Saturday, 23 September 2017

Look where the paper trail leads to..........

It's inevitable that delving into family trees is going to turn up some long-term connections. So many people are doing DNA tests to find a birth father or mother but how many people are able to say they are distantly related just reconnecting on the tree?

Recently I was updating my uncle on our connections to some famous early Australian settlers. They were David and Sophia Allan originally from Scotland. Sophia Allan nee Johnson was my 3x great grandmother Matilda's sister. The family of Allans were early settlers in NSW and Victoria. David was a very important Deputy Commissariat for the Colony at the time of Macquarie. David and one of the sons got a couple of large land grants in the Illawarra. I can see them from my place!
Too short for a selfie shot really

Bill, my uncle, is proud of the family history discoveries I make but is not really that interested. On this particular day I asked him how his stepson, Greg, spelt his name Allan. Was it AN or EN? He elaborated on Greg’s father and grandfather and curiosity caught me- was there a chance he was  related to our Allans? I went from there googling and Ancestry stalking the family and until I traced my step cousin and family back to the 1800s to one David Hendry Allan b 1800 Edinburgh. Lo and behold his mother and father were the same Sophia and David Allan.


During the Macquarie era, in 1813, David arrived in the Colony with his parents & siblings having first been brought up in the British outpost of Heglioland. After returning to England and Scotland in 1819  with  his parents David Jr stayed in Edinburgh after his father’s return to Sydney and later moved to England. He married Henrietta Ann McGillivray in 1821 and had the following children :

  1. LEWIS MCGILLIVRAY ALLAN born on 07 Jan 1822 in Edinburgh.
  2. SOPHIA JOHNSTONE ALLAN born on 24 Jun 1824 in Edinburgh.
  3. ANDREW GEORGE ALLAN born on 06 Mar 1829 in Edinburgh.
  4. WILLIAM HENRY ALLAN born on 10 Apr 1831 in Edinburgh.
  6. GEORGE ERSKINE ALLAN born about 1836 in Cumberland, England.

David Hendrie Allan’ son,  Lewis MCGillivray Allan was a mariner who ended up in NSW Australia. He married Lucy Benson in 1855 in Sydney. They had a son David Hendrie Allan (2)was born 1863 in Muswellbrook.  His son David Clive Allan had Ashton Clive Allan who had Gregory Clive Allan (my step cousin).

So Greg, besides being my step cousin is my 5th cousin 1x removed.   His sons, Alexander and Jeremy are my 5th cousins. Welcome to the family (again).

Bill and his step grandsons

Greg’s excited response was “Great to hear from you.....Wow, Wow and Wow is all I can say. That is so surreal...what a very small world it is.”

Greg and Bill nutting things out. As it turns out they are 4th cousins.

 So I rang my uncle to tell him the good news. Finally, I impressed my Uncle Bill with my research. He was quite chuffed that the boy he had so much love and admiration for had his DNA and was also his 4th cousin.

At a recent family get together Greg told his family and step sister Lyn (r) of the discovery.

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Lavinia's mystery.... Lavinia Kerr nee Strelley 1896-1960

Lavinia in her 20s

Lavinia Strelley’s official birth certificate sent to my father in 1997 doesn’t tell the full story. On the surface it looks like a regular certificate of a child born of a man and wife. Certainly that was what we were led to believe. She was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1896. Her parents were William Strelley

and Mary McLaughlin. Amongst the photos and papers there were no photos of her with parents, a few details about her father and nothing known about her mother. 

No mention of Illegitimacy on the certificate threw us right off the track

“There was something mysterious about Lavinia” said my great uncle Alf.

In fact I hadn’t found the certificate amongst my “inherited papers” when I began investigating my grandmother who I called Nanny. When I called up the Scotland’s People death record in 2011 there on the left side where the words “illegitimate”.  I remember Dad on his death bed showing me some papers saying his friend who was researching for him had got it wrong. Perhaps his friend had found this record too and he was in disbelief.

