Like most families, I have lots of “no-name” photos of complete strangers amongst my family photos. And they always seem to be at picnics. Have you noticed that? Or maybe it is just my own family aberration. Anyway, why should you care? Well…
Families do not live in complete isolation. They live in a social and environmental context. They had circles of social networks: friends, neighbours, employers, church members, acquaintances and even enemies. Who they interacted with socially is just as much a part of their family story as their family tree. So, I find these photos of strangers fascinating. Even the picnic photos. (Some of those old cars were amazing.)
Recently, I focussed on a particular set of family photos which had a promising amount of clues to pursue. However, in the process I learnt more about my family and some valuable lessons about assumptions, research habits and missing the obvious. And, I also had a lot of fun!
I have a set of 8 family photos belonging to an unrelated family. There is all kinds of helpful information written on the back of the photos – first names, ages, dates, locations – but not the full name of the family. Or so I thought. More on that later.
The photos are amongst a photo collection held by my parents and they are all roughly mixed in together in a big messy pile. Needless to say, it isn’t always obvious to which branch of the family the photos belong.
Luckily, one of the photos supplies a very obvious link:
The message reads:
Sep 1932 Mrs Scholefield
With lots of love from the two this represents! Andrew just leaving for school. He is so glad that he is as tall as his mum!
As you can see from the front of the photo postcard to the left, Andrew is indeed as tall as his mum. And he looks extremely spiffy in his suit and top hat! No wonder his mum looks so proud.
The reference to Mrs Scholefield is extremely helpful as this refers to my great-grandmother, Tydfil SCHOLEFIELD nee DAVIES.
What is not so helpful is the reference “from the two this represents”! Arghh! Why is it so hard to write your name?The Family Historian Curse continues!
From the messages on the back of the photos, they obviously knew my great-grandmother very well and were close enough to keep in contact over many years.
So, who was my great-grandmother?
Tydfil DAVIES was born on 25th March 1861 in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales, the youngest of 7 children, to Thomas DAVIES and his wife Ann nee FISHER.1 Tydfil became a nurse and eventually emigrated to Australia on the SS Merkara, arriving in Rockhampton, Queensland, Australia on 11 October 1890. In the immigration records, it was noted that she was going “To Brother, Rockhampton” who I discovered later to be James Fisher DAVIES.2
In 1897, Tydfil married George Alfred SCHOLEFIELD in Rockhampton and immediately afterwards moved to his home in Ilfracombe, Queensland which is a small town outside Longreach.3 They had two boys and two girls, but sadly, one of the boys died in 1901 when he was only about 2 yrs old. Tydfil’s husband, George, died on 8 December 1911 when their youngest child was only 7 years old.4,5
A year later, again, just a few days before Christmas, the family home burned down to the ground and they lost everything they owned. But at least everyone survived.6 After this, my great-grandmother moved to Longreach and returned to her old profession of nursing to support the family.7
And this was the situation at the time the family in the above photo came into the picture.
So, what are these mystery photos?
The first two are photos that were obviously taken in Australia:
I love this photo. Doesn’t it look like a typical Australian backyard? Look at all that chook wire and the trees planted in tins. It looks hot and dusty but the boys are wearing long socks and ties for the photo!
Here’s a more formal photo:
And here is where I made my first bad assumption and also missed the obvious.
Notice that it says:
1. “Kodak Australia” in the stamp section.
2. “Hicks 1 dozen” is written in pencil at the top.
I’ll come back to this.
The next two photos were taken in England. Specifically, the Vicarage in Parsons Green SW6 England and the children have grown up a little.
However, what is particularly helpful, is the back of the photo that you can see at the top of this post. It includes names and ages!
And this is where I was led astray for awhile. I saw the photos were taken in England, there were first names and ages with a year so I could guess birth dates and I did see the Hicks name on the other photo, put the whole thing together and immediately proceeded to search the UK FreeBMD index for their births! *Head slap*
Logically, I knew that this family and my great-grandmother must have met in Australia but I made an assumption that the parents married in England and their children were born there, too. And proceeded to merrily and obliviously wander down a completely mistaken path.
