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27 Feb 2018

Heirloom: the Tucker family Bible

"Heirloom" is the theme for Week 8 of the #52ancestors blogging challenge.  I'll introduce my favourite later, but first I had to find some cousins.

Leslie Tucker mid-1930s in Chichester
It was a tiny, yellowed newspaper clipping which set me on the search for Tucker relatives in England, my father Robert Sydney Tucker’s birthplace.  The clipping described the wedding of Leslie Albert Tucker and his wife Joan Burke in 1943 in Brentford, Middlesex.

Leslie Tucker was my father’s only first cousin on his paternal side – the only relative with the name Tucker apart from his immediate family.  The two cousins had kept in touch over the years, my father having migrated to Sydney from Southampton in 1925 when he was just 10.  The clipping was amongst his possessions when we cleaned out the family home. They’d certainly lost touch by the time my father married in 1946.

I had not heard of any remaining Tuckers in England, but one never knew….

Whilst I couldn’t find Leslie Tucker’s death certificate, fortuitously I found his wife’s, 30 years after his death.  Unlike death certificates in New South Wales, or indeed other Australian states, anyone appeared to be able to procure English death certificates.  I wondered what it would tell me?  The witness to the death was a daughter, Linda.  What a lovely surprise!  I had a relative on my father’s paternal side, a second cousin.

I spent the next six months looking for Linda.  I wrote to the address on the death certificate, but eventually the letter was returned: “Moved, address unknown”.  I Googled her and searched online under her married name but found nothing. Nothing conclusive in the electoral rolls or the telephone directories. Linda hadn’t left much of a footprint online.  I knew she had married young, and the name of her husband, that’s all.

At last, I found a likely entry in Genes Reunited.  I messaged the owner of the tree, and a few minutes later I received a message: “I’m ringing my mother now!”  It was her son.  It turned out that Linda had divorced and remarried, so no wonder I couldn’t find her.  This was 12 years ago.

Meeting Linda and Peter in London 2008
She was as excited as I was to find each other.  Linda was an only child and her father had died when she was just 17. A fireman, he had survived the London Blitz no problem but died tragically in an accident at the Ealing Fire Station in 1966. We caught up on 60 years of Tucker family history and exchanged many photos before I met her in 2008.  Here we are meeting for the first time, at Hammersmith in London in April 2008, two years after I found her.  

Margaret & Linda at the same site, 2012
Since then, I have returned to England for holidays in 2009, 2012 and 2014.  In 2016, when the Sea Princess stopped overnight in Dover, she and Peter spent the weekend there and we had another wonderful day together before we set off to New York.  Each time, it has been wonderful to meet again.  Linda and her husband Peter have become such good friends with my husband John and me. 

I’ve delved into the family history back to 1642 and written up stories and she has shown me family memorabilia and welcomed me into their home for meals and when I’m travelling without John (who requires wheelchair access), she’s had me to stay and has driven me lots of places.

Our great-grandfather George W. Tucker
Linda and I share great-grandparents, George William Tucker (1856-1924) and Agnes Mary Hardy (1858-1912).  He was an ambitious music dealer and she had been a school-teacher prior to marriage.  As the only daughter of the one remaining Tucker in England, Linda had inherited the Tucker family Bible.  I was so surprised.  The Bible belonged to George Tucker (1832-1914), a former agricultural labourer who had moved to the busy port and railway terminus town of Southampton in 1850 to seek work.  I had not expected such a poor family to possess such a thing.  I wrote about George Tucker a few years ago in an earlier blog, The Tuckers of Southampton, Bramshaw and Downton.

My excitement at touching the Bible in 2008

Linda had sent me photos of the Bible with its inscription on the flyleaf.  It had been given to George Tucker, our 2x great grandfather on his 47th birthday on 1st February 1879 by “his beloved wife Sophia”.  By then, the couple had borne three children, although sadly, they were to lose their middle child Kate Louisa just four weeks later, aged 16.

Flyleaf of George Tucker's Bible
The Bible, like many in its day, recorded the births and deaths of all members of this very ordinary Southampton family.  Later, someone wrote the dates of their deaths in pencil – ever so faintly but still legible.  I have photos of two of these family members – mother Sophia and George William Tucker.

