About this blog

Slipping into family history research

My fascination with history began when we moved as a family to England. I was 9 years old and until then my life revolved mainly around the country town in NSW where I had lived since age 3, when my parents returned to Australia from the islands. I do not remember ever thinking about history prior to that; perhaps as children there is so much to fascinate in the present that the past has not the opportunity to push itself into our consciousness. Tamworth is not an old town, at least not in terms of its European history, dating as it does only from the mid 1800s. Antiquity does not exactly leap out at you there. But in England history was all around me. I could not ignore it.

As a young boy growing up in rural Australia I was aware that I was a little different to my school-friends, since I was born in Fiji and had spent my first years in those idyllic islands, though my memories of those tears are sparse. My Australian parents had moved to Fiji in the 1950s, not long after they married. Dad had secured a job with CSR – Colonial Sugar Refineries –  as a soil chemist. Fiji was still part of the British Empire in those days, and years later when I began thinking about such things I found myself wondering if I was really British. I didn’t really feel Fijian, but neither was I quite as Australian as my peers. Then, to add to the confusion, in the years when I was still coming unconsciously to some kind of understanding of who I was we moved to England, and though we only lived there three years I remember thinking when we left that it was more home to me than Australia.

I have no copy of my birth certificate, though I suppose that somewhere in the government records of Fiji my birth is recorded. Many years later, in my twenties, I began to think that it would be good to be able to go back to England to work, but being aware of the stringent requirements for work visas in the UK it occurred to me that if I procured a copy of my birth certificate showing that I was born in Fiji when it was still British, I could possibly claim British citizenship. I was in Fiji for a week or so in 1987 on route to Tonga, so I looked up the government offices in Suva where I thought such documents might be archived. But there were too many people, and it was confusing and foreign, and I was keen to do other things during my short stay in the islands, so I gave up that search almost before I began.

I arrived in England a little more than a year later on an Australian passport but without a Fijian birth certificate, and was greeted with suspicion at the customs checkpoint at Heathrow Airport when I announced my intention to work while in the UK. After much discussion I was given a working holiday visa, by an official who probably thought I was too disorganized to pose any real threat to the British job market, but I determined then that I would try another way of getting citizenship, namely by tracking down my English born grandfather’s birth certificate. I had thought of this possibility before, but Mum did not have a copy of the certificate and though she knew perfectly well that her father was English, she had no documentary evidence to prove it. I reasoned that if I could find the original at the registry of births in London then I could apply for British citizenship based on my ancestry.

The individuals

So began my search for my maternal grandfather, George Simmonds, a man I had never known, because he died years before I was born. And so began my interest in family history, an interest that has waxed and waned over the intervening years. Family history is an exciting pursuit, not least because it takes me into bygone times that are not just subjects for boring history books, but the worlds that my ancestors lived in. Suddenly all those events become important and riveting, as I realize that they were the experience of my own family, and not just some faceless mass of humanity. History is made by people, and every person has a story, though most of those stories are lost to time even if they were exciting and unusual in themselves.

This blog is my attempt to tell some of those stories, stories largely untold and forgotten, and there will no doubt be a deal of conjecture and imagination. I have collected notes and documents and some photos over the years, as have various others in my immediate family. The internet gives me the opportunity to share some of them with the rest of the world, since my ancestry is not just mine but belongs to others too. Who knows but that others might find something here that helps them to better know their background, and it is my hope that I will gain new insights too from some who chance upon these pages and take the time to leave a comment.

The families

The backbone of this blog is the Holford line. Our name originated as Holtorp in a part of northern Europe called Holstein, at the base of the Jutland Peninsula. For hundreds of years Holstein was part of the so called Holy Roman Empire, but early in the 1800s it became part of the German Federation, though it was still officially under the rule of the Danish monarchy. The name evolved to become Holtorf, then Holdorf, and finally, almost a hundred years ago, Holford.

However, if the Holford line is the trunk of the tree, then there are lots of branches which bear other family names. These come from the women who have married into this tree, since not once has a man of the family decided to take his wife’s maiden name as the family name (a practice that is almost unknown in Australia but is not unusual in Sweden). Through my mother have come the names of Simmonds, Byrne, Butler and Hickson. Through my grandmother there  have come Ross and Hickson, Marston and Watts. My great grandmother brought also the names Stacey and Atkinson, Hedge and Harper. The generation before that grafted the Fischer family into the tree, and they came from Scherers and Walters. Another generation back there were the names Köhnke and Lentfer. My wife is a Berggren, and tracing back through her family we find Grefs and Hållvells.

The countries

The Holford line traces back to Germany, or more specifically to the Duchy of Holstein when it was still part of Denmark. The first Holford to leave Europe (Johann Holtorf in 1856) married another German migrant (Caroline Fischer) after they had both come to Australia. However, the Stacey and Simmonds lines were English and the Rosses came from Scotland. The Irish have also contributed much to our family: the Hicksons and the Byrnes were from Ireland. Finally, in my own generation there are Swedes, and if instead of following the Holford line back we follow my wife Maria’s ancestors we find even Vallons from Belgium.

