Monday, December 19, 2011

Genealogists for Family Project

   Kiva - Loans that Change Lives
You don't Need to be a Genealogist to Join - you Just Need to Care!

My last blog post was about a small trinket box which my grandmother gave me many years ago. In other posts I have narrated stories telling of my adventures in discovering Swiss, Irish and Scottish ancestors.  I have even written anecdotes about a great uncle who was suspected of spying in WW11. This post is different. As genealogists, part or full time, we focus a lot on the past. We do so, importantly, in order to preserve the past for the future.

Sometimes we just need to focus on the present... and right now, there are many people who do not have lives so fortunate that they can even enjoy the luxury of researching ancestors, nor do they have a certain future. For some, it is a daily struggle just to survive, to educate children, to start a business or just to feed and care for livestock. 

Kiva is an organisation which allows us to make loans of $25, NOT DONATIONS, to people less fortunate than ourselves. There is an element of self esteem involved, which makes it important for people to be able to accept a loan and to repay it. There is undoubtedly a sense of fulfillment in helping others to make a better present and future for themselves and for their families.

At this time of year, especially, as you decorate your Christmas tree and prepare to enjoy the festive season with your family, or participate in whatever other traditions or festivities that are a part of your family life, please think about joining the Genealogists For Families Project and Kiva in caring about the future of other families.

Wishing you a Happy and Holy Christmas....

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Blog, a Trinket Box and a Mystery Solved!

Little Boxes, little boxes.....
Mauchline Ware Box with transfers of Burns Monument

I wrote a blog recently about a small box which had belonged to my Irish grandmother, which she had given to me many years ago. I knew nothing about the origins of the box or its age, and I hoped that through my blog, I might discover some information. Blogging has connected me with interesting people all around the world, many of with whom I have exchanged information about family history matters. I decided to see whether my blog might connect me with someone who could help me solve the mystery of my little box. I entitled my story, "Family Treasures - where did they come from?"

I was tremendously excited to receive a comment on the blog, almost immediately. Ursula Martin, who is a genealogist and a blogger,in the UK, recognised my box and kindly left a comment on the blog giving me a link to the following site   

My Small Box

  Ursula kindly wrote " I found a similar box with 'Burns Monument' on it. Could be the same maker?"
As soon as I clicked on the link I saw the box pictured at the top of this page and knew at once that it was very similar to mine, except for the picture. My box has a picture of 'Burns Cottage' on the lid. Although the photograph I have taken does not show it, my box is exactly the same colour as the one pictured on the Projects Beyond text website.

Beyond Text is a ' ..program to support a multi-disciplinary community of scholars and practitioners drawn from Higher Education, museums, galleries, libraries and archives, business,  policy. media, technology and the law to explore how human communication is articulated through sound, sight and associated sensory perceptions both the past and the present.'

 Burns Cottage on another box similar to mine.

One of the projects within this program is the Robert Burns inventing Tradition and Securing Memory, 1796 - 1910 project. On the page of images which Ursula's link directed me to, was the picture (above top) of the Mauchaline Ware Box, 'made of wood which grew near to Alloway Kirk on the Banks of the Doon'  

What was of particular significance for me was that the manufacturer of the Box was named as  W & A Smith, Maucheline, Late 18th to early 19th century. I now had a starting place to begin researching my box.

Further investigation into Mauchline Ware, confirmed that  Mauchline, pronounced Moch'lin was souvenir ware made by the Smith family of Mauchline, Ayrshire (now Strathclyde). Mauchline Ware was very popular in the Victorian Era with people who travelled abroad. Souvenirs, in particular, boxes, were decorated with well known scenes of Scottish landmarks. Many towns, villages, churches and landscapes were preserved in photographic images which were transferred onto different forms of Mauchline Ware, including a range of items, from snuff boxes and tea caddies to trinket boxes. The exact date of the first use of transfers is unknown however, it appears that they were used to adorn mauchline Ware from 1850 until 1933. The transfers were applied before a final appilcation of copal varnish was applied by the craftsmen making the souvenirs.

The bottom of a Mauchline Box identical to the bottom of my Box.

A View of Burns Cottage Similar to the transfer on my Box

By far the most popular scenes to be transferred onto Mauchline Ware products were 'Burnsian' scenes such as those on the boxes above.

So popular is Mauchline Ware that there is a Mauchline Collectors Club which has a searchable website.

A photograph of the Mauchline Factory, Mauchline, Ayrshire, in the 1800's. (photo found discovered in 2002).
Having established that my little trinket box was quite likely an example of Mauchline Ware, I became curious to know something about the brothers responsible for manufacturing the popular souvenir ware.

Somewhere around 1852, brothers, William (1795-1847) and Andrew (1795-1869) Smith, established a factory to manufacture Snuff Boxes in their home town of Mauchline, Ayrshire in Scotland. The brothers were the sons of a Mauchline mason named William Smith and his wife Jean Merry. Prior to thier venture into thier own Box works, William and Andrew Smith followed their father into his trade and in the 1820's were running a Hone Stone factory at Milton Mill on the northern bank of the River Ayr.

Their venture into snuff boxes quickly grew into a successful Victorian industry which produced wooden souvenirs adorned with transferred engravings of scenes and buildings mainly representative of the Mauchline area. In the late 1850's the railway expansion in Britain created a boom in tourism. Wooden Souvenir boxes became extremely popular keepsake of one's travels. This also coincided with the growing popularity of Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott and the Smith brothers capitalised on both, manufacturing wooden souvenir boxes bearing views of scenery and places, the 'Burnsian' views becoming the most popular of the Mauchline range of products. W & A Smith produced at least 11 different views of the Burns Cottage, Alloway, which is pictures on the souvenir boxes above, including the one on my own box.  Mauchline ware was not limited to boxes however. The brothers produced a vast range of wooden souvenirs and their Mauchline Ware production survived for three generations.

