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The day I burst into tears at Births Deaths & Marriages Victoria #52ancestors

August 25, 2020

Professional genealogist and podcaster Amy Johnson Crow has put out the challenge to genealogists and family historians, to write stories about 52 of their ancestors in 52 weeks. I am happily taking up the challenge, and look forward to writing stories, that will collate many years of research results. In most cases, the research for my ancestors is not complete, and possibly never will be complete, but I’m hoping to build a story of the lives they lived with the information I have to hand.

I’m hoping to publish these stories in a book at the end of 2020. Each week a prompt will be given as the theme for the week.

Week 35: Unforgettable

As I’ve posted about recently, I’m spending time during isolation, Getting my genealogy files organised.  Recently, I came across my grandmother’s death certificate, and memories came rushing back of the day, that I burst into tears, at the Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, in Melbourne. This was approximately three decades ago, when I was a very newbie amateur genealogist and family historian.  In those days, I only had a small clue of how to go about tracing my family tree. I did know that I needed to get civil registration certificates, in order get the accurate information that I needed to build the story of my family.

The Beginning

I decided to start with my father’s family, because I knew very little about them. I only knew my father’s sister and her daughters. Even though they lived in our town, I didn’t know them well.  My father was one of 11 children. I have very vague memories, from when I was a small child, of my father’s brothers coming to visit, and I really have no idea why they stopped coming. All I knew was that my father was an orphan. I had no idea how he became to be an orphan, and felt really bad that this was never discussed in our family.

I will always remember, when I told my Dad that I was going to research his mother’s line of the family, he told me not to bother, as his mother had no family. I was a bit disappointed, but thought that I’d give it a go anyway. At that time, I didn’t even know her name. I had seen a lovely photo of her, taken when she was young, and wanted to put a story to that photo.

Dad’s mother, my grandmother was Emily TAYLOR. She was born in 1886, at Bundalong, Victoria. Her parents were William TAYLOR and Janet McEWAN/McQUEEN. I didn’t realise it at the beginning, but I soon found that my father was wrong about Emily having no family. Emily had nine brothers and sisters. Her father William was the third child of twelve children and her mother was one of ten children. So, without looking at the children of her siblings, or without looking at ancestors further back, I realised very quickly, that the Taylor family was huge, and there was much research to be done.

Growing up, not knowing my father’s family, and with my mother only having one sister, I had only four cousins. At school I was always envious of the kids who had big families. Little did I know, that I actually had many, many first cousins. I’m still not sure exactly how many there are. In the years since, I have met a few of them, but nowhere near all, or even most.

I know very little about my grandmother, as she died when my father was just six years old. On 25 April, 1910, Emily married William Lowe JONES, at Richmond. William was born on 22 September 1886 at Gowangardie, Victoria. His parents were Cornelius JONES and Mary CALNAN.  Emily and William had a large family of eleven children, including my father, who was the second youngest. The children were born over a span of almost twenty years.


At The Registrar of Births Deaths & Marriages

To begin my research, and feeling quite excited, I made the trip to Melbourne, to the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, to purchase death certificates for both Emily and William. In those days, it wasn’t possible to purchase certificates online. These death certificates would be the first historical certificates that I would see.

I will never forget standing at the counter, when I was handed my grandparents death certificates. The first thing I noticed was that they died within six weeks of each other. This was news to me.  William passed away first on 3 August 1932, followed by Emily on 19 September, 1932. I couldn’t help thinking about my father, and what it must have been like for him at six years old, to have his father die, followed by his mother just a few weeks later.

My eyes were then drawn to the children, who’s names and ages were listed at the bottom of the certificate. As soon as I caught sight of those 11 names with ages ranging from 21 years down to 3 years, I burst into tears. I’m not usually over sentimental, but I couldn’t help myself. My thoughts went immediately to Emily who passed away in hospital.

What must it have been like for Emily to be in that hospital, her husband having passed away just a few weeks earlier? I was imagining her worrying about what was going to happen to her children. I had three small children myself at the time, so I could feel Emily’s worry in my heart. These thoughts were too much for me, and the tears came very quickly.  The service person was very kind, and I quickly pulled myself together. Just seeing this information, written there in black and white, made me ask myself many questions about my father’s family, and also about my own childhood.  My thoughts then went to the younger children, who became orphans. What was their life like after their parents died?  My father told me they were very poor, but I knew no more than that. Why didn’t I know more than that? Why was my father’s family rarely mentioned?

Before I collected those death certificates my father’s parents, my grandparents were unknown to me, but as soon as I held that information in my hands, I felt a connection with them, and especially with my grandmother, Emily. I also had feelings of regret at never asking my father about his parents. Over the next few years,  I visited the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages many times to purchase civil registration certificates.

Every time I walked into that building, I remembered the first time and the tears that came so quickly.


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From → family history

  1. You just expressed in words what a lot of us feel when we find those treasured documents. Thank you for writing it!

  2. Such a sad story…, she was beautiful…! The stories and mysteries we unravel as genealogists can sometimes be so very sad. It makes me respect my ancestors even more knowing what they had to go through.

    • I agree with you. It’s not until we go into our ancestors history that we can understand what their lives were like.

  3. She was a very pretty lady. Wish I knew something more about my paternal grandmother not to mention having a photo of hers.

  4. Such an evocative story Jennifer. So similar to my grandfather’s story but he was the eldest. His mother died in November 1901 and six weeks later, on XMas Day, his father died. The impact on the younger children as they grew up was noticeable. Like your father there were also family fractures. I’m sad every time I read the story of my great-grandmother’s death. I was very touched when I inherited my grandfather’s fob watch and it had 25.12.1901 inscribed inside. Was it a gift on that terrible day, or did he have it inscribed to remember his father? I’ll never know.

    • Must have been a dreadfully sad time for your grandfather Pauleen. I know now that Dad was shaped by his losses.I can imagine how much you would love to know the story behind that watch. If only! We say that a lot as family historians.

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