Tag Archives: Genealogy

Jenny Kee and Me


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 arts communities.

The program told me a lot more about William’s life than I’d previously known, including mention of his friendship with the Australian designer, Jenny Kee who is famous for her very colourful outfits.

When Jenny Kee’s name and photograph were featured in the program I had a sudden flashback, remembering that a distant family member had once remarked “you know Jenny Kee is part of our family”. At the time it was one of those stories where I thought “how interesting” but never thought much further of it. But on hearing her name again, I decided I would dig a little deeper, to see if there really was a connection or if it was just “one of those stories”.

It didn’t take long for me to find out Jenny Kee’s parents were William Ah Kee and Enid Olive Marchionni. From there, it was fairly simple to establish – thanks to Google – Enid’s parents were Olive Annie Victoria Love and Cesare Giovanni Marchionni. A further generation back and it was also easy to establish Olive Annie Victoria Love’s parents were Joseph Francis Love and Margaret Rebecca Denny. Joseph was the son of John Love and Ellen Sullivan. John was a son of Joseph Lester Love.

And so it goes… back to our common ancestors John and Martha Love, who came to Australia in 1791.

For all of the effort involved, it would have been much simpler if I’d simply emailed Lyle and Margaret Cooper who organised the Love Family Reunion of 2011, and who published their wonderful book about the Love Family in Australia. A quick email to them and I was able to establish and confirm the connection

The book contains the information I had been seeking with a couple of notable quotes…

  • Olive Annie Victoria Love fourth child of Joseph and Margaret Love (nee Denny) born Wyndham on 12/3/1884 and died Sydney on 7/9/1955. She married Cesare Giovanni Marchionni in Sydney on 18/5/1911. Cesare was a cook and died Sydney in 1959, son of Giovanni Maria and Elizabeth Marchionni. (some of the offspring go under the name Marchioni). Cesare came from Sondrio, Italy near the Swiss Alps. Jenny Kee his granddaughter recalls in her book ‘A Big Life’ and an interview recorded for the National Museum of Australia in 2007 the following: ‘He left home when he was 13 and went to Paris and worked as a chef . . . He worked on boats around the world and sailed into Sydney Harbour in November 1910 where he met Olive Love. Then their daughter, my mum, married a Chinaman! Growing up Enid Olive used to be called a ‘dago’ and when she complained to her mother she would say ‘Go and tell them their Pope is a dago too’.
  • Enid Olive Marchionni a hairdresser born c.1917 and died Sydney on 28/12/2001. She married William Ah Kee in Sydney in 1945 and had three children. Mixed marriages were frowned upon in those days and her parents were very unhappy with the union.
  • Jennifer (Jenny) Margaret Kee born Sydney in 1947 and known for her famous designer clothes and knitwear. She and Michael Ramsden had one daughter. Jenny and Grace survived the Granville train disaster in 1977.

  • For more information, there’s a book called “A Family began with Love”. For more details, contact Lyle & Margaret Cooper, 11 Kernel Street, The Gap Qld 4061 Ph: 07 33122365 0427 122440 landmdcooper@optusnet.com.au

    Despite our common ancestry, Jenny has become a great Australian fashion designer, and I (obviously) have absolutely no fashion sense at all…

    Now Hear This


    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 “pauper’s grave” at Liverpool Cemetery. She died of heart disease, though you might say she also died of a broken heart. What would it have been like to have had a long-term relationship with your first cousin, only to see him leave and form a new family in another state? We’ve had some contact with the “other family” and they had no idea we existed. In exchanging photographs, it’s pretty clear we are related as we look like each other very much.

    The story-telling night was, as usual, handled beautifully by Melanie Tait and will be heard sometime soon on the ABC ‘s RN.

    Searching for Ellen

    Liverpool Cemetery
    Liverpool Cemetery

    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 things you need to know is that she had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon, and they are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four. But eighteen months after the birth of their fourth child, William went off and married another woman, moved interstate, and had four more children. What happened in the intervening period is unclear, though it appears Ellen may have raised the children with the support of her extended family in the area around Eden, Bombala, Towamba and Rockton in Southern NSW.

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Liverpool Cemetery

    Even though she never married William, throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang. Ellen also appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral rolls record her living in places such Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times. There is no evidence that she ever married, spending most of her adult life in the company of her daughter, Ruby, who was known in my family as Molly.

    Ellen appears to have spent the last few months of her life at Newington State Hospital, which NSW State Records notes in these terms…

    Although the residents of Newington Asylum were predominantly elderly, Newington and the other Government Asylums also assumed the functions of hospitals for the “ordinary pauper population” and for those with incurable conditions, or who required convalescent care, at one third of the cost to the Government compared to Hospital treatment.

    Ellen died on June 16, 1950 (1950/009885) and was buried in a “paupers grave” in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery. The death record notes she suffered with Chronic Myocarditis (an inflammation or degeneration of the heart muscle) and Rhuematoid Arthritis.

