Opening the door on a new journey

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Merle Wright, c. 1916-18 Photo kindly sent to us by a descendant of friends of the Wright family.

Like me, my partner has memories of knowing three of his four grandparents. In fact, he was in his teens when all three died. Yet, as seems universal with children, he learned little about them as people. So little in fact, that when I asked him once what his (paternal) grandparents were called, his reply was “er, Nana and Pop?”

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“Nana and Pop” — Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray (middle and right), with my father in law Roger. c. 1956. Photo: Gray-Dove family archive.

That throwaway line was the beginning of a slow and rather tentative search. The first thing of course was to replace “Nana and Pop” with Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray, who married on October 2nd, 1926 at St. John’s church Hororata, New Zealand.

The Wright and Gray families

Wallace Gray was born on 21 December 1892. He was the second child of Andrew Gray (1856? – 1915) and Emily Ann Oliver (1860?-1945).

Andrew Gray had arrived in New Zealand as a small child, aboard the ship Mataoka which docked at Lyttleton on December 2nd 1860. His parents, James Gray and Isabella Thompson travelled from England with three other children as well; the youngest only a few months old.

Emily Ann Oliver was the second child born to William Oliver and his wife Emily (maiden name unknown). Their first child, a son, was born and died aboard the ship Glentanner on the voyage from England to New Zealand. Emily Ann was the first of eight Oliver children to be born in New Zealand.

Andrew Gray and Emily Ann Oliver had seven other children together.

Newspaper report, wedding of Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray, 2 October, 1926, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ. Image courtesy of Papers Past/Fairfax Media.

Newspaper report, wedding of Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray, 2 October, 1926, Hororata, Canterbury, NZ. Image courtesy of Papers Past/Fairfax Media.

Robin Douglas Gray, born 1889. He married May Chapman in 1913, and died in 1967.

Winifred Olive Gray, born 1890, died 1891.

Eric Andrew Gray, born 1895. Also served with the NZ Expeditionary Force in France. He died 27 March 1918 during the Third Battle of the Somme. I’ve written about this here and here.

Doris Emily Gray, born 1897. She married Fred Nathaniel Wright (Merle Wright’s brother) in 1920.

Ethel Fyllis Gray, born 1899. She married William O’Brien in 1920, in a double wedding with her sister Doris (see clipping below.)

Aileen Annie Gray, born 1900. Married Reginald Rees in 1923.

Mavis Isobel Gray, born 1902. Married William Patterson in 1928.

***

Merle Matilda Laura Wright was born on 23 August 1904, to Sidney Robert Wright and Jessie Susan Harris. They married in 1890, in Timaru and had eight children together.

Both Sidney and Jessie had been born in New Zealand. I’ve written about this part of the family here. Since then I’ve learned more about the immigration of these families to New Zealand, so will cover this in a later post.

Their eldest child, Harry Marshall Wright, born 18 August 1891, was killed in action during WWI — on August 7th, 1915 in the Sari Bair offensive at Gallipoli.

Margaret Wright, born 1892, died only nine hours after her birth.

Fred Nathaniel Wright, born 13 December 1894, also served with the NZ Expeditionary Force in WWI. In 1920 he married Doris Emily Gray — a sister of his future brother-in-law, Wallace Oliver Gray.

Alice Vera Wright, born in 1896, never married. She died in Christchurch, NZ in 1954.

Sidney John Wright, born 1893. Died aged 3 days.

Clara Duffill Wright, born 1906. In 1929 she married Arthur Edward Perkins. They divorced in 1957.

Frank Robert Wright, born 1910. In April 1936 he married Joan Ellis Luxton in Christchurch. Frank died in 1992; Joan in 1996.

Like his brother Eric, and brothers-in-law Harry and Fred Wright, Wallace Gray served with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in WWI. He was wounded in France, in December 1917 and evacuated to England. While there, he contracted a serious illness and was deemed unfit for military service.

Bringing the characters to life

While it is satisfying to add names and dates to the family tree, the real pleasure in researching Merle and Wallace’s lives has come from the rich detail provided by newspaper cuttings found in New Zealand’s online newspaper archive, Papers Past.

Merle Wright and Wallace Gray lived during a time when newspapers not only flourished, but devoted considerable column inches to reporting social events — in much the same way we use social media now. Weddings, bridal showers, birthday and coming-of-age parties; all sorts of social occasions were reported — often in rather flowery detail. From these, we have added depth to my partner’s knowledge, particularly of his grandmother.

