Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Illegitimacy, illiteracy and all that.

I had a really hard time with the Turner family tree. Turners are a dime a dozen and it's a hard to narrow down allllll the "William Turners" in the records to be certain you have the right one. You'd think my Great Great Grandmother Turner would be the antidote to that with her very uncommon name - Harlettee Louisa Groombridge. But no.

For one thing, the spelling drifted. A cousin in Tasmania had a letter written by her brother in childhood that calls her "Arlette". Various different documents call her "Harlette", "Harlettie", "Harlettee" and even "Charlotte". Some Tasmania records have her down as "Louisa". Her birth certificate was no help - Unnamed Female Groombridge. I finally eventually saw her name in her own handwriting and it said "Harlettee" so that's the spelling I have eventually adopted.

Another problem. She just kept marrying! It took me years to find the certificate of marriage for William Turner and Harlettee Groombridge, because her name was transcribed on the microfiche as "Haslette Smith". Yes, Smith was a previous husband that I hadn't know about until that point. In fact, she was Harlettee Louisa Groombridge Williams Smith Turner Haward Rothery by the end. Even then, consistency would have helped, but no. She married Smith, then Turner, so when she married Turner she was a Smith BUT she married Haward, then Rothery, but when she married Rothery she was still going by Turner. Actually, there might be a reason for that. I notice that she shaved eight years off her age and about seven children out of her history when she married Robertson and then three years later she married someone else... without apparently pausing to divorce in between. Probably best for her to not mention that marriage at all.

Somehow I eventually pinned down Haslette Smith as Harlettee Groombridge and got the certificate, and I was very pleased to have it. Up until that point I had come to suspect that Harlettee and William Turner were never legally married. I even said as much to my Grandfather one day. Well, you see, they were his father's parents. I cautiously told him one day "Grandfather, I think your father may have been illegitimate." Grandfather bristled, and snapped "He didn't go to school all that long, but he could read and write!".

Grandfather actually wasn't all that worried once I managed to clear that little misunderstanding up. It was his opinion that a man couldn't be held responsible for the circumstances of his birth. Anyway, once that marriage certificate turned up it all became a moot point. He was clearly born within the bonds of holy matrimony - fresh ones too! Barely two weeks before he was born. I guess he was a little prem.

Actually, that marriage certificate may have answered one question, but it raised several others. After all, his first wife had been dead less than six months. So... shenanigans? I spoke to Grandfather's sister, my Great Aunt Joyce, a year or so back to see if she knew anything. Of course she knew very little. William Turner had been dead more than 30 years before she was even born, and by and large there doesn't seem to have been a huge amount of interest among my Grandfather's siblings in their family history. Joyce said that all she knew was that her Grandfather (William) had married his washerwoman (Harlettee) so she could get his Army pension. That's intriguing. So... are we actuallly descended from William Turner? Or was he just a kindly widower helping out his washer woman when she had gotten herself into a spot of trouble? We may never know.

Well, unless I get around to doing one of those family history DNA testing thingies that I keep seeing around the web. I find them fascinating! I would love to give it a go, and I'm sure I eventually will.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The main family lines.

The sensible thing to do would be to choose one or two main lines of the family, and invest all my efforts into researching those. Well, that's not how I've gone about my tree. I follow where it takes me, chasing the paths of least resistance first and working my way around to the more difficult stuff. I'm glad I took this approach because I've learned things along the way that have made the trickier bits come together more easily. However, rather than jump in at the deep end, I thought I'd start here with the four main lines of interest in my family tree.

My two main branches are my parents family lines, Turner and Wilton.

Turner - Yorkshire, England and Victoria, Australia

My father's great grandfather was William Turner. Born around 1813 and originally from Maltby near Rotherham, Yorkshire, he came to Australia in the Army and served in Sydney under Captain Lonsdale. After resigning his commission, reportedly in protest at the harsh sentences given for trivial offences, he settled in the fledgling colony of Melbourne. He opened the first tailors shop in Elizabeth Street, and outside his corner store a large tree grew and a creek flowed by.

