Road Trip continued…

Last post finished on Howlong Station, the property owned by my 2x Great Grandfather but before we change focus, we haven’t quite finished in Holbrook yet. I shared the Parish map of the land owners. Here is a close up of an area of interest.

Courtesy of Woolpack Inn Museum.

This section in yellow crossing the Highway is Little Billabong Creek. Here is another of the Macvean surprises. By chance we found this exact spot on our way out of town.

You can stop on the Southern side of the creek and look straight across to Rooksdale Estate. I haven’t been able to pin down where exactly the homestead was or even if it is still standing but its on the to do list.

This is where my Grandfather grew up, a place my family lived for a quarter of a century and their mark is now blown away into time yet I feel this strong sense of connection. It is such a weird feeling.

Trove delivered again. Came across this wonderful description of the property.|||l-year=1921|||l-month=10

Another advertisement for the sale describes the homestead as having 12 rooms and that the property has been dug out of all rabbits and useless trees. So hope that some photos will turn up sometime.

The Museum at Holbrook had another surprise for us before we left. They have the original Little Billabong school house that my Grandfather went to, in their backyard. It was going to be demolished some years ago and someone had the thought to save it and it is now rebuilt and is part of the Museums exhibitions.

How crazy is that? Funnily enough the Little Billabong phrase I have been aware of since I was a child. I knew it had something to do with my Grandfather’s life but was never quite sure what the connection was. My Grandfather died 2 weeks after my 1st birthday so no first hand knowledge. There is no photo that I can find of the two of us together which is strange considering I was the first Grandson born with the Macvean name. For some context meet my Grandad, John Hugh Macvean.

I love the fact that I am named for this man and carry his Father and Grandfathers name with me.

On an aside, the Little Billabong phrase helped me break through a years old brick wall I had hit in relation to another 3x Great Grandmother, Christina Russell. This one phrase broke through that wall and the information that flowed was incredible. Will post about that shortly.

So between this and the last post, I’d say that Holbrook was pretty good to us on revealing some great information on the family. I will pick up on the Howlong Station thread soon but I want to now move to Wagga Wagga. It is the end of my 2x Great Grandfather’s story (Alexander Macvean Snr) just to remind you, but our first stop on the road trip. For a bit of context, this from Trove.|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2|||l-title=486

This was the second find in Wagga,

“Lumeah” in Coleman Street still stands. This is where my 2x Great Grandfather died.

I shared the above picture first as it fits with the article above, but this picture below was our first find at the Wagga Wagga Pioneer Cemetery.

My 2x Great Grandparents graves as well as my 2x Great Grandfather’s 2nd Wife’s grave.

I keep trying to rationalise the act of putting flowers on graves decades old, in a lot of the cases over 100 years old but there is no rationalising it. It just feels like the right thing to do. For me it is knowing that they are right there, 6 or so feet below. This is what it means to pay your respects to your Ancestor’s. Just like when you get to hold some item that you know was held in their hands or stand in spot that you know for certain they stood, it has a powerful spiritual pull for me.

Wagga Wagga Pioneer Cemetery 2018

I wondered this day we visited, (100 years after Jessie’s and 96 years after Alexander’s burials) how long since the last family member made the trek out to this cemetery?

Wagga Wagga wasn’t done with us just yet. I remembered from my readings on Trove that my 2x Great Grandparents were heavily involved in the Presbyterian church and I had the idea that we might go check out the church see if the one they belonged to was still standing.

St Andrews Wagga Wagga 2018

What a find it was. St Andrews Presbyterian, now Uniting Church. Foundation stone laid in 1869 and completed in 1872. (Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga) Mon 28 Nov 1938 page 6)

St Andrews Wagga Wagga 2018

The spire was added between 1911-1915 as well as the School Hall situated right next to the church. (Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga) Mon 28 Nov 1938 page 6)

St Andrews School Hall 2018

So imagine how surprised we were when we came across this.

St Andrews School Hall 2018

This is the foundation stone of the School Hall. This was one of those moments I mentioned above. I couldn’t stop running my hands over the stone. Talk about an Outlander moment, if a tear in the fabric of time was going to happen this would be it. You know I looked over my shoulder right? Only this mob behind me and what a great mob to share this moment with.

