Tag Archives: genealogy

Caught In The Never-Ending O’Sullivan Maze

Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself caught in the ultimate avoidance device -the Never-ending O’Sullivan Maze.

Well, you might ask where and what on earth this is. If you’re looking for a physical address, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Hang on. There are actually physical addresses after all, but what this maze is referring to is nutting out my O’Sullivan family history and entering all these people into an online community at Wikitree. This is a free online database, which allows me to document and share my research and connect up with cousins without feeding the Ancestry machine. I am a great fan of the “free economy”.

Before I get stuck into the whys of the O’Sullivan Maze, I thought I’d launch off with the whats (or is it the whos?) Actually, it is a who. Who were the O’Sullivans? Next question: why do they matter?

Some would argue that they’re rather random and remote ancestors of mine. Although I don’t mention it very often on the blog, my surname is Curtin, although I’m actually known more by my married name, although I’ve only half-changed the legal documentation after 20 years of marriage. To reach the O’Sullivans, we need to go via the Curtins.

James Curtin, son of John Curtin and Bridget O’Sullivan with his wife, Charlotte Merritt

The story begins with John Curtin, who was my first Curtin ancestor to arrive in Australia. He was baptized on the 1st July, 1831 in the Parish of St Finbarr’s, City of Cork County Cork, the fourth child of Thomas Curtin a stevedore on Cork Harbour and Mary Scannell. On the 5th December, 1853 he sailed out of Liverpool as an Able Seaman on board The Scotia, and arrived in Sydney on the 2nd April, 1854.

On 5th September, 1855 John Curtin married Bridget O’Sullivan at the more humble, original St Mary’s Cathedral, Sydney . John was aged 22 and Bridget was around 19 years old.

Bridget O’Sullivan was born around January, 1834 in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland to Daniel O’Sullivan and Mary Egan. They were living at Jones Lane, Mallow when she was baptised on the 20th January, 1834 by Father DM Collins who went on to become part of a delegation of Irish priests to lobby the English government for support during An Gorta Mor or the Great Hunger. Her sponsors were Edward Foley and Johanna Leary. Bridget had two younger sisters, Catherine and Mary Ann. The O’Sullivans sailed out of Plymouth on the 6th July, 1851 arriving in Sydney  on the 8th October, 1851. Shipping records state Daniel O’Sullivan’s occupation as Farmer’s Labourer and Mary Ann was a dairywoman. Bridget was 15 years old. She could read and write and worked as a General Servant.

The O’Sullivans didn’t just come out to Australia because they had nothing better to do. Rather, there were probably two forces at work. Firstly, there was the An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger or “Irish Famine”) 1845-1852, and the discovery of gold at Bathurst, NSW on the 12th February, 1851. When you put those two forces together, it was a no brainer. Moreover, Daniel’s brother David O’Sullivan, and Mary’s brother, Denis Egan, were already out here, and had paved the way.

Irish Signs at the Porterhouse Pub, Surry Hills.

That was how the O’Sullivan maze through Sydney’s Surry Hills and Paddington began. Around 1890, Daniel O’Sullivan’s brother, Denis and his wife Hanorah Cahill arrived in Sydney with their four children and youngest son, John Paul, was born in Sydney after they’d arrived. Their daughter Catherine Agatha married Thomas Edward Augustine Plasto on the 24th May, 1879 Sacred Heart Church, Randwick. They had six children before she died on the 25th November, 1891 and her husband went on to have an additional eleven children with his second wife. Fortunately, however, they’re not part of this maze, and the Plasto children were just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, before Denis and his family arrived on the scene, we had Bridget who had married John Curtin, and they had nine children. Before you start thinking they bred like rabbits populating Surry Hills, Paddington and beyond; three of their children died as infants.

Meanwhile, Bridget had her two sisters living nearby and I guess this is where I’m heading with this story…a story of three Irish sisters arriving in Surry Hills and the various ups and downs they and their descendants experienced. However, before I can really delve too much into the story, there’s the scaffolding of the actual family history and how these Irish families in Surry Hills and Paddington intermingled both genetically in families and as community. That’s what mathematicians refer to as the “working out”. You always need to be able to show your working out (if even if it’s as tedious and boring as those genealogical passages in the Bible.) You can’t just go from A to Z without being able to show how you got there.

