I am always fascinated by the twists and turns of family history. The unfolding story of Rod Marsh’s adopted father and his family in the latest episode of Who do you think you are? revealed some common leaps in thinking that we can make when doing genealogical research.
While Rod knew that his father (Ken) was adopted, it was never discussed in Ken’s lifetime, as was the case in many families. Talking to a cousin, Rod saw a first photo of his father’s parents, Robert and Amy Holgate taken after Robert had joined the AIF during the Great War. Rod immediately noted how short Robert was in the photo and assumed he got his height (or rather lack of it) from this man. Robert’s enlistment records confirm this – he was actually rejected by the AIF on first application because of his small size, just over 5’1″. Rod then learned that Robert was not actually his grandfather, as Amy was already 5 months pregnant with Ken when Robert returned to Australia in 1919.
All family historians naturally look for evidence to confirm existing traits and patterns in relationships. It was only through further research that Ken’s birth father was correctly identified as Jack Dutton. I encourage you to persevere in your family history, following up each line of research in a systematic way and seeking help from experts when required.
Ken was born in country Western Australia and grew up in Geraldton, having been adopted as an infant by Tom and Millie Marsh who provided him with happy, if strict, childhood. The Marsh’s are a famous pioneer family of Geraldton, as Tom’s father Daniel was an entrepreneur and industrialist who first brought electricity to the town, among many other notable achievements. Through hard work and endeavour, Dan rose above his chequered past to become a successful businessman, demonstrating the same qualities for which Rod was known as a famous Australian test cricketer. As Rod reflected on his family history journey, he learnt that those qualities were “not in the blood but in the name” [of his adoptive family], an intriguing thought in the context of the nature/nurture issues that form part of any adoption experience.