Monday, 6 November 2017

Peace outlasts Withdrawal

In October 1943, an Italian Prisoner of War travelled from Bhopal to Australia courtesy of the British Army. He spent most of the next three years at the Cowra Prisoner of War camp. 
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 55622 Pietro Gargano (tallest); 56000 Umberto Marangoni; 56376 Goffredi Faielli; 56412 Arturo Tempesti; 56359 Alessandro Rospi; 56504 Mario Ferrugini?; 56256 Luigi Margrini; 55608 Renato Guidotti; 56038 Antonio Panico; 56145 Giovanni De Rosa; 56507 Francesco Telese; 56397 Gabriele Sparago.
In October 1946, Pietro Gargano escaped from the camp and eloped to Sydney with his fiancee. They married on 4 November and several days later he gave himself up, wanting to be seen to observe the laws of his host country.
Italian Escapee Married Here (1947, January 14).
Barrier Daily Truth (Broken Hill, NSW : 1908; 1941 - 1954), p. 1.
It was the opening gambit in a campaign to remain in Australia, and while it did not initially succeed, eventually the outcome was secured.

To make sure that the Italian Prisoners of War were repatriated, the Australian Army assigned the 22nd Garrison Battalion to escort them out of the country. On the Otranto, which sailed from Sydney on 8 January 1947, Corporal Pietro Gargano returned to Italy under the guard of Sargeant John Schuberth.
Sgt John F G Schuberth, 22nd Garrison Battalion, Cowra
Seventy years later, while investigating his grandfather's war service, James Wall researched the ship and discovered some of the "passengers" were returning home to Europe. Further sleuthing revealed a possible connection. 

Not long after, Pietro's son Peter met John's grandson James for the first time:
Protagonists overcome Warfare
descendants James and Peter
3 November 2017
Dickson, ACT

More on the life of -

Monday, 9 October 2017

the garden of life

One of the most valuable sections of any digitised newspaper are the Births, Deaths and Marriages columns, which also contain Memoriams and Anniversaries. Obituaries tend to be separate, and warrant their own search using that term. However, when exploring Trove, it will help to know how the prosaic was once expressed in more poetic terms. 

The Cradle, the Altar and the Grave or The Sepulchre were used in the early 1890s by one Victorian newspaper, not only using the common thread of human life but also expressing status in flowers chosen to surround the event in question. 

Churchyard Gardens. (1930, December 25). Freeman's Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932)
, p. 10.

Of course the Cradle, the Dungeon and the Tomb is likely to be tongue-in-cheek. 

Buds, Orange Blossoms, and Cypress. (1895, April 3).
The Daily Northern Argus (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 - 1896), p. 2

 Continuing with a floral theme, 
 Buds, Orange Blossoms and 
 Cypresses caught some 
 statisticians waxing lyrical.

In a similar timeframe, international journals recognised Buds, Brides, and Bodies: 

The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), p. 3.
By the 20th century, many of these terms were standarised as we still read them today. Trove summarises them as Family Notices in one of its facets to expedite finding - but this variety is worth noting if you use these 20th century keywords for your 19th century family life and uncover nothing. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Americanization or Anglicisation

Recently I made the trek to New York to research Italian antecedents. Despite huge swathes of content now traversable via genealogical conglomerates in minutes, some information is still only accessible on the ground. 

Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, 1903

The American convention of giving names to neighbourhoods within suburbs is something not easily discerned from afar. 

For example Red Hook in Brooklyn, which, amongst other influences, became a small Italian enclave when settled in the late 1890s - early 1900s. The name is still used in various locations.

Included in its special collection, the Brooklyn Public Library has a series of atlases and maps which will eventually be digitised. 

To capitalise on the time available, I attended a lecture at the New York Public Library on how to search the 1940 Federal Census. This is a rich online resource, but interchangeable names make discovery a challenge. It is not uncommon to find an Italian name for the first Census in which the family appeared after migration from Palermo, only to appear as 'someone else' by 1940. For example, Gaetana became Anna or Anita, Gesualda became Jessie, Gaetano became Tomaso then Thomas. 

Vicenzo/Vincenzo became, inexplicably, James not Vincent.* Surnames are also afflicted by this - Bellomonte becoming Belmont, Nangano was heard and written as Mangano. Eventually vowels were dropped too. This process was explained as americanisation**, although the presentation did label it otherwise. 
Courtesy Carmen Nigro,
Milstein Division, NYPL, April 2017

The origin of these names is surely not American, and despite the efforts of the Census enumerators to hide migrants in as many ways as possible, a shared appreciation of the English language allows us all to tap into the breadth of information from 1890 Ellis Island arrivals to the decennial censuses.

