Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Street view

Over the last couple of days, I've started work on another chapter of my maternal genealogy, concerning ancestors from Ireland. In fact, they were basically Scottish Protestants who had formed so-called "plantations" in Ulster, in order to propagate the English language and import the Protestant faith into Catholic Ireland. I'm not surprised that such transplanted folk found it an attractive idea, in the middle of the 19th century, to abandon their adopted land in Northern Ireland and move out to New South Wales. Meanwhile, during the century and a half since then, Ulster hasn't yet got over the cultural turmoil created by these British squatters who once decided to settle in the Gaelic isle.

Here's a photo of my aged great-grandfather Isaac Kennedy in my native town of South Grafton:

He was born in a plantation context in County Fermanagh in 1844, and arrived in New South Wales in 1866. This photo would have been taken in the early 1930s, not long before Isaac's death at the age of 90.

Isaac's massive gold signet ring was inherited by his grandson, my uncle Isaac Kennedy Walker. Today, my uncle—whom we've always nicknamed Bargy—lives in Coffs Harbour, where he turned 93 last January. Aware of my fondness for family history, Bargy recently passed this ring on to me.

Yesterday, while looking at the above photo of Isaac Kennedy, I started wondering where exactly in South Grafton it might have been taken. So, last night, I phoned Bargy and asked him where his grandfather used to live. Bargy's reply: "Somewhere in Spring Street." This morning, I opened Google Maps, displayed Spring Street in South Grafton, and turned on the street-view device. I imagined that, in the secluded neighborhood of Spring Street, the old Kennedy house might still exist, along with its original fence. I said to myself that there couldn't be too many old properties with a quaint white fence like that, whose palings slope up to the fence posts. Sure enough, I soon came upon an image of an old house with a fence of that kind.

I enlarged a section of the fence, and filtered it with Photoshop to examine closely the palings.

There's no doubt in my mind that this is Isaac's front fence. Besides, Google Maps indicates street numbering. So, this tool has enabled me to learn that my ancestor, a solitary widower, spent the final years of his life in a nice-looking old house at 46 Spring Street, South Grafton.


  1. What a great piece of detective work

  2. The slightest photo, when combined with Google data of all kinds, can open up new avenues.

  3. Visit my web site at and go to a set of photos on the Atalanta Excursion. You’ll find another image of Isaac.