We found a number of clippings recording her involvement in organising social events in Hororata prior to her marriage, while later we find numerous references to her golfing abilities — golf tournament results obviously being a regular column.

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Merle Gray, 1936. Press, 8 October 1936. Image courtesy of Fairfax Media/Papers Past.

On a practical level, these stories have also helped identify new family members, narrow down search dates and confirm relationships between individuals. For example, from the newspaper report above, I know that Merle’s sister Clara wasn’t married at the time of Merle’s wedding, so I could confine my search for her marriage record to later dates.

It was common to list all of the attendees at social functions, so it becomes clear that courtship very much took place within the small community — these young men and women were very likely to marry the boy or girl “next door.”

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As well as members of the Wright family, this event was attended by Wallace Gray and his sister, and members of the Oliver family (cousins of the Gray’s). Image: Fairfax Media/ Papers Past.

When Wallace Gray married Merle Wright in 1926, they were already related by marriage. Wallace’s sister Doris had married Merle’s brother Fred in 1920, in a double wedding where another Gray sister, Ethel was also married.

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DOUBLE WEDDING AT HORORATA: Star, Issue 19944, 10 May 1920. Image: courtesy of Fairfax Media/Papers Past.

The end of the (official) road

Merle died in 1979 and Wallace in 1981. They had raised three children together; Patricia, Shona and my father-in-law Roger. We know that Wallace ran the local garage in Hororata for many years and that during the 1950s the couple moved to Hamilton, then Auckland before finally settling in Timaru; electoral rolls and street directories help map their movements over the years.

But beyond that, public records have no more to offer.

When I set about answering that initial question about “Nana and Pop”, my partner had fairly limited interest in his family’s history. As I uncovered more and more — and particularly since finding Merle’s photograph in Papers Past — his interest and enthusiasm have grown. It is now time to visit the few remaining members of the family and ask the questions we didn’t even know we had.

It’s time to close the circle.

Friday flip through the archives

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Originally posted as part of my 100 Days project. Kirkyard at Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Resting place of James Wallace and Ann Cunnison. Image: Su Leslie, 2013

Reading Amy’s account of visiting her Seligman family members’ burial place in Santa Fe, (My Ancestral Town, Santa Fe, New Mexico in Brotmanblog: A Family Journey) made me think about a wet and cold afternoon I spent in a tiny churchyard in rural Perthshire, Scotland, looking for the resting place of my 3x great grandparents James Wallace and Ann Cunnison.

I originally wrote about this in a post called On Stilled Voices and Visualising Silence.

Yesterday my 100 days project word was ‘silence’ — and I have to say it was possibly the most challenging to date.

Partly that might be because I’m away from home, without access to my normal work tools and archives and reliant on my iPad. Partly it’s just because silence is something I find difficult to visually convey.

Eventually I realised that the most profound silence is not an absence of sound, but an absence of communication. Last year, on my trip to Scotland, I visited a number of cemeteries and kirkyards, looking for the headstones of ancestors. I found more than I’d expected and will always treasure those moments with those tangible symbols of my lineage.

But alone in those bleak, quiet places, I also felt the profound loss of lives stilled. I come from ordinary folk who don’t in general leave traces of themselves in recorded history. Once those who knew them stop sharing stories, their lives are silenced.

If I learned anything from my kirkyard visits, it is to speak to family members now; record their stories and share them with the next generations.

Once upon a time, I wouldn’t have seen the point in visiting places just because my ancestors had lived there. But as I have become more and more interested in my family history, I’ve realised the power of any tangible reminder (photographs, objects, places) of those long gone. I’ve learned to listen to those echoes of past lives, and to hear traces of my own voice there too.

On finding out how deep my Fife roots actually go

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Pedigree chart, by ancestor place of birth.

After reading Amberly’s post (at thegenealogygirl) about creating a pedigree chart based on ancestors’ place of birth, I commented that mine would be pretty monochrome. All of the ancestors I’ve traced were born in Scotland, and even if I broke birthplace down by county, I’d still only have four colours; one each for Fife, Perthshire, Angus and Banffshire.

So I’ve gone to village level; back to my 3x great grandparents. And even then twenty four out of the thirty eight ancestors whose birthplaces are known to me were born in what is now Kirkcaldy, Fife. This includes Dysart, Abbotshall, Gallatown, and Kirkcaldy itself — an area of about seven square miles.

