28 January 2011

Of cads and cannibals

One of the family mysteries was where my great great grandmother came from. Her name was Frances Merry Nandin before she married my great great grandfather. Searches turned up virtually nothing on the surname Nandin (apart from some in Dubbo, but no "Frances"). In the end I decided to get a copy of her death certificate, to see what it contained about her parents, birthplace etc. Happily, it revealed a great deal.

Frances was born in Limerick, Ireland. Unfortunately the names of her parents were listed as unknown. The big surprise was that Frances had been previously married, at the age of 17, in Cooktown, Queensland. And her previous married name had actually been "Naudin" rather than "Nandin" - clearly a transcription error. The death certificate listed her first husband as Augustus Naudin, and showed she had two children by Augustus, Louis and Charles. Then, when she was 23 years old, Frances married George Valentine Turnbull in Brisbane, and had six more children with him.

So what happened to the first husband? There was no record of his death in the Queensland Births Deaths and Marriages. Hoping there might be something in the historical newspapers, I searched Trove, and also trawled the internet for anything on Augustus Naudin. I came across a relative of his, living in France, and together we, along with another relative here in Australia, put together some semblance of a story about what happened to Frances' first husband.

Frances' husband usually used Theophile or Augustus as his first name, but also used various permutations of them both - I'll use Augustus to save confusion. He was apparently born in Paris, France, in about 1845. Somehow, at some stage, he made it to Australia. Family legend has it that he left France after fighting a duel (which was illegal). Another story is that he was studying to be a priest but published a pamplet containing some "advanced" ideas so he had to give up taking orders. Who knows if any of that is true - he certainly seems to have had a very tenuous relationship with the truth...

Augustus Naudin first turned up in Dubbo, NSW, in 1868, marrying Charlotte MacMun (sic - it's actually McMunn) and then fathering a child with her, plus three more children in later years. Then apparently, he left, while Charlotte was still pregnant with her fourth child and headed north, supposedly going on an exploration trip to New Guinea, but leaving instructions that the baby should be called Charlotte if it was a girl (it was and she was dutifully called Charlotte).

The next we hear of Augustus was in 1877 where he was in Cooktown, Qld, marrying Bridget Murry/Murray on Valentines Day. Bridget Murry is Frances Naudin - for reasons unknown she changed her name to Frances. On the marriage certificate Augustus is listed as a storekeeper (and also a "Bachelor" - though as far as can be ascertained he was still married to Charlotte), Bridget as a servant. Bridget gave birth to their first child, Louis Alexander on 9 Dec that same year. The Cooktown Courier then has a record in April 1878 of Augustus (noted as an employee of Messrs. Walsh & Co's Gympie Stores, Charlotte St, Cooktown) being on the crew of the boat "Swan" which apparently mutinied and instead of sailing to Somerset, headed for New Guinea to explore for gold. In a letter he wrote back to Australia he said he intended to stay for six months. He obviously returned at some stage for he fathered another son with Bridget, Charles Augustus Naudin, born 22 Oct 1879.

The next we hear of Augustus, he was, according to the Cooktown Herald of 16 April 1880, about to leave the next day for New Guinea on the Annie Brooks, to "procure specimens of natural history" and also to test for evidence of gold. This is the last we hear of Augustus alive.

On or about October 12, 1880, the party of naturalists from the Annie Brooks was murdered by New Guinea natives, and eaten. I hate to think how poor Frances heard the news. So there she was, widowed, with two small sons to look after. Sometime in 1881 she arrived in Sydney with her boys and there met George Turnbull, my great great grandfather. You'd count your lucky stars if you met a man who was willing to take you plus your two young sons on, and it seems that George was willing. Soon Frances was pregnant with their first child, Herbert Louis Turnbull, who was born in Sydney on 19 June 1882. Most likely George's parents were not at all happy at the birth of this illegitimate grandson (George was not actually named as the father when the birth was registered - the father was named as Guss, but Augustus had been dead for too long for it to be him), so George, Frances and the three boys left for Queensland. George and Frances were married in Brisbane on November 1, 1882. They then had five more children in Brisbane: George Valentine, Ethel Mabel, Gertrude Adeline, Frances and Norman Percy. The family came back to Sydney, in 1900 after the deaths of George's parents, and George and Frances lived in Balmain until their deaths.

21 January 2011


I've been helping to transcribe some parish records from a church in Somerset, England. I'll admit that I am hoping that an ancestor or two might turn up (there seem to be a number of branches of the family from Somerset, including one parish where some of my ancestors and some of my husband's ancestors lived at the same time) but am also just enjoying viewing copies of the original documents.

Starting back in 1726, this particular register begins in a gothic style hand, and has progressed to a more copperplate style of writing in the years we are currently transcribing.

I've done a little bit of calligraphy in my time so I thought I should be able to decipher most of the gothic writing. But I was completely baffled by a squiggle that seems to have been used as a spacer (or perhaps a comma?) in between words - see between "Nov" and "3", also between "John" and "Son"...

Can anyone tell me what it is?

