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15 Jan 2022

Favourite photo: cousins in Southampton

I’m guessing that this photo was taken about 1918 when high-waisted dresses became fashionable for a short time. It is obviously a studio photo and was captured in Southampton, England.  Then again, I wonder if the dresses are black, meaning the photo was taken the following year and the girls would be in mourning.

Jessie, Molly, and Cecily
The young girls in this photo had no inkling that within one or two years, their lives would be much different.  Already war had impacted two of them - their father Sydney George Tucker was in the Parkhurst hospital on the Isle of Wight during the whole of 1918, recovering from serious war injuries sustained on the Western Front. The other’s father, Alexander Stuart Kennedy was playing cricket for Hampshire as one of the top English wicket-takers, taking on coaching engagements in South Africa and hoping to play test cricket for England.

My dad, Bob Tucker had two older sisters - Jessie Agnes, born 1908 and Cecily Mary, born 1910, both in Southampton.  They were lucky enough to have a cousin, Mary Stuart Kennedy, also born in 1910 and also living in Southampton.  Mary was always known as Molly.  The two sisters are standing on either side of Molly, seated.

The girls’ mothers were two of six Reed sisters, Edith Annie Tucker, fifth born child and fourth daughter of Robert Henry Reed, and Jessie Kennedy, the sixth daughter, and youngest child of Robert Henry Reed (1856-1915).

In 1919, Jessie (junior) and Cecily’s father returned home from the Isle of Wight but it was evident to his family that he was seriously disturbed with shell-shock. He fell off the City Walls, maybe deliberately, injuring himself, and was taken to the Southampton War Hospital where he committed suicide, three days after being officially demobbed.  This wasn’t recognised as a consequence of war until much later so Edith Annie Tucker did not receive a war widow’s pension at first.  Her civilian widow’s pension, based only on his pre-war cash wage (not the in-kind support from his employer father) was not enough to sustain three children.

Seeking relief from her parish, Edith was encouraged by the vicar to put the girls into care at St Paul’s Home in Chelsea, London.  This home closed so by 1922, the girls were taken in by The Dr. Barnardo’s Home for Girls in Barking. Meanwhile, Edith Annie kept my father with her and during the 1921 census, she was described as a confectionary business manager, working with her widowed mother to trade out of debt after their master baker father died suddenly in 1915 owing a large debt to the bank.  I’m told by my second cousins that their grandmother Jessie Kennedy was a talented cake decorator.

Meanwhile Molly’s father Alec Kennedy was successfully becoming an all-round top cricketer and by 1920 he, his wife Jessie, and Molly sailed to Cape Town where he coached and played one series of five Tests for England against South Africa.  Although a highly successful medium-speed bowler and a good batsman, his style was somewhat unorthodox and controversial and this was probably the reason for his not playing more Tests for England.

I found a postcard amongst my father’s memorabilia addressed to him aged 6 from his Aunty Jessie.  Here it is:

Sadly, by 1923, although another daughter, Jean was born in Cape Town, Jessie and Alec’s marriage disintegrated. As the wronged partner, Alec was entitled to custody of both girls but left baby Jean with her mother.  By 1926, Molly sailed for England with her father who resurrected his cricket and coaching career and didn’t return to South Africa until 1947 by which time Molly was raising her first son with her husband John Priestley Palmer.

Meanwhile, Jessie and Cecily Tucker were encouraged by Dr. Barnardos to migrate to Australia in 1924.  They were followed to Sydney in 1925 by their mother and 10-year-old brother (my dad) the following year.  I know my father remembers his Aunt Jessie and her girls meeting him when the ship arrived in Cape Town on their way to Australia.  Apart from Cecily about 1978, the Tucker family were never to see England again.

And as far as I know, Molly never saw her mother again after she resettled with her father in Southampton in 1926, aged 15.  My second cousin - another Alexander who was Molly's son - showed me a photo that I could identify as a farewell keepsake from Mother Jessie to her daughter.  Here it is.

It is inscribed "To Molly with heaps of love from Mum and Baby" 26-3-25, and a verse: 

"Be good sweet Maid
And let who will be clever
Do noble deeds, not dream them all day long."
The quote was originally from the poem A farewell by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875).

10 Jan 2022

Favourite find: my maternal grandfather

Freda with George and Alice
What a wild goose chase that was!   Family stories, handed down third hand can do that.

My mother, Freda learned at age 18 that she was adopted.  Well, sort of adopted.  There was no such process in New South Wales until 1931. However, as a six-week-old baby she was taken by her birth mother Kitty to the small country town of Dunedoo in the Central West to be brought up by an impulsive woman called Alice Smith and her much steadier husband George, a small farm holder. 

