To my extended family

I adore my immediate family, my husband and kids, and although they’re far away it’s nice to have a strong connection with my children’s grandparents too. But I don’t mention much about my extended family. I’m an only child, so I’m talking about aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. This is because I haven’t made much effort to be in touch with them. Actually, I’m going to be honest here, I’ve actively avoided them. And now, at the age of 37, for the first time, I’m beginning to feel terrible about that. So this post is an apology to my family for cutting them out, even if they didn’t notice.

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my family. none of the people in this photo are alive any more and i never met any of them. this is my great-grandparents’ wedding, taken at St Bartholemew’s somewhere in London’s East End, Boxing Day 1923

I didn’t really grow up with my cousins. They mainly lived in Sydney and my parents and I moved to Canberra when I was two or three. We’d visit of course, but it’s not the same. And frankly, I don’t know why, but I always felt different, like I didn’t really identify with my family. On one side, I think the lack of language contributed – they all spoke or understood a bit of Serbian and I knew none at all. On the other side, I felt a little closer to them, but culturally, again, they were more ‘Aussie’ or something. When I was a teenager and even into my 20s I was a real snob. Yeah, this is an honest post. I was so stuck up, constantly comparing myself with others, insecure, immature, unable to accept that everyone is different, with different influences and ideas and desires and strengths and weaknesses.

Having said that, I was very anti-Australia for the longest time, despite having been born and growing up in Australia. I considered myself ‘European’, whatever that means. I think it meant that I didn’t identify with Australian culture and I felt like being European was classier, like people from Europe have more of a world view, are more educated, more intelligent, more refined. I was revolted by bogans. It really was snobbery on my part.

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countdown to departure, July 2007

I think there were a couple of pivotal moments that changed my perception about my cultural identity and where I belonged, but it’s only recently that my familial identity has begun to matter. Just after turning 18, my dad took me to the UK for five weeks. I was so excited as it was my first overseas trip and I was finally going to visit this mythical land of ‘England’ where I felt my cultural heart truly belonged. It was a shock, to say the least. I will never forget the feeling of weight I experienced; all those people, all that history, all mixed up, rushing, spilling, washing over me. I felt claustrophobic, weighed down by the sheer volume of ‘stuff’ that had happened in that place over the centuries of city living. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t wait to get out. I was amazed at how dirty all the London transit vans were, just smog and road dirt accumulating. Some of the roads, remnants of Roman walls, puddles filling in uneven pavement, crowds trying to enter and exit stations and trains, it was all so full and overwhelming to me, a very naive, immature teenager with very little experience of the real world. I’d come from Canberra, the cleanest, quietest city in the world, a population of around 350,000 neatly arranged in suburbs around a handful of peaceful ‘town centres’. This is a city that was planned. The closest thing to a traffic jam occurs when you have to slow down a little bit because the NRMA are jump starting someone’s Datsun in the Parliamentary Triangle and it’s 8am. Everyone in Canberra drives. It’s about as far from London as you can get in every respect.

So at 18, I realised I wasn’t European. I was so glad to be Aussie. We landed at Sydney airport on a warm January evening and I have never been so glad to get into a creaky Falcon with a Lebanese driver and try not to get car sick because the suspension on those things is like a roller coaster ride gone wrong! I was home. But the gratitude for being home didn’t last long. Four years later I embarked on an adventure to take advantage of a scholarship and I studied in Siena, Italy for three months. That was a great experience and my world view expanded quite a bit.

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at Telstra Tower, Canberra, in 2013

When push finally came to shove and I realised how toxic my life in Canberra had become, I went back to London in 2007. I was 28. I planned to stay for six months and I wasn’t there to party it up or take drugs or have fun. I didn’t do fun. So much for that. As I’m sure anyone who knows me knows, my London years changed my life. I met the love of my life, I grew up about 20 years in the space of two and a half, and my sense of cultural identity got a whole lot more complex.

Moving back to Australia in 2010 and having my son in 2011, the pull to find where I belonged, to find a home, was even stronger. But I didn’t yet equate home with family. I was starting a family, sure, but I still had this firm belief that ‘my’ family would be my husband and child(ren), and the extended family, some of whom I’d fallen out with by this point over various misunderstandings and overreactions, were not going to be part of my life. I am a fair person by nature, but I’m also a classic overreactor. If I feel stressed or under pressure, I will back out. I’ll just drop everything, push everyone away; it’s all or nothing. I am insecure, I hate intervening or getting in people’s way. I don’t want to disturb. But often this is interpreted as snooty-ness or rudeness when really it’s the extreme opposite! My worst nightmare is having to ask for something, even if it’s something I’m entitled to, something I own, I just don’t want to confront, I don’t want to state my case, I don’t want to attract attention to myself.

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London. Nuff said

So continuing on from my escape to London, I slowly began to extricate myself from any hint of connection to my extended family. They are all clever, sensitive, aware people, and I’m sure many of them wondered what my problem was, why I was trying to disappear from their lives. I worried that one falling out meant I’d automatically burnt my bridges with others connected to that one person, so I just unfriended everyone on facebook and set my profile to private and got on with life.