Image of Burns Cottage on my Trinket Box

Another view of Burns Cottage on a Mauchline Box

It remains for me to identify whether my trinket box is a genuine Mauchline Box. My grandmother gave me the box many years ago and I have always believed that it came to Australia either with her parents, Hugh and Sarah White who arrived in Australia from Northern Ireland in 1913, or with my grandfather and his parents, John and Elizabeth McDade who arrived in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, in 1923. It appears very likely that my box is, indeed, a Mauchline Ware souvenir box. I have always been fond of the little box for sentimental reasons and now I have a new respect for it. It has been taken out of the drawer that it was kept in and has pride of place where I can admire it for its historical significance as well as sentiment.

Many thanks to Ursula Martin, for kindly taking the time to provide me with a web link which has taken me on a most interesting journey into the world of Mauchline Ware and most importantly has helped me to solve the mystery of my Little Box's origins.  

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Family Treasure - Where did it Come from?

The Small Box

I wonder how many small items we have around our homes, handed down from one generation to another, that we think of as treasures, but don't know the origins of? 

When I was a teenager, my paternal grandmother gave me the small box pictured above to keep jewellery in. I have treasured the little wooden box for many years however, possibly, because I have had it for so long, I have given little thought to where it came from or how old it might be, until recently, when I took it out of a drawer and made time to look closely at the picture on the top of the lid. It is a picture of Burns Cottage. 

The Picture on the Lid of the Box

Since my grandmother, Jemima Florence MacDade [m.s. White] arrived in Queensland, Australia from County Tyrone in Northern Ireland, as an 11 year old in 1913, I had always assumed that the box had come from Ireland. Recently, I realised that I knew nothing of the origins of the little jewellery box and decided to see if I could find out something about it. With my grandparents and parents passed away, there is no one who might tell me where this small box came from, not how old it might be. I am hoping that through this blog, someone might recognise my small box, or have one similar,  and have information to share with me. 

Did my small box arrive on board the Ship 'Ayrshire' in 1913 with Hugh and Sarah White and their five children, William, Violet, Jemima, John and Andrew? Or could it have belonged to my grandfather's family who were Scottish? My grandfather, Colin Hamilton McDade arrived in Australia in 1922, aged 19. He arrived with his family, parents John and Elizabeth McDade and seven siblings from Cumbernauld, Glasgow in Scotland. It is possible that the box may have travelled with  the McDade family on board the 'Largs Bay'. After all, the Robert Burns Cottage, the place of his birth and his home until the age of seven years, is in Alloway, South Ayrshire, in Scotland, not far from Glasgow.

'Burns Cottage' - The Birth Place of Robert Burns
A Picture of Burns Cottage

Pen showing the size of the Box

The cottage was built was built in 1757 by William Burness, father of the well known poet, Robert Burns (a most famous of his poems being 'Auld Lang Syne').

My Scottish grandfather never lost his Scottish accent and was fond of Gaelic songs and rhymes, including those written by Robert Burns. This, of course does not solve the mystery of the origins of my little box. My great aunt Violet, sister to my grandmother, made annual trips back to Ireland and also visited friends in Scotland, so it is entirely possible that she brought the little jewellery box back for her sister from one of her journeys overseas.

My own 'little treasures' inside the Box.

Inside the little box, I have a collection of old pieces of jewellery and small trinkets which I have owned for many years. There is a locket with an unidentified photograph of an ancestor, a rose broach which belonged to a great aunt, earrings which I wore as a teenager, an eternity ring given to me many years ago by an old beau and other odds and ends. I have enjoyed looking through the small box and reminiscing, but I would dearly love to know something about the little box itself.

Back of the Box

If anyone has any information about my Small 'treasure'. I would appreciate your help in finding out where my little jewellery box originated.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Where there is a WILL... there is a Way to find your Your Ancestor!

The Search For Margaret Helen Cunningham

Margaret Helen Cunningham 
I have been kindly granted permission from the great nephew of Margaret Helen Cunningham, to tell the following story of how the discovery of a Will, provided previously unknown information about the youngest of three sisters who had been orphaned in Scotland at the ages of 6, 4 and 2 years. Margaret Cunningham had arrived in Australia in 1911 and her family knew little of her life in Australia other than where and when she had died. It is therefore, with gratitude to Margaret Helen Cunningham's family, that I write this story.

In September of this year I received an email from a friend in Queensland who is involved with the Kilcoy Historical Society. The Society had received an email from a man in South Australia who was looking for information about his great aunt, Margaret Cunningham, whom he knew to have died in the town of Kilcoy, in South Eastern Queensland. Knowing that I make frequent research trips to Queensland, my friend in the Kilcoy Historical Society, wondered if I would be interested in undertaking this research. She forwarded the original email on to me which read, in part,
 'I am trying to trace information on my great aunt, Margaret Cunningham, who died in Kilcoy in 1931.' 

The writer explained exactly what information that he was seeking, in his email,
 'I am interested in finding out, when my aunt arrived in Kilcoy, what she did for a living, who she worked for, and where she lived.'

From details provided by Margaret Cunningham's great nephew, I knew that Margaret was born on the 19th of June, 1878 at 12 Gladstone Place, Edinburgh and that her parents were James Cunningham and Elizabeth Wilson McPherson.  Margaret was believed to have worked as a Governess in Australia  after her arrival in Queensland in December 1911 on board the 'S S Perthshire' which sailed from London on October 14, 1911. The 'Perthshire' arrived in Rockhampton on December, 12, then docked in Maryborough, on December 15, and finally berthed in Brisbane on December 16, 1911. The family's last known whereabouts of Margaret Helen Cunningham was in 1904, when she acted as a witness for her sister Jane Wilhelmima Cunningham at her wedding in Scotland.
Margaret Helen Cunningham's family had discovered that she had died on May 27, 1931 in the Kilcoy District Hospital, [Pictured at top] the informant being the hospital Matron, Margaret M. McDonnell. Margaret Cunningham  was buried on May 28, 1931 in the Kilcoy Cemetery. The family had been unable fill in the missing years between her arrival in Australia and her death.

