15 September 2013

Church records at the Mitchell Library

I spent the day in the Mitchell Library Manuscripts Collection yesterday, looking at microfilmed church records. The records have been microfilmed by the Society of Australian Genealogists, from the original parish registers. If you can find the record you are looking for (not always) it's a cheaper option (free!) than ordering a transcript or official record from NSW Births Deaths and Marriages, though it's not nearly a comprehensive collection of the records of every single church in the state. Obviously the information for birth and death records will be not quite the same as for a baptism or burial record, but the marriage information is pretty much the same.

I was looking for information for St Paul's Church of England, Redfern (now a Greek Orthodox church and theological seminary), and St Thomas' Church of England, North Sydney.

For St Paul's Redfern I was looking for information on the Merrick family. My aunt has a prayer book that was awarded to my great grandmother, Ethel Sarah Merrick, by her teacher at St Paul's Sunday School, when she was 19, for "Answers to Scripture Questions".

It's a bit intriguing that she was still attending Sunday School at that age, but it does at least suggest that the family worshipped there. I was looking for a marriage record for James Merrick and Eliza Jane Ball (my great great grandparents), and for baptism records for any of their children. I would have looked for burial records too, but there were none available - presumably because there was no cemetery attached to the church? Unfortunately, I was unable to find the marriage record, and the baptism registers from July 1879 to October 1891 are missing - they were never received at St Andrew's House (head office for the Sydney Diocese) from the parish - and this covers most of the births of the Merrick children. Although the birth of Susanna Jane Merrick should have been in the registers (born about 1876), it wasn't there. It suggests to me that her parents were married in a different parish, and she was baptised elsewhere also. The only baptism record I could find was for Esther (Essie) Louisa Merrick.

  • "Esther Louise Meyrick (sic)" was baptised on February 3 1878 at St Paul's Redfern, born on 5 January 1878 to James and Elizabeth (sic). Her abode was Vine St, Redfern, and her father's occupation was listed as Government Employee. That he was a government employee is very surprising to me - James Merrick was a bootmaker - so I'm not sure what the government would have employed him to do!

For St Thomas' North Sydney I was looking for records on the Smith family. There's quite a bit I don't know about the Smiths, partly because they were on the poorer side of society and didn't generally put notices in papers, nor did they get themselves into newspapers for any other reason. And then there's the fact that their surname was Smith... not the most unusual of surnames! So I was hoping that the church records might shed a little more light on them. I already knew that James Smith and Sarah Ann Adamson (my great great great grandparents) were married at the Wesleyan Methodist Princes St Chapel on 28 June 1853. However, I also knew that some of the family were buried in the St Thomas' Cemetery, so there was a good chance the family attended St Thomas'. Although there was a Methodist presence on the North Shore, it was struggling, and this is perhaps why the Smiths went to St Thomas'.

  • Ann Jane Smith (my great great grandmother) was baptised in the Sydney North Circuit (of Wesleyan Methodist church) on 11 November 1854, born to James and Sarah Smith on 20 October 1854. The family's abode was "North Shore" and James Smith's profession was recorded as "labourer". This particular information was actually obtained from the family history section of the State Reference Library, from the Registers of Baptisms, Burials and Marriages 1787-1856 microfilm. These are early records from before civil registration began in 1856.
  • Eliza Annie Smith was baptised on 1 February 1863 at St Thomas', born to James and Sarah Smith on 11 January 1863. Their abode was "Willoughby" and James Smith's profession was "labourer".
  • Susan Smith was baptised on 24 September 1865 at St Thomas', born to James and Sarah Smith on 1 July 1865. Their abode was "St Leonards", James' profession was "laborer", and the witnesses were Wm. Sparkes, Ann Jane Adamson, and Eliza Anne (Barker?).
  • William Mark Smith was baptised at St Thomas' on 4 June 1871, born to James and Sarah Smith on 20 April 1871. Their abode was "St Leonards" and James was a "quarryman". This is the first time I have seen William's full name of William Mark Smith.
  • Maria Smith was buried on 30 November 1861 at 4pm in St Thomas' Cemetery. She died 29 November 1861, her abode was St Leonards, and she was 8 months, 3 weeks old when she died. There is a note that she had been baptised by Mr Hurst, and was a child of James and Sarah Smith.
  • James Smith was buried in St Thomas' Cemetery on 6 July 1879. He died on 4 July 1879, aged 49 years 7 months. His abode was St Leonards, and his profession was quarryman. I wonder where the quarry was?
  • Susan Smith was buried in St Thomas' Cemetery on 23 December 1881, having died on 2 December 1881. She was 16 years old, and her abode was St Leonards.

So I still found no reference to the 2 deceased males recorded on the death record of James Smith in 1879. Interestingly they were not noted on their mother Sarah's death record. I can only assume that they were never baptised and their births were not officially recorded. They must have died young. Which makes me wonder what they did with the bodies of the two little boys whose births and deaths were never officially recorded... I'm not suggesting anything sinister here, I'm just wondering!

I also browsed through the other reels of microfilms and found some for the Scots Church Sydney (Presbyterian), relating to Rev Dr John Dunmore Lang. I knew that one couple amongst my relatives had been married by Rev Dr Lang, so I dug deep in my memory (and my smart phone!) and found it was Samuel Harper and Susanna Ball, sister of Eliza Jane, who married James Merrick, and daughter of James and Susanna Ball (my great great great grandparents). So I also found the marriage record for them.

  • Marriage of Samuel Harper and Susanna Ball on 23 September 1865 at Botany Rd, Sydney, by John Dunmore Lang. Samuel Harper was a bachelor, born in Sydney, NSW, a Custom House Officer, 24 years old, from Botany Road, Redfern. His parents were John Harper, ironmonger, and Charlotte Styles. Susanna Ball was a spinster, born in London, living with her parents, 22 years old, living in Redfern. Her parents were James Ball, bookbinder, and Susanna Smith (no relation to the Smiths above). The witnesses were Geo. West and Louisa Ball.

Thanks go to my aunt for the above photos of the prayer book.

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