the brain. He died at an old man's asylum in Glasgow. His death certificate describes him as a 70-year-old former labourer and army pensioner. The notation says "single" and Lavinia is not mentioned although her death registered by William 4 years later in 1902 has her as “married to William Strelley, Tanner deceased”.

William and Lavinia's situation by the end of their lives appears to have been quite dire. When she died of chronic nephritis (kidney disease) at the age of 50 in 1902 Lavinia Strelley (nee McHardy) was living at 40 Dale Street Glasgow. The census taken one year previously shows she lives as an inmate of a night asylum for the homeless. His household, most likely a tenement was already crowded with his own extended family. William (3) is the informant on her certificate. It is unlikely that the grandchildren would have known their grandparents.

 By the 1911 census family of three- William, Agnes and William are living alongside the Short in-laws. On the census document Strelley claims to have been married for 10 years perhaps for his son’s sake and he’s changed his profession-he’s a physical education teacher.

Energetic and athletic people do the same today. Combine a living with their passion. By this time Strelley had achieved notoriety as a champion bare knuckle boxer. These boxers shunned the regular boxers. This original form of boxing is a combat sport which involves boxing without gloves or any sort of padding. It’s accepted set of rules made it more acceptable than street fighting.  

Eventually Strelley tried his hand at conventional boxing using the “cushions” as the gloves were described. The only boxing fight I can find recorded is one on 27 April 1906. Strelley makes his unsuccessful debut at the Tivoli Theatre in Glasgow possibly against Owen Moran who was known as the “toughest and roughest” boxer with a nickname “The Fearless”. A newspaper report later in his life has him fighting Toffee (Robert) Docherty who also came from the East End of Glasgow.

However our William was an all-time champion and was legendary in Scottish boxing circles. It was his experience with boxing that he was able to set up a gym called the Scottish National Club and eventually he became a boxing promoter and was a well known and respected referee. He was responsible for bringing boxers from all over England Scotland and Wales to fight at the Scottish National Club in Bridgeton Cross and his venue was popular and well attended with healthy boxing audiences.

When his previous trainer set up in competition with him Bill lost money through date clashes and not enough attendees to go around. A story about Strelley and an eventful night in Glasgow is recalled by Burrowes in his book Benny: Life and Times of the Fighting Legend (John Burrowes 1982). It was a bare knuckle grudge match between Bill's friend and previous trainer, Geordie Atkinson and Strelley himself. So many turned up it had to be relocated to Rottenrow Amateur Athletics Club. He writes “it was no holds barred heads, knuckles, elbows... They gave it everything and the packed hall cheered them like it was a world title fight. There were no rounds or rules. They just fought and it was Strelley who had to admit defeat.”

Burrowes also describes Strelley as a referee. “When he refereed at his promotions he would lambast man on the floor if he you gave in the count if he thought they were malingering. It would go… ‘One… you better get up quick… two… you’re just swanking lying there… Three… You're just lying there to get the easy road and get your money… Four… Right you'll get one last chance… Five…’”

William’s son William was also a champion boxer winning the Amateur Boxing Association Public Schools Championship (Featherweight) in 1921. 

Bill’s wife Agnes became a well known Nurse in the East End and was well known as “Nurse Strelley”. She died in 1931.

I know that my grandmother knew her father well and spent with time with him in the gym. The wife of one of his boxing mates put her up prior to her departure for Australia. Until recently it was assumed that she had “worked out” at his gym but really that’s a bit unbecoming for a female in the 1920s. Lavinia worked in a regular job in a biscuit factory. Possibly she was employed to help at her father’s boxing promotions taking /selling tickets or other duties at the night time fights. After a recent blog where I included a photo of a young Lavinia, a relative came forward and said he recognised her photo as having been similar to one displayed in Bill’s place at Roslea St and later his son William's house. It added strength to the belief that she hung around with her father and idolized him.

A few more snippets of information have been gleaned about Strelley. He was in the ARP during World War II. He volunteered in the East End Glasgow Air Raid Precautions group. From about 1839 men were needed to enforce the blackout curtains on windows on the premises protecting the citizens of Glasgow from potential targeted bombs. They also trained in rescue work, First Aid and bomb protection. I bet Bill looked smart in his steel helmet, wellington boots and blue serge uniform as he did his nightly rounds. Rumour had it that Bill was in his 50s at this time. In fact he was in his seventies. Apparently his youthful appearance made him look much younger.

