Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Five names, five nationalities

For many years I have been aware of the multinational nature of my family tree. I have had four grandparents, with names that betray their origins. The first, Holford, is a bit misleading, being an English name, since this branch of the family tree is really German. Holford is an anglicisation of Holdorf, which was my great grandfather’s name. He changed it at the end of WWI, for obvious reasons. What’s more, his father, a German immigrant to Australia in the 1850s, was originally named Johann Holtorf, but became John Holdorf when he was naturalised as a British subject of New South Wales in 1861.

The second name, Ross, was my grandmother’s name before she married. Her father, William Ross, was born in England in 1861 but he came of Scottish stock, as his name indicates. The Ross family first migrated from Scotland to England, specifically Birkenhead near Liverpool. William migrated to Australia.

The third name, Simmonds, was my maternal grandfather’s name. It is an English name and he was born in Surrey, in England. He was born George Butler since his mother was unmarried when he was born, but he was baptised George Simmonds when he was 3 years old. Even that name is misleading, since his father’s name was George Lilley, but at some stage for some reason he changed his name, as I have discussed in previous posts. Simmonds, Butler, Lilley – all very English names.

The fourth name is Byrne, the name of my mother’s mother, Gertrude Byrne. It is an Irish name and though she was not born in Ireland her father was from a big Irish family which came out to Australia in the nineteenth century.

But there is a fifth name that is important in our family, and that is Berggren, Maria’s previous surname, a Swedish name. We live in Sweden at the time of writing this blog, and apart from Maria’s forebears, we are geographically closest now to my German-Danish origins (as well as Maria’s Swedish origins). Johann Holtorf was born in Bramstead, Holstein, in the years when it was both ruled by the Danish monarch, Frederick IV, and part of the German Confederation, as is also discussed in a previous blog.

Our family is a picture of modern Australia, since we are all Australians, regardless of where we were born. We are a European mixture, blended together in a world geographically remote from Europe yet close in culture and language.

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