Bridget Curtin’s sister, Catherine Murphy and husband Thomas had a grocery store at 410 Crown Street, Surry Hills. She did in 1895 and this photo was taken a block away on the corner of Fitzroy and Bourke Streets in the 1930’s. However, I thought it made a good parallel and I’m sure this woman, like Catherine Murphy, would’ve had her finger on the pulse and known what’s what in the community.

I have no sisters. I don’t have any idea of what it is to have a sister, and I’m barely in touch with my brother. I don’t want to idealise these relationships or create a closeness that wasn’t there. After all, perhaps these sisters had some intractable falling out and while they almost lived on opposite street corners, perhaps the emotional distance was an impenetrable void.

Charlotte Curtin and sons outside their grocery store on Cleveland Street.

That’s the trouble with writing non-fiction especially using real people with real names. Ideally, you somehow manage to walk in their shoes rather than turning them into a reproduction of yourself. Placing your stamp on their forehead. That is something I take rather seriously, and to be honest my efforts to reach the truth more often than not prevents me from writing anything at all.

My grandfather “Robbie”” and brother “Eddie”. Their mother’s handwriting was on the back of the photo.

Anyway, that’s not what I’m doing now. I’m transferring my who begat whom into this Wiki genealogy thing online. I don’t know why I started doing this. Well, I sort of do. I was talking to a friend and discovered a mutual connection via the Spora family and I was trying to nut it out. Bridget O’Sullivan’s niece, Johanna Maria Murphy, had married Gaetana “Frank” Spora and they’d had eight children. Three of their sons headed out to Rylstone near Orange taking the family out West. It’s interesting to see where all these various branches of our family tree headed of to.

Bert Curtin (left), and son Bob (my grandfather)

As it turns out, our family also sounds like a roll call of Irish Australia: Curtin, O’Sullivan, McNamara, Murphy, Donovan, Maguire, Quealy, O’Neil. They lived on Crown, Fitzroy, Albion, Arthur, Campbell and Ann Streets Surry Hills and also in Paddington and Woollahra. My grandparents made the radical move of crossing over the Sydney Habour Bridge after they got married in 1940. They starting out in Mosman, and settled in Lindfield, a suburb which came to represent their house within the family. My father and most of his siblings married outside the Irish-Catholic fraternity, which could well be a good thing. I married Geoff from Tasmania, and even then my kids managed to gain an additional O’Sullivan to add to two from me. I am yet to find out if mine are related. However, the Great Great Grandfather from West Maitland was actually born in Albion Street Surry Hills and his mother was Mary Sullivan, daughter of John Sullivan and Mary Bourke also of Cork. Small world…!

Anyway, I blame the mad lunatic in me who is in self-imposed lockdown trying to avoid the covid menace for all of this. The official stats clocked up to a massive 45,098 cases today and the graph just keeps soaring straight up. It’s covid soup out there and our family is madly trying to prepare for the likelihood that someone is going to bring Covid home, and how we’re going to manage that seeming inevitability. I spent a few hours on Friday afternoon trying to access RATs (Rapid Antigen Tests). There’s been no mention ANYWHERE about making them available for people with disabilities and chronic health conditions. Trust me. I’ve looked. It’s like we don’t exist. Physically I can’t queue for half an hour let alone 4-5 hours, and if I don’t have it, I don’t want to catch it while I’m waiting either. We can’t take our kids to be tested either. Indeed, that is even more of a no-no. Perhaps, they’ll have to walk. Who knows? I could be reading books, going for walks, baking, playing my violin and yet for some mad reason, I started working on this. The only explanation I can come up with is escape. Pure escape. No one would ever think to find me here – corona virus included.

Do you have Irish heritage? Or perhaps you’re Irish yourself? Maybe you have no Irish blood whatsoever, but you’d still like to have a chat. You’re all welcome. The cricket is on the TV but I’m ignoring that, and I can offer you a cup of tea, some leftover gingerbread house, but it’s a bit more difficult to offer you a seat on the couch.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Weekend Coffee Share 7th January, 2018

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share & A Belated Happy New Year!

