I couldn’t let the school holidays go without going for another drive through the North Coast of NSW. Last week was my last opportunity to do so before work really kicked in, so I seized it.
So much has changed since my initial five day trip in January 2018. I know more. Some of you will recall that I hadn’t yet identified Mum’s biological father at the time of the first trip…so I had wandered through places such as Dungog and Gloucester without realising just how close the family connection was to those places.
With all the new information in mind and plans to also suss out places connected to my adoptive grandparents and paternal Nan’s families, off I went. This time the trip was a week long…and I ended up as far as Byron Bay.
First stop was Tuggerah last Sunday to meet with my 3rd cousin 1x removed Bianca (paternal Pop’s side of the family). We have caught up a couple of times previously, it was great to see her–am looking forward to catching up again very soon. Then overnight at my paternal grandparents place, always wonderful to spend time with them!
I will add here that I was unfortunate enough to have my car’s air conditioning condenser die weeks previously and left it too late to get it fixed prior to my leaving…so I did this week long trip sans air conditioning. I’d forgotten what it was like without that luxury. Both sets of grandparents contributed bits and pieces to ensure I wouldn’t melt, or that my belongings, namely my laptop wouldn’t be destroyed during a rather unpleasantly hot week by way of cooler bags and an endless supply of ice packs, even one that ties around your neck. To say that those came in handy is an understatement, thanks Nan and Pop/Nana and Pa! You should have seen me on the 42 degree day! One ice pack sitting on my chest, held in by the seat belt, the neck tie ice pack on and an ice pack on each leg at 9am in the morning (it was already about 36 degrees by then!)…on the way back, I just gave in and doused myself in ice water several times. Whilst in the car. To hell with getting my car seats wet, they were dry again within ten bloody minutes. Straya.
The first full day was spent in Gloucester, Taree and Kempsey. I left the grandparents’ place early, first stop was Gloucester Cemetery. What can I say, a genealogist’s road trip is a little different to that of a non genealogist’s! I’d ended up at that particular cemetery a year previously by accident whilst looking for Dungog Cemetery (Gloucester Cemetery is 45 minutes outside of Dungog, talk about a navigation fail on my part). This time, I found it purposely. Turns out I had wandered through this particular one a year ago, again unaware of just how many of Mum’s biological paternal relatives were actually laid to rest in there. I had a specific purpose though, I wasn’t there to necessarily visit those who had long since passed, it was legitimately a quest to see if Douglas had somehow been buried in there, unbeknownst to us due to the limitations of death record availability beyond 1989…I know I have said before that it has been concluded that he hasn’t died. And I stand by that (will explain that further, later on in this post), but I am crossing my T’s and dotting my i’s here. I can’t explain that feeling of having to do that, looking for a close relative in a cemetery, unsure of whether he is even dead or not. It’s completely different to searching for ancestors from way back…there was a level of tentativeness, fear even in reading each headstone as I walked through each row of the new section of this cemetery. Which is not exactly small, I might add. It was raining, horribly humid and I was being watched rather curiously by nearby workers. I was literally the only person aside from them inside this cemetery.
I am happy to say that I did not locate my biological grandfather in that lonely place.
By this point I was in need of a caffeine hit, so it was off to the main street of Gloucester for coffee. I also had plans to pay a visit to the limited number of pubs in the town to begin making some rather straightforward enquiries of the townspeople who worked in them, as H had mentioned to me in June that Gloucester was definitely a place Douglas had frequented. The thought of having to do this was nerve wracking for me. I would never, in a million years have done something like that a few years ago. Things have certainly evolved. I got my coffee, sat down in this cafe and just people watched. I observed that the ladies working at this cafe knew absolutely everyone who came in (except for the not-so-local weirdo near the door who was probably giving off odd vibes with her unabashed staring–yes, I am referring to myself here!). I observed that each customer knew each other too. It was then that I decided that I would also ask the workers in this cafe. I figured in a town this small, asking just about anyone would yield some sort of result if I was on the right track.
It took about 15 minutes to talk myself into approaching the counter, ordering another coffee (I figured it was the least I could do) and blurting out “so I am wondering if you could help me, I am looking for someone”. I was met with nothing but curiosity and kindness by the ladies working in this cafe who had, as expected lived in the area their whole lives. I produced photos of Douglas for them to look at and explained what I knew. Their response was that he did look familiar and the name also rang a bell, but they were too young to remember much more about him. They then pointed me in the direction of a couple in the shop who were of the right generation, who they said had lived in the area for a very long time. One of the workers went over and asked if I could show them the photos and before long, I was producing more photos and explaining what I knew of Douglas. Again I was met with positivity. It was clear I had piqued this couple’s interest! Again, the name was familiar to them and he also looked familiar…but they couldn’t think of any pertinent information on the spot. So they asked for a copy of the photos, along with details on Douglas’ and my own details, so they can do some asking around. This was above and beyond what I had expected. I was advised not to worry about the pubs at this point, as management had changed hands multiple times since the 1990s. It was suggested however that I pay a visit to the offices of the local newspaper. I had been considering the possibility of placing an ad in the local papers, so that was to be my next stop. The office at the time was being run by people from another location, so they took my details and said they’d get back to me…again, seems they were quite interested in the search.
