WHO ARE YOU CHARLIE BROWN? A search for family
With very little to go on, the author embarks on a journey to chronicle her
grandfather’s life – weaving it with
excitement, touches of humour and some very thought-provoking
“It is an absorbing tale from start to finish.
More like a mysterious
detective story, the reader is carried through
contexts and continents, with a pace that keeps up the
"It is a captivating journey that inspires one to never give up.”
In Store Price: $AU25.95
Online Price: $AU24.95
Number of pages:
Genre: Non Fiction
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Visit the author's website:
To family historians who read this book, may you find in it a spark of
encouragement to keep you going, despite the brick walls you will inevitably
To others, may it inspire you to search for your family knowing you can indeed
achieve a great deal, despite having very little to start with.
Wendy Brown was born in London
and arrived in Australia
in 1950 with her family of '£10 Poms'. She has two sons, a dog, a Bachelor
of Arts degree with majors in history and anthropology, and various certificates
in business, training, teaching, and funeral celebrancy.
Her first book
Comfort, was published in 2002.
It is a collection of inspirational poems, verses, sayings and
quotations, which was jointly compiled and edited with her best friend. It was
initiated by the death of her mother’s father.
you Charlie Brown? A search for family is a tribute to her father’s
father. He was born overseas,
orphaned, raised alone in an English workhouse, and made his own way in the
world from the time he was a very small boy. The deprivations and loss
suffered by this quiet and gentle man deserved to be validated, and the best way
she could think of to do that was to try to find out about him, his family, and
the true story of his life.
She has been researching her family's history on and off since 1992 - in person
through personal contacts; and via the internet from Perth. During that time she has given
presentations at the State Library of WA, the WA Genealogical Society, and
various community groups, on topics relevant to social and family history.
Now retired, she helps produce a quarterly newsletter for her local history
centre, organises monthly seminars and information sessions, and volunteers her
time assisting others with their own family research.
of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage, to know who we are
and where we came from..........Alex Haley (1920-2004)
I never knew much about my grandfather
Charles Brown. I can only remember meeting him twice – once in 1954 when the
family made a return trip to
and once on a solo trip I made in 1966. He was then in his 90s and still living
at home. I was taken to visit him by my uncle, with whom I was staying before I
ventured out to make my own life in swinging London. He was living in the same house in
Kingsbury the family had moved to in the 1930s and, as I walked down the path, I
saw the huge hydrangea bushes I remembered from when I was a little girl. On my
earlier visit there in 1954, he had picked three of the blooms and given them to
me, and they had filled my arms.
It was with a mixture
of eagerness and trepidation that I entered the house in the wake of my uncle,
and from the hall heard him say, “You’ll never guess who’s come to see you!” I
presented myself to the dark sitting room and saw my grandfather sitting in an
armchair, wearing grey trousers, a collar and tie, and napkin. The napkin was to
protect his clothes from the ashes of the pipe he still smoked. There was a tiny
black and white TV set in the corner of the room, which I knew from the family
had problems with its screen, and the picture had been adjusted to about the
size of a postage stamp with wide black borders. I didn’t have time to take in
anything else. Grandad took one look at me and said, “That’s Gus’ girl.”
My father was always
called Gus by his family, even though his name was Alexander. He was the
youngest and the eighth child born, although only seven lived. The kids wanted
him called Augustus, being the eighth, but they were not to have their way and
he was named after King Edward VII’s
wife Princess Alexandra, whose birthday fell on the same date. Nevertheless,
unofficially, he was Gus.
The old man was spot
on! The last time he’d seen me I was only seven, and before that he hadn’t seen
me since I was a baby. Perhaps it was true what my father had said when I was
heading off to England
on my own. Worried about meeting my family for the first time since I was a
small child, I spoke to him of my concerns. Would I like them? Would they like
me? Would we get on? Would I recognise any of them? He told me not to worry. He
said, “When you open the door, it will be just like looking in a mirror.”
I gave this man, my
father’s father, the tin of ‘Digger Shag’ pipe tobacco I had bought for him (Dad
told me he’d always smoked that brand) and we exchanged pleasantries. I don’t
remember what about now, except there was a good deal of joshing from my Uncle
Jim, who always called me his niece from ‘the Antipodes’
and feigned surprise that I didn’t look like an Amazonian woman warrior.
Everyone in the family had a wonderful sense of fun, and coming originally from
the East End of London, had that quick Cockney wit and gallow’s humour. Grandad
chuckled when Jim complained about having to come and see him and that he would
be relieved when the old man finally died and he didn’t have to do it any more.
One thing I still remember from the visit was that my grandfather wanted to
assure me that when he died, my father, even though he was in Australia, would
still receive his share of the estate.
Charles Brown died on
20 July 1969 – the day before the first man walked on the moon.
In later years, in my
search for information about the family, I often wished that I had had enough
interest at 19 to ask him about his life, instead of telling him about mine.
Really, though, as it turned out, I don’t think it would have made my search any
The family story had it
that he was born in India on 1 August 1875, the son of a
soldier (regiment unknown), who died overseas. Notes from my Uncle Jim to his
daughter Judy gave the following information:
Information obtained in general conversation with
father Charles Brown –
My father stated that his father James Brown was
in the Indian Army and that he died overseas when my father was about 7, and
that he with his brother and mother were sent back to England and that his
mother died on the journey, he distinctly remembered seeing her ‘laid out’ in
his words with her long black hair all around. He then said that he, with his
brother was placed in ‘Anerley House’. His brother, who was older than him then
left the house, coming back later to see him. He thought that he had joined the
Army since he was in a red uniform.
