Sunday, 30 May 2010

Finding the family of Charlie and Mary's eldest son - Constantinus John Ross.

Is one of the men in this un-named family photograph Constantinus John Ross?

There has been a burst of progress in recent days. I have made contact with the family of Constantinus John, known as Jack, about whom I have little information other than the name of his wife, Ada Ellen (Davies) and his six children:  Thelma Olive; Evelyn Maude; Ada Doreen; Hilda Georgina; Murray John (Jack) and Sylvia Jean.

I have spoken to his grand-daughter Lee and hope soon to be able to add the story  of Constantinus and Ada to the research and to know more about their descendants.

I did know that members of the family were still in Adelaide and again Auntie Jessie has proven to be invaluable in terms of putting me in touch with cousin Lee who in turn is going to put me in touch with some others. It's a trip down memory lane for me because we visited Murray Bridge often when I was a child and I have memories of cousins with whom I played and aunts and uncles with whom we stayed. The memories are few but the most vivid is of a white cockatoo outside Auntie Hilda's house which talked. I was fascinated. I also remember that there was a cement path which led to another house where relatives also lived. What is amazing is how little we remember from our childhood.

Murray Bridge seemed such an epic trip from Adelaide when I was a child... and that's because it was. The road up through the hills was steep and we broke down more than once when the car overheated. These days there is a freeway  and a tunnel which cuts down the time dramatically and cars tend not to overheat.

And, in that synchronous way of things, while we spend more time living around Australia and the world ... moving home 33 times in 40 years of marriage ... Greg and I have a farm in the Adelaide Hills at Hahndorf which is a hop, skip and a jump from Murray Bridge.  I have wondered how often we are drawn to places where our ancestors lived because my mother's ancestors also settled in the Hills not far from Hahndorf, at Lobethal. Although, while I have lived in Belgium, India, Angola, Zambia, South Africa,Canada, London and spent months at a time in Portugal, the United States and Russia I have not yet been to Greece let alone Ithaca so I am not sure the theory stands.

Getting to Ithaca is the task for next year and I hope by then to have some grasp of spoken and written Greek. But back to Charlie's eldest son.

While I do not yet know what Constantinus did, it seems his son Jack, whom I met a few times as a child and adult ... the last time thirty years ago when he came to see my father who was dying in hospital.... went into the opal  and jewellery business which has expanded to become based in the United States; first in Hawaii and now in California. It's an interesting connection given that my sister, Teena,  until this year,  lived near Boston for 14 years and my son, Damon has been in New York and New York State for ten years working in the wine marketing industry and pursueing his passion for snowboarding. And he doesn't seem to be the only member of his generation in the family to love snowboarding.

I'm not sure where the snowboarding comes from given the lack of snow in South Australia and Greece but then Charlie Ross's wife Mary (Atkins) was of English and possibly Scottish or European stock. And I have to remind myself that every generation has a new genetic input and my mother's family is English, German and Danish. Plenty of snow on that side.

I have vague memories of relations involved in the opal business and my father loved opals and spent time making opal jewellery.  I think I have some pieces he gave me in a box at the top of my closet. I must find them. They are packed away because I never really liked opals. Well, not until I saw a black opal  in a shop in Melbourne, when I was living there in my late teens.  And, when I finally did buy some black opals it was because I saw a stunning necklace when we went to the Gem and Jewellery Fair in Tucson, a few years ago. Greg, my husband, was at the time running an emerald mine in Russia or the necklace and I would never have crossed paths. The opals were from Lightning Ridge and the necklace was made by a German company based in the famed jewellery town of Idar-oberstein.  Large  grey, dark and milky beads, looking more like moonstone than anything - although the amazing flashes of brilliantly coloured shards of light give it away - have been interspersed with plain gold beads. It was so simple and yet so stunning. I don't care much about jewellery but this was different. The other thing I loved about it, believing as I do in the 'energy' of gems, was the symbolic meaning of opals :

Wearing opal enhances one's innate characteristics; leads to personal creativity; aids the memory and faithfullness and the ability to be true to one's self. The ancients believed that the opal could make one invisible and enhanced the capacity for dreams and visions. Opal also heals and purifies the body.

So, from Lightning Ridge to Germany to the United States to Germany and then back to Australia.  It seemed right to bring them home and they are the most beautiful stones I have ever seen. They remain well travelled opals however because they go with me wherever I go and that is to a lot of places around Australia and the world.

