Re-connecting

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I think my first real link with Australia was in the 1960s when Dorothy Mitchell came to stay with us in Glasgow.  Dorothy is my mum’s cousin but her family had left Scotland for Australia in 1950 on the Ten Pound Emigration Scheme.  Dorothy was only about six years old at the time. My mother was about 17 and she recalls the day the family left Glasgow.

I remember very clearly as though it was just yesterday, the day we all gathered in the Central Station in Glasgow to see the whole family off on the start of their journey to Australia, a six weeks hazardous sea journey.  It was a very emotional time for all the family.  Uncle Harry played the bag pipes and everyone around us was saying their goodbyes to their families in tears, especially when “Will ye no come back again” was played.  I will never forget that day.

Uncle Harry002

Uncle Harry

Dorothy returned to Scotland for a working holiday when she was about twenty but her parents never saw home or family again.  She stayed with my Great Gran Chapman (who, Dorothy told me recently, used to sing hymns at the top of her voice all day long) and other members of our family.   She spent a couple of nights with us.  My memory of Dorothy then was of a tall, slim, pretty girl with long hair and a funny accent and, although I was probably only about seven years old at the time, I never forgot her.

Dorothy and Gt Gran Chapman

Dorothy with Gt Gran Chapman, while on holiday in Scotland

After Dorothy returned to Australia, the family lost touch.

In 1979, I came to Australia on a working holiday and ended up settling in Sydney then Perth.  I often wondered where Dorothy and her family lived but I never thought to ask my mum.

Last year my son, Kyran, and his partner, Vanessa, moved to Melbourne from Darwin to settle and have their baby (my first grandchild, Tommy).  During a conversation, my mum said to Kyran “look out for any Mitchells in Melbourne because they are family”.  I was confused when he mentioned this to me and I asked my mum about it in an email.  This was her reply –

My mum’s sister, Aunt Nan, married Billy Mitchell who was in the Merchant Navy, a very handsome young man.  They had three children – Billy, Dorothy and David.  You may have been too young to remember Dorothy who came over to Scotland.  She stayed with Uncle Bill and Aunt Mary and worked beside them for a while. Dorothy came to see us and Dad and I were decorating the lounge.  She was fascinated with us putting up wallpaper as they only painted their homes, because of the heat, in Australia.  They were billeted to Gippsland, Victoria, Australia. 

Mum had no idea what happened to the family and did not know Dorothy’s name if she had married.  She was disappointed when I told her there were thousands of Mitchells in Victoria.

Gran & Granpa Brown, Nan and Billy

Aunt Nan (front, left) with Uncle Billy (back, right) with my grandparents and Gt Gran Chapman (front, centre)

Aunt Nan, David

Aunt Nan with David

The Mitchells

The Mitchells

However, it planted a seed.  I was going to visit my new grandson a few weeks later.  How wonderful if I could find Dorothy.  But where to start looking?

I went straight to my family tree.  Ah, so that is where Aunt Nan fits into the picture!  That is who Dorothy is!  A few more pieces of the jigsaw slot into place.

I started at the beginning.  It took a while but I finally found the passenger list for the Mitchells leaving the United Kingdom and arriving in Melbourne in 1950.  From there I was able to find out that Dorothy (Dorothea actually) had married a Phillip Tocknell.  Luck was on my side.  Tocknell is quite an unusual name and I discovered an old newsletter online from a rotary club which mentioned both of them.  I wrote to the secretary of the club of the time, whose email address was on the newsletter, and asked to be put in touch with Dorothy.  A week later, I heard from her.

Dorothy

Mitchells

Dorothy and Phillip visited us at my son’s house.  They live close-by!  Kyran, Vanessa, Tommy and my daughter, Tayler, were also there.  Kyran was thrilled to introduce Dorothy to Tommy, her third cousin!  As soon as she stepped out of the car, I recognised her – even though it was more than 50 years since her trip to Glasgow.

