NOTE- In the interest of privacy, all names have been altered or changed.
Suffice it to say, for the entire summer of 2014, I was a complete and utter bore. Every waking moment, if I wasn’t working or otherwise needed in immediate family matters, I was researching, e-mailing, constructing “tree branches”- generally filling in gaps.
I had quickly developed a relationship with both Kym and Serena. We would send pictures back and forth and have quick little catch up conversations through out each day.
At the same time I was e-mailing the “Brant” cousins. Barb had sent me an envelope full of pictures and photocopies of documents she had obtained over the years in her own research. There were marriage, birth and death certificates. Isaac had been born “illegitimate”- and as far as anyone knew-his paternity had remained a mystery and had probably been taken to the grave with those who had known. Likewise, Gertrude was rumored to have been born in Canada- but she had met Isaac in England during the war. They had married in London, had Arlene, then sailed back to Australia. During that voyage Gertrude had given birth to her second child, a boy. There were separate pictures of her parents. One of her father standing on the steps of a Victorian house, accompanied by what appeared to be a dark colored Labrador. He was very well dressed and was striking a pose that could easily be described as “GQ-like". The graininess in the photocopy made it apparent that the picture had originally been part of a newspaper clipping. His name was apparently “Jean” (the French John) and as none of her living descendents knew the exact spelling or pronunciation of her maiden name- searches of the family in the Canadian records has yielded nothing of substance. The picture of what is believed to be her mother is a beautiful Victorian headshot. On the back of the original was the handwritten “Mother”. Nobody knows what her name was. Apparently Gertrude never spoke of her mother, and only occasionally of her father. My cousins believe that Jean was a Civil Engineer. Gertrude was believed to have been born in Toronto, sent to a convent of sorts in Belgium to be educated and somehow ended up in London during the First World War. Her marriage license is the first actual proof of her existence. Everything reported from before that time is here-say and lore.
With the hope that Malcolm would have a little more insight on the history of his paternal grandparents I decided, about a week after the first conversation, to try calling him again. Hopefully he had had time to uncover some more memories. I was quickly becoming accustomed to the fact that it would take a while for him to ‘get to the point’. The best way to remedy this was to ask the most pointed questions possible. “What do you remember about your Grandma Gertrude?” While Isaac had died when Arline was barely twelve, Malcolm obviously never knew his grandfather. Unfortunately, he really knew nothing about Gertrude either. I suspect that Arlene and her mother were not particularly close. Malcolm had known his Brant cousins up to a certain point- but it appears that by the time Arlene had remarried and had Kym there was very little contact with them on her part. Malcolm had stopped contacting all of them after Arline died in the 80’s.
My next plan of action was to figure out the history of the Campbell side of the family. I asked if Lionel (Malcolm’s father) had any siblings. He said he had two sisters named Thelma and Merle. They had married brothers whom he described as “heirs to the Viscount Cigarette Fortune.” My “skepticism sensor” went off - because of the use of the words “heirs” and “fortune”- but I wrote down their last name (Lowden).
He also mentioned his paternal grandparents, Clarence Victor (he called him Clary) and Ethel May. He said that they had had properties in Timboon- as well as Melbourne. He spoke at length about Clary starting something called the “Timboon Motor Company” with someone called “Reynaldo Ansetti”. He was referring to Reg Ansett- the founder of Ansett Airlines. (As a sidenote- I have done some research on Reg Ansett. His Wikipedia page mentions Italian ancestry- though the name Reynaldo Ansetti is nowhere to be found- anywhere.) He also spoke (a lot) about some family involvement in ship building, something about a “Kings Charter” and more talk about how the family had been in Australia since 1805- and General MacArthur was once again, a factor. Now, if he means Douglas MacArthur, his timeline is off. Perhaps he was referring to John MacArthur- who knows…. It’s fascinating how someone so verbose can impart so little succinct information. I was as confused by the end of this conversation as I was the previous one- but at least I had some names to work with.
Within a few days I had found the Electoral Roll registries for Thelma and Merle (Merlyn) Lowden- and their respective husbands. The discovery of Merle’s real name also uncovered her obituary form the previous February. I had missed her by a few months. I was able to contact the mortuary where the funeral services were held and asked them to please forward my contact information to her loved ones. In the meantime, I did my usual Facebook search of the new names listed in the obituary and located what looked to probably be Thelma’s grandchildren. I paid the obligatory 1.02 to send them introductions. It was not long before I was talking on Skype with Gloria, the only daughter of Thelma Campbell Lowden- and Malcolm’s only first cousin on the Campbell side. She was accessible and candid. Her mother, Thelma, had passed away more than twenty years ago. Merle, who never had children of her own, had been like a second mother to her. The Lowdens were not brothers, but uncle and nephew- and Malcolm had actually been correct about the “tobacco heir” thing. Gloria is the one who had remembered Malcolm coming to her house as a child- and then not much after that. He was a couple of years younger than her- but it appears that when Lionel (her uncle, my grandfather) divorced Arlene, the connection was lost. I felt so lucky to hear such vibrant descriptions of my two colorful and classy great aunts. Gloria had also lost contact with extended family, but I was able to obtain enough information from her to continue growing the tree.
