My maternal grandfather Edward Arthur Roberts, known as Ted, emigrated from England with his parents and younger brother in 1910. They sailed on the SS Orsova departing London on 14 Sep 1910 and arrived in Brisbane on 31 Oct 1910, after first stopping in both Melbourne and Sydney.
Ted was 17 years of age and his brother Jimmy was 15. In his memoirs my grandfather recalls his early years in Queensland when he worked as a cane cutter and remembers they spent their first Christmas in ’a former gold mining town’ but doesn’t say exactly where it was. Given the vastly different weather conditions between North Queensland and Dorset, I have often wondered why they continued on to Queensland and lived there for about 2 years.
This post is about how DNA eventually helped me identify where they went (52Ancestors #13).
My mother always used to refer to her fathers memoirs as ‘Pop’s Book’. She often lamented that no one in the family had wanted these papers and that she had rescued them when we were clearing out the house at Haberfield after her mother died. A collection of typed pages, in an old yellow plastic shopping bag. Grammatical errors had been corrected in pencil by her mother Mona, a former stenographer. Unfortunately, Ted was very light on with providing details for future generations, with hardly a name or place quoted through the many pages! Perhaps he had forgotten them, as he wrote them in the 1960’s shortly before he died in 1966. There isn’t much about Ted’s early life, but more detail about his later years and in particular his time in the war and working later with veterans in his role as pensions officer.
My husband and I have been trying to sift through the clues from Ted memoirs on field trips to Queensland for many years.
The shipping records indicate that the family were from Dorset and had been ‘nominated’. Who had ‘nominated’ them? Where exactly did they go and why?
None of Ted’s children seem to have known much about the early years in Queensland. My mother used to vaguely say ‘perhaps it was Charters Towers’ but she was never certain. Ted’s parents were Edward and Abigail Roberts, although Abigails full name was Ann Abigail Maud and is often referred to as ‘Maud’. There was an Ann and Edward Roberts who were living in Prior Street, Charters Towers in 1910. However this Edward Roberts enlisted for military service in 1916 and his records show that he was born in Ravenswood and was aged 39 when he enlisted, so they were not our family.
My husband and I spent many years thinking about where they could have been cutting cane, visiting these areas pondering whether any nearby mining towns could have been where they spent that first Christmas Day.
It is not surprising that they might have gone to a mining town for work, Ted says of his father ‘He could do most of the things required from a man in the Australian bush. He rode well, had experience with stock, was a fair blacksmith and possessed a great knowledge of things that grow.’ For many years we were unsure where this photo was taken, but we now think it is Edward senior in his early years in Australia most likely in tropical North Queensland c1910-1912.
Of that first Christmas Day Ted recalls ‘I also remember another “house” in a former gold mining town in Queensland where we spent our first Christmas Day in Australia. It was a mere shed built of galvanised iron. This day was seasonable for Australia with a temperature soaring above the 100 mark. As my father said we must grin and bear it with the help of suitable refreshment. He found the refreshment. We had not yet reached that stage. (Probably a reference to Ted and his brother Jimmy – too young to have a beer, drinking age at that time being 21 in Queensland).
My husband and I researched old mining towns in Queensland, trying to narrow down the possibilities, had they closed by 1910? Did they mine gold? How could they have travelled there, was the railway operational at that time? For various reasons we excluded Bouldercombe, Chillagoe, Cracow, Einesleigh, Glastonbury, Gympie, Heberton, Mount Chalmers, Mount Morgan, Mount Mulligan, Mount Surprise and Tyraconnell. However 15 other potential places remained on our list, they included Biggenden, Canoona, Cawarrel, Charters Towers, Clermont, Croydon, Cumberland, Eidsvoid, Forsyth, Georgetown, Kilkivan, Kidston, Leyburn, Mount Wilson and Palmer River. Some were more likely than others, but it was like finding a needle in a haystack.
In Forsyth we came across many old buildings that seemed similar to what Ted had described, one can only imagine the heat inside on a very hot Christmas Day, particularly if you were still dressing in a white suit and tie! Some similar buildings were still standing in 2022.
Ted left a few other clues in his memoirs, but without any surnames mentioned they have been difficult to follow up:
- Len, Harold, Bill (all Australians) and I spent our spare days in the bush and in our sailing boat as to thus ensure decent clean living. Harold of Irish and German blood was strangely enough keen on acquiring knowledge of English School life. Bill was a member of a large family. His parents were Yorkshire. One of his sisters who became a champion swimmer was born in England and they called her the New Chum. The other children were Australian born.
- The boys and I became members of a Junior Australian Rules team, although we had the advantage of receiving tuition from a former famous Rules player. I was the one who made least progress.
From what Ted describes, the town must have been a reasonable size to have such facilities, which would exclude many of our remaining possibilities? There was a famous footballer Tom Richards who was involved in Charters Towers around that time, although he seems to be more a rugby player than Aussie Rules, could it be the same person? Will we ever know?
The 6cMs DNA match
People often say how useless small DNA segment matches are. Well, that may be so if you are trying to confirm a genetic connection, but often the pedigrees of the smallest matches can help you ascertain marvellous genealogical clues for your research.
Back in 2020 AncestryDNA decided to purge their smaller match data. Roberts Estes wrote an excellent article about why they were valuable at that time. I was one of those concerned about losing these matches and followed the advice to preserve them, thanks to some wonderful tech gurus who provided us with some amazing code to do so.
