Friday, August 22, 2014

Genealogy Photo Challenge 2014

Genealogy Photo Challenge 2014 for World Photo Day 

The Family Curator has issued a challenge to genealogists and family historians around the world to celebrate World Photo Day by creating a photograph which blends pictures of the past and the present in a single photo. Thankyou to Pauleen  for her Genealogy Photo Challenge blog post which reminded me to delve through my photographs to find something suitable for this challenge. 

Houses, like all buildings, are constantly altered and adapted over time, for families and their changing needs and purposes. Every home is the heart of the family and as such is the keeper of memories. As a home changes and people move in and out of it, the house becomes an archive of collective memory. I am pleased to take this opportunity to tell just a snippet of this home's narrative.

My first home was at 24 Crescent Avenue in Enoggera, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland in Australia. My parents built a brand new house in a newer suburb when I was seven years old but the home at Enoggera has always remained significant as the source of my earliest important childhood memories.

 While on holidays in Queensland, several  trips down memory lane, have found me driving past my first family home. Over the years since I lived in the house, it has undergone some significant alterations.


The home pictured above, was built in the 1950's, as a two bedroom weatherboard house with a brick base at the front but was higher at the rear with timber slats, in typical Queensland style. Shown in the photo below (and above in the 2000 and 2014 photographs) are the cassia trees which my mother planted along the side boundary fence. Now, in late 2014, these trees have been removed.

Rear of the house 1960's

During the seven years during the 1950's and 1960's when I lived in the home at Enoggera, it was painted a pale grey/green colour. It had a balcony with an ornate wrought iron railing and wide brick stairs at the front of the house. 

The balcony at the front of the house ©

The fence was made of wire and white timber with white metal gates. Image Sharn White ©


In 2000, when I saw my first home, I was surprised to see that it had changed considerably from the time when I had lived in it as a young child. New owners had modernised the house, enlarging it and replacing the brick balcony with a timber deck at the front. The window to the living room was the very same window however, as when I had lived there decades earlier. I recall climbing upon our lounge to watch through that window for the ice cream van. The colour scheme was vastly different with its bright yellow weatherboards and blue trimmed windows. What had seemed to me as a young child to be an enormous backyard had been reduced in size by a new extension to the rear of the house. 

My first home in 2000 Image SharnWhite 


The latest view of my first home made me wonder if I had driven along the wrong street! It wasn't just that the colour scheme had altered but the roof line had changed significantly and the house bore little resemblance to the one I had lived in. It was only the brick base that was still recognizable from the past. The roof which had been a hip roof now looked very different with new gables. The 1950's built house had gone full circle and even back in history with its new transformation,  giving it the appearance of a  home reminiscent of the 1920's. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Knocking down Northern Irish Brick Walls using Wills.

"In the name of God, Amen, I William White of Brookend, Arboe... declare this to be my last Will and Testimony" and... Who was Sarah Jane Thompson?

Jemima Florence White -  daughter of Sarah Jane Thompson and Hugh Eston WHite,  grand daughter of William White and great grand daughter of Samuel Clarke  

BREAKING NEWS: Not one, but two seemingly impenetrable Northern Irish Brick walls have recently crumbled through the finding of Wills of ancestors.

As anyone with Irish or Northern Irish ancestry will attest, the journey towards finding Irish and Northern Irish ancestors has long been fraught with difficulty. Despite websites such as Emerald Ancestors, Ancestry Ireland, FindmyPast IrelandThe Ulster Foundation, and Irish Origins, just to name a few, my Northern Irish ancestry was not easy to trace until I recently found the Wills of Northern Irish ancestors.  PRONI, the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland must be congratulated for its project to digitalise Will Calendars. The records attached to the website's facility for searching Will Calendars were updated in March 2014, to cover the period 1858-1965. Will transcripts have been digitalised and images are currently available for Londonderry 1858-1899, Belfast 1858-1909, and Armagh 1858-1918. If you haven't visited the PRONI website for a while, it may be well worthwhile conducting a new search.

