MyHeritage: Family history with challenges

Sylvia Baker
Sylvia Baker

People look into their family history for all sorts of reasons. Australian Sylvia Baker, 62, had some special reasons for asking questions.

Born Wilhelmina Cornelia Steeneveld in Delft, Netherlands, Sylvia immigrated to Australia in 1957; lived in Matraville, NSW for five years; and later in Montrose, Victoria. Now retired, she lives in Manjimup, Western Australia and previously worked as a bookkeeper.

She was married to Lambertus Tip, and had two sons, Angus (born Wayne) and Jeffrey (now deceased).

Sylvia attended three years of primary school, began working and then married. At 37, she returned to school and began learning from the beginning!

Sylvia faced some challenges along the way, as her parents did not have a happy marriage. In the summer of 1968, she went on holiday to Western Australia and met a friend, Lambertus. When she returned home, he followed soon after. After a few months, they were engaged, married in 1969, and had their sons in 1970 and 1971. They moved from Victoria to Perth, where they bought a home and raised their boys until 1986.

Why did she become interested in family history?

When my husband and I separated, I often wondered what my past really was, but I didn’t know where to start. Due to a childhood illness, I had lost a lot of my memory and about those I knew.

Her family had drifted apart. She didn’t know where her parents were, her sons were living their teenage lives. It took Sylvia a long time to find her sons, but eventually they were reunited. She tried to contact her parents, but she couldn’t get any information from her father.

I later realized he was illiterate, which caused a lot of anxiety and anger. I learned my mother had remarried, but I still had no answers.

And, as sometimes happens, she received a phone call that started the ball rolling:

The day before Mother’s Day 2000, my brother – who was in a wheelchair – called to say that my mother had been in a bus accident. Could I come see her in the hospital? She came home and I cared for her until she died. Her health had improved so much that the doctors couldn’t believe it. My brother was later taken into care as he got sicker.

While Sylvia was living with her mother – who had a good memory – she wrote down information about the things she wanted to know. She learned that her grandmother was raised, with her siblings, in an orphanage. Sylvia’s mother died in 2008 and her brother in 2010.

Sylvia's mother, Cornelia Johanna Steeneveld (Van Vegten) holding Sylvia
Sylvia, as a baby, with her mother, Cornelia Johanna Steeneveld (born Besemer)

Sylvia then went through all her mother’s papers, discovered much information about her ancestors, and put it into a file.

Sylvia's mother
Sylvia's mother, Cornelia, on her 82nd birthday

This year, I opened the file and wondered if I could find anything about my father or grandmother, the orphanage or her siblings. I searched the Internet for weeks, but found only information in other languages or only Australian relatives.

Since entering her parents’ and grandmother’s names at MyHeritage, she has discovered relatives she never knew she had.

She discovered MyHeritage quite accidentally. When she learned it had great popularity in Europe and America, she thought she might have a chance to find something.

Her children are not involved – it isn’t yet important to them.

My son is busy running a business and getting married.

Although her son joined under the surname name Tip, she still cannot find anything about her parents-in-law.

Although many family members are young and don’t yet think about the past, Sylvia wants to leave them all the information she can find, so they won’t feel lost later in life.

Currently, Sylvia has 326 people in her tree; they live around the world.

Sylvia discovered “heaps of information” through Smart Matches, and it’s how she found most of the information about her relatives.

She has discovered previously unknown and long-lost relatives, but only two have contacted her.

Says Sylvia:

If my story entices someone to look for their family and – if they are still alive – it would be a great bonding process and would re-unite families in the future.

For those just beginning to research their family, Sylvia provides some tips:

Enter the names of people you know and the information that you have. Expect to be surprised by finding relatives you don’t know. It will be the start of an interesting life for everyone involved.

Thank you, Sylvia, for sharing your story. People begin looking into their families for many reasons, and we are happy that Sylvia has achieved success.

Did you enjoy her story? Let us know via the comments below.

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  • Ken Bright

    August 1, 2012

    “Sylvia, as a baby, with her mother, Cornelia Johanna Steeneveld (born Van Vegten)”
    worded incorrectly:
    Should read:(born name “Besemer”)
    2nd “marriage name” van Vegten”
    🙂 ( “previously unknown and long-lost relatives=assists with info. on tree, now/hahaha, but only two have contacted her”)

  • Gail Timu

    August 1, 2012

    Very inspiring for someone like myself who is just starting out in family history. Manjimup is lovely, lived in Bridgetown for 11 years. Thank you for your story.

  • Angus Wheeler

    August 2, 2012

    Well done mom…even yr brothers cover up was smooth an unoticeable to all but me…lol

  • CB Hadley

    August 2, 2012

    An impressive story, I hope your family tree continues to grow (and that you make contact with living family members). Best of luck!

  • Anne Grethe Larsen

    August 4, 2012

    Dear Sylvia! Yesterday I got you in on blog news, to-day I got Marilyn Monroe in, it will be 50 years ago she went. It is said she was born Mortensen, which is a danish name. She got her mothers surname, which was Baker, and your name is Baker, was you related? I have got some relatives in USA, Bessie and Kenneth Hansen, should be mine, a Rasmus Hansen immigrated to Nebraska in 1778 or 1878 from Tårs, Børglum Herred, and it might be them. My grandmothers maiden surname was Hansen, she married Svendsen Olsen, and had a child, my mother, who was an Olsen and married to Karl Robert Larsen, who was my father, we lived in Læsø, an ireland close to Frederikshavn in Jutland, wher I now live. Have a nice day. Best wishes from Anne Grethe Larsen, (I am still Larsen as I am not married.)

  • Anne Grethe Larsen

    August 4, 2012

    Look for the Kirchemoe tree, that is a very big tree also called the Rygge tree, as it belonged to a pastor Kirchemoe, minister, who came from Norway and settled down in Læsø. I think we go to the Kennedy family in USA, but I can not explaine how. I often see the name Baker coming up, it did not know, Marilyn Monroe, who was born Mortensen, and had her mothers maiden surname Baker when she had her stepfather. Pastor Kirchemoe was married to Karen Carlsdatter Kock, and you will see, the name Kock is to be found in Irland, Australia, Norway, Denmark, of course it need not be the same Kock. Karen Carlsdatter Kock was a daughter of minister Carl Kock in Rygge in Norway. Karen Kock was my great great great great great grandmother and she was married to Niels Nielsen Kirchemoe. We have Bessie Cooper, who belongs to our tree, she is now 114 years old and live in Georgia, USA.

  • Daniel J van Vegten

    September 27, 2012

    Aunty Sylvia I don’t really know if you. will see this but i wanted to say
    That I’m really sorry about Oma it sounds like a lot of questions are unanswered i am regretful that i couldn’t bring myself to Google my last name sooner so that i might have seen her one last time she was a wonderful and kind woman who when i think about it made living with a monster bearable im not sure how you would feel about me posting on this and if it has upset you i am truly sorry.

  • Rosa M

    May 2, 2014

    Hello Sylvia. Your story of finding lost relatives is also my story. I have found second and third generation of cousins in the USA.When I started my family research I never expected that I would meet these people on the other side of the world. The information I have collected has astounded my family, at least those that are interested. You are right, we do this research to see where we have have come from and from whom. But, we also leave a legacy for the future members of our families not yet born.