Forgotten tales

stories of my family

My grandmothers and their names

My grandmothers were Winifred Erquhart Ross (1901-1999) and Gertrude Marion Byrne (1899-1975). Winifred became a Holford when she married Charles. Gertrude became a Simmonds. Of course I knew them as Nanna Holford and Nanna Simmonds, though in her later life Winifred informed us that she had always hated being called Nanna and wished that we would call her Gran, which we obediently did. Don’t know why she didn’t say so years earlier. Of course to their families they were known as Win and Gert. So where did their names come from?

Winifred’s names are the direct result of her Scottish ancestry, which was all on her father’s side. Her mother, Alice Hickson (1872-1945), was Australian but came from Irish stock. Her father, William Ross (1861-1939) was born in Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, but his father was a Scot, James Urquhart Ross, and his mother, Mary Anne Marston, was English, originally from Shropshire. William’s older sister, Alice (1855), was born in Wales, but his two older brothers Andrew and James were both born in Birkenhead. It would seem James Urquhart Ross had left Scotland before he married and started a family. Win’s middle name and maiden name were directly from her Scottish grandfather.

Gertrude Marion Byrne was born in Sydney in 1899. Why she had Marion as a middle name I don’t know. Her parents were both Irish: her fatherGeorge Byrne (1860-1929) and her mother, Susan Hickson (1861-1945) came from Killarney in County Kerry, Ireland. They married, however, in Summer Hill, Sydney in 1885 and had five daughters and a son. Gertrude was fifth in line, the second youngest. Three of her older sisters never married, but her sister Constance (Emily Constance Byrne) married Thomas Walmsley. Gertrude’s only brother, who was 4 years older than her, fought in WW1 and later married, but had no children.

Both of my grandmothers were therefore daughters to Hicksons, Win to Alice Hickson, and Gert to Susan Hickson. Alice and Susan were cousins. Alice married a Scot, William Ross. Susan married an Irish countryman, George Byrne. Little did they know that two of their respective grandchildren (my parents) would eventually meet and marry, completely unaware of the connection between them.

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5 thoughts on “My grandmothers and their names

  1. Ruth Bishop on said:

    Hi David,
    Just found your interesting family history. I have been trying to find more out about my Kohnke ancestors, who came from the Schleswig Holstein area. I was wondering if the you happen to know any more about Margaretha Kohnke who married your Gr.Gr.Great Grandfather Claus? My Gr.Great Grandfather, Joachim had an older sister Margaretha born in 1799. Their parents were Hinrich Kohnke & Margaretha nee Joers. Joachim & his older brother Johann, left Hamburg in 1882, & came to Brisbane, Australia as ordained Lutheran pastors.
    I live in South Australia.

    Regards, Ruth Bishop

    • Oddly enough Ruth, I am at this moment in Bad Bramstedt, in Holstein, together with my father who is 80 and my stepmother. We wanted to see where our ancestors came from. The German ancestor of ours who came to Australia was Johann Holtorf, who later changed his name to John Holdorf. His parents were Claus Holtorf of Bimöhlen, a small village outside Bad Bramstedt, and Margarethe Kohnke, of Wiemersdorf, another small village just up the road from Bimöhlen. According to our family records Claus and Margarethe’s first child was born in Bimöhlen, but the next three were born in Groß Aspe. I feel fairly certain after being here that it was really Großenaspe, not Groß Aspe where these three children were born, considering how close it is.

      Anyway, I cannot answer your question about the Kohnke family, since I have nothing about them, except that one was the mother of my ancestor, and that this Margarethe Kohnke was born in Wiemersdorf. In Großenaspe there is a church and there I saw one Köhnke on the honor roll from WW1. His name was Johannes Köhnke, b.1885, died in Flanders in 1914. Beyond that I cannot give you any information. I tried to see the man in charge of the city archives today, but he was not available. We did talk for a while to some ladies at the tourist information office and they said that there were lots of Köhnkes (and Holtorfs) in the area. The date of birth for “my” Margarethe Kohnke is recorded as 1789, but I have no official documents to support that. Yours was born in 1799. So they may not be the same person. My Margarethe died in 1835 according to the records I have. Her husband, Claus Holtorf remarried and had 4 more children. He was born in 1791 so if my date is right, Margarethe was 2 years older than him. My records say that they married May 31, 1817.

      I suppose that it is possible that I have the wrong date of birth for my Margarethe and that she was really born in 1799. Which would mean that my Margarethe and yours are the same person. Do you have any more information about her, like date of death, marriage, place of birth etc? If so I would be very interested to compare notes.

      I must say that research for German ancestors is not so easy without the language. And I have been fairly unsuccessful finding information on Ancestry.com for these families. I will keep looking, but as always, there are lots of answered questions.

      Thanks for writing. It was fun to hear from you. Good luck in your further researches.

      Kind regards
      David Holford

      • Ruth Bishop on said:

        Hi David, Sorry for this late reply, but have only just seen your kind reply from June. I find your page very interesting, even if we are probably not connected by the same person. No, I have no more info on Margarethe Kohnke. I agree that it is extremely hard to find any information on the German families. I am trying all sorts of avenues at present to trace some of my ancestors. I am hoping that we will be able to go to Germany next year & visit some of the areas we know they lived in. Unfortunately, I don’t speak German either, which I realise won’t help. With some luck, we may have someone with us who does.

        All the best with your continuing search for answers.
        Regards,
        Ruth Bishop

      • There are lots of Germans who speak good English, but you almost need a personal assistant when you are there to help you with research especially of old documents. Old German is also quite difficult to read, since some letters are formed differently to modern German. If you can find the documents you can always use google translate.

      • Ruth Bishop on said:

        Thanks for that David. I had actually heard that, so realise it may not be an easy exercise. However, I am not about to give up just yet! I appreciate your advise. Kindest thanks.

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