The discovery of the Last Will and Testimony of my great great grandfather, William White of Brookend, County Tyrone and also the Will of my three times great Grandfather Samuel Clarke of Ballycomlargy in County Londonderry, threw wide open, a window to my Northern Irish ancestry. Samuel Clarke's Will was kindly sent me to me by a previously unknown Irish cousin who found me through It is now available for me to download on the Proni website as well. I have also recently found the Will of my great great grandfather, William White on the PRONI website. Prior to reading the contents of these Wills, I knew frustratingly little about my County Tyrone and Londonderry ancestors.
Hugh Eston White, son of William White of Brookend and Sarah Jane (Thompson) grand daughter of Samuel Clarke of Ballycomlargy


Wills are an invaluable resource for family historians. Depending on the detail included in your ancestor's Will, you may find singularly exclusive information concerning such assets as land, farms, businesses and homes owned by ancestors. Will Calendars inform you of the date of death of an ancestor as well as when Probate was proved. Wills also disclose which family member inherited the family property. This is especially meaningful information if you are interested in a history of the land or house. Wills also importantly detail where an ancestor lived. In the writing of a Will, one of my Northern Irish ancestors helpfully provided a most detailed description of the location of his farm in Ballyblagh, Omagh. He named the roads between which it lay, the river which ran through it, its acreage, a description of the house and farm buildings, and even the number of cows he owned. This is particularly useful data since I am researching from Australia and therefore unable to search the land registry in Belfast in person.

Wills often include the occupations of ancestors and the employment of other family members. Other particulars of interest which may be listed are family possessions. These may range from details of farm equipment, household items and furniture to  personal items such as jewelry. If you have any precious family heirlooms in your family, it just might be that an ancestor's Will could provide the clue to tracing its origin. I have established the provenance of a family eternity ring through its mention in three generations of Northern Irish Wills. If you are fortunate enough to have had a particularly loquacious ancestor, his or her Will might make mention of  such personal items as a family bible, books, a piano, special items of furniture, or every day things including beds, bedding and even brushes and combs! Wills can provide much or meager information, depending upon the writer. I have found progenitors' Wills which are so devoid of detail as to straightforwardly  'leave all my belongings to my wife', and others which are an indubitable bounty of information.

Wills often include the names of spouses and children and often, significantly, married names of daughters. Frequently the writer of a Will names grandchildren and other relatives or family friends. Depending upon the amount of information a person has chosen to include in his or her Will, it may disclose places of residence of relatives and the names of their spouses. Sometimes a Will is a veritable wealth of information you would not find anywhere else. One example of information likely to be found only in a Will, are the names of  children born outside a marriage.  I have one Northern Irish ancestor  who kindly included the name of his 'illegitimate' son in his Will, thereby informing me of a previously unknown branch of family to trace. It is doubly rewarding to discover that an ancestor of the wandering kind was charitable enough to provide in his Will for offspring of a liaison. Not only do you learn that he was a fairly decent chap, but importantly, he has divulged to you a possibly well kept  a family secret.

A wonderfully wordy Will might furnish you with crucial clues regarding the whereabouts of  other descendants of your ancestors. When family members immigrated to different countries, they frequently lost contact over several generations. As a consequence, later generations may have no knowledge of their whereabouts. Much research time can be saved if your ancestor benevolently imparts this information in a Will. In my great great grandfather William White's last testament, he generously bequeathed me much valuable information regarding  the countries, cities, towns and addresses to which each of his offspring had immigrated, as well as affirming the addresses of several daughters who had remained in Northern Ireland.

It is important to note that there can also be misleading omissions in Wills. For varying reasons,  the name of one or more offspring might be absent, as was the case in the Last Will and Testament of  my three times great grandfather, Samuel Clarke. The absence of a crucial name in his Will generated a perplexing mystery for the Irish branch of my Clarke family, although it was this very omission which eventually  brought two branches of our family together.


