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A Graft on the Family Tree

Updated: Sep 28, 2021

Why ‘The Graft’? Think of Florence Best and Leo Austin (Percy) Begley as the bough of a family tree. Their bough connects to a vast tree holding as many lives as there are leaves. Their ancestors, descendants or extended family members each have a story that grafts to the bough.


Writing a family history is daunting. It is truly a multi generational task. There are so many stories to tell. It is easier to focus on a single branch. To begin I have chosen my paternal grandparents, Florence and Percy Best and their ancestry. The names grafted to their branch are Begley, Best, Fisher, Goldstraw, Trethewey, Morgan, Robinson, Tobin, Cowl and McKinney. One day, I will turn to my maternal grandparents bough and look at the Mathieson and Olney families ancestry.


My personal challenge is to make each story interesting and readable. Let’s face it, dates and begats are eye wateringly boring without context. Learning that Florence's 22 year-old aunt died at home after a two year battle with Tuberculosis is far more interesting than: Jane Fisher, died 25.2.1880, buried in Warrnambool Cemetery.


If you’re still reading, I’m on the right track. Read on for a little gossip, a mention of pirates, and weeding.


We all love a bit of gossip. But, is it ethical to discuss the more salacious aspects of a deceased ancestor’s life? Our ancestors were real people. Parts of their lives were private. That is until a curious creative like me stumbles across some anomalies, puts two and two together from musty old records and reports the findings to the rest of family. Is that ok? I guess you'll tell me if it's not.


I’ve already found lots of Begley and Best family stories. Some are exciting, like the one about the pirates. Some are funny, like the one about the runaway car. Some are disturbing, like the kidnap and sexual assault. Some are tragic, like the death of a husband and a son within a year of each other. Some are complex, some are shocking, some are even sexy! Some are deeply uncomfortable and may challenge your idea of beloved family members.


It must be stated that I was born in the 20th Century and am writing in the first half of the 21st Century. My contemporary bias is much kinder to some of our ancestors’ choices, dismissive of others and deeply angered by a few. I will acknowledge my bias along the way. But, the thing about bias is sometimes it’s unconscious. This may colour my interpretation of the facts. The best I can do is reference all my research and ask that you present alternative arguments in the forum if you find I’ve wandered off the path.


Lastly, I want to acknowledge that I come from a colonial immigrant family. In a broad sense, Flo and Percy's ancestors grafted to a new country when they immigrated. My Aboriginal friends might suggest that the analogy of a noxious weed is more appropriate than a graft. Perhaps that is part of the work of the family historian in 21st Century Australia, to identify the weeds and re-graft our family history with a clear eye. To speak the truth about the light and the shadows in our family tree and make reparation where needed.


I look forward to sharing 'The Graft' and it’s discoveries with you.


If you've read this far, you also need to know about our podcast. In each episode, one of Florrie and Perce's descendants is paired with an ancestor. It looks at their stories and draws connections between their lives. You can listen iririr

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