We Need to Talk About Samuel West

Ah, Samuel West. Evasive, enigmatic and by all counts interesting. He is also the cause of many sleepless nights and sheer frustration. Who else has an ancestor like that?

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Samuel West is my Nana’s maternal grandfather, and by extension my second great grandfather. First off, the facts. Samuel West, from what I can tell, was born in 1876 in Coaldale, NSW:

 

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So from this certificate, the information that can be gleaned is that Samuel’s parents are one William West, of Kent, England. His mother, Sarah West, nee Blackney. I went ahead and verified this couple’s marriage, it appears William was a convict. I located records that indicated he was granted permission to marry Sarah, the dates are somewhat consistent with what was listed above.

Meanwhile…I had found the marriage certificate of Samuel West and Mabel Shoveller, thanks to a cousin of my Dad’s who had posted it on Ancestry (Thankyou M!)

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…notice something different? Samuel’s mother is listed as someone else here. I asked around and have been told that sometimes parents could be listed as the person who raised them, as opposed to the parent who is/was actually biologically related to them. Certificates aren’t to be taken as the gospel truth. So, I left it. Never mind the fact that, in the back of my mind I had the thought that Sarah, William West’s legal wife was getting on in age to be giving birth…in those days it would have been rather dangerous to be having a child at 45 years of age. (Let it be known that I do not think 45 is “old”. I just think that it would have been a high risk age to be having children in the 1870s, prior to the technologies we have at our disposal today). I let it go, as I’m sure it wasn’t unheard of…turns out I was right in that assumption after taking a survey in one of the genealogy Facebook groups I’m a member of!

I looked into Rebecca Kelly and was unable to find any further information on her. This weirded me out. I decided to purchase Samuel’s father William’s death certificate:

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Note Samuel’s name with “illegitimate” listed beneath it!? Bearing in mind of course that he was the informant on this certificate. What has transpired here? I asked around in the family, Nana Peace also asked around too. What we found out from other relatives is that it was believed that he was half Aboriginal. Well, that certainly didn’t fit with birth certificate information we have! Both William and Sarah were listed as being from England, and with this being backed up with records, it would appear something is amiss. Either the family legend is incorrect (this belief that he was half Aboriginal seems to have been known by both close and distant relatives…it was news to my family. We had no idea) or the records are.

I took another look at Samuel’s birth certificate and noticed that in the section where the name of the child was listed, Samuel was listed as not being present at the time of registration. He was also registered in a location that differed to the birth location. I wondered…could Rebecca Kelly be the actual mother? Did William just list his legal wife as being the mother to save face? If Rebecca was Aboriginal and considering the way Indigenous Australians were treated at the time, this could be likely. I will note here that my Dad, Nan and great grandmother (and my great grandmother’s siblings) are slightly darker in complexion…a really beautiful skin complexion. This is something I’d always questioned and no one ever seemed to be able to answer me seriously. Spanish roots were mentioned at one point (have yet to discover any form of Spanish paper trail, nor does our DNA point there…not ruling it out though, DNA ethnicity is of course not wholly reliable) but no one seemed to really know WHY. Could this be the answer to that question? Do we have Aboriginal ancestry?

I’ve learned that proving Aboriginal ancestry is extremely hard. Because Rebecca isn’t listed at the biological mother on the birth certificate, I have nothing at all to go on, where researching her is concerned. I contacted the Clarence River Historical Society in the hopes they’d be able to carry out some research on my behalf on Mr Samuel West…which they did, and their efforts (thank you very much to these wonderful researchers!!) turned up another child born to William West and Rebecca Kelly in Coaldale…a potential full blooded brother to Samuel. I immediately got onto NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages and purchased the birth certificate in question.

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Firstly, there is one male listed as being born previously (my Samuel West?) and there also happen to be two more children listed under this…daughters! And no marriage listed. But, I have a rough age and birth place for Rebecca Kelly, and from that I can establish a rough birth date for her. Nothing with regard to her ethnicity (my understanding is Indigenous Australians were listed as being so under their names on some official records). I went on to find another four or five children born to William and Rebecca between 1877 and 1888. These children are: Elizabeth West (b. 1877, Grafton), Mary Rebecca Jane West (b. 1879, Grafton), Lydia West (b. 1885, Grafton), and twins, Emily and Hannah West (b. 1888, Grafton). This mystery isn’t going to be solved anytime soon…I’m hoping some more West descendants decide to take DNA tests, as the paper trail is a bit compromised. If you are related to this family, I’d love for you to get in contact. I am very curious to know whether or not Samuel was indeed Indigenous. If you have any advice on how to proceed with the research, I’d also love to hear from you!

Samuel’s origins may be a mystery, but his tendencies to go walkabout and have run ins with the law were certainly NOT kept secret. He pops up in newspapers a fair bit! Irrespective of those incidents, he’s family. And without him, I wouldn’t exist. Samuel was a government diver who died of the bends in 1928. A colourful character, who, despite his shortcomings deserves to have his story told correctly. There will definitely be more on my mate Samuel in the months to come.

 

 

 

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