He was also a member of the 103 Union and Crown Masonic Lodge Bridgeton which met in the now demolished building in Landrassy St.

I also heard it mentioned that he was a bookmaker for the trots. I suspect some of his Sydney son in law’s relatives back in Glasgow may have kept in frequent touch!

He is always a popular figure in the boxing world. Everyone knew him and knew he was hardly ever without a cigar in his mouth. He was also said to have always worn a bowler hat -“always natty and worn with becoming poise”. As reported in a Glasgow paper on 27 November 1948 notable boxing and sporting friends contributed to a testimonial which they claimed was richly deserved. Oh to be a fly on the wall and hear his stories and to hear them still trying to guess his age. Presumably they thought he was retirement age. In fact he was 78 at the time.

Over the years he saw his younger brother , another Robert Strelley, who was a ship’s rigger marry in 1912. Robert signed up for Service in the Highland Light Infantry and as an Acting Lance Corporal he was killed in action in Flanders France. He had married a lass named Janet Bell. His two daughters died – Annie within the year of her birth in 1912 and Agnes born 1917 within a few short months of his death. Very sad. It was a rather tragic family. His half brother, David Skinner married in Mary Hammond Storrie in 1890 worked as a belt manufacturer and died in 1932.

So at his death they were still guessing his age and there was none left who might have known the truth.

This is an excerpt from a Glasgow newpaper report that he had died.

“When Billy Strelley, the grand old man of Scottish boxing died at his home at 50 Roselea Drive Dennistoun, last Saturday, he took with him a secret that not even his family shared -- his age.

For many years Billy defied anyone to tell his age until it became a talking point and almost a major mystery in boxing circles.”

The papers quoted Strelley's daughter-in-law, Mrs William Strelley

“he kept his age a closely guarded secret. He wouldn't tell a soul ..."

His death certificate reports him as 77.

Newspaper clippings of his death (source and date  unknown)

In fact he was just shy of 84.

Bill’s 1954 death certificate certifies him dying of Cerebral softening –senility. Both he and his father died of disease of the brain and his grandparents (William MD and Matilda) had died of old age too. Sometimes it’s a euphemism for senility. Doctors’ reports from another close member of the family describe William the Doctor’s, brother Benjamin and father Robert as “eccentric and some say insane”. Something to ponder. Is senility a Strelley trait? Perhaps knowing what we know now about sports and brain injuries we wonder if boxing was to blame.

As I mentioned previously Strelley is not that common a name in Scotland and given Scottish naming patterns it is relatively easy to piece together what became of William (McHardy) Strelley's four children and the rest of the generations up to the present day. My grandmother Lavinia has had her story documented in a previous blog.
Lavinia before she left Scotland

Williamina Strelley b 1897 married Robert Balfour MacAuley at Blythwood in 1937.  She died in 1977 aged 79. As she was 40 at her marriage she is unlikely to have had children. Her brother Robert born 1898 never married.  He enlisted in the Royal Scots in July 1918 but was discharged one month later. He died in 1970 aged 71.

His son William (4) an electrician married Jane Cranston in 1934.  The Standard in 1954 reported that he was an outstanding athlete winning the public schools championship in the annual contest in England. Dying in 1974, he is the father of William Ian (5) born 1935, Janet Allison born 1938 and Duncan born 1941. William Ian had a military life. He and his family moved to Canada around 1970.  William Ian, his son Andrew and grandchildren are following the family roots back to England with interest.
L-R (b) Duncan, Janet, William (4)
L-R (f) Ruth Flanagan , William Ian (5) Jane  Strelley nee Cranston  1962

Here’s a shot of when we met up a couple of years ago.
Myself,  William Ian and Andrew Strelley in Canada 2015

Recently Andrew mentioned that my grandmother reminded him of his cousins- I checked the tree and yes there’s few back in Glasgow. Yay ! There are more out there who could add to my story and photos. Please share. There are a few more mysteries to solve.

