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Immigrant Ancestors

As a nation of immigrants, most of our families have come from somewhere else. How many nationalities make up who you are? We’re keen to find stories of members with mixed ancestry showing the rich tapestry of nationalities that make up Australia and New Zealand.

If you have an interesting mix of ancestry and would like to share your story, we want to hear from you! Simply Submit Your Story and remember to add a photo of your ancestor if you have one. 

Love separated by 10,000 miles and The Great Depression

David Brown, along with his mother, brothers and sisters, decided to emigrate from Dundee in Scotland to Perth, Western Australia in 1929. They had been working in Dundee within the jute industry, but the industry was on the decline, and the Australian Government was encouraging migrants to settle in Australia by paying most of their fare.

David Brown was only 19 when he left Scotland, but he was already engaged to be married to Madge MacKenzie. Madge’s father had emigrated to Perth as well, and the plan was for Madge to follow her father and fiance the next year.

However, the Great Depression hit in 1929 and the assisted immigration scheme shut down. Madge was stranded in Dundee. Her family in Australia tried to save enough money to get her out, but the depression made this difficult. It took seven years for Madge to make it to Perth where she eventually married her fiance, David, in 1838. 

The story was not such a happy one for David’s older brother Thomas who had also emigrated to Perth. He also left behind a loved one. Tom had married Jane Ogilvie, who was 4 months pregnant, just before he left for Australia. Jane stayed in Dundee to look after her sick father and, although Tom kept trying to get her over to Australia, by the time they could manage it, too many years had passed and they divorced. Their daughter grew up in Dundee, and died in 2009, having never known her father.

Thanks to, David Brown’s grandson, David, has recently contacted Tom’s grand-daughter in Scotland, and David has been sharing family memories and photos of Tom.

Tell us about your British ancestors

With the Queen about to celebrate her diamond jubilee, marking 60 years as Monarch,  and her birthday long weekend next week, what better time to celebrate our British ancestors! 

If you are one of the many Australian and New Zealanders who have British ancestors, we want to hear about them.

Do you have an interesting story about a British ancestor you discovered through Simply click on Submit Your Story on the right hand side and tell us about it. Remember to add photos of ypour ancestor if you have them.

We look forward to hearing your story.

Little Nan

Having grown up with my great-grandparents who were fabulous story-tellers, I didn’t think I’d uncover anything in my family history that I didn’t already know. However, I came to uncover some remarkable stories about the women in my family and I thought it was no wonder that when women are seriously ill in my family the general reaction is “she’ll be right, we only breed Mallee bulls”.

My great-great-grandmother was always referred to as “Little Nan” (shown in the photo above). She was fairly tall for a woman at that time (about 175cm) but was crippled by tuberculosis in around 1900. She had gone from a tall striking woman to having a hunchback. Unfortunately this didn’t leave her with a long line of suitors so when my g-g-grandfather wrote her a perfunctory letter from South Africa saying “I need a wife, sail to Cape Town”, she took him up on his offer.

She gave birth to my g-grandfather in 1908 and the deformity to her spine increased dramtically. I can’t imagine the turmoil of giving birth to an 11lb baby in 1908 when your spine is so curved that instead of standing straight at 175cm you are now only 160cm tall!

Yet she never complained. She worked on the farms day and night, hunched over, in pain and when she died the autopsy revealed that none of her organs were where they were supposed to be. She would always say “the work needs to be done and I’m doing it”.

I wondered where she got her strength from but her mother was even tougher still. She didn’t understand what the fuss was about when she rode 8 months pregnant at full gallop through a snow blizzard in Gippsland in 1885 to get some ingredients for dinner. When she was 84yrs old she made the long journey from Bairnsdale to Kensington to make sure that my grandmother (her great-granddaughter) was being bathed correctly. She wasn’t and stayed for a month telling it like it is.

I think of them when I’m having a little whinge about work being stressful and remind myself how good I have it.

Finding Mum’s Heritage

On retirement I decided to take up the hobby of finding where we came from, not an easy feat as Mum had very little information about her Mother who died at the age of 32 in child birth.

Mum being only very young was fostered out to a family friend with her stepbrother, who she had no idea at the time was her stepbrother. When Granddad remarried Mum was brought back to the family unit, however, her step mother did not allow any talk about Mum’s family.

On commencing my search I came across a email which had lay dormant for some years of a person looking for information about my relations, this lead to me discovering a 2nd cousin who had done extensive research into Mum’s family and written a book.  

On contacting him I was able to get a book to Mum and it revealed all the family, photos of her Mum which she had never seen and to top it all off our family line goes back to King Edward 3!