17 January 2011

Caroline Beringer

I had come to a brickwall regarding Caroline Beringer's parents, apart from what was listed on the NSW BDM: father - Adolf, mother - Charlotte. I decided the best option was to order her death certificate (this was before I wised up and just ordered a transcript from a transcription agent - much cheaper).

When the death certificate came in the mail a few weeks later, apart from learning her parents' names, it held a surprise:

Caroline had committed suicide. After coming all this way to Australia, with her husband and two children, she then gave birth to six more children. When the youngest of these was 12 months old and the oldest surviving 12 years old, she committed suicide. Reading between the lines I wonder if it was post-natal depression that drove her to it. It's an unbearably sad story.

I could see from the death certificate (section not shown above) that Caroline was buried at Sydney's Rookwood Cemetery (known then as the Necropolis). I looked up the cemetery records online but couldn't find her. I couldn't work out why she was missing from the records so in the end I rang them. The lovely lady on the end of the phone at Rookwood did her best to search for Caroline's records and eventually found them. She updated the database and her records now do come up online. Unfortunately Caroline is buried in a very old part of the cemetery which is very hard to map, and it is unlikely that there is a headstone. So I can't even go and pay my respects to a woman who went through so much. My only hope is that her children knew where she was laid to rest, but evidence suggests they did not, and perhaps they did not actually know of the manner of her death either.

Incidentally, I found a record of Caroline's father Adolf Mondientz in some historical German records. Caroline's death certificate noted he was a painter. I naively assumed this to mean "artist" - probably because I am an artist. However, when I found him in the 1855 Address Book for Cologne he was listed as "Mondientz, Adolph, Dek - painter, Catherinengr. 30". It's much more likely that he was a painter who painted things such as fences, houses etc. There goes my romantic notion of where my artistic ability came from!

14 January 2011

Why did the Beringers come to Australia?

As I learnt more about the Beringers I often wondered why it was that they came to Australia. At that time, the vast majority of German immigrants went to America - it was much cheaper, and the journey was much shorter and less perilous - going south and east to Australia, round the Cape of Good Hope was usually no picnic.

I felt that it would be logical that a relative (or perhaps a family friend) might have come out first and encouraged them to come. But try as I might, I couldn't find a Beringer who preceded them (apart from a convict who was born in London). They were almost certainly the first free Beringers in NSW.

It wasn't until I took a trip to the State Library of NSW that I stumbled upon a vague sort of answer. I came across a CD-Rom that they had in the Family History section, which gave the details of people who had made deposits for (sponsored if you like) immigrants to come to Australia. In that index (Index to the N.S.W. immigration deposit journals 1853-1900) I discovered that a "Philip Post" had made a deposit for Adam, Caroline and [John] Valentine (named as Valtin). Adam and John Valentine were noted in the index as having useful occupations - they were a locksmith and a cabinetmaker respectively. As I noted on my scribbled piece of paper in the library "Who was Philip Post?"

Once I was home again in front of my own computer I did some searching. Not really knowing what I was looking for, from the internet and from Ancestry, all I could find was a Philip Post, who seemed to be some sort of farmer, living in the Armidale area. Considering the close proximity of Uralla, where John Valentine eventually settled, I concluded that must be the Philip Post I was looking for. I still didn't know why he made the deposit though. "Post" doesn't sound a particularly German name so I concluded for the time being that somehow Philip Post had been contacted by the Beringers and had agreed to sponsor them out here - perhaps so that they could work for him - all wild supposition on my part, but it was all I had.

Then a number of months later, by the time I had taken up a subscription with Ancestry, I was going through adding supporting evidence for all the people I had in my tree. I was linking up the ship's passenger lists that Ancestry had images of to the Beringers. I discovered then that there were two different passenger lists for the ship they came on (the Abergeldie). And the second list, the one I hadn't seen before, had some extra information, including a column of "Relatives in the Colony". It was filled out for the Beringers! They had a relative! I tried to decipher the appallingly messy scrawl. "Uncle [in] ????" - so they had an uncle here! But the place name just seemed like an illegible squiggle to me. I traced the word off the computer screen.

I stared at it for minutes before it dawned on me. Uralla! The uncle lived in Uralla! Was Philip Post the uncle? Certainly there were no other Beringers up there.

Doing some more research on Philip Post I found that the surname Post did indeed come from Germany. George and Catharina Post came out to Australia in 1849. They came from Eltville in the Rhine Valley, Germany - a region renowned for its wines - as part of an initiative to establish a wine industry in NSW. There were a good number of "vine dressers" who, with their wives, came out from the Rhine Valley for this. George and Catharina settled in the Uralla/Gostwyck area of the New England region. One of their sons was Philip Post - presumably the one who sponsored the Beringers' passage. However, given his age, it was more likely Philip was a cousin and George the uncle referred to by the Beringers. I have not yet been able to establish any definite family links between the Beringers and the Posts, but I'll keep looking.

