Posts tagged ‘Etherington’

Commercial Travellers

Tomorrow is Australia Day and to mark the occasion, Twigs of Yore issued a blog challenge inspired by a line from Australia’s National Anthem, Advance Australia Fair. That third line (“We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil”) inspired Shelley to suggest that we write about the occupation of an Australian ancestor.

Many of my ancestors were salesmen, and while few of them made much ‘wealth’, there was certainly plenty of ‘toil’. My grandfather was born Cyril Leslie Etherington – but he hated the name Cyril, so everyone called him Mick. He was a salesman for much of his working life but in the 1930s and 1940s he travelled around country NSW as a commercial traveller. Carrying sample bags of confectionery, he visited shops and businesses, taking orders for the White Signet Company .

In earlier days peddlers travelled the countryside, carting goods to individuals and businesses, enduring the hardships caused by long lonely journeys, great distances and poor country roads. By the twentieth century many country travellers travelled by rail when possible. The small town of Werris Creek became an important centre for country salesmen because it was located on a railway junction. Stories and songs were written and shared amongst the country travellers, and Werris Creek, All Tickets Please is one.

My grandfather was a great story teller and I still remember songs and poems he taught me as a child, about his life as a commercial traveller. (I wonder what people thought when a 4-year-old girl broke into song with “Just an old beer bottle, washed up by the sea”!)

Away from their homes and families for so much of the time, friendships (as well as rivalries) bonded the CTs (commercial travellers).  My grandfather joined the Commercial Travellers’ Masonic Lodge and attended meetings at Werris Creek. He also joined the Commercial Travellers Association.

Country Travellers ParadeThe “country travellers” worked together for charity as well. From 1906 various “cot funds” were set up to  raise money for sick children, to fund beds in hospitals. (In 1923 the many cots that had been provided by the CT’s to Sydney’s Westmead Hospital  were placed together in one ward, called the “Commercial Travellers’ Ward”.) Around country towns the commercial travellers held fund-raising events, with floats and parades, accompanied by “chocolate wheels” and raffles.

 In the 1930s my grandfather bought a Reo Flying Cloud for some of his travels. On dirt roads, the car often bogged and had to be pushed out.

Very occasionally, as a treat for my grandmother, my grandfather took her with him on one of his trips. But mostly it was lonely for both of them. After a fire at their home in 1946, my grandmother asked him to stay at home more, so he left country travelling and returned to working in the city.

The Commercial Traveller
Who are those with anxious faces, in the towns and busy places,
Journeying with weary paces, carrying attache cases?
Some are short, and some are tall, some have big bags, others small,
Some are dressed in style (Ye gods!) others down at heel (poor sods).

Tell us pray what is their mission, these who go with such precision -
Who are these poor hapless guys? Listen I’ll put you wise.
These (let me inform you sirs) are Commercial Travellers,
And their mission (it transpires) is pursuing men called buyers,
Who (although not blind at all) cannot see them when they call.
So they go with anxious faces, in the town and busy places,
Journeying with weary paces, carrying their attache cases.

Pity not their lot, my brothers, their reward is not as others.
When they’ve finished this life’s mission, they don’t go down to Perdition.
That’s a fate reserved for liars, thieves, Sales Managers and Buyers,
No, their path on earth was rough, and they were punished quite enough,
As they went with anxious faces, in the towns and busy places,
Journeying with weary paces, carrying their attache cases.

When these poor be-knighted mortals, knock at the Celestial Portals,
Show their card and tell their story, OPEN FLY THE GATES OF GLORY!
They have paid for their transgression, so they have a grand procession,
Led by angels playing lyres, last of all ten thousand buyers,
All by forcible persuasion brought from Hell for the occasion,
March behind them several paces, CARRYING THEIR ATTACHE CASES.

(Author unknown)

25 January, 2012 at 2:42 pm 8 comments

Parents Unknown

William Etherington, "parents unknown"

Parents unknown

If a death certificate has the dreaded word ‘Unknown’ – think about other ways of getting the information.

I was looking for the origins of William Etherington, a carpenter who died at Delegate (southern NSW). On his death certificate, not only were his parents listed as unknown, but so were any spouse or children.

Death certificates often have errors or missing information, because the owner of the property where a death occurred was the person required to register the death. The accuracy of their answers depended on who that was and how much did they know.

Next possibility – was there a will naming family members? If so, it might be found in a ‘Probate Packet’ – such files contain information about the property of the deceased and who was to inherit.

Checking the online indexes of NSW State Records (holders of New South Wales government archives), I found no entry for William in the Probate Packet index, nor the index of the Deceased Estate files (generally these contain an inventory of property and possessions).

However there was an entry for William Etherington in the index for Intestate Estates (‘intestate’ means died without leaving a will). The Curator of Intestate Estates determined who was to inherit when there was no will to indicate the wishes of the deceased.