The Last Will and Testimony of my three times great grandfather, Samuel Clarke, was discovered not by myself, but by someone in Ireland who I now know to be my third cousin. We both descend from Samuel Clarke, (1808-1889), a farmer of  Ballycomlargy, Londonderry, in Northern Ireland. My cousin found me while attempting to solve a family mystery. Samuel Clarke's Will had named a granddaughter, Sarah Jane Thompson, but inexplicably, had made no mention of who her parents were. Although Samuel named his children in his will, he had no daughters with the married name of Thompson and none of his children had a daughter named Sarah Jane. Sarah Jane Thompson, although stated in the Will to be Samuel's granddaughter, did not appear to fit into the Clarke family anywhere and her identity remained a mystery to the family in Ireland until the search led to my Ancestry Tree.

Sarah Jane Thompson sits elegantly on a paternal branch of my family tree, as my great grandmother, Sarah Jane White, nee Thompson. Sarah Jane immigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, Australia in 1912 with her husband, my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White and their five children, one of whom was my grandmother Jemima Florence White. Sarah Jane Thompson's mother was the only offspring of Samuel Clarke not  named in his Will.

Contact between my cousin and I through generated an exciting exchange of information which connected two branches of a family who lived on opposite sides of the world, each who had no previous knowledge of the other. There was a reason why Samuel Clarke's daughter was not mentioned in his Will but his granddaughter was named.

Samuel Clarke wrote his will in 1887. His daughter Sarah Jane Clarke, the eldest of his eight children, had predeceased her father, in 1873, at the age of 40 years. In his Last Will and Testimony Samuel Clarke mentioned only the names of his living offspring. He made provisions for one child of his deceased daughter because he himself had raised her. Sarah Jane Thompson's four older siblings had remained with their father, who remarried the same year that their mother died. Years later, with older generations of family gone and with them, any first hand knowledge of family history, Sarah Jane Thompson had become an enigma for my Irish Clarke cousins. On my side of the world, in Australia, I had no knowledge of my great grandmother's siblings or that I had Clarke relatives who were Clarke descendants in Northern Ireland. I know from the Will, that Sarah Jane was the only one of Sarah Jane Clarke's and Joseph Shaw Thompson's five children to be raised by her Clarke grandparents, after the death of her mother when she was a year old. My Irish cousin and I have now become friends, learning about each other's branch of our family, exchanging precious family photographs on Facebook and corresponding by email.

Title :Date of Death :22 October 1889
Surname :ClarkeDate of Grant :17 February 1890
Forename :SamuelReseal Date :
Registry :LondonderryEffects :Effects £189 10s.

I had no way of knowing, until I read Samuel Clarke's Will, that Sarah Jane had been separated from her siblings and lived with her mother's parents, following her mother's death. I had assumed that since her father had remarried quickly after his wife died, that she had been raised along with her siblings, by her step mother, Eliza. It is this type of personal family history, which if not passed on orally through generations of families, might only be discovered in a Will.

At the time that her grandfather Samuel Clarke wrote his Will, Sarah Jane was 12 years old. It is quite moving to read about the personal items that Samuel Clarke bequeathed his granddaughter. In addition to money, he listed items which he must have felt were important to her, including  a brush and comb set, a bed and items of bedding. He provided for her care after his death by one of his sons, her uncle John Clarke. John Clarke was named in Samuel Clarke's Will to inherit the family farm.  The carefully considered provisions made for his granddaughter in Samuel Clarke's Will, were a declaration of his love for her. It is a wonderful thing to see in writing, an emotional connection between ancestors. Samuel Clarke chose well, since the bond between Sarah Jane Thompson and her uncle John Clarke is demonstrated by the fact that he later in life, lived with her, her husband and her family at Brookend, County Tyrone. Quite often emotional interactions between ancestors are something abstract that we must imagine for ourselves. It is often only the words written in a letter or diary or a Will, that truly expose warmth and affection between forebears. Samuel passed away two years after writing his Last Will and Testimony and it is comforting to know from this Will, that he had provided for his granddaughter's care and her future. Often, it is information included in a Will, which can provide the ingredients for an authentic story about ancestors.

