Sunday, October 29, 2006

Making a Wood, splinter by splinter

For two years I've been returning to the family of John Wood. He is one of two Scottish ancestors who packed up their families and moved to Australia during the 1850s, possibly drawn by the Victorian gold rush. Those families intermarried, finally producing the Kerr line that spawned my swimming great-grandmother Beatrice. Working out all those details was quite a challenge, but John himself had been proving quite resistant to unearthing of his birth details.

All I had to go off was the 1841 and 1851 Scottish census records, and references to him on the various birth and death records of his wife and children. I was still trying to pin down his death record from Victoria - some time between arriving in October 1852, and his widow's death in 1870.

His wife was born in the border town of Berwick-on-Tweed, which is supposedly part of Great Britain, but not belonging to either Scotland or England. A nightmare when you're searching for records. His children were all born between Edinburgh and St Andrews in Fife, but they generally based themselves around St Cuthberts parish.

The 1841 census lists him as a male servant, but he was not with his family on the night of the 1851 census. I decided to tidy up all the online records I had searched through, and figure out what gaps had not been explored. From there I went back to the Scotlands People website and looked for him on that census night. I whittled down all the John Woods in his age bracket to the handful in St Cuthberts parish. The first that I checked looked to be the match I needed (I checked the others and disqualified them). No, this one showed him with correct age, listed as a butler ... and then under the birthplace, the two words pictured below.

After looking over the scrawl across the other census records on the page, and consulting a list of Scottish counties, the only one that fitted the first word was Roxburghshire. The next word would be the parish, and that list yielded Stichil/Stichill/Stichel - a border parish to the west of Coldstream. Geographically this was quite sensible, given that his wife Elizabeth Henderson came from nearby border territory.

The next step was to plug birthplace and dates into the Scotlands People search engine ...turning up only one John Wood born in that parish in that decade. That yielded his birthdate in December 1802, the names of his parents and at least one sister.

Finally, with some more aid from Tony on the Genes Reunited site, who supplied some extra details to whittle down the John Woods who died in Victoria, I found that one, listed as a waiter in Geelong (appropriate enough for an ex-butler living in a goldrush town ) with a perfect match for age died in August 1853, which would be less than a year after his moving to Australia. There's no family details on the death certificate, so it's still a pending assignation of identity.

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