Finding Family

One woman's obsession with family history.

While drafting a blog post relating to my 2nd Great Grandfather, Jesse Wallace, I consulted the Western Australian Government Railways (WAGR) Employment Records on Ancestry in the hope that they would have his employment information and details of when he started working for them.

With the document found and the start date confirmed I became distracted by the word ‘updated’ next to the name of the record collection and then curious at the fact the records were dated up until 1986. Knowing my Pop (Reece Thomas Nicholson) worked for the WAGR at the Midland Workshops, I thought I’d try searching for him.

Having entered ‘Reece Thomas Nicholson’ into the search field I was thrilled to find that the first record listed matched my Pop’s name exactly and, furthermore, the birth date recorded was also a match. Yes! A new record to add to the cGwen-Reece-1.jpgollection.

I eagerly clicked on ‘View Record’ and was surprised to see that he was only 15 years old when he began working for the WAGR. A fact previously unknown to me, it added a new perspective to his story. His family would’ve been living at Hoffman’s Mill around the time he applied for the job and with the job located at the ‘Workshops’ (I assume in Midland) I wondered, where did he live? Certainly not in Hoffman’s Mill.

Furthermore, he began working in 1944. Though not of huge significance, I found the date interesting in comparison to both his and the rest of the family’s story. Pop began working for the WAGR before his father’s death in early 1945. He began working before the family’s move to Subiaco. And, he was already working (as an apprentice boilermaker) when he met my Nan (pictured right).

A smile crept over my face as I looked over a record which related to someone I actually knew. Then, I spied some writing on the side and a stamp which caught my attention. I turned the page clockwise for better viewing and my heart leapt into my throat. Time stood still as I read the stamped words over and over again.


What the hell?! [Actually it was a completely different word but I’ve managed to avoid swearing on my blog so I think I’ll keep it that way]. Pop was adopted?!

In case you haven’t guessed, this was of course news to me. No such story of my Pop being adopted exists within my family. I knew he was born on 4 January 1929 in Nannup at the Nannup Hospital. I knew his parent’s names were William and Jessie. I even found a birth notice printed in the paper.

So many questions rushed through my mind all at once. Would adoptive parents place a birth notice in the paper? Was his birth in Nannup of significance considering their other children weren’t born there. Was he adopted because times were tough (it was the Great Depression) and they were struggling? Did they then take him back? Or, are William and Jessie his adoptive parents? And if that’s the case, who were his birth parents?

With my mind still racing, I decided to take logical action. I contacted the Department for Child Protection and Family Support and, specifically, their branch relating to Adoption Services. Having sent them the details, I was advised to complete an application form. It was probably the fastest I’ve ever completed and posted a form.

The Department stated that finding information could take up to a year, so, I prepared myself for a long wait ahead. A month passed and (quicker than expected) I received an email last week. A search of the Family Court was conducted and, much to my relief, nothing was found.

The Officer in charge of my request confirmed Pop’s birth details and parents’ names and with respect to the stamp, stated, “I am unable to shed any light on why your grandfather’s WA Government Railways, Record of Service states that he is an adopted person and that this Department…issued a certificate to this affect. There is no record on this Department’s files of such a certificate ever being issued.”

So, after all that, Pop wasn’t adopted. In all honesty it was a result I was expecting. With the family history, the similarities between Pop and his siblings and a subsequent DNA match (which occurred after the form was sent) adoption just didn’t make sense. But, it still doesn’t really explain the stamp. Was this a simple case of human error? If yes, what an error. It certainly shocked me!

Whatever it was, the record itself is a stark reminder of the fragility of genealogy. You might think you know everything there is to know but, truth be told, you never will. You’ll never know how a person felt or their true opinions. You may also never know the truth on certain matters unless a record such as this comes along and rips the rug out from under your feet. I guess it’s also a lesson not to become too comfortable with your research. Everything (on the face of it) may slot neatly in place but you should always be aware that something might be around the corner ready to shock you and turn your research upside down.

Information relating to adoptions within Western Australia can be found on the Department for Child Protection and Family Support’s website:


  • State Records Office of Western Australia, Australia; Western Australian Government Railways-Record of Service Cards; Reference Number: CONS 5662

5 thoughts on “Shock

  1. Sandra says:

    Very well written Jessica

    1. Jess says:

      Thanks Sandra. Glad you enjoyed reading the post.

  2. That’s a really interesting story and a great reminder to not get complacent with our research. Thanks for sharing!

  3. GeniAus says:

    As more and more records become available I think we are in for more shocking discoveries. Thanks for sharing this great story Jess.

    1. Jess says:

      I completely agree, Jill. It definitely seems like with each new record or newspaper added there’s a new perspective to various family stories. I’m glad you enjoyed reading this post.

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