I didn’t ‘physically’ meet my great-grandfather, William WINTER (1845-1883), and neither did any of my mum’s generation; he died well before any of us were born. There are no photos of him and there’s no memorabilia—that I know of. And it seems that any stories about him have been lost in time.
William became my mystery man. I had a death certificate but I couldn’t prove it was one and the same; the details didn’t ‘match up’. However, a concerted search through the digitized newspapers accessible through TROVE gave me the proof I needed.
The search enabled me to ‘meet’ William WINTER, giving me some insight into how he led his life and the challenges he faced. I’ll spread the findings out over two posts, Part 1 and Part 2.
For Part 1, I’ll focus on proof of his death.
Part 1 The search for proof of William WINTER’s death.
For those not familiar with TROVE it is a fabulous resource for historians, novelists, genealogists and anyone interested in Australian history. TROVE is managed by the National Library of Australia. It’s a searchable online database of resources available in Australia, including, books, articles, maps, movies, images, newspapers and just recently added, Government Gazettes. Besides the obvious value of the digitized newspapers I’ve found it invaluable for locating books in Australian libraries. It saves the laborious task of checking each library one by one.
But TROVE has been in trouble lately. The Government has recently announced cuts to its funding which will restrict the upload of new material onto the site. The announcement has resulted in a social media campaign #fundtrove. A petition to be sent to Malcolm Turnbull can be accessed and signed here.
Now to William WINTER…
As can be seen in the chart below William WINTER was Mum, Teresa Bernadette WINTER’s, grandfather.
From previous research, I knew William was born at ‘Springs’ in 1845. ‘Springs’ was the farm his father, Edward WINTER (c1812-1869) was leasing at the time in Keilor (see the post What’s in a Name?). The Edward WINTER family eventually settled on a farm in Digger’s Rest, just south of the township of Sunbury. In 1870, at the age of 25, William married Mary Ann MILLETT, a local girl, who lived a few miles further up the road leading to the Mount Alexander goldfields (Calder Fwy), at the Gap.
It was evident from the birthplace being Sunbury as documented for the couple’s first four children that William and Mary Ann stuck around the local area (see chart below) until at least about 1880.
William’s father, Edward WINTER, a widower, died the year before William’s marriage. He left a detailed will. The family farm at Digger’s Rest was left to his four sons, William, Edward, Richard and John and £100 was left to each of his daughters, Honora, Susan and Lydia. Below is the approximate location of Edward’s farm in Digger’s Rest:
Family folklore told me that William WINTER had died ‘young’ and that his widow, Mary Ann, had married again to an Edward WILLIAMS. Fortunately, the marriage certificate of Mary Ann and Edward in 1885 had the death year of her late husband, William WINTER—1883.
I now had a year and I believed I could be pretty sure that the informant, Mary Ann, William’s widow, would not have got this wrong. However, the only record for the death of a William WINTER in 1883 was one in NSW with some troubling details—or lack of them—that made me doubt I had the right one.
This William WINTER was the right age and was born in Victoria—correct. But what was he doing in NSW? Yes, there were WINTER relatives there and possibly relatives of Mary Ann so maybe he was there for work? I don’t know. However, the troubling details were there—the informant said William was ‘not married’ and had no children. From what I knew, this didn’t seem to fit.
As I’ve mentioned before it’s best to be wary of the information given by informants on death certificates. The informant, in this case, was the matron of Armidale Hospital, NSW. Maybe there was not enough time to get William’s family details before he died. His death may have been sudden (he had a 2 years history of ‘heart disease’). And maybe there wasn’t any family around as he’d left his young family with relatives while he travelled further afield, following job opportunities. All supposition.
For many years I sat on this death certificate, reluctant to add the details to the family tree until I had further proof. As TROVE came online with newspaper collections constantly being added I tried sporadically with various search terms: ‘WINTER’; ‘ARMIDALE’ and varying combinations, but to no avail. I knew too that if the print was not clear the search couldn’t pick up the text. (The beauty of TROVE is that users can correct the text which is helpful for future searches).
A few months ago, I tried again. This time I used the keywords ‘WINTER’ and ‘DIGGERS REST’ and the year, 1883. To my delight the proof I’d been hoping for turned up. There was a death notice in the Victorian newspaper, The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 – 1954) on Thursday 2 August 1883, page 1 and an identical notice in another Victorian newspaper, Leader (Melbourne, Vic. : 1862 – 1918) on Saturday 11 August 1883, page 40. The notice said William WINTER died on 31st July at Armidale, NSW, 37 years old. The details were consistent with the death certificate I had. But the detail that clinched the deal was that William was the ‘eldest son of the late Edward Winter of Digger’s Rest’.
So, the NSW death certificate I’d kept was in fact the correct one. Thank you TROVE!
In Part 2, I’ll go into the possible reason William WINTER headed to NSW following further findings in the newspapers.
To be continued…