The key to searching the census successfully is to be aware that while names may be carried down the generations, little variations were and are also common. 

Thinking laterally, including for extended family, does help. 
Image, courtesy of Find My Past, of the family of Thomas Belmont, all given with surname as Thomas (found only by a search on the name of future son-in-law Roderick Black) 
The genealogical discovery process however, is a candidate for dramatisation and there is no better inspiration than American cinema. This is ably demonstrated by the NYPL's Irma & Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy which entices us all to delve into family secrets and mysterious name changes...

*  Finding Italian Roots - The complete guide for Americans, John Philip Colletta, PhD
** ironically spelt with an 's', or sometimes interchangeably with a 'z', in both anglicisation and americanization.  

Friday, 2 December 2016

slightly bigger than a tweet

The Trove team recently posed a tweet: what is Trove? 
Like the librarians' curse of knowledge*, where it may be difficult to compress a complex service into a brief explanation for the uninitiated, concepts are sometimes defined in the negative. 

For example, Trove was never an acronym although there have been several published attempts to make it so. 

But to answer the team's question, each letter of Trove can be used to convey its scope, power and indispensability. Its reach almost demands uppercase. TROVE is:

-> a   Time capsule
-> a   Roam around a continent
-> an Organic summation of a nation's status
-> a   View of identity from multiple soapboxes
-> an Embodiment of inheritance

As a time capsule, Trove is unparalleled. Provided government funding allows it to be expanded, it will continue to uncover Australia's history.

In a simple roaming search, anyone can delve into small town life or trace the growth of a metropolis.

The threats to our natural environment, whether silently accumulating for millenia or newly incubated, have been documented in Trove since 1803 and can be found by following the clues invested in a range of forms: article, book, image and website.

Trove's rich content illustrates the inspirational soapboxes for political, religious, legal or scientific research, and views of identity in notices from "the Cradle, the Altar and the Grave". 

By encapsulating a nation's intellectual capital, Trove is a powerful embodiment of Australia's inheritance, accessible to everyone.


Monday, 7 November 2016

On weary waters gone to sleep

Is there a pre-ordained fate to tragedy within a family, or merely circumstance which congregates to leave survivors mindful of their responsibility to convey stories across generations? 

This story is a tragedy of water, perhaps inevitable around the big rivers of northern New South Wales. William and James Baker migrated separately to Australia in the 1850s, establishing a farm in the Grafton area. James met Mary Ann Webb, whose parents were also migrants, and they married on 7 August 1860. 

NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1860/1881A
One week short of nine months from his parents' marriage date, their first son Thomas, named for his paternal grandfather, arrived on 30 April 1861 at Carrs Creek. As a farmer, the lush landscape of the Clarence Valley may have initially appealed to James, but less than two years later Grafton experienced a devastating flood. 

EPITOME OF NEWS. (1863, March 7).
The Armidale Express and
New England General Advertiser
(NSW : 1856 - 1861; 1863 - 1889; 1891 - 1954)
, p. 2.
"The back water increased till Tuesday morning, though the river had been at its highest at an early hour on Monday morning, being about 24 feet above high water mark, and 2 feet higher than the great flood of 1857, reputed then as the greatest that had been known." 

(1876, July 25).
Clarence and Richmond Examiner
and New England Advertiser
(Grafton, NSW : 1859 - 1889)
, p. 3.

So devastating, it still made headlines years after the event.

"Mr James Baker is also a severe sufferer, not only from the damage done to his crops but by the loss of a good wife, consequent on her removal immediately after confinement..." 

Only three days earlier, on 11 February, Mary Ann gave birth to her second son. She did not know him for long. Mary Ann was one of nine people to die in the aftermath of the flood, the inquest considered several factors:

"Several farmers at Carr's Creek were flooded out..." However, Mary Ann was buried at South Grafton cemetery. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1863/3701
The baby was registered as unnamed by his maternal grandfather Samuel Webb. He was handed over to his Uncle William and Aunty Eliza Baker, who, in the absence of their own biological children, would raise the child as their own. The decision was made by both families to make their way to Tumbulgum, then known as The Junction. A private town built on the sugar cane industry, it was established on the banks of the Tweed River. The baby became known as James.  

In 1882, aged only 56 and having retained his status as a widower, James Baker died. He was buried at Murwillumbah General Cemetery. 

NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1882/11895

Although James' will acknowledged his "eldest son" Thomas, there was no inheritance for James. Presumably he was expected to inherit from William and Eliza. It did not happen.
Less than four years later he too lost his life, in the Tweed River. His family's memory is that it happened at Chinderah, where the river is broad. In water cool and deep it is not difficult to imagine such a loss. The article suggests this is plausible - "being towed up" meant south towards Tumbulgum.

His death certificate says his body was not found, and the fortnight between his disappearance and the newspaper article on 30 January lends credence to this. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1886/13684

In 1974, the Murwillumbah General Cemetery and historical headstones were washed away in a flood, including that of James Baker. 

A park remains to commemorate the 
existence of more than 2,000 locals. 

The Baker family was decimated by the force of water. But the circumstances of James' disappearance would not have carried across the decades without being wrenched back to the time of their occurrence by a digital process which was not imagined when this family struggled to survive. It is a reassuring closure. 

* The phrase 'On weary waters gone to sleep' was inspired by poet Eva Gore-Booth in her poem Weariness

"My weary soul cries out for peace,
Peace and the quietness of death;
The wash of waters deep and cool,
The wind too faint for any breath
To stir oblivion's silent pool,
When all who swim against the stream".

Sunday, 30 October 2016


Country News. (1883, July 7).
Logan Witness (Beenleigh, Qld. : 1878-1893)), p.2
The 1984 work Place Names of the Tweed, Brunswick and Upper Richmond Regions recorded the meaning of the village name Tumbulgum as "small-leafed fig". Twenty years prior, Some Aboriginal Place-Names in the Richmond Tweed Area interpreted it as "large fig". Perhaps both were true, but it is a distinctive name unlikely to be confused with anywhere else. 
(1886, January 16,).
Australian Town and Country Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), p.17.
Ironic then that its earlier nineteenth century European name, The Junction, was preferred by The Logan Witness, a Queensland newspaper which concerned itself with NSW border settlements very closely as postal and transport services developed north of Grafton. Such interest was described as being "queenslandised" by the Australian Town and Country Journal in 1886.

Still a village, the longtime locals call it "Tumble-gum" and in November 2016, they gathered together to acknowledge its 150 years of settlement. Two of the village pioneers have remained there fore more than 100 of those years, resting in the North Tumbulgum Cemetery. There is no headstone to mark their lives, but Eliza Baker (nee Alexander) and her husband William are remembered through the documentary fragments of officialdom. 

William Baker died on 6 June 1901, aged 68. He had married in Grafton 42 years earlier, in 1859, and there were no children from the marriage. His birthplace was given as Bristol, England.
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - death Certificate #6130/1901
William's will left all of his property to his nephew Thomas Baker, with the exception of a place for his wife Eliza to live. Thomas, wife Harriett and their five daughters already enjoyed the generosity of his Uncle William - the family lived at Duranbah on a farm block owned by William. This generous nature extended to the care throughout childhood of his other nephew James Baker.

Eliza Baker died only nine months after her husband, on 22 March 1902, aged 66. Her birthplace was given as London. Eliza's will also granted her full estate to her husband's nephew Thomas. How did this come about?
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - Death Certificate #2226/1902
The Marriage certificate of Eliza Alexander and William Baker furnishes an additional interesting clue: the service was conducted according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - Marriage Certificate #1709/1860 [late reg'n]
GRAFTON. (1858, December 17).
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p.5
Nineteenth century marriages were usually conducted in the religion of the bride, and in Grafton in 1859, there was already a functioning Presbyterian Church under the stewardship of the Reverend James Collins. So this was not just a convenient location. 

EARLY HISTORY OF GRAFTON. (1904, September 13).
Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1839 - 1915), p.2
The lack of detail in the three certificates made a search for more information less clear cut. However, there was an approximate year of arrival in Australia, for both Eliza and William. 

Advertising (1882, June 17).
Australian Town and Country Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), p.4

Of course the fact that William had a nephew living not far away from Tumbulgum also made it easier to find his family. The presence of Thomas' father James in Grafton and later on the Tweed River made it easy to find a connection to William's background. After a sale at auction, it was James' land which became The Junction. 

(1985) St Mary's Church, Almondsbury, with
graveyard containing Baker family graves
As young men, James in 1852 and then William in 1857 made the journey to New South Wales from another small village, Almondsbury, in Gloucestershire. The closest port to Almondsbury is Bristol, William's birth registration place.

