Monday’s Musings from The Writer’s Desk



This morning I wish to remind you about the merits of research.

Visiting our family’s history is not always easy.  There are often lots of unmarked crossroads and dead ends in our journey, which leave us wondering which way to go.  It all depends on what our loved ones have left behind. In my case, I keep accumulating more and more stuff, however, on some occasions this is not enough.  Trying to read between the lines of notes or letters;  trying to envisage their lives through the windows of photographs is often left to our imaginations.

My sister recently asked whether the events of my latest post Behind the Cupboard Doors  had really happened.  The point in question was whether my Great Grandfather had actually stolen a piano in South Africa and somehow managed to sneak it aboard his homecoming ship in a crate marked “officers’ equipment”.   I explained that it did, however the details have gone to the grave with him and those who assisted him in the task.  So, I explained that one uses a little of creativity to bring the story to life. In other words, the scene in question was totally (well almost) a figment of my imagination.  I used my writer’s voice to reconstruct the event embellishing the few details that I had.

When the question was asked of me, I had already begun a post about my Great Grandparent’s wedding.  I knew they were married in Brisbane in October 1902, however I had no idea where the wedding took place.  I assumed they were married in a church so began my story, using generic descriptions that would generally match any church in Australia. You know the ones;  stained windows filled with beaming angels; sculptures of Christ dying on the cross; and the list goes on.

As my Great Grandmother marched down the aisle of my imaginary chapel, I suddenly felt a need to research the facts.  My Great Grandfather was Catholic, however, I don’t think my Grandma cared for religion much at all.  Briefly, I thought that perhaps they could have been married in a Registry Office, however most Catholics from that era were tightly restrained to their faith.  So, that prompted me to do the research.

I tried Birth, Deaths and Marriages, which drew a blank.  Then I decided to try which at least gave me the exact date.  Armed with the little information I had, I tried BD&M once again.  This time I had success.  However, in order to see the details, I needed to pay a fee of $20 for the actual historical record or $28 for a Marriage Certificate.  Eager to find the real facts, I paid $20 for the historical record.  As I downloaded the PDF file onto my computer, I was astounded to read, handwritten in indigo ink, the establishment where they exchanged their vows.  My assumption was correct in they were married in a Catholic Church.  However, I did not expect them to be married in a Cathedral.

Harriet & Williams Marriage Registry (click here)


St. Stephens Catholic Cathedral, Elizabeth St, Brisbane

St Stephens Roman Catholic Cathedral in Elizabeth Street, Brisbane, is a grand affair.  Its soaring spires; its magnificent gothic revival façade and glorious stained glass windows filled with angels and biblical figures is a 5 star house of God, fit for a King.

Although my original generic descriptions were not too inaccurate, it is so much more gratifying to see the real place;  to look at old historical photos taken around the year of 1902; to peer down the long aisle where my Great Grandmother walked on the arm of her father to the melodious notes of the giant pipe organ that stood pride of place behind the grand alter.

St Stephens is an architectural song from the angels in heaven.  It takes me back to my Art History classes; to the great architectural masterpieces of Europe.  Athough it is certainly not of the magnitude of Notre Dame or the Cathedral of Seville which is the largest Cathedral in the world, it means the world to me to know that is where my Grandparents began their long journey together, more than a century ago.

My suggestion is that if the information is not passed down the years via word of mouth, and there are no written accounts in your possession, a little research might produce the answers you are looking for.  Then, if your search is unsuccessful, you can employ a little creative license to colour between the lines of your ancestors’ world.





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