Our roots are, in other words, thoroughly European, and northern European at that. I started this blog when we were living in Sweden, but I suspect that it will continue to develop long after we leave. So though our roots are European, the highest branches are mostly Australian. The Australian part of the tree is still growing.

8 thoughts on “About this blog

  1. hi David, By coincidence I found myself searching for “Gottfried Fischer” tonight as my Anzac day post tomorrow will be about two of his grandsons. I have a photograph of his wife Victoria taken in 1868. Something tells me you might find this interesting? You can contact me via my blog by clicking on my name and the “contact me” page has my email address. Look forward to hearing from you. BTW I am not a Fischer descendant but we share a mutual “cousin” but on different sides of the family -you on her German side and me on the Irish. I also have an interest in the Germans as well since my Kunkel ancestor came from Bavaria to Australia.

  2. Interesting article in relation to Ferintosh. and James Urquhart Ross. My 3 x great grandma Janet Ross (daughter of Alexander Ross) was allegedly born there sometime between 1817 and 1820. I have never found a baptism record for her and am still going round in circles but it is great to have some idea of the area.

    1. Hi Janine.

      There are a lot of Rosses in the Highlands. My Rosses came from Ross-shire and Ferintosh became significant in the consciousness of my ancestor James Ross, as I have written of in my blog. I have also some notes about Alexander Ross, but I don’t think I ever published those notes on the blog. So here they are, copied and pasted for you:

      James had a younger brother, Alexander (1836-1902), nine years his junior, who, many years after John MacDonald’s death, and after James’ departure for Australia, lived in Ferintosh. Like James, Sandy chose a profession other than blacksmithing. He became a teacher. Census records reveal that in 1861 when he was 24 he was schoolmaster at Tobermory in Argyll, and 10 years later he was master of the Eyemouth Free School in Berwickshire. Sometime after 1871 he appears to have married a local girl from Eyemouth named Jane Hair, who was employed as a housekeeper for an Eyemouth cooper who also employed her two older brothers, John and George Hair.

      I have wondered when Alexander and Jane married and whether they had any children. They disappear from the records completely after 1871 and turn up again twenty years later in 1891 when Alexander was 54 and Jane was 48. By that time he had become the schoolmaster at Ferintosh. What happened in those twenty years? Did they leave the country? Were they in England, or America, or Canada? I have not been able to find them in the Ancestry records for any of these countries. No children are mentioned in any records, although it is conceivable that they had children who had either died or left home. Sandy himself died in 1902 in Conon Bridge, near Ferintosh, but is buried in Kincardine Churchyard, close to where he grew up. His wife Jane died in Eyemouth, the town of her birth, in 1911. She was 59 when her husband died and must have moved back to Eyemouth to be near family, but when she died ten years later she was buried with her husband in Kincardine.

      I have a photo of the grave of Alexander and Jane Ross. If you send me your email address I can send the photo. But it may of course be a different Alexander to your ancestor.

  3. Hi David,
    I come down the Martin Fischer line I love reading your blogs, I can send you the 3 generations descended from Martin Fischer if you would like it. Can you tell me please which parts of the family kept Holdorf was it only your line that changed to Holford.
    Take care

    1. Hi Jennifer, thanks for your kind comments. I have not researched the Fischer family much, though I have found some info about the first family of Fischers who arrived in Australia. So I would love your info about the descendants of Martin. Pauleen Cass is also descended from the Fischer line. You probably know her. She has a very extensive blog about her ancestors. As for the Holdorfs, there were four boys and seven girls. I have very little knowledge of them either. Charles and Lewis were both WW1 veterans and both changed heir name to Holford. Ernest died when he was two, not sure why. Leopold, I believe, kept the Holdorf name. The girls I am unsure about, but most of them married I think, so lost their name then. Sadly I have no contact with any of the descendants of the Holdorfs, except for Charles.
      Kind regards, David

      1. Hi David,

        The Fischer’s like the Holdorf family changed their surname Martin and Louisa Gertrude Stallwood married 20 Aug 1887 St James Sydney by Rev H.J. Jackson had 10 children 5 boys & 5 girls (1 boy Arthur died as an infant) prior to WW1 3 of the boys changed their surname to Fisher as did the 3 younger girls Vera, Alma & Dorothy, however Martin jnr a policeman did not neither the 2 eldest girls Clarice and my grandmother Mona. I have kept in contact with most of Mum’s cousins although there are only 3 left. Love to share any items the 3 boys WW1 files are interesting in 2018 my then 5 year old grandson was delighted to have the history of a relative from WW! For the special celebration they had school to mark the 100 year end of the war. Totally different to world shutdown we are experiencing.

        Take car Jennifer

      2. Hi again Jennifer, thanks for a few more details on the Fischer descendants. Since I wrote last time I have been researching Lewis Holdorf a bit more, and though I said to you that he changed his name to Holford, I cannot find any evidence of that in any online archives. My previous statement was based on a book about German ANZACs that I came across a few years ago which clearly stated that both Charles and Lewis changed their names, but various records for Lewis after WW1 that I have found on Ancestry show his name as Holdorf. So I have to conclude that it was only Charles, my great grandfather, who changed his name. Not sure how all the others in the family coped with the antiGerman sentiment at the time. Kind regards, David

Leave a Reply to cassmob Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s