For his emigration form, William stated that he was 22 years old, had a brother James "in the colony", and like his brother was a (farm) labourer.

List of Emigrants sent to Sydney NSW on board
the Marchioness of Londonderry, Captn. J. Williams
by the Family Colonization Loan Society
[State Records NRS 5323/9_6173]
Eliza's origins, on the other hand, are less certain. Her death certificate implies that she was born in 1836. Her marriage suggests she was Scottish, and indeed, searching the gargantuan family history websites indicates that her name was more likely to be from a Scottish source.

So was it possible, as per many Australian certificates, that London was her point of departure from the UK, rather than her hometown? Emigration records with a reasonably close match to Eliza's age suggest she arrived in December 1854 on the Marchioness of Londonderry, one of 32 single servant women and 101 immigrants on board. [1] 

[State Records NRS 5322/4_5037]
Eliza paid £12 for the journey. As their first stop, the passengers were required to spend several days at Q station because of a smallpox outbreak. The Loan Society must have been alarmed by this outcome. 

SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. (1854, December 13).
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser
(NSW : 1843-1893), p.2
There were no other passengers on board with the surname Alexander, suggesting that Eliza had travelled to Australia without family. 

The purpose of the Family Colonization Loan Society was to: "...lend to the emigrant one-half of the cost of the passage, after he has paid to the Society a sum equivalent to the other half, we take from him a note of hand payable on demand for the amount lent, at the same time undertaking to give him two years in which to repay the amount, provided he conforms to certain simple regulations laid down by the Society." [2]

In 1852, the virtues of settling in such faraway places were extolled by Caroline Chisholm during a trip throughout the UK. One of her stops was the city of Glasgow. She had spent more than a decade encouraging emigration and reinforced it by overseeing the funding of several ships. Less than two years later, one Eliza Alexander made the journey.

This sesquicentenary reflects the tenacity of a village to survive, an echo of the hopes of two pioneers who became Tumbulgum locals. That it thrives is a testament to their determination to forge lives in a reimagined Australia.

[1] Kiddle, Margaret Caroline Chisholm, Melbourne at the University Press, 1950
[2] EMIGRATION. (1854, November 28). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p.2

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Irish inheritance

The newly released Strategic Plan for the future of the National Library of Ireland is a signal of hope to those with a few Irish genes, especially because of the promise of connection [NLI Strategy 2016-2021 connect, p.9]. It's breathtaking to realise that the NLI has been in existence only since 1877, long after so many of its population left the country with their life stories, going as far as possible around the planet to Australia and other challenges.

Those of us descended from the green and wet still feel a genetic attachment, through a particular way of looking at the world, laconic conversation, a dry sense of humour, and a laid-back approach to the stress arising from hardship. But it has also given us a determination to find out more about those origins, and see the small patch of earth where our families once lived.

Find My Past Ireland
So it was on one such adventure earlier this year that I was in Dublin, traversing historical pathways. Alas the National Library was closed to all-comers over a whole long weekend. 

And Kilmainham Gaol, which had once locked my great-great-grandfather in prior to his journey to New South Wales, now locked his great-great-granddaughter out. I am sure he would have at least noted the irony, although he might have been puzzled by the interest.

Perhaps both lock-outs, due to the one-hundredth anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Uprising, could be justified, but until the digitisation promoted by the NLI is a complete substitute, it remains a compromise

Indeed the only heritage agency to create a different experience was the Cork City and County Archives. Archivist Brian McGee, despite having a heavily scheduled day, went out of his way to share his knowledge not only to satisfy the curiosity of a very small number of the Irish diaspora but also, as he explained, to make up for the transgression of past data destruction, including over four censuses and in the Uprising's final devastating outcomes in 1922.

Access to original holdings such as workhouse registers helped to fill in the as-yet-undigitised gaps, but Brian noted they too would be put online as soon as resources became available. A different kind of hardship not envisaged in the nineteenth century, but nevertheless one which has led to stress. 

Would it lead to less travel? Probably not. Such a professional approach to what in the past has been perceived as superficial requests by many such agencies, including Australian ones, is likely to encourage more.

His colleagues were also only too happy to facilitate further discovery - when asked about a particular surname, the assistant said "just go outside, throw a stick and you'll hit one". Luckily we didn't have to resort to that technique. 

But the Corcaigh approach was infectious, as having sent us on successfully to Dunmanway, the local public library, historical society, and the administrator at the oldest Church there - St Patrick's, which echoed with the surnames of nineteenth century Victoria - provided useful leads for two more of our Irish families.