Today, I’m not even going to ask if you’d like a glass of water. You need it. While the official temperature outside is 35°C /95°F, I swear they’re taking the temperature in the shade because it’s a furnace outside and our poor air-conditioner is sounding like a train struggling to cross Mt Everest…”I think I can…I know I can’t!”

How was your week? I hope you’ve had a good one and a great start to the New Year.

My week could best be described as “The Cough”. I don’t know what possessed The Cough to use my lungs as a BnB, but surely there’s somebody closer to the beach who could have provided ocean views? Our place is a few blocks back. An easy stroll. That said, the cough is so virulent it could reach the beach from our place in an instant. BTW, I”m not exactly sure what’s causing The Cough. I took some precautionary antibiotics, but I have fibrosis in my lungs, a “complication” from the auto-immune disease. I only have 60% lung capacity as a rule so the slightest irritation to the lungs, is more noticeable and potentially serious. meanwhile, the dogs are complaining because I’m a better barker. I’m also thinking the antiobiotics might’ve upset the balance in my stomach and the cough is more about heartburn.

Anyway, enough about the Cough. Coughs are like serial killers. They’re publicity craving sponges, and you don’t want to fuel their narcissistic demands.

Just before Christmas, Geoff and the kids drove up to Queensland for a family wedding and I stayed at home to tend to the coughs and mind the dogs. It was the first time since we’ve been dating that he’s visited his family up North without me, and as much as I wished I’d been there, I also think it was good for them to spend time with Geoff’s people without me there as a distraction for a change.

As a special treat, Geoff took the kids to  Warner Bros Movie World on the Gold Coast with their cousins. Apparently, it’s the Warner Bros version of Disneyland. Not having been there, I’m harranging the rest of the family for details. They, on the other hand, are more interested in playing Minecraft. Don’t they understand that it’s feeding time at the blog, and that they have a moral and social obligation to cough up! Not ust to make their mother happy, but also to promote Australia and encourage more visitors.  Obviously, not. Yet, after much heavy-handling, I did manage to extract a few spartan details about riding the Scooby’s Spooky Rollercoaster. They were telling me about sharp twists and turns, which would have you holding onto onto your false teeth. Then, they tell me about speeding down a hill backwards,  which would have my own teeth falling out. It took quite a lot of prodding, to actually find out that the Spooky Rollercoaster is an indoor ride, and is actually in the dark. Yikes! However, theat was not enough to deter Geoff and our son from going on the DC Rivals Hypercoaster. That either takes courage or insanity and both could apply here.

They also went to the Macadamia Castle at Knockrow, located in the hinterland behind Byron Bay. I just happened to call them while they were there feasting on pancakes at the cafe. I had a bit of a moment then, because we usually go there as a family and we’ve been taking the kids there for around ten years. Some years when we’ve had a few trips up, we’ve gotten to know the keepers and had such a personal experience of the place. Even though the kids are getting older, they’re not too older for the Castle and still loved interacting with the animals.

Speaking of animals, I did hear that they had a few close encounters with snakes at the farm. I prefer not to think about that, although while I’m there I try to remember to watch where I’m walking. Snakes are far from tourist hype in these parts and not uncommon.

Without the family at home and having a break from all our activities, I’ve been amazed at how much I’ve got done at home. While it’s very boring to say you spent the Christmas holidays cleaning the house when you could be at the beach, starting a new year has inspired, dare I say driven me, to sort out the accumulating piles around the house and return to bare earth. With the rest of the family out of harm’s way, I booked a council clean-up and 6 bags of rubbish went along with quite a stash of miscellania. It felt so good. Yet, it was only the beginning.

However, my time alone at home wasn’t all work. I also got stuck into some reading. I’ve been reading a gripping trilogy by Brendan Graham, who also wrote the lyrics for You Raise Me Up. I’d met Graham at the Irish Famine Commemoration Day in Sydney and he came across as a warm, gentle man. Through his books, I’ve appreciated that he’s also a thinker. A man who asks questions and doesn’t just accept the status quo, which struck a chord with me. If you are a writer interested in the source of creative inspiration, I recommend you read this interview.

messy

I also managed to finish Tim Harford’s: Messy: How to be Creative & Resilient in a Tidy-Minded World. I’m actually disgusted with myself that it’s taken me so long to finish what I consider to be one of the best and most useful books I’ve ever read. Somehow, I stopped with about 30 pages to go and didn’t get back to it. Part of the reason, is that I haven’t caught the train for awhile, and that’s my preferred reading location. Along with that, there’s also been all the end of year stuff, which has kept me right away from my teetering book pile in general.