As my son grew up and my husband and I got to know each other better, questions arose. My husband was a bit miffed at not getting to meet my family, but I remember saying, oh, don’t worry, it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Secretly, though, I knew that wasn’t the case. I just didn’t know how to make things right. I felt stressed out by all the emotional stuff I was going through and I couldn’t deal with the communication challenge. So I keep everyone at arm’s length.

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I just don’t like Sydney but I must admit it was nice living across the road from this

I think since coming to Canada and experiencing such homesickness I have also begun to feel sad about my lack of connection with my extended family. I unblocked everyone ages ago and my profile is no longer totally locked down. I occasionally have a little look around, see some comments and conversations on the pages of some family who I am still privileged enough to be friends with, and I see them loving each other, my family. I see how grateful they are to have each other, how much of an effort they make to stay in touch, and I envy that connection. I wish I hadn’t been so stubborn and stupid. I don’t know if I’ve burnt my bridges, I hope not, but I don’t know what I could say that could make it right. All I hope is that my family can forgive my silliness and we can move on in peace. I hope we can reconnect, but if not, I hope they all know that I bear no one ill will and I am grateful for each person’s impact on my life.

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Dynasty (aka why I have slacked off on blogging recently)

Today my grandad would have been 86. The fifth. Always the fifth in our family, so many of us born on the fifth of the month for some odd reason. Grandad died in 2003. On the fifth. In fact it was on my birthday. I turned 25. My boyfriend at the time and I we’re over at my mum’s place feeding her dogs when my dad called to tell me grandad had collapsed and this was probably it. He was crying. As soon as I got off the phone, I burst into tears. Weird, as death usually doesn’t make me cry. It was just so sudden, but that’s grandad, we all knew he’d just pop off one day when it was time. He was 77. Doesn’t sound very old but considering his own father died at about 60, it’s pretty good going.

About a week ago, my dad mentioned he’d drop by to bring me something. It was a memory stick. And on it, are four sound files, between 90 and 120 minutes each. My uncle had digitised them from tapes my grandad had recorded. Finally, I’ve got his story in my hands!

I knew grandad was writing his memoir and I remember seeing a huge ream of typed pages once, which he said was his book. He had an old typewriter, and he’d type with two fingers. There we’re always murmurs about the book, but none of us ever read it. Grandad’s book. After he died, I asked around the family to find out who had it. Denial from all parties. People in my family tell tall stories and are terrified of the truth. Harsh, I know, but it’s genetic, we can’t help it!

Finally I discovered my uncle had the book. But when I quizzed him about it, he said it was just a bunch of silly stories we’d all heard before, nothing really interesting, just a few pages of ramblings. I was disappointed. And angry! I knew that was bullshit. I knew because I’d seen the book and somehow I knew my grandad had something important to say. He never wasted time. He wouldn’t have sat around typing away on that old typewriter, and later an old PC he got from the Salvos,* if there was nothing to be achieved.

But what could I do? I’m one of at least a dozen grandchildren, I love hundreds of kilometres away from my uncle and I seem to be one of the only people in the family who believes grandad had something important to say, was worthy of a voice. I thought about the book and I never lost hope that one day I’d read it and perhaps edit it so it could be published.

And now I have it, in sound form. He recorded it at Christmas in 1996 and he mentions the number of times he’s already written it out. “This is my story.” That’s how he begins. I was going to listen through once and then transcribe but I’ve decided to just transcribe straight away. Lord knows how he typed it out with two fingers! I touch type about 65 words a minute and I’m still not finished the first recording of about 90 minutes. It’s already nearly 10,000 words! There are stories within it that I’ve heard a few times and it’s nice to hear them again after nine years. There is a lot I’ve never heard and it’s giving me such an insight into who my grandad was. And it’s a good story!

So that’s why I haven’t blogged in a while. Every spare moment I have on the computer I use to transcribe. It’s compelling, addictive, and I can’t wait to hear what happens next. I’m right at the end of WWII now, about 1944, so I figure there’s lots more to come in the next three recordings. So exciting! What a story!

*Yes, you read that right, a computer from the Salvos. It actually worked, even though it was some kind if old skool Windows 3.1 OS and grandad couldn’t get the concept of saving stuff to the hard drive, so he became fixated on floppy disks… I wonder what happened to that computer?

Chase family – NOT American

So, I’ve been doing my genealogical research seriously for about a decade now.  I have had periods where I’ve done virtuallyl nothing for ages, so that’s why I’m only up to about 250 people in my tree (I haven’t included living relatives like my parents’ siblings, due  to privacy, but also because that doesn’t really help me get further back… so I’m missing about another 14 people there…)

The Chase branch in my family is pretty interesting, well I think so. But the annoying barrier I’ve run up against time and time again, well perhaps not so much as a barrier but a frustration, is that Chase is always assumed to be an American surname. So when I search on various genealogical forums and whatnot, people ALWAYS ask me if I’m related to some Chase individual from Massachusetts or something!  I’ve gotten back to about 1790 or so on that branch, and so far they’re all east end Londoners, with the family moving slowly further east, so beginning in Shoreditch and Hackney (central east London, zone 1 on the Tube map now), and eventually ending up in Essex (off the tube network). 

