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!

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Carol. I enjoyed your blog and will add it to the list of others I read. I have a blog but it's only for travelling. One day I might write one for family history.