Lastly, I’ve started reading Harry Potter. My daughter’s been badgering me to read Harry Potter for the last month and I keep promising and yet haven’t managed to open the cover. I’m not sure why I’ve been resisting Harry Potter all this time. When it first came out, there was very strong opposition in some Christian circles and that definnitely played a part. In that regard, reading Harry Potter felt tabou, very much like reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover back in the day. However, as a writer, it’s also important to read and analyze very successful literature to either accept or reject its influence in my own writing. I also wasn’t sure that I’d like Harry Potter and reading it strangely felt like a chore. I don’t know why because millions upon millions of readers have loved it. Yet, I’m not sure that I would necessarily relate to all these millions of readers and clearly, they are not me. I have my own opinions, likes and dislikes and I’m anything but a conformist or sheep. As the blog title states: “I’m beyond the flow.”

Harry Potter is quite different to what I’d expected with complex characterization and moves at a delightful, fast-pace where you’re constantly turning pages and looking forward to the next one. What I haven’t picked up through my casual glances at the movie, was that Harry spent his early childhood as the bullied underdog, living with his aunt, uncle and horrid cousin, when within Hogwarts circle, he was revered as a a hero. This, at least to me, adds quite an interesting dimension to the plot. Ramps it up. I guess this plot, or what I’ve uncovered of it so far, is about Harry finding himself, when everyone around him already knows. That is intriguing because most of us would like to think we know ourselves better than other people, but i guess that isn’t always the case.

Given the extreme heat and the cough, I’ve also been getting stuck into my research. This moves around a bit, but I’ve made great headway. While I’m still researching the Irish Famine Orphan Girls from the Midleton Workhouse who came out to Australia, I ended up revisiting the McNamara’s from County Clare and moving back onto the Johnston’s. The Johnstons have been a gripping area of research. My ancestors on that front were whiskey distillers on the island of Islay, Scotland and owned Tallant Distillery. The brother and his son, Donald and Alexander Johnston, went on to found Laphroaig Distillery. I’ve never been to Islay, but I did find a fantastic blog which has almost taken me there and I’m grateful for that. I we’re always saying it’s a small world, but it’s not so small when you’re trying to visit somewhere on the other side of the globe and trying to finance it.

By the way, while we’ve been chatting, the temperature outside has soared. The Ashes Cricket test is on TV and they’re saying it’s now 41°C/ 106°F in the shade and 50°C on the field and the pitch temp is 55°C. Personally, I reckon the cricket should be called off in weather like this, but it appears the cricketers are made of tougher stuff than I. (Humph! You could say that. If a red cricket ball was heading my direction, I’d duck. There’s now way I’d even think about catching any cricket ball, let alone one moving that fast. BTW, the Aussies are winning but it looks like England is trying to stretch it out for a draw.

That’s the full extent of my knowledge of the cricket.

Meanwhile, the dogs are all enjoying the air-conditioning and snoring away. We’ve ramped their training up a notch now that Geoff and the kids are home and have been training them on the lead. Thy need to be able to walk on a loose lead without using interventions like a Halti collar which has been our go to in the past. Perhaps I’m deluded, but I’m thinking we can harness puppy power and produce a pair of easy walkers.

Lastly, I know we don’t usually advertise the unwanted critters we find lurking in our homes, but last night Geoff finally caught the rat which has managed to elude multiple traps and three dogs. Lady’s been pretty keen to hunt it down, but unfortunately couldn’t climb up the bookshelf. The pups ran away and hid and I’m not going to dob myself in on that front. Dealing with the semi-dead rat was definitely a “Geoff job”.

Well, that’s enough from me for now. How was your week? I’d love to hear from you!

This has been another Weekend Coffee Share. Eclectic Alli is hosting a coffee share.  This week’s share is here. and the link up is here. Come on and join in!  We’d love to have you along!

xx Rowena

PS: I just came across this very funny post about the Great Australian Emu War: https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/1699685/posts/1725886161