Now back to the question of William’s parentage.  If you have been following my recent blogs you know I’ve been seeking the definitive answer for whether William Strelley the Army pensioner was William the Boxer’s father. I’m pleased to report that the answer is YES. I took an DNA Ancestry test and I’ve found a distant cousin who matches me via Matilda Strelley nee Johnston.  Also a couple of DNA distant cousins in Canada who descend from the Strelley line in Derbyshire have matched.  This has to mean William (4), William (3), William (2) were all ancestors of William (1) MD from Derbyshire. The DNA matches the paper trail.

So in case you are wondering – yes we are related back to the Strelleys from Nottingham and Derbyshire. That’s another story to be told. For now this branch of the Strelley tree here in Glasgow is firmly intact and remains attached!  


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Everyone is called William  -William Strelley Shoemaker and Soldier  c1824 to 17 June 1898

Here's another William Strelley. This one I sometimes call William (2) because in recent times since 1780 there's been nine in my Strelley line and in other parts of the extended family. Believe me there's more Williams even before that time. So through the ages everyone seems to have liked the name William.

This William is my two times great grandfather and until recently I wasn't sure he was the actual culprit. However in recent weeks DNA links back through the Scottish Williams and down through the Derbyshire ones have confirmed the dubious paper trail. William (2) c 1824 was the second child to William Strelley (1) and Matilda Johnson (previously Stewart). He had two half brothers, two half sisters and two sisters, Jemima and Georgina.

William was born in the parish St Cuthbert's in Edinburgh Scotland while his father was practising as a medical doctor there. His birth does not seem to have been recorded in parish records in either Edinburgh or Derbyshire.  It is known that father, William (1) was in a spot of bother with the courts around the time of his birth. A newspaper report in May 1824 regarding a hearing for an assault case back in 1822 is disparaging of his beliefs and morality.

It is this male Strelley who carries on the Strelley name through a line of Glasgow Strelleys. Throughout the records the surname has been spelt in various ways Strelley, Strelly, Stralley and Strally probably reflecting a combination of Scottish and Derbyshire accent.

Anyway by 1841, William (1) has ‘shot through’ leaving Matilda as shown in the 1841 Census in Edinburgh with her children Jemima, Georgina and William. Young William is a shoemakers apprentice said to be aged 12.  Long before the mass production of shoes William would've sat at a little wooden stool hammering away at the leather he was shaping into shoes. His tools of trade would have been handy- a lapstone, wooden stirrup, whet board pincers and nippers. Perhaps he worked in a factory where different workers performed different tasks such as cutting the leather, sewing , joining the heels and soles etc. Shoemakers in the 19th century barely made a subsistence wage.

At  supposedly 17 years and 11 months William signed up to the Militia to 90th Regiment Light Infantry on 2 August 1845. He was there when  the 90th Regiment went to join the military conflict on the Crimean Peninsula being fought between 1853 and 1856 when it sailed to Balaklava in December 1854 and saw action in Sevastopol in the winter of 1854. The Regiment return to England in 1856 but then headed for India in February 1857 to help suppress the Indian rebellion. His record shows he was wounded  on 17 November 1857 at the Relief of Lucknow.

Finally on 26th May 1868 after receiving his fifth Good Conduct Award Private William Strelley left the military. According to the UK Royal Hospital Chelsea pensioner service soldiers records he had served abroad in Crimea for 1 year 8 months and in India for over 10 years for a total service of 23 years 267 days.  He holds five good conduct badges. He has been awarded the Crimea Medal, Clasp for Sebastopol, Turkish Medal, some Indian clasps and a long service medal. Private Strelley is discharged of his own accord in May 1868 aged 40 years 8 months. His intended place of residence after leaving the army is Glasgow.  He signs his discharge papers with an X. The papers also give a description of William.  he's 5feet 7 and 3/4 inches, fair complexion, hazel eyes and light brown hair. he has a scar on his nose and left eye.  

Since 1066 there has been a strong military tradition in the Strelley family with Knights and Sirs supporting King and country.  William continued this tradition.  If he’d have lived he could have seen this continued with his children, grand children and great grandchildren together with nephews  enter military service  during World War I and World War II and later. Unfortunately three were killed in action for their trouble. I know of no medals being handed down but perhaps there was oral history passed on by his sisters and children.

