Faces from an unexplored past

eft: Jessie Susan Harris, born 21 March 1868 Christchurch, died 13 June 1923, Hororata aged 55 right: Alice Margaret Wright, born 12 October 1872 Kaiapoi, died 10 August 1930 Washdyke photo by Eden George, Christchurch. From This photograph album was owned by Jack Thomas Frederick Baker until his death in 2003. It was previously owned by his mother Clara Elizabeth Harris (1873-1945).

Great grandmother, Jessie Susan Harris (left), and sister in law (?) Alice Margaret Wright. Photo by Eden George, Christchurch. From photograph album owned by Jack Thomas Frederick Baker, son of Clara Elizabeth Harris (1873-1945). With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to Clara’s album (canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz), and others.

We can’t help ourselves. We look at family photos and can’t help trying to find some resemblance between those we know and love, and the the faces in pictures.

The hallway in my house has become a rogues gallery of family photos and there is much pleasure to be had watching visitors scrutinize them, trying to establish who’s who. My son is regularly mistaken for his father in one photo, and an older cousin in another; while I increasingly see myself in the faces of my maternal aunts.

For family historians, photographs are the ultimate treasure. We spend so long trying to put flesh on the bones of our ancestors, that to see the faces of these long-dead men and women is a sweet pleasure indeed.

My partner is fortunate to share in a large collection of photos (now digitised) from his mother’s side of the family, but until very recently we had virtually none from his father’s side.

Roger Andrew Gray with his parents, Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray. c. 1956. Photo: Gray-Dove family archive.

Paternal line. Roger Andrew Gray with his parents, Merle Matilda Wright and Wallace Oliver Gray. c. 1956. Photo: Gray-Dove family archive.

This changed when a fellow blogger (Belinda Lansley, at Great Grandma’s Wicker Basket) recognised the Big T’s paternal grandmother, Merle Matilda Laura Wright as a friend of her own great grandmother, Dorothy Lord. In Belinda’s collection of family photos were several of Merle, her sister Clara and other members of the Wright family. These she generously shared with me.

Dorothy Lord, Clara Wright, May Lord, Merle Wright early 1920s. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for allowing me to reproduce this image.

Dorothy Lord, Clara Wright, May Lord, Merle Wright early 1920s. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for allowing me to reproduce this image.

Belinda also sent me the link to a photograph album belonging to another member of Merle’s extended family (Early New Zealand Photographers), and it is through these sources that we have begun to learn a little about this branch of the family.

Merle was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 1904, to Jessie Susan Harris and Sidney Robert Wright. The couple married in Timaru in 1890, and had eight children; Harry, Margaret, Fred, Alice, Sidney, Merle, Clara and Frank (Source: Births, Deaths and Marriages NZ)

Jessie Harris (shown in the first photo with Alice Margaret Wright) was born on March 21st, 1868, in Christchurch, twin sister of Henry Richard Harris.

The photo below is Jessie’s brother Henry, with Sidney Wright — Jessie’s husband. It appears that both families lived in Ohoka, a small rural settlement near Christchurch, and would presumably have known each other. Did Jessie marry her twin’s best friend?

Jack Baker's album page 5

Henry Richard Harris (left) with Sidney Robert Wright. Photo by Eden George – Christchurch. With grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to Clara’s album (canterburyphotography.blogspot.co.nz).

Sidney was born three weeks after the Harris twins, on 9 April 1868. He was the third of six children born to Robert Marshall Wright and Matilda Ann Baker (married 1859: source BDM New Zealand).

Another photo in the same album shows Jessie and Henry as small children with their mother, Sarah Ann Duffull. A note with the photograph indicates that Sarah was born in Croyden, England. Her marriage, to Nathaniel Harris, took place in New Zealand in 1867. The couple appears to have had 10 children, including two sets of twins (source: BDM, NZ).