Clarence had five siblings, two sisters and three brothers. Their parents had met and married in South Australia in 1887. So, William Campbell had first set foot in Australia in 1885, having emigrated from London, England. He was one of four children of William Campbell and Hester Wilkins. I was able to find documentation of his passage to Australia-but nothing more. His wife, Elizabeth Carnes was born in 1867 in Goolwa, South Australia. She was the youngest of five children. Her parents were John Carnes and Elizabeth Walton. They had both emigrated to Australia from England separately, but married in 1862. Here's where things really got interesting. My new additions of the Carnes family triggered multiple "hits" on other Ancestry Tree. Along with more history and documentation, I obtained some photographs to attach to my tree and was finally able to put faces to MY paternal ancestors. I went back to Trove, the historical publication website and discovered a windfall of information. The Carnes oldest boy, Solomon, was caught after stealing a chicken and selling it to buy dates. He was sent to an "Industrial School" for a year. He was twelve at the time and was said to have suffered from epileptic seizures. A couple of years later, he was once again caught stealing. This time it was a goat- so he had upped his livestock game.
My most notable finding was several articles entitled "The Port Tragedy". Here's where I discovered that, in 1899, my three times Great Grandfather John Carnes, had arrived at his (estranged) wife's (Elizabeth Walton) home and attacked her with a knife. She had jumped out a window and he had chased her into the street- all the while trying to stab her. She had cried "murder" and the local pub owner had come to her rescue and taken her to shelter. In the meantime, "grandpa" returned to the house where he slit his own throat. Their (now adult) son Solomon (of the chicken and goat) had heard about a commotion, had arrived at the house to find his father laying in the front hallway with an open wound and the knife. He uttered the words "I did it son". John was taken (by train- it was 1899) to the nearest hospital where he succumbed to his wounds a couple of days later.
Nobody I had spoken to, so far, had any inkling, not only of this event, but that these people had even existed. New records from the London Workhouses on Ancestry revealed that Elizabeth (Walton) had spent most of her childhood in and out of the Marylebone Workhouse. Workhouses were what is more commonly known as "the poor house". People who were barely surviving were able to check themselves in to these places overnight (where they would be fed, given a place to sleep while their clothes were sanitized, and did a full shift of work) or for extended periods of time (usually for health or psychiatric care). Records show that Elizabeth, along with her parents, Mary Ann and William, and two (or three) siblings spent many a night at the Marylebone Parish Workhouse. One discharge note I was able to decipher said (about Mary Ann) "This woman is a drunken disaster. Neglects husband and children. Man works for the parish."
Research shows that Elizabeth was able to emigrate to Australia when she was seventeen, thanks to the fact that she was young and able bodied. Many youngsters were given free passage to Australia during that time in return for agreeing to work for a "sponsor" for a certain period. She married John two years later- though records suggest that he had left a wife and child back in England.
My mind was reeling. I was addicted to finding new cans of worms to open. For the first time in my life, I was being told my paternal family story- in black and white- with citations and pictures. Speaking of pictures, I received a cryptic e-mail from an "anonymous" Ancestry user one day. She intimated that my picture of "Elizabeth Walton" had been illegally obtained and would I "consider taking it down"? Of course, the first thing that came to my mind was that this person must be another relative. I responded to her that I was the third great granddaughter of the woman in the picture- and cited her the exact family line of succession that proved it. Therefore, the picture was given to me with understanding that I am a descendent of Elizabeth, and perhaps "anonymous" would be willing to collaborate with me. Her response was that she had shared those photos years earlier with the belief that they would never be made public. She also made note of my posting of the "Trove" articles- saying that she questioned the "wisdom" of "putting this out there". Finally, she mentioned that there were still some living family members who are "quite sensitive" about the whole thing.
Now, there is much talk in the genealogy world about the "sharing" and "ownership" of photographs and documents. There is an unspoken (or spoken) rule about citing sources and respecting privacy. While I agree with the basic principal and ethics of this rule- I am not about to be bullied by some stranger who refuses to identify themselves. My source may or may not be the person she originally shared her photographs with- it's not my concern at this point. If she truly cared about her own genealogy she would have shown an interest in including me in her research- but she obviously feels as though my existence is another shameful event that should be swept under the rug. I now understood why nobody had known about the story. Those who had heard it were hoping to take it to their graves. Well, not on my watch. I vowed to share this information with any family member who was interested in knowing about it.
We all have skeletons in our closets. Some are scarier than others. Learning about events within our family history only enriches and educates us. Though what happened in 1899 is horrific- it happened. Attention must be paid. Elizabeth Walton Carnes lived until 1909. Before her death, she had to go to probate court to have her children be able to inherit the family assets. It had been proven that John Carnes was a bigomist and that their marriage had been invalid. She was able to complete this last task before she died. Elizabeth's story is one of many that all families have in their history. I feel lucky to have been able to track her footsteps and share her fortitude and actualization, despite her many impediments along the way.
Elizabeth's story is one (the most vivid) of many that I uncovered throughout the Summer of 2014.
By September I had been in contact with still more Campbell cousins and was once again welcomed with open arms. I now had the sense that I knew far more about both sides of this family than any of them did individually. I felt that I needed to share my findings with them all and to finally be in the same room as them. My grandmother Arlene's last two siblings were still alive, but I knew that if I wanted to meet them it should be sooner than later.
And just like that, I decided that it was time to return to Australia for the first time in 25 years.