The online index gave a clue that this file was working checking. The comments column included “contains original BDMs”. What an understatement!

William was one of 9 children, most of whom had married (and perhaps remarried) and had children of their own. William’s brother claimed that all his siblings and their descendants deserved to share the inheritance. In evidence there was a family tree (4 generations) along with all the applicable birth, marriage and death dates for everyone named. Not only that, but the file also contained all of the birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial certificates. Most documents were from England and the baptisms and burials were certified by the vicar.

Instant family! And photographing them all with my digital camera cost me nothing. (Fortunately I had a spare camera battery, as there were so many documents.)

I don’t think I have ever before found so many certificates in one file! However it was also a reminder that if the information is missing in the first place you seek, check elsewhere.

Family tree of William Etherington

Family of William Etherington

29 January, 2011 at 5:43 pm 2 comments

You only have to look

I am irritated every time I hear the ad that says “you don’t need to know what you’re looking for, you only have to look”. Advice like that encourages some people researching their family history to accept anything they find without question, especially when it is the only name that seems to match when searching an index.

The internet is littered with family trees wrongly patched together by people who did not look for corroborating evidence before adopting an ancestor.

Some of my “problem” ancestors took a great deal of hunting, through every available source I could access, before I finally found some record or some descendant or something that provided a clue to a mystery. Then lots of cross-checking was required before I could have some confidence in my conclusion. For example, it took nearly 10 years of  very focussed research before I found the necessary evidence for one ancestor, Samuel ETHERINGTON. (I did also research other ancestors in those intervening years!)

I do believe that any research needs to be focussed and directed. Be systematic in the way you check all the sources you can. Lucky dip research occasionally brings unexpected finds, but without careful cross-checking of details, you won’t know whether that find belongs in your tree or not.

Having said all that, new indexes and newly digitised records are recently being released at such a rate that it is difficult to keep up. Because I was so obsessed with one particular ancestor, I once could be fairly confident that I had checked most of the available sources of information about him. But with more ancestors in my tree and more sources to check (and less time – but don’t get me started on that) – anyway there are bound to be people in your tree that you have not yet sought in unlikely places as well as the more obvious.

Because I’m writing some new courses, I was looking for examples of some lesser used sources. Today I was checking online indexes on the website of the State Records Authority of New South Wales, the archives of the NSW government.

You can’t browse shelves in a government archives (as you might in a library), but you can browse online indexes. Not every sort of record is indexed and not all indexes are online, but a lot of them are.

Today I was checking indexes I don’t usually bother with and was quite surprised at how much I found. I did not know before that John McNEILL was a 1st class porter at Darling Harbour Goods Yard in 1910. Or that two James ETHERINGTONs (father and son) held Publican’s Licenses for the Nell Gwynne Hotel (York Street Sydney) in the 1850s. I found more bankrupt ancestors (and bankruptcy files can contain a wealth of details about daily life).

Which brings me back to where I started. Perhaps I did know what I was looking for, but I was still surprised with what I found. And I am so glad that I looked!

7 January, 2011 at 6:42 pm 8 comments

Historic photos

More on pictures today. I’ve just been looking at PictureAustralia, an initiative of the National Library of Australia and others. PictureAustralia has been in existence for more than 10 years and is still growing as a source of images of “all aspects of Australiana”.

When possible I like to add photos to my family history – photos of people when possible, but also photos of buildings, graves, schools – whatever is relevant and will add interest. Relatives often have acccess to photos that I do not, but I like to look at archives and website collections of old photographs as well.

In the past, one of my favourite sources of such photos has been ArchivePix, the City of Sydney Archives digital photograph bank. This can be found under the “Image Galleries” link (under “History & Archives”) on the City of Sydney council website.

Today I searched PictureAustralia for “21 Buckingham Street” – where ancestors lived 130 years ago. What I found was a photo of terrace houses at 21-25 Great Buckingham Street, Redfern. The “Rights” published on the website advise that the photo can be saved or printed for private research, but permission must be sought if you wish to use it for other purposes. What is interesting is that the photo comes from the City of Sydney Archives, implying that PictureAustralia might be the gateway now for photos from that collection too.

Even individuals may now contribute photos via Flickr to PictureAustralia, allowing individuals to share &/or sell copies of their photos, or perhaps have theose photos “preserved for perpetuity” by picture curators.

An Advanced Search allows users “exact phrase” searching or to select the year or place of interest, or even to select a particular contributor. Looking at the list of Contributors suggests other possibilities to search – including photos from New Zealand.

Not only places but images of people can be found too: A photo entitled ‘BATTLER FROM DOWN UNDER MEETS “THE CHAMP” ‘ is described “Shows Sergeant Graeme Etherington, amateur middleweight boxer from Sydney, squaring off with Jack Dempsey” – interesting!

