Family history part 3

One of my hobbies is family history research, which I do when I can between everything else. Recently I’ve been researching two families from Cornwall, partly because the Cornwall Online Parish Clerks website has an extensive database and easy-to-use search. 

One of my great-great-great-great-grandmothers had the surname Trevaskis. Except that it appears as Trevascus on her baptism record in 1798. The baptism records for that parish record a Trevaskes in 1693, then Trevascus (1708), Treveskeys (1711), Trevascas (1768), Trevaskis (1780), Trevaskus (1780) and  Trevarcus (1785). Then in 1819, everyone decided that they were going to use the spelling Trevaskis. It is possible that these were different families, each with their own spelling, and that the others died out, but I doubt it. The family which used the  spelling Trevaskis in 1819 previously used Trevascus in 1804 and 1807, Trevaskus in 1809, Trevascus again in 1811 (two records, for Jennifer and Jenifer), Trevascus and Trevaskus in 1814 (two records for one child), Trevaskis and Trevaskus in 1816 (two records for another child) and finally Trevaskis in 1819 (two records, for Margaret Trevaskis and Margaret Edwards Trevaskis).

But we can’t blame the families for this. There was less standardisation of spelling in general, and the information which I am seeing on the internet has gone through at least two sets of ears/eyes, brains and hands – the vicar or parish clerk of the day and the volunteer transcriber of recently. The database search allows for wildcards – I found all of the above (as well as Trevanen and Trevorrow, each with a smaller number of variants) by searching for trev%. (PS the website says, in the small print: “We make no warranty whatsoever as to the accuracy and completeness of the data”.)

I’ve discovered branches of the family which I either didn’t know existed, or only had the most basic information for. But sometimes I hit a brick wall. One great-great-great-grandmother was married in 1855 and came to Australia in 1857. Is she the girl of that name baptised in that village on 12 Apr 1835, or the one of the same name baptised in the same village on 17 April 1836? Or was she one of the six other girls of the same name baptised elsewhere in Cornwall in those two years, or was she older or (possibly) younger than that? (And it’s not the case that the first one died young and the parents gave the second one the same name – the two have different parents.) I may never know. It also does not help that there was a limited supply of given names, and most children only had one given name – this one had a middle name, and there’s still that choice. (But I did find another ancestress (and more of her family) because of a very unusual middle name.)

By the way, my ancestry is English and probably Welsh on my father’s side, and Scottish, Scots-Irish, Irish (probably Scots-Irish) and Cornish on my mother’s. Various great-, great-great- and great-great-great-grandparents came to Australia between the 1840s and 1880s. We know almost of the great-great-great-grandparents’ names, with a greater or lesser amount of details, and with some families traced beyond that. Most of what I’ve done is collating information from other family members, plus some research of my own.


“Where is Canada?”

A few days ago I messaged my sisters about some information I’d just found about the family of one of our great-great-grandmothers. We’d previously had information about her husband, but not her, except that they married in Canada in 1863 and she was born about 1843. One of my sisters replied:

Where is Canada?

This is a perfectly formed question and I can imagine a child or parent/teacher asking it in the context of learning/teaching about countries of the world, but it didn’t make immediate sense in this context. I’m sure she knows where Canada is, and meant “Where in Canada?”, so I answered that question, specifically Saint John, New Brunswick. But I’m puzzled about the typo of is for in, given that s and n are so far apart on the keyboard. (Maybe she’d typed something else and autocorrect changed it to the full question Where is Canada? rather than the elided question Where in Canada? (By itself in is more common.))

Some time ago, another sister commented on Facebook that she was looking forward to seeing one of her children (who lives some distance away) “in Thursday”. That is more easily explained: i and o are next to each other on the keyboard.

“thwart with danger”

Some years ago, a distant cousin wrote and self-published a book detailing the history of our mutual family. A great-great-great-grandfather and -mother, a great-great-grandfather and four other children arrived in Sydney in 1855 and settled on the mid-north coast of NSW, with four more children born in Australia. Eight of those survived to adulthood and six produced large families, so this is the biggest branch of my family tree. (I might call it a limb or a bough but I don’t know which is meant to be larger.) I have just re-read parts of it while conducting family history research. Among other things, she writes that life on farms and in small towns was difficult, and childbirth in particular was

thwart with danger

I can understand why someone would mix up fraught and thwart – they are relatively uncommon words, they rhyme (at least for people with non-rhotic pronunciation) and the differences are very small (fr and thw), and both collocate with danger: fraught with danger and thwart danger. Fraught here is an adjective and thwart is a verb. 

