Monday, 13 August 2012

Friends come and go... but relatives tend to accumulate

"My Mum, Aunties and Uncles were born in born in London" said my mother, Marlene "but I have a vague feeling there is something about Coventry." That conversation was in the sixties when I was only nine or ten. I had asked my mum to explain to me about her family.. It was in the days before and  long before the fad of looking for convicts in your background. I've still got that quick sketch she did for me of those aunts and uncles. I had looked at it in awe. "Your grandmother had a lot of children." She smiled and nodded. Mum, being one of the younger grandchildren was a little short on all the details as her grandparents had both died before she was six months old.

From time to time when Paul, Helen and I were young we went to "Gadsby" family get-togethers at Oatley. We met people young and old and were described to each other as "this is your cousin twice removed" -- whatever that meant. Only one of our real cousins was there and that was Julie. I remember everyone was friendly and our mum loved to talk to her cousins and Aunts and Uncles while we played with our cousins “twice removed”. I have a vague recollection of "Auntie Kit" who I know died when I was really young. I remember fondly Auntie Grace and Maude Rose, Uncle Jack and Uncle Bill. There was an Auntie Edie and I'm sure a couple of Uncle Harrys. I can clearly remember there was bubbly Cousin Bet, smiling Uncle Ray (who was really Cousin Bet's husband) and Mum's younger cousin Wendy and a host of other cousins such as Danny, Stephen, Ian, Jeffery, Robyn, Paul and Belinda, Doug and Jill. With the advent of modern computer programs, the relationship calculator on Family Tree Maker tells me those kids are really second cousins and that their parents were really first cousins once removed.

Despite the fact that I could see this older generation were my mother's Aunties and Uncles. it didn't really dawn on me that they would have been the brothers and sisters of my grandmother who had died in 1954 a year before I was  born. My grandmother was born in the middle of a large family so those Uncles and Aunts were spread between their sixties and seventies. I remember thinking they looked rather regal with their fine features and pale English skin. I was reminded of English royalty I’d seen in the pictures of the Queen's father and uncle. It was not until years later that it finally dawned on me that they had been born in England and travelled out here has young children in 1912. These were well spoken and hard-working people who had made the best of their lives in Australia. Today they would be the proud ancestors of all who have descended from them. When mum drafted out that little family tree for me as a young child I had no real idea even of their ages or their history either here or in Australia but I knew I liked them.

In the late 80s it seems Marlene was to become the family historian until her death a few years later. 40 years after that first conversation I picked up mum's first attempt at recording the family history -- a little dot matrix printout that was a little more elaborate than my 1960s mud map. Amongst her things was a videotape marked "Gadsby". What a find. I am truly grateful for that videotape she made at a party at Wendy's in 1988 where that little dot matrix printout was passed around and everyone was filling in the branches in the family tree. It was the first time l was aware of the collection of photos of this fine family which she had inserted onto the tape. She had also captured her Uncle Bill telling of the time when the family furniture was being repossessed. Someone had made sure it was noted that there was an Edith Laura and an Edith Fanny. Such was the trend to reuse names when a child had died.

For the first time all the living siblings were listed and counted up. All the offspring, their partners and offspring's offspring were rounded up. That printout was shared with other relatives who added their family’s information. Great Grandma Selina Gadsby had borne 14 children. All but one of whom had been born in England. The family maintained their close ties..

In 2010 I began the task of researching the family history. The Family History Centre at Kiama suggested I start where I have the most information. "I have a Gadsby tree of sorts" I said. The next week I returned and was guided through the process of looking for Census data back through the 19th Century. "The 1911 census has just been released" said the volunteer. "Here are Thomas and Selina with their children living in London. It shows here that Selina has had 13 children and 2 have died." The Census sheet also told me that Great Grandfather Thomas was born in Coventry, Warwickshire. The expert hand quickly found me Thomas' father and mother, John and Charlotte, residing in Nuneaton, Warwickshire in the 1840s. I was off and running…. and addicted.

In the following weeks Bet and Wendy gave me a lot of oral history, both having spent a lot of time living with the various Aunts and Uncles when they were growing up. Later, my Auntie Airdrie remembered there was another cousin living - Harold Gadsby . I followed him up and he mentioned that his niece was generating family research also. As it turned out Leane Lawrence had been given a copy of that dot matrix printout by her mother, Dorothy Butler twenty years ago. She had the other side of the story. Sadly the two cousins had passed away within weeks of each other but fortunately they had passed on the heritage. Because our mothers were cousins, we are second cousins (and not removed).

18 months later, Leane and I are "women on a mission".  That first official family tree was only 4 generations long. Today we can boast 7 generations to about 1680 on the Gadsby side and 13 generations to 1550 though the maternal Pope, Lester, and Proctor side. In researching this great family we hit upon the notion that it was 100 years since the family arrived here. Hence the Reunion in October.  This is not just a family get together. This will be a gathering of at least 4 of those generations and a celebration of who we are and where we came from. This is a chance to tap into the oral history of our older relatives and a chance to give our children some of our heritage.

Just for the record Leane and my grandaughters are second cousins twice removed. 
Kinship it's all relative!!


