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Week 7: 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy

February 18, 2012

Amy Coffin of  The We Tree Genealogy Blog in conjunction with GeneaBloggers has called for bloggers of genealogy and family history to take on the 2012 challenge of  52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy    This week’s topic is Historical documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?

The historical documents that I have and am most thankful for, are transcripts of  letters that my Great Great Grandfather THOMAS WATERS wrote home to his family in Dunton, Bedfordshire, England. The letters were written between 1862 and 1865, from areas in and around Kyneton, Victoria, where he was trying to make a life for himself and his family.

These letters really bring home to me how homesick he was. He continually asks for family to write and tell him how particular family members are going, over in England. I’m not sure what caused him to come to Australia, but for some reason the family appear to very seldom answer his letters.

He informs his family of  how tough daily life is, living in a tent. I can imagine  Winter in Kyneton would have been horrendously cold. He discusses the coldness of the weather, and how at times, it seems to be colder than anything he has experienced in England. But he goes on to  say that the difference is that the  frosts melt very quickly here.  Eventually due to the cold, the family upgraded to a rented house. In 1862 this house burnt to the ground. I have the newspaper clipping that gives an outline of the events that caused the fire. I was surprised to read about the fire in the letters and the experience that the family went through from the words of  Thomas himself.

Thomas was disfigured in an explosion, and in the letters explains his injuries. Shortly after the explosion he posed for a professional photo to send home to the family. He tells the family to expect the photo in the mail, and explains how he had to stand in order to hide the injuries a little. I have a copy of that photo also. I can tell by his words in the letter that this is the photo that he sent home to his family.

Because of these letters, I feel a stronger connection to my great great grandfather.  I knew his son, my great grandfather, who we called Grandpa.  THOMAS WATERS is more than just a name on a page to me. Reading his letters, I can feel his pain and homesickness. I am deeply indebted to the person in England who came by these letters and kept them, so we might better understand how our ancestors suffered, that their descendants would have a chance at a life better than their own.

Here are two excerpts from a letter written on May 23, 1864:

“I am, now living in Kyneton town, and have been here a little more than a week in a comfortable little house at a rent of 3/- per week.  I paid 3/6 in the other. With a half an acre of ground, I planted nearly the whole of it with potatoes but the crickets were so numerous they destroyed them. I think I shall have a bag full off it and that will be all. I was in hopes of having sufficient to last me through the winter and a few to help pay the rent. The living is very dear here now. A loaf of bread is one shilling and other things in comparison. The loaf is supposed to weigh 4lbs but we are obliged to be content with 3lbs and a half.  I suppose my next work will be road making as that is the principal work here through the winter”.

“There is one thing grieves me much. We are living close to the Wesleyan Chapel and I have no other clothes than what I work in and do not like to be seen in a place of Worship in such a dress. But I am happy to say we have musterd(sic) sufficient for my wife to attend as a few shillings will make a woman appear decent. I live in hopes of being able to do better shortly, in fact I am always in hopes of better employment turning up for me”

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