William Turner married Margaret Killean and they had 10 children. They were among the earliest European settlers in what is now Melbourne's eastern suburbs, around the foothills of the Dandenongs. Their son Joshua was the first child of European descent to be born at The Basin, Victoria. William Turner is credited with founding Croydon, and has living descendants in the area to this day.

After the death of his first wife, William remarried to Harlettee Louisa Groombridge. She had been born in Tasmania, the daughter of a convict, and at 38 years of age was still 33 years William's junior. Having married approximately twice before, she had up to 10 children though many had died young. William and Harlettee had 3 children: Sydney Groombridge Turner, born 1883, Claribell Victoria Turner, born 1886 and Myrtle Elsie Adelaide Turner, born 1889. William died in 1893.

I am descended from Sydney Groombridge Turner, through his third son, Douglas, who married Jessie Rose Oborne (nee Hanniver)

Wilton - Cornwall, England and Victoria, Australia

Following the death of his first wife, Mary Best Chudleigh, Thomas Wilton emigrated from Cornwall to Australia and in 1851 he married his second wife, Maria Thomas. They had ten children and I am descended from the fourth one, William Thomas Wilton. He married Sarah Ann Constable and had seven children, and once again I am descended from the fourth child, Thomas Percival Wilton. Thomas Percival married Gertrude Frances Battersby. In the early days of their marriage they lived in St Arnaud, Victoria, but later moved to Ouyen up near the border. They had eleven children, and my Grandfather, Ellis George Wilton, was their seventh child.

Thomas Wilton and Maria Thomas were as far back as I'd traced the tree until 2000, when I stumbled across the website of a man named John C. Wilton who had recorded an enormous wealth of information on the Wiltons of Cornwall. In turn, huge portions of his data had come from Robert Wilton, a Canadian who had moved to Cornwall and conducted a one name study on the family. The Wilton family tree originates in the 1470s in Lanreath, where four sons with the surname Wilton are born to a man whose first name is unknown. Calling him "Prima", Robert Wilton charted his descendants over the next 500 plus years as they spread out across the world. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to both John C Wilton and Robert Wilton for the incredible amount of work they did, and for sharing their efforts online.

The other two main lines I'm following now are from Dave's side of the family. His parents' family names are Oxley and Steele.

Oxley - Essex, England

The Oxley tree starts with a family legend. Two Lumley sisters, Margaret and Jane, married two Oxley brothers, William and John. The Oxley boys were the sons of William Oxley and Dorcas Evered who lived in Hornchurch, Essex, but the legend says the Lumley girls were of noble blood. Letters written by Alfred Oxley in the 1880s say that he was told by an elderly aunt of his that Margaret and Jane Lumley were connected to THE Lumley family - that they were, in fact, cousins of the then-present Earl of Scarborough. The seat of the Lumley family was in Yorkshire, but the legend says that Margaret and Jane had taken a liking to the "commoner" Oxley boys and their families sent them to stay with friends in Essex to end their association. Young people in love being young people in love, William and John followed Margaret and Jane, found them and married them. The girls were disinherited, though their father and brother continued to visit them after their marriages.

I would love to prove the truth in this story and I've looked very hard for corroborating evidence, but to date I have had no success. Alfred Oxley provided pages and pages of documentation of the noble Lumley line, but did not include the link that would put Margaret and Jane into that tree. I shall continue to search!

The direct ancestors in Dave's known Oxley line include Tyler, Burge, Holmes, Starling, Mason, Lumley, and Evered in the female lines.

Steele - Donegal, Ireland

The Steeles are an Irish family but William Neville Curtis Steele was in Penang, Malaysia (or Malaya as it was at the time) when he met Iris Violet Lamb. Her family had lived there for a couple of generations - she was descended from David Brown, one of the early European settlers of Malaysia. Neville and Iris were Dave's grandparents. Neville Steele's birthplace was in Donegal, Ireland and he is a direct descendant of the Kilbride, Legge and Quadling families.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Through my fingers

I did some messy genealogy last week, and today it all unravelled on me.

It came to me suddenly last Sunday - I'd never looked into Elizabeth Waller. She was the great great great grandmother of my partner, Dave, and I'd so intently chased her husband's tree that I'd never come back to her to see if I could pad her line out any.