Whilst my Tucker grandfather was the older son, he died as a result of war injuries in 1919 and my father migrated less than six years later.  So the Bible passed down through the younger son, Linda's grandfather Albert Tucker (1884-1963).

The Australian branch of the Tucker family has a few bits and pieces from England but these are not quite so old or informative.  I've inherited a travel chest with my mother's birth mother's initials KEP engraved (1911), a few postcards from Sydney Tucker (1917) from France and an 80-year-old footstool embroidered by my mother, some letters written by my father during World War 2 in New Guinea and Bougainville (1942-45) and some old photographs from England.

Bob Tucker's medals - WW2
My brother has my father's World War 2 medals and his army photograph.  My younger sister has some old furniture.

With my sister's children being the only descendants, I'm urging that we pass all these items down to them, rather than have someone throw them out after finding them in a back shed.

Most family historians suggest writing this into a will.  Which brings us to next week's theme.

14 Feb 2018

Valentine: Bob and Freda Tucker's story

It’s Valentine’s Day and that’s the theme of our #52ancestors challenge this week.

50th wedding anniversary 1996
John and I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, but we did promise this morning to “notice” each other today.  Ha ha.  Since joining his Moxon family some 32 years ago, I’ve developed the Moxon weird sense of humour.

And why don’t we celebrate it?  Simply because it’s become so commercial, b) red roses are imported at this time of year, environmentally damaging and the cost is astronomical, and c) every day can be Valentine’s day.  I’d rather receive flowers at other times, and did so last week, a heartfelt thank you for visiting my dearest in hospital the week before.

But today, I’ll tell the story of my parent’s courtship and marriage.

Matron and Superintendent Hill who introduced my parents
Bob Tucker met Freda Smith maybe 1938-39, but he truly doesn’t remember being set up on a triple couple date by the Matron of the Church of England Boys Home at Carlingford NSW.  Bob was a Churchie old boy, living in the working boys’ hostel, and Freda was a domestic worker/assistant house mother at the Homes.  Freda remembers the outing well, telling me my dad fell asleep during the movie.

Freda Smith aged 21, 1933

So obviously mum didn’t make an impression.

Time passed: Freda moved on, travelling to see relatives in country New South Wales and Victoria, and then obtaining a live-in position as a companion to a dentist’s disabled wife in the old gold mining town of Ballarat, Victoria.  By this time, it was 1942 and she was meeting American soldiers stationed in Ballarat.  Some of them quite handsome, so she said.  I don’t doubt it.

Robert Sydney George Tucker c1941
Meanwhile my father Bob was in New Guinea fighting the Japanese.  He was a signaller in the Australian Infantry Force’s 2nd/14th Division.  Home on leave in 1944, he met Freda again.  Coincidentally she had worked in the early 1930s with my Aunt Cecily, dad’s sister at the Bowral YWCA.  And they must have renewed their acquaintance, developing into a reconnection with Bob.
Sometime later in 1944, before he was sent with the Army to Bougainville, he visited my mother in Ryde with his mother, Edith Tucker.  Mum was managing a subscription library for a friend.  Those were the days before local government set up free libraries.

As usual, my grandmother asked Bob if “that’s the sort of girl you would like to marry?”.

And my father said: “That IS the girl I’m going to marry.”

So very shortly he went off to war, having reached an understanding, as they used to say, about the future.  I don’t know the ins and outs, not that I wanted to know.  But their war correspondence discusses Freda choosing a ring, and much dreaming about the future.  Bob wanted to set up a river barge on the Murray selling seedlings (he was a horticulturalist), but Freda subtly talked him out of it.  Luckily for us, since he was no businessman.  Too soft with no enthusiasm for chasing up bad debtors.  He preferred to work for wages.

Dad returned from Bougainville just before the war ended, in April 1945.  The Army released him early to return to his former employer who kept insisting he couldn’t do without him.  But I suspect there was more to the story – Dad had rather too many close encounters with the Japanese.  Not long before his release, he had crawled very close to the Japanese camp to repair a broken cable, according to one of his army mates sixty years later.

In March 1946, Bob and Freda married simply and quietly at St Anne’s Church of England, Ryde NSW and spent 58 (mostly) happy years together until Freda’s death at age 92 in 2004.  And I’m eternally grateful for their giving me and my brother and sister such a happy childhood.