Sarah Jane White nee Thompson as a married woman at the White's Dairy Farm,  'Carrig-na-gule', Seventeen Mile Rocks, Qld

The information in the Last Will and Testimony of my three times great grandfather, Samuel Clarke of Ballycomlargy, Desertlyn, County Derry, set in motion, a journey to discovering four generations of Clarke family members. But for Samuel Clarke's Will, I would be still completely unaware that my great great grandmother, Sarah Jane Clarke, had seven siblings, or that her youngest daughter had been raised by her parents following her death. I might never have discovered my many cousins in Northern Ireland who like myself, descend from Samuel Clarke. Information found in Wills can provide valuable clues that might not be found anywhere else.


The 1887 Last Will and Testament of my great great grandfather, William White of Brookend, County Tyrone, provided me with the information I needed to crash through a brick wall which I had all but given up on. Credit for this find, must be afforded to the PRONI website. William White was the father of my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White, who married  the granddaughter of Samuel Clarke, Sarah Jane Thompson,  in 1896, in Woods Chapel, Magherafelt, Londonderry.

Looking across the land that was William and then Hugh White's farm in Brookend, Co. Tyrone


Prior to finding the Will of William White, I knew very little of my Northern Irish White family (who bear no relation to my husband's County Down Whites ......  we think!). I had nothing more than a possible sibling for my great grandfather and an anecdotal indication of a connection to a County Tyrone family named Watters.

In June of 1913, my paternal grandmother, pictured above top, arrived in  Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, from County Tyrone, Northern Ireland, aged 11 years. According to the passenger records for the ship Ayrshire, Jemima Florence White was travelling with her family. With her on the journey from Ireland to Australia were her father Hugh Eston White, her mother, Sarah Jane nee Thompson White, sister Violet Victoria Maud, 16, and brothers William Thomas aged 14, Samuel John Clarke, 12, and Andrew Hugh Thompson, the youngest child aged 7 years.

From his marriage certificate, I knew that my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White was born in County Londonderry in around 1866, and that his father's name was William White. Family anecdotes informed me that Hugh Eston White had departed County Tyrone, Northern Ireland because of ailing health, and that he relocated his family to a country with a warmer climate quite reluctantly, on his doctor's advice. My great grandfather, Hugh White and his family lived on a flax farm at Brookend, near Loch Neagh in County Tyrone before immigrating to Australia. I heard many stories from my grandmother as a child about her life on the farm named Carrig-na-gule' at Brookend. My grandmother's anecdotes never included the names of aunts or uncles or grandparents and as a child I did not think to inquire. I had little information about my Northern Irish White family.

Marriage records informed me that Hugh White was born in County Londonderry and that he married Sarah Jane Thompson in Woods Chapel, Magherafelt, in Derry. I had little difficulty in finding my great grandmother's Thompson family in the Griffith's Valuation and other Londonderry records.


The only information that I could find about my two times great grandfather, William White, was that he had married in County Londonderry and that his son Hugh, was born in this same county. Since Hugh and Sarah White had lived in County Tyrone, I had no idea whether my Whites originated in Londonderry or in County Tyrone. I had the name of my great grandfather William White, a wife named Matilda,  and that is where my knowledge of this family ended in Northern Ireland. Other clues, led nowhere. I had the name Matilda Junk, with whom my great grandfather Hugh was staying with in Londonderry, in the 1911 census, along with two of his five children. Despite harbouring a strong hunch that Matilda Junk's name was a clue, I was unable to find any information about who she was. ON the night of the 1911 census, Hugh's wife Sarah ( Thompson) was at home on the family farm at Brookend,  with the rest of their children and living with her was her uncle John Clarke. I also had the name Isabella White as a possible sister for my great grandfather, Hugh. Isabella White had married a Robert Orr of Lisnamorrow, and although I felt that she was Hugh's sibling, I was unable to substantiate this. The names Robert Orr, Matilda Junk, Isabella White and John Clarke should have been  keys to unlocking a door to the past, however, since my search was in Northern Ireland, they remained clues that did not lead to any evidence. To further complicate my instinct regarding Isabella White (Orr) , I was contacted by someone in Canada  who had an Isabella Brown ( nee White) on her husband's family tree, as the daughter of my William White of Brookend. Isabella Orr began looking less likely to be the sister of my great grandfather. 

