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.

A Family Reunited

This story I am about to share with you is very special to me and really has changed me as a person. For so long I have felt that I am on this lone journey of discovery in relation to my family, god this sounds so cliched I know but it is true. I’m basically the last in the line that I can find in both the Macvean’s and the Nicoll’s or so I thought. Did you pick up on that hint? Subtle is what they call it.

So going to my old friend Trove, they have this awesome feature where by once you sign up with an account you can start creating lists of information you have found from anywhere on their site. I have set up multiple lists for a lot of the different branches of the family tree. The Nicoll list by far is the most prevelant with over 500 articles saved. One of the additional awesome features I discovered is that you can create a description heading for the list describing what the list is about for other user’s who might be interested. Remember I have said before, family history research is like fishing, you put out the bait and you see what bites. This is a copy below.

Figure 1: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

The only catch to this that I wasn’t aware of, is that if anyone does make a comment on your List, there is no notification that comes through. You can see where this is going cant’ you?

So fast forward to a year later and I get this what I think is a pretty dodgy message on Facebook. I immediately thought it was one of those phishing messages, I don’t have a copy of it to show you but it was from a name I didn’t recognise but the message said that they were researching immigration history to Australia. This stopped me from deleting and I then sent this message.

Figure 2: Macvean Family Archives

I mean come on, why would a Emerita Professor be messaging me? This was the response I received on the 24th April 2019.

Figure 3: Courtesy of Facebook

You can probably imagine the excitement that was building for me after reading this. I jumped straight on to Trove to have a look.

Figure 4: Courtesy of National Library of Australia

I couldn’t believe it, over a month since Viv sent the message on Trove and I had no idea that it was there. This was when she decided to try and track me down on Facebook and I am so thankful that she did. I jumped straight back into Messenger and so it began. An amazing wonderful dialogue of shared discoveries, (again sounds so trite but this is definitely how I feel) about our family. There were no brakes or anything engaged we just both jumped straight in. Often when someone connects with you on Ancestry, in the few experiences I have had, it can be quite impersonal and bit standoffish but with Viv there was nothing like this. Viv is a descendant of James Robertson Nicoll Brother to my 3x Great Grandfather George Robertson Nicoll of the Nicoll Manuscript fame.

James Robertson Nicoll
Figure 4a: Courtesy of Sherrel Godwin (Cousin)

How incredible is that? a picture of James. Now I’m jumping the gun a bit here but Sherrel is now another Cousin we have welcomed into the fold thanks to Viv but I will return to this story at a later stage.

Figure 5: Courtesy of Ancestry.com.au

It didn’t take too long to put Viv into the Family Tree and according to Ancestry.com.au she is officially my 5th Cousin. Viv has shared that she has been researching the Family for decades and that it was her wish to set up a Facebook page for others who might be interested in the Family and the immigration aspect. Viv did this and more Nicoll descendants have been discovered.

Figure 6: Courtesy of Facebook

Viv also shared that she was writing an academic blog on George and his Wife Sarah and their immigration journey. Unlike this blog which is at best gossip mag like and visual, (speaks volumes of the author), Viv’s is very much an academic and sociological view on the impacts of immigration through the lens of our shared ancestors George, Sarah and the rest of the Nicoll’s who followed. It is a fascinating read. Copy below and the link. Hopefully you will still be able to find this in 2169.

Figure 7: Courtesy of the University of Edinburgh

I received this message from Viv in October 2019. She and her partner Alan had booked their flights and would be in Sydney late Oct’ early November.

Figure 8: Courtesy of Messenger

We organised to meet. I sent out a message on Ancestry to see if anyone else was interested in coming along. I didn’t let Viv know just incase no one made contact. Had a few responses from people who are actually based overseas and couldn’t make it. No committment right?

I have organised a get together for Saturday 2nd November 10am at Rookwood Cemetery Cafe, right opposite the Function Center. (Just inside the Weeroona Road entrance immediately on the left on Memorial Drive)

Vivienne Cree who is a desendent of James Robertson Nicoll, George Robertson Nicoll’s Brother is visiting from Scotland and would love to meet as many of the Australian Nicoll’s and descendents as possible. Viv is writing an academic paper on Emmigration to Australia in the 19th Century focussing on the Nicoll Family’s journey. Below is the link to her blog on the subject.

You might be thinking that it was a strange place to meet, Rookwood, Australia’s oldest burial ground but Cemeteries have undergone a transformation recently. Most now have Cafe’s and function centres. The Village at Rookwood is a fantastic spot to catch up.

Figure 9: The Village Cafe Rookwood Cemetery

Jan Bond is my Maternal Aunt, Greg Nicoll is her Cousin. He is the Son of my Grandfather’s Brother Douglas Nicoll. Shirley and Lea are descendents of Annie Schofield who married Bruce Randolf Nicoll one of George and Sarah Nicoll’s Great Grandsons. They still live in Earlwood where Blink Bonnie George Wallace Nicoll’s estate was situated. Shirley has vivid memories of visiting the home as to does my Aunty Jan. Such a shame that the home is now demolished and gone.

As above with the addition of our Boys, Xander in the front and Calan on my left. Alex was the photographer for us, very sneaky at not getting into the photos.
Figure 11: Macvean Family Archives

No wait, Xander had a couple more photos from the day and had one of all of us. So will sneak another one in.

As above, with the addition of Alexandra Macvean, behind Xander’s hat and a very close family friend, Carol behind Alex with the glasses and the blonde hair.
Figure 11a: Macvean Family Archives
Back Row: Greg Nicoll, Viv Cree, Jan Bond nee Nicoll, Alan (Viv’s Partner)
Front Row: John Macvean, Shirley Stevenson, Lea Stevenson
Figure 10: Macvean Family Archives

The reunion was fantastic! That Saturday was a beautiful day and we sat and had coffee and bacon and egg rolls and chatted for about 3 hours. We worked out that it is about 118 years since the two sides of the family had seen each other. Viv shared that George and his Brother James were very close from what she had been able to uncover. It was not lost on us the significance of this reunion and how it occured by happen chance.

We then toured around to all the Nicoll graves, they had money back in their day and most have fantastic marbled monuments.

Nicoll Monuments
Figure 12: Macvean Family Archives,
Collage courtesy of, https://www.photocollage.com/

After that we went to a little Cafe on Sydney Harbor and had a late lunch and you guessed it, kept talking.

Nield Park Lunch
Figure 13: Macvean Family Archives,
Collage courtesy of, https://www.photocollage.com/

It really was an amazing experience and all of us reported back that we couldn’t believe how everyone just seemed to click.

It certainly has had an amazing effect on me, a physical connection to that history that really to that point has been a digital experience.

Viv and Alan have very kindly invited us to visit them in Scotland, which was going to happen at the end of this year but the Covid 19 pandemic has put that on hold for the moment. Now that the family has been reunited it will happen.

Cousin Viv and Alan
Figure 14: Courtesy of Viv and Alan
Collage courtesy of, https://www.photocollage.com/

This wasn’t the only family reunion 2019 offered up. Backtracking to March when I turned 50 another amazing reunion happened but this time the link was with the Macvean side of the family. This story coming in a future post.