But, I digress. The story is about the descendants of Charlie and Mary's eldest son. It seems that Cousin Jack, or Uncle Jack as I knew him, began mining for opals and other gemstones in 1956 and led mining expeditions throughout Australia, South America and other parts of the world. His son Hayden,  who now runs the business, calls opals nature's holograms and I like that. Hayden went into the family mining business which included cutting and wholesaling and then went into retail in Adelaide, in 1978.

He opened another store in Honolulu the same year... I would be fascinated to learn why he chose Honolulu... and there he met his wife Carmen. In 1988 they opened Opals & Gems of Australia in The Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego but these days most of the business is online.

Interestingly, looking at a video of my cousin Hayden's opal business I was struck by how much he looks like my father and two of my brothers. I continue to be fascinated at how genes 'pop out' in terms of looks and tastes and that is one of the most intriguing aspects to this sort of research. Making the connections happens more often than we expect.

One other connection is that that just as I learned Portugese because we were going to Angola and during our four-year stay in Luanda, so did Hayden's father Jack, learn it to help him during his opal sourcing travels through Brazil. Not only that, while Charlie and Mary Ross's grandson Jack and great-grandson Hayden ended up in the gem and jewellery business, I was also a part of the same business for many years while my husband worked in diamond and emerald mining projects in Australia and around the world: India, Africa, Russia and South America.  And in another, potentially more useful link,  one of Charlie Ross's great-grandchildren does speak Greek ... Jack's daughter Lee learned to read and write Greek while married to her first husband. It seems we do have a Greek speaker in the family and Lee's children have more Greek heritage than the rest of us.

I doubt that Charlie and Mary would have ever imagined opal miners, jewellers, orthodox monks, police superintendants, architects, journalists, editors, social workers, lawyers, bank managers, teachers and myriad other professions being represented in their descendants.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Prison wardens and mounted police

PHOTO: The SA Mounted Police in John Martin's Christmas Pageant.

It may be a coincidence but I find it interesting that both my grandfather Charles Vangelios and my great-uncle Chrysantheous Christus should have worked as gaol warders for a time and great-uncle Spiros Andrew should be a policeman, rising through the ranks to become a superintendant.

My brother Ken also joined the police force after leaving school but decided, after a couple of years it was not for him and instead went to university to do a social work degree.

Was there a ‘policing gene’ in Charlie Ross’s family? Or in the ancestors of Mary Atkins for that matter. Charlie was a seaman and may well have served in the Greek, or even English navy. Two of his sons joined the Australian Army during World War One although that hardly counts as exceptional since that was what men did at such times. I have not yet found any evidence that Constantinus (Jack) the eldest son joined the army and given the nature of the times there may well have been a reason for that. Spiros would have been too young for the 1914-18 war having been born in 1901 and probably too old for the Second World War, or perhaps too senior by then in the SA Police to be spared.

But perhaps it is all co-incidence and circumstance. From what I can see there are no warders or policemen in subsequent generations. Growing up in Gladstone it is hardly surprising that my grandfather found work at the gaol. The Gladstone Gaol first opened in 1881 and was used to house ‘inebriates, debtors and offenders.’ Gladstone was chosen for the site of a major regional prison because it was a railway hub and prisoners could easily be taken there by train from either Adelaide or Port Augusta. The Mid-North however remained a pretty peaceful place, as it was when we lived there in the early 70’s, and throughout its ninety-four year history the gaol was only ever half full. It never housed more than 86 prisoners and in its 100 year history only ever had 26 escapes.

The longest stay in solitary confinement was sixteen days and that was served by a woman named Mary Shipp, who, in 1911 was found guilty of three counts of misconduct. Charles Vangelios may well have been one of her warders. He would have been 19 at the time and while I do not yet have the actual dates that he worked at the gaol it is most likely he was a warder at this time. I know he worked there before joining the army and leaving for the Western Front.

Male prisoners worked in market gardens just outside the gaol walls and the females worked in the laundry. During World War Two it was used as an internment camp for Italian and German internees and briefly functioned as a military prison. These days the cells are used for backpacker accommodation. For a few dollars a night you can get a bed in one of the 125 cells and you can also get breakfast before you leave. The only difference between being a prisoner and a backpacker is that you probably get a better breakfast and you do get to leave.

