Thursday, 30 June 2016

Reflections and New Discoveries on the 133rd Anniversary of my Great Great Grandparents Marriage.

My Great Great Grandparents' marriage has always seemed a little sketchy. They were William Turner and Harlettee Louisa Smith, nee Groombridge. He was 70. She was 36. They married on the 30th of June, 1883 at the office of the Registrar of Marriages for the District of Collingwood, at Hoddle Street. For years I've wondered what the deal really was. Most especially, I've questioned whether he was really the father of her child, my Great Grandfather, Sydney Turner.
Recently Ian, a known descendant of William Turner via his first marriage, did AncestryDNA testing. We do not match. This is not a slam-dunk for us being unrelated by blood as there is a chance that, through the random nature of DNA inheritance, we just didn't happen to get matching segments of William Turner's DNA. However, in this case where paternity was already questionable, it's a strong argument in the case against. More test results from more family members are in the pipeline and will hopefully tell us more.
In the meantime, I'm running with the assumption that Ian's results have answered the question "Did William Turner really father Sydney Groombridge Turner?" with a "No".
It's funny, I felt really excited by Ian's results. Not just because there's a new puzzle to work out, but really, very strongly, because it rehabilitates William Turner's reputation. He was always considered a good, moral man. He resigned his commission with the Army on humanitarian grounds, protesting over harsh punishments being meted out for minor infractions. He lived peacefully amongst the Indigenous people of the Dandenong ranges and was known to trade with them in an age of atrocities being committed against our First People. History considers him an all-round good guy.
Then along came proof that he remarried when his first wife had only been dead six months, and had a baby just two weeks after that, and it was a kind of jarring note.
But so far the DNA suggests that, while he did remarry quickly, and to a woman who was heavily pregnant, he wasn't the father.
I am sure that he knew that. I strongly suspect that either Harlettee, or her first husband William Smith worked for him at his tailor's shop, and that's how they met. I think her husband died suddenly, leaving her with small children to raise and then she was pregnant again with no husband. I feel that my great aunt is right that "he married her so she could get his Army pension", and to give her son a name. All of this fits in with what is known of his character.
William Turner made out a will the year after he married Harlettee, leaving everything to his oldest son from his first marriage. I didn't understand this when I first saw it, because his infant son, Sydney, and his wife would have received nothing while his oldest son - a man in his 40s, an established man with the ability to support himself - would get everything. Now it makes perfect sense in the context of helping Harlettee out with her "problem" - he might have given her child a name, but that doesn't mean he wanted to give her son everything he'd worked for all his life.
I wonder if that's how it came to be that he was destitute in 1891? If his remarriage caused tension with his sons, if they insisted he sign all his possessions over to them because they feared he was being taken advantage of. I wonder if he thought they were only looking out for themselves and if he didn't realise they saw him being manipulated and were trying to protect his assets from being seized by his second wife.
And then there's Clarabell and Myrtle, the two younger children born during the marriage. Who fathered them? Are they William's children? Yesterday, I found proof that Harlettee had charged William with desertion in 1889, when their youngest daughter Myrtle was just about 3 months old. What triggered that? Was the arrival of another child that he had nothing to do with the last straw?
And the next puzzle: who was the biological father of Sydney Groombridge Turner?
Every answer spawns new questions. Right now, I'm just happy and proud to be a Turner. William Turner bestowed his good name on our branch as a gift, and it is a gift that continues and keeps on giving, even 133 years later. I hope he'd be proud of the people who bear his name, and that someday history remembers us the way that William Turner is remembered: as good, kind and decent people.


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