Emerging from the dust of time.

As addictive and enjoyable as this family history research is it can be on many occasions the most frustrating annoying time waster. When you hit that brick wall and feel that you just can’t go anymore, that there is nothing else to uncover and the trail is dead cold, just sometimes, I have come to learn that this is not the case. You just need to find a different way of approaching the situation or asking the question in a different form. This was definitely the case in discovering Christina Russell, my 3 times Great Grandmother.

The first I heard of Christina or read of her, was finding a mention of her in an article on my 2 x Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman Cox’s death. Again noting that I say this with some frequency, like always, but this is an amazing find. It is such a sad little article but the detail that it gives is gold in terms of family history.

Figure 1: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Look at all that information just sitting there about my family since 1896. Information on my 2x Great Grandfather, his profession, their children, what my 3 x Great Grandmother was doing immediately before she died, how she died, what she died from, and where she was from. This is so out of the ordinary, most of the death notices I have found mention date of death and that is it. To have an article like this is wonderful. What was ordinary and is so frustrating to me in 2020 is that there is no mention of Agnes’s name. She is only mentioned as an extension of her husband, “Mrs Cox”. This is one of my biggest struggles in researching, trying not to judge other past social norms from my ivory tower of hindsight. I’m crap at it.

You”ll note the mention of Agne’s Mother being sent for from NSW. This is Christina. When I first read this I wasn’t even aware of what her name was. I was amazed first, that her mother was still alive. Life expectancy back then was not great. (According to the UK Office for National Statistics a newborn baby girl in 1841 only 11 years after Christina was born was not expected to live past the age of 43.) And secondly, that she was in NSW. This meant that Christina had immigrated to Australia as well and not stayed in Scotland. My first stop was Ancestry.com.au to see if there was anything listed. I found this note in Christina’s life details.

Figure 2: Courtesy of Ancestry.com.au

Now I should explain here that in Ancestry some information automatically populates in when you confirm information from someone else’s tree. I had never seen this entry before but what was really interesting to me was the fact that she was buried at Holbrook, where the Macvean’s were settled and the very curious listing for her place of death, somewhere called “Little Billabong”. You might remember I mentioned in an earlier post this name and that it would have some significance in relation to Christina. Boom! That is my subtle approach showing again, just in case you missed it.

Another thing I wasn’t aware of at this moment was that my Great Grandparents, Alexander and Agnes Macvean had their property, Rooksdale on the banks of Little Billabong. That discovery came as a result of delving into Christina’s story. The link here is that Agnes Macvean, maiden name, Agnes Brookman Cox is Daughter to George and Mrs Cox in the death article above therefor Christina’s Granddaughter. This means that Christina was living in her later life in the same district as her family which is so heartwarming to me as I was soon to discover that Christina’s early life was heartbreaking.

I searched for Little Billabong and found out that it was in the Germanton area (Holbrook). I began my search of NSW Birth Deaths and Marriages and came up with nothing. There was no listing for Christina Brookman or Russell her maiden name. I tried different spellings and still nothing. I searched the Ryerson Index (listing of funeral and death notices) not a mention anywhere. I went back to Ancestry, whoever had entered the details of Little Billabong as the Death place had no source listed for this information. This is where the brick wall came up and stayed there for a while.

There are many reasons why the information might not be coming up, spelling, information wasn’t ever recorded or the records were destroyed. I remember reading about the records that were kept in The Garden Palace complex in Macquarie Street in Sydney that were lost when it burnt to the ground.

The International Exhibition Centre (The Garden Palace) 1880
Figure 3: Courtesy of State Library of NSW
Figure 4: Courtesy of State Library of NSW

This is an amazing story of Sydney’s past which has just been forgotten much too like Christina’s story until I imagine I started digging. I tried searching the Immigrant passenger list in State records. I found only one entry for a Christina Brookman and it clearly didn’t match our Christina’s details. I then thought to myself, did she remarry, did something happen to Samuel, my 3x Great Grandfather. I searched for him in BDM NSW and look what I stumbled onto.

Figure 5: Courtesy of NSW Govt’ Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

The question was how could I be certain it was my Samuel Brookman? The age fitted with what dates I had for his birth record in Ancestry. This is sort of confirmed from a census record I found that matches with his siblings names and parents.

