From the past to the present

11 February 2013
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 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?