At a family function at the start of the year I started chatting to my Great Aunt. Being my Grandma’s sister, it’s usually inevitable that our conversation steers towards family history. On this particular day, she had a query she’d been meaning to ask me for some time.
After hearing that one of her granddaughters was living on Lake Street, she told her that she thought that her grandmother (Mary Esther White formerly Wallace nee Mather) and her mother (Grace Esther Wallace) had also lived on Lake Street for a short while. She wasn’t confident her memory was correct so she asked me if I would be able to look into it and confirm it for her.
Just the sort of query I love!
Mary Esther White and Grace Esther Wallace
While I take great joy in the detailed research of family trees, I also relish shorter requests which allow me to put on my detective hat in order to confirm or disprove certain family stories or facts.
As soon as I got home I delved into the records.
I had previously written a short blog post about the abuse Mary suffered at the hands of her second husband, Joseph White, and assumed that the reason she was living on Lake Street was most likely because she had separated from him.
I started by looking at what I had on Ancestry. I had a vague idea of dates (before 1920) and noticed that I had already saved the 1917 Electoral Roll which showed that Mary was living in Northam with Joseph. Process of elimination led me to believe that she could’ve been living at Lake Street around 1918 or 1919.
I moved away from Ancestry to the State Library of Western Australia’s postal directories. The 1918 directory yielded a smoking gun. Living at 31 Lake Street (just after the James Street intersection) was a Mrs M White.
I next looked at the 1919 postal directory and found the same; Mrs M White living at 31 Lake Street.
Feeling fairly positive that this was indeed Mary White, I decided to have another look at Ancestry. After all, White is a fairly common surname and the letter ‘M’ could stand for anything.
Knowing that there definitely was a Mrs M White living within the City of Perth, I headed straight to the Perth Rate Books on Ancestry and began searching. I soon found what I was looking for; Mary White living in a house (owned by William Gustav Weylandt) at 31 Lake Street. Eureka!
I printed all the records (my Great Aunt doesn’t use a computer), highlighted the important parts and sent the documents to her with a letter telling her that her memory was spot on. Thrilled at having her request confirmed, she (much to my surprise) sent me a voucher as a token of her appreciation.
Family historians often stress caution when dealing with family stories. While it’s important to never discount them, oral history is repeated generation after generation and can become misconstrued over time. In this instance however my Great Aunt’s memory was accurate and her research request perfectly illustrated how family stories can be true and through careful research, may be verified using records and sources.
- State Library of Western Australia; Western Australian Postal Directories (1918 and 1919).
- Perth, Western Australia, Australia, Rate Books, 1880-1946 (Ancestry).