With Strelley being absent for so long overseas he had probably never seen his parents or sisters again. His mother had moved to Muckart with her daughter Georgina and husband. Matilda died in 1865 and Jemima had moved between Edinburgh and Glasgow with various teaching and guardian positions. Possibly it was her address he mentioned as his intended address when he left the army. I’m thinking that there’s a possibility William (2) may have inherited from his father (1) who had recently died in 1867. His father had continued practicing medicine in Basford England. No probate records are available so this is speculation. 

Three years later in the 1871 Census, William Strelley (2) aged 45 lives as an unmarried army pensioner with David McHardy, his wife Elizabeth and daughters Lavinia and Barbara, David Skinner (Lavinia’s son), William S McHardy (another son) aged one and a servant. They are all “visitors” at 20 Orr Street Glasgow. Lavinia works as a power loom weaver at a nearby woollen factory. The McHardys are possibly old friends from Edinburgh.

It is assumed  (until DNA proved it) William S McHardy is Strelley’s son-  William (3) although no father is listed on his birth certificate.  This is especially so as Lavinia continues to live with him for nearly 30 years. Another child is born. She’s Lavinia Strelley McHardy born 1875, born illegitimately and lives for only 3 months.

1881 census

Ten years later in the 1881 Census Strelley (2)  listed as a general labourer lives with Lavinia as his wife  together with his son William Strelley 11 (3) who has taken William’s (2)  name as well as  Bertha (now known to be Barbara Strelley McHardy) Strelley aged  nine months. Barbara’s birth is also registered as illegitimate. William and Lavinia do not have a registered marriage. There must be some impediment to their marriage. Has William or Lavinia been married previously?

William and Lavinia with their last son Robert in 1891

William (2) ,63  in the 1891 Census still lives with Lavinia aged 41 at 59 Dunn Street Glasgow. It seems he has made up for lost time as he and Lavinia have yet another child, Robert  (registered as Robert Strellie McHardy) aged four.  Little Barbara  has since died  in 1882. This is Lavinia’s 7th child. Four children with Strelley in their name can be attributed to a relationship with William. Two children, David Skinner and Janet People McHardy have been the subject of paternity hearings and Thomas Gilchrist McHardy born interestingly after William (3) and before Barbara are also shown as illegitimate without a father listed on both his birth or death certificate.  No wonder I was nervous about being a Strelley.

Seven years later in 1898 William (2) died of disease of the brain. His death certificate shows him as having parents William Strally and Matilda Strally m/s Johnstone. At least the paper trail is there.
William died in 1898 died in an old man's asylum

What a sad ending for a Strelley heir. He died at an old man's asylum in Glasgow. His death certificate describes him as a 70-year-old former labourer and army pensioner. The notation says "single" and Lavinia is not mentioned although her death certificate 4 years later in 1902 has her as “married to William Strelley, Tanner deceased”.

William and Lavinia's situation by the end of their lives appears to have been quite dire.

When she died of chronic nephritis (kidney disease) at the age of 50 in 1902 Lavinia Strelley (nee McHardy) was living at 40 Dale Street Glasgow. The census taken one year previously shows her as an inmate of a night asylum for the homeless. Her son William (3) is the informant on her certificate.- he would have known the full story wouldn’t he?

Perhaps as a homeless and destitute person she may have placed a dementia ridden William (2) where he could be cared for in the old man’s asylum.

So much information can be gleaned from this death certificate. Firstly disease of the brain probably means Alzheimer’s or dementia. His son William died of cerebral softening or senility. His father had died of “old age” – a euphemism? His  uncle and grandfather were said to be “quite mad” especially Robert Strelley near his time of death.

Secondly, details of his parents’ names are correctly entered given he was institutionalised. With an all round lack of marriage and church documents any clues are important. This further strengthens my paper trail and when discovered a few years back allowed the link from the Strelleys in Scotland to the Strelleys in Derbyshire. Other documents had William(1) as William M.D. which was how he was described in Jemima’s death certificate. I also have a document posted to William M.D. in Edinburgh from the family solicitor  in Derby after the death of his ‘insane” father.

Thirdly, notation as “army pensioner”  allowed for the discovery of the Military records and service in Crimea and India. Thus  accounting for his absence from the Scottish Census in 1851 and 1861 and advising of his address back in Glasgow rather than Edinburgh. All in all discovering William (2) feels like my lucky genealogy charm. So much has come from a few pieces of paper.