Family connections

When it comes to family history I’m quite lucky; decades ago a distant relative wrote up a lot of mine. I’m also quite lazy; I’ve never read that whole thing, just random pages here and there. What this means is that, while there’s no logic to my ‘research’, there are moments of satisfying serendipity, and moments of sadness and disappointment.

A few months ago I wrote a blog post about the sad state of affairs regarding the church and cemetery where some of my ancestors are buried. As a child, one summer, we spent a few days in Kaikōura seeking out dead relatives. It didn’t mean much to me then but as I’ve gotten older I felt compelled to revisit the church.

As David Swain writes in our entry on Genealogy and family history, family histories ‘provide a sense of belonging and identity.’ With that in mind, on a recent trip to Nelson I did a bit more haphazard family exploration.

The Gables, 1995

Back in 1995 I took the above photo of a house in Waimea West, on the outskirts of Richmond. Only recently did I discover that that particular house not only has a Historic Places Category 1 listing but is also part of my family history. So another visit to the site was deemed necessary.

The Gables, 2013

According to the New Zealand Historic Places Trust: ‘Dating from 1865 The Gables is an interesting example of an early accommodation house in a quiet country area and which also served as a store. It functioned as the third Waimea West Hotel with bush licences to serve liquor until 1875. Thereafter, its owner, John Palmer continued in business as a storekeeper, probably until his death in 1898.’

That John Palmer was brother of my great-great-grandfather Charles, and one of his direct descendants is Sir Geoffrey Palmer (we are seventh cousins, twice removed … from memory).

The Gables, 2013

Although the building is on private land, we had a bit of a look around (with permission of the current owner), and it appears that very little has changed since its heyday; though apparently it is somewhat unsafe inside, especially on the upper levels.

St Michaels Anglican Church sign

Just down the road from The Gables is St Michael’s Church, where a large number of Palmers are buried, including the aforementioned John and his mother (who came to New Zealand late in life, accompanied by a couple of younger sons).

St Michaels cemetery

Due to the haphazard way in which I’m exploring my family history, it was only after leaving the area that we discovered that Charles built his house just down the road at Appleby, though it’s doubtful that the house is still standing. Obviously that’s for another trip.

Before we left Nelson for Maruia Springs, we did pop in to the Nelson Provincial Museum and purchase a number of prints from their photographic collection. While they have quite a few Palmers in their collection, it’s likely that they are all distant relatives seeing as my lot left Nelson for Kaikōura in the mid-1860s.

I think that as a photographer I’m especially interested in the physical – cemeteries, buildings, etc – but I know that these people and places have stories too, some of which can be found online, and it’s there that the real treasure lies.

And so I’m thinking it’s time to stop being disorganised and start researching their stories, try to find out about them as people. Along with the useful links on Te Ara, for me a good place to start would be the Kaikōura District Museum. It was closed last time through, but I’m hopeful in there we will find fascinating material about their lives, and secretly hope that amongst it will be some scandal and intrigue.

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