Germany and England: united in a family
When people ask where my ancestors came from I usually explain that they were English, Irish, Scottish and German. To date I have only started to research the English and German connections.
I only have to go back two generations to my maternal grandfather, George Simmonds, to arrive in England. George was born in 1905 in Redhill, Surrey and moved when he was very young with his parents to Heston, Middlesex, close to present day Heathrow Airport. By the time of the First World War the family had settled in a neighboring village called Lampton, and from there George left for Australia in 1923 at the age of 18. He never returned to England. Three of his siblings moved to Australia subsequently, one had died in England as a teenager. George’s father was English but his mother was born in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. However, her parents were both English; how they came to be in South Africa when she was born I have not been able to find out.
There are also English roots on my father’s side. His grandmother, Florence Stacey, was born in Australia but her father, George Stacey, came from Bedford in England, born in 1853. Her mother, on the other hand was Australian, born in Berrima. How and when George Stacey came to Australia I don’t know. So England is four generations back on my father’s side.
The Duchy of Holstein in 1866
To reach my German roots I must also go back four generations to my paternal great great-grandfather. Both he and his wife were German born. His name was Johann Holtorf and he was born in 1828 in Bimöhlen, Segeberg, Schleswig-Holstein, just east of Bad Bramstedt between Hamburg and Kiel. In 1828 the Duchy of Holstein was part of the German Federation, though still in personal union with Denmark (the King of Denmark being also Duke of Holstein). Johann’s wife, my great-great grandmother was Caroline Fischer, and she was born in Augsburg, Bayern, in the south of Germany. Both of them appear to have come to Australia as children, presumably with their parents. They married in Australia, in St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney. I have no record of Johann’s parents, but Caroline Fischer was the daughter of Gottfried Fischer and Victoria Scherer. She must have been Catholic to have been married in St Mary’s.
When Charles Holdorf, my great grandfather, son of Johann and Caroline, married Florence Stacey in 1898, Germany and England were somehow united in the bright new world of Australia. England and Germany were friends at that time; Queen Victoria, after all, had a German mother, and married a German herself, as did her daughter who married the king of Prussia. Victoria’s first son became the father of the British Royal Family and her first daughter the mother of the German Imperial Family.
But in spite of such close connections, when WW1 broke out, relations between Germany and England deteriorated. By that time Florence Holdorf (Stacey) had died, and Charles, now a widower, found himself in Europe as a member of the Australian Imperial Forces, fighting against the land and people of his parents. When he came back to Australia he changed his name to one that sounded more English (Holford). It would seem he wanted to rub out his German-ness, perhaps not surprisingly given the years of conflict that lay behind him. When I grew up I knew nothing of my German ancestry. But now, with the wars of the twentieth century thankfully many years behind, and Germany no longer estranged from the rest of Europe as it was for so many years after 1914, I am excited to begin to discover something of this land of my ancestors.