An online search found about 3,430 instances of “thwart with danger”, 5,150 for “thwart danger” and 2,580,000 for “fraught with danger”.

Fraught is from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German and is related to freight, both most basically meaning full of, fraught in a negative way (and now only as an adjective) and freight in a positive way (as a noun and verb). Common collections are fraught relationship, fraught situation and fraught heart, process is fraught, life is fraught, situation is fraught and system is fraught, and relationships are fraught, studies are fraught and lives are fraught. Thwart is from Old Norse and basically means across; as a verb, to lie across, oppose, frustrate or prevent. Common collocations are thwart God, thwart efforts, thwart attempts, thwart justice and thwart competition, thwart a person/man/child and thwart a takeover, thwart the will, thwart the plans and thwart the efforts.


One of the challenges of family history research is variations in the spellings of names, among and between family sources or official records (and some searchable databases are very badly transcribed). I couldn’t find my mother’s mother’s birth record, then thought to search for the equivalent of McArthur rather than Macarthur. Similarly, I was also able to find her grandparents’ marriage record in a province of Canada (her grandfather was serving in the British army at the time, and her father was born in Bermuda). 

For given names, there are Catherine/Katherine, Alexandr(i)a and Ann(i)(e)/Anna, Mary Ann(e)/Anna, Mary-Ann(e) and Marianne. One relative I didn’t know the existence of until very recently (a great-grandfather’s sister) is rendered as Matilda M A on her birth record, Matilda M on her marriage record and the birth records for three children, Matilda Marrianna on her death record and the Find a grave website, Matilda Mary A on one son’s death record and Marianne Matilda on the other’s. The name Marrianna exists, but is far less common than all those other variations.

I found her and three more siblings because my father’s family history notes refer to ‘the rest of the family’ (that is, not my great-grandfather or the brother we knew about, mainly because those two married sisters). My father had a lot of information about his mother’s mother’s side and a medium amount about his father’s father’s side. This family is his mother’s father’s side, and I’ve found his older sibling who died young, three younger siblings and 13 nieces and nephews. Any more research is limited by publicly searchable records being restricted to more than 100 years for births, 50 or 60 years for marriages and 30 years for deaths. I also had basically nothing about his father’s mother’s side, but was able to connect a few dots and find an extensive listing of her relatives in England and Canada. The compiler of that website didn’t know that she had come to Australia. There’s an intriguing story about her, which I’m still waiting for a reply from a historical organisation about, so won’t tell you now.

[PS 19 Sep: My searches of the Births, Deaths and Marriages records in Victoria and New South Wales failed to find a small number of distant relatives who I know exist(ed). I’ve started over on those ones, trying every combination of spelling that I can, and have found most of the missing ones. It is not uncommon for someone’s name to be spelled different on their birth, marriage and death record (which might be a transcription error).

What is a hyphenated Australian meant to do?

Tonight is census night in Australia. One question asks about our ancestry. There is a default list of the most common answers from the last census and a text box to type in any other answer. In the list are English, Irish, Scottish and Australian. Yes, my ancestry is Australian for 4-6 generations, but I think selecting that tells an incomplete story. Fine, I’ll select English, Irish and Scottish and type in ‘Cornish’. Except … I’m only allowed to choose two. So, either I tell an incomplete story by selecting ‘Australian’, or I tell an incomplete story by selecting and/or writing any two of those four. But which two? Numerically, my ancestry is more English and Scottish, but I identify less as English and more as any or all of those other four, to the extent that it matters 140 years after my last ancestors arrived in Australia (from England, as it happens). Maybe I should have tried typing in Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Australian or Normo-Dano-Anglo-Saxo-Juto-Romano-Celto-Australian and seen if it would have accepted it.

Family history part 2

After our father died, a cousin of my mother’s father sent a card and we needed to figure out where she fitted in. I found a family tree which traces that family back to the Kings of Scotland. I was looking at that again, and spotted the name Margaret of Scotland, who was the wife of Malcolm who becomes king at the end of Macbeth (which is before they were married). She was known for her faith and charity, and is a saint in some parts of the church.

(I suspect that millions of people of Scottish heritage can say the same.)

a mega-family

I have had a burst on researching family history, which has been an occasional hobby of mine for many years. My first aim is to collate everything I have, but I keep finding new information. For example, I found the register for the ship on which two great-great-great-grandparents and a great-great-grandmother arrived, along with 4 other children/siblings I had not previously known about. 

