Friday, 30 July 2010

Of cricket balls and possibilities

I caught up with Rosemary Swincer Eldridge, the eldest child of Flora Ross Swincer this week. She is seven years older than I am and therefore remembers a lot more about our grand-parents and family history. She had some great stories to tell and I have asked her to write down everything that she remembers.

Collecting 'stories', no matter how small helps to weave together the fabric of our shared past as descendants of Charlie Ross and Mary Atkins.

Her mother, she said, always maintained that Charlie Ross had been born on Ithaca so this 'strengthens' the family 'story' for the place of origin. Flora was the eldest child and three years older than Jessie  and therefore would have been closer to the 'truth'. It seems clear at this point that Ithaca  as my great-grandfather's birth place is probably correct and that means Rossolimos is the most likely 'bet' for Charlie's original name. However, 'probably' and 'likely' do not make for truth and so the quest continues.

The postcard album which  our grandmother gave to Rosemary is a 'real' postcard album in the main,i.e. beautifully decorative postcards with messages written on the back. I did not have time to read many but hope to do so at some point  in the future. It is such a wonderful record of the times and of our grandmother's life.  Many of them are birthday wishes for Hilda Jones and notes from friends on their travels. One postcard has come from Transvaal in South Africa and suggests that a friend, or family member may have been there during the Boer War.

The album also contained a couple of interesting photographs which I hope soon to have scanned so I can add them to the file. One is probably Charles Vangelios when he was young and another Charles Harold Simper, the first husband of Hilda Jones Ross. The likeness between the photograph and my uncle, Laurie Simper, his son, is unmistakeable.

But, sadly, there were no photographs with Greek writing on the back!

It is interesting to find how much more there is to 'see' in a photograph when one knows the 'story' of the person behind the captured image. Which is why I would like to identify the soldier or soldiers in our as yet unidentified photographs. Hilda Ross Lewis was convinced that the photograph below was Chrysantheous Christus (Dan) but his daughter, Shirley Ross Benson has a photograph of him which clearly shows they are not one and the same. Chrysantheous, Charles and Constantinus are all somewhat swarthy - olive-skinned - with longer shaped faces, inherited no doubt from their mother. Spiros has a broader face but is not as fair as either of the men in these photographs. Unless a family member 'recognises' a likeness, we may never know who they are.

PHOTO LEFT: Unidentified soldier One.

But the unexpected surprise of the day was seeing a cricket ball which had been presented to our grandfather by his team, inscribed 'To Nigger Ross'..... political correctness, thankfully, not being a part of life in the past. The ball looked well used and was set upon a small stand with the copper plaque fixed to one side. So, Charles Vangelios was a keen cricket player in his day and clearly popular with his team-mates. Not only did I not know he played cricket I had no idea this memento existed.

He was, from the stories I have heard and the memories I have, a gentle, funny man. Chrysantheous Christus was also something of a trickster but I have yet to ascertain if the 'trickster' archetype has come down through Charlie Ross or his wife, Mary. I suspect it is the former because the photographs I have seen of Mary, both as a young girl and a very old lady, show her to be quite serious. But I could be wrong of course. At this point all is conjecture.

But all may not be conjecture at another point. I have had an email from the Lincolnshire Mashfords whom I first contacted a year or so ago. At that time they thought we were probably Devon Mashfords but the Haynes link made me think differently. And now, Lesley Mashford who is researching the Lincolnshire Mashfords for the family, has written from the United Kingdom to say that yes, the family did have an Elizabeth Mashford who went to Australia.  I am looking forward to seeing the information.

One more piece in the puzzle may be about to fall into place. Although the puzzle of our two photographs of unknown soldiers remains and may never be solved.

PHOTO LEFT: Unidentified soldier Two.

I did wonder if these photo postcards had been sent by members of the Atkins side of the family but my Atkins researcher, Luke Scane-Harris and his mother, Patricia, say no! Sigh.

The uniforms are clearly First World War and the full length looks more English than Australian. A driver's uniform perhaps?

Such fresh-faced young men. One can only wonder if they lived or died. Perhaps the fact that we cannot seem to find out who they were means they did not survive.

And yet there is something of a family resemblance. They look familiar. Perhaps our 'driver' was a Mashford. Or perhaps they were just family friends sending photo postcards to Constantinus John and his wife Ada.