This statutory  register record tells a different story

 My doubts were confirmed when I found her father, William living with his future wife in 1901 and with wife and child in 1911. Oooh a half brother. My Dad’s notes definitely say Lavinia was an only child. In fact Lavinia also had two other half siblings by the same father and different mother.

To further complicate things I had never found Lavinia in either the 1901 or 1911 census. She was known to always use the name Strelley and was called Lavinia rather than Lavina. Recently I did a happy dance after I found her. After 6 years of looking I did a wild card search in the 1901 Census. There she was with her mother Mary living under her mother's maiden name McLaughlin. She was 4 and there is an S for Strelley inserted as her middle initial.
The only record of Lavinia's mother's age and place of birth

This put paid to my suspicion that Lavinia was brought up in a Home by nuns. I still have had no success with the 1911 census or the whereabouts and death of her mother. However we do know that a few years after that 1901 Census I have the only childhood photo of my grandmother making her First Communion.

Lavinia's First Communion

Her work reference written before she travelled to Australia in May 1926 says that she is an ovens woman having worked for Macfarlane Lang Victoria Biscuit Company for nearly 10 years.

I also have a post card photo of her and a few other ovens women addressed to her at Salt Coat Mission Home. Salt Coats Mission biscuits were manufactured of the purest whole wheaten flour and taken with water as a sole diet were known to be a cure for stomach troubles. Presumably she worked out at Androssen before her time at Macfarlane’s in Glasgow from about the age of 14 until about 19.
Lavinia (bottom right) working at Salt Coats Mission 

Even though this video of Macfarlane Lang and Co  Victoria biscuit Works was made after Lavinia left the company it gives me a thrill to see her fellow workers in this modern factory employing thousands. You can see why she was so proud of her time there. It was said that “Langs” looked after their staff and obviously had a social club as she is photographed on a “Langs Cruise” in 1924 and in a group photo (below) in 1923. 

Lavinia  (centre left front) worked at Langs for nearly 10 years
When she left “Langs” to travel to Australia to marry my grandfather, James Kerr she was described as “thoroughly trustworthy, a good worker, regular and a good timekeeper”.

Lavinia's 1926 reference
She sailed to meet her fiancĂ© in May 1926 on the “Ormond” with her future brothers-in-law Alf and Frank and her mother-in-law Mary Ann Kerr. Her future father in law was already living in Sydney with James. She paid her own fare of 33 pounds for a 6, 8 or 10 berth cabin. She did not receive any help from her father but reportedly she stayed with the wife of Joe Valli from boxing circles while in London awaiting her journey.

Times were tough when they arrived in Sydney and it was difficult for James and his brothers to find work. I think that’s why they did not marry until the 18th February 1927. Also her mother in law had fallen ill with cancer and she returned to Glasgow with her son Frank where she died not long after.

Lavinia Strelley married James Kerr 18/2/27

After her marriage Lavinia was quickly pregnant with a little girl, Jean born 17th of February 1928 and idolised by her parents, grandfather and uncle. Just before Christmas in 1932 Jean succumbed to diphtheria leaving her parents heartbroken. 
Jean Stephens Kerr

However it seems that in her time of sadness Lavinia was already pregnant with her first son, my father Alfred Ernest. Alfred he was born in September 1933 Billy followed in May 1935. After first living in Military Road Cremorne, they had bought a nice place at 35 Park Avenue Neutral Bay which they shared with James’ brother Alf and father-in-law James Cross Kerr.

I remember it as a federation style 3 bedroom semi detached cottage with a living area and eat in kitchen. The land out the back had  veggies, flowers and buffalo grass which we played on and a rickety garden shed in the corner. It backed onto a lane and the bus depot. Just a quick walk down the lane  was the Big Bear shopping Centre. There was a front verandah and a frangipani  tree. The trams ran past the corner and diagonally there was a golf course and tennis courts. They used to keep their horse and cart for the fruit  and  vegetable delivery run down in Ben Boyd Road.  

35 Park Ave Neutral Bay in 1996
A few years after her arrival in Australia, Lavinia received news of the death of her mother of which we know nothing more. It may be a coincidence and perhaps it has confused the sources of this information but William Strelley’s wife Agnes died about the same time. Could it be Agnes’ death that was reported to Lavinia? It’s also reported that Lavinia’s mother never met the Kerr clan before she left Glasgow.

