My Mother’s Journey - an article I wrote for Western Ancestor (Sorry this is rather long but hopefully you may find it interesting, particularly if you are ever thinking of starting your own family tree - maybe you can learn some lessons from reading this about the pitfalls you can find along the way).
It’s the late 1980s, I’m in my early thirties, married with four children, and I think I know everything about my family and therefore myself. Then my Mum tells me that she was adopted! How could that be? Why would she wait that long to tell me? Did she only just find out herself?
Mum explains that she has known since childhood and had kept the secret, as it was important to my Grandma, her adopted mother. After I had taken all this in, Mum told me she was thinking about finding out about her birth family. She assured me it wasn’t that she was unhappy with her life, as she had been lucky to have loving adopted parents and to have had a happy childhood. However, somewhere deep inside she had always wondered about where she came from, she also felt any knowledge she gained of medical conditions could, perhaps, help her own family. Mum had made the decision to embark on the journey to find her roots and she wanted me to join her. After all, the time was right - both her adopted parents were deceased and she felt free to undertake this search without upsetting the two wonderful people who had meant so much to her. Thus began Mum’s journey to find her heritage.
While many people start tracing their genealogy knowing lots about their families, Mum started with nothing but the official Order of Adoption that gave her name as Peggy A and the names of her adopted parents. (To protect the identity of people in this story I will only use initials for surnames where possible).
Mum could only undertake the first part of her journey alone, albeit with her family’s support. She had to register with Jigsaw, then be counselled by the Department of Community Services, and then apply for non-identifying information. They were able to tell Mum that she was born on 2.1.1932 at Hillcrest Hospital, North Fremantle, that her birth mother was single, West Australian and 21 years of age. Mum then had to apply to have her adoption records opened and her original birth certificate issued. This took time but eventually the certificate arrived and gave her birth mother’s name (Evelyn A), but not that of her birth father.
Once armed with Evelyn’s name the search was on. Mum decided she would obtain a copy of Evelyn’s birth certificate and, having a rough idea of when Evelyn had been born, she paid for a search of the WA BMD Birth Index. In due course this certificate arrived and gave us her parent’s names.
Having being told as a child that her birth mother had died young, Mum checked burial records at Karrakatta and Fremantle. Imagine her consternation when there was no record of Evelyn being buried at either of these cemeteries. She did however find the records of Evelyn’s parents (Robert and Eda) at Karrakatta and subsequently visited their graves.
So we had a mystery to solve, could Evelyn have gotten married before she died? Mum paid for a Marriage Index search in WA from 1933 to 1943, but still no luck. Rather than give up, Mum paid for one last search and she got a hit in March 1946. Now armed with Evelyn’s married name it was back to searching the cemetery records as Mum was convinced that Evelyn had died. After still failing to find any burial records, Mum came to the realisation that maybe Evelyn wasn’t dead after all! So it was time to search the electoral roles. Imagine Mum’s surprise to find out that not only was Evelyn indeed alive but that they had been living only about a kilometre apart for approximately two years (1988-1990).
This information was then handed over to Jigsaw, as the agreement was that they would be the mediators who would try and arrange a meeting. After the excitement of finding Evelyn alive and holding onto hope that they would meet, my Mum then faced the disappointment of being told that Evelyn had said no. I must say in Evelyn’s defence that she had lived with this secret for 60 odd years. It must have been a shock for her to find out that Mum had traced her whereabouts and wanted to see her. We found out from Jigsaw that Evelyn was now widowed and living in a nursing home (only about 5 kilometres from Mum) and that she was concerned about what her family would think, as only her parents had ever known about her pregnancy. This was hard for us to understand but we could do little but respect her wishes.
