Category Archives: Shelley’s Ancestors

Prosperity – Week 8

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Several of my paternal ancestors sought prosperity in mining. Though I don’t think any became prosperous.

Gold Headlines

The article below appeared in an English newspaper about the time my ancestors came to Australia in the mid-19th century.

The Victoria Gold Mines. Berrows Worcester Journal. Thursday, May 20 1852.

“What will the nuggetts (sic) grow to? The one I sent you, weighing 1 3/4 lb., was thought well of till the 5 lb. lump threw it into the shade;”

All my paternal ancestors highlighted in the pedigree chart below were miners, mining families, or worked in a mine. Mining in Victoria attracted six out of eight 2x great grandparents (or their parents). Three of four of my great grandparents were born in a mining town, as were both my paternal grandparents.


Favourite Discovery – Week 7

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“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

So Far Away – Week 5

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Any descendant of immigrants to Australia can understand the sensation of their ancestors being ‘so far away’ from their homelands, their loved ones, their customs, their familiar climate, plants, and animals.

For Richard Grenfell and his wife Ann Nicholls, their move from Cornwall to Burra in South Australia was so far away from what they were accustomed to.

Each step of their journey from St Just in Penwith near Land’s End in England to the ‘end of the world’ in Burra was a move farther and farther away. First, they travelled to Plymouth with their relatives and neighbours, mainly miners, to board the ship William Money. Next, they crossed oceans and hemispheres. Shipboard life was an unfamiliar encounter. Even arrival at Port Adelaide did not signal the end. Here they hired any transport – bullock dray, mail coach – if they could afford it; or walked if they could not. Burra lay a hundred miles away.

Once in Burra, the Grenfells excavated a home for themselves in the banks of Burra Creek, along with many other miners and their families.

Petition to South Australian Colonial Secretary for school teacher at Burra 1849
Petition to South Australian Colonial Secretary for a school teacher at Burra 1849 – note the residence for Richard Grenfell (Burra Creek) – State Library of South Australia

For more stories on the Grenfells and their journeys, visit my other blogSailing on the William Money (a 3-part series); Living in the Burra Creek; When things go wrong.



Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Richard Grenfell (1808-1866)
Parents:  Richard Grenfell and Catherine Harry
Spouse: Ann Warren Nicholls (1815-1897)
Spouse’s Parents: Cyprian Nicholls (1782-1839) and Ann Warren (1792-1842)
Surnames: Grenfell, Nicholls, Harry, Warren
Relationship to Shelley: great, great, great, grandfather (3x great grandfather) Richard is Shelley’s 3x great grandfather

  1. Richard Grenfell (1809-1866) great, great, great, grandfather (3x great grandfather)
  2. Richard Grenfell (1839-1909) great, great, grandfather (2x great grandfather)
  3. Emmeline Dulcinea Ann Grenfell (1874-1956) (great grandmother)
  4. Olive Ann Willis (1896-1970) (grandmother)
  5. Father
  6. Shelley

Favourite Photo – Week 2

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This week’s 52 ancestors prompt is ‘favourite photo.’ That’s a tough one. How do you pick a favourite?

This photo is one of my favourites for several reasons. The foremost is because I gained it through the collaboration of my mother with a relative. Mum was always a proponent of my digging around for genealogy information, and in this case, it wasn’t even her family!

Another reason I like it is that it represents a bit of old-fashioned photoshopping for the 4-generation photo, necessary as the older lady wasn’t in the studio but on the other side of the country.​ Last week, I wrote about Isabella and James Bennett moving to Western Australia for a fresh start (Isabella is the one on the left). 

The four people in the photo (from oldest to youngest) are Jessie Bainbridge (then Smith), Isabella Purcell (then Bell), Walter Henry Bennett, and my Uncle Wal. It is one of the very few photos I have of Jessie.

Jessie Bainbridge came from the coal mining area of Northumberland in England to Victoria, Australia as a young girl. She survived the sudden death of her husband with eight offspring to look after, remarried and had four more children. She died in 1938 aged 91.

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Elizabeth Jessie Bainbridge (Jessie) (abt 1847-1938)
Parents: John Bainbridge (abt 1818-1885) and Isabella Short (abt 1821-1901) 
Spouse: William Patrick Purcell (1845-1879)
Spouse’s Parents: John Purcell (?-bef 1849) and Ellen Fitzgibbon (abt 1823-1898)
Surnames: Bainbridge, Short, Purcell, Fitzgibbon, Bennett
Relationship to Shelley: Jessie is Shelley’s 2x great grandmother

  1. Elizabeth Jessie Bainbridge (Jessie) (abt 1847-1938) (great, great grandmother)
  2. Isabella Purcell (1875-1936) (great grandmother)
  3. Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934) (grandfather)
  4. Father
  5. Shelley

Fresh Start – Week 1

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Most descendants of emigrants to the Australian Colonies can expect that their ancestors came here to make a fresh start.

With James and Isabella Bennett, both born in Sebastopol, Victoria, the fresh start was when they moved to Western Australia after suffering a great loss. Two of their sons died in tragic accidents, only eighteen months apart. I wrote about those accidents here. This couple was the beginning of the paternal side of my West Australian ancestors.

Their third son, Walter Henry Bennett, my grandfather, was born in 1896. About the turn of the century, the family made the trip to the West Australian goldfields near Kalgoorlie, probably by ship and then overland from Albany or Fremantle. Two of James’s half brothers and families went as well, all eager for the fresh start that the gold might bring them.

Walter Henry Bennett
Walter Henry Bennett – photo was taken in Melbourne, possibly when the Bennetts were about to depart for WA

Genealogy Snapshot

Name: Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934)
Parents: James Bennett (1872-1914) and Isabella Purcell (1875-1936) 
Spouse: Olive Willis (1896-1970)
Spouse’s Parents: John Willis (1869-1926) and Emmeline Grenfell (1874-1956)
Surnames: Bennett, Purcell, Willis, Grenfell
Relationship to Shelley: Walter is Shelley’s grandfather

  1. Walter Henry Bennett (1896-1934) (grandfather)
  2. Father
  3. Shelley

52 Ancestors in 2020

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This year I will again take part in a fun genealogy meme called 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks, promoted by Amy Johnson Crow. Amy provides a prompt for each week. The idea is for everyone to get the stories of our ancestors out there and involves writing a blog, Facebook post, tweet, email – whatever makes the information available to our relatives. I did this previously in 2018.

Eric Charles Fairs and Violet Caporn

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Violet Caporn was a third generation Australian. She met her husband-to-be, an immigrant from England, after he returned to Western Australia following the First World War. Eric Fairs had emigrated to Australia from Sussex with his family in 1911.

They met because Violet attended the Methodist Church when visiting her uncle and aunt in Leederville. Her cousin Edie sang in the choir, and Eric and Vic (Eric’s twin brother) went there as well. Edie’s brother Stan worked at Sandover’s, a store in Perth where Eric was a sheet metal worker.

Eric Fairs and Violet Caporn 1923

They were married in the Swanbourne Methodist Church on 10th November, 1923.

The Fairs family came to the wedding from Bayswater in a charabanc bus (motor coach) owned by a neighbour.

Perhaps the charabanc was similar to this one in Adelaide about 1926
Image from State Library of South Australia B3996
Violet and Eric Fairs approx 1969-1970