Showing posts with label Walker genealogy. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Walker genealogy. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Family-history detective work

A few days ago, an unknown person wanted to leave a short comment on one of my family-history articles written in 2009 : “What a great piece of detective work”.  I had almost forgotten that piece of research work, which started with the following photo of my Irish-born great-grandfather Isaac Kennedy [1844-1934] in South Grafton:

In a nutshell, my "detective work" consisted solely of phoning up an uncle in Australia to obtain the name of Isaac's street in South Grafton, and then searching through Google Street View to see if there was a house with a fence of that kind. I soon found the right house:

46 Spring Street, South Grafton

Today, it would be impossible to conduct this research, since all the residents of Spring Street have recently (?) removed their front fences to allow the entry of heavy equipment to raise the houses above flooding.

Click here to access my original article.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Mongrel genes

Every family has a few black sheep, either in the present or in the past. Most often both. And a family historian, believing that every effect has a logical cause, is inevitably inclined to start looking around for mongrel genes: biological factors that gave rise to the existence of such-and-such a black sheep. Now, in such research, there can be both a bit of good and a lot of bad.

The very notion of a certain black sheep in the family can be frighteningly fuzzy. Relatives might think they’re acting objectively when they stigmatize a particular individual as a black sheep. Or decide rather, for that matter, to praise an exceptionally snow-white sheep. But are the relatives themselves pure merinos with an error-free sense of judgment? As for me, I prefer to believe that the supposed existence of a black sheep in the family must always be taken with a grain of salt. Maybe it’s right… but maybe it’s wrong.

The case of alleged family defects such as alcoholism is worse still. Does such-and-such a past or present member of the family drink because of inherited defects… or simply because he/she happens to have easy access to dangerous beverages? It’s far too easy and too silly to declare that there are, or have been, alcohol problems in the family. If the family historian is not perfectly sure of what is being said, then she/he should simply shut up, because false declarations are worse than no declarations at all. [The current Skyvington family historian is proud to declare—just for the record—that he hasn't tasted a drop of alcohol, or even been vaguely interested in doing so, for well over a year, since falling down the stairs at Gamone and bumping his head.]

To me, one thing is certain. Whenever family members start searching for inherited defects, they should look carefully into the terribly common phenomenon of nasty bumps to the brain. Since falling down the stairs, it has taken me a long time to get back to a state that I myself judge as normal.

At the present moment, I’ve been greatly affected by thoughts about an infamous Skyvington black sheep: my paternal great-grandfather, the crazy fellow who called himself “William Courtenay”. See my blog post here. Over the last few days, I’ve received new information from England revealing the admirable character of this fellow’s father. That renders suspicious the mad fellow’s mother, Mary Ann.

Would that poor girl, who died in Yealmpton [Devon] at the age of 21, have been responsible for the introduction of mongrel genes into the Skyvington line? That idea, though theoretically plausible, is quite unlikely, for Mary Anne Jones belonged to an honorable family of Devon, in which no known cases of insanity have been recorded.

Whichever way I look at things (and I’ve thought a lot about that mad ancestor), only one explanation satisfies me fully. Unknown to archivists in general, and Skyvington family historians in particular, my ancestor William Skyvington [1868-1959] probably ran into the same kind of accident as his future great-grandson, also known as William Skyvington. He fell down the stairs and bumped his head. If that was really what happened (and why not?), then all I can say is that I got off better than my mad ancestor. If only God existed, I would promptly thank him.

Friday, October 11, 2013

My Irish story is finally finished

I've finally completed a full version of my maternal family-history story, entitled A Little Bit of Irish. It's 242 pages long, and can be downloaded from the following address:

I've borrowed my title from an embarrassingly sentimental old song (containing the expression "God made Ireland") that was used as a theme by the Irish tenor Patrick O'Hagan (father of Australian-born Johnny Logan, of Eurovision fame). Please don't feel obliged to listen to this recent version right through to the end:

My document presents 4 or 5 generations of ancestors who were all—to a greater or lesser extent—rural pioneers in New South Wales, first in Braidwood then up on the Clarence River (where I was born in 1940).

