I suppose one thing that keeps family historians continually coming back for more is the chance that while researching you’ll come across a great find that truly knocks your socks off. These finds generally mean that a slow period in your research is suddenly and furiously propelled back into gear as you find yourself surrounded by new names and new avenues of discovery. This happened to me within the last few weeks.
Along with the wonderful people from RootsChat, I’ve been working on the New Zealand connection of the Nicholson side of the family tree for some time. Not being a resident of New Zealand, I posted my queries on the website and since then, they’ve been visiting libraries and looking up records on my behalf. It’s truly touching! As a break, I tore my attention away from the Nicholsons and started focusing on the McCarthys (my Great x 2 Grandfather, Edward Nicholson married Agnes Elizabeth McCarthy). I’m so glad I did!
I had the names of the parents of Agnes Elizabeth McCarthy and through Ancestry.com.au also discovered many names of her siblings (some of whom died at a very young age). I took a chance, pulled out the credit card and ordered one of Agnes’s siblings’ birth certificates. From this certificate I discovered that Agnes’s parents (Patrick McCarthy and Elizabeth Kennedy) were both born in Tipperary, Ireland (1831 and 1833 respectively). They were also married in Tipperary in 1854. By 1856 however they were living in Victoria. Patrick’s occupation was a ‘miner’ and I can’t help but assume that perhaps the family left Ireland to escape the Irish Potato Famine in the hope of a better life and to possibly ‘strike it rich’ on the Victorian Goldfields.
At the moment, my details on Patrick and Elizabeth are still quite sketchy.
I also spent a great deal of time trolling through Trove in the hope of finding other clues on the McCarthy family. I changed my search terms and then happened to discover this Death Notice for John McCarthy:
Immediately the pieces fell into place. I already knew that Agnes had a sister (Mary Kate McCarthy) who married George Archer Cochrane and thanks to my Pop’s brother, I also knew that she was known to everyone as Polly. It was only logical then to assume that Aggie and Agnes (being incredibly similar) are one and the same person, my Great x 2 Grandmother and also John’s sister.
For some time I’d had the birth records of John McCarthy listed on my tree but before this article I never had any information on what became of him. I now knew that like his sisters he’d made the move to Western Australia.
The next stage consisted of adding the name of John’s spouse (Margaret Burke), adding their subsequent children (nine sons) and then filling in as many finer details as possible on the family tree.
The searching on Trove soon engulfed me and became my primary focus. I once again decided to switch up my search terms and tried ‘McCarthy Victoria Park’ (Victoria Park being where John and his family resided).
It was these words that brought forth that one great find.
WWI and WWII combined, seven of John McCarthy’s sons enlisted as soldiers. Such a remarkable number drew the attention of The Daily News and they printed a feature article on Wednesday, 24 December 1941.
I’m sure you can imagine just how excited I was when I opened the article and saw lined around the edge, eight photos from the one family! I was looking upon the face of my Great x 2 Grandmother’s brother and all her nephews. Considering the sparse photos on this side of the family, seeing these meant an awful lot.
The article in itself further provides information about John McCarthy, his occupation and how he got the nickname ‘Spiker’. Curiously, my Pop’s nickname was also Spike and it makes me wonder whether there’s a reason for why they’re so similar. John also describes his fright when he had a run in with Power from the Kelly Gang at age 12. The family lived in Victoria around the time of Ned Kelly and the Kelly Gang but I’d never considered this fact or the possible impact of it amongst the communities they lived in. Like many Australians today my thoughts of Ned Kelly are often positive and leaned towards him being a great iconic Australian folk hero. I suppose they’ll always remain this way, but it’s interesting to read that John McCarthy in particular lived in fear and thinking about it now, I’m sure he wasn’t the only one.
My favourite quote by John however gives me a snippet of information of what growing up may have been like for my Great x 2 Grandmother:
Ours was a big family and we had to start work pretty early to help the home.
There’s no doubt the family was a large one. My records show Patrick and Elizabeth had eleven children. Of those children, I know of four that died quite young. The actual number of surviving children is currently unknown (I only know of four) but it is possible that the other three also survived – I just don’t have the records, yet.
From John’s words though, I take it that Patrick’s success on the goldfields may not have been what he was hoping for.
Despite making tons of progress, I’ve still got quite a bit more work to do on the McCarthys. I haven’t yet been able to find out what happened to both Patrick and Elizabeth and I definitely need to brush up on my knowledge of the goldfields, firstly, by reading David Hill’s book, The Gold Rush and then, any other book I can get my hands on.
Perhaps, in time, I’ll be able to write about Patrick and his family and his life on the goldfields but until then…
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1942 ‘Family Notices.’, Sunday Times (Perth, WA : 1902 – 1954), 19 July, p. 2, viewed 6 July, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59170140
1941 ‘SEVEN SOLDIER SONS.’, The Daily News (Perth, WA : 1882 – 1950), 24 December, p. 3 Edition: CITY FINAL, viewed 6 July, 2012, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article83619634
Ancestry.com. Australia Birth Index, 1788-1922 [database on-line].
Ancestry.com. Australia Marriage Index, 1788-1950 [database on-line].