Solving a 111 Year Old Mystery Part 1: Who are we?
This week I solved a 111 year old mystery. The mystery of the identity of my Grandfathers parents, where they were from and what happened to them. My Grandfather Harold Kent was born in Durban, South Africa on March 19, 1901. For many years all we knew about his birth was that his Mother (Ethel Margaret Cross) had been born in Liverpool, England and was the daughter of a British Army Officer (Alexander Cross) & his wife (Victoria J. Douglass), and his Father was Herbert H. Kent, the son of a Canadian timber baron from Truro, Nova Scotia. They moved from South Africa to Truro in 1906 where they had two more children (Myrtle and Edith). Herbert abandoned the family sometime around 1911 or 1912 and was never heard from again. In time we came to realize that only parts of this story were true.
Ive been working on my Family Tree for over 20 years now. My Mom was the original genealogist in the family and for whatever reason I caught the bug too. In early November 1998 I decided to research my Grandfathers maternal line to see if I could trace it back to Liverpool, England. I immediately ran into a dead-end. I couldnt find any record of an Ethel Margaret Cross, Alexander Cross or Victoria J. Douglass in Liverpool during the late 19th century. I contacted a distant relative of mine in Nova Scotia (Jane Wile) and asked her if she could check with the Colchester County Archives in Truro for information on my Great-Grandmother. What she found in the Kent file at the archives was a note from my Great Aunt Beryl (Herbert Howards half-sister) that was probably written in the 1970s. It said:
Herbert H. Kent of 670 Prince Street, Truro, was a half-brother of Mrs. Beryl (Kent) Fraser. This would make him a son of William Joyce Kent and Willena Mary Ross. He adopted a boy, Harold and gave him the Kent name.
She also found a wedding announcement for my Great-Grandmother in the newspaper archives:
KENT-COHEN Saturday, December 16, at the residence of Mrs. Beck Wills Lane, by the Rev. A.S. MacPhee M.A., B.D., Herbert H. Kent, eldest son of W.J. Kent, Truro, Nova Scotia, to Ethel M. Cohen. Truro Daily News, Thursday, January, 25, 1906
These two pieces of paper blew up the lie that we had been told for years. We discovered that Herbert Howard Kent was not my Grandfathers Father, but his stepfather. We discovered that my Great-Grandmother had married him in late 1905 nearly 5 years after my Grandfather had been born. Even more confusing the wedding announcement listed her last name as Cohen, not Cross. My Mom asked my Grandfather about this, but he claimed not to know anything about it. What I should have done at this point was call my Grandfather and talked to him myself, but three days after getting this information, my daughter Alex was diagnosed with Leukemia. By the time I returned to researching the story in 2004, my Grandfather had passed away (on February 21, 1999 at the age of 98) and so I turned to his sole surviving sister, my Great Aunt Edith, to see if she could shed some light on any of this. She refused to tell me (or anyone else in the family) any information beyond a few simple facts:
1) My Grandfather was still a Kent (even if he really wasnt one by blood).
2) My Grandmothers maiden name was definitely Cross.
3) My Grandfathers Father was a soldier during the Boer War in South Africa who had been killed.
That was it. When we pressed her for additional information, she wrote a letter to my Mother saying she was done talking about it. For the next 7 years I searched for any clue that would help me figure out the truth, but again ran into nothing but dead-ends. Then last Friday I received an email from Ancestry.com announcing that the 1940 U.S. Census had been completely indexed and was now searchable. On a whim I decided to do a search for my Mom and Dads families. My Dads (Leo A. Martini) family I found easily, but I couldnt find anything on my Moms. I did a few more searches and then at some point I decided I might as well try a free trial with Ancestry.com to see if I could find some more information about my family. Now Ive had a free account on Ancestry.com for over 10 years and Ive never really thought about getting a paid account, as I didnt think it would be worth it. For some reason I decided at that moment that I should try it out. I signed up, uploaded my GEDCOM file for my family tree and some leaves (hints) immediately came up. Some of it was stuff I already knew, but a lot of it was new information. Still no new information came up for my Great-Grandmother (Ethel Margaret Cross) or her line of the family.
After a couple of hours of checking out the leaves, I was looking at Alexander Cross record (My 2nd Great-Grandfather). Again on a whim I decided to do a search based on his name and his wifes name. The first search result to come up was a Marriage Certificate for Alexander Cross & Victoria Jane Douglass. I had found my 2nd Great-Grandparents marriage certificate, which was great, but even more amazingly it turned out they werent married in England, they had been married in Windsor, New South Wales, Australia in 1878! All of sudden I knew why I could never find them in Liverpool England. They werent English, they were Australian!
Once I attached the marriage certificate to my Great-Grandparents and added the info to their records, a flood of new leaves appeared. I found the birth records for my Great-Grandmother and her two sisters (Victoria Florence & Edith Clarabel), as well as a bunch of other family records. I discovered that my Great-Grandmother wasnt the daughter of a British Army Officer, but a direct descendant, through both of her parents, of two survivors of the Second Fleet of convicts that arrived in Australia in 1790 (Charles Cross & Rose Hannah Flood)!
Over the next couple days I filled my family tree back from Ethel Margaret Cross to Charles Cross & Rose Hannah Flood. I got in contact with my a few of my new found relatives in Australia and discovered that:
1) The Cross/Flood family was a pioneering family in the Antelope Valley area of New South Wales.
Theyve printed a registry of Cross/Flood descendants which lists over 30,000 descendants! (i.e. My family tree has just gotten a hell of a lot bigger!)
2) The ship (The Neptune) that Charles Cross & Rose Hannah Flood came to Australia on took six months to sail from England to Australia, and the conditions on board were horrendous (over 30% of the convicts on board the 2nd Fleet died in transit).
3) Charles Cross had been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stealing a silver buckle in Ilchester, England and Rose Hannah Flood had been sentenced to 7 years in prison for stealing a tablecloth and an apron in London.
They have a family reunion every 5 years in Windsor New South Wales (next one is 2015 & yes I will be there if I can).
All of this just blew me away. The first part of the family mystery had been solved! We were not British, but Australian (by way of England of course). We were not descendants of a British Army Officer, but descendants of convicts, who had been forcibly relocated to Australia under horrendous conditions after being convicted of crimes that today would probably be of little consequence (i.e. they would be misdemeanors). Was this the great family secret that my Aunt Edith refused to divulge to us? Something told me this was only part of the story.
Click here for Part 2: Shaking the Family Tree.
P.S. The original version of this post, Solving a 111 Year Old Mystery Part 1: Who are we? can be viewed on my blog - Martini with a Twist. It includes several photos of my Grandfather and his family from late 19th century Australia & early 20th century South Africa.