Google and Ancestry began paying off quickly. Elizabeth Waller and Forbes Scott Brown's marriage annoucement came up in The Asiatic Journal and Monthly Register for British and foreign India, China and Australasia:
Her father's name is given as Geo. (George) Waller, Esq, R.N. Another search took me to

"I am looking for descendants of Forbes Scott Brown of Glugor Estate,Penang,Malaysia.He married to Elizabeth Waller,daughter of George Waller,early Penang Harbour Master.They stayed in Glugor House.Their eldest son,Alexander Murray Brown.His grandaughter,Miss Helen Margaret Brown lived on the family property at Longformacus,Duns,Scotland.P/s contact me."

(Originally posted 22-Apr-2005)

The Asiatic Journal came through again too:
At this point I got a bit excited. You see, I knew the Scotts were pioneers in the Penang settlement. I knew there were close links between the Browns and the Scotts, both in business and socially. I had read that members of the Scott and Brown family had intermarried, but this was the first time I found one of those marriages. I also knew the Scott family were closely related to Sir Walter Scott so I thought there would be some pretty good documentation of that line.

Googling put me on this path:

I am trying to clarify the parentage of one Harry Scott who was born around 1797 in Penang which was one of the Straits settlements.  His name may have officialy been Henry.  He definitely had two sisters, Elizabeth, who married Thomas Church, and Harriet ? who married George Waller who was harbourmaster at Penang. 
His father may have been Robert Scott and his mother was described a "foreign" lady. it is possible that she was called Lugia Pieria but spellings of both Lugia and Pieria uncertain.  They may not have been formally married.  Her name sugessts that she is Portugese, or a local girl of Portugese descent, and may have been a "local wife" or his mistress.
The seem to be half a dozen possible Robert Scotts in and around Georgetown at the right time and the Scott clan practically ran the place.  Many of them married more than once because their wives died early. Those that didn't produced huge families with all the boys called Robert, Walter or William.
Harry Scott's wife is recorded as being "a Siamese lady" It is probable that she was "a local wife" and that they were not formally married. She have been named, or known as, Elizabeth. He had two children, Elizabeth Scott b.Abt. 1829, and Walter Scott b. Abt. 1826 but whether the "Siamese lady" was their mother is not clear.
Harry died, I think, 03/Jun/1830 in Singapore.
Any help with this confusing family would be much appreciated.

I had a poke around on Ancestry and found a whole bunch of trees that bore this out. My Elizabeth Waller was the daughter of George Waller, former harbour master of Penang. George Waller had married Harriet Scott, and she was the daughter of Robert Scott and Luigia Pieria. I turned up a death notice for Robert Scott in 1836:
That fit nicely because I knew his daughter married in 1838, and he was listed as "the late Robert Scott" in her marriage annoucement.

I tracked back further in Ancestry. Robert Scott's parents were listed as Walter Scott and Jean Scott. THE Walter Scott? No. But Jean's line easily yielded and she turned out to be Sir Walter's first cousin. The tree kept unfolding before me, and I was cross referencing from one source to another. Ancestry... the Peerage... Wikipedia... Google. I was hot on the trail so I added as I went, knowing I would have to come back later and clean up after myself, track down sources and remove duplicates and so forth, but it just seemed like a bottomless line. Each new ancestor I found yielded another generation before them. This is the first line in my tree that actually connects into the nobility, so I've never had an experience quite like it before. It was exhilarating!

By 3am I had amassed a wealth of information about the Scott family line and their noble connections, and the next day I picked up where I left off. The family eventually proved to be descended from the Kings of Scotland, and before that Ireland, and then it kept going back further still. The legends of the High Kings of Ireland make it difficult to separate fact from legend and I resolved to revisit at some point to work out where the verified line ended and mythology began. I left the tree sitting at the year 282AD.

Looking more closely at the post-Norman Scott family, I found several notable descendants. Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Princess Diana AND Prince Charles. I spent some time recording their descent and connecting the tree so I could show Dave and his family how they were related to these famous people.