Figure 6: Courtesy of Ancestry.com.au

This confirms Samuel’s age as 14 in 1841 which puts his birth in 1827. We are only 5 years out with the BDM note of 45years but that is nothing for the time. We are looking good. So poor old Samuel is gone by 1877. Again making a big assumption that my Samuel even immigrated to Australia. We definitely know that his Wife Christina did because she died here but the only way to be certain is to find their immigration details. Now I have scoured every passenger list and put in every different way of spelling Brookman and there is not a skerrik of information on them at all. Another damn brick wall.

Back to BDM, search for Marriage after 1877, Bride name, Brookman.

Figure 7: Courtesy of NSW Govt’ Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

Argghhh! Nothing. Now I must admit I left this one for a while until I discovered a new function on BDM, well I thought it was new but then I thought I had never tried it. When searching for details one of the “must be filled details” on their site was the surname of the person you want to search. I wanted to search for any deaths, first name Christina without a surname and see what would turn up. I put it in for deaths between 1911-1913 and it searched. I couldn’t believe it, it started searching. My idea was that if Christina had remarried I could catch her new name this way and match her to her place of death, Little Billabong, and her parent’s names. Big, big long shot but it might work.

Figure 8: Courtesy of NSW Govt’ Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

Of course, over 10 pages of results as you can see from above. It was potentially going to take some time. I did this sitting in the car one night having just dropped Xander and Calan to Scouts and just started searching. 7 pages in look what jumped out at me.

Figure 9: Courtesy of NSW Govt’ Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages

A Christina, last name Strachan, death 1912 in Germanton, not Little Billabong but right locale and Parents names listed and they matched with my Christina.

Figure 10: Courtesy of Ancestry.com.au

It is hard to describe the bolt of electrical excitement that runs through you when you make a discovery like this. After months of searching and those damn brick walls and bang it falls into place. It is also the fact that you made the connection by yourself. I didn’t have to pay for someone else’s assistance it was all me. I know, you are probably rolling your eyes but you have to take the wins when they come along.

I ordered a copy of the certificate right there and then in the car, what a time we live in. I then started the searches again this time with Strachan in the mix.

Figure 11: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

Wow!, so much information that just confirms that this is my 3x Great Grandmother. Right off there is “Little Billabong”, “Germanton”, the date of death and the mention of a “Mr J Cox” attending the funeral. Remember Christina’s Daughter Agnes Brookman, my 2x Great Grandmother from earlier in this post?, she marries George Cox. This “Mr J Cox” is Josiah Cox their Son, Christina’s Grandson and Brother to my Great Grandmother, Agnes Brookman Cox who marries Alexander Ballantyne Macvean. All these details come together to confirm Christina’s place as my 3x Great Grandmother just from this one obituary article.

I know these are but the bearest of details when you compare them to a peson’s life and the experience’s they live through but this is why I titled this post the way I did. It is like a gradual emergence. You start with barely an outline of the person, Christina in this example and all of a sudden the smallest of details start to coalese into an outline, giving you a starting to point to try and build upon.

I have on many occasions sat with my Nan in her unit, “4B Links House” over the years, and she would disappear into the middle room or her bedroom and return with a wrapped plastic bag of what can only be described as a gift bag of family history.

My Nan, Kathleen Nicoll in her spot.
(The hallway behind her is where she would disappear to returning with a bundle of treasures.)
Figure 11a: Macvean Family Archives

I never knew where she kept them they just appeared and they always had a musty smell to them and would always have a covering of dust that would stay on your hands after handling these treasures. This is the dust of time to me and the smell that comes to me when I am doing this research. I know, weird but I love it and it is such a lovely link back to my Nan now she is gone.

So back to Christina, the next big questions, Strachan, who is he? Why did she marry him, when did she marry him and who are the children they had? I know that none of Christina’s children from her marriage to Samuel Brookman married a Ross so there is obviously another undiscovered branch of the family out there.

And let me tell you there is, the name Strachan, has been the key to some amazing discoveries but wait, spoilers! The rest of Christina’s story, the Brookman’s, and the Strachan’s in the next post.

2 thoughts on “Emerging from the dust of time.

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