It was a wonderful visit.  We exchanged photos and filled in gaps and it was lovely to be able to update my mum on what had happened to her Aunt, Uncle and cousins over the years.  Sadly Aunt Nan and Uncle Billy died some years ago – within weeks of each other.

Dorothy and Phillip's wedding

Dorothy and Phillip’s wedding with Aunt Nan and Uncle Billy on the right

Dorothy and I keep in touch (and she has been in contact with my mum).  We met up again when I visited Melbourne in January and we spent an afternoon together.  It felt odd to me lunching and shopping with a second cousin.  It was a novelty; I don’t have any family here in Australia to do these things with (other than, of course, my husband and children).

Dorothy and Phillip 2016

Dorothy and Phillip in 2016 when we met

Dorothy and Phillip’s daughter lives in WA and they plan to visit her very soon.  I am hoping to be able to spend some time with them and meet Megan – my third cousin, I believe?

A Life Well Lived

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(An assignment piece)

The jam jar sat on top of Gran Chapman’s mantelpiece. Everyone who visited her was shown her gall stones, removed during her first ever operation when she was in her 70s. They were her showpiece.

Gran Chapman was my mother’s maternal grandmother, my great grandmother. She was a gentle, caring lady with a peaches and cream complexion and not a wrinkle in sight.  She looked me in the eyes and touched my hand when I spoke to her as though whatever I was saying was the most important thing in the world at that moment.

When I was 15, I secretly entered a competition in the “Evening Times” newspaper.  It was early December and the prize was a Christmas hamper sent to a person of choice.  I had to write about someone deserving of the hamper so I wrote about Gran Chapman.  I was so thrilled when I found out she had received it although she never knew where it came from.

My story explained why I thought she was deserving of the hamper but I can’t remember what I wrote.  I must have sensed her life hadn’t been easy.  It wasn’t until years later when I began to take an interest in my family history that I decided to find out a bit more about her life.  I realised then I had never actually known her name.

Her birth certificate informed me she was born Jemima Taylor. That made me smile.  I had named my daughter Tayler.  The next thing to bring a smile to my face was to see on her marriage certificate that she was then just 17 and worked as a biscuit icer.  After that I found very little to smile about.

From various documents I learned that Gran was born in 1886, married in 1904, had five children and died in 1977 at the age of 90.  A life well lived but it told me very little. When I placed her dates on a timeline, a bigger picture began to emerge.  She had lived through two world wars, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Depression, the sinking of the Titanic and other major world events. I began to see her in a new light.  My gentle, caring great grandmother had lived through some of the world’s worst tragedies but it was her personal tragedies that rocked me.

We visited family often but, as a young person, I didn’t really give much thought to the relationship between my aunts and uncles.  I didn’t consider them to be sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.  It wasn’t until I started researching that things began to fall into place.

My mother talked about her own mother who had died at the age of 51 from heart problems soon after she and dad were married.  I remember her telling me that I first kicked in her womb at the precise time my grandmother died.  Perhaps that has something to do with why I reminded my mum of her own mother.  Connecting the dots, I actually gave some thought to the fact that my late grandmother was Gran Chapman’s daughter and how sad she must have been to outlive her. The many family get-togethers of my childhood would have had an element of sadness, of someone missing, that I was completely oblivious to.  I wonder how many times my mother, Gran Chapman, my aunts and uncles looked at me and my two sisters, mourning the fact that their mother, daughter and sister never got to meet us.

Gran Chapman outlived her husband and three of her five children.  I assumed that my great-grandfather had died in a war but his death certificate told a different story.  The similarities were there.  He was also 51 when he was killed in his taxi after suffering a heart attack.  Gran lived for another 42 years without him.

