Grahame Thom’s interest in family history

The following Member’s Profile was published in Descent, the Journal of the Society of Genealogist in June 2010 – Volume 40, Part 2, pages 96-97.

Grahame Thom (Member)

My interest in genealogy started in 1968 when I read an article in an issue of the Reader’s Digest Magazine about researching your family history. I realised that I knew nothing about my ancestors other than my parents and grandparents. I first questioned my parents and my only living grandparent. My dad was not interested in the past. At the time I was living in Canberra and all my relatives lived in Sydney.

I then obtained my birth certificate (Sydney 1940) and not long after purchased the Society’s booklet Compiling Your Family History. This was the start to a life long interest that continues today. I joined the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra in 1972, then the Society of Australian Genealogists in 1974. I now know that I am 51.5% English, 28.1% Scottish, 18.8% Irish and 1.6% Welsh.

One of my achievements is knowing the names of all the ships on which my 27 ancestors came to Australia during the period 1790 to 1883. I have had many successes and still have some brick walls I would like to solve. My favourite ancestor is probably Obadiah Ikin, a NSW Corps sergeant who arrived with his family on the ship Surprize in 1790. I have managed to get one line back to the 10th century, the Ashbys, though without sufficient proof.

One of the pleasures of research is breaking down the brick walls. My grandmother, Adeline Margaret Bullivant was born on 20 July 1890 in Sydney. Her mother, Adeline Margaret Bullivant never married. Grandma’s birth, two marriage and death certificates do not state her father’s name, much to my disappointment. I thought this meant one/eighth of my tree would be blank as it appeared there were no other avenues to find out my great grandfather’s name.

One day in 1973 I, together with a Sydney cousin, went to the Mitchell Library to research our common Lane ancestors of Windsor. One of the sources we asked for was some bound birth, death and marriage registers of the Methodist Church in NSW. In order to further appreciate this story I should explain that these large volumes were not indexed by circuit (similar to a parish). This meant one simply took “pot luck” in choosing which volumes to check. Also there was no logic as to which circuits were in which volumes.

We found the Windsor circuit volumes and looked for the entries we were searching for. I finished first and decided to browse through the volume in front of me. I suddenly realised that I was looking at the Redfern Circuit marriages. My grandmother was on my other half of my tree and just so happened to be a Methodist. Then I realised I was looking at Grandma’s marriage certificate (1912) and to my great surprise her father’s name was stated; Sydney Wardle. I nearly fell off the chair and wanted to yell out my discovery but one only spoke in hushed tones in the Mitchell Library. I recently confirmed the father’s name from the admission registers of the Sydney Benevolent Asylum.

In more recent times the internet has created a lot more opportunities to discover new information. I had established that Sydney’s father was a Thomas Wardle from Sunderland in County Durham. As I strongly believe in taking every opportunity to publicise your research interests, I have my own family tree web site. Many people have contacted me because of this, including a cousin from Perth. Diane was able to say that Thomas was born on either 7 December 1841 or 1840. This lead to establishing that Thomas’ father was William and his grandfather Thomas Page Wardle.

Much to our delight we found that Thomas senior, born in Sunderland, had joined the Royal Navy in 1795. By 1805 he was on the HMS Euryalus and took part in the Battle of Trafalgar. He later served on a number of ships including HMS Victory. Such are the fruits of family history.

The other joy is being able to visit the sites of importance in the life of your ancestors. Using the Society’s cemetery transcriptions I established that one of my ancestors had been buried in McCarthry’s Burial Ground not far from Castlereagh in 1847. Standing beside her grave, I realised her relatives had stood there many years ago and it would be great to be able have a five minute discussion with each. This caused the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up. I have also travelled to the UK twice to visit the towns of my ancestors and to undertake research.

During all my years as a member of the Society I have not lived in Sydney, moving to Canberra in 1963, Hobart in 1991 and to Victoria in 1995. I am an accountant who worked for 41 years in the Commonwealth Public Service ending up as a senior executive with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. This has meant I have rarely visited the Society’s rooms. My wife Rossie and I were members of the 2004 SAG London tour lead by Heather Garnsey and Martyn Killion. We had a great two weeks finding new information and visiting various sites including a visit to HMS Victory at Portsmouth.

I also strongly feel that serious researchers should support our interest by being volunteers. I have presented papers at the three yearly Australasian Conferences, held various positions such as President of the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra, Secretary and Treasurer of the Australasian Federation of Family History Associations, State Treasurer of the Tasmanian Family History Society and lately President of the Kilmore Historical Society. I also teach family history with our local U3A group and have been a member of the Clan MacThomas Society for many years; attending two Clan gatherings in Glenshee, Perthshire, Scotland.

I am a Fellow of the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra and with Pam Ray, we compiled five cemetery transcription volumes published by the Society. I have also published four small books about my Ikin ancestors and held an Ikin family gathering in Sydney in 1990.

I strongly recommend everyone who undertakes research into their family history to join at least one society. Nothing beats learning from others who have already gained lots of experience and knowledge, and also keeping up with developments by reading the Society’s journal Descent.


The above was written in October 2009.

In May 2010 the Chief of the Clan MacThomas, Andrew MacThomas of Finegand, appointed me as Clan Sennachie. As Sennachie I undertake genealogical research on behalf of the Clan.

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