    Death certificate of Ellen Laing (Lang), Sydney 1950

    Not just physically, but emotionally, you have to wonder if she died from a broken heart? How could you have four children with a man (your first cousin), only to see him leave, move to another state, and have another family? There are so many questions I have about this relationship to which I’ll probably never know the answers. It’s all in the realm of long-lost verbal history now I suspect. When contact was made with the “other family” a few years ago, they were genuinely shocked, with no idea “our family” existed.

    For many years, fellow researcher, Kerrie, and I searched in vain for details of Ellen’s death. It was complicated by the fact she used so many different names, and spelling variations of her name throughout her life. But a few years ago I searched around and found her death certificate. Even there, you have to wonder if the exact details of her life and death weren’t deliberately given to mislead. Or maybe her children just didn’t know because she didn’t talk about it?

    So for a few years now I’ve known about the grave, but always thought Liverpool was such a long way to travel to visit. As I was in the area today, though, I decided I’d make an effort. Even though I had the details of where she was buried – Presbyterian Section 16 G K – it wasn’t nearly so straightforward trying to find an unmarked grave in a cemetery where so much has happened since 1950. Unfortunately the layout of the cemetery made it difficult today without someone with specialist knowledge of the layout, and sadly, the office there only operates Monday to Friday. I chatted on the phone to the local historical society, and they were very helpful, but I think I need to do some more solid research for the next time in my efforts to locate her final resting place.

    Back in 1950, Liverpool was a sleepy little place a long way from the heart of Sydney. I can imagine the cemetery was tiny then with literally only dozens of graves. In stark contrast to the sheer size of the cemetery and the impressive mausolea now found there, you might imagine Liverpool Cemetery was just the place where someone with Ellen’s life story might have found a final resting place – in a pauper’s grave, a long way out of the public eye.

    Family History

    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

    Me and my dad, probably some time in 1966.

    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 you look into their history. “Ah so that’s why so and so did that?”, I’ll often conclude.

    After a bit of a break, I’m back writing and researching at the moment. I’ve recently had some interesting correspondence, and there’s nothing like a bit of feedback to make you go back and look at what you’ve written, and realise it’s time for a re-write, and time to more accurately reference and record the research you’ve done.

    I’ve also begun research on some ancestors I haven’t previously taken much of an interest in. At the beginning it can be a slow, painful process, especially when your ancestors weren’t all that famous, often couldn’t read and write, and so the “public record” about them is often a little thin. Through this blog and through the research I’m doing now, I’m hoping it won’t be so difficult for people in the future. Although it’s pretty unlikely I’ll be like my dad and finding myself with a young child to raise over the next few years, I’m hoping a little of me will live on in the research I’m doing now.

    These are the areas of research I’m interested in.

    Cousin Kerry

    Kerry O'Brien
    Kerry O'Brien

    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 great-grandmother, who was born in the small community of Towamba, not far from Eden on the NSW South Coast. Ellen had a relationship with, but never married, her first cousin, William Rixon. Willliam was born 1868 at Towamba (1868/902), the eldest son of Thomas Rixon and Jane Laing. They are documented to have had at least two children together, more likely four. Despite the relationship, on December 31, 1902, eighteen months after the birth of William Arthur (known as Barney), William Rixon married another woman, Bertha Mary Ramsay at Bombala Church of England (1047/1902). Throughout her life, Ellen continued to use the name Rixon, although her death certificate refers to her as Ellen Lang. Ellen appears to have lived a somewhat mobile lifestyle, as the electoral roles record her living in Bombala, Sydney, Lismore and Brisbane at various times. Ellen appears to have spent the last months of her life at Newintong State Hospital, which NSW State Records notes in these terms…

    Although the residents of Newington Asylum were predominantly elderly, Newington and the other Government Asylums also assumed the functions of hospitals for the “ordinary pauper population” and for those with incurable conditions, or who required convalescent care, at one third of the cost to the Government compared to Hospital treatment.

    Ellen died on June 16, 1950 (1950/009885) and was buried in a paupers grave in the Presbyterian section of Liverpool Cemetery. I never knew Ellen (as she died 15 years before I was born), but it’s certain to me her life experience influenced many of the decisions made my her children and grand children, and hence me.

    Having worked for the ABC for many years, and having been asked on far too many occasions, “Are you related to Kerry O’Brien?”, of course I had to watch tonight’s program. The short answer to the question was always “I have no idea. It’s a pretty common name”. After watching tonight’s show, the short answer I am no confident is “No”. Even though O’Brien is an extremely common name, it would appear our ancestors come from quite distinctly different counties. Kerry’s ancestry is from County Clare on the West Coast, whereas my O’Brien ancestry is from County Meath, not far from Dublin. His ancestors arrived about ten years earlier than mine. They appear to have been fairly poor, whereas my appear to have been reasonably wealthy. His ancestors settled in Queensland. Although mine had intended to settle on the Darling Downs, they ended up on the NSW South Coast.