Kilcoy District Hospital in the 1930's

From Local Council records, my friend at the Kilcoy Historical Society, was able to confirm that Margaret Cunningham was buried in Kilcoy Cemetery, Section 12, Plot 9. Her grave was unmarked and her religion was given as Presbyterian.

Plan of Kilcoy Cemetery

Kilcoy Cemetery

Margaret Cunningham's Death Certificate

The death certificate for Margaret Cunningham, ( above) which was attached to the email, showed that she was 52 years old when she died of  (a) Haematemesis (b) Gastric Ulcer and (c) Cardiac Syncope.

 Margaret Cunningham arrived in Queensland, Australia from Scotland aged 33 years, presumably to start a new life and had died alone in Kilcoy. I wondered why she not kept her family informed of her whereabouts and resolved to find out, if I could, something about Margaret's life in Australia.

Searching the Australian Electoral Rolls on, I found only one Margaret Cunningham who was umarried. In 1913, a person by this name, was working at the Hamilton Hotel, in Brisbane, as a Domestic. Although this did not fit with the family's story that Margaret had worked as a Governess, I had encountered enough family anecdotes to realise that they are often not correct.  I needed, however,  more information before I concluded that this was the right Margaret Helen Cunningham.
1913 Queensland Electoral Roll
On the 1919 Queensland Electoral Roll, I found once again, only one unmarried Margaret Cunningham. This Margaret, was working as a waitress in Boundary Street, off Hope Street in Brisbane. Still unsure if I had found the correct Margaret Cunningham and unable to find any other record relating to a person of this name, I conducted an Archive Search on the Queensland State Archive Website. I found a number of items under the name Margaret Cunningham. By eliminating any records outside of the dates within which I was searching, I narrowed the items down to one possible record. That record was a Will File held by the Archives, for a Margaret Cunningham, Series Number 6047, Item ID 907005. The start date was 27/5/1931 and the end date was 31/12/1933. I felt excitement mounting as I realised that the start date for this file matched the date of death for the Margaret Cunningham I was looking for.

As I was travelling to Brisbane the following week, I decided to go to the Queensland State Archives in person, to request to view Margaret Cunningham's Will File.

It never ceases to thrill me when old record books or documents wrapped in brown paper, bound with white tape, are brought to my numbered table at the Archives, for my inspection. It was no different with the Will File for Margaret Cunningham. I carefully untied the package, and lifted the documents out one by one with anticipation, until I found the File entitled Margaret Cunningham.

The File was over 50 pages thick and given that it was over 80 years old, had the distinctly musty odour that one associates with archived documents. I quickly determined that this file was most certainly the Will made by same Margaret Helen Cunningham who was born in Scotland in 1878, and about whom information was being sought.

The Will was dated 26/5/1931, the day prior to Margaret's death and was witnessed by the Medical Practitioner, Dr. David Miller, whose name was also on  Margaret Cunningham's Death Certificate as the attending Medical doctor, as well as a Mrs Jessie Timperley, License Victualler, Woodford. Margaret's address was given as the Yatesville Hotel, Woodford and her occupation, as a Cook.

Will of Margaret Cunningham
Will of Margaret Cunningham

   A typed letter in the Wiil File, from the Court House in Kilcoy to the Public Curator in Brisbane, explained the sad circumstances in which Margaret Cunningham wrote her will. The writer of the letter (signature illegible) explained that
'The Doctor of the Hospital [Kilcoy] called at this office and informed me that he thought Margaret  Cunningham would die within a day or two and requested me to bring up a Will form to have completed.'                                                                                                    

The letter also confirmed that 'the deceased up until the time of her admission to the Hospital was employed as a Cook at the Yatesville Hotel, Woodford,'

A note, hand written, on the bottom of the page declared that 'the deceased informed me she has no relations or friends in Australia.'

A hand written declaration made by Mrs Jessie Timperley and dated September, 1931, verified that Margaret Cunningham, 'late of Woodford, aforesaid Cook, was in my employ prior to her admission to the Kilcoy Hospital.'

Jessie Timperley's declaration, in regard to moneys owed to, and by, Margaret Cunningham for the purpose of settlement of her estate, confirmed where Margaret had worked, her occupation and that her employer had been Mrs Timperley.

Declaration made by Mrs Jessie Timperley

I ordered a photocopy of the Will File of Margaret Cunningham and organised for it to be posted to my address in Sydney. I emailed the great nephew of Margaret Cunningham to tell him that I had found a file containing his great aunt's Will, and that most of the information he had been seeking was contained within the file. Not long afterwards, I received an email in reply, which made the find so much more meaningful. I realised just how important it was to this family to find information about Margaret Cunningham as I read the words,
' Margaret was my great aunt, being one of three girls, my grandmother being the eldest. They were orphaned when my grandmother was 6 years old and were subsequently taken in by different members of the family, so it has  been quite a challenge tracking them down when they were younger.' 

