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11 February 2013

From the past to the present

It started with a few raindrops on the roof on a very dark Saturday afternoon. I had been writing on the computer but I decided to have a break and knit for a while. I turned on a TV program I had recorded the night before - Monty Hall's Irish adventure or some such title and with that and the rain falling on the roof, I was drawn into Ireland and started thinking about where "we", my family, came from.

Until fairly recently I thought my heritage was mainly Irish. My father's mother was Swedish but I thought the rest of us were from Ireland. I started researching my family tree in the early 1980s, just after my own sons were born. Their births highlighted for me that we were just one link in a long chain and I wanted to know as much about my chain as I could. Genealogy was difficult in those days. You had to go to a library to look at microfiche for the births, marriages and deaths registers and anything else like land grants, shipping records and convict listings had to be sourced from the State Archive. That involved writing letters and then waiting for a reply to come. I had several letters from the archives office but over the two or three years I did this research, I found very little.

But then the internet and ancestry.com.au came along. When I looked there, not only did I find English ancestors, they were Australian royalty - convicts! The first of my English ancestors came here as convicts in 1799. William Dean was originally sentenced to death for stealing twenty pounds but was then transported to Australia, and married his wife, Elizabeth, also an English convict (she stole one pound) in Sydney. They had seven children and became quite wealthy living near what is now Eastern Creek on the old toll road to Parramatta. They operated the toll road and owned a pub called the Corporation Inn. There is a school and suburb named after William in Sydney now. These were all my mother's family - they were the interesting ones. My father's family first came ashore here in the mid-1850s as a result of the Irish potato famine.

I thought William and Elizabeth Dean were my claim to fame through my genes but then, and I don't remember now how I found him, I found John Winthrop and Margaret Tyndal, my great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandparents. John Winthrop was an English Puritan who sailed to the new world to escape religious persecution in the 1600s and established the city of Boston. He was the first, second, sixth, ninth and twelth governnor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  I'm only now getting used to having American ancestors. I share John and Margaret with Senator John Kerry who is also descended from them.

My nine times great grandfather and grandmother John Winthrop above and Margaret Tyndal below.
I think Margaret looks like my mother. Do you think we have the same slight smile?

We are a very multicultural family, and proudly so. We are Irish, Swedish, English and Hanno and Shane were born in Germany so our sons and their sons have German blood as well. Sarndra is a New Zealander by birth and Sunny was born in Korea, so we've embraced those cultures too. I have really only scratched the surface of the research I could do but I'm leaving it as one of those projects I'll do when I'm really "retired"; if that day ever comes. I feel happy though. I feel that the melting pot of cultures well and truly graced our family and I stand proud knowing that we have parts of us from so many different lands and now we're here in our homeland, Australia.

I sometimes wonder how I became the woman I am because I don't think I fit the mould for my age and I'm not much like any of my friends. I wonder if it was by happenstance, birth or cultural influences that I became the complex nutcase I am sometimes and how I transition easily between that and being a calm and serene elder. My guess is that everyone is complex in their own way. We are a mixture of influences and we become what we are by taking chances and succeeding or failing at what we try. All those chances teach us what we're good at but maybe it's our ancestors who predetermine how high we reach and how risky our chances are.

Have you discovered any surprises in your family tree?

41 comments:

  1. Genealogy is so fascinating. My father is an avid genealogist, starting around the same time you did when it was much more difficult. We live in the US; over time, we have learned that our ancestors arrived there in 1619 from England. That part of the family has been in the country for hundreds of years, yet on my mother's side, they've only been there for a generation or two. I'm a mixed-up "mutt" too. :)

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  2. On my Father's side I am a proud Aboriginal South Australian and my family has lived and died on the ancestral lands where I now live. We are the world's oldest continuing civilisation and we have been here for 50,000+ years. My Father's Mother was a titled English lady who was told by her parents not to marry 'that boy from the colonies' or she would be lose her title. Nanny married Grampa and she got on 'like a house on fire' with my fullblood Aboriginal Great Grandmother. On my Mother's side we are Irish and her Grandfather and Grandmother answered the call from Australia to the old country for shepherds and dressmakers who were not in abundance in the early days of colonisation so they packed their possessions and were 'bound for South Australia'.