The Macvean’s in Wagga Wagga Oct 2018

I of course turned to Trove and found a number of articles that show the link between the family and the Church. Discovered that my 2x Great Grandfather was an Elder of the Church.|||l-year=1896

Their Daughter Edith married in the church.

Jessie Davina Macvean, my 2x Great Grandmother also had a memorial service held at the church. This section of her obituary below highlights.

There are a number of mentions of her donating money to different war causes and running a number of different tables for the Presbyterian Ladies guild and I think this part of another obituary written on her sums it up nicely. I can only imagine she would have been pretty happy with the description of her below but would probably never have admitted it.|||l-year=1918|||l-month=7

My 2x Great Grandfather also had his memorial service held at St Andrews.|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2|||l-year=1926|||l-month=2#

This is my 2x Great Grandmother, Jessie Davina Macvean, nee Ballantyne.

Courtesy of Sally MacPhee (Cousin)

And another shot of my 2x Great Grandfather, Alexander Macvean Snr.

Courtesy of Sally MacPhee (Cousin)

There was a billboard on the outside of the Church and it had the current Pastor’s name and contact details on it. Alex rang him and explained who we were and he invited us back the next day and said he would open up the Church and the School Hall so that we could walk through were the family once walked.

Interior of St Andrews Wagga School Hall
Interior of St Andrews Presbyterian Church Wagga
Interior of St Andrews Presbyterian Church Wagga

I got the chance to sit inside with Alex and our boys for about 15-20minutes and had a good chance to just soak it in. I know it’s nothing fancy but I couldn’t help feeling like I had just found something really valuable.

Final leg of the road trip in the next post.

Family History Road Trip

October 2018 School Holiday’s, main plan was to get on down to Canberra, the National Capital to visit Alex and the Boys’s Aunty Judith, which is definitely what happened.

Out Front of the National Museum
At the Planetarium
Yum Cha at the Tang Dynasty in Kingston

Awesome catching up with you Aunty Jude! But I may have hijacked the itinerary a little.

Of course we knew that George Nicoll’s manuscript was going to be on the agenda in Canberra but we were also aware that the Macvean clan had settled in the Holbrook, Albury and Wagga Wagga area back in the late 1800’s and being that Canberra was so close (sort of ) it was too good an opportunity to pass up.

As if viewing George’s manuscript wasn’t enough for this trip, the Macvean’s threw out some great surprises as well. I have to start in Holbrook for this post to give some context but on our road trip we headed straight to Wagga Wagga as it was the furthest West. That way we could work our way back East towards Albury, Holbrook and then Canberra.

The family lore I grew up with was that Holbrook was the Family seat of power for a number of decades and that the Local Historical Museum had some great info on the Family. I knew from previous Trove diggings that the property that my Grandfather grew up on was called The Rooksdale Estate.

Courtesy of Greg Palmer
Courtesy of Greg Palmer

I’m aware I say this a lot but I’m so lucky again, to have this photo. It is the only photo I have of most of the Family together and the only one I can find of Rooksdale.

My Grandfather, John Hugh Macvean is the boy sitting down on the right. Next to him is his Sister, Marjorie and then his Brother, Alexander Douglas Macvean next to her. The two women behind are their older Sister’s Jessie and Jean. No names for the blokes unfortunately but assuming that they might be their partners and eventual husbands, John and James Moffatt. Yes the Macvean Sisters married the Moffatt Brothers.|||l-year=1924#

A B S Macvean is my Great Grandfather and Mrs Macvean, my Great Grandmother is Agnes Brookman Macvean nee Cox. This fantastic picture below is the only photo I have of her, again thanks to my Cousin Greg Palmer for sharing.

Courtesy Greg Palmer

You can’t fight genetics, a friend who saw this said that it looked like me in drag. I think I can see the resemblance. This is from a while back, when my Son Calan was born but it might be a good comparison.

For many years the was no picture of my Great Grandfather, I searched to no avail and then all of a sudden Trove updated its content and this came up

A very grainy newspaper print from 1938 of a photo that was from 34 years earlier.