Margaret Helen Cunningham had left her estate divided between three people, a Miss Margaret Williams and a Mr William Williams who both lived at No. 1 Colnbrook Street, St Georges Road, London, and a Mr James Barrie whose address was 'The Lodge', Bailleston, Stirlingshire, Scotland. The file contained bank records of Margaret Cunningham and correspondence to and from the  beneficiaries of the will and the Public Curator in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

The Yatesville Hotel, Woodford, Queensland

The informaion contained in the Will File, answered three of Margaret Cunnuingham's great nephew's inquiries - where his great aunt had lived, what her occupation had been and who had employed her, at least prior to her death.  Exactly when Margaret Cunninhgam arrived in in the town of Woodford, near Kilcoy is still a mystery. I strongly suspect that the Margaret Cunningham I had found on the 1913 and 1919 Electoral Rolls in Brisbane, the Capital City of Queensland, working first as a Domestic at the Hamilton Hotel and then as a waitress in Boundary Street, Spring Hill, was indeed Margaret Helen Cunningham. That her Bank Passbook was issued in Brisbane, was further evidence indication that she had begun her life in Australia in the capital city. Somewhere between 1919 and 1931, it would appear that Margaret began working as a Cook at the Yatesville Hotel in Woodford. This lovely old Hotel (pictured above) was demolished in the 1960's, a decade, when sadly, so much of our built heritage was lost.

While waiting for the Will File to arrive, out of curiosity, I decided to find out what I could about Margaret Helen Cunningham's background in Scotland. On the Scotland's People website I found the marriage of Margaret's sister, Jane Wilhelmina Cunningham to James Barrie. The marriage took place on June 3, 1904 at  Stanley Place, Blantyre ( Jane's usual place of residence) in the County of Lanarkshire, Scotland, according to the Banns of the established Church of Scotland, Margaret Cunningham was recorded as a witness at her sister's marriage.

Jane Wilhelmina Cunningham  Marriage Certificate

James Barrie, Jane's husband, had the same name as one of the beneficiaries of Margaret Cunningham's modest estate. Margaret had left equal shares of money to her niece, Margaret Williams,  Mr William Williams and James Barrie. No mention was made of her sisters, so it was possible that they had both died before Margaret. A quick search for the death of Jane Barrie (Cunningham) showed that she had died on May 29, 1913, barely nine years after her marriage to James Barrie. Jane died of a 'Duodenal Ulcer, Dilated Stomach and Cardiac Failure'. Jane Barrie [Cunningham] had passed away from a similar  cause of death as her sister Margaret but Jane, tragically died, aged only 34 years. Jane's birth year from her marriage and death certificate appeared to be 1879, making her younger than Margaret, which conflicted with the information I had been given.

Jane Barrie  Death Certificate

A search for the birth of the three Cunningham sisters revealed that in fact, Margaret Helen Cunningham was the youngest of the three sisters, as I had been informed by her great nephew. Perhaps Jane had not wished her husband to know that she was three years older than him!  Jane's birth certificate showed her birth date as May 10, 1876, and place of birth as 12 Gladstone Place, Edinburgh. Her parents were James Cunningham, a Grocer, Spirit Merchant, and Elizabeth Wilson McPherson.

James Cunningham and Elizabeth Wilson McPherson, maternal grandparents of Margaret Helen Cunningham, were married on January 1, 1874, at the bride's home address, 6 Salisbury Street, Edinburgh, after Banns according to the Church of Scotland. Parents were given as Thomas and Elizabeth Cunningham (m.s. Robertson) and Lachlan and Elizabeth McPherson (m.s. Cameron).

I found birth records for the three daughters of James and Elizabeth Cunningham.

  1. Elizabeth Cameron Robertson Cunningham born December 27, 1874, 12 Gladstone Place, Edinburgh
  2. Jane Wilhelmina Cunningham  born May, 10, 1876  at the same  address.
  3. Margaret Helen Cunningham  born June, 19, 1878  at the same address.

Margaret Helen Cunningham  Birth Certificate

On June 19, 1880, aged 54 years, James Cunningham, father of the three sisters, passed away at  their home at 12 Gladstone Place, Edinburgh. He died of 'Inflamation attributed to Erysipela'.  The three girls lost their father to a streptococcus infection which causes severe skin lesions and results in septic shock.  Elizabeth was aged  6, Jane, 4 and Margaret Helen only 2 years. Tragically for the young sisters, four years later they also lost their mother when she died  of 'Bilious Vomiting and Diarrhea' on May 8, 1884.

James Cunningham  Death Certificate
Elizabeth Cunningham (McPherson) Death Certificate

 Elizabeth, Jane and Margaret Cunningham were orphaned at the ages of 10, 8 and 4 years and it would seem that with no husband to support her and her three young daughters, Elizabeth Cunningham  was unable to keep her daughters in her care.  'They were taken in by other members of family since in the 1881 Census they were not living with her.

 The 1881  Scottish Census shows Margaret H Cunningham  living at 6 High Street Edinburgh, with James and Joan C Wood and their children, Elizabeth Wood 10, Robert W Wood 8, Lachlan McPherson Wood 6, Janet W Wood 3 and Jemima Wood 8 days old. Being a family historian, I find, is very much akin to being a detective, following clues to attain a result. Since Lachlan McPherson was the name of  Margaret Helen Cunningham's maternal grandfather, it seemed logical that Lachlan McPherson Wood was named after him and that Joan C Wood would very likely be Elizabeth's sister.  A search on the Scotlands People website showed that Joan Cameron McPherson who married James Wood on June 10, 1870 was, indeed, Elizabeth Wilson Cunningham's (McPherson) sister, her parents also being Lachlan McPherson and Elizabeth Cameron.  Margaret Helen Cunningham had been taken in by her maternal aunt and uncle but where were her older sisters, Elizabeth and Jane?

Margaret Cunningham 1881 Census

I found Margaret's sisters in the 1881 census, living at 153 Stonefield (St) Blantyre, in the County of Lanarkshire, Glasgow. They were living with James and Janet Wilson and their children Joseph 10, Elizabeth 8, William 6, Lachlan 3 and Mary aged 2 years. The name Lachlan was perhaps a clue once again, to search for a marriage of a Janet McPherson to a James Wilson to see if Janet was another sister to Elizabeth. I discovered this very marriage, which took place on June 30, 1870 and Janet's parents' names showed that she was indeed, Elizabeth's sister.