It was then off to Taree, namely Failford Cemetery to see my adoptive great grandparents. By this point it was raining quite heavily, so upon arrival, it was a quick visit. Luckily I knew exactly where they were! I had wanted to see a cousin of Nana’s, who I had grown up knowing very well and absolutely adored, who had been buried at Failford a couple of years ago…but the rain prevented my staying very long. Next time Ronnie, you’re never far from my mind.
It was onwards then, in the heavy humidity and rain to Kempsey. That wouldn’t have mattered much if I had air conditioning…but because I didn’t, it was a choice between having the windows up and sweating buckets/steaming up my windscreen or having the windows down and getting wet…of course, still sweating buckets. I chose the in between option, with the windows half down. What an uncomfortable drive that was! But I made it, missed the turn off to my Aunt and Uncle’s place in Frederickton and ended up half an hour away from where I was supposed to be. Let it be known that I am terrible at directions, even with a GPS talking at me. A lovely evening was spent catching up with my Aunt and cousin, I missed my Uncle this time around, who was away.
Maclean and Yamba were on the agenda the next day. I visited Maclean Cemetery and found a surprise relative on my paternal Nan’s side of the family…that is a story in of itself, for another time! At Yamba, I went for a swim before heading to Grafton where I stayed the night. I managed to find Christchurch there, where ancestors on my paternal Nan’s side were married. An absolutely beautiful church! I also was going to suss out Coaldale, a town about half an hour outside of Grafton where my ever elusive great great grandfather Samuel West was born, along with his siblings. I’d done a bit of a Google search on this place prior to leaving home, and found it odd that I couldn’t find any information on it. I began driving out there, but my GPS kept getting confused and sending me down dead end roads. I turned back and asked a few people about the place back in Grafton. Turns out it’s not exactly the safest place to visit for the solo traveller. Thank goodness I asked, the facial expressions on those I asked said it all. If anyone has any more information on that place, feel free to shoot me an email!!
Following an overnight stay in Grafton, I headed off early for Byron Bay. The plan was to have a day off from enquiries and family history stuff. Which I did manage for the most part. Until I received a call from our wonderful case worker whilst I was laying on the beach to tell me that we had an possible avenue to obtaining Douglas’ birth certificate.
…oh wait. Did I mention we have been in contact with a niece and nephew of Douglas’? Yes, so that happened! I wrote the niece a letter after obtaining her address and the case worker wrote one for the nephew, which I had mentioned in my most recent post. We were both contacted days apart, maybe a week and a half prior to my trip. The news of their Uncle fathering a child was received well yet again with offers of assistance being put forward by both of them. Win!
Here’s the kicker. They haven’t seen or heard from him since 1999.
Well, the nephew agreed to apply for Douglas’ birth certificate, as he is the closest living relative to him in legal terms. For the purposes of following leads, it seems that not having Douglas’ full date of birth is a major road block in most aspects. So when I got the call from M, (case worker) to tell me that she was enquiring with NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages about how to apply for a birth certificate with the nephew as the applicant, I have to admit I was pretty hopeful.
With all that in my head, I could barely focus that night (I stayed in Lismore). I was en route to Kempsey again from Lismore when I received another call from M–she’d had a simultaneously frustrating and interesting chat with someone at NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages-essentially, what was gleaned from that phone call was that Mum’s first cousin/Douglas’ nephew would not be able to obtain Douglas’ birth certificate…why?
Because, without a doubt, there is no death registered to Douglas Purcill in NSW.
Therefore, permission would need to be granted by him to obtain said certificate. That’s all well and good…but we need to know where he is…and the road block to finding that out is not knowing that damn birth date of his. See our predicament here? M pushed a bit further, providing a bit of contextual information, naming some places we know Douglas’ lived in. At mention of a particular place, there was apparently a pause on the end of the line…and finally a “you’re close” response.
Appears this is a case of a government agency having more information than they’re allowed to divulge to us. It’s reminiscent of Mum’s first search, where she and my grandparents sat in an office with a social worker, who had this stack of files on Mum’s adoption just sitting there on the desk, the information of which legally wasn’t allowed to be given over to Mum. Again, I am at a loss on how to describe this level of frustration that this has brought about. A frustrated tear or two may have been shed at that point in time. But, I definitely have an area to pay particular attention to now. Gotta look at the positives here.
I spent the days following with my Aunt and cousin and then with my paternal grandparents…relaxing, making enquiries here and there and brainstorming ways around the most obvious route to obtaining Douglas’ birth date. I met with H, Douglas’ cousin and her husband on the Saturday in Dungog (could I have picked a hotter day to do it?!) and it was there that it occurred to me. Douglas’ parents were Catholic. Parish records. That’s my next step! I am really enjoying getting to know H and her family, I am not taking the positive reception to our search for granted.
Being home now, I am experiencing a fair bit of withdrawal! It was great to be on the road, seeing family and simply being in the areas that my ancestors, both close and distant have originated from. I had planned on doing a fair bit more research whilst away on ancestors that have long since passed…but things took an unexpected turn with those phone calls regarding Douglas. If he turns out to be alive elsewhere, I have to throw all my energy into locating him sooner rather than later. So whilst I am still researching all my other lines of the family, they are temporarily on the back burner–they will still be there when I come back to it. But who knows if Douglas will be?