Monday, 13 August 2012

Friends come and go... but relatives tend to accumulate

"My Mum, Aunties and Uncles were born in born in London" said my mother, Marlene "but I have a vague feeling there is something about Coventry." That conversation was in the sixties when I was only nine or ten. I had asked my mum to explain to me about her family.. It was in the days before Ancestry.com and  long before the fad of looking for convicts in your background. I've still got that quick sketch she did for me of those aunts and uncles. I had looked at it in awe. "Your grandmother had a lot of children." She smiled and nodded. Mum, being one of the younger grandchildren was a little short on all the details as her grandparents had both died before she was six months old.

From time to time when Paul, Helen and I were young we went to "Gadsby" family get-togethers at Oatley. We met people young and old and were described to each other as "this is your cousin twice removed" -- whatever that meant. Only one of our real cousins was there and that was Julie. I remember everyone was friendly and our mum loved to talk to her cousins and Aunts and Uncles while we played with our cousins “twice removed”. I have a vague recollection of "Auntie Kit" who I know died when I was really young. I remember fondly Auntie Grace and Maude Rose, Uncle Jack and Uncle Bill. There was an Auntie Edie and I'm sure a couple of Uncle Harrys. I can clearly remember there was bubbly Cousin Bet, smiling Uncle Ray (who was really Cousin Bet's husband) and Mum's younger cousin Wendy and a host of other cousins such as Danny, Stephen, Ian, Jeffery, Robyn, Paul and Belinda, Doug and Jill. With the advent of modern computer programs, the relationship calculator on Family Tree Maker tells me those kids are really second cousins and that their parents were really first cousins once removed.

Despite the fact that I could see this older generation were my mother's Aunties and Uncles. it didn't really dawn on me that they would have been the brothers and sisters of my grandmother who had died in 1954 a year before I was  born. My grandmother was born in the middle of a large family so those Uncles and Aunts were spread between their sixties and seventies. I remember thinking they looked rather regal with their fine features and pale English skin. I was reminded of English royalty I’d seen in the pictures of the Queen's father and uncle. It was not until years later that it finally dawned on me that they had been born in England and travelled out here has young children in 1912. These were well spoken and hard-working people who had made the best of their lives in Australia. Today they would be the proud ancestors of all who have descended from them. When mum drafted out that little family tree for me as a young child I had no real idea even of their ages or their history either here or in Australia but I knew I liked them.

In the late 80s it seems Marlene was to become the family historian until her death a few years later. 40 years after that first conversation I picked up mum's first attempt at recording the family history -- a little dot matrix printout that was a little more elaborate than my 1960s mud map. Amongst her things was a videotape marked "Gadsby". What a find. I am truly grateful for that videotape she made at a party at Wendy's in 1988 where that little dot matrix printout was passed around and everyone was filling in the branches in the family tree. It was the first time l was aware of the collection of photos of this fine family which she had inserted onto the tape. She had also captured her Uncle Bill telling of the time when the family furniture was being repossessed. Someone had made sure it was noted that there was an Edith Laura and an Edith Fanny. Such was the trend to reuse names when a child had died.

For the first time all the living siblings were listed and counted up. All the offspring, their partners and offspring's offspring were rounded up. That printout was shared with other relatives who added their family’s information. Great Grandma Selina Gadsby had borne 14 children. All but one of whom had been born in England. The family maintained their close ties..

In 2010 I began the task of researching the family history. The Family History Centre at Kiama suggested I start where I have the most information. "I have a Gadsby tree of sorts" I said. The next week I returned and was guided through the process of looking for Census data back through the 19th Century. "The 1911 census has just been released" said the volunteer. "Here are Thomas and Selina with their children living in London. It shows here that Selina has had 13 children and 2 have died." The Census sheet also told me that Great Grandfather Thomas was born in Coventry, Warwickshire. The expert hand quickly found me Thomas' father and mother, John and Charlotte, residing in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in the 1840s. I was off and running…. and addicted.

In the following weeks Bet and Wendy gave me a lot of oral history, both having spent a lot of time living with the various Aunts and Uncles when they were growing up. Later, my Auntie Airdrie remembered there was another cousin living - Harold Gadsby . I followed him up and he mentioned that his niece was generating family research also. As it turned out Leane Lawrence had been given a copy of that dot matrix printout by her mother, Dorothy Butler twenty years ago. She had the other side of the story. Sadly the two cousins had passed away within weeks of each other but fortunately they had passed on the heritage. Because our mothers were cousins, we are second cousins (and not removed).

18 months later, Leane and I are "women on a mission".  That first official family tree was only 4 generations long. Today we can boast 7 generations to about 1680 on the Gadsby side and 13 generations to 1550 though the maternal Pope, Lester, and Proctor side. In researching this great family we hit upon the notion that it was 100 years since the family arrived here. Hence the Reunion in October.  This is not just a family get together. This will be a gathering of at least 4 of those generations and a celebration of who we are and where we came from. This is a chance to tap into the oral history of our older relatives and a chance to give our children some of our heritage.

Just for the record Leane and my grandaughters are second cousins twice removed. 
Kinship it's all relative!!