At 85 years Mum now knows where she came from and an explanation as to why she had a fascination for English Royal history.

A life of tragedy

My 3rd great grandfather, William Bennett Wood was born in Kent, England in 1813, by the time he was 21 he married Sarah Quelch. Together they had four children, one of which was my 2nd great grandfather, Walter Bennett Wood.  

In 1948, William worked as a warden and lived at the Pentonville Prison cottages.  At this time tragedy struck the family. In April 1848 Sarah died of TB, in that same month their 7 year old son died along with 5 year old Harriet who died of scarlet fever.

Six months later William married Sarah’s sister, Ellen Quelch and in 1850 and ’51 they had 2 sons - George and John. Things either didn’t work out between the two, or Ellen died, but on the 6th November 1853 William married Ann Sweetland.  Which was quickly followed by babies Alfred and Edgar.

On Williams’ death certificate in in 1876, aged 63 his occupation is listed as a “labourer” and his cause of death “serious apoplexy”.  

William’s son and my 2nd great grandfather, Walter arrived in Melbourne, Australia in 1868 when he was 30 years old. Walter told people he was related to the famous conductor of the Proms, Sir Henry Joseph Wood – the link I’ve never been able to find.  

I feel for my 2nd great grandfather, Walter who was witness to all this death in his family and came through with two healthy children, who grew up to be respected members of the community.

An Aussie Hero - Saved by a stainless steel mirror

Thomas Ralph Tipton Brain was only 17 when he first enlisted to fight in WW1. He was dispatched to Egypt on board the HMAT A64 Demosthenes to prepare to embark for Gallipoli. Unfortunately, he suffered from dysentery and literally ‘missed the boat’ to Turkey.

Thomas was sent to France to serve and fight in the battles of ‘The Somme’ and Villers Bretonneux. It was in Villers Bretonneux that the Australians distinguished themselves and left behind a lasting, positive memory on the local French residents. After reclaiming the land from the Germans, Thomas and his fellow soldiers helped rebuild the Villers Bretonneux Primary school and to this day, Advance Australia Fair is still sung by children attending the school.

Dawn Dudkowki, Thomas’s granddaughter and member, remembers him fondly as a “Man’s man. He was strong, solid and reliable; made of pioneer blood, guts and determination. He was much loved by his family and all who had the privilege of meeting him.”

A testament to his strength, as well as his luck, he used to tell the story of how a stainless steel mirror saved his life. The tiny mirror was tucked away in his breast pocket when he took a direct hit from a piece of shrapnel. The mirror took the brunt of the impact and gave Thomas a nasty bruise, but ultimately he survived to tell the tale.

Another favourite tale of Thomas’s was the story of his reunion with his father upon his arrival in Port Melbourne after the war. Thomas had really grown over the course of the war, not just mentally but physically too – he had gained several inches and a significant amount of body mass. His father approached him and asked if he knew his son, Thomas Brain. Being the larrikin soldier that he was, he shrugged and told him that there were 1,500 blokes on the ship, and every one of them was a cobber. They continued to make small talk until Thomas shocked his father by pulling out his papers to reveal his identity.

Shortly after returning home, he married his childhood sweetheart Eliza Little and they had four children. He found work building the Great Ocean Road and later joined the Victoria Railways until he retired at the age of 65. When WW2 broke out, he enlisted for the second time, this time as a training officer at Royal Park sergeants’ training school.

In 1990, Thomas returned to Gallipoli with Prime Minister Bob Hawke and attended the 75th Anniversary celebrations. He told his granddaughter that the dawn service was the most moving event of his life. He had lost many friends on Gallipoli whilst he was in the hospital in Egypt. He had never had the chance to say good-bye until then.

In 1993, he returned to France and was one of the last two remaining Aussie Diggers who had been able to make the long trip to lay wreaths and pay respect to his fallen comrades.

He was a proud member of the RSL until he passed away in 1995, just shy of his 97th birthday. Buried with military honours and his beloved Aussie slouch hat, Thomas Ralph Tipton Brain was one of the oldest surviving ANZACs. 

The ANZAC’s Oldest Recruit

Like many brave Australians, during WW1 William Schmutter was eager to do his part for his country and lied about his age in order to be eligible to enlist. However, unlike many young Australians, William did not change his date of birth to make himself older, but rather the opposite.

Kate Mills, an member, was not aware her family had any military history until she accidentally stumbled upon an old photograph during her research. She uncovered a large family photo showing her great-great grandfather William sitting at the centre of a group of family members wearing a military uniform. The photo had been taken in 1916, just before he went off to war.