However, through perseverance on Mum’s part, and help from Jigsaw, Evelyn agreed that Mum could write, and so they started having occasional contact through letters. Then one day Evelyn agreed that Mum could ring her. I can only imagine how hard it must have been for Mum and for Evelyn to make this first voice contact. They spoke sporadically by phone until the last year of Evelyn’s life. Evelyn had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and it was after this that their phone calls became more frequent. But, even when dying, Evelyn still couldn’t bring herself to meet Mum. This was a very hard time for Mum, as her desire to meet Evelyn was strong, but she respected Evelyn’s wishes. Mum did however contact the Matron at the nursing home and explained her situation. She asked to be kept informed if Evelyn’s condition deteriorated, as there was no other way of knowing when Evelyn died. The Matron was wonderful and sent Mum a photo she specifically took of Evelyn sitting in her room. It is uncanny how much Evelyn and Mum looked alike. Evelyn died on 31st August 1996, and her cremation service was held on the same day that her great-great-granddaughter (my granddaughter) was born; an event she knew was imminent and seemed very pleased about.
It was from these letters and phone calls that Mum learnt that Evelyn had never had any other children. How she fell in love, became pregnant and then was abandoned. How she had wished to keep the child and had her mother’s support but that her father had forbidden it. Evelyn never told Mum why he was so adamant, but I wonder if it was because he was a police officer of some standing, and it wouldn’t sit well if he had an unmarried daughter with an illegitimate child on the way. Evelyn was sent to Hillcrest Hospital for the term of her pregnancy. In the first letter that Evelyn wrote, Mum found out that Evelyn’s mother had asked that the baby girl be named Peggy. A name, which Mum changed to Margaret by deed poll in 1943. I wonder if she would have done so if she had known that her birth grandmother had given this name to her. After Mum’s birth, Evelyn returned to her family of sisters and brothers with none of them being any the wiser. We are not even sure that Evelyn told her husband John. This was a secret she took to her grave.
After Evelyn’s death, Mum could have given up, after all she had found out where she came from, but she wanted more. The genealogy bug had certainly bitten. Slowly she began to piece together more about her birth mother’s family. She obtained the death certificates of both of Evelyn’s parents. These listed where Robert and Eda had been born, the names of their parents and Robert and Eda’s children and their ages. It gave us a starting point in moving back one generation. Although, it should be said, that we later found that a lot of this information was wrong. For example, on Robert’s death certificate his mother was given as Mary Jane – her name was in fact Jane Margaret - and her maiden name was listed as Larsen, which is actually the correct maiden surname of Robert’s wife mother. Not only that, but Robert’s father was given as Robert, when in fact his name was Stephen. Then on Eda’s death certificate we had the wrong father’s name - he was given as Edwin Schultz - which was in fact, the name of her step-father, who to make matters worse was also know as Bruno! Eda’s mother was given as Marie Christine but her maiden surname was listed as unknown. We later found out that Marie Christine was also known as Maren and Maria. We have surmised that Maren is her correct name but that it was anglicised when she emigrated to Australia from Denmark.
Think you’re confused; imagine how confused we were. After all, we thought all the information was correct. Don’t forget it was early on in our search and we were still naïve enough to think certificates were always right!
So we searched for Robert’s and Eda’s births, with lots of dead ends due to misinformation. However, we were determined and eventually found Robert’s birth in Victoria. His birth certificate gave us the correct names of his parents. We were having no luck finding Eda’s birth in Queensland; after all we were searching for an Eda Schultz at this stage. Everything came up blank, so we decided to leave her for a while.
Mum decided to see if any of Evelyn’s brothers were still living. Using the electoral rolls she found that a person with the same name as that which was listed on Robert’s death certificate was still in the family home in Subiaco. This had to Mum’s Uncle!
Mum went back to Jigsaw and with the help of Angela at Department of Family and Children’s Services was able to meet with her Uncle Stephen. Subsequently Mum also met both Uncle Lindsay and his family and her widowed Aunt Maisie. None of them had an inkling that Mum existed, or that Evelyn had ever had a child, but thankfully all were willing to meet Mum. Unfortunately Uncle Stephen and his wife both died shortly after. Uncle Lindsay, his wife and their daughter have become friends with Mum and she now sees them on a semi-regular basis.
