my family history obsession

I’ve always been a little curious to know what our family history is, and have had various attempts at tracking things down at various times, but nothing really substantial; until a few weeks ago. Can’t say why it’s suddenly become a burning issue for me because I don’t know; the book I’m reading (Who Will Roll Away The Stone? by Ched Myers) talks a lot about heritage and the unconscious ways it affects us, but I came across that after this obsession began. Maybe it’s a sense of rootlessness, or a search for who I am, or to be part of a larger, ongoing narrative; maybe it’s to have a good story to tell at dinner parties. Probably elements of all of them. Whatever began or fuelled it, here’s what I’ve found:

I only researched the Moyle line, because as you can imagine, once you get past your grandparents, you’re muliplying family lines exponentially, so you could end up with (potentially) hundreds and thousands of lines of descent. So I picked one, the most obvious starting place: my name.

To cut a long story short, I managed to find enough information through my grandfather to link up with a Moyle family genealogist who has about 15 Moyle family genealogies. He found where we fit, on a tree that dates back to 1536. Pretty cool I reckon. So here’s the summary, for those who actually read the genealogies at the start of Matthew and Luke (minus the begatting):

John Moyle (b. 1536) was the father of Henry Moyle (b. 1568)
who was the father of John Moyle (b. 1594)
who was the father of John Moyle (b. 1632)
who was the father of John Moyle (b. 1661)
who was the father of Stephen Moyle (b. 1706)
who was the father of Stephen Moyle (b. 1731)
who was the father of James Moyle (b. 1763)
who was the father of William Moyle (b.1810)
who was the father of William Moyle (b. 1838)
who was the father of William James Thomas Moyle (b.1868)
who was the father of William Leslie Moyle
who was the father of Eric Leslie Moyle
who was the father of Keith Leslie Moyle
who was the father of Simon James Moyle (b. 1977). that’s me.

Yes, sorry to get all patriarchal, but the Moyle name was only passed down through the male side. I have the wives details too but that would be twice as much to type out.

William Moyle (b. 1838) was the one who came out to Australia from Cornwall with his sister Charity, during the gold rush, sometime in the late 1850’s, early 1860’s. A tin miner in Cornwall, he probably came here (along with thousands of other Cornish) to strike it rich in the goldmines. He was married in 1866 in the All Saints Anglican Church in Sandhurst (Bendigo) to Sarah Jane Barnes (also from Cornwall), and they had 11 children, two of whom died around age 2, probably from a bout of diorrhea that was killing many infants around that time.

So yesterday I made the trip to Bendigo to track down William’s grave and any others I could find. There it was, no tombstone, just a mound of shale rock and dirt with a gravesite number. Judging by his gravesite, I daresay his goldmining was not overly successful; but then, only the rich could afford headstones or an aboveground structure. Nearby were buried his two children (Emily Ethel and Thomas Burgan Moyle) who died young, both in the same grave, again with no headstone. How heartbreaking to lose your children at that age. Interestingly, they gave their next boy the same name (Thomas Burgan) as the one who had just died. I don’t know if that’s a beautiful tribute or just creepy; maybe a little of both.

Then I went to the former All Saints Anglican Church in Sandhurst where William and Sarah were married. It’s undergone a number of changes since 1866, not surprisingly (it’s now called “View Hill” and is home to a progressive Anglican congregation), but a lot of it is still intact, including the original pipe organ. It was once the crowning glory of Bendigo, the largest and most impressive church building in the district for many years. The history of it can be found here.

I feel like I’m just scratching the surface of all there is to know about these people, but I’m particularly intrigued by William and Sarah, and their motivations and experiences in starting a new life out in the colonies. This was a three to four month voyage with every chance of dying on the way, either of sickness or shipwreck, so you’d need to be sure. Not to mention leaving hundreds, maybe thousands of years of family history in Cornwall behind when it’s all you or your family has ever known, to go to a place you’ve only heard vaguely about, with little chance of ever returning. It’s these kinds of stories I would love to be able to track down, or just little facts about them or their life together. An insight into what lies beneath the fact that I am a fifth generation Australian.

But more on what that means another time; I’m still thinking about it.


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