I never knew about their little girl, Maimie, who passed away at the age of two.  I desperately want to know that story, to find out what happened to her but, so far, have found no records.  Recently, after listening to a lecture, I turned the issue around and asked myself ‘why would a young child die in the Gorbals in Glasgow in 1911?’ I then read that, back then, 145 out of every 1,000 babies died in that one area due to social problems and diseases like diphtheria, TB and typhoid.  My family were quite poor and the Gorbals area was known to be dirty and overcrowded.  It links too perhaps with the fact that Maimie’s brother, my Uncle Bill, contracted polio around the age of seven and had his leg amputated.   As a grown man, he got around on crutches, worked as a watchmaker, and he and his wife, Mary – also a polio survivor who had callipers on both legs – often enjoyed nice road trips in their little mini car with hand controls.  I believe, in the end, it was his heart that let him down too.

Gran Chapman would have nursed her young children through these diseases.  She was just 25 when she lost her baby daughter and 28 when Uncle Bill had his leg amputated. Later she would have to deal with, amongst other things, another son being badly injured in the war and losing two grandchildren to still-births.

The irony of this story is that when Gran was in her eighties, she was diagnosed with gangrene in her leg and had it amputated.  As she approached her 90th birthday she was told she was to lose her other leg. I remember visiting her in hospital just before her second operation. When I bent to kiss her cheek, she looked me in the eyes, held onto my hand and whispered “why won’t they just let me go?”  It still brings tears to my eyes.  I felt so powerless.  She had already suffered enough.

A SAD POSTSCRIPT TO 1956

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Sometimes when I am writing my blog (like last night which was more like in the middle of the night), I wonder why I am even doing it.  I write about names and dates to people who have no idea who I am talking about and usually there are lots of gaps.  I sometimes think I am just wasting my time.  With family named Smith and Brown, there is little chance anyone related to us will read it.  But then something good happens.  Someone will comment or ask a question and it gives me that little push to try a little harder to find another piece of the jigsaw.

That’s what happened today.  Last night when I wrote about a photo taken in 1956 at my parents’ wedding, I admitted that I couldn’t find information.   I remembered a story about My (Great) Uncle Harry and his wife, Aunt Chris having had twins who died at birth after Aunt Chris fell off a ladder.  I tried to find certificates or any details in fact because this is something that was never  talked about and I wondered if it was even true.

Su responded to my blog and reminded me that at that time many stillborn babies were not registered.  Inside I had a feeling that they could be registered but I wasn’t looking hard enough.  So this prompted me to have another search.  I have been looking for any information on this part of my family for a while and thought I had exhausted every avenue.  Not so.  Sometimes it is so much simpler than I realise.  In this case I had been searching for a birth, marriage or death certificate for a Harold or Harry Chapman or Christine Cullen. Nothing.  I tried various spellings, different dates, tried different districts and all districts and still nothing.  Then I remembered seeing something on Who do you think you are? when they were looking for someone they knew must be there.  So I just put in “H Chapman” and there it was.  How simple!!!!  Aaargh!!

Uncle Harry was actually called Henry Taylor Chapman – of course – even Prince Harry is actually Prince Henry.  How could I have missed that?  Harry is named for his maternal grandfather – my Great-Great-Grandfather, Henry Taylor (1864-1932).  My Aunt Christine is actually “Christina Dear Cullen” so I was able to find her certificates.  So now I know when they were born (1915 and 1918), when they died (1980 and 1988) and when they married (1941).  This gave me a better idea of when the twins may have been born and I had the parents’ names.  And I found them – both born and died in 1949.  It was a shock to find them because this made the story true yet no-one ever talked about them.   When I read their names, I filled up – two baby boys – the first Henry Taylor Chapman – named for his father and great-grandfather; the second named Christopher Dear Chapman – named for his mother.  Uncle Harry and Aunt Chris had no other children. The story I heard was that Aunt Chris wasn’t very upset about the deaths of her babies.  I always found that hard to believe but now, seeing their names in black and white, named after their parents, I think the pain both of them carried must have been huge.  Perhaps Aunt Chris didn’t show it, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t feel it.

