Allowed to visit once again, I've been spending time with my sister Janette, who is collating records collected while researching our maternal grandmother's family history thirty years ago and records secreted away by our mother and grandmother in old suitcases and drawers. Large envelopes labelled for particular ‘great grand’ relatives have been brought into action. My grandmother’s siblings, Beatrice, Ada, Minnie, Edie, Alf, Charlie, Ruby, Violet and of course my grandmother Lily, each have an envelope. We’ve been conferring over old scrapbooks and albums containing photographs, many of which I’ve not seen before. I’ve taken photographs of a multitude of photographs, documents such as my grandfather’s passport; ephemera such as a leather collar box containing my ballerina grandmother's grease paint to add to my family history collection.
‘Auntie Beat’, my eldest maternal great aunt, never married, looking after her parents until they died, then living with nieces and nephews’ families until she passed away. My only memory of Aunty Beat is peeping into a bungalow to see her while holidaying with an aunt who was caring for her not long before she died. Two recent finds - a beautiful carte de visite from the early to mid 1880's in a battered album of the day and a loose photo, on the back of which is written ‘Beatrice Hooper – the eldest’. A dressmaker, Beat is wearing a dark trimmed check dress, standing in front of a rose bush. It was probably taken in the early 1900’s. Photographs found in her scrapbook which suggest that she may have travelled with a theatre company to New Zealand. While most of her younger sisters were dancers with J C Williamson’s, perhaps, being a dressmaker, she was in the wardrobe department? There is a wonderful photo of Beat playing cards with a group of friends, another in an outfit suggesting she may have been a suffragette!
I’d met Auntie Min when visiting Sydney as a child and remember her as a rather serious woman of considerable wealth who lived in a house looking over Sydney Harbour which had a path down to a private boat ramp. I remember her son, John Rose, as being quite eccentric. John was always described by my mother as a change of life baby, born after Min’s husband, Ernest Rose, then aged 51, had already had a stroke.
Family research revealed that Min, who had married ‘Uncle Ern’ at 20, had two little boys who only lived for a few months during her twenties, followed by decades working in the theatre, before having a baby, John, at aged 46. John was born with a disability which affected his development, and Min’s beloved husband died at 59 when John was 8 years old leaving her to care for John. Janette’s envelope for Auntie Min contains portraits of Uncle Ern pasted on a textured card and a portrait of John in early adulthood.
The photo in the envelope which somehow provides a deeper glimpse into their lives is a photo of Min and Ern sitting together, reading material in their hands. Ern appears to be convalescing. It is an evocative photo in which Min looks less severe than I remember her in latter years.
With Covid moving from pandemic to endemic, I’m likely to continue to lead a quiet life. Underlying chronic illnesses have already impacted on my capacity to travel to places in which my ancestors lived to find out more, and now Covid! However, I can always resort to time travelling!
I’m enjoying my current bout of time travelling and have so many more photos to ‘ground’ my research. I sense that I’ll continue to enjoy ‘This ‘time travelling’ Life’, immersing myself in family photographs, documents and other ephemera, well into the future!