As time went by and more pieces of information were uncovered, I learnt from his death certificate that John Valentine was born in Wiesbaden, and his father, a miller, was also named Valentine Beringer, and his mother's name was Elizabeth (maiden name Bridal). The surname "Bridal" surprised me but I guessed this was possibly wrong, the details given by John's grieving widow who had never actually met her mother-in-law.

I despaired of ever finding out the name of Adam's parents (I knew he came from Rauenthal from his naturalisation papers) because they weren't listed on his death certificate. It wasn't until I got in touch with another distant Beringer relative here in Australia that she gave me the details of his parents - from the marriage certificate, when he remarried, after Caroline died. And lo, Adam's parents were Valentine (Valentin) Beringer, a miller, and Elizabeth (Elisabethe) nee Bredel - a much more German sounding name, but understandably confused with "Bridal". So Adam and Valentine were brothers. I found it quite comforting to know that they, as brothers, journeyed so far to a foreign land, together.

12 January 2011

Useful family history sites - the Ryerson Index

The Ryerson Index is an online database of contemporary death notices and obituaries in Australian newspapers. Why is it useful? For four main reasons:

  1. The searchable records for deaths in the NSW Births Deaths and Marriages (BDM) are only available for 30 years ago or more i.e. this year (2011) you can search 1980 and older death records. Any deaths more recent than this cannot be searched. So what do you do if you want to find a death more recent than this? Your best option is to use the Ryerson Index. Details of any death record published in a contemporary Australia newspaper included in the index can be found there. How far do the records go back? It depends on the newspaper, but there usually is a good overlap with the deaths in the BDM records.
  2. The details for deaths contained in the BDM records are not very exact in terms of location because they only list a district. If the death occurred in a city the district listed will not necessarily be the exact suburb where it occurred. If you want greater detail the Ryerson Index may have extra details, including the suburb it occurred in, and often where the person formerly lived.
  3. The BDM only lists the year a death is registered. Sometimes a death may have been registered late (so the year is actually not the year the death occurred), plus usually you want more detail than just the year. The Ryerson Index lists the exact date of the death.
  4. The Ryerson Index often lists the age of the deceased. This can be extremely useful if you have no record of the year of the person's birth - you can calculate a vague idea of the year of the person's birth from it.

To give an example, the NSW BDM shows Thomas Joseph English died in 1948 in Concord district. Further information available from the Ryerson Index shows that he died on the 3rd of March 1948, at North Strathfield, but that he lived at Canterbury. He was 80 years old when he died, suggesting he was born about 1868.

10 January 2011

The Beringers

I first started working on my family history at the beginning of last year. My husband and our (then) two kids were living in Freiburg, Germany over the six-week Christmas holidays, and while I was there I decided to start looking into the German branch of the family, the Beringers. I signed up to Ancestry.com.au (the non-subscription bit at that stage), probably because that was the only program I had heard of for family treeing - from watching Who Do You Think You Are? on telly. I didn't get very far before we came home to Australia, partly because I was relying mainly on memory and what I could get from my parents while I had limited access to email over there.

One of the first things I researched with the Beringer family was finding out how they got here. Mum knew the name of the ship they arrived here on - the Abergeldie - and I worked from there. We are pretty lucky here in the state of New South Wales that our archival records are reasonably good. The passenger lists for many of the immigrant ships have been digitised and are available at the NSW Government State Records. I found the passenger list for the correct journey of the Abergeldie (it brought immigrants here on a number of voyages) and found them.

Adam, aged 28, a locksmith, and Caroline M. Beringer, 27, arrived in Sydney on December 23, 1884. They brought with them their two children, Matilda, 3, and Adolph, 1. Also on that ship was a Valentine Beringer, 26, a cabinet maker, also from Germany.

What was their voyage like? And where did they go, disembarking on a Tuesday, two days before Christmas? I know from the last page of the ship's list that the voyage took 52 days. I found an article from the Sydney Morning Herald, on Trove (which has Australian historial newspapers digitised) which gave me some idea of what they did on the voyage, but not really any idea of where they went after they disembarked from the ship. I'll never know how they found lodgings, and how they went about finding work, and generally beginning life in a country so foreign. However, Shaun Tan's graphic novel, The Arrival, does give some idea of what the new immigrant faces on arrival.

The next record I could find of the Beringers was in the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages records. There was a record of Matilda, the daughter, dying in 1885, in the country town of Uralla. It does list her mother as "Matilda", but that was Caroline's middle name, and although the Beringer family did not ultimately settle in Uralla, Valentine Beringer, who changed his name to John, did. So I can be reasonably sure that it is them, because although I only confirmed this morning for sure that John Valentine was related, it was a reasonable guess to assume he was, with such a uncommon surname, coming out to Australia on the same ship. Imagine coming all the way to Australia to have your eldest child die within a year. Surely you'd wonder what kind of God-forsaken place you'd come to...

09 January 2011

A start

I've been doing my family history for about a year now. The other day my husband commented to me that he was surprised I wasn't blogging about it. I'm not sure he meant it as a challenge, but I've decided to take him up on it. He'll be so pleased.

I plan to write about things I have found out about my family to date, and also about new things as I find them. Hopefully you'll find it interesting, just like I do!