A sad story but one I am glad I have discovered and put out there.  If the family didn’t grieve for these two little babies (my first cousins, once removed) – and I don’t believe for one moment that was the case – then I will grieve for them now.

Thanks Su for acknowledging my blog and prompting me to try harder.

Oh………just one little thing.  This research brings up another anomaly – Aunt Christine’s death certificate says her mother’s name is “not permissible”.  Can anyone shed light on this?  I wondered if it meant she was adopted?  I will have to look into that now.

1956

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My mother's side of the family at my parent's wedding 10 October 1956

My mother’s side of the family at my parent’s wedding 10 October 1956

It seems like yesterday that the people in this photo were very much in my life but they have all passed now.  This is my mother’s side of the family and her mother on the right died within a week or two of this photo being taken.

In the front, centre is my Great Gran, Jemima Chapman (nee Taylor) who seems to crop up a lot in my blogs.  I guess she is the matriarch of this family – on her right is her daughter, my grandmother, Elizabeth Brown (nee Chapman) whom I know very little about. Behind her on the right is her husband, my grandfather, James Brown, (who died when I was four years old).  My grandfather was a joiner and I have vague memories of digging up his garden with a wooden spoon.  I believe we lived with him in Pollock, Glasgow until I was about two.

Behind my Great-Gran is her son, William (Bill) Chapman who is on crutches.   Uncle Bill contracted polio and lost a leg as a child.  It never held him back.  He was a watch-maker and worked in the Argyle Arcade in Glasgow’s city centre.  I used to pop in and visit him occasionally when I worked nearby.  He and Aunt Mary (next to him in the photo) worked hard and were extremely independent.  Aunt Mary had callipers on both legs which I assume was also from polio.  I remember they had a little 3 seater which had hand controls and I remember them going on a driving holiday around Europe.  (My mother doesn’t remember this so I could be wrong).  It was a highlight for them.  Again I know little about Aunt Mary other than that her name was Mary Horne Alexander and she was born in Aberdeen.  I would like to find out more about her and it is on my very long to do list.

Uncle Harry (back left) was my Great-Gran’s other son.  Uncle Harry (Harold Chapman) played the bagpipes.  He was a soldier but I am not too sure of his regiment.  My mother told me the story that Uncle Harry was fighting in the war when he was shot in the heart.  Fortunately for him, he had a tin of corned beef in his top pocket and the bullet went into that!  Later he had some of his hip blown away.  However he survived to tell the story.  His wife in front of him was my Aunt Chris who I remember as a very harsh woman who played the piano.  That harsh exterior she had seemed to disappear when you put her in front of the piano and I remember lot of family parties where we all sang around the piano while she played.  My mother told me that Aunt Chris (Christine Cullen) was pregnant with twins when she fell off a ladder and they were stillborn.  So far I have been unable to find either a birth or death certificate for them.

There was a lot of tragedy around that family but they always had a smile on their faces.

Four Generations of Women

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4 generations026

This is a photo of my mother on her wedding day on 10 October 1956 in Glasgow.  In fact this is four generations of women in my family.  In the centre is my great-grandmother (Jemima Chapman b 1886);  sitting down is her daughter, my grandmother (Elizabeth Chapman b 1905); on the left is her daughter, my mother (Janet Brown b 1933) and on the right her sister (Elizabeth Brown b 1932).  The young girl is my cousin (Elaine Robertson b 1954).

This is a happy-sad photo for my mother I am sure.  Happy because it was her wedding day and she was surrounded by her family, but sad because her mother died unexpectedly just a few days later when mum and dad were on their honeymoon.  Gran Brown was a furrier and I was told that this contributed to her untimely death.  I am sure she also had a weak heart but am unsure if these two facts are connected.

I never got to meet her but sometimes my mum would say I looked just like her.  I would like to meet her now.  I am sure she could shed light on some of the mysteries of my family.

My great-grandmother passed away in 1977 and Aunt Elizabeth died in 2001.

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