Over the last year or so I have been looking into some of my family history. It has revealed a few surprises, brought forward some mysteries, and opened new and intriguing lines of research. As with every family history, it comprises a network of bloodlines, that overlap and intersect at specific moments of time, in diverse locations. And, when tracing the routes through which these lines all led to my life, begun in New Zealand, I am intrigued by the vast changes in the course of individual lifetimes: changes in the economic contexts, social change, political struggles and technological capabilities
Two of my grandparents came from Scottish working class backgrounds: he the son of a tinsmith, and (when single) a mill worker; my grandmother the daughter of an engineer from a line of shoe makers. There’s an intriguing photo of my grandfather and fellow cadet at the Mitchell Library cadet, in front of a statue in Glasgow, in Edwardian suits, in the first few years of the 20th century.
My grandparents married in a boat off Manly beach in Sydney, early 20th century, then came to Auckland for my grandfather to take up a job as Auckland City Chief Librarian, curator of the Art Gallery and Director of the Old Colonialist Museum.
Anglo-Irish great grandparents born during and/or just before the Irish potato famine near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh: families largely of teachers, lawyers, clergy, military men, and at least one owner of a heritage residential property. Such families fared better during the famine than the poverty-stricken Catholics. See for instance, this record of the Workhouse in Enniskillen:
My great grandparents married in Melbourne in 1869, then journeyed almost immediately to the Northern Kaipara, to start the New Zealand family lines Paparoa. [The Back Roads blog has an interesting record of the Paparoa Dairy Cooperative of 1895-1896]
Paparoa Settlers’ Annual Picnic and Group of Small Children, 1900.
– Image from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19000727-6-4 [Auckland Weekly News 27 July 1900]
The Matakana mystery man: my great grandfather, James Sinclair, and his brother, were the eldest and youngest sons of a successful tobacco manufacturer in Newcastle on Tyne. How did they come to be living in Matakana, Rodney at the beginning of the 20th century?
– Image from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19021218-12-1. [Auckland Weekly News 18 December 1902]At the headquarters of navigation: The S.S. Kotiti lying at Matakana Wharf, on the Matakana River, Auckland, 1909.
– Image from Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19091223-3-2 [Auckland Weekly News 23 December 1909]
Why do my great grandfather and his daughter appear to have become estranged? She doesn’t seem to have acknowledged his existence in Rodney, yet she had married my grandfather of Paparoa, in 1916, and lived there for the rest of her life. She seems to have grown up with the tobacco manufacturing family in Newcastle Upon Tyne before migrating to New Zealand in 1915.
James Sinclair had married the daughter of William Anthony Brignal, a newspaper manager, temperance campaigner and secretary for the Railway Men’s Mission. Born in Durham, he lived for a time in the Tyne and Wear area, but was most active in the Liverpool area where he lived the last period of his life, dying in 1895. How political was he? He worked for the radical Sunderland Daily Echo soon after it began publishing: it was set up to oppose the Conservative Party and was aligned with the Liberal Party.– Image belongs to Sunderland Daily Echo.
It actively campaigned on issues such as taxation and Home Rule for Ireland. He later worked for the moderately liberal Liverpool Daily Post. This was a significant period in the rise of the popular press.
All these life strands led to my immediate family that came into being soon after WWII. The prior lines in the New Zealand family branches included the following occupations: farmer, teacher, lawyer, librarian, accountant/manager, post office worker, telephone/telegraph operator, “gentleman” (Remittance Man?).
The various lines of my ancestry from the past couple of centuries, seem to have come from various parts of the north of England and Ireland, and from Scotland. In earlier times, many would have lived in the border territories between Scotland and England. They include a mix of people from the poorer and middle sections of society; largely protestant, but from various denominations and political positions.
NOTE: I have learned of these family lines from family statements and records; official birth death and marriage certificates; census and other records found on the online Ancestry Library; newspaper articles accessed via Papers Past, Trove, and the British Newspaper Archive and the New Zealand Herald on microfilm; cemetery records.