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  3. One of my ancestors on my mother's side came to America on the 3rd ship to Plymouth. He owned the first ordinary or tavern there. Another was Dutch and settled in New York when it was still New Amsterdam and ran a tavern also. I guess my biggest claim to fame if the info is true, is that Prince Vladimir of Kiev, Russia who was later named a saint is in my line if you follow several illegitimate lines on your way back.
    Genealogy is a puzzle and always fun.

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  4. I love reading about other people's family history! Thanks for sharing this.

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  5. It's just so fascinating to find out where we came from, isn't it? How amazing how many details you have been able to find out! What I find most interesting is that no matter how far we go back, people then were really not much different from the way we are now and I find that makes me feel connected to my ancestors. Kirsten x

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  6. I've always dabbled in genealogy, using family tree maker - and just last week upgraded to family tree maker 2012 (latest edition) Highly recommend you grab a copy. Learn the programme (won't take you long) and THEN register - you get a 3 month licence free to ancestry.com. (I got mine from Harvy Norman and asked what is their best price - they knocked $10.00 off). From there you will find other people from around the world searching for the same people in your tree. Many people are now sharing their genealogy work so it is not so time consuming or expensive as it used to be. On one branch of mine there are 4 ladies all searching the line and we are sharing family photos, BMD certs. With everyone sharing searching and having proof you are on the right family is no longer such a long expensive process. With FTM 2012 you can be asleep and someone in the world can be updating their family tree so when you get up you have found more information. I love the stories that one can uncover and I've some real good ones in mine. Rather thrilling.
    Once the 3 month sub is up (I'm planning on using mine in winter) you can usually access http://ancestry.com.au/ for free at most libraries.

    PLUS you can have family members as guests and they can add to your tree comments and knowledge, photos etc..

    Love Leanne

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  7. Wow Rhonda! I am amazed that you know so much of your genealogy. My family was Irish and Lithuanian (due to the potato famine.) Anyway I think it is a hoot that you have some American heritage and that you and John Kerry come from the same stock. Let's see how he does now as Secretary of State.

    I read your blog every day and consider you my Australian friend. Thank you for your role modeling. My husband and I are recently retire, living in Florida, and trying to do what you and Hanno do. You keep teaching. We'll keep learning!

    Dianne McInerney

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    1. Hi Dianne, it is a hoot, isn't it. If John goes off track a bit, I'll give him a quick call - cousin to cousin. ;- )

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  8. I love your blog and I love genealogy. It was nice to read the snippet of your family history. I have a link to the British Royal Family through my maternal grandmother.I have only traced my lines back to 1800's in most cases, but have gone back further where other people have done the research....the joys of the internet!

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  9. Hello Rhonda, what a fascinating post and I do think there is a strong resemblance to Margaret. For me, as I am adopted, I decided 14 years ago to trace my biological parentage. My mother unfortunately had died before I could meet her, but her parents were both still alive. That side of the famiy is all of Dutch descent, with my mother, her parents and previous generations all born in Holland. My biological father's side also is of Dutch descent as well as South African. I was born in South Africa. I show the most resemblance, as do my children, to my biological father's side. So it is amazing to trace genealogy, but even more complex and confronting if you are an adopted person. My characteristics are a mix of my adopted parents, so for me that is absolutely wonderful. Lovely post Rhonda. I ordered some alpaca from EcoYarns to make a granny square blanket.

