Notes from the trail of the illusive “Miss Casey”

There is a serious affliction that tends to affect only one person in each generation of almost every family I know. Some suffer more acutely than others. You will know the one I speak of in your own family. Perhaps, if you’ve navigated your way here somehow, it is in fact you, dear reader.

They are the person who covets Nanna’s photo collection and the one everyone calls when they’re trying to fill in their children’s family tree project in year 5. They are the one who documents family gatherings with scientific accuracy and whose family video collection is currently being converted to digital for posterity. These poor souls are afflicted by the need to carry forth the family stories in order for them to survive beyond living memory. You may have gathered that in my family, it is me.

I have carried a story with me since I was a little girl. I’d been told that Maggie, my ‘Grandma-the-Great’ (and she was) was adopted. Family legend said that once a year her adopted parents (who the only reference I had for meant that in my imagination resembled Miss Hannigan and Rooster) bought her a new dress and came to Perth for the Royal Show where Maggie would stand outside a pub for her mother to look at her from across the street. I knew she was a Casey, and that she married a “Smythe,” and that her abandonment of her daughter was somehow due to her religion.

The final piece, my great-great grandmother’s name and the real story of why she had to give up her daughter, had me stumped for a good 10 years. Ancestry DNA revealed a good proportion of Irish heritage in my blood, which explained my curly blonde locks and a tendency to burn in the sun, but genealogy provided no explanation that I could find. I believed the mysterious Ms Casey must be the missing link, and that one day I would find her.

Early one morning I was sipping my tea and navigating the many apps that ping at me, when wouldn’t you know among the many hundred other wiggling little ‘leaf’ icons that indicated a usually useless hint about a distant grand-grand-grand-aunt a single Trove article answered the question of “who was Maggie/Norah Casey/Male’s mother?” without doubt:

The find came courtesy of a fellow family history buff on ancestry.com. So much information so swiftly confirmed by the words “Uncle of Ivy, Eric, Daphne and Norma.” There she was, Mrs E Smythe of the Railway Dining Rooms Boulder.

Of course, as these things go more answers only led me to more questions and more questions led me to… well this. Putting the bones on a story with what I have since found about Ethel’s life, and what I have surmised between the records, why she may have given her daughter up at age four – a bringing together the legend, the rumours and what we now know of that time on our Western Australian history. It is a story that starts in New South Wales with the death of a seven year old boy in a tragic accident, and ends in 1949 at a party on a farm in the Great Southern.

It all starts with this:

“It’s a terrible thing, not to know your mother.”

A quote from Norah / Maggie to her daughter, my Grandma when she was well into her 80’s

I am currently fashioning these threads into what might just be an homage of love for my family, the only kind of inheritance I might pass down – a bloody good story. I’ve reinvigorated this blog to give myself a space to write more regularly. The story is currently about 10-15k words and mostly plotted out. I find it hard to establish scenes even when I know where they are going and what feeling they need to achieve. I regularly take long breaks and am expert in the great art of procrastination by research, easily distracted by googling things like “what was the brand of the blue tablets used in washing in 1930s Australia.” My scrapbook is now overflowing with clippings. But nevertheless if this sounds like a ride you’d like to be on, I would love if you’d join it – it could be bumpy.

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