Settled on the North Shore Lavinia was happy with her life. She was a hard-working mother, a friendly neighbour and loved shopping at the nearby shopping centre. She was heavily involved with the church and was a voluntary worker at the next door convent regularly doing the shopping for the nuns and generally helping out. Most of the neighbours were Scottish. She kept contact with the Kerr relatives, Auntie Jessie and Auntie Aggie and her family who lived nearby. Often they travelled to Melbourne with the boys to meet up with other relatives from James’ mothers’ side.  She used to clean for Auntie Jessie when she was unwell taking the boys to across the harbour to Bondi Beach to play while she did her tasks. She and Aggie visited her husband’s cousin in Callum Park while she was undertaking treatment and was a friend to her children when she died.

Nanny’s boys Alf and Bill grew up to be fine athletes and football players and I know she was proud of her two handsome sons. Indeed they were both thriving in Sydney and grew much taller than their Scottish parents. Just take a look at them at Alf's wedding to Marlene in 1955.
Proud parents  and Billie on Alf and Marlene's Wedding Day 1955

During 1956, friends or relatives from Glasgow sent her newspaper clippings regarding the death of her father, William Strelley who it is said she had idolized. She is said to have spent time at his boxing gym and he was well known around Glasgow champion bare knuckle boxer and as a promoter and referee. Funny, the articles made a deal about him not revealing his age but made no secret of his true marital status and she wasn’t Mary McLaughlin. Considering the papers were kept by my father in the 45 years since his mother’s death he didn’t seem to have made the connection.

James and Lavinia looked forward to and hosted lots of Scottish New Year parties to celebrate the traditional Scottish Hogmanay and regularly attended the Burns Club for a social night out. There were weekends away with James’ railway colleagues and bus trips with her girl friends.

Here they are lined up outside Park Ave watching the Queen pass by during her 1956 visit.

All dressed up to see the queen pass right out side their door.

I was born  in 1955 followed 18 months later by Paul. Although I don’t have personal memories of her stories of living and working in Scotland, I’ve been able to piece together her story, friends and relatives through carefully kept (but not always labelled) photos, newspaper clippings, shipping tickets and references.

Nanny, me and the frangipani tree

I only knew my Nanny until I was four. She was looking after my brother while my mother taught when she fell ill. However I remember visiting her at hospital when she was dying of breast cancer. I remember her cuddles and affection and her frangipani tree planted out the front. My Nanny lived on for me as she had bought me so many clothes from sales at the nearby Big Bear that I had a collection to grow into until I turned 10!

Nanny and me in the back yard at Neutral Bay

She came into the world with adversity and was brought up with hardship and poverty. She no doubt worked and saved hard to buy her fare to Australia.

However still part of her life remains a mystery. That time between age 4 and 27. She was employed in a manual labour job.  In photos she is well dressed. Strelley is not a common name in Glasgow- the handful of Strelleys are all related to William and he was well known as a boxer, promoter, referee and bookmaker. Can I assume Lavinia worked at the boxing gym when there were big fights? This could be  how she afforded her fare and had contact with her father. Did she know her half siblings- I suspect not despite the fact her half brother William was also a boxer.  When I made contact with her nephews there was no recognition of other Strelley offspring and then I told them there was two more! 

Life wasn't always bright in the early days in Sydney with James’ unemployment, the depression and the death of her little daughter. She faced life’s hardships with a smile and brought joy to those around her. My Nanny died all too young at 63 and is greatly missed.

She was held in such high estimate at the church and by the nuns that she was honoured with a full guard of honour by the school children at her funeral in 1960.

Tip of the day:
Nanny was found in the 1901 census after with the wildest of wild card searches on Scotland’s People. McL* L* and Mary.   It’s only taken me 6 years. I know I’ll find her in 1911 eventually.
Tip 2:
Do a time line. Eventually photos and documents will fall into place and the story will unfold.