Kate (Kitty) in England
Alice and Kitty had met when Alice had given birth to a stillborn child in the Paddington Woman’s Hospital run by the Benevolent Society. Kitty had been referred to the Society when a kindly old gentleman found her crying in Belmore Park, obviously pregnant.  Kitty was a stranger in town.  She had arrived in Sydney in late February, having been gifted a passage on the Freidrich der Grosse from Antwerp.  She had been escorted there by ferry, possibly by the father of her child.  She told my mother that he had promised to follow her out after tying up his business affairs.

The baby had been conceived in Seal, Kent where Kitty had been working as a parlourmaid - the senior female servant - in a stockbroker’s house where staff were required to live-in.  Her mother, stepfather, and four half-siblings lived in the same village.

In her late 80s, Freda had told me that she wished she knew who her father was but had been too embarrassed to ask her birth mother who had kept in touch with the Smiths.  Kitty had been known to us our whole lives as a family friend.  

Kate Palmer's marriage 1918
In 1918 after working for the family of a footwear manufacturer, Kitty married a returned soldier who was a shoemaker and like her, came from Kent.  In 1922 a second daughter, Peggy was born.  Kitty died in 1970 aged 89, before I knew that she was my grandmother.

In semi retirement, about 2005, I commenced researching my father’s ancestry.   So it was 2008, planning an overseas trip, before I started researching Kitty’s life, building on the research my mother had commenced years earlier.  I presented my aunt Peggy with a 12-page story with the facts, based on records

found on Ancestry, Find My Past, and the North West Kent Family History Society.  I don’t think she was much impressed to find that not only was her half sister illegitimate but so was her mother and maternal grandmother Annie (Ashby) Palmer 1855-1935.  In fact, her mother Kitty was the product of a liaison between Annie and her half nephew!  A bit too close for comfort.

Peggy’s reaction, just months before her own death was to write thanking me in a roundabout way, saying well, it must be so since I was a qualified researcher, and passing on the information from her English aunts that my mother’s father was the “young man of the house”.

So I was keenly awaiting the arrival of the 1911 census which was for some reason made available in 2009, knowing Kate’s full name and place of birth.

1911 census at Godden Green

And bingo.  I thought I had my answer straight away.  Kate, aged 29 was working for a family called Forbes in Godden Green, a hamlet just one mile from the village of Seal.  And for whatever reason, the stockbroker’s son Nevill, aged 28 and a reader in Russian at Oxford University was at home with his parents on census night.

A Google search for Nevill was very productive.  He had written books on topics as diverse as an English-Russian dictionary, Russian textbooks, a book of Russian fairy tales, and scholarly tomes on the history of the Balkans.  He was listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Biography which included the information that he had studied a Ph.D. in Leipzig, Germany, and was the second Professor of Russian at Oxford from 1922.  He was also a well-known homosexual and dressed colourfully.  One could be a homosexual without fearing the consequences in the intellectual circles of Oxford and Cambridge.

Was that a possibility?  That he might father a child?  Why not, I thought.  His sister’s husband, a Cambridge-educated architect was also one but produced four daughters before he gave up all pretense of hiding his sexual preferences.

That same day, I entered his name into Genes Reunited, a popular database in 2009.    Immediately I found an exact match.  I wrote a very circumspect email stating that I thought we might be related.  Within two hours I received a response from an English-born New Zealander saying he thought Nevill was his grandfather.  His grandmother, a widow had been the longtime charwoman in Nevill’s University-leased house in Oxford.  His mother Rhoda had told him one day whilst walking past that she had lived there as a child.  Nevill had bequeathed Mike's grandmother £50 and some paintings when he died in 1929.

To Mike in New Zealand and myself, this seemed to be more than a coincidence.  Mike had been in touch with Nevill’s sister’s descendants and one was happy to reach out to us. Mike and I kept corresponding and eventually met up four times both in New Zealand and Australia over the years since.

The house post WW1

The English “second cousin”, on hearing I was planning an English solo trip wrote to the current owner of the house at Godden Green and arranged for both of us to visit.  She kindly picked me up at my second cousin Linda's house in Horsham and drove me to Godden Green.

Post 1940

In 1940 after Nevill's sister inherited the house, her architect husband removed the Gothic features including the roof.

In the meantime, I had found that Nevill's private papers had been bequeathed to the Taylor Institute at the University by his niece Felicity in 2008.

So Olivia and I caught the train from Guildford to Oxford where we examined the papers and found some of them oddly disturbing.  It included his suicide note and distressed letters between his friends and sister. He had been found bleeding in the bathtub by his servant and the summoned doctor decided not to keep him alive.  Distressing indeed.

