Grandmother Jean Lovel Booley and grandfather Bob Williams taken in Ballarat in the late 1920’s. picture courtesy of Leigh Williams of Ballarat
For nearly two decades I have wondered how a girl from Ouyen in Victoria’s Mallee district married a boy from some 350 kms away in Ballarat, but the answer is so simple I should probably sack myself as the non-elected, unofficial family historian.
New research has finally solved my quest to determine how my grandparents probably met, and its is a timely reminder-to-self to never accept a fact as complete nor as the only evidence that applies to a family’s history.
My grandmother Jean Lovel Booley (1908 – 1992) married Robert ‘Bob’ Herbert Colin Williams (1908 – 1967) in 1931 in Ballarat, and I have often puzzled how they met.
My grandparents each grew up in towns some 380 kms apart: Nan in the rural, dry-farming heart of the Mallee, one of the last of Victoria’s regions settled by Europeans due to its harsh terrain whereas as Bob grew up in the bush city of Ballarat, made famous for its goldfields and its Eureka Rebellion which helped shape Australia’ political landscape.
Nan’s people were staunch Wesleyans and Non-Conformists (her great grandfather was a lay minister and had helped establish Wesleyan churches in colonial Victoria) whereas the Williams were followers of the Church of England and particularly St John’s at Ballarat, so its not like they might met regularly at church functions or Sunday school.
There is no evidence of earlier family members marrying or being connected through social circles.
Though Jean’s father Walter Scott Booley (1863-1936) was born in Ballarat, he moved up to Horsham and then the Warracknabeal district in the 1880’s, after burying both parents and ten siblings by the time he was aged 12 years old.
Nanna Jean was also one of 12 siblings, whose births were registered in Warracknabeal to Walter S. Booley and his wife Mary Jane Brabner (1865-1928), though technically Nan was born at Ouyen (on Nan’s brothers’ war records it is enunciated as Oo-ee-yan, my husband says its O-yen, but the locals will know best).
Nan’s father had learned brick-making at Horsham with his only surviving brother Frank Milton, and the two brothers moved over to Warracknabeal in the early 1890’s where Frank established a brick-making business.
Walter also turned his hands to other work including carting, and then when his sons were older they established a farm and his wifeMary Jane supplemented the family income as the local postmistress.
It was World War 1 that changed everything, draining all the young men out of the Mallee onto the blood-soaked fields of Gallipolli.
Nan’s parents stuck at the farm, even when word came that her eldest brother James ‘Jim’ Booley had died in action at the front.
It was only after the other three brothers came home from the War that Walter Scott Booley could finally hand the reigns back to his sons, and move with his wife and family down to Ballarat sometime about 1922.
By this time ,most of Nan’s brothers and sisters were married, as Nan was second youngest of the family.
After the death of her mother Mary Jane Booley in 1928, my grandmother and her younger sister Lyn were the only girls believed to be at home in Ballarat, along with their brother Robert Alexander and possibly older brother Wesley (a family named carried down through generations of the Booley family, acknowledging the family’s connection to the Wesleyan faith).
Nan’s brother ‘Bob’ was playing footy with the Imperials Club at Ballarat, and selling cattle at the local sale yards for the boys still back up on their farms when he wasn’t in trouble for the odd dust-up over footy matches.
As Nan’s family were living in Ligar Street when they first returned to Ballarat, I have thought for many years that this was where my grandmother was living when she met my grandfather but couldn’t work out where they had opportunity to meet.
It turns out however there had been another family shift between 1928 – 1936 which I wasn’t previously aware of, and if not for Trove and its digitized newspapers I would still be in blissful ignorance of that important dot that connected my the histories of my paternal families.
The recently obtained obituary for Walter Scott Booley shows that after his wife’s death, he moved house again, this time to 216 Doveton Crescent in Ballarat’s North.
And this is where my grandmother was living when she met my grandfather.
I immediately Google Mapped 216 Doveton Crescent and the distance from there to my grandfather’s home at 3 Holmes Street.
I felt faint with my own stupidity as I watched the image unfold on my computer screen.
My grandparents homes were (and remain) less than 250 metres apart.
The only thing separating our Williams and Booley homes (then and now!) was Doveton Street and its railway line!
Nan’s house was on a corner with a verandah facing westward, giving a clear view to the the Williams’ back door and the side of their house on the corner of 3 Holmes street,
Nan could have stood at her front door and chucked a rock at my grandfather if she wanted his attention.
And what girl wouldn’t have caught the eye of some seven brothers living over the road!
Our Williams family were well known locally, especially with four daughters and seven sons, and with the latter working and playing at a local level and most of the boys had a keen interest in horse or greyhound racing.
My Dad remember his uncle James ‘Possum’ Williams who lived in a lean-to at the back of the 3 Holmes street house, a bachelor with greyhounds and who was forever getting the others into trouble for lending him money for gambling.
A couple of the other brothers were strappers or horse-trainers, and eventually moved away from Ballarat for a career path in the racing industry, but the rest remained where two generations of Williams’ and their cousins were settled.
The Booley’s shift from Ligar street to Doveton Crescent in Ballarat around 1928 certainly gave country girl a chance to meet city boy, and so I am finally happy to lay that history mystery aside.
Without the National Library of Australia and its TROVE digitized newspapers, most family historians cannot access those important births, deaths and marriage or obituary notices in newspapers usually archived in capital cities.
There are millions of Australian’s who will never have an opportunity to travel to city libraries, whether because of physical, economic, cultural or social impositions.
Traditional Births, Deaths and Marriage records are essential in tracing family history, but they only provide the framework within which to contextualize people’s lives as well as social, political and economic history.
History is easily misrepresented without access to social records and with the current government threat to funding MEGAPHONE currently has a petition online for people to sign calling on our government to continue funding TROVE so as to connect people to place and to national history.