We may never know. I like to think though,  even if they remain anonymous, that bringing their images into the 'light' is an honouring.... whether or not these young men lived long, full lives or died in the blood-drenched mud of the Belgian trenches. I have seen those trenches and the images of the cadaverous landscape where bare-stripped broken trees held the shattered bodies of horses and men. From the pristine fantasy of an artist's studio to the nightmare world of war!

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Photos, facts and fantasies

 Photo: Charles Vangelios (Nigger) Ross in his Gladstone Gaol warder's uniform, circa 1910.

There is no doubt that wishes do come true and with ancestry research it is often the only way that one finds that which needs to be found.

My wish at this point is that someone, somewhere, will find a photo with Greek writing on the back and there will be Charlie Ross's Greek name. It's a big wish but stranger things have happened.

At this point in the journey I have managed to contact the families of all five of Charlie and Mary's children and have been able to gather information and photographs which I did not even know existed. One photograph is of my grandfather, Charles Vangelios, in his Gladstone Gaol warder's uniform. He must have been about 18 and he is the spitting image of my brother Wayne. Or rather, Wayne is the spitting image of his grandfather. We had always thought that from looking at the photo/sketch of CV in his First World War army uniform but this photograph leaves no doubt as to the resemblance.

Photographs show that all of the children were 'slight' and of darker complexion .... particularly the boys. Mary was however very, very small and a photograph which has come to me from a relative on the Atkins side, Luke Scane-Harris, of her as an old lady, shows just how tiny she was. The children appear to have been of reasonable height but not exceptional height so Charlie Ross is not likely to have been particularly tall. It is however all conjecture because we inherit not just from our family but from a whole pool of ancestors.  Luke also sent a copy of a photograph of Mary's brother, James Haynes Atkins and he is also slight and a little swarthy. Such images help to give a sense of which physical characteristics have been inherited from which side of the family.

The photographs are also fascinating in terms of trying to get an idea of what Charlie Ross looked like. I had not expected to find Mary but there she was.... both as a very small, small girl and as a very small, old lady. Perhaps there is a photograph of her husband somewhere.

Some other photos which came up courtesy of Wendy Lewis Bannister, Constantinus John’s grand-daughter, have yet to be placed. Two young men in army uniform who were thought, by Wendy’s mother Hilda Ross Lewis and aunt Sylvia, to be Chrysantheous Christus, seem not to be. Wendy Benson Bray has looked closely at a photograph her mother Shirley Ross Benson has of her father and with the wonders of modern computer images, it is clear they are not the same person.

At this point we do not know who they are but I am wondering if they are Atkins relatives given the fact that all of Charlie and Mary’s children appear to have olive skin and dark hair and these young men are quite fair.

It was common in the 19th and early part of the 20th century to send photo postcards. The photo of Charles Vangelios is one of these with his very neat handwriting on the bottom saying: Sincerely yours, Warder, C.V. Ross.

The other plus in this modern world is the 'net.' And the family net continues to grow on the net via email and social network sites. I am now in contact with some of my cousin's children.... young people I have never met... but who are now sharing in this quest. Across Australia and the world, including the United Kingdom and the United States, the links are being connected with the descendants of Charlie Ross and Mary Atkins.

And, following a bit of a ring-around with more cousins I have discovered that Flora Ross Swincer’s daughter, Rosemary Swincer Eldridge, has an album which she was given at the age of fourteen by our grandmother, Hilda Rose Jones Ross.  What a treasure this is!

It is full of photo postcards. Rosemary was instructed  by her grandmother ‘not to read’ what was written on the back but  curiosity of course got the better of her, as it would any of us, and it seems that they are ‘letters’ from various family members.... many of them from Charles Vangelios. I plan to see the album in the next week or so and given that it is too ‘fragile’ to be moved around much, I am hoping to photograph both pictures and words.

I am also hoping that perhaps, just perhaps, one of the postcards has a Greek name on it.

Friday, 2 July 2010

Of names, noble lineage and bastards

The ruins of an old building in Wirrabarra Forest where Elizabeth Mashford (Lewis)Atkins raised her children as one of South Australia's first settlers.

Well, the information has been flowing in of late although we are no closer to finding out Charlie Ross's Greek name. More family stories follow the Rostopolous, Roctopolous, Rosstopholous line but in fact none of these are Greek names from what I can see.... anywhere in Greece .... let alone Ithaca. There seems to be a Rossopolous (meaning son of Rosso) but I don't think this is an Ithacan surname.