And perhaps it was Charles Vangelios, who, through his former prison contacts, helped his younger brother, Chrysantheous to get a job at Yatala Labour Prison in 1921. Spiros would only have been 20 at the time and probably so junior in the South Australian Police that he would not have had the contacts to help his older brother get work. Then again, he could have heard there was a job going at Yatala and suggested he apply. Another possibility is that my grandfather helped him out. I have been told that Charles Vangelios also worked as a warder at the Adelaide Gaol but do not yet know exactly when that was. Another question for Auntie Jessie or time spent tracing records at Adelaide Gaol.

I wonder what sort of warders my grandfather and great-uncle were? I have heard that Spiros Andrew was highly respected as a police officer and can only hope they also discharged their duties as well as he was said to have done. From what I have been told, my grandfather was an easy-going person  with a great sense of humour so perhaps the prisoners in his care did not have such a hard time of it. As for Chrysantheous, or ‘Dan’ as he was known, he sounds like a bit of a trickster and so was probably not too officious as a warder. Then again, perhaps in those days warders, because they were not professionals, brought a more human touch to the prison system than there appears to be today. It’s all conjecture on my part but then a lot of this work is and therein lies the fascination.

There’s also the chance that my grandfather and his brother were feared and hated as prison warders often were. But I am prepared to discount that possibility. Neither of them seemed keen to stay on in the job so it doesn’t sound as if they liked it very much.

Spiros on the other hand made a career as a policeman and quite successfully too from what I know so far. I am sure that for someone to come from the backblocks of Gladstone; the son of a Greek sailor turned fishmonger and an illiterate mother and to rise to become a superintendant of police was no mean feat in those days. It indicates a level of commitment, intelligence and suitability to the job. Then again, he was a Virgo, like myself and probably more suited to the nit-picking nature of a lot of police work. He started as a mounted constable and certainly moved around a lot in the early years of his career.

Father Joachim’s sister, Sally, has been helping out with more information about her grandfather although she admits that because their father never talked about his family, the details are meagre. She thinks in the early years that Spiros worked in the Hawker and Laura area in the mid-north.This isn’t far from Gladstone and no doubt it meant he got to visit his widowed mother frequently. Sally has a copy of her grandfather’s record of service as an MC in Hawker and a ‘very small faded photo of a young Spiros in civi’s on a horse.’ I am looking forward to seeing both of these pieces of archival material and adding them to the collection. I am also wondering if a photograph of a boy on a horse which I posted earlier and which remains un-named, could be of Spiros. It will be interesting to see a copy of Sally’s photo to make a comparison.

There is also the possibility of finding some photographs with the SA Police Historical society since Auntie Jessie tells me that Spiros took part in the John Martin’s Christmas Pageant which began in 1933. He was a member of the contingent of Mounted Police and I have already found one photograph although I have no idea if he is one of the four. I know Father Joachim would be interested to see any photographs that we can find because in one email he wrote:

‘I can remember (as a child) coveting Grandpa Ross’s shiny ceremonial sabre in its scabbard which he had in a cupboard, and the white pith helmet with chrome spike sticking out the top which had been part of his ceremonial uniform.’

I wonder where the sabre and helmet went. Perhaps they are sitting in a dusty second-hand shop somewhere in Adelaide waiting to be found. In times past people valued the possessions of their ancestors and had a sense of family history. I wonder why such things have become less important. Perhaps the dramatic growth in genealogy is a sign that we are regaining respect for our ancestors and their stories.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

With the help of the angels, the internet, perseverance and a pinch of luck!

Here is a photograph I found on the net of my third cousin, Father Joachim (Ross), Hieromonk of St. John the Baptist Skete monastery, Kentlyn, New South Wales.

Well, whether it was time, fate, destiny or angel help .... or a combination of all four ... we have found David Ross, our family monk and in the doing filled in some of the missing pieces in regard to the descendants of Charlie and Mary Ross's youngest child, Spiros Andrew Ross.

In that odd way of things, my brother Ken did a search over the weekend of Greek Orthodox monks and found the name (Ross) connected with a Russian Orthodox monk. I had also searched in the same way, but, not thinking outside the square, had ignored the Russian orthodox because my family records had David Ross down as Greek Orthodox. It is yet another reminder that family records are often incorrect or only partly correct. And I should have taken the time to search the Russian names given that the Russian Orthodox Church came out of the Greek Orthodox and of course they have a great deal in common.

