Forgotten tales

stories of my family

Archive for the tag “names”

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.


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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My grandfathers and their names

My two grandfathers were Charles John Stacey Holford, born in Goulburn, Australia in 1899, and George Frederick David Simmonds, born in Redhill, England in 1905.


Charles John Stacey Holford 1899-1977

Charles had a different surname when he was born: he was Charles Holdorf, which was the same as his father’s. But on his return from the Great War in 1917 my great grandfather changed his name from a German to an English one – understandable for that time and place. Grandpa was 18 at the time, but his name changed along with all his younger siblings, of which there were four: George, Eric, Marie and Sylvia.

Grandpa’s second name, John, was after his German grandfather, Johann Holtorf, who had changed his first name to be more English when he had migrated from Germany in 1857. However, though John sounds distinctly English, Holdorf still had a ring of German, so it seems likely that John Holdorf was not ashamed of his German heritage, but rather wanted a first name that was easier for English speakers to pronounce. His son Charles, however, after experiencing the horrors of the Western Front, seems to have wanted to leave his German heritage behind. I certainly did not grow up with any knowledge of my German roots. Interestingly, Charles’ youngest brother, Lewis Holdorf, who was also a veteran of the First World War, kept his German name after he returned from France in 1918.

Grandpa’s other “middle” name was Stacey, which was his mother’s maiden name: she was Florence Stacey, of Goulburn, the daughter of George Stacey, who had migrated to Australia from Bedford, England, though I am unsure when. Florence, my great grandmother, died of typhoid shortly after the birth of her fifth child, Eric, in 1908. She was just 30 years old, and it must have been a terrible tragedy for the family. Grandpa’s father never remarried – he was nine years older than Florence – but was still not yet 40 when she died. Sometime after her death he moved to Sydney and lived in Manly with his mother, Caroline Holdorf, who was a widow. Caroline had raised 9 children. She was eminently qualified to raise 5 more, her grandchildren. When Charles sailed off for the battlefields of Europe in 1915 he left his 5 children in her care. Unlike many other Australian soldiers he returned so that his five children were spared the sadness of losing their father as well as their mother.

It seems as if the connections with the Stacey side of the family diminished after Florence’s death and the move to Sydney. Despite his country roots, Grandpa grew into a city boy. He lived the rest of his life in Sydney. Oddly enough his son, Ian, my dad, would marry a country girl from Goulburn, my mum, Gwen Simmonds. So the Goulburn connection was not over.


George Frederick David Simmonds (1905-1955)

George Frederick David Simmonds was the grandfather I never knew; he died 6 years before I was born. The name on his birth certificate is simply George Butler, so how did he end up as George Frederick David Simmonds? Mabel Butler was his mother’s name; she was unmarried when she had George, her first child, in Redhill, just south of London in Surrey. She moved soon after his birth, with George’s father, to Heston, Middlesex, west of London, close to modern day Heathrow Airport. The first census after Grandpa’s birth, the 1911 census, lists the family names as George Simmonds, Mabel Simmonds and George Simmonds (junior), though by then a younger brother Frederick had also arrived (born in 1908) and Mabel was pregnant with John who would be born later that year.

Grandpa George was always known as George Simmonds. I don’t know if even he knew that his parents were unmarried when he was born; Mum certainly knew nothing of that. What she, and presumably he, did know was that his father’s name had originally been Lilley. It would seem that George Lilley and Mabel Butler had a son, then relocated to a different village where they were thenceforth known as George, Mabel and George Simmonds. Where the Simmonds name came from I don’t really know. I have always assumed that George Lilley changed his name before he met Mabel, but perhaps it was a name they chose together. For some reason great grandfather George did not want to be a Lilley any more, and for some reason, Simmonds was the name he chose to take on. Great grandfather Holford wanted to leave his German roots behind, and it is not hard to understand why. But what about the past was great grandfather Simmonds leaving behind? What crisis of identity was he really going through? Who had he been, and who did he want to be?

Even if George senior wanted to leave the Lilley name behind he seemed happy to pass on his own middle names to his son, names given to him by his own father, George Lilley. Grandpa’s father’s baptism record from 1874 records his name as George Frederick David Lilley, son of George and Mary Lilley. But what do the Frederick and David signify? Where did these names come from? These are questions I can’t answer just now, but it was from these names that I got mine, David. That was Mum’s idea, I suppose. She named me for her father as a memory of him, and he got his names from his father, George Frederick David Simmonds (Lilley), market gardener of Heston Middlesex, WW1 veteran, whose four children migrated to Australia between 1923 and 1946.

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