Margaret Helen Cunningham's sisters, Elizabeth and Jane had been sent to live with another maternal aunt in different city in Scotland.  The Cunningham children were separated after their father died in 1880, Margaret Helen remaining in Edinburgh with one of her mother's sisters and Elizabeth and Jane Cunningham being sent to Glasgow to live with an older sister of their mother.

I did not set out to research the ancestry of Margaret Helen Cunningham, although curiosity inevitably took me on an interesting journey into her past. The information that the family of Margaret Cunningham was seeking, was how Margaret came to pass away in the town of Kilcoy in Queensland, Australia,  her place of abode,  her occupation and employer's name.  The Will, discovered at the Queensland State Archives, and other documents in the File accompanying the Will, provided all of this information. Unfortunately the File did not enlighten us as to the date of Margaret's arrival in the town of Woodford. As for Margaret Cunningham's life in this town, we can only understand something of it by researching the town of Woodford itself.

Margaret Cunningham's work as a Cook in one of Woodford's three hotels ( one a combined shop and hotel), in the late 1920's to 1931 would have been a busy one. Woodford became a prosperous town during that period with the opening of the Stanley River Co-Operative Butter Factory there. The main industries in the area were dairying and timber, with two saw mills operating in Woodford. The railway ran to Woodford and the Woodford Agricultural, Industrial and Pastoral Show had been held in the town since 1912. Margaret would have cooked meals for workers from the district as well as holiday makers such as Miss Edna Comley who according to the Courier Mail, April 29, 1931, spent her holiday staying at the Yatesville Hotel. [  ]

 Once I became involved in the search for Margaret Helen Cunningham's life in Queensland, I couldn't help but become fascinated with Margaret Cunningham herself and felt compelled to find out more about her. I hope that Margaret's family, by reading the documents contained in the Will File, might find some closure to the mystery which surrounded her 'disappearance' during the almost 20 years that she spent living in Queensland. I thank them for allowing me to write this story.

The 'S S Perthshire' unloading  Cargo in Townsville 1901
[Courtesy Trove]

Post Script: The photograph of Margaret Helen Cunningham was added to this blog after her great nephew read the blog and sent me the photograph. I am thrilled to now be able to see what she looked like. 

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Ration Book found in a Collector's Emporium and the Search for Cecil Ralph Miller.

On a recent trip overseas, my daughter, Siobhan, kindly visited the birthplaces of my Swiss ancestors, Häberlings and Rysers, who I have traced back to the 1400's in Ottenbach, Zurich and in Bern. After seeing the places where her ancestors had lived and immediately being bitten by the genealogy 'bug', my 25 year old daughter continued on, in search of addresses of other ancestors, in other places in Europe and especially in London where she spent a month staying with family and friends.

Knowing that I enjoy collecting old photographs, books  and journals, Siobhan searched for a suitable  gift of this kind, to bring home for me. In Church Street, Marylebone, she chanced upon Alfies Antique Hall, where she found the perfect present for me at Tin Tin Collectables. 
In the collectables store, while rummaging through a box of miscellaneous papers, a yellowed Ministry of Food Ration Book dated 1953-1954 and bearing the name Miller, (Cecil Ralph), caught my daughter's eye. Delving deeper into the box, Siobhan discovered six other documents relating to Cecil Ralph Miller.. The owner of Tin Tin Collectables was most interested in what the documents were and together he and Siobhan unfolded the old pieces of paper which had once belonged to Cecil Ralph Miller.  My daughter knew at once that I would consider this 'find' a treasure trove and made the purchase, although the store owner was somewhat intrigued as to why this young woman was interested in a Ration Book and other papers related to a man she had never heard of.. As my daughter chatted to the proprietor of Tin Tin Collectables, she explained that her mother enjoys collecting photographs and memorabilia and re-uniting them with their rightful owners. She was certain that I would be enthusiastic to research the life of Cecil Ralph Miller and felt sure that I would want to try to trace descendants of this man who's documents had ended up for sale in the Marylebone Antique Centre. The store owner gave my daughter a card with his name on it and extracted a promise from her that she would let him know whatever I found out about Cecil Ralph Miller. 

The Ration Book which led my daughter to find other documents hidden in a box.

Inside Cecil Ralph Miller's Ration Book

 I was thrilled with my gift and as soon as my daughter returned to Australia with the little parcel of interesting documents which had belonged to Cecil Ralph Miller, I set to work to locate all that I could about him. After a quick search for Cecil Ralph Miller born in 1917 (date of birth on his Identity Card) on and finding quite a number of Cecil Millers born in and around that year ( and finding no family tree bearing the name Cecil Ralph Miller), I decided to begin my search with the actual documents themselves as evidence of Cecil's life.  There is something special and exciting about using original documents as a source of evidence although inevitably I resorted to the Internet for additional information. 

One of the folded papers with the Ration Book was a Military Identity Card stamped with the date 17 February, 1942. This card, bearing a photograph of Cecil Miller showed that he had been a Captain Adjutant with the 2/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1942. Cecil's place of birth was given as Hove and date of birth as 1917. Here was a wealth of information already, with which to begin my search. Looking at the charming photograph of the handsome young man in his Army uniform, made me more determined to find out who Cecil Ralph Miller was and whether he had any descendants who might like to have these special mementos of his life.

Curious to know more about Cecil Ralph Miller's military career,  I googled 'Cecil Ralph Miller Royal Warwickshire Regiment' and immediately was greeted with a result, pictured below, which included another photograph of Cecil.

