Friday, July 28, 2017

BETSY BIRD - A Fabulous Find on Trove.

Betsy Bird - A Clue Found on Trove

BETSY BIRD! Such a great name! At first it was just a name among others mentioned in an old newspaper article found on the TROVE website while searching for my third great-grandfather, Irish convict Michael FRAYNE. Then one day, in a 'light bulb' moment Betsy BIRD became a significant clue to finding family.
Rice Bunting Drawing Image Wikipedia ©©

When searching for ancestors in newspapers I have found it rewarding to keep a research log where I record the people who are named alongside my own ancestors. I am a strong advocate of the principle of  FAN (Family, Associates and Neighbours) accredited to genealogist Elizabeth Shown Mills and of keeping research logs.When I find a birth, death or marriage record or any source of information my ancestors appear in, I document the names of witnesses - in fact anyone mentioned. Sometimes these people, who appear to be completely unrelated, end up becoming a vital clue that confirms a relationship. So it was with Betsy Bird.


In the course of researching my convict ancestor, Michael FRAYNE, I found a wealth of information about him in newspapers on the National Library of Australia website, Trove.
Convicts had their lives officially well documented, much more so than the average ancestor. This is the upside to having criminal forebears. As an added bonus for me, my ancestor never managed to stay on the straight and narrow and as a result, he appeared in the news a considerable amount of times.

 In my quest to find information about my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary WILLIAMS, it was a newspaper report about her husband Michael Frayne that eventually led me to a significant discovery about Mary herself. The seemingly unrelated name of BIRD  in that article and in another later news account became a vital clue to finding Mary's family. Had I not kept these names in a research log, it could have been years before I linked the trail of clues together.

Some families are trickier than others to investigate. I have been led on a merry dance investigating my 3rd great-grandmother, Mary WILLIAMS. I have only Mary's word for the name of her parents, her birth year and place of birth.  I have never have found any official record of her birth or baptism. I have found no marriage for her to Michael Frayne and no marriage or immigration record for her parents. When researching convicts and their descendants one needs to keep in mind that people with criminal records often assumed alias's and were known to cleverly hide their criminal past in a bid for respectability.


The first record I found of Mary Williams was for the birth of her daughter and my two times great-grandmother, Sarah in 1878 in Brisbane, Queensland. Sarah's father was Michael Frayne.
According to the information Mary Williams gave on her daughter's birth certificate, she was born circa 1845 in Singleton, New South Wales, although to date I have found no record of her birth.

Mary Williams documented her birthplace as Singleton, New South Wales throughout her adult life, and consistently gave her parents names as Mary KELLY and Joseph WILLIAMS.
I have found no marriage record in Queensland or New South Wales for Mary Williams and Michael Frayne and curiously on their daughter Sarah's birth record in 1878, Michael stated that he was married in 1858 in Sydney though this was actually the date and place of his marriage to first wife Bridget Donelly..


I know that that Mary lived in Singleton, New South Wales since on January 26 1861 in that town she married James BUCKLEY. Her mother MARY BIRD gave consent to the marriage since Mary was stated to be under age. So by 1861 my 4th great-grandmother, Mary Kelly (if Kelly was her real name) had become Mary Bird. From newspaper accounts I learned that Mary Bird was a mid-wife working in Singleton and Maitland.

Image of Nurse/ Midwife in Public Domain, Wikipedia ©©
A number of sources confirmed for me that by 1864, Michael Frayne was also living in Singleton. In March of 1864, according to a news source Michael became the Licencee of The Golden Fleece Hotel in George Street, Singleton (he had been granted a conditional pardon in Sydney in 1862) and his wife Bridget died in Singleton in August 1864.

Fortunately for me, Michael found it difficult to stay out of trouble and was constantly mentioned in local newspapers being charged with one thing or another and appearing in the Singleton Police Court. People who frequented his hotel were often called as witnesses and their names were reported in newspapers as well.

