CHAPTER 1

INTRODUCTION

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    Revision Date : 31 March 2011

        There are many reasons why people take up the hobby of genealogy.  Many people are drawn by the idea of finding illustrious ancestors, kings, queens, or worse among their forbears, and the fact that this seldom happens never seems to dismay them.  Others have a fascination for history, which can be made more personal and exciting by relating historical events to family members who would have experienced them, or known them first-hand.  Some people need to know their ancestors, their roots, in order to know themselves and their place in the world.

        Whatever the reason for starting the quest for one’s ancestors, it soon becomes an all-consuming passion, combining the elements of a detective story and a historical novel.  There is a great sense of history to be felt just reading the papers, letters, and other documents unearthed in the searches, and on the rare occasions when original documents, sometimes hundreds of years old, can be examined directly, one feels a direct and personal link to the people who wrote them.  Unfortunately, in Australia, because of our relatively short history as a civilised country, original records are rare, but in Europe, and particularly the UK, these records are likely to have survived for many hundreds of years, and are still available for study.  With the increased popularity of genealogy, and the Freedom of Information Acts enforced in the last few years, information on all aspects of personal details has become more readily available, and the search is becoming easier.  Genealogy Societies and professional researchers also play major roles in gathering and consolidating information for the amateur.

        The knowledge that one of your ancestors lived at a certain time and place means that the entire history of that time and place has a relevance which would otherwise be missing, and allows you to relate events to the particular person, and to speculate on their effect on him or her.  Many hours can be spent in the local library, reading old newspapers to gain a feeling for the ways of life, the customs, the fashions, and the topics of interest of the times.  Sometimes a simple enquiry on one subject can lead down so many interesting side-roads that whole days can be lost in simple browsing.

        The final result, if the search is at all successful, is a wealth of detail, photographs, documents and letters, which flesh out the bare facts of dates of birth, death and marriage, and which provide a solid foundation on which to base your own existence.

        One truism which can be demonstrated by reading any newspaper more than fifty years old, is that “history repeats itself”.  This saying is also proved by the coincidences of two cases, nearly ninety years apart, of the need for people, who have been separated from some part of their heritage, to regain their roots, in order to know themselves.  One of these cases is my wife, who was unable to find any details about her mother’s family until recently, and is now trying to retrieve the loss before it is too late.

        The other case is the one which introduced me to the hobby of “ancestor-chasing”, and provided me with a wealth of material to start with.  In 1874 two young girls, Catherine and Fanny Clarke, living in Manchester, England, were orphaned by the death of their father.  Their mother had died five years earlier, at the age of 36.  The two girls, aged 16 and 12 were entrusted to the care of their uncle, who lived in Adelaide, and made the long sea voyage to their new home in 1875.  Both girls eventually married, and raised families in South Australia, and Fanny Clarke became my great-grandmother.  She never returned to England, but obviously never forgot her native country, because in about 1903 she began corresponding with surviving relatives “back home”.

        This correspondence went on for years, and specifically requested details of family dates and relationships.  Very few of the original letters survive, but some of Fanny’s notes and drawings of family trees have lasted, and have come into my possession.  When she emigrated, Fanny brought with her the front pages of the old Clarke family Bible, dating back to 1806, which was used to record family births, deaths and marriages, and this has also been in my possession for many years.  These records gave me the impetus to start on what could be a never-ending quest.

        In early years, when people were still alive who could have given so much first-hand information, I was not interested, and with the arrogance of youth I believed that such things were “old-fashioned” and of no interest any more.  Only recently, when in many cases it was too late, have I realised the importance of listening to these people, and gathering their knowledge as soon as possible.  The information in this book is incomplete, and will be added to and altered as new data becomes available.  In the mean-time, it is the accumulated result of several years work, which I am trying to formalise before I drown under all the scraps of paper.