Something to ponder, said Ken and it certainly was. You have probably been down this path before, he added, and yes, I had, but not quite in the same way.

‘I was searching for Greek Orthodox monks with the surname Ross and turned up a Russian Orthodox Monk ,’ wrote Ken. ‘He is actually the Abbot I suspect the abbreviation 'Hmk' means 'Head monk' - do Monks change names and take on those of Saints? I know that Nuns do - perhaps 'David' changed to Russian Orthodoxy and became Joachim', added Ken. Even more interestingly the record shows that services are in English.

So, following up Ken’s lead to the monastery where Father Joachim (Ross) was based and doing a search on the name Father Joachim (Ross) I found an email address .... actually I found two ... and sent off a message. One email bounced immediately, but I had a reply to the other within an hour.

Bingo! It was so exciting. I had been fascinated to think that given our Greek connection we had a Greek Orthodox monk in the family and while I do not yet know if he began that way and changed to the Russian church, it is still interesting. Even more so should we find that the original name was Rossolimo...which has both Ithacan and Russian connections.

I wrote: I am trying to trace a relative who become an Orthodox Monk. His name was David Ross. I am researching our great-great grandfather who was born Ithaca, Greece and who settled in Australia in the 1880's.

I see that your surname is Ross. Could there be any connection?

And in reply Father Joachim wrote:

Dear Roslyn

...... yes, I am a priestmonk with the Russian Orthodox Church, known now in monasticism as Father Joachim.

I would be interested to know the results of your searching our origins from Grandpa Ross (Spero Andrew) about which we know nothing - my father Kevin was never forthcoming about his family history, though I always suspected the Greek connection with Grandpa's first name being Spero - looks as if it was Anglicised a bit as it is usually spelt Spiro by the Greeks, a short form of Spiridon/Spyridon, a famous Greek Orthodox saint, and of course Andrew is a common Greek name (Andreas) as he is the patron saint of Greece. I would be interested how the name Ross came about as a surname.

What I found even more fascinating is that my cousin David Ross had chosen life as an orthodox monk with no real knowledge of his family’s Greek connections. There are so many assumptions in this sort of research and most of them are wrong. I had been thinking he was interested in the Greek ancestry and perhaps had even learned Greek (and of course he may have) and that is what had attracted him to the Orthodox church but it seems there is another story altogether.

How amazing to make contact so quickly. What would we do without the wonders of the internet? Even more interesting was that I could do a search of images and find a photograph of Father Joachim, my third cousin ... putting a face to the name! Pulling together the pieces of the family puzzle.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

We have found our family monk

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place last night and I made contact with David Ross, our family monk. He is, it seems, not a Greek Orthodox monk but a Russian Orthodox monk; Father Joachim (Ross) head abbot of a monastery based just outside of Sydney. I have yet to hear the full story but it seems he had little or no knowledge of his Greek ancestors... and I have little or no knowledge of his side of the family. Fascinating.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Faces of the past and present

Flora, Hilda and Jessie Ross in 1939

I was talking yesterday with my Auntie Jessie, my father’s sister and Charlie Ross’s grand-daughter. She is, from what I know, the only one of Charlie and Mary's grandchildren who is still alive. What a gift our elders are and how often we do not appreciate that fact until there are few or none of them left.

We look alike, and I have always known that and she looks like her mother, Hilda Rose. I was given my grandmother’s name as my middle name. In fact both of my grandmother’s were called Hilda so it is quite an inheritance.

But back to faces of the past and present.... I have developed as I have gotten older, deep lines either side of my mouth and I have supposed these to be because I do not laugh enough, being of a serious, even Saturnine nature with Saturn conjunct my Sun. But my aunt has the same lines and she, while being wise and enormously sensible, is a cheerful sort of person. My grandmother, as I saw in the photo my aunt has up on the dresser, also had the same lines. I am guessing the photograph was taken in her late fifties or very early sixties. I do not have a sense of Hilda Rose being overly serious and so, in looking at my own face and faces from the past I have to acknowledge that a lack of laughter is not the explanation for the downward arc of my mouth. I have just been made that way.

One of the reasons why ancestry research is so important is that we gain greater understanding of ourselves when we can ‘see’ our inheritance. How much is nature and how much is nurture? How much is genes and how much is environment? It is hard to say. There are characteristics I observed in my son which I believed were the result of experiences he had when very young... and then my eldest grandson came along and he had the same characteristics without the same experiences.