Typing the information (or copying it from the web pages of distant relatives) I wondered how many relatives I might have. Assuming 30 years per generation, in 300 years I would have 2^10 = 1024 8great-grandparents (or kilo-parents). Then assuming that each generation has two children who survive to reproduce, each of those would have 2^10 descendants, meaning that I have 2^20 = 1 048 576 relatives around the world – a mega-family. (Obviously, the numbers aren’t that simple.)

My parents and other older relatives had more or less information about each ancestor who came to Australia (between 1848 and 1880), so I can take them as starting points. Of the eight families on my mother’s side, we have substantial information about five of them. Of the eight on my father’s side, one is huge (I’m related to half the population of the north coast of New South Wales), one we have substantial information on, and the other six we know almost nothing about. (Some families trace their origin to the first convict settlement in 1788, and others to time immemorial. I’m not in either of those categories.)

I find myself pondering the stories behind the basic information. One example, in outline, is:

male b north coast of NSW 1893 killed in action France 1917
m 1915
female b north coast of NSW 1897 d of rheumatic fever 1915

In the early days, many people were born, married and died in the same country town. More recently, we have moved around far more. My parents grew up in different states, then independently moved to a country town in one of those states. My siblings and I all live in different states than the one we were born in (and the four of us were born in three different towns), and three of us have married people born in other countries. 

Hyphenated Australian

I have occasionally referred to myself as an Australian of mixed British Isles descent, or an Anglo-Saxon-Celtic-Australian. I suspect that the full story might be Normo-Dano-Anglo-Saxo-Juto-Romano-Celto-Australian. My ancestry is half English (my father’s side), a quarter Scottish (two of my great-great-grandparents were born in Ireland, but their families originated in Scotland), an eighth Irish and an eighth Cornish (if you count that separately). My father always assumed that his father’s ancestry was Welsh (his grandfather was born in Shrewsbury and our surname is typically Welsh but from other places as well), but we haven’t actually traced it. His mother was horrified at my suggestion that I was anything other than ‘English’, apparently unaware of her late husband’s possible ancestry and her daughter-in-law/my mother’s actual ancestry.

So while I celebrate St David’s Day for various reasons (despite no known Welsh connection), I am ambivalent about St Patrick’s Day (despite known Irish connection). Part of the reason is that those Irish people are usually so noisy on St Patrick’s Day (which they will, of course, say is most of the point). Maybe the Welsh, Scots and English also are on their respective days, but I have never seen or heard a St David’s, St Andrew’s or St George’s Day celebration in Australia. I can imagine the Welsh celebrating (especially in Wales but also in Australia), but the idea of a Scottish St Andrew’s Day or English St George’s Day seems slightly strange (though see St Andrew’s Day and St George’s Day). St George almost certainly didn’t actually exist (at least in his most popular form), and St Andrew didn’t go anywhere Scotland (and wouldn’t even have known that it existed). A colleague who is more Irish than I am decorated himself and part of the office yesterday (we are dividing our working days between the office and home), but I was unable to fully share his excitement. What is one meant to do when one is hyphenated? Celebrating everything without worrying about it so much is a possibility. I accepted his Irish chocolates, though.

Family history

My sisters and I have been notifying relatives and friends of our father’s death. One of them got a card from our mother’s father’s cousin. Given that our grandfather would be 115, how old is his cousin? One sister found a family history website that gives her year of birth as 1926, so she’s 92 – her father married late.

That’s a very big family history website. How far back does that go? One section (a family tree showing names only) traces that side of the family back to Scotland in 1520 (with a lot of Majors and The Reverends along the way). (At one point there were three Major John [surname]s in a row. The first was the son of Sir John, just to be different.) Impressive. But another section of the site (giving more or fewer biographical details for each person) traces the family back through earls of various places in Scotland (at one point there were three Earl Patricks in a row) to King Duncan – you know, the one fictionally killed by Macbeth (apparently the real Macbeth didn’t kill the real Duncan, but defeated him in battle) (you mean Shakespeare made stuff up?). The male line stops at Duncan’s father, but Duncan’s wife’s family traces back to Kenneth MacAlpin, the first ‘King of Scots’ (my 35x great-grandfather, if I’ve counted correctly) and past him to semi-history/semi-legend then complete legend.

I may have written a different essay for year 11 English if I’d known that.

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