Some painstaking detective work led to family historian Pat Churchill making a surprise discovery among Australian historic records – shedding light on a 100-year-old New Zealand family mystery. A new joint project between the National Archives of Australia and Archives New Zealand will make searching across archival records from both countries easier. Perhaps some more trans-Tasman family mysteries will now be solved.
Around the start of World War I, 22-year-old Tim Jones of Waitara, New Zealand, went missing. Apart from a vague idea that he might have gone to Australia, his family had no idea of where he was, and sadly they never heard from him again. Over the years, his sister tried to trace him through missing persons channels, but to no avail. To all intents and purposes, he had vanished.
The effect of his disappearance was lasting. Tim Jones’ great-niece, Pat Churchill, recalled, ‘Decades later, she [my grandmother] would still talk sadly about his disappearance. It made a deep impression on me.’ Pat, interested in her family history, wondered if he might be traced through archival records. She tried various resources in New Zealand without success, but recently tried searching for him in Australia.
‘One afternoon I was idly going through the World War I records of the First Australian Imperial Force on the National Archives of Australia website, tracing other family members. Suddenly I thought – did my grandmother’s brother join the Australian Army? Other Kiwis did, including my paternal grandmother’s brother and uncle.’
After a bit of a search (Jones is a rather popular name, after all), she finally found what she was looking for – a Jones born in the town of Waitara. The only hitch was that the file was for a Frederick, not Tim, Jones.
Pat asked herself, could they be the same person? ‘I downloaded the war record. Frederick (or Fred as he apparently called himself) had been a groom. My mother had told me he had worked with horses. The next-of-kin details tallied. His father William Jones was listed as working at the Waitara freezing works, where indeed my great-grandfather worked.’
Some more careful research into her family revealed that in fact, Frederick was the proper given name of her great-uncle. Tim had only been a nickname given to him by his family.
It seemed that Pat had solved the family mystery of where her great-uncle had gone once he left his family. He had served in the war, mostly in the 2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance. The file showed that he had survived the war, finally being discharged in Brisbane – the city in which he had enlisted. Additional research unearthed a picture of her great-uncle in a group shot with the Field Ambulance unit. Pat’s find was bitter-sweet. ‘I had a pang of disappointment that my grandmother was not still alive to share my find … my mother was so pleased at least part of the mystery had been solved.’
Discovering Anzacs website
A new joint project between the National Archives of Australia and Archives New Zealand may help family historians solve some other trans-Tasman family mysteries. Discovering Anzacs, a website due to be launched in April 2014, will bring together the records of the two institutions so that family historians will be able to search across both collections simultaneously.
The website will feature the fully digitised service dossiers of every Australian and New Zealander who served in World War I. It will also feature records that show what life was like for those who stayed at home.
Visit the Discovering Anzacs developing site to learn more about the project. You can also assist both Archives develop content for the website by transcribing records to make them more searchable, emailing stories about servicemen and women in your family, or helping identify some World War I servicemen from their studio photos.
Discovering Anzacs will also assist in bringing private researchers together, and perhaps this contact will help Pat Churchill to discover more of Fred Jones’ story. ‘Ninety plus years on, someone is still looking for him.’