By 2015, many family historians were taking an interest in DNA for genealogy.  Although AncestryDNA was the biggest company it had not yet rolled out its service to English or Australian clients.  So I tested with Family Tree DNA’s family finder.  Not much success there but I encouraged Mike to do a test, and paid for Olivia to test.

Guess what?  Neither of them matched me and Mike didn’t match Olivia. DNA experts state that second cousins always match, but not necessarily more distant cousins, even third cousins.  Mike and I should have had Russian cousins like Olivia did because Nevill’s grandmother was born in Russia to Scottish parents but his uncle William married a Russian journalist and had offspring.

So despite the similar stories from 1911, it was simply a coincidence. Had my birth grandmother led her sisters deliberately astray?  Neither was it beyond the realm of possibility that she thought it was Nevill.  Someone had escorted her to Antwerp at four months pregnant and had given her a travel trunk with her initials inscribed. 

So now I had to start again. I decided to look at every potential young man in the village.  The house in Godden Green was opposite a large pub so I thought she might have met a likely lad there.  Not that she was a young maid anymore.  She was 29.

I found a family with three sons of the right age.  They lived in Godden Green where their father was a bailiff but had been born at Lamberhurst, also in Kent. By this time I had uploaded my DNA to Gedmatch and found plenty of matches with ancestry from Lamberhurst.  However, although I built a mirror tree, nothing stood out to confirm a relationship.  Both my mother and grandmother were deceased, as well as my aunt so I had no one to ask.

I also built a mirror tree for the household butler who was the right age but married but because he had the highly common name Jones, I discounted that.  It didn’t occur to me to research matches with his mother’s far less common surname Windebank.

By 2017 I had tested with AncestryDNA and proved many records on my father’s side with DNA matches.  I also found many cousins on my birth grandmother’s side. Although I had only one first cousin who died childless in 2007, previous generations were well-stocked with siblings.

I have many second and third cousins on four continents and we have exchanged photos and other information to create a much more rounded picture of our ancestors' personalities, migration histories, and occupations.

It was not until 2020 that my mystery was solved.  A match popped up with 139cM in common.  It had no other common matches, unusual for that close a match.  Could it be on my maternal grandfather’s side?  However, there was no tree attached.

I sent her a message on AncestryDNA asking her if she would let me know the details of her most recently deceased ancestors on both sides of her family and giving her my email address and Facebook name.  After what seemed like an eternity, she responded with the details.

Within five minutes. I realised that her great grandfather was the butler, Henry Edward Jones, a married man, aged 28 and a father of two including a newly born daughter.  His pregnant wife and older son were living in Seal when the 1911 census was taken.  It would have been just as great a scandal in the village as it would have been for a socially mismatched pregnancy.

No wonder Kitty was persuaded to travel to Sydney, boarding the Friedrich der Grosse on Christmas Eve 1911.

It didn’t please me to find that the culprit was a married man with a young family who didn’t take much if any responsibility for Kate’s predicament.  Mind you, she would have known he was married. I later found from my newly found half first cousin once removed, Catherine that he had banished his own daughter to another county when she got pregnant outside marriage. Her son, born in Somerset was Catherine’s father.

So a hypocrite at well!  I think I would have preferred a homosexual Reader of Russian at Oxford or an unmarried banking clerk son of a bailiff as my ancestor.

Cousin Alyssa with John and me
However, my new DNA match who although English lives in the United States is a very interesting and friendly person.  I hope to meet her post-pandemic because her American-born daughter Alyssa lives here in Sydney with her Australian partner and is a part-owner of a bookshop.  We met Alyssa for lunch at Barangaroo - here is a photo.

At last I have completed my major four branches of my family and have completely filled out at least five generations of my ancestors.  However, with Jones being such a common name in Liverpool in Lancashire, I am having trouble finding my sister’s Welsh connection.  Ancestry allocates her 2% from Wales but me, not a skerrick.

So whilst Henry was not my favourite person, his tree branch is definitely my favourite find.

3 Jan 2022



Bob & Freda’s wedding 1947
The Theme for Week 1 of the #52ancestors Challenge is Foundations.  I decided to address this theme as the foundation of my passion for genealogy.

If my parents had been born 70 years later instead of 1912 and 1914, undoubtedly they would have had a university degree, both having an inquisitive mind and a belief in the power of education. Instead, they left school at 14 (Freda) and 15 (Bob) and with no expectation that they’d do other than contribute towards their own keep.  

At 18, Freda was told she was adopted and it was time enough to leave home.  Bob was more fortunate because although he lived in a church run boys home, the superintendent and his wife, matron were wonderful people who looked after each and every boy and helped them find jobs and accommodation in a Working Boys Hostel in the grounds.

Married in 1946 after Bob returned from military service in Papua New Guinea and Bougainville, they soon produced a family of three, with my being born in 1947.