I counted and counted to make sure I had his position correct and came up with the fact that my Great Grandfather was the bloke leaning against the post, at the bottom of the stairs with the bowler hat and his left leg up on the first step.

No way to trace any original source material as the Paper was long gone

Now to the first of the Macvean surprises. You know where this is going right?

This is us on our road trip in Holbrook. About 96 years give or take since the Macvean’s left.

The Local History Society is in this beautiful old former pub called the Woolpack Inn.

The place is filled to the rafters with antiques and every single room is set up as it most likely would have looked in the 19th century. They have these amazing old shop display counters filled with items and look what appeared.

I was stunned. It was like winning some contest. The excitement was a little much for the poor old volunteer on that morning. It was locked in this cabinet, did he have the key, can I get it out, can I take a picture? No, no key, wouldn’t be able to take it out anyway, it’s a permanent display item. After about 10 mins of trying to photograph it through the glass, Volunteer comes back, they have a digital copy of it in their records, would I like a copy? I don’t think he appreciated the wet kiss on his bald head.

Do you think I could find a thumbdrive? No! Newsagent open at other end of town, Xander and Calan very kindly went and purchased. Meet my Great Grandfather, Alexander Ballantyne Macvean.

Courtesy of the Woolpack Museum Holbrook

Wouldn’t you know it, 10mins later came across another one in the bottom of this cabinet.

Courtesy of Woolpack Museum Holbrook

My Great Grandfather is on the top left with the wing collar and white bowtie. In the next cabinet this was resting on top.

Courtesy of the Woolpack Museum Holbrook.

Parish map with the landowners names marked on it. This shows exactly where the Rooksdale Estate was and bloody hell, look how much of it there was. Of course now I want to know as much as I can about the place. Take a look at what I just found on Trove.

One line from 1895 and it just emerges from the depths of time with a couple of key strokes. Mr A McVean is my 2x Great Grandfather he owned Howlong Station for over 40 years. My Great Grandfather, worked very closely with him before taking over Rooksdale.

Alexander Macvean Snr

This is my 2x Great Grandfather, Alexander Macvean Snr, shared with me by another very generous Cousin, Sally MacPhee.

I was aware that he owned a property called Howlong but hadn’t done any digging on that. Look what I have uncovered in the last 24 hours

I have just realised that this post is becoming a novel, not sure what the rules are but I will give you a break, for now. Road Trip to be continued……

Resources and Where to Start Your Family History Research

Since I began sharing my story in this Blog a few of you have asked, where do you start and what sites do you use? Of course this is one of those no right or wrong answer scenario’s. I think if there is something that you know of about your family and it stirs your interest that is the best spot to start digging. What I can share are the amazing tools that I have stumbled across or have had shared with me by some very generous people.

Now wait, I can hear some of you scoffing and saying about the fact that it is an ongoing payment, I hear you, if that doesn’t work for you that is fine but you can use it to start you off. Sign up for the 2 week free trial. Start inputting your info beginning with yourself, Siblings, Parents, Grandparents and Great Grandparents. Once you commence building up that information you will be surprised at how quickly you will start to generate hints.

Courtesy of

See the little leaf on the right of Henry John Blackwood’s name? These are gold. Click on this and it can lead you to information that might already be stored on your ancestor from someone else’s tree or from some government body that holds certified information on a life event. You do need to be aware that what is being shared especially if it is from another person’s tree might not be correct. Check the source and the information that is being shared and try to verify with what you already know.

The amazing thing with Ancestry is that there are so many people out there willing to share information that they might have, like photos or original source documents that can instantly add to your story. Nothing more generous in family history terms, than someone willing to make their tree and research public.

The other benefit with Ancestry is that it will potentially put you in contact with other’s who have an interest in some shared branch of your tree which is phenomenal. A number of the family photo’s I have came to me in this generous manner.

Courtesy of

Having said all that if you still don’t want to pay an ongoing cost, download the information from your tree to a ged file, (Ancestry will even walk you through this) to your computer and you can then upload that to any genealogy software program you might have available. Any photos or documents will not be in that file but you can save that from the tree directly to your hard drive. Cancel your subscription to Ancestry and then go back to it when and if you are ready for a paid subscription.