I spent many wasted hours trying to make names and dates fit on the UK FreeBMD index and wasn’t getting anywhere. Usually when you see “[name] 1 dozen” on the back of a photo, you would think that this was the photographer making a note as to how many copies of the photo were being requested by the sitter – in this case, named “Hicks”. However, when I couldn’t find any trace of births matching the details in England, I thought I must be mistaken on the Hicks surname. I started trying to make anything fit, inevitably struck out and got my research all thoroughly twisted up.
I missed the obvious – that the youngest photo of the children was taken in Australia – and did not even stop to think that they may have been born in Australia.
So, continuing to blunder down my crooked path, I then thought about the vicarage. I had a date and the place, so maybe it might be possible to find out who was vicar at the time and match them to the family in the photo.
I first wanted to make sure I had the right vicarage. Notice the brick work on the corners of the building? It seemed quite distinctive:
I found some photos of the St Dionis Vicarage at 18 Parsons Green England8:
As you can see, the brickwork looks right so I was pretty confident I had the right place. I then had a look at the website of the parish with the thought that I might be able to contact someone there who could give me a little bit of history and identify the vicar. But the parish website was extremely modern and forward looking with no reference to any history of the parish. I thought that it seemed unlikely that there would be that much interest in my query and would have to contact the church’s archival section so decided to leave the idea on the back burner and contact them as a last resort.
Next, I turned to the last two photos, also taken in England but this time at Shipdham Rectory, Norfolk, England on 7th August 1929:
This first photo is marked “Family group” so I assume that they are all related to each other with the head of the family being the couple seated in the middle. The crosses mark the location of some of our mysterious family. Mum and Dad at the extreme right of the back row with their daughter seated in front of them second from the right.
The second photo is another group photo but appears to be everyone who was at the event that day since it is marked “Luncheon Party”. Once again, the crosses on the back mark the location of our family in the photo.
After rummaging around the Internet for awhile to find information about Shipdham Rectory and the town of Shipdham in general, I found a Facebook group called the Shipdham History Group. I posted the Luncheon party photo with what information I had, and within a couple of days, I had all the information I needed to identify the family.
It turns out that the Luncheon Party was for a special event:
Wow! What a wonderful response. I was very grateful for this information and made sure to post the family group photo as well.
The Penny Drops At Last!
Well. So the HICKS family name was correct after all. That was when the penny finally dropped. I turned my searches back to Australia and, with the additional information above, ran some searches through the National Library of Australia online newspaper repository, Trove, and found a plethora of articles about the family including the following article published on the 21 June 19289:
In the article it states that in 1915, Canon Charles Maurice Evelyn Hicks:
…was made Hon. Canon of Rockhampton by Bishop Halford. A year later he married Miss Elizabeth Smith, a daughter of a London merchant, and in the same year was made first Rector of the new Parish of Longreach.
So, while Canon Hicks was born in and his career started in England, he met and married his wife in Australia and their children were born in Australia as well.
Talk about taking the long and scenic route!
The Hicks Family in Longreach
Canon Hicks was rector of the Parish of Longreach from 1915 until 1921 when he left to take over the parish of Rockhampton.10 It was presumably during this period when he and his family became friends with my great-grandmother.
The papers were full of their activities within the community – and they were very active members! Canon Hicks was on the board of the Longreach Hospital, the local Masonic Lodge, involved with the Ambulance Brigade, Longreach Musical Union with his wife (just to name a few organisations) and his lectures and sermons were sometimes published in the newspapers. As was quite usual for prominent members, Canon Hicks and his wife were involved in much of the social scene in Longreach.
The Hicks family obviously made lots of friends during their time in Longreach and later in Rockhampton, and left with fond memories as they sent many letters back to Australia for more than 20 years! They were just as obviously fondly remembered as their letters were published in full in the local papers, which, in itself is very interesting. The newspapers were often sources of social information, listing the comings and goings of the local inhabitants, reporting on what everyone was up to, as well as various social events. A great way to “add flesh to the bones” of our ancestors!
What became of the Hicks Family?
In 1930, Canon Hicks and his family left Rockhampton to return to England for good.11
Since Canon Hicks’ letters to his many friends in Australia would be regularly published over the following years, it is quite easy to follow the family’s successes and tribulations. The letters are full of news about his parish work and his family’s lives back in England. One of the articles even publishes the same family photo that appears at the top of this post!