I preserved matches between 6-8cMs and at that time for my Mum’s account that equated to 21,849 matches – aka 21,849 potential clues! Since that time I have had reason to review many of these and recategorise them, the group having now significantly reduced to 19,736, so it wasn’t a useless exercise.
I recently noticed a 6cMs match appearing in the ‘common ancestors’ category at AncestryDNA – I know from my records this match was from pre 2019 and had never been reviewed. Ancestry was doing its magic and ploughing through its vast array of trees and had suggested how we might be connected. Many of these suggestions can be erroneous and require checking.
From the small pedigree information provided I could see that the tester was Australian but none of the names in the tree were familiar. At 6cMs it is predicted as a 5th-8th cousin relationship, so our connection would be quite a way back.
Ancestry had a suggested relationship path, but I did my own research to confirm their theory, validating each connection with vital record sources along the way.
After much research it seemed our genealogical connection was via her Buckler line, but my records suggested the family name was originally Bucklar. Joseph Bucklar, was a first cousin of Ted’s grandmother Ann Roberts nee Laundon. Joseph had emigrated to Australia in 1885, guess where to – Charters Towers! If correct, she was a 5th cousin DNA match to my Mum, our shared ancestors William Laundon and Hannah Smith of Leicestershire.
What excitement! Joseph was one of four children of Charles Riddington Bucklar and Mary Laundon. Mary was Ann’s paternal aunt. I knew the family of their son George Riddington Bucklar very well, as he had emigrated to Utah in the USA having a very large family – we have many DNA matches with their descendants. I didn’t know much about the other siblings including Joseph, his sister Elizabeth (who married William Church) or his brother Henry, all three had appeared to stay in England according to the census records.
Joseph Bucklar was born in 1845 in Burton Overy, Leicestershire, England. He married Hannah Cook in 1863. They had at least nine children, with one son dying in 1870 in England, aged 5. The first 3 children were born near London and the remaining 6 in Yorkshire.
Joseph and his son Ernest (17) emigrated to Australia arriving in Townsville on Duke of Buccleuch in 1885. Joseph was described as a miner. Harriet and the remaining 7 children arrived on the Roma in 1887.
Joseph appears to have settled in Charters Towers and probably worked on the Lady Maria mine. In the 1881 England census he was Deputy Overman in the Iron Mines. Given his occupation, the family were probably headed to Charters Towers from the outset. In 1898 the family are living on the corner of Black Jack and Maria Roads and in 1903 Joseph and son Charles recorded as miners with son Albert a cyanidar. Joseph remained there until his death in 1919.
My 6cMs DNA match was descended through Joseph’s youngest child Henry. Whilst researching the family I found a second DNA match descended through another of the sons, Albert. This time it’s a 20cMs match at My Heritage and a closer relationship to my Mum of 4th cousin once removed.
Back to the Roberts family
So Mum was right that Edward, Abigail and the two boys probably firstly went to Charters Towers when they arrived in Australia – I wish she was still here to share in the excitement! Whilst we have no direct evidence, I do now feel comfortable with this conclusion.
The Railway came to Charters Towers from Townsville in December 1882, replacing what was a two day trip by coach. It seems feasible that they would have been able to make their way from Brisbane to Charters Towers and be there in time for their first Christmas in 1910.
Edward would have been Joseph’s first cousin once removed. Perhaps the family suggested it would be a good place to find work when he arrived, his skills of working with stock and blacksmithing all useful in an outback town. Mining had all but ceased in Charters by around 1905, but it was still a good sized town and was declared a city in April 1909 and probably large enough to have the sporting facilities described by Ted.
This photo of Edward snr and Abigail was always said to have been taken in Queensland, c1910-1912. The colourisation from My Heritage helps to distinguish the background however it looks more like a park or garden rather than a typical backyard in Charters Towers at that time. Could it be in the bandstand at Lissner Park established in 1905? The photo below was taken in 1905 – there seem to be double posts in both images? Very hard to know…
I had hoped to be able to identify one of Ted’s friends, Len, Harold, Bill or the new chum! The Yorkshire connection interested me as I felt it might have been a reference to the Bucklars. However none of these names featured in Joseph’s childrens names and the next generation seems to be too young to be friends of Ted and Jimmy when they were in their late teens.
There is only one possibility – William Henry Bucklar born 1901. He was a grandson of Joseph, so definitely part of a big family from Yorkshire, but didn’t have siblings from what I can ascertain. Was he too young to be ‘Bill’?
Ted’s experience cane cutting seems to be the only loose end that doesn’t quite fit. Did they do seasonal work and travel to Townsville? It’s not that far away to undertake the work, or was it a way to earn money as they made their way south to Sydney by the end of 1912? We may never know.
I’m so glad I didn’t let AncestryDNA purge that 6cMs match! I suppose I might have found the connections eventually through other DNA matches but it was great to have the AncestryDNA helping to point me in the right direction and save lots of research time. Next step is to reach out to these matches and hopefully compare their chromosome data so we can try and also confirm our genetic connection!
AncestryDNA does not provide sufficient information to be able to confirm connections of DNA matches more distant than 3rd cousins. Data needs to be uploaded to a chromosome site, such as GEDmatch, FamilyTreeDNA or My Heritage, the DNA Geek has some great instructions for how to do it. Let’s hope in time I can confirm the genetic connections too, that would just be icing on the cake!
Do you know more about the families mentioned in this post? If you are connected to any of them (particularly if you have DNA tested) I would love to hear from you. It’s the power of DNA that can help us breakthrough our brick walls!
Featured Image: Forsyth, Queensland, 2022. Private collection of Veronica Williams.