Where will you be for Christmas?

Christmas is a time for getting together with family and eating and drinking and sharing presents. Sometimes I dread the big family Christmas because family members don’t always get on, and perhaps you do too.

It can also be a good time to find out more about your family and getting them interested in the research you are doing. Don’t waste such an opportunity!

Look around

This year we will be gathering in Orange at my mother’s house for a few days. My mother grew up in Blayney, which is not far from Orange, and so we are planning a bit of a family history tour. The teenagers of the family will be able to see where their Gran lived and went to school, and may get their first experience at cemetery searching if they are lucky. The Millthorpe Museum is known to contain portraits of my g-g-grandparents William and Elizabeth Grace Goode, so I hope it’s open!

My cousin Peter has knowledge passed down from our uncles about where our g-g-grandfather Richard Eason’s first mud house was built. Richard arrived in the Colony of New South Wales as a 20-year-old in 1850 and settled in this area after first spending some time with an uncle in Maitalnd. I have found this first 40 acres of land on the NSW Lands Department parish maps and Google Maps and I’m hoping that it agrees with Peter’s information. We can then go on to find the land that he subsequently purchased and passed on to his sons.

Even if we can’t find the exact pieces of land it is important to get a feel for the place where your ancestors live. I live in Sydney and I grew up in Dubbo, so I am not familiar with Blayney, the place where my mother, and two generations before her, were born and grew up. Towns get bigger over time but the countryside doesn’t change much and some of the old buildings are still there.

Share stories

I am hoping to get my mother and her brother talking about their childhoods and what they remember of their grandparents and aunts and uncles. Do they have any stories that their parents or grandparents told them? My mother usually “can’t remember” when I ask her on her own, so I am hoping that with her older brother and sister-in-law there they may spur each other on. My sister and cousin also were told stories by our grandmother which I am hoping they will share with all of us. I may have to take a recorder, since I don’t take shorthand!

Sarah, Margaret and baby Amy, circa 1898, probably in Wagga or Albury, NSW

Sarah, Margaret and baby Amy, circa 1898, probably in Wagga or Albury, NSW

I will also tell them what I know from what I’ve discovered through the records. My direct g-g-grandmother through the female line, Margaret, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand as a four-year-old with her family, including a new step-mother, from Scotland. Auckland was just a village next to the water in 1842 and she grew up with the town. I have a photo taken of her with her daughter Sarah and Sarah’s first daughter Amy, my grandmother. For such a photo to have been possible either Margaret had to travel to Australia or Sarah had to have taken the baby back to New Zealand. What a life she must have had!

Show pictures

I have collected a lot of photos of some of my ancestors over the years. I will take my laptop with me, which contains all my research and the photos and documents that I have scanned over the years. The laptop can be plugged in to a reasonably recent TV to show photos that everyone can see at once. I will also take my scanner with me in case anyone has photos or documents that I don’t have.

I have also started searching for old photos of places where my ancestors lived. Do a search on Picture Australia, the website of the National Library of Australia devoted to images of Australia’s past, which includes photographs, objects, maps, and works of art. Typing “Blayney” into the search screen gives 140 results showing photos past and present from many different sources including the State Library of NSW, National Archives of Australia, Flickr, and others. I’ve found the cafe in Melbourne where my parents lived when I was a baby using this site, and I found it that it burned down. Try it out!

When you get together with your family this year try to make it a more meaningful experience for everyone by including your ancestors!

What’s for dinner?

When I was young my mother served up much the same thing for dinner every single night. Dinner was some form of meat – chops, sausages, (rarely) steak, cooked quite thoroughly; and three vegetables – potatoes (boiled), carrots (boiled), and either green beans or peas (boiled).

Occasionally dinner was a large piece of meat roasted in the oven, such as a leg of lamb, or (very rarely) a chook. I remember chooks being reserved for Christmas dinner; they were a special occasion meal in those days, roasted whole and served with gravy.

I’m not telling you this to criticise my mother. She was just doing what she learned from her mother. I’ve just put an osso bucco in the oven and it made me think about what my ancestors may have had for dinner on a Friday night. The answer came immediately – fried meat and three boiled vegetables. What else was there?

It’s easy to forget how much the food we eat has changed even in my lifetime. When I was young lunch was called dinner and dinner was called tea. There was no pizza, or pasta, or curries. We didn’t eat pork. All meat had to be cooked and cooked and cooked to avoid serious illness, especially pork. Takeaway night was hamburgers or fish and chips. Chinese food was a special night out, once every year or two. Rice was used for dessert in a pudding, as was sago.

Come to think of it, there was much more variety in the desserts than in the main courses. Steamed puddings, apple pies, bread-and-butter puddings, rice custard, caramel tarts, custard tarts, apple crumble; the list goes on. And then there were morning teas: scones, cupcakes, teacakes, rock cakes, coconut slices, biscuits.

The cooking in a family is usually passed down from mother to daughter, and my mother’s mother came from mostly Scottish stock (small joke there!). I don’t think my Gran was especially fond of cooking, but she made an apple pie that I remember to this day. It probably wasn’t anything special but we knew Gran was a better cook than Mum and it was because of this apple pie. It had sugar on the top.

So it is not hard to imagine what sort of food my great-grandmother cooked in the early 1900s, or what her mother cooked in the 1880s.

Were they healthy on this unvaried diet? You’d have to conclude that they were. My mother’s parents lived on the land and they worked hard so I’m sure that contributed to their long lives; they both lived into their nineties, and neither drank or smoked. Many were overweight, though, and these days the lack of variation and the over-abundance of fat and sugar is still apparent for many people.

It all reminds me of the rations that were given to convicts and soldiers in the early days of the Colony. Meat, flour, sugar, tea. Or the rations the great explorers lived on through their great exertions. Not a great diet, certainly there weren’t enough vegetables.

I don’t remember vegetables being a big deal at home. We had to eat them but there wasn’t a great variety, as I said: potatoes, carrots, beans and peas. We didn’t grow anything at home, but I remember those that did grew mostly salad stuff – tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, some beans. And fruit trees. My grandfather had the best plum tree I remember to this day. No lemons or limes (what could you do with lemons but make lemon butter?).

Pumpkins, too; they grew pumpkins. And made pumpkin scones with them, or roasted pieces with lots of dripping with a roast dinner.

They do say that the English diet was, and still is, the worst, and most unvaried, in the world, and that’s what we inherited here in Australia. Baked cakes and pies and fatty stuff. Bread and dripping! Ugh. It changed quicker in the large cities, but the process was much slower in the country towns like Dubbo, where I grew up.

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