18    Sep 20090 comments

User Story: Sad discoveries and happy reunions

Joan [Robertson] Symons is of Scottish-English descent and lives in Kingscliff in Australia. She is 82 and with her age come a lot of stories. Find some of them below.

Joan's familyMy interest in genealogy began when my children asked me about the first World War medals that they had worn to school for the ANZAC ( Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) services. My maternal grandmother had given them to me and I knew of the tragedy behind them that was never spoken of because it was so painful to my grandparents.

My grandparents had come to Shepparton, Australia in 1912, from Wiltshire, England with their three daughters. Their daughter Gladys married an Englishman who had come to Australia as a young boy because work was scarce in the agricultural area. He became a soldier, and when he returned from service they were given soldier settlement land near Shepparton, in Victoria and wanted to start a family. Sadly both my auntie and her baby died during childbirth. After this tragedy, my uncle was unable to settle in Victoria and returned to England where he was born.

My children's interest in the Anzac medals prompted me to obtain my uncle's AIF records to find out more about him. This came in handy when on the 75th anniversary of the first World War battle of Gallipoli, a medal was struck and my uncle's name was printed in the newspaper saying he was entitled to a Gallipoli Star. To prove that I was his nearest living next of kin required filling in many forms and waiting. Eventually I received his Gallipoli Star, of which I am very proud, especially as I never knew my auntie, nor my uncle.

But it was really in 1991 that I started to get serious about genealogy. That year my husband was advised to take early retirement because of his continued bad health, we moved to Northern NSW where we had played bowls in the Gold Coast Winter Bowls Carnival and enjoyed the warmer climate. Now with more time to devote to research we found the local library had NSW Birth, marriage and other records. NSW was where my ancestors had come to from Glasgow in 1852. My husband's family had come from London in 1924 to his mother and brother's family already living in an outer suburb of Melbourne.

Joan's familyAs part of my genealogy search I attended a lecture by the well-know genealogist Janet Reake, I started with a master file using her starter kit and did research in the library. I also joined family history groups where I knew my ancestors had lived both in NSW, Victoria, overseas and one-name study groups. It was at these meetings that I learnt of My Heritage.com and decided to join. I have only recently started using MyHeritage.com and have been surprised by the number of smart matches I have gotten. I now already have 1682 people on my index related to Robertson and Symons and many pictures (such as the two displayed here of my husband's 80th birthday we celebrated with the family).

Genealogy has been a wonderful learning curve for me finding ancestors that I never knew of. My earliest ancestor on my dad's (Robertson) side is John Robertson born in 1745, who married Janet Woodcock in 1769 at St. Andrews & St. Leonards in Scotland. Their descendants came to Australia, to the Riverina, NSW and Bendigo, Victoria in 1852 as store and innkeepers.

The breakthrough in my research really came when I told a wonderful researcher friend that my Robertson grandmother had spoken of family in Bendigo in the past. Her next letter to me included the photo of headstone of an Agnes Robertson, aged 27, buried next to Sir John McIntyre and his wife Isabella. I didn't know of Agnes Robertson, however my friend said "these are your people, so there must be a story." It has taken years to unravel this sad but wonderful story.

Agnes Grant had married my great uncle Lawrence Robertson at John [later Sir] McIntyre's house in Sandhurst (the old name for Bendigo) in 1868. Agnes's sister Jane was the first wife of Sir John. Sadly she died giving birth to their fourth son Archibald Jane McIntyre onboard the ship from which she and her husband and children were retuning from Scotland where they had visited family. She was buried at sea. John returned with their sons, however their infant son only lived to an age 11 months 12 days. Sadly, my great uncle Lawrence's wife Agnes also died very young, she passed away 8 days after the birth of their daughter Agnes Grant McIntyre Robertson.

I have made many discoveries over the years and one took me more than thirteen years. Years ago I wrote to a one name study of Hanscombe in England to ask if they knew of family related to me. However, back came the standard reply - unable to help you, however will keep your letter on file. Thirteen years later I got a letter from the Secretary of the society saying she could now put me in touch with family living in London. It turned out the family she found was my husband's second cousin, who had gone to a genealogy fair in London and found my enquiry. Thanks to e-mail we were in touch within days, she has given us my husband's mother's siblings and ancestors living in Wiltshire back to 1692, the place where, incidentally, my mother's ancestors also lived. I'm in the process of adding her details to the tree, so she should soon join MyHeritage.com as a member.

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