Because there are so many Americans doing family history, and the Chase family must have literally exploded when Thomas and Aquila Chase went out there sometime in the 1600s or something, it’s near impossible to rein in the research and concentrate purely on UK Chases.  It’s quite possible that I’m related to these Chases who went out on the Mayflower or something like that, but I know that the branch of the Chase family that I come from is totally British.

It was fun, the other week, when Google Street View came out and I was able to have a look at the church where my 4x great grandparents were married in 1828 – St Leonard’s Shoreditch, in case you’re wondering.  Although really, looking at it on Google is pretty silly when I live in London and could go and have a look at it any time.  It’s quite an important church for the Chases, as there were numerous children baptised there too.

Now’s the time to spend a day (probably turn into weeks) at the London Metropolitan Archives and get a hold of these parish records, get some parent details for Daniel Chase and Charlotte Robertson (my 4x great grandparents) and find out once and for all, a) if Charlotte was Scottish (just a hunch I have), and b) if yet another generation of Chases comes from central east London.  I always see all these Chases from places down south like Portsmouth, but the ones from London are few and far between. Are we special? I think so!

My dad always mentions the information we got when we ordered the Chase heraldic crest. The print out we were given says that the first mention of Chase was, I think, in the Domesday Book, or some such early Norman record dating back to the 1300s at least. Ironically, he was the Earl of Essex I believe! The name is Norman in origin, from the French for ‘hunter’, chasseur. 

But before I do any of that I must get my partner’s family tree sorted out to a point so his 94 year old granddad can check it out before he goes off to meet all the ancestors in person!

Finally begun blogging…

My first blog, my reasons for blogging, and some tasters of my current intriguing genealogical mysteries.

In the beginning was the Word. And the word was… ‘curious’. Well either that or ‘inquisitive’. Took me a while to decide which was best, but anyway, you get the idea. I was trying to think of why I do what I do – all this researching and writing. And I decided it’s because I’m generally curious about… stuff. I want to know why things are the way they are. And I don’t mean in a basic philosophical way – all that ‘what’s the meaning of life’ and ‘why are we here’ stuff just doesn’t do it for me. I always thought those cocky, intellectual philosophy dudes at uni were really wasting time. Perhaps for them it was fun, but for me it wasn’t; maybe I just felt intimidated by their intelligence.

Anyway, whatever it was, I am interested in life in terms of people; I’m curious about what makes them tick, how events unfold and the issue of conincidence versus kismet; ‘synchronicity’, as my great auntie Gwen says.  So that’s why I do all my genealogical research, not just because I want to know where I come from, but because I want to know how people’s lives unfold. So I do other people’s genealogy too, unravel the mystery, like a detective.

At the moment I’m trying to find out the details of an Irish ancestor, born 1857 or thereabouts, who went to live in Carlisle (in England, right near the border of Scotland). He went to America, apparently to Detroit, Michigan, in the late 1880s and had two children there with his wife – I can’t even work out where they were married, perhaps it was even on board the boat! The family then returned to Carlisle, two kids in tow, and had another two there, then this guy apparently went back to America without his wife and children and never returned. By 1915, according to his son’s marriage certificate, he had died. There are some odd things about this guy. He is shown as a Blast Furnace Foreman on a couple of different records, but on the marriage certificate, where he’s listed as deceased, he’s shown as a Master Hairdresser (whatever that is!) I wonder if he reinvented himself when he returned to the US alone.  Did he remarry? Did he have other children? And now I have evidence to suggest he went back and forth between the US and Carlisle in 1895, fathering children with his wife either side of that trip, both born in the UK.

The other mystery I’m keen to solve is that of my ggg grandfather, who was born about 1828 in Shoreditch, east London, UK. He married, had a few children, and then died suddenly in 1880, at the age of 52. Even for those days, this was fairly young. When I got his death certificate, I was intrigued to discover the cause of death was ‘violent fracture of the skull – accidental’. He was a bricklayer, so perhaps a brick fell on his head. Or maybe he fell off a building site. The certificate mentions an inquest was done at the time, but I’m yet to find records of it. His wife and youngest son (my gg grandfather), who was eight when his father was killed, seemed to disappear – they were nowhere in the 1881 census. Out of desperation I eventually checked the 1881 Scotland census, only to find the mother and son living in Edinburgh, working as servants in the house of some grand-sounding widow and his bachelor son. Why did they go to Scotland from east London – it was a long way in 1880! Could it be that there was some family connection there? Is that why my great grandfather’s middle name was McDonald? Or is it connected to the mother of this bricklayer ggg grandfather, who I suspect was Scottish? How I find this out, I really don’t know. But it fascinates me!

So when is a blog over? Whenever I choose, I suppose. Curiosity didn’t kill this kat… or at least it hasn’t yet!