James Patrick Terence O’Brien

At this stage, I don’t know for sure if I’m related to James Patrick Terence O’Brien of Lismore, NSW but his story fascinates me, nonetheless. It’s a story I discovered quite accidentally, searching for family history connections using the Trove newspaper database. The many newspaper reports clearly indicate James had a really, really serious long-term problem with alcohol, which resulted in many convictions over many years. Although my interest started with his convictions in Lismore, the evidence suggests he may have also spent some time in Brisbane around the mid 1920s. I think it’s worth noting the Queensland newspaper records have him listed as “Patrick James Terence O’Brien” instead of “James Patrick Terence O’Brien”. Although it’s quite possible these were two different men, the pattern of behaviour (the arrests for alcohol-related crimes, violence, and vagrancy, and the references to numerous previous convictions) as well as the age references, suggest the two men were probably one and the same. Even if they’re not related, it’s a remarkable co-incidence that two men with similar names could have lead such similar lives. From what I can see he was probably born in the mid 1890s, though his age does go up and down a little according to the newspaper reports. According to one newspaper report, his earliest conviction for drunkeness could have been as early as 1912. It’s worth noting, however, there’s also a report in the Goulburn Herald of July 22, 1907 […]

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Jenny Kee and Me

jennykee

On the weekend I finally got around to watching the brilliant television program “Friends Of Dorothy” by William Yang. William is a really important Australian photographer whose work documents, in particular, Sydney’s gay and lesbian scene in the last forty years. I have met William on a few occasions and have concluded he’s a very lovely man. He also has a really interesting life story, having grown up in country Queensland, but also having made a life in (and important contribution to) Sydney’s gay, lesbian and queer, and photography and […]

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Now Hear This

NHT

I didn’t expect to, but ended up telling a story at the “Now Hear This” story-telling night in Sydney tonight. I told the story of my great-great grandmother who had a relationship with her first cousin (no, I don’t have two heads). After the birth of their fourth child together, he married someone else and had four more children. My great-great grandmother then went on to live a somewhat shambolic life, it seems, until she ended her life in the “destitute women’s asylum” in Sydney, and was buried in a […]

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Searching for Ellen

Liverpool Cemetery

In stark contrast to some of the impressive mausolea at Liverpool Cemetery (in Sydney’s west), my great-great grandmother, Ellen Lang is buried there in an unmarked “pauper’s grave” (as they were called then). She died 15 years before I was even born, so I don’t know very much about her. I don’t even have a photograph of her. But her life story has fascinated me for a number of years, and so for at least ten or fifteen years now, I’ve been “Searching For Ellen”. One of the most significant […]

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Family History

I was looking tonight at a photograph of me and my dad. By the look of things I’m less than twelve months old, so it was probably taken sometimes towards the end of 1966. Dad’s wearing a cardigan, so it was probably the winter of that year. As I looked at the photograph, I suddenly realised how close I am now to being the age my dad was in the photograph. He was born in September 1917, so he would have been about forty-nine years old at the time. I still have a couple of years before I catch up with him, but it was still interesting to look closely at the photograph and think about stuff. He still had a fair bit of hair, whereas I pretty much lost most of mine about ten years ago. Is that a pen in his top pocket? Yeah, I think so, as I always remember my dad having a pen and often his glasses case in his top pocket. He’s not wearing glasses. Are they jeans he’s wearing? What must it have been like to have been close to fifty years old and suddenly find yourself with a young child to raise? Researching my own family history is something which continues to fascinate me. There are so many amazing stories within a family, especially mine. You learn so much more about the motivations of the people who you’ve grown up with, when […]

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Cousin Kerry

Kerry O'Brien

“Who would imagine you’d get so emotional about someone from 160 years ago?” Kerry O’Brien observed on tonight’s edition of “Who Do You Think You Are?” on SBS TV. The ABC-TV presenter was a little bit teary when reflecting on the plight of his ancestors. I completely understand what he was talking about, as I’ve often felt that way as I’ve researched my family history and have learned about ancestors I’ve never known. The story that tears me up, every time, is the story of Ellen Laing. She was my […]

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Appin Bi-Centenary

Celebrations for the 200th Anniversary of Appin

“I have a connection to the pub across the road” I told the woman who was looking after things at St Bede’s Catholic Church in Appin today. “Two of my ancestors ran the pub back in the 1840s”, I told her, referring to William Rixon and Ann Hoare. “There was a close connection between the church and the pub” she told me, pointing to the family, the Carolls who owned the pub and who ran it as a guest and boarding house, who were buried in the graveyard. “The sisters […]

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