A Family Secret… Really Resolved

Some months ago I posted about the mystery in my family of my grandfather who discovered he was adopted when he was in his 60s. As a genealogist, I had been researching his birth family to no avail for a number of years. I finally had a breakthrough last year when I found evidence of his (alleged) birth father’s subsequent marriage, children and so on.

After being in touch with my (alleged) great-grandfather’s descendant, Paul, for some time, he finally did an Ancestry DNA test and we’ve been waiting for the results to come through.

It’s been quite a nervous wait – what if I was wrong?

I was in a business meeting the other day and got onto the topic of DNA testing and genealogy with the client. I decided to show them my research and also my DNA test results (I am always happy to talk about genealogy, especially if there’s a chance I can give someone else the bug).

Logging into Ancestry DNA I saw there was a new match and that this match was listed as being a potential 2nd or 3rd cousin.

Looking more closely, I realised I recognised the username as being the same as Paul’s email address. I gasped and said “Oh my god”. The client was worried and asked if I was alright and I then went on to explain the story and that this result showed that my research was right.

I had found the descendant of my grandfather’s birth father.

Source: Ancestry.co.uk



The following table gives an explanation of how the cousin relationships work. It’s complicated at first but looking at it Paul my mother’s 1st cousin (half) and my 1st cousin once removed (half). This is because mum and Paul share a grandfather (Allan Douglas). (The half is important here. My grandfather’s birth mother was not the same woman as the woman his father married, so subsequent children had a different mother).

Source: ISOGG
This journey and the discoveries made (and the doors now open – so much research to be done on the Williamson side now) are why I love genealogy and why I spend so much time on it (both academically and personally). Not only for the whole Nancy Drew/Scooby Doo mystery solving aspect of it (although that is freaking cool), but because I have the opportunity to bring people together. Being able to do this for my mum has been a real blessing. She is an only child so finding a whole new set of relatives is important for her and I am glad I have been able to give her that gift. 

Now, let’s see where the Williamson line will take me…


A Family Secret Resolved

(This post is a follow-on from this one)

The prospect of phoning someone you are potentially related to and announcing that their grandfather had an illegitimate child is, to say the least, rather daunting.

I sat in my living room, phone in hand, papers strewn around me, rehearsing what I would say. “Hi, so uhmmm, I think we’re related”. No, no. That’s too blunt and too vague. “What do you know about your grandfather’s activities before he married your grandmother?” Ugh, too clinical and cold. “So did you know your grandfather went and got some girl knocked up?” Ugh, no, no no no no no. “I’m really not trying to ruffle feathers, but the evidence I have strongly points to your grandfather having been with a woman called Catherine Robertson before his marriage and, as a result, being the birth father of my grandfather”. Yes, that’s as good as it gets.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford (R) with his (adoptive) parents Henry and Sophie Crawford, and his sister Dulcie.

Time zones are really not my strong point. You’d think that after 18 years of living in France I’d have worked out how to correctly determine the time in Australia, but the number of times I’ve phoned my mother at ungodly hours is too many to count. I was to call New Zealand, and wanted to be sure I didn’t phone too early or too late.

I checked, I double-checked, I tripled-checked the times and decided to call at around 10am NZ time. So, there I was sitting on the sofa, back straight, leg nervously shaking, silently panicking and practicing out loud what I was going to say. It wasn’t quite late enough in the day for me to have a wee nip for bravery, but I certainly felt like having one.

I dialed the number and held my breath while it rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Paul? Hi, my name is Erin and I was given your number by Jean via the Ancestry website. I wanted to have a chat with you about something I found while researching my family tree. I also want to underline that I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers at all, but looking through documents and through my research, it seems very likely that your grandfather, Allan Douglas Williamson, was with a young lady called Catherine Robertson and she fell pregnant in 1922, not long before he married your grandmother Eva. Their child, their son, was my grandfather.”

I tried to keep my cool but I am absolutely certain that all came out in one breath and that I confused poor Paul at first.

His reaction was exactly what I hoped it would be – interested, open and warm.

We had a lovely chat, I told him about my grandfather and mother and sister, and he told me what he knew about his grandfather and his family.

He said he would send me more information when his wife got home, so we exchanged email addresses, and promised to stay in contact.

My grandfather, Geoffrey Hartley Crawford at home in Sandringham, Victoria, Australia.
I hung up and promptly burst into tears. The relief at the positive reaction of Paul and the happiness and finally getting somewhere with this family secret and mystery that I’d been researching for over ten years was palpable.