Tuesday, 19 September 2017

“Do something with the photos”

 I inherited a whole lot of nameless photos from my dad as you do. It's funny but a clairvoyant told me to “do something with the photos” about a month before my dad died. Yeah I asked him about them thinking they were the albums my mother had put together before she died. He replied “They are up in the wardrobe”. Being a Shorty I didn't even look for them. During the clean out I found them in more places than I thought and bundled up all the photos. Looking at them I asked myself “why didn't I talk this through with dad?” We all have this 2020 hindsight and who would've thought I'd get addicted to genealogy? To make matters worse the Scots liked to send photos to those in the Antipodes each Christmas.

So what do you do with the photos?

1. Don’t be rash and throw out a lot if you're not interested. There will be someone in your extended family who will be one day. Remember you are the custodian of a very precious family history.

2. Photocopy or scan photos for relatives and others to identify the unknown people. I sent photocopies to a friend of my father’s, second cousins and my uncle. Although memories are fading they returned the photocopies with names and comments and from there I compiled the album.

3. Think about creating an album with the most special or favourite ones including grandparents and great grandparents, auntie's, uncles, cousins especially weddings. You may be the sole custodian of many generations of family memories. Make a special album which will preserve these photos such as the one shown.

4. Consider how you will share the record with the extended families e.g. make an e-book which can be reprinted, photo story, write a blog, start a family web page, record photos on an Ancestry tree.

5. Create a photo Wall in a hallway or alcove.

6. Pass on duplicates or make copies to send to others not lucky enough to have the originals.

Take the photos out of harmful albums and splash out on one with acid free paper and photo corners

Find a space for a wall full of memories

I've got a little folder on the side for my grandparents’ friends, acquaintances and neighbours. Despite my best efforts I have not been able to identify everyone especially church friends and neighbours. However I kept them in the file and noted the ones that my uncle said were “neighbours from 35 Park Avenue Neutral Bay”. Perhaps I’m more curious about them as in my childhood I lived there as a four year old for a short period with my parents and grandfather after the death of my Nanny. I've written a previous blog about the discovery of some photos belonging to a colleague of my grandfather’s. I’d been independently been friends with the wife and child for years. See blog
I felt like I found a long lost relative .....

Anyhow one day I researched the Park Ave neighbours through the electoral rolls available on Ancestry. As I did so I’ve discovered their names and parts of their stories. Mrs. Sinclair becomes Gladys Daisy Sinclair nee Good. She's a widow living with a son Donald. Donald worked in a bank and marries Valerie Joyce who also worked in a bank.

Mrs Sinclair and Donald
 Mrs. Florence Taylor a recent widow lives down the road at no 19. Her family photo c 1940s shows Florence with son Leslie Gatten Taylor and daughters Dorothy and unknown. Mrs Taylor died in 1950.
Florence Taylor with son Leslie and daughters Florence and unknown 
Down the road Terry O’Keefe’s parents were Eirene and Edward. His dad was a fireman. She was always referred to Mrs O’Keefe. Unlike today.

There’s a wedding photo with Bruce Baker and Heather Riddle who married in 1952 and a family shot with Mrs Margaret Rowe Riddle. They’re from across the road in Ernest Street.
The Riddle family at Heather's wedding  1952

The last photo(s) to be identified was the McIlree’s from across the road at 37 Park Ave. This only came about because Mrs Alexandrina McIlree signed my grandmother’s World War II identity card in 1942. After researching them through the electoral rolls I also checked if there were any trees on Ancestry. Her husband was a brass finisher and she was also from Scotland. I discovered her children’s’ names. Up popped a profile picture of Christina Thompson Sinclair McIlree. Eureka!  I also had that same bride in a photo. My Nanny is standing next to Christina and her husband in 1950 on her wedding day. And no doubt some of the neighbours are looking on.

Christina Thompson Sinclair  McIlree's wedding in 1950 Nanny on the right

The McIlrees were friends if not neighbours from about 1934. The penny had dropped. Amongst my pile was a photo of my dad as a small child sitting up with their two children-Alexander and Christina. There’s a second one with the little boy. There was a scribbled note on the back saying something about a person ready to ‘set the world on fire’ McIlree (I had thought it was McPhee.) I suspect the Sinclairs and the McIlrees might be somehow related due to the “Sinclair” in Alexandrina and Christina’s names and the fact that it’s the same address.  