3 October, 2010 at 12:33 pm Leave a comment

Expand your search

My great great grandfather, Samuel ETHERINGTON, was a “brickwall” for many years. For only 1 of his children could I find a baptism (in 1859) and that document referred to “Samuel Etherington, engineer”. Every other reference was to “Samuel Etherington, builder”.

Except one – when his daughter Emily married in 1883, her father was named as “Samuel Etherington, baker”. I could not find Samuel born, married or died, nor immigrating – he just seemed to be there, fathering children. I tried all sorts of spelling variations, hunted him through directories, electoral rolls and every other source I could find. I followed the family’s rates payments to local councils. I learned a lot about his life – but not where he was born or died.

Eventually I expanded the search and started researching everyone surnamed ETHERINGTON in 19th century Australia, placing them in families and looking for a Samuel. (Fortunately the name was not too common.) When that didn’t solve the mystery, I expanded the search further, looking for those families’ origins back in England. I found one possibility – Thomas ETHERINGTON (who migrated from England to Sydney) had had a brother Samuel born in England, whose death I could not find.

By this time Internet bulletin boards and email lists were available. Wherever I could, I posted queries – did anybody know anything about this English ETHERINGTON family of Thomas and Samuel? Eventually somebody saw my message who knew someone who knew something – and he put me in touch with a lady in England who held family documents which explained the puzzle.

This lady’s ancestor had received a letter from Australia in 1903, from a Henry HOLMES, who wrote – “you don’t know me but I am the son of your brother Samuel ETHERINGTON, who has been living here in Australia under the name of Samuel HOLMES”. Henry HOLMES was the oldest son of Samuel and Hester HOLMES. With that clue, things started falling into place.

Samuel HOLMES, baker, had 6 children surnamed HOLMES with Hester HOLMES. Samuel ETHERINGTON, builder, had 8 children surnamed ETHERINGTON with Sarah EVERETT. I’m guessing that the dual lives must have been revealed at some point, hence the ETHERINGTON daughter’s marriage certificate, naming Samuel ETHERINGTON as a baker, just before Samuel ETHERINGTON disappeared from the records.

It appears that Samuel eventually abandoned the ETHERINGTON family and moved away with his son Henry HOLMES, until his death (as Samuel HOLMES) in 1903 in Bombala (southern NSW). In 2003 I visited England and saw where Samuel was born in Bermondsey – later that same year I visited Bombala and saw his grave.

Because I had hunted so hard for Samuel, for more than 10 years, I eventually knew a lot about him. When I found that bankruptcy file (mentioned in an earlier blog post) for Samuel HOLMES, it included the signature of Samuel HOLMES, baker. The English ETHERINGTON family had a prayer book inscribed by Samuel ETHERINGTON – what do you think of the 2 signatures?

Signature of Samuel HOLMES

Samuel Holmes

Samuel ETHERINGTON

Samuel Etherington

30 September, 2010 at 5:01 pm 1 comment

Even the price of his braces

I was searching State Records NSW (the NSW Government archives), looking for background information about my ancestor Samuel HOLMES (otherwise known as Samuel ETHERINGTON – but that’s another story).

A “keyname search” (searching almost all the digital indexes) of the NSW State Records led me to the Insolvency Index, which informed me that Samuel HOLMES, a baker of Sydney, was declared insolvent in July 1862.

Insolvency was the inability to pay your debts, and was originally treated as different to Bankruptcy, which involved a  person’s assets being administered and distributed to creditors. Insolvency doesn’t appear to have been particularly unusual – at least not amongst my ancestors – some of whom were declared insolvent or bankrupt a number of times in their lives.

Finding someone’s name in an index should only be the beginning of the story. Almost invariably the full document holds more information than the index entry.

In this case Samuel was also declared bankrupt (in December 1862), and corresponding notices appeared in the NSW Government Gazettes of 1862. The Government Gazette notices were as business-like as any government notice, but the real gems were discovered in the original documents. Those documents can be seen at the Western Sydney Records Centre (of NSW State Records) at Kingswood. In Samuel’s Insolvency file were all the invoices he could not pay.

If Samuel knew in July 1862 that he would be unable to pay his bills, it does not seem to have curbed his spending, as  his September 1862 quarterly account from the David Jones (department store) indicates. This invoice includes: 6 white shirts (3 pounds), 6 Cambric handkerchiefs (1 pound, 5 shillings), 1 pair of braces (4 shillings)  – and even a bottle of scent (another 4 shillings).

Such documents tell so much more about this ancestor (and his fashion sense!) than an unemotional announcement of his debts, and certainly rewarded the effort of obtaining the original records behind the index entry.

Quarterly account from David Jones, 1862

Invoice from David Jones, September 1862

28 September, 2010 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment


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