On the above website,    I discovered an outline of Cecil's army career, beginning with his role as 2nd Lt. as a Cadet with the Harrow School Junior Division Training Corps in 1936. Cecil would have been aged 17 at this time. Harrow School was situated in Middlesex, London. On the 27th of May, 1939, Cecil Miller was commissioned to the Royal Warwickshire Regiment - Territorial Army (Battalion). He was mobilized on the 24th of August in the same year and transferred to the Parachute Regiment in the Army Air Corps on 27th of January, 1943. According to this website dedicated to the army careers of Airborn Officers, in 1944, Cecil was a general Staff Officer, Third grade (GSO3) (Air) with the First Parachute Brigade (Arnhem).  Cecil Miller attained the rank of Captain Territorial Army, on the 1.5.1947 and A/Major on 23/4/ 1949. The timeline of Cecil Ralph Miller's military career continued until 1955 when he appears as an Officer with the Territorial Army Reserve.

Another document belonging to Cecil Ralph Miller was an Army Form, numbered E.524, and  entitled Territorial Badge, which shows Cecil to have been a Captain ( Badge number 153247) with the 18th Bn.(Warrick) The Parachute Regiment. Through a Google search  I learned that the 18th Battalion was an Airborne Infantry Battalion of the Parachute Regiment which was raised by the British Army during World War 11. 

Two other cards which accompanied the Ration Book gave addresses for Cecil. A National Registration Card gave Cecil's address as Prickets Hatch, Nutley, Uckfield, and his National Health and Pensions Assurance Member Record Card (1942-1947) stated that Mr. C.R. Miller lived at Shrewsbury Villa, Rugby Rd. Newbold on Avon. Rugby. 

A google search revealed Prickets Hatch, Nutley, Uckfield to be in East Sussex, and Prickets Hatch is shown on the 1875 Ordinance map below. I discovered in addition to the map, a Manorial record of ownership by deed of Prickets Hatch, dating from 1561 to the 1800's showing it to be originally farming land. Curious to know more about Prickets Hatch during the war years, when Cecil may have lived there, I googled  'Prickets Hatch, Nutley,1939'. This search led me to a fascinating story called  'Nutley at War 1939-1945' written by Mollie Smith. (  )  This a wonderfully descriptive account of Nutley during the war and amongst the illustrations, I immediately recognised the picture of a Ration Card and other documents similar to those found with Cecil Ralph Miller's Ration Card. The story outlines in detail the significant part that the people of Nutley played in WW11, which included the Women's Land Army and the Evacuees who spent the war years in Nutley. Mollie Smith's story gave a moving and detailed account of the wartime experiences of the families of this district. Most significantly, in Mollie Smith's story, the surname Miller was mentioned in the form of a Colonel G.R. Miller. I felt at once that I was on the right trail in my search for Cecil Miller.

Prickets Hatch is located near the bottom centre of the above map. 

 A Google search for Shrewsbury Villa, Newbold Rd, Avon, surprised me by showing me the actual home that was Cecil's address in the 1940's, according to his National Health and Pensions Assurance Member Card (the house pictured  below). 

Shrewsbury Villa, Newbold Rd, Avon, Rugby.

Cecil Ralph Miller's Health and Pension Card
Cecil Miller's National Registration Card bearing an address

The most exciting find inside the Ration book which had belonged to Cecil Miller was the piece of faded blue paper that I unfolded last. To my surprise, I found that I had the cremation certificate for a man named George Ralph Miller who died on the 13th of September, 1948, at Prickets Hatch, Nutley, aged 74 years. The certificate had been issued by The Downs Crematorium, Brighton. The age of George Miller at his death placed his birth at approximately 1874. I wondered if George Ralph Miller could be Cecil's father? In Mollie Smith's story 'Nutley at War 1939-1945' a Colonel G.R. Miller had been mentioned. Could this be George Ralph Miller? My search was becoming increasingly more exciting as names and places matched the documents found by my daughter in the Marylebone Antique Centre, in Tin Tin Collectables.

The Cremation Certificate of George Ralph Miller

A search on showed the death registration in 1948 of a George Ralph Miller, born about 1874, his death registered at Uckfield, Sussex (Vol 5h, page 363). As Uckfield was the address given for Cecil Ralph Miller on his National Registration card, I was sure that George and Cecil were somehow related. I was ready to find Cecil Ralph Miller's ancestry.

As the Birth registrations for England on are from 1837 to 1915, I was unable to search for the 1917 birth of Cecil Ralph Miller. yielded no results for a search for Cecil or George Miller. When I searched for a marriage for George Ralph Miller I found three marriages registered in 1916, one in Lancashire, another in county Durham and the third marriage registered in Middlesex. Since Cecil attended Harrow School in Middlesex, the most likely marriage for his parents was a marriage registered on the 15 February 1916 in Kensington and Chelsea.

George Ralph Miller had married Violet Mary Teschemaker, daughter of William Henry Teschemaker.  The name of George Ralph Miller's father was given as Henry Miller. I decided to Google George Ralph Miller and Violet Mary Teschemaker to see what, if anything I could find out about this couple. To my surprise, the first hit was where I discovered George Ralph Miller (entry #512973) with wife Violet Mary Teschemaker and children Cecil Ralph Miller born 13th November, 1917 and Anthony John Miller born 21st May, 1920. This Cecil Ralph Miller was a decorated Major in the Territorial Army. There was little doubt that I had found my Cecil Ralph Miller and most interestingly, it appeared that he descended from peerage. Using my subscription to the Burke's Peerage and Gentry website, I conducted a search for the Lineage of George Ralph Miller and verified that Cecil Ralph Miller descended from the Millers of Chichester, the first Baronetcy being created 29 October 1705, in the person of Sir Thomas Miller.

Miller Crest


         Mark Miller, Alderman

  1. Sir Thomas Miller, 1st Baronet (Title [UK Life Peerage] created 1705)
  2. Sir John Miller, 2nd Baronet
  3. Sir Thomas Miller, 3rd Baronet
  4. Sir John Miller, 4th Baronet
  5. Sir Thomas Miller, 5th Baronet
  6. Sir Rev Thomas Combe Miller 6th Baronet  (The Title continued through the eldest sons of the Miller of Chichester family and currently resides in New Zealand. )
       John Henry Miller, born 9 September, 1830, married Jessie Orbell, had son,
       George Ralph Miller born  23 December, 1874, married Violet Mary Teschemaker, had son
       Cecil Ralph Miller, born 13 November, 1917.