I spoke with my mother and told her the good news. She was amazed and rather overwhelmed. I then drafted and sent an email to Paul.
My grandfather, Geoffrey Hartley Crawford found out he was adopted in the 80s when he applied for a passport.

Looking into it further, he found the following information:

His birth name was Edgar Lance, but his adopted parents renamed him Geoffrey Hartley.

Mother’s name: Catherine Robertson, originally from Mornington, Dundein, New Zealand but went to Australia and gave birth to my grandfather in Melbourne.

On the birth certificate, his father is listed as: “Allan Douglas Williamson, telegraph linesman, Waipaki, Southland, N.Z., is said to be married since the mother last saw him.” (Note: I later found out it’s Waipahi)

I’ve included a photograph of the birth certificate which gives this information.

I’ve also included two photographs of my grandfather, one of my mother and one of myself.

Do you see any family resemblance between us and your side of the family at all?

Also, please feel free to send me any information you have about Allan’s parents or anything about the Williamsons. I would love to pick up the research and see what I can find out about our shared ancestors. Also, just so you know, we are first cousins once removed.

I got an email back a few hours later from Paul’s wife Robyn, with so much information and a wonderfully moving welcome to the family. The biggest surprise, and final confirmation for my mum and I, were photos of Allan Douglas that showed a definitely family resemblance.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford, 24th Bn AIF WWII

Allan Douglas Williamson, 4th Res Bn, Otago Regiment, NZEF, WWI
Since then Paul, Robyn, mum and I have been exchanging emails, chat on Facebook and I even had a wonderful almost 2 hour-long Skype call with Paul and Robyn. The best part of all this for me was when my mum told me she finds it all quite emotional. She’s an only child (as is her mum) and her extended family was always quite small. She is so happy to finally have more family members.

This is, of course, just the beginning of researching this branch of the family. There’s Allan Douglas’s efforts during WWI to look into, as well as the activities of his father, Captain George Williamson who was a merchant seaman. There’s the family links to the Shetland Islands which are coming up in my research, as well as the link to Robert the Bruce (yes, the Robert the Bruce).

For some people, researching their family tree is all about how far back they can go and while that is, of course, interesting for me the most important thing is to learn as much about the people who form my family history and, as a result, form part of who I am today.

A Family Secret (or, How I Learned To Tread Carefully When Doing Certain Research)

I have a big family.

If I count my parents, step-parents, half-brother and sister, my step-brothers and sister, their partners (and their children) plus my grandparents then we’re up to twenty-two people. Add cousins, uncles, second cousins and the like (and their children, partners, etc), and we’re inching close to one hundred people.

Most of my large extended family is on my father’s side as my mother is an only child. Born in 1953 to Geoff and Anita Crawford, she didn’t encounter a large family until she married my father. I’ve not asked her how she dealt with that, but knowing my mum, she took it in her stride, rolling her eyes at all the quirks that come with large families.

Her parents also came from small families. My grandmother, Anita, was also an only child and my grandfather, Geoff, had one sister. She has cousins, who I never knew as they lived in Queensland as we in Victoria, but all in all – small family was the way of the Crawfords.

In the 1980s, my grandfather applied for a passport. The rules had changed in Australia, and he needed to provide a full birth certificate (not just an extract) in order for his passport application to be processed.

This is when he found out that he was adopted.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford was actually born Edgar Lance Robertson/Williamson. His mother, a woman named Catherine Robertson was originally from New Zealand and came to Australia to live with an aunt and give birth. His birth father was a man named Allan Douglas Williamson, from Waipahi, New Zealand and, according to the birth certificate, had married another woman since Catherine had last seen him.

Geoffrey Hartley’s birth certificate, showing his birth name as Edgar Lance


I began the search for Allan and Catherine in the early 2000s, when genealogical records were just starting be digitised and readily accessible. Over the years I found evidence of Allan Douglas living in Gore, New Zealand (in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to census records), but never found any evidence of his parentage. Of Catherine, there was no trace.

I have been using Ancestry for a number of years, and would regularly run a check on both Catherine and Allan, hoping for some hints or results in the records search. In March of this year, I started getting results on Allan.

His name was showing hints, his parents were showing up in the records, along with his wife and their sons.

I reached out to all the people who either owned this information, contributed to the information or had the information on their trees. The goal was to get in touch with any living descendants of Allan Douglas.

Geoffrey Hartley with his adoptive parents Henry Francis and Sophie Grace Crawford.

After many responses denying knowing the family or even having the people I mentioned in their trees (really people, just have a look, they’re there), I received a reply from a woman who said that not only was she related, but she had spoken with one of Allan Douglas’ descendants. She gave me his name and phone number and told me that he wanted to speak with me.

(to be continued)