This was the same
information my father had. After the deaths of their parents and when they
arrived in England,
the two boys were sent to a workhouse. My mother thought that the boys were only
about a couple of years apart in age, and my father said that when the older
brother left the workhouse, he told Charles to “Get a job in food because
everyone has to eat.” Wise advice.
Charles went on to
become a baker and worked for J Lyons & Co at Cadby Hall in Hammersmith all his
life. He never missed a day’s work and he was only late for work once – the
first day of the General Strike in 1926, when he had to walk from
Kentish Town to Hammersmith. He did not go to
either war because, as a baker, he had a reserved occupation. He retired late,
working through to the end of WWII. My mother also remembered that there was
some to-do about him trying to get a government old-age pension because he
didn’t have a birth certificate and couldn’t prove his age. He did get one
eventually, and on his retirement from work, his employers offered him his
choice of an ex-gratia lump sum payment of £200 or £1 a week for the rest of his
life. He took the £1 a week and was still drawing it when he died nearly a
quarter of a century later.
And that was all I knew
about him. But he intrigued me. His young life must have been unimaginably hard:
an orphan bought up in a Dickensian workhouse. How had he survived? What
deprivations must he have suffered? How did he and his brother cope with the
loss of their father, their mother, their home, their lifestyle in
India, to end up in cold, wet, strange
England? These were things I really wanted to
find out. I came from this stock. And what of his brother? Did he survive to
marry and have children? Were his grandchildren looking for their grandfather’s
brother, wondering if he had survived to marry and have children? Were we
looking for each other? Well, regardless of whether anybody was looking for me,
I was going to look for them.
It was a bit daunting
to think that I, here in Perth,
Western Australia, would be
embarking on a task that meant getting access to overseas records and
information. The only assistance I thought I might have was if one or other of
my cousins knew something my father did not. I didn’t know how to contact most
of them and some I hadn’t ever met. It was very odd: in many cultures, these
cousins were people who would have been almost like siblings and yet they were,
at best, just shadowy figures from my childhood.
When in England
in 1966-7, I had only stayed with my Uncle Jim and his wife, and knew his
daughter Judy who was a couple of years younger than me and still at school. I
had met no other cousins. I guess as a 19-year old, hot on the heels of an
errant boyfriend and dying to get to
London, I didn’t have much time for visiting aunts and
uncles and family I had never seen or couldn’t remember.
In 1992 I managed to
meet a couple more of my relatives – my Dad’s sister Lucy and her daughter
Janet, who lived near where I was staying. I met up again with my Uncle Jim but
not with Judy. I never knew her as an adult, and she remained a schoolgirl in my
memory. Apart from that, the rest of the family were a mystery to me, until
another cousin Marion, an offspring of my dad’s
sister Lil, came out to Perth
with her husband in 1999. They had visited
a couple of times but had never before come to Perth. My memories of her were rather hazy,
although we had often visited her home when we were in England in 1954, and it was very
exciting meeting up for the first time in 45 years.
It could have been this meeting that stirred her sister Liz
to come out for a visit – that or the fact that my father had been back to England a couple of times in the
1980s, re-kindling his family ties. While there he did things with his brother
Jim, like visiting their old haunts – where they lived and where they played –
and tried to encourage others of the family to come to Australia for a visit. Our family
had been ‘£10 Poms’ and, unbeknown to us, Liz had wanted to emigrate as a
youngster but was forbidden to do so by her mother. Then marriage and family
intervened, and the dream died.
Eventually, and not until she had retired, Liz decided to
come for a holiday. Finally, in the southern spring of 2000, I met my soon-to-be
fellow investigator for the first time since I was seven. We hit it off straight
away, so much so that she returned two years later and we did a tour of the
northwest together. It was during that time that I asked if she was interested
in finding out more about the family, and she jumped at it.
Liz couldn’t add to the information I already had, in fact
she knew even less than me about the Browns. I asked her if she thought our
other cousins might have more – they being older and having spent all their
lives in England – and was quite shocked to find that she had lost contact with
them all. This baffled me. How could people who were related and living so
close, lose such complete touch with each other, when my dad and I, 20,000kms
away, had more contact with them than they had with each other? It brought home
to me how important being connected was for me, and I added putting all the
family in touch with one another to my ‘To Do’ list.
The only set of cousins I or my father wasn’t in some form
of contact with was his oldest (and favourite) niece and her two brothers.
Fortunately, Dad had kept a letter from her that she had written to him back in
1984 after one of his return visits to
England, and she had used notepaper and an
envelope stamped with the name of a business with which she was connected. Using
the internet, I found that the business was still going, and while I had no idea
whether there was anyone there who would either know my cousin or have a contact
address for her, it was worth a try. Despite a false start or two, one morning I
discovered in my Inbox an email from a strange address. Opening it up I read two
lines of type telling me that the sender was indeed my cousin, who was amazed
and delighted that I had found her.
The email of course was forwarded to Liz, and she
immediately christened me ‘Holmes’, after the Sherlock variety. It stuck and we
started signing our emails either Holmes (for me) or Watson (for her). So, armed
with what scant facts we had and a copy of our grandfather’s marriage
certificate, which our Uncle Jim had sent my father in 1984 after his attempts
to delve into the mystery of the Brown family, Holmes and Watson went searching
for long-lost family.
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