I am currently compiling as many family charts as I can in order to, eventually, when I have less to do, try to track these placements and characteristics. One of the reasons why I find astrology so interesting and so helpful is because it tells us who we are.... in fact, who we were born to be. Western astrology believes the stars impel and do not compel; as a psychotherapeutic tool, it can be invaluable.

The most fascinating subject for most people is themselves and the most valuable thing we can do is gain as much understanding of Self as possible. Tracing your family history helps you to do that. Within the warp and weave of family are the threads of Self and Soul.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

No sign of the family monk

I don’t think I am going to find the family’s Greek  Orthodox monk, David Ross. I sent some emails out to various Greek Orthodox Monasteries and the response has been absolute silence.

So then I thought I would ring only to discover that most of those who answered the phone either spoke little English or spoke it so heavily accented I could make no sense of it and they could make no sense of me. I was going nowhere fast. Angel help is certainly needed.

And there has been no word on the Rossolimo contact who thought she might be able to check records while visiting Ithaca in April. To be fair, it is barely two weeks since April ended and there might still yet be things to ‘hear.’ Or not.

This has been such a busy time and I have been travelling so much that I have not had much of a chance .... try no chance .... for research. Plans to get to the Geneaology Society fell in a heap or rather, amounted to nothing. I will get there but I have no idea when.

Ancestry research seems to slither to a halt quite easily. How wonderful it would be to have something like the television researchers Who Do You Think You Are or Find My Family doing the hard word. That is of course not the least bit likely and a cop-out of major proportions. Ancestry research is always about priority and seems to progress in bumps and jumps interspersed with long periods of absolutely nothing.

I did receive an email from Cousin Wendy about her grandfather, Chrysantheous Christus, otherwise known as ‘Dan’ or  briefly, as when he got married, Charlie. It is certainly interesting and fleshes out Charlie Ross’s family but is something of a digression.

On his enlistment form Dan, Charlie and Mary's second youngest child, has put himself down as a farmer. During 1921-1927 he was a warder at Yatala Prison in South Australia and in 1927 he sailed to England, working as a ship’s steward, with Alice and their baby daughter, Shirley who was the only one of Alice and Dan’s four children to survive.

Letty Veronica was born in 1921 and died at four months; Lenora Chrissie in 1922 dying at seven weeks and Kenneth Geoffrey in 1923, who died at ten days. Alice, it is said, took her fourth child home to England because she thought she would be safer there. She blamed the climate in Australia for the deaths of her other babies. When Shirley was born, she said, the doctor said: ‘Here’s another one for the undertaker.’

It seems hard to believe that a doctor would say such a thing but no doubt Alice and Dan felt that might well be the case. As it was they stayed in the UK with Alice’s family for just a year, returning then to Adelaide and later moving to Orroroo and Gladstone where Dan worked on road construction. In 1940 the family moved to Adelaide where Dan worked as a press operator and Alice in a munitions factory. When the Second World War broke out Dan tried to re-enlist but was rejected with a medical certificate showing ‘unfitness’ dated August 1942.

He had heart problems and by May 1945 there was a doctor’s certificate showing he was unfit for work. Within  four years he was dead. Like so many of the Ross men he did not make ‘old bones’ but he got five years less than his father; ten years less than my grandfather and two years less than my father.

Monday, 10 May 2010

When the past becomes the present

Photo: Ken Ross
'Auntie Teeny's house .'

The interesting thing about looking at the photograph of Auntie Teeny's old house in Cooper Street, Hamley Bridge which Ken sent to me is that it looks 'bigger.'

I thought that things were meant to look 'smaller' when viewed as an adult. Perhaps it is because the sleep-out has gone and so it all looks much more open. The fence is new and there is no longer a small gate in the centre and a path leading to the front door.

My memories of the house are that it was dark and small but we had such fun there. Perhaps the 'dark and small' was more about some of the energy at work than anything material. It is also a reminder of how selective memory can be. Or is it the fact that we have an image in our minds which no longer exists and which has not existed for a long time?

That is the problem which immigrants face when they return 'home' for a visit. Often they have had pictures in their mind for decades and yet the places they knew no longer exist as they once did and may not exist at all. Nothing remains the same and the past, while retaining vestiges, always becomes the present. And therein lies the 'gift.'

It is, at the same time, immensely satisfying to see the old house looking so good.