From these sources she learnt more names, and was given some family photos and Evelyn’s gold slave bangle. She also got more dead ends! It seems the family didn’t talk much about the past, hence the mix up with the names on the death certificates. Mum was also able to give something back, as it was through her research that Uncle Lindsay found out that his second given name is the maiden surname of his paternal grandmother.
Mum of course was still wondering about her birth father, and as none of Evelyn’s living relatives had even know that Evelyn had been pregnant they had no idea who Mum’s father could be. Stephen and Lindsay were considerably younger than Evelyn and couldn’t remember whom she had been dating at the time. It was the one thing that Evelyn had never told Mum.
Earlier in her search, Mum had been encouraged by Glenys at Jigsaw, to forge on and see if she could find out any more information about her birth father but until now we had concentrated solely on Evelyn and her family. So it wasn’t until 1998 that Mum contacted the Department of Family and Children’s Services who advised that the Registrar of the Family Court would send any documents that could be located. Six months later a letter arrived enclosing the Adoption Order, the Application for Order of Adoption and the Consent to the Adoption. On two of these, George C was listed as my Mum’s birth father. We looked but we couldn’t find him anywhere, as he had an unusual surname Mum checked the phone book and found a couple of people with the same surname, so Mum again contacted Angela. This led to Mum making contact with her half-brother Darrell and finding out that her father’s name was actually Walter Thomas George although he was usually known as George. Mum also found out George had married twice and had three other children, so she had two half-brothers and half-sister. Unfortunately one brother had died in 1977, and George had died in 1987. She has since formed a strong friendship with both her remaining siblings and is in regular contact with Darrell.
It was about this time (2001) that we found out about and decided to join WAGS. I had the good fortune on one of my first visits to find both Mum’s maternal grandmother and great grandmother and great grandfather on the Queensland Pioneer CD. Many thanks to the wonderful lady who helped me work out the search engine. Remember how we originally thought Mum’s grandmother’s maiden name was Eda Schultz, and that was that name we for which we had been searching. Well, we had a breakthrough when we obtained Robert and Eda’s marriage certificate, we found out Eda’s maiden name was in fact Larsen. As soon as I searched under Larsen up popped Eda and her mother Marie Christine and her father Niels Peter. More certificates were ordered, and more information came to hand. Just to make a confusing story even more confusing, Eda’s name on her birth certificate is written as Ada, however on all other legal documents – her marriage and death certificates and her children’s birth certificates she is known as Eda! We wonder if her mother’s strong Danish accent was misunderstood by the Registrar and was incorrectly written as Ada.
Our search has so far us taken us through WA, Victoria, Queensland and New South Wales, as well as overseas to Scotland, England, Canada and Denmark (these last two countries can be a challenge to even a dedicated genealogist). We have found many births, deaths and marriages, and even a widow buried with both her husbands! We’ve found a gentleman, as stated on his death certificate, who helped establish and name the town of Wyndham (now known as Werribee) in Victoria, and on a trip with my husband, I found the family graves in Werribee. It was strange standing in front of these headstones, in a town I had never visited before, and realising that I had blood ties to those buried within these graves.
With help from Darrell, we have found living relatives in Canada and the USA and have email contact with them, thus learning even more about our ever-expanding family.
Using the local help columns in the Victorian newspapers, Mum has found cousins in Victoria. She is in both email and phone contact with them and we have, and still are, receiving more information from these sources.
Not content with her birth family, Mum has now completed a fairly extensive search of her adopted parents’ families in England, and has made contact with a couple of distant relatives.
In her search to find her roots, Mum has not only found out where she came from, she has also been lucky enough to find living family members who have embraced her. It has also expanded her horizons – she has learnt to use a computer, genealogy software, the Internet and email. She has found the patience to sit for hours in front of a microfiche. It has also given her an interest, and a chance to pass family information on to those she has met. She is slowly but surely adding more and more branches (and a few twigs as well) to her family tree.
I hope this story may help someone else find the strength to keep going, after all Mum sadly never got to meet her birth parents, and it has taken close to 16 years to get to this point, but there are not many branches left to find on her family tree. You could say her roots are now firmly planted.