An interesting outcome of my family-history research (in chapter 3) is my "discovery" and identification of a hitherto little-known Braidwood bushranger: Billy Hickey [1818-1901], the big brother of my great-great-grandmother Ann Hickey [1822-1898]. Billy had been a mate and short-term accomplice of the notorious Clarke brothers.

John Clarke (with gunshot wounds in his right shoulder) and Tommy Clarke were the last Australian bushrangers to be hanged, on 25 June 1867. Fortunately, Billy Hickey gave up crime before the age of 30, for reasons that remain a mystery. Then he married, settled down as a farmer and raised a family of 7 kids. Billy's farm was located in the Irish Corner settlement on the outskirts of Braidwood, in the vicinity of the Farmers' Home tavern run by my great-great-grandfather Charles Walker [1807-1860].

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Several years ago, in the context of my document on maternal genealogy entitled A Little Bit of Irish [access], I tackled briefly (in the final four pages of chapter 2) the idea that my great-great-grandfather Charles Walker [1807-1860] might have been Scottish rather than Irish. In my analysis of the evidence, I made use of a principle employed in historical research concerning the stories of Jesus. At the time of writing about my Braidwood ancestor, I had forgotten where I had heard of this principle, which I evoked in a rather fuzzy manner. Well today, quite by chance, I discovered both the name of the principle and a good description of its origins and use.

Invented by the prolific American historian Will Durant [1885–1981], the principle has an amusing name: the criterion of embarrassment. Faced with a questionable item of alleged historical data, we should ask the question:
"Can we consider this item of data as somewhat embarrassing for the people who were writing the history in question?"
If so, then the item has a good chance of being valid, because historians wouldn't have retained data that was, not only embarrassing, but false. Put differently: Historians are only tempted to falsify the alleged facts that they are describing when the outcome of this falsification is likely to be positive; and embarrassing facts cannot normally produce a positive outcome.

In the case of my Braidwood ancestor, the idea that he might have been a Protestant Scotsman was indeed embarrassing for Walker descendants, since most of them had become members of Irish Catholic communities in Australia. And the situation was particularly embarrassing when we realize that 32-year-old Charles Walker might have lied blatantly about his background with the sole aim of being authorized to marry a girl who infatuated him: the 17-year-old daughter of an Irish convict. Consequently, the speculation that Charles might have been brought up as a Scottish Protestant was so outlandish that this rumor should normally have been squashed forever as soon as it first appeared.

Eliminating the rumor should have been a simple matter. It would have been sufficient to produce documentary evidence of Charles's birth, supposedly in Cork, along with other basic evidence linking him to Ireland. But no such documents have ever been brought to light. Although Charles Walker was employed on an English vessel, the Caroline (the ship that had taken the Henty brothers and their merino sheep to Western Australia), and in spite of his reputation as a respectable and prosperous citizen and a friend of certain distinguished English landowners in the Braidwood region (such as Captain John Coghill and Dr David Reid), we know less about Charles Walker's background in the Old World than for any other of my many Australian ancestors.

Funnily enough, the rest of the speculation, today, is not at all embarrassing for a descendant such as myself. Back in 1980, I was informed that one of Charles Walker's grandsons used to tell an amazing story about his Braidwood grandfather.

The storyteller, John Albert Walker, claimed that his grandfather Charles who had come out to New South Wales on a ship in 1833 was in fact a young brother of Johnnie Walker [1805-1857] of Kilmarnock, the inventor of whisky.

I've tried to research this speculation, but have been incapable of either confirming or disproving the question.

In recent years, the criterion of embarrassment has been used above all in investigations concerning the so-called historical Jesus: that's to say, the real man behind all the evangelical fantasy upon which the future religion of Christianity would be based. Prominent adepts of the criterion of embarrassment are to be found among the 150 or so scholars who belong to an amazing organization known as the Jesus Seminar, founded in 1985 in Oregon. They operate in a most democratic manner, voting by means of colored beads in order to express a consensus view on whether Jesus might or might not have made such and such a statement. Beads are of 4 colors: red, pink, gray and black.

Click here to examine some of their conclusions, many of which would horrify the pope.