One of the great things about researching your family tree is the stories you come across. But there are stories to be found all over the place, if you know where to look. Ancestry’s Brad has been digging around local graveyards (pardon the pun), uncovering some wonderful stories that start with a headstone in a cemetery…
I was taking a short break in Kangaroo Valley with my family recently and couldn’t resist taking a stroll through the local cemetery. My usual approach is to let my feet take me where they will and there, in dappled light beneath a sparse shrub, were two crosses with the names Helen and Kate Graham. Time worn and obviously hand crafted, I was struck by the similarities of the details on the crosses – same surname, similar age of death and a decade apart.
Helen, known officially as Jane Helen Kate Graham, was born in the Shoalhaven area in 1875 to John Graham and Mary Merchant. She was the fourth child and second daughter for farmers John and Mary (family snap shown below).
Life on a farm meant that everyone in the family worked. On August 10, 1889 fourteen year old Helen, with her younger sister Florence, aged ten, were minding some cows in a paddock near the house. For reasons unknown Helen lit a fire and her dress caught alight. She died some hours later and was buried in an unmarked grave.
Kate, formally Kate Martha Matilda Graham, was born in Shoalhaven in 1886 – John and Mary’s eighth child and sixth daughter. Kate died of rheumatic fever when she was just 13 years old.
The anguish of losing two young children is something I cannot begin to understand. I hugged my kids a little tighter when I got back to the house that day.
After doing a little research it occurred to me that the wooden crosses were unlikely to have been original so I searched out more information on Ancestry.com.au and came across the Latham/Madge Family Tree. I reached out to Mable, the tree’s owner. Mable – a descendent of Kate and Helen’s older brother Archy – got back to me with details on the girls.
Mable said that it was Helen’s father John and her brother Archy who found the badly burnt body. She also told me that Kate was a favourite of Archy’s.
Mable also shed some light on the crosses. They were erected a few years ago by members of the family as the burials were in unmarked graves, or graves whose markings had long since become erased. Mable also supplied the lovely photo of John, Mary and family.
My thanks to Mable for helping me tell this story.
This article first appeared on The Inside History Magazine blog. You can read more of Brad’s Grave Tales below -