The latest letter from Canon Hicks that I could find was published in January 1946 and talks about returning to life in peacetime, including what happened to his children. Andrew became an Army doctor and at the time of writing was en route to his new posting in Kenya! Frederick married a nurse and became a Naval surgeon. Phillip was a Naval lieutenant – in fact, a submariner for three years. He was invalided out and decided to study to become an architect. All it says about Brenda was that she was a Wren and was expected to be demobilised in a few months.12
After following their lives through reading all of the letters published in the paper, it was nice to see that everyone had made it safely through the war.
I really made it hard for myself on this one. I didn’t have a coherent research plan. I basically darted here and there and took the long, scenic way around to the answer.
If I had laid out the photos in time order (easy to do with the kids getting older), and paid closer attention to the details (like the Kodak Australia printed on the oldest photo), I may have twigged much faster to the idea that the children had been born in Australia.
Or if I had even bothered to use the search terms of “Hicks, Church, Ilfracombe” in Trove rather than spending all of that time trying to identify their birth records, I could have identified the family much sooner.
- Take your time and look at the details – no need to rush off and start randomly inputting words in search engines. Analysis should start with the facts you have on hand.
- Construct a written research plan so you don’t miss search permutations or repeat the same searches over and over. As your theories are demolished and you devise new theories along the way, make sure to document those as well.
- Record your results with proper sourcing so you can find the information again (I had to look up information again for this article because I hadn’t made notes at the time – so it took months longer to write as I reconstructed my initial research).
On the other hand, it was the first time I used a Facebook group to answer a research question which lead to the explanation for that party at the Shipdham Rectory. Without the wonderful help of the Shipdham History Group, it is more than likely that story would still be a mystery.
It was also because of all the extra research that I discovered the stories about my great-grandmother’s house burning down a year after her husband’s death and her returning to nursing the following year. I knew bits and pieces of the stories but this helped me to gather all the correct details, put it all into time order and make sense of her story.
So, sometimes taking the long and winding scenic route can be interesting, enlightening and a lot of fun.
Now, if I could just find an explanation for all of those family picnic photos…
1 England, certified copy of entry in Register of Births for Tydfil Davis born 25 March 1861, registered 13 November 1940 by mother; citing June [quarter] 1861, 11a/309/349, Merthyr Tydfil registration district; General Register Office, England.
2 “Immigration Agent, Rockhampton – Immigrants Arriving 12 October 1888 to 14 February 1901,” microfilm, Queensland State Archives; entry for Tydfil Davies arriving on SS Merkara, 11 October 1890; citing Series ID 7453, Item ID 272691, Queensland State Archives: Passenger lists; consulted as microfilm under previous system location: A/152, microfilm Z45.
3 Queensland, Australia, marriage certificate (transcription) for George Alfred Scholefield and Tydfil Davies, married 27 March 1897; citing 1897/C1765, Registrar-General, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Brisbane.
4 “Queensland, Australia, Historical Deaths Index: 1829 – 1986,” online database, Queensland Historical Deaths (https://www.bdm.qld.gov.au/IndexSearch : accessed 3 July 2015), death entry for William George Scholefield; citing 1901/C37, Registrar-General, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Brisbane.
5 Queensland, Australia, death certificate (transcription) for George Alfred Scholefield, died 8 December 1911; citing no 1911/C2677, Registrar-General, Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Brisbane; note: online index states 1911/C3677 but certificate states 1911/C2677.
6 ILFRACOMBE. (1912, December 21). The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 – 1929), p. 38; Story of house belonging to G.A. Scholefield burning down; Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71919788
7 MOTOR CAR FOR HIRE. (1913, March 8). The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1892 – 1922), p. 13; Notice of Tydfil Scholefield returning to nursing after house burned down and husband passing away; Retrieved December 22, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article79744027
8 “St Dionis Vicarage – 18 Parsons Green England”, is a derivative of “Creative Commons St Dionis Vicarage – Wikipedia Commons” by Edwardx, used under CC BY / Modified with highlighted areas.
9 BIRTHDAY CLUB. (1928, June 21). The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 – 1929), p. 34. Retrieved November 28, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69846339
10 PERSONAL NEWS. (1921, October 1). The Capricornian (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 – 1929), p. 35. Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article69786607
11 CANON HICKS. (1930, September 4). The Central Queensland Herald (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1930 – 1956), p. 52. Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article70275908
12 LETTER FROM CANON C. M. E. HICKS. (1946, January 22). Morning Bulletin (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1878 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved December 23, 2015, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article56431939