Little Alfie next to Alexander McIlree c 1934

Yippee! Three more photos that I can put names to. I’m slowly ticking off the list of nameless photos. Here’s a few with the same “gang”.  Not sure who they all are.

I love this one- it’s taken as the Queen visited Australia in 1956. She passed right down Ernest Street- Nanny lived on the corner of Park Ave and Ernest. The gang was out in force complete with hats, pearls and finery.
A hanky waved as the Queen passes by the neighbourhood


Some may say I’m weird, some obsessed. I certainly have too much time on my hands in between volunteering, holidaying and grandchildren. But hey that clairvoyant did say…… “Do something with the photos”.

I’m too scared not to.

Friday, 8 September 2017

William Strelley Meets The McHardys ...It's a can of worms

I've been meaning to write about Lavinia McHardy aka Strelley (1843-1902) for some time. Last night I felt my great great grandmother niggling at me to “get on with it”. I think I first looked for her in 2011. First you’ve got to get over the variations in the spelling of Lavinia, Lavina, Livinia, Levinia and then to various spellings of McHardy and three variations of Strally, Strelley and Stralley.

Originally I was originally told her name was Robina Strelley. That could have made sense because my name is Robyn and she was my great great grandmother through the Strelley line.  First mistake -she wasn't Robina. Second mistake- it was presumed she had married William Strelley and that her son who was known as William Strelley was actually born as William Strelley jnr. The third difficulty was looking for William Strelley senior and junior ages unknown.

Let's say when I worked out my second great grandmother's name Lavinia  McHardy it was only just opening a can of worms.

Firstly it does not appear she ever married William Strelley, tanner, army pensioner, labourer-irregular marriage or otherwise. Although there is a string of evidence that he probably fathered five of her seven illegitimate children.

Lavinia McHardy was born in Edinburgh in about 1843. The 1861 census reveals a little more- Lavinia is 16 and is living with her parents, David and Elizabeth in Glasgow. He’s a cabinet maker and she a power loom weaver. Records show there are five McHardy children all up.  As its only Lavinia and her sister Elizabeth in the census it’s assumed the first and second are deceased. Elizabeth was born in 1846. A further sister, Barbara Fraser McHardy is born in 1862.        .

During the next decade Lavinia gives birth illegitimately to Janet Peoples McHardy in 1962 who died in 1863. There is a record of paternity attached to the birth record.

Then in 1867 she had baby David McHardy whose Birth Certificate is also altered to reflect the paternity of the child. From then on David is known as David Skinner.

I found Lavinia on page 2 of the record- 1871  census living with Strelley and her parents
William and Lavinia claim to be married by 1881 but not so in1871 when Lavinia and her parents were visitors to Strelley’s flat in Glasgow on the night of the 1871 census. It was a full house with David and Elizabeth McHardy, Lavinia, her children David skinner with little William and her sister Elizabeth all in the Strelley tenement. It might also have been noisy as William S McHardy is under one at this stage. Is there a relationship between Lavinia and Strelley at this stage- I think so. Little William is listed as William S McHardy. There is more in that can of worms.

William snr is shown as an army pensioner having been discharged in 1868 from the army after serving in for 20 years in India and the Crimea. He’s old enough to be her father and indeed the McHardys may well be old friends of Strelley’s from their birthplace in Edinburgh.

Ten years later when it comes to the 1881 census Lavinia and William are living together as man and wife with William now shown as son William Strelley and daughter Bertha Strelley (confirmed as Barbara Strelley McHardy- illegitimate). I just wonder why both of these children have been listed as illegitimate on their birth certificates.  
Lavinia and William "married with children" 1881 census

Today we might think that Lavinia was rorting the Centrelink system by claiming to be a single mother many times over. By now she has had four illegitimate children. She has taken the trouble to reflect the paternity of two of the children.

