I originally wrote this piece for a mailing list in 2013 and I came across it this morning. With a quick edit, it still remains relevant today.
I live in Brisbane Australia. Saying where one lives is
something, I think, that is undervalued in family history communications for a
number of reasons, some of which will be evident when my story is read.
I have been researching my family history for over 20
years but it took me a while to actually arrive where I was going as I followed
my Great, Great, Grandmother Emily BEAVAN nee SHAW backwards around the world
to County Down.
My curiosity was always there but no-one in my family knew much about even my great grandparents. We had a few stories – one being about an authoress that fell off the back of the boat on the journey out to Australia. My aunt always thought there’d be some money waiting for us in Chancery. 🙂
The first clue came when I sent for my Great Grandmother’s birth certificate. Her name was Amy Frederica Beavan. She was born in Australia in 1856 and her father, Dr Frederick Williams Cadwalleder Beavan, was a Surgeon in the town of Kilmore, Victoria. He was a very civic-minded man and, among other things, he was the local Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. I always say he knew I would come looking as, unlike the other registrations on the page, he went to great lengths to record extra details of himself and his wife like where they were both born (Glamorganshire and Belfast), where they married (New Brunswick Canada) and the names and ages of Amy’s older siblings etc.
At the time, I had been corresponding by email with a fellow family historian who lived in Ontario and regularly visited the National Archives where he was transcribing records for them. We had “met” on a general UK newsgroup which were common at the time and long before Facebook. When I told him of my discovery, he almost literally ran with it to the archives as he was just as excited as I was, a sure sign of total addiction, I feel. 🙂 He, like me, was in the habit of picking up any book with an index and checking it and, low and behold, he found an entry for Emily as the author of a book in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography (which was not online at that time but now is http://www.biographi.ca/en/results.php/?ft=beavan ) So, here was my authoress! She didn’t fall off the back of the boat! And, as it turns out, there was money in Chancery, or at least records of arguments about it but on her husband’s side, not hers. However, that is for another day. 🙂
Using the resources at the archives in Ontario, my friend was able to find all manner of records about Emily, her husband and her siblings as teachers in NB and through land records. I got in touch with the University of New Brunswick who also provided me with lots of information and copies of her stories and poems that she wrote for newspapers as well while they lived in NB. By the end I had established that Emily had siblings Pringle, Frances and Samuel. Emily’s death certificate in Australia told me her parents were Samuel SHAW, Master Mariner and Isabella PRINGLE (her mother’s name has since been proven to be McMORRAN and her grandmother was a PRINGLE). We discovered that her parents had come to Canada for a period of about 10 years (c 1834-1844) before going back to Ireland. They did this at least twice. Some children were born in Canada and some were born in Ireland. Emily’s father sailed between the two countries for a living.
I knew from the census that Emily’s brother Pringle SHAW had settled in Tilbury Ontario on the border of Essex and Kent Counties. One day I asked another email/chat friend where she lived in Canada and long story short – she lived in Tilbury! She had a history of the town on her bookshelf and was able to find him and his son. William Ashton SHAW in the index, send me their biographies and photos from the book and later went to the cemetery and took photos of the gravestones for me! All because I asked the question, where do you live? That was one very late night!
So, my first reason for saying where you live – like my friends in Canada could, is that you may be able to help someone who has no way of researching in your home town themselves.
When Canada was pretty much exhausted, I turned to Belfast. I’d always been told Irish research was hard, that all the records were destroyed and so I had always put it at the bottom of the basket. Eventually though I forayed and once again a very kind person in Belfast offered to check ahead on the Belfast newspapers he was transcribing and he found the obit for Samuel Shaw and then the death notice of his wife Isabella. This gave me a date for purchasing their death certificates. In purchasing them I noticed the informant was O’Connell SHAW. I followed him and discovered he was another brother. Samuel and Isabella are buried in Clifton Street Cemetery Belfast along with a lady that I think is Samuel’s mother buried 10 Oct 1846 Mary Shaw (old age) relict of John Shaw, Patrick Street. Born at Killileagh came from Hollywood to Belfast. One son settled in Belfast. Samuel is also a native of Killyleagh, but would be the one son settled in Belfast as that is where he lived most of his life. I have not found anything regarding his birth c 1789. Also buried in the grave is Isabella’s mother, Eliza PRINGLE buried in 1843. I was very lucky Clifton Street has been transcribed and is available online – the information there has given me such a lot of leads.
Subsequent visits to PRONI gave me O’Connell’s Will and from that his burial. I also visited Linen hall and the Belfast Library. Writing to the cemetery I discovered there were several people in the grave and in the one next to it who turned out to be siblings, children and a sister-in-law who was the wife of a brother, Thomas Wilkie SHAW, who had, until then, been unknown and was living in Liverpool along with another previously unknown brother, William McNeice SHAW. There are no headstones so burial records were vital. Following all these people using Wills, certificates and online newspapers took a lot of time but it has led me to far flung places, learning about them and who they were. Some stayed in Belfast, some moved away to England, some never returned from Canada and then there is Emily, that moved from Belfast to Canada, Canada to England and then on to Australia.
Although I still have not found Emily’s baptism (c 1818
in Belfast), I have found her parent’s marriage, the baptism of one of her
sisters and some things about her grandparents. The search never ends. 🙂
I have been fortunate in later years to be able to visit Ireland again to do some more of my own research and the online resources available now have made it so much easier and quicker.
Another reason to say where you live? I, in turn, was able to help my Ontario friend with his Australian relatives and was instrumental in him contacting his long lost Uncles and cousins before he passed away, something his wife told me he was eternally grateful for. So, it isn’t just about what others can do for you, it is about what you can do for others (apologies to JFK). Sometimes, although I can’t physically help, if I know where someone lives (even the country) it makes it easier to advise where they can look for themselves as well.
Oh, and as an aside, it was a crew member who fell off the back of the boat on the way to Australia – it was recorded on the passenger list! 🙂
All this because twice I asked just one question: where do you live?
Dedicated to the late Roy Conibear (1930 – 2001), may he Rest in Peace and Mary Burton (aka Aching Hen) my Canadian helpers to whom I am forever indebted.