Maitland Mercury Newspaper building. Image  WIKI ©©
Recently I found a news item about Michael Frayne which appeared on Thursday, August 25, 1864, in The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advisor, reporting that Michael was charged with breaching the Publican's act by 'allowing disorderly conduct to take place in his licensed public-house".  I didn't doubt the fact, and I recorded all names mentioned in the article in my research log.


The names I recorded apart from the judge, the constable and the legal persons were BETSY BIRD, MRS BUCKLEY and RUTH ROSE and in fact it was the alleged 'disorderly' conduct of these three women in Michael's hotel that had caused him to be charged. Witnesses including one Fanny Dawson however exhonerated the reputations of the three women and the charge against Michael Frayne was dismissed 'with a caution.'

Image Maitland Mercury and Hunter River Advisor, August 25 1864, p. 3.,Trove

The name that caught my attention, was BETSY BIRD. I knew that Mary's mother was calling herself Mary Bird by 1861 and the fact that Betsy was behaving in a disorderly way (or not) alongside a Mrs Buckley (the married name of my Mary Williams) gave me cause to think I might have just found an aunt or even a sister for my 3rd great-grandmother.


Try as I did, I could find no way to link Mary Williams and Betsy Bird. There was no marriage for a Mary Kelly to a man named Bird (in fact no one seemed to stand on ceremony in this family and actually get married!) . I found an Elizabeth Bird born in Sydney in 1847 to John Bird and Mary Reilly but no Mary Kelly or Williams as the mother. I had all but given up, when a newspaper search for 'Mary Bird in Singleton' resulted in the following artlicle - Singleton Police Court on August 29, 1865  for "Vagrancy - Elizabeth WILSON, Mary BIRD and Caroline EVERETT for being idle and disorderly characters, receiving each a sentence of three months imprisonment in Singleton with hard labour."
Female Convicts at labour. Image Wikipedia ©©


Because Elizabeth is often shortened to Betsy, in a 'light bulb' moment it occurred to me that Elizabeth Wilson and Betsy Bird could be one and the same person and perhaps she had married between court appearances in 1864 and 1865. Checking marriages for those years turned up nothing. When I widened the search I found her -  BETSY BIRD married GEORGE WILSON in SINGLETON on January 7 1862.

Consent for Betsy's marriage was given by her mother MARY BIRD since she was underage - it seems that marrying off her underage daughters was something of a habit for my 4th great-grandmother Mary!

The most convincing evidence on this marriage document linking Betsy Bird to my Mary Williams was the name of the witness - JAMES BUCKLEY - the brother-in-law of Betsy Bird and Mary William's husband.  I had found my evidence to support my theory that Mary Williams and Betsy Bird were sisters - in all likelihood half sisters sharing a mother named Mary Bird.

When Betsy appeared in the 1864 news report she was already married to George Wilson. Had her married name of Wilson been used I would never have connected her to the name Bird or to my family.


I may never know who my 4th great-grandparents really were other than to know that in the 1860's my 4 times great- grandmother went by the name of Mary Bird. They may well have been named Mary Kelly and Joseph Williams and it is quite likely that they were convicts. I will continue to investigate convicts with these names, however,  I suspect that that DNA will eventually be the only way to confirm whether Kelly and Williams are my ancestral names.

I am very excited to have a new 4th great aunt whose trail I can now follow and who knows, she may have descendants!

All this from two newspaper reports and the name BETSY BIRD.


Mary WILLIAMS - my 3rd great-grandmother
Michael FRAYNE - 2nd husband of Mary Williams and my 3rd great-grandfather
Mary / KELLY/BIRD - mother of Mary Williams  and Betsy Bird and my 4th great-grandmother
James BUCKLEY - first husband of Mary Williams
Betsy BIRD/ Elizabeth WILSON - half sister to Mary Williams and my 3rd great-aunt


  1. Welcome back, Sharn... persistence pays off.

  2. Welcome back! Love how you resolved this.

  3. I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    Thank you, Chris