I spent today at the National Archives in Sydney, looking at records for my Paper Trails project. My helpful reference officer, Judith, had warned me that there were 77 boxes in SP115/1, the series I need to look through. On my arrival though she told me she’s miscounted and there were, in fact, about 140. I managed to get through about 28 today. I’ll be there for the rest of the week but I’m not sure I’ll get through the remaining 112 boxes in the next two and a half days!
Series SP115/1 contains documents relating to non-white people – mostly Chinese, but also Syrian, Indian, Japanese and others – arriving into Sydney between 1911 and the 1940s. The series is arranged by ship, with each item relating to a particular voyage. Although I’ve looked at particular items in this series before, this time I’m starting at Box 1 and looking through every file, all 1780 or so of them. You may well ask why.
Although most of the documents in the series are CEDTs, which can also be found in other series (mostly ST84/1), the papers relating to Australian-born Chinese are often unique and unable to be found elsewhere. Details about these individuals might be recorded in the Register of Birth Certificates (SP726/2), but the documents in SP115/1 can include original birth certificates and other statements about identity and family background. One nice find today is the 1902 Hong Kong birth certificate of Harold Hoong, son of Julum Hoong and Rosalie Kinnane, who were living in Yaumatei at that time (NAA: SP115/1, 04/02/1915 – PART 1). Early Hong Kong birth and marriage records were destroyed during World War II, so it’s nice to see one safe and sound. Other records relate to Harold’s Australian-born siblings William, Albert and Frederick.
As well as locating documents about Anglo-Chinese travellers I know about from earlier research, looking through the whole series is yielding people I haven’t encountered in other records. Today I’ve found about half a dozen new subjects – some from families I’d already identified, but others are completely new to me. Exciting.
I’m also making a record of all the Australian-born full Chinese (for my Threads of Kinship project) and any Chinese-born women (for a paper I’m working on about Chinese wives in early 20th-century Australia).
Still hoping that some day during your research you might come across my ancestors John “Ah Luk” and Anna Maria Gunn who married 5 months after Anna arrived in Melbourne in 1857 as a 17 year old (she lied about her age). I’ve followed the birth of 4 children through the goldfields ending in The Rocks at Sydney in 1867 where Ah Luk abandons the family (1 girl and 3 boys 9, 5, 3, 1) and is ordered by the court for maintenance. The trail for him ends there. So does it for the 3 young boys. Their sister Emma was put into Randwick with Anna saying Ah Luk abandoned them and she had a sick baby …. within months she is in San Francisco and Emma stays in Randwick for 1 1/2 years. The boys weren’t admitted. Anna comes back for Emma and takes her to New Zealand. Its always haunted me as to what happened to those 3 little boys. And of course I’d like to know more about my 3 x gr grandfather.