Things our ancestors said (#2)

There are many examples of the things our ancestors said through history’s pages that were actually pretty reasonable at the time, but would no doubt seem a bit strange or out of place today. While quite often amusing, they help to tell the stories, highlight some of the challenges faced, and show just how much things have changed through the ages.

Like these:

I can’t stay long, sorry. I need to get up early tomorrow and bash a stick against a bunch of windows.

In the days before alarm clocks, a ‘Knocker-Up (or Knocker Upper) was an actual profession in parts of Britain and Ireland. Rising early, the Knocker Up’s job was to rouse the town-folk by knocking on windows – ensuring they got to work on time.

As you do.

The Human Alarm Clock - image from
The Human Alarm Clock – image from


Stop that man, he’s…walking upright!

According to a description of my 3x great grandfather, William Saunders, from 1861, he was 5 foot 5 (or 6) inches tall with a fair complexion and light brown hair that curled out from under his billy-cock hat.

He also had legs…and used them to walk.  Upright of all things!

william-saunders-and-fanny-harrex AU6103-1861 Tasmania Reports of Crime 1861. Original data: Gould Genealogy & History.

I was quite amused by this inclusion. Did it mean an upright man? One of religious standing, maybe? Google tells me that, “The upright person has a great respect for god and his commandments. The upright has a secure walk or lifestyle and is guided by integrity and avoids crooked paths.”

Given that this notice appeared in the Tasmanian Reports of Crime, I think that’s highly unlikely. So I’m thinking others on the run may have been described as ‘walks with a limp’ or ‘walks with a slouch’…maybe.


We need to build more pubs! There are only one for every 166 people for goodness sake – a man could die of thirst!

In 1848, one pub for every 166 inhabitants of Tasmania was considered quite the norm, apparently.   With colourful names including The Lamb and Flag, The Help Me Through the World and Good Woman, our ancestors were spoiled for choice.

The Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 1 March 1946 (Trove).
The Examiner (Launceston, Tas), 1 March 1946 (Trove).


You return it.

No, you return it!

Let’s just keep it – maybe they will never find out.

Whether urban legend or truth, the story behind the Val d’Osne fountain in Prince’s Square in Launceston, Tasmania, has been shared far and wide.  Apparently it was meant to be delivered to Launceston, Cornwall, England but somehow made its way here instead – just slightly off track by around 11,000 miles.

The effort and cost of returning it was deemed too much (and too troublesome) at the time, so it stayed.

Fair enough.

Val d'Osne Fountain, Prince's Square, Launceston, Tasmania; Unknown; c
Val d’Osne Fountain, Prince’s Square, Launceston, Tasmania; Unknown


I would like to register the birth of a child please.

Child’s name?

Percy Gladys Evans

Can you repeat that?

Percy Gladys Evans

Why, that’s an unusual middle name for a boy, but OK then…

This one is not so much what our ancestors said, but how they said it. Registered by a friend of the Evans family, Lucy Gladys Evans was recorded as a boy in 1899.

Excerpt of Birth Record for Percy Gladys Evans, 1899, Queenstown (TAHO).

I can only imagine that this may have been as a result of the friend having an extremely strong accent of some kind. Or perhaps the registrar was hard of hearing?  I guess we may never know, but it did make me chuckle at how easily mistakes like these must have been made. Not like our system today!


How times have changed, indeed.


For Things our Ancestors Said #1, click here.

12 days of waiting

♫   On the 12th day of waiting, my mailbox gave to meee…

a clue for my family tree. 


It doesn’t sound like a long time; 12 business days. But when you’re waiting for a document to arrive – and hopefully help with a family tree stump – the wait seems so very, very much longer.

Throw in a few weekends and a public holiday, and the wait time adds up to…forever!

Impatient? Who me?


Most definitely…and possibly also quite spoiled.

Spoiled by the lovely people and organisations out there who have made it possible to access so much wonderful genealogy information instantly (and often for free) online.

Going through the motions of filling out paperwork, physically walking (gasp!) to pay and lodge the forms, and then waiting forever! was a timely reminder of just that.

It’s funny – I have no problem with traipsing for hours around a cemetery, browsing in a library, or visiting an historical society, but when waiting for information to come to me, I apparently channel my inner five-year-old.

