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...

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