Cecil's father, George Ralph Miller was born 23 December, 1874, the son of Henry John Miller  and Jessie Orbell. He was a Lieutenant-Colonel RA, Boer-1901 and WW1. He was decorated with the Companion, Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in 1919.

According to, Cecil Ralph Miller married Marie Sumner (of Edinburgh), daughter of Major Stephen Sumner in 1981.

It would appear that Cecil Miller married late in life and had no issue. I have traced Miller relatives in Australia and New Zealand and will hopefully re-unite them with the documents which belonged to Cecil Ralph Miller. Perhaps someone related to Cecil will read this blog and contact me. I would love to see Cecil Ralph Miller's personal and military papers go to a member of the Miller family.

As a fitting end to my journey in the search for Cecil, which began with an accidental find in an Antique Hall in Marylebone, London, I googled Cecil one last time. I found the obituary shown below.

MILLER, Cecil, Ralph, (Edinburgh) Died peacefully, on February 19, 2011, aged 93 years, devoted husband of the late Marie and much loved uncle, step- father and step- grandfather........

Obituary of Cecil Ralph Miller

I would like to thank my daughter, Siobhan, for her thoughtful gift, which inspired me to search for Cecil Ralph Miller. The research was well rewarded and the journey most interesting. Cecil Ralph Miller died in February this year in Scotland. My daughter found his personal documents in October, in an Antique Hall in Marylebone, London and brought them to Sydney, Australia. The Miller family member who holds the current Baronetcy, from which Cecil Ralph Miller descends, resides in New Zealand. Cecil Ralph Miller's documents have travelled a great distance but perhaps now, they are on their way home.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What's in a Name? Avoiding a Future Brick Wall.

What's in a Name? Avoiding a Brick Wall for Future Family Historians.

An uncommon name can be a godsend for the family historian. It matters not whether it is an uncommon Surname or Christian name. An unusual name will always be easier to find than a common name. MALIORA Taylor will be located with far less effort in baptism and census records than will MARY Taylor. Even when a tired enumerator misspelt my ancestor Maliora Taylor as Meloria, she was quite easily found with a name variant search.  There may have been more than one Elizabeth LEWTHWAITE born in England in 1740, however, certainly not nearly as many as there were Elizabeth SMITHs born and baptised in the same year. Unfortunately for family historians, the fact is, that we cannot choose the names which we are researching. The names of our ancestors were chosen in the past, with oblivious regard to the joys or frustrations they would cause in future genealogical searches. 

I quickly lost the trail of my great aunt, Margaret Smith, her husband, Andrew and daughters Margaret, Elizabeth and Mary Smith after they emigrated to America from Scotland in 1923. Smith is a surname which most genealogists greet with a groan. I have often found myself wondering how much easier it would be for me to to find this family had Andrew Smith not had his Lithuanian name of Antonas Ustila anglicised when he arrived in Scotland in the 1890's with his family as a refugee. How much simpler would my search be if Margaret had named her daughters Eilidh, Aiofe and Ciorstaidh rather than following the Scottish naming tradition of passing on the names of the maternal and paternal grandmothers as well as her own name to her three daughters. Common first names such as Mary, Elizabeth and Margaret along side a common surname such as Smith, lay the strong foundations for a solid brick wall.

I, myself, married a man with the fairly common surname of WHITE. My children will never stray far from the branches of the family tree, however, as I have endowed them all with unusual Gaelic christian names and (possibly burdened them with) four names each. One Gaelic name, one biblical, one a family name and one name that I just liked. So  daughter Ciorstaidh Keziah Herminnie Maddison White * ( not the real name... but close!) is unlikely to be lost among the many Whites in future records. Before my daughters decide to add another generation to our family tree, I plan to impress upon them, (tactfully of course) the benefits of naming the children with even  slightly uncommon names. I wouldn't dream of interfering.... but I do feel that Knight Sir Lancelot Rufus Marcus Ignatius *Brown would never create the footings for a genealogical brick wall ( then again.. imagine how many hits Sir Lancelot would get on And Pomegranate (well Gwyneth Paltrow has Apple!) Mairead Maliora Indianah *Jones will not likely disappear into oblivion in any census record. 

Having grown up with both an unusual first name AND a reasonably uncommon Scottish surname, you might be tempted to think that I am a future family historian's dream. If you read my Sorting Saturday blog, however,  on my GeneaThemeBlogs4u blog site (  ) you will be aware that I recently realised my potential as a brick wall ticking time bomb! To quickly summarise my untidy genealogical circumstance..... When I was nine years old, my mother changed my First Name (but not officially). To further complicate my chances of ever being located by a future genealogist, my Surname was mis-spelled on my birth certificate (I blamed my father who also mis- named my sister, when on arriving at the Registry office he forgot the name she was to be given and substituted it with something 'similar'). (Needless to say he wasn't allowed anywhere near the Registry Office for the third daughter). 

When recently applying for a new passport, (having lost mine), I found that I was unable to obtain one. The requirements for identification for a passport, are much stricter than when I applied for my last one. My problem was that I was Sharon-Lee Mcdade on my birth certificate (and before you pronounce my name Sharon - it was Shaaaaaaron, the reason for the change of name being that... it was always mispronounced) My surname should have been MacDade ( with an all important 'a' in the Mac and a capital D for Dade) but on my birth certificate, it was Mcdade.  On my marriage certificate my name was Sharon-Lee  aka Sharna-Lee  MacDade, and on all other ID, I am Sharn or Sharna-Lee ( the name my mother gave to me at age nine).  Faced with the prospect of becoming an unfortunate genealogist's worst nightmare somewhere in the future, and needing a passport, I decided to 'sort' my name out once and for all. 