  1. Great work Robyn, just one thing, I never got a copy of the Matrix printout. When I was about 14 years old I became interested in my family heritage. I drew up a family tree with my Mum Dorothy’s help. She suggested I send it to Great Uncle Bill, which I did. He was able to fill in a few more names and dates for me which I have kept. How excited was I to get this back from him filled in. I remember many a times visiting Uncle Bills home at Oatley, I know my mum was very fond of her Uncle Bill, one night he took me outside to show me the possums that lived in the trees around his home, I was so excited to see them. He was just as excited for us too I think, to see us thrilled to spot them with a torch. Uncle Bill was a softly spoken man who was very proud of his heritage and happy to share what he knew, he was very much adored by my mum and she often spoke to him. He attended my wedding with Rita which was fantastic, unfortunately they left early to catch a train home and never got a photograph with them, but I am so glad they came. Another Great Auntie – Auntie Kit was also a big part in many of the families lives. She having owned “Abbotsleigh” at Cammeray, where many in the family had the pleasure to have their wedding reception or 21st at. I know my parents had their wedding there, and also my mum had her 21st at Auntie Kits Abbotsleigh. Carolynne remembers having the best ice cream ever at Abbotsleigh with Auntie Kit. Sadly “Abbotsleigh” no longer exists, but who would have thought years later a picture of my mum’s wedding showing a portrait on the wall, that being the bride Marlene, your Mum Robyn, two cousins pictured in one snapshot that wouldn’t have been discovered if it hadn’t been for us meeting up on our quest’s to find our past. How far have we come from those small trees to today. Many generations added as you say, and many more stories to share. It has been said they decided to bring their family to a warmer climate, they loosing an infant Edith the twin to our Uncle Bill shortly before they departed England for their voyage. Who would have thought that Selina Gadsby’s arrival from England to Sydney Australia on the Zealandia on 15 Nov 1912 would see a family reunion of the Gadsby descendants to celebrate their arrival in Australia some 100 years earlier. It seems all the children but Thomas, & Harold arrived with their mother on this voyage. Harold my grandfather said to have “Jumped ship” in Sydney Harbour at the age of 18 may be true, no record can be found for his arrival. It also seems that Thomas may have arrived some time later also, marrying in Sydney and travelling to New Zealand never returning to Australia, Thomas senior arriving at some time different to his children and wife, possibly serving in the Armed Forces at this time and it appears his two eldest sons Harold and Thomas jnr also serving with the British forces. One thing we know is they were hard working men, mostly bricklayers that extend back many generations. Back in Nuneaton their direct fathers and mothers seem to have been ribbon or silk weavers, a trade that kept that town going for some generations. Further back we can see our Gadsby line with a road builder, his son John being our direct line, John’s brother William our famous Baptist preacher being our direct great uncle several generations back. William’s life being documented in many ways, and a road named in his honour – Gadsby Street, an article which you found. Im sure we are yet to discover many more stories on our way, and hopefully we can continue to grow our tree, looking forward to our reunion not long to go now. See you soon, Leane xxx

  2. Oh I thought you must have got the printout Mum did because we had the same mistakes when we started- probably led astray by Uncle Bill on both accounts!

    1. here is a reply by Belinda Farmer
      It made my tear up just a bit.

      Hi Robyn,
      Thanks for the invitation to the family reunion – what a day that will be!
      Unfortunately we are unable to attend as we’ll be away for the school holidays. Such a shame.
      No doubt you’ll all have a fabulous time though.
      I enjoyed reading your memories. They sparked some of my own growing up without first cousins, since both my parents (Doug & Jill Jacob) were only children.
      My mother particularly, was very family oriented, and fostered close relationships with my Father’s side of the family, as well as her own.
      My paternal grandmother was Edith Fanny Jacob -her middle name always generated fits of giggles, although the’ F’ was never revealed until we were well into teenagehood. I was always fascinated that she was the youngest of 13 children! I only remember her brother, my Uncle Bill. My paternal Grandfather was Harry, and I have fond memories of my brother Paul, sister Robyn & I, piled in the back of his station wagon, Grandpa driving so slowly that there were miles of cars behind him, and we’d laugh and wave happily out the back window. The driver following must have hated us! We were very close to them both – a highlight I loved was spending a week every summer holidays at their house on the Gold Coast by myself, zipping around the canals in a magnificent timber runabout boat Grandpa had built. Grandpa had incredible patience & taught us all how to fish and crab. His job was purely to remove the endless knots and tangles. Nanna was famous for gardening under the Qld sun, with only her bra and shorts on, and she only planted plastic flowers so they wouldn’t wilt and always look nice! Nanna was a talented painter, and creater of all things crafty. She spent her retirement years making festive candle bottles to decorate the bowling club, and my parent’s hotel. She was quite famous for them. During my early teaching career, Nanna would come to the classroom every week in the last term, and help the children make Xmas trees and other decorations from the styrofoam trays or something else she had recycled ... Nanna always found a use for everything! She still remains the most original, creative person I’ve ever met!
      Although living in Qld, every year we would visit Uncle Ray & Aunty Betty Shortell (my Father’s cousin) at Oatley, and enjoy lots of fun with their boys, my second cousins,(not removed!) Ian and Jeff. I remember visits to Wendy’s too and Aunty Grace, without really understanding how they fitted in, only we were all related somehow. Our closest association was with the Shortells though, and while Kent & I were living in Mt Isa in the mid 80’s, they used to visit us with their caravan. We used to laugh at the short distance they would travel in one day before pulling up for the night, and think how fantastic it must be to have all the time in the world! It was wonderful when the boys moved to Brisbane and we became friends as adults, not just cousins.
      No doubt there are many wonderful characters & stories to be shared, but there is a small insight into the ‘Aunties/Uncles’ that you recall.

      I include a recent family photo of us at the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, which we climbed in July this year, for my 50th birthday.
      (Kent 49 yrs, Tom 22yrs, Michael 19 yrs, and Eloise 16 yrs) A gruelling 6 day adventure....
      As you can tell, we are all adventurous! And happy!
      Best wishes to the whole extended family!
      Belinda Farmer (nee Jacob)