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  10. Loved this post Rhonda! I love geneology and what my cousin and I have learned so far is fasinating. I come from English and scottish stock. We have crazy preachers, brewers and distillers and newspaper editors in one line (downward spiral?) and a squatters wife who left her husband and children and ran off with the groom(horse) in colonial Victoria. There is a line to Sir Henry Lawrence of the Indian mutiny fame, and my children are part Indonesian.I have been asked by my dentist, and a couple of Murri ladies if I am of Indigenous blood. That I don't know, and it would go back before my fathers memories if I am. My great grandfather came from a wealthy family but ran away to sea at 16, ended up in WA, failed at sheep farming there then came to Qld. He burned through two big inheritances!! Would love to have met some of these folk!And I do think your smile is like that of your ancestor! How great to have such a clear picture. Love Julia in Bowen

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    1. Hi Julia,
      You can get some family history done by the Community and Personal Histories unit of DATSIMA to find proof of descent. The freecall number: 1800 650 230. First you will need to order birth, death and marriage certificates from the Queensland Registry of BDMs (do an online index search) to get as many names and connections as you can.

      For non-Indigenous ancestry a great starting point is the National library of Australia's Trove website - trove.nla.gov.au for all historical digitised newspapers. You can search any terms - it is amazing how many family histories I have put together this way!

      I am very lucky as I get paid to be a genealogist.
      Kali

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  11. Whether it's a strange coincidence or not, it does look like there is a family resemblence with Margaret, despite the huge time difference - amazing.

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  12. My most interesting ancestor is the King of Denmark. I'm the illegitimate great, great granddaughter of him. Only four generations removed from the throne ~ there was an affair with a "commoner". They supposedly were very much in love, but the title and the obligations to the throne trumped love. What a scandal!!

    Katherine

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  13. I am descended from William Hambly (a shipwright) and Mary Springham (a convict sent to Norfolk Island) They came on the first fleet and their story has been written in a book called The Convict and the Carpenter by Trish Wood, a relative of mine.

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  14. I love genealogy too Rhonda and started about the same time as you when we went back to England to live for 5 years. My husband was one of the children sent out after the war and we wanted to find his family which we did, but the majority are in USA.
    I started my research as I come from Kent and found out quite a lot with contacts from around the world. My great grandfather's sister and her husband came to WA and settled and I have a large book with all their descendants.
    I love "Who do you think you are" and tape them every week. Last weeks shows with Boris Johnson and Ita Buttrose were very interesting.
    I havn't found any royalty although there was a distant convict.

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    1. Just between you and me, MaryJo, I think the convicts are more interesting.

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  15. Mum's heavily into family history, has been for about thirty years. She can't get over what ancestry.com offers! Not only does she do "our" line but Dad's, Tony's and a few others.

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    1. I think it's a great past time for older folk, Rose. It gives you something interesting to do and think about and it is a great exercise for the brain to piece it all together.

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    2. Great post I love learning about the family history I am a direct decendent of Sir Thomas Knyvett who lead the search of parliment and discovered what Guy Fawkes was up too.

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  16. Hello Rhonda
    I had no idea until recently that I have nine convicts in my family!The first of them arrived in the Second Fleet.
    All of them made good in their new homeland.
    Interesting lives but hard.
    It does give you a sense of place and belonging to know this.
    Recently moved to a place where my gggggg...? grandfather was buried in 1811.
    This is home!!!
    Love the post today.
    Enjoy the rain.

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  17. I started searching for my ancestors a few years ago, when my husband's uncle gave us a family tree dating back 17 generations on their maternal side.
    I starting thinking I too would like to know more about my side of the family and so it started! I downloaded a program (ancestry.com) and started filling in all details.
    It takes time but is very interesting. I also found recent relatives who were looking for the same ancestor and we became friends and have even had a couple of family reunions in Portugal.

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  18. Hello Rhonda. Love reading your blog and I am passionate about genealogy. My Mother's maiden name was Barker and a distant cousin did her family tree. She discovered three brothers that went out to Australia in the mid 1800's. One became the Bishop of Sydney. His wife wrote to her sister in England and a book has been published of her letters. She also started an Anglican girls' school which I believe is still in operation. I now live in New Zealand.