I also read a bit more about Sir Walter Scott and discovered he'd been quite interested in his grandmother Barbara Haliburton's family so the next day I began tracking them backwards. As the generations unfolded, I started seeing surnames familiar to me from the history books... Campbell, Douglas, then Stewart, and then, there it was: James II of Scotland married Jean Beaufort. I hardly noticed the Scottish king because I saw that Jean Beaufort was going to connect the tree to the English royal line, and eventually to Eleanor of Aquitaine herself (I geeked right out because she's my favourite historical figure). I quickly put that together, and then went and connected the line down through to the present day royal family so I could show it off to the in-laws again.

Coming back to work on it in dribs and drabs today, I started back at the bottom and tried to fill in some blanks back at the bottom end, and that's when I pulled a string that has unravelled everything. I noticed that Harriet Scott's birthdate was impossibly close to her daughter, Elizabeth Waller. The more I looked, the more I realised that something is very wrong there.  

Elizabeth Waller married Forbes Scott Brown in 1840, just two years after her supposed parents were married.

So what has happened? Do I have the wrong George Waller? Do I have the right father, wrong mother? I'm quite sure Elizabeth's dates are right: born 1821, married 1840, died 1861. Harriet Scott is a bit more of a puzzler. She appears in the 1851 census as a visitor in a residence with her sister's children (among others), and her age is given as 38 which would place her year of birth as 1813 (far, far too young to be Elizabeth's mother, even if Elizabeth was illegitimate and her parents married years after her birth). I looked up Harriet's death notice:
If she was 63 in 1870, then she was born circa 1807. So, did she shave 5 years off for the census... or did someone add 5 years on to her age at death? Either way, she was between 8 and 13 years older than her "daughter", Elizabeth.

I can't find George Waller's death record as yet, and I don't really know where to go from here. It looks like the exciting Scott connection is an error after all. How frustrating! Though it really does serve me right for getting ahead of myself and chasing phantoms instead of sources.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

From Little Things, Mighty Big Things Grow

I was 12 when my Pop died and I discovered he had been one of 11 children. I was astounded. How had I not known that before? The answer probably lies in distance. Nan and Pop Wilton had moved to the other end of the state early in their marriage and so we had been raised far, far away from our extended family.

That was in 1988, which was also the year of Australia's bicentennial. As a nation we were 200 years old, and we spoke about it endlessly in school; about how all our families had come here at some time in that 200 years. Some came in chains, some were guarding the others, some just dreaming of making their fortune in the goldrush. I asked my parents the question "Where did our family come from?". My Dad shrugged.
"Dunno. England, I guess," he said. "Ask your grandparents."
So I did. They weren't really clear on it either, except for Grandfather Turner.
"The Turners are from Scotland" Grandfather said. "My Grandfather died when I was a boy, but I remember his accent." (He was wrong, by the way).

Somehow our family had forgotten their roots in under 200 years and no one knew even where we had come from, let alone why, or who, or how.

Around 1990, a relative sent us a booklet containing Pop's family tree. It started with my great grandparents, Thomas Percival Wilton and Gertrude Frances Battersby, and it showed their descendants. Ten of their eleven children had gone on to have children of their own, and there were dozens of people in this book who were first cousins to my mother who I'd never heard of - who she'd never heard of! This huge family existed, just a half a day's drive away, and we were a part of it but we didn't even know it.

The chance acquisition of a shareware genealogy package called Brother's Keeper fanned the embers of interest in family history into a blazing fire. I began just out of curiosity, laboriously entering the data from the Wilton booklet into the program, and then expanding it with what I knew of my father's family. Then I needed more. I started writing to my great aunts and uncles, and phoning ever more distant relatives. Slowly I amassed a collection of information from the people around me. By the time I was 16, the Traralgon Library and the Genealogy Library became my haunts, and patient people helped me learn where to look for the information I needed just to push my tree out a little further.

It was a hard slog, but by the time I was 20 I had about a thousand people in my tree and I was able to answer my own question: Where did our family come from? We came from England and Ireland and Scotland, and to my great surprise some of us came from Prussia.

And then I got an internet connection and it all got really huge!

When I created my first website in 1998, I called it "The Mighty Big Tree". Life has been busy and ever changing so it has been offline for many years but I have been bitten by the genealogy bug again and have started this blog so I have a place to write about my research, as well as my life, my family and whatever else takes my interest. So... Welcome back to The Mighty Big Tree: 2014 edition!