Many years ago, my grandmother told me that 'two generations of Whites in County Tyrone, married tow generations of Watters'. For some reason this comment stayed with me and a I wrote about this in one of my blog posts. Not long afterwards, I was contacted by a man with the surname Watters, who lives in County Tyrone. He informed me that his mother had been a White who married a Watters and that his grandmother, Sarah Louisa White had also married a man named Watters. This revelation supported my grandmother's story, which was substantiated, when we discovered that his mother was my grandmother's first cousin. For the life of us, however, we could not work out where Sarah Louisa White fitted into my White family or exactly how we were related through her, beyond my family anecdote. We had no success researching, despite my cousin collecting parish records in Northern Ireland, and my researching online. No birth record could be been found for Sarah Louisa White and were unable to prove our connection. That is.... until I found the Will of William White.....


Although the death certificate of my great grandfather, Hugh Eston White states that his mother's name was Matilda, I have been not been to find any record of their marriage. Finding William White's Last Will and Testimony not only confirmed her name to be Matilda, but almost unbelievably, it handed me the names of all of their children and their spouses as well as the places where most of them had immigrated to. Places such as Allegheny City, Pittsburgh, Penn, USA and Toronto, Canada, suddenly became places where I might search for relatives.


My grandmother once told me that her father had never wished to leave Ireland, but had only done so because of ill health. When his doctor asked where he might choose to go he answered, "Canada". His doctor had been amused at his choice of a country as equally cold as Ireland and advised him otherwise. I have long wondered why he thought of Canada. Australia seemed to me to be the obvious choice, since the eldest brother of his wife Sarah, had earlier immigrated to the Darling Downs in Queensland. Reading William White's Will, my excitement could barely be contained. William White's daughter and Hugh's sister, Isabella Brown, had gone to Canada to live with her husband, Thomas Brown. And all at once before my eyes, the pieces of a puzzle began to fall into place. as  grandson, Hugh Orr,was mentioned as the son of Robert Orr of Lisnamorrow. This was the husband I had for the Isabella White on my tree. My contact in Canada and I have now pieced together that Isabella first married Robert Orr and after his death,  remarried Thomas Brown. They immigrated to Canada, leaving two of the Orr children in Tamnavalley, who joined their mother later, in Canada.  It turns out that we both have the correct Isabella White on our trees as Isabella Orr and Isabella Brown because she married both Robert Orr and Thomas Brown, but we might never have known this fact except for the information in Will.


Nothing could have quite prepared me for the thrill of finding Sarah Louisa Watters nee White,  in William White's Will. My cousin in Ireland and I had all but become resigned to the fact that we might never understand our relationship - and there it was right in front of me in William White's Will. 'to my daughter, Sarah Louisa Watters, married to John Watters of Tamnavalley...'
I had had thought that Sarah Louisa might be the sister of my great grandfather but until their father,William White confirmed this as evidence in his Will, it had remained nothing more than a hunch.


Prior to finding this Will, the only information I possessed, were the names of my great grandfather Hugh Eston White, and his father William White, the name Matilda as a possible mother and a potential sister named Isabella. All at once, this Will confirmed Matilda as my great great grandmother, Isabella as my great grandfather's sister, as well as six more sisters and two brothers. - Jemima, Matilda, (Isabella), Thomas, Annie, Robert, Eliza, Sarah Louisa, and Eleanor. To further discover the addresses where they lived, was astonishing. Finding one of these names in particular, has had immense meaning for my family. My grandmother's name, Jemima has been passed on to one of my daughters and one very special granddaughter, Primrose Jemima Florence [5/9/2014-6/9/2014], as middle names, and now that we have found an even earlier generation of namesake, for whom my grandmother was obviously named,  the name Jemima has assumed even greater significance.

Jemima Florence White (left with her sister Violet) was named after her paternal aunt Jemima White


Wills provide unique information about our ancestors' lives. I have found it interesting to discover that some of my Northern Irish ancestors who were farmers, owned more than one parcel of land or farm. Names mentioned in Wills can provide much needed evidence for the family historian, on which to base further research. The relatives and friends mentioned in Will, can become vital ingredients in  an authentic account of our ancestors' lives.