Could Auntie Jessie be wrong about Ithaca? Of course she could. But then the pronounciation of the name which has been handed down through the family is more likely to be wrong.
We have a piece of information which indicates that Charlie Ross did have a heavy accent as his grand-daughter Jessie Ross Sands claims. The name of Chrysantheous has been recorded  with the birth registrar as Cresanthous.  No doubt with Charlie's pronounciation and the anglo ear of the clerk in the Clare Registrar's Office, Chrysantheous ended up as Cresanthous. Interestingly his birth is recorded as Christie Cresanthous (Chrysantheous) while he is clearly recorded as Chrysantheous Christus when he joined the Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force in World War One. It is safe to assume that the 'army got it right' and the clerk at the South Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages Registrar in the small town of Clare, got it 'quite wrong.'  

This is clearly a phonetic spelling of Charlie's pronounciation at the records office. Cresanthous is a good 'marker' and an important find. Chrysantheous, phonetically, is clearly Cresanthous, but it does indicate a heavy accent and perhaps an inability for Charlie to spell it in English. This also means  there is a good chance that all the names, including Roctopolous which is definitely not Greek, are misheard.

So, we are a long way it seems from knowing the correct name although I have been told on a number of occasions by various family members that the name is 'known.' I have one other lead to pursue through Louise Eldridge, another family historian and the wife of Flora Ross Swincer's grandson, Brett.

And there is possibly some insight into another family story that Mary (Polly) Atkins Ross's mother, Elizabeth Mashford was connected to a noble English family. This was a story my father told and it is a story which was apparently also told by the Atkins family. I am now in touch with Patricia Atkins Harris, the niece of Mary Ross and Patricia's son Luke, who has been researching the family history for some time.

We were told that Mary's mother was actually a 'lady' and while there is no evidence for this, the Atkin's family story is that Elizabeth Mashford was the illegitimate daughter of an English nobleman and was 'sent out to the colonies' to hide the evidence of his shame.Whether this is true or not the fact is that Elizabeth was around the age of twenty when she came to Australia so he had a couple of decades to 'face his shame.' Not that I expect the aristocracy were ever shamed by illegitimate children. They either ignored them completely or partially and paid something for their upkeep.

What is interesting is that this story should come down through two sides of the Atkins family. Where there is smoke there is fire as they say. Or in this case, bastards. As I wrote earlier, we seem to have a history of step-children in the family and now I have uncovered another one, courtesy of Luke Scane-Harris. It seems Charlie Ross had a stepson but we are not sure if he lived with Mary and her new family. There is evidence that : an Edward Atkins, was born of Mary Atkins and Edward Welsh at Gladstone on  November 14, 1877 . Mary would have been 18 years of age when she had her first child and Edward Welsh Atkins would have been 11 when Mary married Charlie Ross.

Edward Welsh Atkins went on to marry a Mrs Wise who already had four children .... so more stepchildren ... and then the couple had two of their own. It seems that illegitimate Edward adopted his mother's name just as Mary's illegitimate mother Elizabeth, adopted her mother's name of Mashford.

The interesting part of this puzzle is that Elizabeth listed her father's name as John Mashford on her marriage certificate to Edward Atkins. She then went on to name her first-born son James Haynes Atkins and he went on to name his first-born son Haynes Mashford Atkins. It is the name Haynes which is unusual. This is more commonly a surname. What is interesting about it is that the name originates in Lincolnshire and is connected with a family of ancient and noble lineage... dating back to before the Norman Conquest. This is relevant because it seems there are two branches of the Mashford family - one in Devon and one in Lincolnshire - although they are probably related.

At this stage I do not know from which branch Elizabeth comes but, the name Haynes, being significant enough to give to a first-born son and then to a first-born grandson is a sign that it meant something important to either Elizabeth or her husband Edward. The Lincolnshire Haynes-Mashford connection suggests that it meant something to Elizabeth and that her branch of the Mashfords came from here.

It's a guess, but a good one, that the father of Elizabeth Mashford was a Haynes. And, given the noble connections of the Haynes family it 'fits' with the family story that Elizabeth Mashford Atkins was, or should have been, a Lady by birth. However, noble and even royal bastards were a dime a dozen in 19th century England and earlier so her situation, or plight, was hardly unusual.