Having struggled to find my own ancestors who have disappeared into the mazes created by name changes and misspelling of names I could see the 'mess' that my name would create for anyone searching for me on the family tree. Changing my first name by deed poll and correcting my misspelled surname on my birth certificate seemed the logical step to take to avoid the inevitable fate of one day becoming a Brick Wall!  

Recalling the three days I spent at the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages only two months earlier where my name had caused much confusion (but where three days of 'sorting'  finally resulted in my being handed a birth certificate) ( Sorting Saturday), I again travelled to Brisbane, the city of my birth to face the bureaucratic process. I felt a little sad to be losing the name on the birth certificate that I had so recently battled to acquire but with my form filled out, I sat in wait for my number to be called. 

Everyone should spend a little time in their local Registry Office. It is a most interesting experience. A place of varied life stories and events. Apart from a wedding being conducted outside in the rain, there were quite a few young mothers, with newborn babies in tow, registering their brand new names. How times have changed. On most of the birth certificates I have collected on my genealogical journey, the father has been the informant, going back to birth registrations in the 1700's. Then again, perhaps more children have the correct name on their birth certificates now! 

Because I am an avid observer of people and of life, I found the long wait to get closer to the counter anything but dull. I smiled knowingly as baby 'Bandit' received his new name. I was confident that young Bandit will never disappear in a labyrinth of Jacks, Harry's or Williams in the census records. (Although I secretly hope that his mother's choice of name doesn't in any way affect his choice of career in the future.) I listened in sympathy as a young woman explained that she had lost her birth certificate in the Queensland Floods earlier in the year. When she had received a replacement certificate, the Registry office had left a hyphen out of her name thus rendering her Mary Ann instead of Mary-Anne. I nodded in agreement as she explained that the hyphen IS important. Hadn't my own 5 times great grandmother, Mary-Ann Cupples been difficult to find because of a missing hyphen? I had learned that it is much more likely that an ancestor might use either part of their first name, eg Mary, or as my forebear did, Ann, if the hyphen exists. I could see her point perfectly well. It soon became evident, however, that this Mary-Ann didn't really care about the hyphen. (I resisted the urge to jump up and explain to her that it WOULD matter to a luckless family historian one day). As it turned out, Mary-Ann needed a passport and her passport application had been rejected because of the missing hyphen on her birth certificate. Her name had to be corrected on the  certificate. My tangible sympathy increased tenfold. I was there for a similar reason.

I shook my head in compassion as similar stories about failed passport applications came to light. One lady with the maiden name of Schloss found that it was spelled Shloss on her birth certificate. When the same Mrs Maiden Surname Schloss announced that while she was at the registry office, she also wished to change her married name, by adding a hyphen and attaching it to her maiden name, I could only barely restrain myself from yelling, 'Stop!'.I knew only too well the brick wall that would surface generations later from this deed. My own maternal family disappeared into oblivion after my great grandfather added Reece to Hoyes. I spent many years on a long fruitless search for Welsh ancestors by the surname of Reece-Hoyes. (I did eventually find my HOYES ancestors happily living in Nottinghamshire but only after quite a number of family members had been afforded the honour of Welsh names for the Welsh ancestry we don't have.)

I handed my four forms of ID to the same young girl who had patiently spent three days searching for my birth certificate eight weeks earlier. 
'Hello', she said cheerily, I remember you. 'You were the lady with the confusion about your names'.
'I'm here to fix that,' I replied confidently. 
I handed her the form to change my Christian name by deed poll and explained that my Surname had also been misspelled on my birth certificate. I handed her my four required forms of ID. She looked them over and handed them straight back. 
'I'm sorry,' said the girl ( I could tell she really was) but I can't accept your ID. Your licence and birth certificate are OK, but your Health Care card and Bank Statement are missing a hyphen! 

'You must be joking', I spluttered. I have all the way flown from Sydney AGAIN. 
'I'm really sorry,' said the girl again. 'I can't identify you without the hyphen.'
'But you just said you remembered me', I exclaimed.  
I looked at the offending identification. My health care card had my name printed as Sharnalee and my bank statement as Sharna Lee. 
'You will need to go to your bank and health care company and have them put the hyphen in your name', said the girl, apologetically. 'Then come back and I will be able to ID you.' 

To be fair to the Qld Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, they did eventually (the next day) agree to accept my ID and my name was changed officially, hyphen and all. It was discovered that my father did register my surname correctly after all, but that someone had transcribed it into the Index as 'Mc' instead of 'Mac', so that mistake was rectified at no cost to myself. In appreciation of my patience I was offered two copies of my new birth certificate. Well, I am sure one can never have too many birth certificates! On the back of my certificate, I was told, would be recorded the date of the registration of change of name. I felt that this was an important piece of information to have made available and am pleased to say that I am confident now that I have avoided becoming a brick wall.

As I was thanking the helpful young girl (who was probably pleased that I did NOT have to return)  I overheard a young woman at the counter next to mine, registering her new baby boy as John White. A genealogist's worst nightmare, I was thinking.  As the woman turned to stare at me I realised that I had voiced my opinion aloud. My husband's ancestors had all been named John or William White and had been impossible to find in County Down Northern Ireland, as had my own two times great grandfather William White in County Tyrone. 
With a lovely smile, the young mother reassured me, 'Don't worry. I know what you mean but it's a family name. I do family history and I have given him my maiden surname as a middle name. He won't disappear on a census record.' 
At that she turned back to the man behind the counter and said determinedly,'  I have changed my mind. Reverse those names! He will be known by my my maiden name.'

The young mother smiled to me as though we shared a great secret as she walked past me. We both knew she had just avoided a future genealogical brick wall..... Of course young FARMER John White* may not see things that way for twenty or so years but one day he'll understand! 

* These names have been changed to protect privacy of individuals.