    Joe O'Brien

    Joe O'Brien

    But there is a Queensland connection. Patrick O’Brien, the son of James O’Brien and Mary Smith who came to Australia in 1864, moved to Queensland and had a career as a horse trainer in the area around Woodford, north of Brisbane. There was also a connection in that both Kerry and I have ancestors who were on the Berry Estate in the Shoalhaven. But aside from that, there’s no apparent connection.

    Even though we’re not related, it was a fascinating program to watch, and I felt it was especially interesting to watch Kerry, as someone who has spent his life as a journalist, bring a journalist’s eye to the primary documentation and interpretation presented on the program. In contrast to some of the other people they’ve featured who just say “wow”, Kerry’s eye was more critical, though not any less passionate.

    Now, having scratched Kerry off the list of distant relatives, my attention now turns to potential cousin Joe O’Brien from ABC News 24 :)

    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 also used to have rooms there”, she added.

    With a strong and long-term interest in family history, I hopped on a train early this morning and made my way to the 200th Anniversary Celebrations for Appin, located about 15km from Campbelltown in Sydney’s West. My ancestral connection to Appin is pretty much confined to the period when they ran The Union Revived. Their main connection was with Campbelltown itself, which is where William is buried, along with his mother, in the graveyard of the Anglican Church. I visited their graves also today, for the first time. Meanwhile, Ann went on to marry a few more times, moved closer to the city, and was finally burried under the name Ann Phibbs at Waverley Cemetery. I visited her grave a few months ago.

    After a look around the St Bede’s Cemetery, I made my way down the street to watch the street parade. Mostly, the parade was made up of school groups, sports teams, organisations like the Rural Fire Service and pipe bands. I couldn’t believe there could be that many bagpipes in one parade, but then I guess, the area is called The Southern Highlands and the main town is Campbelltown. My favourites were a young girl, maybe five years old, who was impressively beating her drum in time, and seeing a 16 year old emo girl as part of one of the bands. Later I saw an emo boy dressed up in colonial gear which also gave me a bit of a giggle.

    Naturally enough, there were art displays, Aboriginal cultural displays, sausage sizzles, jumping castles, and of course gözleme.

    But for me, the most interesting thing was going to see the pub that was once run by some of my ancestors. The building is in a very poor state of repair now. There were no signs to say you couldn’t enter the building, so I just did. But as I walked through I needed to be particularly careful, as I discovered the floor could give way with one too heavy foot-step. “It’s a real shame it’s in such a poor state of repair”, a woman who was doing the same said to me as we passed each other.

    I picked up a book about the town which mentions William Rixon’s brief period at the pub, and I placed an order for another book commemorating the anniversary.

    And that cleaned me out of my planned spending money for the day which became a bit of a problem as I went to use the ATM at the servo. “It’s empty”, I told the bloke behind the counter. “Yeah, it’s been flat out since five o’clock this morning”, he told me. I reckon it was one of the busiest days in the history of Appin.

    Common Ancestry

    2011 Love Family Reunion at Rockhampton
    2011 Love Family Reunion at Rockhampton

    2011 Love Family Reunion at Rockhampton

    If you look closely at the faces of the people in this photograph, there’s bound to be someone who looks a bit like me. All of these people and I have the same ancestry: a couple called John and Elizabeth Love who came to Australia in 1792.

    John Love, his wife Martha, and his daughter Elizabeth came to Australia on the “Matilda” which departed from Portsmouth, England on March 27, 1791. He was a member of the newly formed NSW Corps, whose role was to supervise convicts. Although I’ve yet to determine what happened, it’s said “an incident occurred” on April 30, 1791 on the ship which resulted in Love being demoted. Part of the Third Fleet, the ship arrived in Sydney on August 1, 1791.

    Although probably desperately poor in England, the personal prosperity of the Love family improved significantly during their first few years in Australia. On February 20, 1794, Love was granted thirty acres of land at “The Ponds”, and on March 14, 1795, a further ninety acres of prime land at “The Field Of Mars”. The land was in the modern day suburb of Eastwood, with the historic “Eastwood House” now located on the land given to him. He later leased that land at “The Field Of Mars” to Captain William Kent, nephew of Governor Hunter. By 1805, the records indicate Love had purchased a further fifty acres of land at Seymour Redbank and employed three men. On August 25, 1812, Love was granted a further forty-five acres of land at Upper Minto on the Nepean River, adjoining the farm of his son-in-law, John Hoare.

    Despite this apparent prosperity, his career in the NSW Corps was, at best, a mixed affair.

    You can read more about the family story here.

    Tonight I received via email some photograhps of the Love Family and Descendants Reunion held last weekend at the Keppel/Capricorn Rooms, Frenchville Sports Club. 105 Clifton Street, NORTH ROCKHAMPTON.

    A book on the Love Family Descendants and Associated Families “A Family began with Love” was also launched and became available for sale at $45 per copy.

    For more details, contact Lyle & Margaret Cooper, 11 Kernel Street, The Gap Qld 4061 Ph: 07 33122365 0427 122440 landmdcooper@optusnet.com.au

    Thanks to Lyle and Margaret, here are some more photographs from the day.

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