More specifically, my inner five-year-old on a long car ride:

Are we there yet?!

How about now?

I only just fell short of stamping my feet.

I also discovered:

  • I can be very chatty when waiting in queues.
  • This also applies when I finally reach the counter.
  • Some people are not quite as excited about family history as I am.
  • The customer service person’s middle name is a family one, handed down over generations.
  • While I hesitate in paying $1.99 for an iPhone app, I’m quite OK handing over $46 for a record that ‘might’ turn something up.
  • It’s 40 steps to my mailbox from the front door.
  • I am prepared to check said mailbox multiple times a day ‘just in case’.


So what did $46 and forever 12 days of waiting eventually uncover?

That someone called William had a father named Thomas.

In a family that might not even be mine.


I know there are people out there who get it, though. Right?

When the bug bites, you just need to continue it through. There’s just something so satisfying about finding just one more (tiny) piece to the puzzle that might help solve a mystery. Just one more clue.

When it pays off, you want to tell people. To share your excitement.

I wonder if the same customer service person is working today…?

I’m sure they’d be thrilled by a random stranger who excitedly talked their ear off a few weeks ago returning to pay a visit.


But instead I’ll just tell you guys.

Someone called William had a father named Thomas!


I’ve been searching for any details on my 3x great grandfather’s parents on and off for about five years now – with little success.

He lived in the same tiny Tasmanian village as this William, shared the same surname, and his middle name was…Thomas!

Were they related in any way?

Maybe, maybe not.

It’s a long shot, but after five years of searching I now have another name, and another angle to pursue.

After five years of searching, 12 days of waiting now doesn’t seem quite so long.


Maybe I am a little bit patient after-all.

‘Quite forgotten’

Just two little words on a marriage record. Two little words that made me feel terribly sad for Eliza, who on her wedding day, had forgotten a name.

And even sadder still for her mother, whose name it was that Eliza had quite forgot.

Eliza Clayton

If I’d ever questioned my reasons for writing and sharing family stories or having a public family tree, those two little words were a powerful reminder of ‘why’.

Why sharing information about our ancestors is so important.

Why it can help to ensure they are remembered – and that they will continue to be.

Not hidden away in a box, photo album or diary.

Not ‘quite forgotten’ like Eliza’s mother.

Or so she thought.

Dearest Eliza, I know you couldn’t remember your mother’s name on your wedding day, but that’s OK. Her name was Olivia Bateman, and she married your dad, John Clayton, in 1821. I know you also couldn’t remember your age when you married William (or maybe you just ‘adjusted’ it a bit as he was younger than you?), but you were born in White Hills, Tasmania, eight years after your mum and dad married. You had many brothers and sisters, and I’m sure you were quite loved. I’m also sure that your mum would have been so happy for you on your wedding day, had she still been alive.

Dearest Eliza, you’d been married and widowed prior to meeting William, and saw five of your own children die before you. How terribly sad that must have been. I’m so glad you found happiness again – even if it was only for a short time. Even though you were only married to William for eight days, trust me that you were his ‘beloved’.

He described you that way when you died – did you know that?

Dearest Eliza, I know that you couldn’t remember Olivia’s name then, but we know it today.

She is remembered, and so are you.

There are many Eliza’s and Olivia’s out there whose stories are yet to be written, and whose families are yet to come find them. They will come, you know – it’s only a matter of time.

By sharing what we know, they may just find them…when they are ready to look.

By sharing what we know, we can help to ensure our ancestors are not ‘quite forgotten’, but rather, ‘fondly remembered’.


I have a feeling they’d be pretty OK with that.


Things our Ancestors said

When I first found out that in 1942, dairy farmers in New Zealand had to prove they owned 12 cows before they could buy a pair of gumboots, I couldn’t help but imagine a snippet of conversation from that time:

“Just two more cows and I’ll finally be able to buy a pair of wellies!”

Somewhere in NZ, someone’s great grandfather…um…Joe, was excitedly counting down the days until one of his cows gave birth, hoping it produced twins. “Not long now, Daisy!

I’ll admit I may have laughed at the thought, but then remembered that during 1942 – along with rationing of food and other supplies – there was a rubber shortage. Tough times calling for tough measures!  And while today all we have to do is save a few dollars and pop to the local shop, back then getting your hands on car tyres or other types of rubber was rare.