After Bob finished his vocational education in horticulture and landscape design, and my brother, sister and I all started school, they decided to take it in turns to pursue interests at Worker’s Educational Association (WEA) in Parramatta.  Bob chose comparative religion and philosophy whilst Freda chose Australian history.

My mother soon joined the Parramatta &District Historical Society and later, the Hills District Historical Society.  She not only went to all the evening meetings but joined in all the day tours and weekends away. She gained enough confidence to become a tour guide on the coaches and spent many an hour researching the places and buildings worth seeing.  Later still, she became a guide at Hambledon Cottage, the house built by John Macarthur for his children’s governess and reputed mistress ( my mother used to say “So some people would have you believe!”).

Many a time we children and our school friends tagged along with her on day trips. We poked fun at some of the members, particularly “Mrs Lipstick” as we called her. Of course we called it mum’s Hysterical Society. We got into trouble poking our noses in to things we shouldn’t, like the Leaving Certificate papers in a teacher’s office at the Thomas Street old building which housed King School Boys.  Funny how about six of my high school friends showed up that day.  We were 16 at the time.

The historical societies impressed upon their members the importance of writing down their own life stories, and although a lot of my mother’s childhood memories were unhappy, she did so.  Later, when my father couldn’t sleep during the night, she suggested that he start doing the same, so he did and I later found scraps of information amongst his possessions.

As a teenager, I gave the impression that I was totally uninterested in any form of history apart from what I studied at school, although I now realise I had absorbed a great deal, particularly since I read most of my parents’ historical Australian novels - Eleanor Dark, Xavier Herbert, Barnard Eldershaw and more.  My mother used to say it was more worth her while to take my friends on outings than me because they showed more interest!

In 1971, on my first overseas holiday I met my father’s only remaining cousins and aunts in London and rural Devon.  Two years later, I found the house in Southampton where my father spent his childhood.  However I was too shy to knock on the door.  At the same time, my mother explained that her birth mother had given her up in 1912, after arriving from Kent, so she began exploring her own family history.

She also spent hours in the NSW Archives looking up shipping records for not only herself but also for our Grandma (her “adopted” mother)’s early ancestors in Australia on behalf of a Victorian relative.

Meanwhile, I was busy socialising, building my career and studying, so gave no thought to my ancestry.  My early years in retirement were busy too, so my mother had died (2004) before I took any interest.  But as soon as I did, and the Internet had made it so accessible, I started with the little I knew and quickly became addicted.  By 2006 I had found English cousins I had never known existed and my father, by then  in his 90s took much pleasure in my findings.

So my addiction to family history research had solid foundations, and I am as interested in much more than their vital statistics.  Visiting my ancestral villages and towns, exploring the history and characteristics of those places and getting to know their family lives, work lives, political and religious views is just as important.

I  wonder what my mother would have thought about the widespread use of DNA to find cousins and verify our paper records?

1 Jan 2022

52 Ancestors

It’s January 1, 2022 and again I have signed up for Amy Johnson Crow’s annual challenge, 52 Ancestors. However, I know what my track record is: never yet have I completed the challenge, requiring 52 posts on set themes.  Whilst the themes are set, the words or phrases can be interpreted however the blogger wants, and each week, Amy reports on how the theme has been used and variety there certainly is.

Many of my University of Tasmania Diploma of Family History Alumni Facebook friends and colleagues as well as many GeneaBloggers from Down Under are keen to join this challenge.

This year to motivate me, I’ve signed up with StickK, a website which describes itself as a behavioural change agent to help someone stick to resolutions.  I can set a goal and sign a contract which should have a financial penalty attached to it. ‘Failure’ money can go to a friend, an enemy, a charity or an anti-charity.  The latter are grouped in pairs, each with an opposing objective.  StickK suggests that subscribers are more likely to meet their goals if an “anti-charity” is chosen.  Once I chose my resolution campaign, I could see the point in that.

For my first chosen campaign, I have set the following parameters:

  • A blog post every week for six weeks
  • A penalty of $5 to be sent anonymously to the National Rifle Association if I fail to do so
  • My husband will be my referee to keep me honest and report faithfully to StickK that I have completed the task or not.
There is no way I would want a cent of my hard earned money going to support the aims of the National Rifle Association. This is my chosen “anti-charity”.  Far, far too many Americans die or are badly injured by firearms every year and most of my fellow Australian citizens reel in horror when we read of massacres or individuals killed due to the easy access to firearms.  We have more than enough domestic shootings, accidental shootings and the occasional massacre in our own country.

So let’s see how I go with this year’s #52Ancestor challenge and whether StickK helps me kickstart my goal.

I intend to publish my posts on Facebook each week.  This week there will be two posts.