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I found my grandmother

I started my family research almost five years ago with a short course of adult education called ‘How to Trace your History on the Net’. I wasn’t really interested in family history, but it was the only course which fitted in with my work pattern at the time. However, It didn’t take me long to get hooked. With my mum being born in New Zealand and raised in Scotland, I never expected to find out much about her side of the family. How wrong could I have been?

My mum was born in New Zealand in 1927 and lived on a farm with her parents, older brother and younger sister. She went to school with her brother, but says that she never owned a pair of shoes until they left New Zealand. One day, they were told not to take the short cut to school across the farmer’s field, as there was a bull in there, but as kids don’t listen they took the short cut and the bull chased them. Mum laid down to roll under the fence and the bull stuck his horns into her. She had to have an operation on her kidney and always believed that she had one removed. It wasn’t until I was about eight years old, when mum became ill and it was discovered that she only had a little nick taken out of her kidney and that the scar she had was what the bull made and not the surgeon. She had even been refused entry into the services because of it.

My mum’s parents played polo and during a huge flood in 1931, my mum can remember her mother returned to the flood waters to save her favourite pony. That was the last my mum ever saw of her.

Consequently, Mum and her sister went to stay with the Stone family, and her father and brother went to live in an all male hostel and worked on a farm, until her father had saved enough money for the boat fare back to his homeland of Scotland. They set sail on Mum’s sixth birthday in 1933. Once in Scotland, they were brought up by their grandparents and aunts, and New Zealand was never much mentioned again.

So, all I knew about my grandmother was that her name was Alma Hall and that she had drowned in 1931. I visited our local LDS Family History Centre and the volunteers were ever so helpful, although they did say that Alma is a male’s name rather than female’s! However, we did find a 1955 death entry for an Alma Hall on the IGI on their site, which included details of her birth and her parents, Samuel and Edith Hall. I began to wonder if this was indeed my grandmother, especially as my mum’s sister was named Edith, that their brother was named after their paternal grandfather and that my mum was named after her paternal grandmother.

I joined a New Zealand mailing group and was helped by some lovely people who explained that if I ordered the death entry for this Alma, it would tell me the details of her surviving children. To do this I had to apply for a credit card, which is something I’d never done before. Anyway, I ordered the certificate and it came back with six children’s names listed. I then asked on the mailing list if anybody could help me get in contact, and very soon I was in touch with the family.

It turned out that they had been trying to contact my mum back in the early 1960s after their mum, Alma, had died. She had told them about her first marriage and of how her three children had gone to live in Scotland. Evidently, Alma had not drowned in the flood after all and had in fact divorced my mum’s father, got remarried and had six more children. The death I found in 1955 was indeed the correct one. They had tried to contact my mum’s father, but he returned their letters, telling them not to bother anymore, as he and his children had moved on.

Now that I was in contact with my six new aunts and uncles, I had to make a decision whether to break the news to my mum. I felt that I wanted to tell her, as I didn’t want to go behind her back and lie to her.

So, at the age of seventy-six, my mum found out that she had six half-siblings, although she has never really taken it in or understands.  My family in New Zealand very kindly provided me with a photograph of my grandmother, which is the first I’d ever seen of her.

Last year, one of my cousins came to England for a few days and I was able to spend a day with him in London. My newly found family were becoming reality.

Up until now, my mum hasn’t had any contact with them as they never know what to write and every time they try to start a letter they rip it up and start again. However, what with mum being so down in the dumps at the moment, awaiting a hip operation, one of them has asked if it would be alright if they send her a card and my response was that it was better to send it then not.

Mum received the card recently and put it on her mantel. It was beautiful and she was really over the moon with it. Although, she has asked me who it was from and when I said, “your half sister”, she just said, “Oh!”.

However, after spending the last five years explaining to her about her ‘other family’ and her struggling to grasp it, she has now written back thanking them for their card. The ice has now been broken. Lets hope that it is the start of much more correspondence, after all they have lots of catching up to do.

It just goes to show that you never know what you will find once you start searching.


© gloryer 2008


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