William White's Flax Farm, left to Hugh White and later the Quinn Farm Brookend, County Tyrone

Prior to finding the Wills of Samuel Clarke and William White, the name Matilda Junk meant little to me, other than that she was the person with whom my great grandfather was staying in Londonderry on the night of the 1911 census with two of his five children. After discovering that Matilda Junk, nee Clarke was my great great aunt in the Will of Samuel Clarke, I began to construct a story around the fact that Hugh Eston White and his son and daughter (my grandmother Jemima Florence were visiting Portstewart in Londonderry. If one takes the time to think about the everyday activities in the lives of ancestors, such as shopping, visiting a doctor or holidays, we can only understand their lives by placing them within historical context as well as researching the places they lived and visited. I could easily assume, that whenever the White children required new clothing or shoes or needed medical appointments, the family might have taken them to nearby Cookstown. Now that I know the family had relatives in Londonderry, I can ponder that they might have travelled a the larger commercial centre such as Londonderry for these errands, because they had relatives with whom to stay.

Portstewart, pictured below, is a seaside resort town in County Londonderry. The address at which Hugh White and his children were staying on the night of the 1911 census was 14 Victoria Terrace which was almost on the waterfront of Portstewart. I have deduced that there may be another reasonable explanation for why Hugh White was in Portstewart on the 1911 census night.
Portstewart, Londonderry

A search for the will of  Matilda's husband, John Campbell Junk, who died in 1893, showed me that John bequeathed to his wife and son Robert, his house and farms in Gortigal and his smaller farm in Ballyblagh, known as 'Paddy's Land.'  John ordered that yet another larger farm in Ballyblagh was to be sold to pay any off all debts. In the 1901 census Matilda, 58, Robert 19, and Minnie 17, were living on the farm at Gortigal. The address at which Hugh was staying along with Matilda Junk in 1911, 14 Victoria Terrace, Portstewart, overlooked the sandy two mile long beach known as the Strand. It is entirely possible, given his ill health, that perhaps my great grandfather was holidaying with his two young children at the seaside to recover. I am now able to begin to build a narrative of my family's life beyond their flax farm; a story founded on clues found in the Wills of ancestors.


Wills can be an exclusive source of names on which to base further research regarding your family and social network within which they lived. The names you find in a Will can be as momentous as an obvious missing piece of a puzzle, or as obscure as a mysterious cue to point you in a certain direction. There can be something to discover about your own ancestors and the places they lived and visited, through researching their relationships with other people who were a part of their lives. The people mentioned in Wills as executors, for example would have most likely been a relative, a close friend or business partner or perhaps even a godparent to an ancestor's child. Seeking knowledge about the relatives, friends and other people within an ancestor's social and community network can enhance and enrich your understanding of your own forebears and their personal and social relationships.

When I discovered, through Samuel Clarke's Will,  that Matilda Junk, who my great grandfather, Hugh White was staying with at the time of the 1911 census, was the aunt of his wife, Sarah Jane (Thompson), I thought about the importance of names in Wills and their significance as fragments of evidence. I began investigating the people mentioned in my ancestors' Wills. Matilda's husband, John, in his own Will, named his brother, the Reverend Thomas W. Junk, of Six Mile Cross, as executor of his will. In reading the Will of the Reverend Thomas William Junk, I discovered the names of his children and that he was the Minister of the Presbyterian Church at Sixmilecross, Omagh, County Tyrone. Since the Junks were cousins of both my White and Clarke families, by extending my knowledge to the lives of these relatives, I am gradually constructing a picture of the wider family community beyond my great and great great grandparents. Since they all lived within a reasonably close distance of each other, it is reasonable to think that my family visited the places in which relatives lived, therefore, these places and people become an authentic and compelling part of our ancestors' life stories.

The Presbyterian Church at Sixmilecross, Omagh where the brother in law of my twi times great aunt, was the minister.
My husband also descends from a family with the surname of White in Northern Ireland as I do. Family anecdotes place his White ancestors in County Antrim although I have not found any sign of  them there. I have a niggling hunch that they might be secretly lying low in County Down, so I'm off to search the Will Calendars on the PRONI website to test my rationale......