So then I felt bad for imaginary Joe.  I hope he got his gumboots, and the farm was OK.

There are many examples of this type of thing though our history’s pages: the things our ancestors said that would no doubt seem a bit strange or out of place today, but were pretty reasonable at the time.

They still make me laugh at times (sorry), but they also help to tell the stories, highlight some of the challenges faced, and show just how much things have changed:

Convict Constable

In the 1830s, a shortage on the police force led to ‘well behaved’ convicts being recruited as Constables.  George Warren, who arrived to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) in 1830, was one.

George was transported for burglary, and only a year later was serving on the ‘other side’ of the law.

Burglary.  As in house breaking; for which he received a life sentence.

He was also of ‘bad conduct’ during transportation.

Yep, seems legit.

“Sorry, I can’t make it today. There’s a funeral this afternoon, and I’m pushing the coffin in wheelbarrow.”

I have no doubt that times were tough in 1905. Not everyone had access to transport, or could afford it.

Even, it seems, for a funeral.

So apparently a wheelbarrow it was for my 2x Great Grandfather.  A journey of around 10 kms (6.2 miles) from the family home to Franklin Village Church.

“Kids I have some sad news. Your father died.  There was no funeral or coffin, but it’s OK – his friends made sure to cover him with bark before they left.”

No coffin? No problem. In 1854 on the Bendigo Goldfields all you needed was a few mates, some sheets of bark, and you were sorted.  And registering a death?  Well that pesky formality just slowed things down when Gold Fever! had struck.

In this case, Daniel Wenn’s remains were found in 1921.  The newspaper reported that “the deceased was buried in his clothes between two sheets of bark, no coffin being procurable.”

Apparently it wasn’t that uncommon at the time…but I think I prefer the wheelbarrow.

“I just don’t feel like a William.

I think George suits me better.”

What do you do if you just don’t want to be called William?  Change your name of course!  Sure you can do it today, but in 1834 there were no official records, or process. It just…happened. The ‘alias’ was quite common, and while William Tomlinson may have had good reason, tracking him down 200 years later is proving a bit…difficult.

There’s something to be said for our current day 100-point identity checks after all.

“Arrest that woman! She’s…exercising!”

Not from my family, but something I came across recently.

Did you know that women were not allowed to compete in the Olympic Games until 1908, and that even then it was only in archery?  It was thought that they should not be allowed to perspire in public, and archery was pretty low-impact therefore more ‘ladylike’.  Australia’s first female Olympians were Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie, who competed in 1912 in swimming (and won gold and silver).

And finally (and possibly my favourite so far):


Never mind the fact that grand uncle Alf was carrying a firearm in public; that’s not the point, silly.

The point is that it was a ‘fowl’ gun.  For shooting birds.

On a Sunday!!

Carry a loaded gun if you must, wave it around if you need to.

Just don’t do it on a Sunday.

A fowl gun means you’re working, and that kind of stuff just gets you thrown into the slammer.

How times have changed, indeed.

Ye olde Facebook?

Scrolling through old newspapers, I quite often come across articles – totally unrelated to my own research – that catch my eye.

I get easily distracted, then interested, then, well…sometimes amused (the early advertisements in particular).

Since finding my own ancestors is at times full of stumps, what better way to procrastinate carry on than to check out the ‘stories’ of other families?  They may not provide any more clues to connect the puzzle pieces, but it does sometimes provide a great insight into the time.

Seeing snippets from ‘The Social Notes’ in the 1900’s (and later parts of 1800) had me thinking about them in terms of today. Back then, it seems that many people took to sharing their ‘status updates’ in the local newspaper.

Turns out that some of our great-great-grandparents were already pioneers in social media!

One of the main differences being no immediate interaction; Mrs Smith, on seeing Mrs Taylor’s social goings-on had to wait until the next issue for updates, or ‘post’ one of her own to show what her family had been up to…or something like that.

They always make me smile, and often I want to know more.

Like Merle Henry in 1929. I imagine today’s Merle would have received a few ‘likes’ on this one (and possibly ended it with #TGIF).  And I hope Miss Anderson settled in OK at Melbourne:

Miss Merle Henry, of the Postal Department, Deloraine, is now on annual leave and is visiting Hobart.

