Tuesday, 15 July 2014

52 Ancestors - thoughts on the project so far

Forty-seven posts have been added to the 52 Ancestors Project. The challenge was to write 52 stories about individual ancestors in 52 weeks. Having started the project on Australia Day the 47 stories that I have added to the blog have taken me six months. I guess this proves that family history is addictive.

All the stories so far have been about family members in my direct line. I started with the family twelve convicts that were in Sydney by 1808 and the project took off from there. The family lines of the free settlers that I also have as direct ancestors were also investigated. Consequently the first forty stories in the 52 Ancestors section of the blog are about my ancestors who came to Australia - from those who came with the First Fleet to my great grandparents. The most recent seven posts are about some of the ancestors who remained in England. The final five posts, stories about my four grandparents and my father, will be added after we return from holidays.

What is apparent when looking at this collection of people and their stories are the themes that link some of them. Exploring family stories helps provide a greater understanding of history of an area and of our county and the events that shape it. Writing stories about the themes will be a next step in the project.

Settlement is a major theme. Obviously we have the convicts who did not choose to leave England but once in Sydney helped establish the new colony of New South Wales. But eight of the convicts settled in the Hawkesbury area and their extended families lived in that area for many generations. Two of the convicts went to the first settlement at Norfolk Island and from there settled with their family in Van Diemen's Land, now Tasmania. The new Colony of Van Diemen's Land also attracted the children of New South Wales convicts looking for opportunities as well as members of ship crews who decided to try their luck in the new colony. The earlier settlers in Tasmania also looked further afield to a possible settlement immediately to their north which became the colony of Port Phillip and then Victoria. Gradually the family spread through eastern Australia from Tasmania to Queensland.

Looking for adventure and / or new opportunities may be another theme. Some definitely came to try to make their fortune. I do not have any ancestors who came to Australia specifically to try their luck on the goldfields but a number of them worked in goldmining communities in New South Wales and Queensland. One line of the family came to settle in Australia via India. After serving in the army or working as merchants in the Indian trade they came to Australia for opportunities they hoped the new colonies offered. Australia is a large country and many of my ancestors tried to make a living, some more successfully than others, on the land.

My ancestors came from many parts of the United Kingdom. Most came from different regions of England, a few came from Ireland but many came from Scotland. The Scots in the family appear to have been adventurous and spent their lives exploring new opportunities overseas. A surprising number of family members also spent time living in the city of Bath in the nineteenth century.

Religion is another theme throughout the stories.  Family members were predominantly members of the Church of England - the established church - but some family members were Catholic, a few were Presbyterian,  one was Jewish and in England one branch of the family were Quakers. The stories help show the evolvent of different religions and denominations in Australia. The stories in England also illustrate the development of  churches in that country and sometimes the intolerance that existed.

Writing the first 52 stories is just the beginning. There are so many stories about members of the extended family in Australia to be collected and told. There are also additional stories to be discovered about family in England. In one family line a 'gate-keeper' ancestor has opened the door to the peerage list and from there we have found links going back into many phases of English and Scottish history as well as links to France and to the Vikings.

A great bonus from the 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks project is that it has helped me focus on writing what I know about individual ancestors. Writing the stories helps establish what additional research then needs to be undertaken. The stories now written can later be regrouped, expanded and arranged in different ways but at least there is now something to work from. Publishing the stories in the blog is a good way to share the information with others who may be interested and allows contact with other researchers. The project has therefore been the catalyst to start writing and not just collect information.

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