Perhaps if I’d had more contact with my father’s parents and younger sister Bunty I would have learnt more. Sadly my grandmother, Rose Lee (McCann) died in 1945 before I was born. I met my grandfather, James Lee, once during a family visit to Manly in 1951 when I was 3 or 4 years old. He shared his apartment with Bunty, her husband John Humphries and their 3 year old son Christopher. My brother and I played with Chris, but it was to be our last contact with him for more than sixty years.
The whereabouts of Chris wasn’t to be my only Lee side ‘mystery’. Not long before he died my father revealed a family secret, telling me he had been married before and had another son and daughter. They were effectively lost to him, and to us, after a bitter separation in 1931. With my father’s death, any chance to learn more about them dissipated.
In 2010 I was on long service leave when ancestry.com advertised a ’14 day free trial’. I had finally the time and the opportunity to find out more about ‘the Lees’, especially as it was always said I was ‘more like my father!’
I spent countless hours on Ancestry.com and other genealogical sites. It was fascinating to find that my father was named after his paternal grandfather, that there were and are still many Tony Lee’s in the family. I learnt that Grandpa Lee had 12 brothers and sisters. A number died of childhood illnesses and tuberculosis prevalent in Leith in the 1890s and early years of last century, while two young adult sisters had died in childbirth. I began to wonder whether my ‘social humanitarian’ tendencies have come from my ‘dock labourer’, ‘coal trimmer’ and ‘riveter’ working class Lee side.
Five years have passed. I’m now in touch with my extended Lee family and enjoy listening to the Scottish accents of Bill, the son of Grandpa Lee’s youngest sister Elizabeth or ‘Lily’, and Barbara, daughter of his youngest brother Philip, when I speak to them in Vancouver and Toronto. I love listening to Bill reminiscing about my great grandmother Barbara and her stories of my grandfather and father; to hear him talk about Leith and the family identities he remembers. We have become great friends and phone each other at least once a month.
My cousin Chris, lost to us after his parents separated, made contact through ancestry.com in 2011. Now a well respected retired vocational education professor in London and a ‘Commander of the British Empire’, we are so proud of him!
Frustrating side tracks, enormous patience and even diplomacy marked the search to find and eventually meet my wonderful 87 year old half sister and the friendly and interesting widow and daughters of my half brother. I love spending time with them and have learnt more about my father’s life through their stories. I’ve also touched base with Bunty’s second family and learnt something of her life in New Guinea.
While there are still a few loose ends, images to print and stories to write, I feel I’ve found out almost enough about my Scottish ‘Lee’ side. I can’t speak in terms of finding ‘Scottish blood’ though. It seems that the Lees (and the McCanns) moved to Scotland from Ireland in the 1860s! According to his Roman Catholic baptism record my great grandfather ‘Antonium Lee’ was born in County Roscommon in Ireland in 1858….
…But that’s another story…!
2015 (Thanks to David for some skilful edits (I accepted nearly all of them) and for helping to cut out another 70 odd words - at 635 words it's the closest to 500 words I've been so far!)