However I didn't know what to think when I discovered the births of not one but two more illegitimate children during the 1870s. They had subsequently died.  One is Thomas Gilchrist McHardy born 1873 (by then Elizabeth her sister had married Thomas Gilchrist). I don't really suspect surrogacy even though it appears that Thomas and Elizabeth remained childless. The second child bears the same name of my grandmother Lavinia Strelley McHardy which is a little spooky. She’s born 1875 and lives for only nine weeks after contracting whooping cough.

When 1891 comes around Lavinia and William are shown on the census as have a son Robert Strelley born 1886 entered on the census. Despite the fact that they are still maintaining they are married he is actually born Robert Strellie McHardy and is also “illegitimate”  

So only four years before the census Lavinia has had her 7th illegitimate child some bearing the Strelley name which points the finger at William. There is obviously a long-term relationship with Strelley.  They appear in two censuses together as a married couple, existing children have adopted his name in census 1881 and 1891. Lavinia at this time is about 41 and William is 63.
After the death of William and in bad health Lavinia falls on bad times

We only see Lavinia in one more census. Stating her age as 53 she is claiming to be a widow in 1901.  On this occasion she is amongst other widows plus single and married destitute women and children. She spends the night of the 1901 census as an inmate of a Night Asylum for the Homeless 69 - 73 Nth Frederick Street Blythewood.  By day she works as a charwoman.  William has died about eighteen months earlier of disease of the brain at the Old Man's Asylum in Glasgow.  It seems he’s still the committed bachelor as he’s listed as a single former labourer and army pensioner on his death certificate. Perhaps it was convenient to pretend he was single to get William treated for dementia.

Despite the fact that an irregular marriage might have been recognised and that the children would have been recognised as legitimate Lavinia appears to have never qualified as an army wife for any pension which might have come her way. Something was standing in their way. When she herself died in 1902 she is listed by her son William Strelley jnr as widow of William Strelley, tanner’s labourer. Perhaps he never knew any differently.

So Lavinia has had seven illegitimate children and the five in the course of time when she was living with William Strelley could easily have been attributed to him. They were all registered as illegitimate and subsequently the living ones adopted his name.  The first two were contested for paternity but nothing is mentioned on the later five births.

In this day and age Ancestry would make a motza on the DNA testing!  Problem solved for 5 kits at $149.

My quandary is that I descend from Lavinia and William Strelley and from William jnr. McHardy branches look a little stronger than the Stelleys. I’d really really like the Strelley ancestors to be mine as they are a good tale dating back to 1066. A genealogist will say there is a very weak link here and that I don't have the required pieces of evidence to show each step of my claim but the Strelley relatives have welcomed me and my research with open arms as have the maternal Johnstons.

"McHardy branches look a little stronger than the Stelleys. I’d really really like the Strelley ancestors to be mine as they are a good tale dating back to 1066."

No matter the outcome I'm still one of them in their books and I shudder at the thought of having to have thousands of people lopped off my tree including Princess Diana should the DNA ever prove me wrong. But records aren’t always available- pre the official registration of marriages it wasn’t necessary to marry in a church in Scotland but it was sufficient to be married in the eyes of people by “habit and repute” simply by presenting yourself in public as husband and wife. 12% of Scottish children were as a result of this kind of marriage.

Was there something preventing William and Lavinia from having a regular or irregular marriage? Was William previously married in the army? Something we may never know. William left the army after his father’s death. His father was from a fine and gentlemanly family in Derbyshire with a strong English history. Strelley, born in Edinburgh, rarely if ever visited that part of England so marrying outside the church should not be an issue.

My DNA may never be questioned as my great great grandparents Lavinia and William are likely to have given me only 12.5% of my DNA and I'm a gambling woman. It’s sad that Lavinia lost 4 of her 7 children and all so young. David jnr was fathered by Skinner. Consequently, there's not that many Strelley descendants with William jnr only having children who lived past childhood. There’s not too many around to test.

While the McHardy line is strong I need some further information.  Bother me some more Lavinia….. I might just get to the bottom of this mystery.