Miss H. Anderson, of North Hobart, and Miss B. Reilly, of Upper Calder, have been staying at Wynyard with Miss Conroy.  Miss Anderson left for Melbourne on Saturday night, where she now resides.


I don’t know about you, but if five different friends all posted on Facebook about heading to Derby at the same time, my question would be ‘What’s the deal in Derby?‘, or even ‘Can I come?‘:

They're all going to Derby!
1941 – The Launceston Examiner


Party at Mr and Mrs Clark’s place!

Oh, and I hope your stay at the Cornwall was nice, Andrews family:

1941 – The Launceston Examiner


I love this next one. Instagram a-la 1898.  Not a filtered, carefully arranged photo in sight, but you can almost ‘see’ the festoons in their ‘veritable bower’:

At the marriage of Miss Frean and Mr Johnstone on Wednesday last at St John’s the decorartions were exquisite and most lavish. Festoons and clusters of lovely white blossoms, palms, and ferns converted the chancel into a veritable bower, and throughout the church the greatest taste was displayed in the arrangement of flowers.


Get well soon, Tas x.

Enjoy your visit to Launceston, Mr Wilson:

Circular Hear Chronicle 7 Aug 1946
1946 – Circular Hear Chronicle


Today’s version of this (also from 1898) would probably be the ‘motivational quotes on inspiring photos’ posts you often see.  Well…maybe with a bit of tweaking:

Some Proverbs- A grain of prudence is worth a pound of craft. Boasters are cousins to liars. Denying a fault doubles it. Envy shoots at others and wounds herself. It costs more to revenge wrongs than to suffer them. Learning makes a man at company for himself.


I hope you backed a winner, Mr Ferguson:

1940 - Circular Head Chronicle
1940 – Circular Head Chronicle


So while they’re not my family, I do appreciate that they’ve taken the time to share their snippets.  For those who chose to, and took the time (much like social media of today), they have given us insight, years later, into the ‘social notes’ of their lives.

It also makes me wonder what our own distant relatives will find 70, or even 100 years from now.

I’m sure they’ll love the food photos. 😉

More than a mystery

I was always an avid fan of mysteries as a child.  I couldn’t get enough of books like ‘The Famous Five’ – to the point where (for a time) at school, a group of us would “play” (ahem) the characters at lunch time. I have no idea what we did – possibly solving ‘The case of the stolen marbles!’ – but I do know that I always wanted to be George. Possibly because she was a tomboy with the amazing Timmy the dog.

Then there was T.A.C.K. Another series of books about a group of kids solving problems. To this day, I can still tell you:

  • how to know if a skunk has left your circus tent (while you’re not watching),
  • how to get a jammed truck out of a tunnel (that overestimated the clearing space above), and
  • how to transport four people in a two-seater canoe without getting wet or leaving anyone behind.

All useful stuff; hit me up if you’re ever in need.

If I wasn’t reading, there were jigsaw puzzles to solve, or other games to play – including a favourite: ‘follow the clues’. I would write and hide the clues (they always rhymed for some reason), and my brother would patiently go from location to location until he found the prize.

So I guess it shouldn’t have come as any real surprise that I am now here, (many) years later, totally immersed in this consuming ‘business’ of finding folks in my family tree.

I am still on the trail of a good mystery, and what better than one that links you back to the past. What I didn’t expect was to feel so strongly for some of these people. To want to know their stories, and to want to find out more about their lives.

My journey so far had been full of questions and full of stumps, but also full of richness, happiness, pride and sadness. Their stories are worth being told – or at the very least, remembered.

Arthur Carlsen
Private Arthur Carlsen.

I want to remember Arthur; the Anzac soldier who died at Gallipoli in World War 1 following the battle of Lone Pine.

I want remember Archie; the ‘Tap Boy’ who was convicted of pick pocketing at Glasgow and sentenced to transportation to Australia as a 12 year old.

I want to remember Ann; the Irish lass who committed Arson in order to escape a life of poverty for the hope of a better one in a distant, unknown land.

There are so many stories waiting to be told, and so many mysteries still to solve.

I hope that over time, I can do just that.


Photo: Tasmania Weekly Courier, 30 Sep 1915.