Su Leslie Birthplace Pedigree Chart Template (pdf file, in case anyone is interested).

Now I’m off to try and fill in the missing birthplace information. I may have to change my colour scheme though; I’m running out of shades of Fife green.

 

Season of joy and remembering

It’s celebration season in my family. Over the next few weeks birthdays and wedding anniversaries will keep the card makers in business and provide the impetus for scattered family members to reach out to one another.

Both the Big T and one of my brothers will celebrate birthdays, along with a sister-in-law, two nieces, a nephew and more than a few cousins.

My in-laws will celebrate 56 years of marriage this week, on the same day that would have been my parents’ 60th anniversary. My folks divorced many year ago, but next month we’ll raise a toast to my father and step-mother celebrating their 29th anniversary.

For the Big T and I, the biggest cause for celebration this year is our boy-child turning 18 in a few days.

Black and white shot of the Big T holding the boy-child, aged 6 days. Image: Su Leslie, 1998

That time the Big T got a baby for his birthday. Gayhurst House, Buckinghamshire, England. Image: Su Leslie, 1998

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Looking a bit jaded after his 40th wedding anniversary celebrations, my father in law on the boy-child’s 2nd birthday. Image: 2000, Gray-Leslie family archive.

Our tiny (truly — 2.5kg at birth) baby has become a man. A kind, funny, articulate, responsible and hard-working young man who is sometimes unknowable to me. Yet there are still moments when I recognise the energetic, ever-curious and always smiling boy I’ve nursed, read to, played with and loved with an intensity I didn’t know was possible.

This year will be the thirtieth time the Big T and I have spent his birthday together …

… but, as with most years since we were children, my brother and I will be on different continents on his birthday.

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Big sister, little brother. Kirkcaldy, 1966. Image: Leslie family archive.

I have only one photo of my parents on their wedding day, and they are — mysteriously — right in the background of the shot. I do however have this wonderful newspaper clipping. It’s not the most flattering photograph, but provides a wealth of information, right down to my mother’s going-away outfit.

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Fife Free Times, Feb 1956.

In part thanks to the efforts of the Big T’s aunt (in the gorgeous bronze dress below), we have a wealth of photos of my in-laws’ wedding.

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Marriage of Isobel Joy Dove and Roger Andrew Gray, 1960. Image: Gray family archive.

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Wedding of Isobel Joy Dove and Roger Andrew Gray, Feb 1960. Image: Gray-Dove family archive.

This post was written for the Daily Post Photo Challenge. This week’s theme is seasons.

 

The Method Behind the Madness

The Method Behind the Madness

This is WAAY too good advice not to share.

The People of Pancho

Hello, People. I’ve gotten a few queries about how I manage my archive, so I’m going to digress a bit today and describe my process. If nerdy details are not your cup of tea, then please come back tomorrow when I’ll resume my usual programming.

I didn’t set out to establish an archive, or take up genealogy, or write a blog, but only to satisfy my curiosity about the contents of some forlorn cardboard boxes in the back of a closet at my maternal grandparents’ house. Emptying out a home after the death of its occupants is a weighty job under any circumstances, but my grandmother had a truly mind-blowing amount of stuff. We — her children, grandchildren, and our spouses — had a limited amount of time in which to accomplish the removal, so when I peeked in boxes and saw very old albums and hundreds of loose photos, I simply sealed them up and shipped them home with the…

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Help needed: do you recognise these WWII servicemen?

 

The Auckland Museum has just digitized and released a whole bunch of photographs taken during WWII by a local photographer, Tudor Collins. They all show American servicemen posted to the small town of Warkworth, New Zealand, prior to their deployment in the Pacific.

These are wonderful portraits of young men enjoying a few weeks of rest and Kiwi hospitality before being hurled into prolonged and ferocious fighting from which many did not return.

None of the photos were captioned, so the identity of the soldiers is unknown. The Museum has loaded them onto its website and is asking anyone whose relatives served in the Pacific, and who spent (or might have spent) time in New Zealand, to help identify these men.

I know a number of people who read this blog have family who served in WWII, and it would be great if you could visit the website to look at these images. There are a lot of them; but who knows, maybe one of those smiling young men belongs to your family, and you can bring their memory home for Christmas.

Ngā mihi o te Kirihimete me te Tau Hou

– Season’s greetings for Christmas and the New Year