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  19. Hello Rhonda, My Irish Gg grandfather was transported on the hell ship Britannia 1797, something to do with the ownership of a horse?? (not many records were kept on this voyage). When he earned his freedom he later married my Gg grandmother a widow with 3 children, transported from Scotland 1815 for coinage. They later had 3 children of whom 1 son was my mothers grandfather. (Often have a chuckle to myself regarding "coinage" as I have been Treasurer in our local CWA & Bowls club )

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  20. "I don't think I fit the mould for my age"
    That sounds interesting.
    I'm curious to hear what you think that mould may look like, coz I'm not really sure.
    My mum is around your age - and obviously I know what she "looks" like, but what do others?

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    1. I'm not sure either and I don't really want to know. I just know I'm not doing the same things people my age are doing and I don't want to conform.

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    2. This really has got me thinking.
      Firstly, when I think about it, I don't really KNOW many "retired" people.
      And the ones I do know - live in a similar manner to yourself.
      I just can't imagine what others are out there doing all day!
      Must be something pretty good!

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  21. Wow Rhonda, you really do look like Margaret in that portrait! It's funny how resemblances can just pop up at us - I found an gorgeous old photo of my Great-Grandfather and it looked like my oldest brother dressed up in old clothes. The resemblance was absolutely startling.

    I would love to research my family history properly. I had always avoided doing it in the past, because I'm only 2 generations removed from England and it was too hard to get information, but now with so many records online, it is the perfect chance!

    My DH's family are very thoroughly into genealogy, they have information, pictures and so on going back many generations all thoroughly documented (they are from Germany like Hanno!). However it's all on paper, I will have to convince them to entrust it to me so I can make it all digital for everyone to share!

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    1. Do it, Cassandra. If you have a starting point, it's really easy online. We haven't done any German research. Hanno thinks most of the old records would have been destroyed during the war.

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  22. Wow..there is certainly a resemblance there to margaret, rhonda . We have a photo of my great great grandfather on my mothers side & you would swear it was my eldest son just dressed up in period clothing! It's amazing how the past presents itself in our future with the aid of genes iisn't it?!

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  23. Hello Rhonda,
    your discovery is really amazing! Thanks for sharing this very personal information. I read (and still do read) a lot about Australian history and, for me, it's very fascinating and so very different from Germany. Here it is rather a small world....
    Unfortunately I come from a very small family. My father was an only child, my mother had one brother. I know that my fathers family came from Silesia and that they were mostly miners. My grandfather worked as a miner, too, in the Ruhr district, but died, when I was still a small child. From my mother's side I know next to nothing. I only learned a few years ago that my grandfather from my mothers's side owned or worked in a pub in Düsseldorf and was still alive when I was in my teens. But my mother never talked about him or where her part of the family came from. I wonder if I have enough information to start a search on the Internet.
    The funny thing is, that the grandfather I never knew and his son (my uncle) both liked to cook. My uncle wanted to be a chef, but became (because of family pressure) a mechanic. I have a degree in teaching and started writing cookbooks when I was in my mid forties, so, in a way, I'm keeping up a family tradition.
    Otherwise, I don't fit in the mould either, but that doesn't bother me. I'm happy the way I am.
    Best wishes from the South of Germany.
    Heike

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  24. It's amazing to me how much you look like your ancestress all these generations later. I am fascinated by this question of what qualities we inherit from our progenitors, and have gleaned many insights from reflecting on what I know of my grandparents and their parents as well as my parents. Ultimately, we're all unique despite sharing so many traits, which is part of the mystery and the fascination.