I haven’t been able to find New Zealand birth records for Nathaniel Harris, Robert Wright or Matilda Baker, so it would appear that all four of Merle Wright’s grandparents were born outside of New Zealand, and immigrated either as children, or young adults, making the Big T a fourth generation Kiwi.

Sarah Anne Duffull with her children Jessie Susan and Henry Richard Harris. c. 1871

Sarah Anne Duffull with her children Jessie Susan and Henry Richard Harris. c. 1871. Photo by Eden George – Christchurch. Grateful thanks to Belinda Lansley for sending me the link to this photo.

Far left, Jessie Harris, middle seated, May Lord. Other's unknown. Image courtesy of Belinda Lansley.

Far left, Jessie Harris, middle seated, May Lord, family friend and great grand aunt of Belinda Lansley, who has kindly shared this photo with me. The identity of the other women and the children is unknown.

One of the great joys of genealogy blogging is meeting distant relatives and others with shared connections to the past. When Belinda generously shared photos with me, she gave my family the chance to see the faces of men and women who helped shape the people that my partner and son are today. For that, I am extremely grateful.

This post was written for Ailsa’s Travel Theme at Where’s My Backpack.

 

On a soldier’s death, and feeling grateful for good record-keeping

My father in law, generally not much interested in family history, has mentioned many times over the years an uncle – his father’s younger brother – who died in WWI. He didn’t know where or when, so when I first started doing family history research a few years ago, I undertook to find out what I could about the Big T’s great uncle.

The first barrier was that neither the Big T nor his father was quite sure of the uncle’s first name. My father in law referred to his uncle as ‘Toby’, but suggested that might have been a nickname.

The NZ Dept of Internal Affairs’ Births Deaths & Marriages Online allowed me to search within the parameters I had (my father in law’s father’s name) and make a few assumptions.

Wallace Oliver Gray (the Big T’s granddad) was born in 1893 to Emily Ann and Andrew Gray.

By changing the search terms to surname only + mother’s name, I found four other children born to Emily Ann and Andrew –Eric Andrew, Winifred Olive, Aileen Annie and Ethel Fyllis.

As the only other male child, it seemed that Eric was the most likely candidate to be ‘Uncle Toby’.

Archives New Zealand holds historic military service records and provides an online search facility: Archway. This revealed the following entry:

GRAY, Eric Andrew – WW1 15527 – Army

The service records themselves weren’t available online at that stage,  so accessing them involved paying to have them digitized. Although I was fairly sure this was the person, the Big T had the bright idea of first of all looking up the Cenotaph Database held by the Auckland War Memorial Museum, to cross check the information. Excellent move as it turns out.

As you can see, the Cenotaph record was really detailed and incredibly helpful. We knew from the address and biographical information that we had the “right man”. But more importantly we knew in which Regiment he served, when and where he died and where he was buried. And amazingly, at the top of the record was a photograph. The young man (probably aged 20 when it was taken) with the serious expression was one of us; a blood relation to the Big T and our boy-child, and a member of the whanau I’ve been part of for almost thirty years.

Eric Andrew GRAY: record from Auckland Museum Cenotaph Database. © Auckland Museum.

Finding Eric Gray’s burial place on the record led the Big T to Google Maps and me to The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (he’s Geography to my History). What we both discovered – almost simultaneously – was that eighty one years after Eric Gray was buried there, we had virtually driven past Martinsart British Cemetery in the Somme Valley while on holiday with the infant boy-child.

Page from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, remembering Eric Andrew Gray.

Page from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, remembering Eric Andrew Gray.

There is much more to say about Eric Gray thanks to the meticulous work of archivists and record-keepers in New Zealand and overseas. I’m currently working through his service records – obtained from Archives New Zealand – trying to understand the terminology and abbreviations. But that is another story to be told in time.

Meanwhile, as commemorations of the four years of warfare dubbed “the war to end all wars” take place all over the world, we’re remembering a 22 year old farm labourer who travelled from Hororata in Canterbury NZ, to die in the Somme Valley of France.

Eric Andrew Gray (20 October 1895 – 27 March 1918)