Favourite Discovery – Week 7

#52ancestors

“He had a brother, Bill.” And with that comment began one of the biggest searches in my family history journey. I alluded to the fruitless hunt for my great grandfather’s brother when I wrote of their mother in Our Annie. Since then, I may have hit the jackpot. A relative gave me scanned copies of several letters exchanged between two of Anne Willis’s grandsons in the 1970s and ’80s. They discussed the origins of their grandmother, Ann Willis.

“I then thought of Rube Willis. She was the wife of Bill Willis – a grandson”

Letter excerpt mentioning Ruby Willis nee Polgreen
Letter excerpt mentioning Bill and Ruby Willis

One letter mentioned a grandson – Bill Willis, and also his wife Rube. And granddaughters! This was a whole new family I knew nothing about.

I traced this couple to William Joseph Willis and Ruby Polgreen. William was the son of William Joseph Willis and Eliza Spain. Was this William (the father) the long-searched-for brother of my great grandfather? I sent away to Victoria for the marriage certificate to establish William’s parents.

Another interesting part of this story is that the letter confirms that Ann had at least six children.

Letter excerpt mentioning Ann’s children
Letter excerpt mentioning Ann’s children
Part of marriage certificate for William Willis and Eliza Spain
Part of marriage certificate for William Willis and Eliza Spain

Details from the certificate (1888) –
Age 22
Born – Adelaide, South Australia
Father – Thomas Willis
Mother – Annie Morris

Hmm, not what I was hoping.

But according to the birth indexes, the parents of the only William Willis born in South Australia around that time were Ann Willis and Richard Morrison. Could this be him? The marriage certificate for John Willis, my great grandfather, identified his father as John Willis, when in fact it was George Gubbins. It is likely Ann Willis told a number of untruths.

Although the marriage certificate didn’t reveal what I wanted, I’m still convinced that this William Willis is John’s brother. Proof? Eventually I hope to show it by DNA. Any descendants out there?


Genealogy Snapshot

Name: John Joseph Willis (1869-1926)
Parents: Ann Willis (abt 1841-1929) and George Gubbins (abt 1853-1933) 
Spouse: Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956)
Spouse’s Parents: Richard Grenfell (1839-1909) and Sarah Eleanor (“Ellen”) Pryor (1849-1916)
Surnames: Willis, Gubbins, Grenfell, Pryor
Relationship to Shelley: John is Shelley’s great grandfather

  1. John Joseph Willis (1869-1926) (great grandfather)
  2. Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970) (grandmother)
  3. Father
  4. Shelley

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