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WHO ARE YOU CHARLIE BROWN?  A search for family


charlie brown

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   moments.

“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 intrigue. 

"It is a captivating journey that inspires one to never give up.” 

In Store Price: $AU25.95 
Online Price:   $AU24.95

 

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ISBN: 978-1-921919-03-9
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 187
Genre: Non Fiction
 

 

 


Author: Wendy Brown
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2011
Language: English

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www.brownfamilystory.com

Author Comment

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 encounter.

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.


 Author Biography

 

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 Words of 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.  

Who are 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 in England; 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.

 1. Roots

In all 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)

 

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 England 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 easier.

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 Australia 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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