Full disclosure: I love and am a fully paid up card carrying member. It has been invaluable to me and my search for my family story.

Now on to the free tools. My absolute favourite:

I have been banging on about Trove for ages. What a resource, what a treasure Trove of information….(see what I did then? skills people, skills) It is phenomenal. Put in your names and start searching. Refine your results with dates, states and places. Set up a login and you can save any articles or information you find on your family into lists that you can then share with others. Example of a couple of mine below.

The Ryerson Index, a free death index appearing in Australian Newspapers. The really handy thing with this index is that it will list death and funeral notices, their dates and publications they appeared in . You can then take this back to Trove and drill down to the exact notice without having to wade through miles of information.

The Ryerson Index

The following are fairly self evident, put your names in and search.

NSW Birth Deaths and Marriages
NSW State Archives & Records
National Archives of Australia
State Library of NSW
National Library of Australia

Don’t forget your Local Council’s Archive’s and Local Library and Historical Society.

Good luck and if you need any help, just drop me a message here in the blog on the Contact page and I will get back to you as soon as I can.



Lost Words Unearthed

City of Sydney Archives, what a fantastic resource

The Assessment Books and ArchivePix collections have provided me with invaluable information on the Nicoll, Skinner and Blackwood family histories so far and then yesterday it just provided again.

I hadn’t used the Archives Investigator before and threw in Nicoll to see what would come up, now knowing, as my last post showed, that George Robertson Nicoll had the row of terraces in the Rocks and look what came up. A list of correspondence.

And to my amazement all the letters from George R have been digitised. Just like the Manuscript, this is an amazing opportunity to hear George in his own words. Of all the letters, this one below is my favorite, apart from the subject matter, the information contained on this as a copy of an original source document is gold.\Item\528065\Item\528065

First off, the syntax George uses, it reads for me like something from a Dickens novel, “…roaming at their own servant with tyranny over dust” I mean come on, that is a lost art isn’t it? and then “…manuring the newly cleaned door steps.” Shitting all over the friggin clean step, just doesn’t come anywhere near it.

Now to the other golden info, check out the address. Gowrie Terrace, that is the first time I have seen that written. 96 is the final terrace in the row from my previous post so we now know that George was living there for a time as well as no 84 as mentioned in the Sands directory and that the building had a title. Found a couple of entries in Trove for Gowrie Terrace.|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby|||l-state=New+South+Wales#|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby|||l-state=New+South+Wales|||anyWords|||notWords|||requestHandler|||dateFrom=1860-01-01|||dateTo=1910-12-31|||sortby

The other thing to note is that George is using letterhead from his Son Bruce Baird Nicoll and not his own which is fantastic because I didn’t know anything about the Warehouse and Office at 171 Kent St. This is how the story grows most of the time, from the most interesting small morsels of information. You’ll notice the same thing from the following letters.\Item\528065

Here we learn that George owns 70 Gloucester Street as well and has done so for 25 years, since 1856. He penned this letter in 1881 and it looks like he might be staying with my 2x Great Grandfather who had his property in Canterbury at that stage.\Item\632151\Item\632151

Again, more new info. Hadn’t seen anything about George residing in Chandos Street North Sydney. The Hart’s Stairs he is referring to is depicted in one of the photo’s of my last post. I can understand his frustration, it would have been a phenomenal view of late 19th century Circular Quay.

The above photo is believed to have been taken between 1860-1880 and would be very close to the vantage point of the Terrace’s. A view that George and the family would have been very familiar with having been in the area since the early 1850’s.

This final letter again is brimming over with information. George is alluding to the fact that he is the one responsible for building the terraces as he mentions that he has only just finished them. This time he is using the letterhead of my 2x Great Grandfather, George W, which brilliantly confirms where his business was operating from and the ships that he was still running at that time.

The stamp in the top right hand corner is very interesting. I have never come across the Tirzah Steam Saw Mill in Tweed River, so looking forward to chasing that up.

I definitely hear George’s voice coming through loud and clear from his letters which is such a gift when you consider that he put pen to paper nearly 130 years ago.