10 Feb 2018

Favourite name: Cornelius

St Peter's, Ightham, Kent
For the #52ancestors challenge, initiated by Amy Johnson Crow, we genie  bloggers were asked to write about our favourite family name.  This was difficult for me, since all my ancestors seemed to be called George, William, Henry, Mary, Kate, Sarah – such plain names.  And irritatingly, most of them had no middle name, unless it was Ann.  Occasionally I found a Christian (a woman’s name in those days) or a Jessie.  Too sad to think about:  both my Jessie Tucker aunts died young.

Then I remembered Cornelius.  What a strange name, I thought.  I continued to come across the name in the nineteenth century census and vital records, but never in the twentieth century.

Cornelius Palmer was one of my 2xgreat grandfathers on my maternal side.  His granddaughter Kate Elizabeth Palmer was my mother’s birth mother.  The Palmers lived in Ightham, Kent in England and had done so since the late 18th century when Cornelius settled there.

In fact, Cornelius Palmer was born in Town Sutton, Kent in about 1776 according to census records but spent his married life in Ightham, Kent.  His birth village is now known as Sutton Valence and it is nearly a six hour walk to Ightham.  Did he walk?  He may have travelled there in a cart, but it is unlikely he had his own horse.

In fact, Cornelius Palmer’s only claim-to-fame appeared to be his siring of 17 children – not quite as many as my 3xgreat grandfather John Rose in Southampton, but close.

His first marriage was to Eleanor Morris of Ightham in 1798.  Her family had lived in Ightham for at least since 1700.  Eleanor gave birth to 11 children, three of them named Benjamin after her grandfather.  Only the last, born 1821 survived.

In 1839, Eleanor Palmer nee Morris died in Ightham, Kent.  She would have been 61.

Cornelius, an agricultural labourer appeared in the 1841 census in Ightham, living with a farm servant Elizabeth Ashby, aged about 28 and nearly forty years his junior.  I wonder if he was estranged from his older children?  Surely one of them could have given him shelter?  But maybe he preferred his independence.

By April 1842 Elizabeth Ashby, the daughter of farmers Henry and Elizabeth Ashby, had given birth to their first child, George Palmer and by 1859 had given birth to five more children.  There does not appear to be a marriage between Cornelius and Elizabeth, but all the children bar one were baptised with the surname Palmer, but were later known as Ashby.  Their last child, a second son William for Cornelius, was known as William Henry Ashby, maybe to distinguish him from the first William, born to Eleanor and who was still very much alive.

Also a Bewley House and a Bewley Farmhouse
It is unclear how the family survived since Cornelius was a simple agricultural labourer working on Bewley Farm which still exists.  His first family would have been off his hands, but he was getting older, and in 1851 census was 75 years old and on parish relief.  He had four children with Elizabeth and was to have two more.  By January 1861 he was dead, having died a pauper at the Malling Workhouse.  He was buried in Ightham.

My Ightham Palmer family tended to be “messy” for three generations: Cornelius’ daughter Annie Palmer, my great-grandmother, also gave birth to her first child, my grandmother Kate Elizabeth Palmer, outside marriage.  Kate Elizabeth was registered as an Ashby in 1881 but was always known as Palmer in each census between 1891-2011.  Known as Kitty after she arrived in Australia in 1912, she also gave birth outside marriage to my mother who was conceived in Seal, Kent in 1911.

I visited Ightham in 2012, staying with yet another Palmer family, no relation to these Palmers.  Alex Palmer is my second cousin on the OTHER side of my family.  It was simply serendipitous that he lived just outside Ightham.  Here is a post I wrote about that visit, on an earlier blog: Travelling Solo 2012.

It took well over a century for this agricultural labouring family to return to established family norms: to give birth to their first children within marriage.  I find it interesting that within the past 20-30 years, up to 50% of first children are born outside marriage around the world.  In Australia in 2010, 34% of children are born out of wedlock. This, of course, includes births to many committed defacto couples, no longer worried about a certificate of marriage.

Unlike my father’s Tucker and Reed forebears in Southampton, who rose above poverty in the Victorian era by leaving behind their agricultural labouring class and becoming successful small businessmen, many of the Palmers remained in straitened circumstances until at least the early twentieth century.