During my entire adult life, researching family history has been a hobby, perhaps even an obsession of mine. Even as a child I would constantly ask my parents to tell me what they knew about their families, to tell me any stories they remembered, and what were the names of our ancestors.
Unfortunately they didn’t have much for me in the way of detail, although I hung onto every snippet of information they had, however remote it may have been, etching the names and events into my memory so as not to forget a single detail.
It also helped that my family obligingly repeated said stories, ad nauseam, every single time I asked them to. “I’ve already told you that story”, they would protest, by which time I would be jumping up and down, pleading, “I know, but tell me again. I might have missed something”. I must have been the most annoying child what with my inquisitive mind, and my family must have loved me a great deal to tolerate me, repeating the old stories upon request.
I always referred to the family stories as the “England Stories”, as my entire family came from England, with yours truly being the token Australian back in those days. My father in particular remembered uncle-this-aunty-that-and-cousin-someone-else, although he didn’t have the foggiest idea as to how they were related to him!
It wasn’t until about 2003 that I finally discovered that the internet was THEE place to research my family history.
Armed with just the names of my parents and grandparents, my family tree has since grown to seven-hundred-and-seventy-three family members, a fact which both of my parents would be astounded by, if they were both still here for me to tell them!
The relations that I have focused mostly on throughout my research have been those who are the closest to me, such as great aunties and uncles and my direct line of grandparents (I know who my own aunties and uncles were).
In among some old photos of nameless relatives given to me by my father, (passed on to him by his mother, who hadn’t a clue of who any of them were either!) there was one photo that stood out for me. A man, wearing an army uniform, posing among his civilian dressed family, had a familiar face. He reminded me of my father’s first cousin, who I called Uncle Jim.
I was determined to learn exactly who this man was. The inscription on the back of the photo, written in pencil, is “Albert’s ten days leave, January, 1917”. The photo was taken by a photographer in Manchester, England.
My research revealed that the man in the photo was my father’s Uncle Albert, although I could find nothing of his army record, nor any marriage or births of children.
During one of my moments of scrutinising the old family photo, the penny dropped; Uncle Albert was wearing an Australian army uniform!
Ultimately, with my research now focused on Australian records, I discovered that Uncle Albert had emigrated to Australia as a teenage and had joined the Australian army in 1916 during the First World War. The family photo was taken whilst he had leave during his time in the Australian army in England. Uncle Albert returned to Australia after the war ended in 1919, later marrying and spending most of his years living in Sydney.
But I still had questions; did Uncle Albert have any children? How long had he lived?
Through various ways in which I have discovered information can be found in the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriage online register, with next to no information on the ancestor being researched, I discovered that Uncle Albert had lived until 1951, and he was buried at MacLean, NSW.
MacLean! Just three hours drive from my home!
Last year, after yet another online search which gave me the name of the cemetery where Uncle Albert was buried, I headed off to MacLean with my then thirteen year old son.
MacLean is a small town, so we had no trouble finding the cemetery at all, although we hadn’t counted on meeting up with thousands of bats, living in the trees, which lined the back of the cemetery. It turned out that the bats were the only living creatures we clapped eyes on during our visit in MacLean. The noise of the screeching bats really rattled my son’s confidence; well the bats, along with the fact that his crazy mother was thrilled to bits at having the opportunity of finding the grave of some old dead guy that he didn’t know!
We wandered around the cemetery for quite some time, reading headstones, minds boggling at some of the extremely young, and extremely old, who had been laid to rest here. But no Uncle Albert.
My son was beginning to get restless; he’d had enough of the bats and was spooked over spending so much time in a cemetery. To be truthful, I’d grown quite weary myself. Where was Uncle Albert?
In a moment of frustration, I spoke out loud, “Where are you Uncle Albert?”
A loud cracking noise came from a section of the cemetery just ahead of us. In a flurry of shock, my son announced, “I’m getting out of here”, as I told him “Uncle Albert’s over there”, and I headed directly towards the noise.
Sure enough, there he was, right where the noise had come from. My son only came close enough to me for me to throw him the car keys, which suited me just fine. It allowed me the time to enjoy a private visit with my great-uncle, a man I had searched for, for many years.
At the bottom of Uncle Albert’s grave there was one single word engraved – “Father”. So, he did have a child, or children!
Shortly after I returned home I made contact with Uncle Albert’s grandson, through a family research website which we are both members of.
Time means nothing at all in the spirit world. Uncle Albert had been gone for sixty years, yet he still managed to find a way for me to find him. That is an important lesson I have learned ~ keep yourself open to the subtle signs, sent to us when our loved ones are trying to contact us.
We could pass the signs off as ‘coincidence’ or we can heed the signs and open ourselves up to the messages that are too good to miss, which for me was finding Uncle Albert.