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  25. Genealogy is amazing .... I didn't know what my great grandfather looked like but, when I was sent a photograph from my uncle I was amazed ... (not sure if you allow links but understand if you don't)

    http://dancingonabladeofgrass.wordpress.com/2008/11/18/time-travel-twins/

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  26. I doubt that many of you can match my genealogy story - I was in my twenties when I discovered that my father had been married before and I had siblings that I had never met. About 5 years later, I learned about another wife with more children. And about 6 months ago, I learned about another wife and 2 lads left behind in England.(during the war, you know?) Oh, and to top it off he never divorced any of them. I would say he was a bit of a rogue, wouldn't you? Carmen

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  27. I am fascinated by family history; not just the people and where they came from but what they did and how they lived. I am currently doing a bit of research on my maternal grandmother's branch. It has it's moments of complete exhilaration (finding someone!) and absolute frustration (not finding someone!), but it's a wonderful experience. I recommend it to everyone. I think we can learn a lot about the people we are through those that came before us.
    ~S.

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  28. I was just thinking that Margaret had the very same expression as your photo Rhonda! How wonderful to have actual paintings and so much information on your way back ancestors!
    I love family history. I was such a "nerd" in high school that I was allowed to go to the historical societies archives to trace family history instead of doing Friday sport. It was the old microfiche system too. I found it fascinating tracing the family tree but only got about 3 or 4 generations back. I've been putting off joining ancestry.com until I have a little more time on my hands. No doubt I will become a bit obsessed with it!
    While watching that show Who Do You Think You Area about tracing celebrities ancestors, almost every time there is someone with apparently the same "calling" as the celebrity. A great grandmother who sung also or a great great grandfather who was an actor.
    I recently found out my grandmother that I never met sewed, knitted and did cookery courses.

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  29. I grew up in Western Australia, my Dad always said we had a bushranger in the family who was hanged. It was a romantic memory our family kept. In 1984 I came across to Melbourne and visited the Old Melbourne Gaol. There I found a name of a man who was hanged in 1870 with my family name. "This must be the man" I thought. I liked his name and when I had my son I gave him his name. 10 years later I moved to melbourne and went looking for more details of this mysterious bush ranger. Only to find he was a grizzly murderer. The person who gave me this information was a woman who was descended from the murder victim. We have since become the best of friends and she is writing a book about the murder.
    Dayla

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  30. I have to laugh: anyone who is of English descent always say they are related to the Royal family; never fails. My family is just working class English and are still there on one side. I was born there, too. We had one person invited to leave by his Majesty and was sent to Australia. It was easy in those days to ge sent off! It does not surprise me that you thought you were Irish, Rhonda. There are many Irish communities in England: Liverpool is now 80% and has always had a large community of them.

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  31. I'm lucky enough to have relatives who have been dedicated to tracing back the family tree and we have records dating back to 1553! My mothers family the Varcoe's emigrated to Australia and Hindmarsh Island in the 1840's and had a lot to do with horseracing I believe. There are also ancestors who helped build Victoria's rail system although I know no details but most fascinating of all (to me at least) is that we can connect ourselves to the royal family of the time in the 1600's. Lady Lillian Stuart disinherited her son (who's name escapes me) as he chose to marry the maid (not a good idea if one wants to remain in the aristocracy) and 400 years on, here we are. :D So King Charles I and II are related in some way to my family. Interestingly enough, my husbands family had someone hung for high treason during the English civil war years (or around then) for printing seditious materials. This would have either been for printing materials in support of the King or against so possibly my family had my husbands family executed!
    All in all our children carry in their veins the blood of the English, Irish, Scottish, German, French and Mauritians. My husband is English of a German mother most recently, otherwise I am 3rd generation Australian.

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  32. I only know about my mother's side. I'm American; she's Canadian. Through her father, we can trace back to at least 15th century England (which is crazy). The line went on there (I recently discovered there was a small town there where, apparently, our family had a house for three centuries. It is sadly no longer in the family, but it's still standing!). From England about mid-1600s, Barnabas Horton came to Connecticut, and then New York, where he settled on the east end of Long Island (my husband is from the west side!). Barnabas was one of several leaders of that little settlement and there's a lighthouse there named after him. (Side note: he brought his rather large, already inscribed tombstone with in from England. It's still there in the old cemetery.) From there, some sons went north, and then back down to Pennsylvania (where I live now), and then back up, settling in Canada. Our line stayed there until my mother, who had me down south in Gerogia. =)

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