She found this a bit confusing, as William was born in 1859, which meant he was almost 60 years old in the photo. Knowing that the Army did not accept recruits of that age, Kate was faced with a new family mystery. Armed with photographic evidence, Kate focused on searching for military records about her great-great grandfather. She searched for William Schmutter in the military records but uncovered nothing. Dedicated to unravelling the truth, Kate searched for variations of names and eventually he appeared under William Smutter. A possible reason for dropping the ‘ch’ in Schmutter might have been to de-Germanify his name.

The puzzling discovery about William was that he listed his age as 44 years and 4 months at the time of his enlistment. Why would someone make themselves younger to enlist? A number of theories have been floated around, yet ultimately the secret of why he lied about his age to enlist is buried with him. There is no doubt that he was a brave soldier who served overseas as a driver for two years. He was injured and transferred to a hospital in France, then England and was eventually discharged on 8 April 1918.

In the end, for whatever reason William chose to lie about his age and join his fellow countrymen overseas, he is an ANZAC we can be proud of.

Great Great Grandfather David Croal

In August 2009 I began researching my family history after catching the “genealogy bug.” My paternal grandfather’s mother was Elizabeth Croal. She was born in Scotland in 1873, the youngest of 3 children (brother Alexander and sister Margaret), to parents David Croal and Christian/Christina Croal nee Alves. The family traveled to Australia and arrived in Sydney in August 1883 when Elizabeth was 10 years old.

Christian Croal died in Sydney in 1909 when she was 67, but I could not find a death for her husband David Croal anywhere in Australia. What had happened to him? It seemed that he had disappeared.


Their son Alexander traveled back and forth between England and Australia for work as an Actor. I thought perhaps David had gone with him and died in England - no luck there.

Margaret married in 1892 and lived in Newcastle.

Great grandmother Elizabeth married my great grandfather in 1904 and lived in Sydney. 

With many thanks to Trove, I found Christian’s death and funeral notices in the newspaper which stated that she was the “widow of the late David Croal.” A clue! Therefore, David Croal died before 1909, but I was still stuck. 

After 3 months of being stumped, I put out a call for help on the Ancestry Messageboards and someone linked me to the New Zealand Newspaper Index. 

My great great grandfather had committed suicide while traveling on a ship from Sydney to New Zealand on the 13th of May 1893 - 10 years after arriving in Australia.

I didn’t know whether to jump for joy for finally discovering when he died or to cry for the sad circumstances surrounding his death.

It must have been such a terrible piece of news to receive. Whether Christian was actually told her husband killed himself we’ll never know. I don’t think I believe 100% that David Croal committed suicide. I doubt that he was unhappy with his life. After all, he had a good job, a wife and 3 children. 

The following was published in the Auckland Star on the 18th of May 1893.


Fermanagh or Tyrone?

Amongst my mother’s HALL relatives, there is an ongoing debate as to whether the family came from Co. Fermanagh or Co. Tyrone.

Thomas Joseph Hall, his wife Harriet Armstrong, and children Mary, William Joseph (“Teacher Hall”, my great-grandfather) , Margaret Jane, John, Sarah, Thomas Armstrong, and Harriet, arrived here in Moreton Bay on the “Wansfell” on 10th March 1865. They selected land at Swan Creek, near Warwick, Queensland, and married into the local community to the point where just about every second person in that part of Queensland seems to be some sort of relative of mine, either by blood or by marriage. Their house, “Bush Hill” still stands and a wonderful drawing of it by Mark Brelsford can be found in the book “Sandstone and Cedar”.

I have had some difficulty in tracing their Irish records, but their last address over there seems to have been the village of Kilskeery (which is often rendered as “Kilskerry” in the Qld records). Is it in Fermanagh or is it in Tyrone? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. If you look for it in the county web pages, both claim it as theirs, as it straddles the border of the two counties. To complicate matters, it appears that the civil parish is entirely within Fermanagh, but the ecclesiastical parish lies on both sides of the border.

"Teacher" Hall had a brief moment of fame, or maybe notoriety. He was appointed as the first head teacher of Blackstone School, near Ipswich, much to the disappointment of the Welsh mining community there who had already nominated a Welshman. During his time there, he was the subject of an official inquiry. Evidently, he was not in favour of school buildings being used for political campaign meetings but Education Department policy forced him to allow one to be held in his school. He "got his Irish up" by opening the schoolroom but not providing lighting for the night-time meeting. Naughty great-grandad!