Genealogy - Deborah's passion

​Genealogy is not, as some would tell you, easier these days because of the internet. The internet can make things quicker, it is true, but a good genealogist still requires three documents to prove a fact for someone in their tree. This can be via the internet of course, but buying a subscription to a genealogy site is just the beginning.  You will still need to tramp around cemeteries, graveyards and churches (or have overseas contacts that can do that for you); order documents from birth, death and marriage registries all over the world (not cheap!); search archives (or have contacts in the part of the world who will search for you); visit libraries and spend hours on the internet. It is a wonderfully satisfying hobby watching that family tree grow upwards and outwards and to learn about the lives and secrets of your forebears.


​I was always surprised and not very interested when other children talked about their Grandads or Poppas because grandfathers seemed a very foreign concept to me. I didn’t have any. When I asked my parents I was told that my grandfathers were dead.

My paternal grandmother was Nana Collins. We rarely saw her or heard from her. Any discussion about her by my parents was generally negative and I knew that my mother didn’t get on with Nana Collins or my father's siblings who were Uncle Bruce and Aunty Pat.​

I used to think it strange that there were no baby photos of my Dad. He had an album with photos of his war days but there was nothing in our home that would ever point to my Dad having been a child. The nearest thing to a childhood toy he had were a few small trophies which lived in the garden shed. I was told that these were from when he was a speed skater but any detail that I might have been told about this sporting prowess have been lost in the mists of time. I remember once going to a Wanganui Library competition where children were supposed to dress up as a book character. Mum found me a white coat from somewhere and Dad made a kind of stethoscope out of some tubing and the bowl of one of the trophies. I was supposed to be Dr Doolittle. I didn't win a prize.




My Dad was ill right through my childhood until he died at the age of 59. He had a heart condition stemming from when he had rheumatic fever as a 12 year old.  This had been aggravated by his war service in Crete and the Middle East which culminated in his being wounded at El Alamein.  He told us that he was working on a farm when he contracted rheumatic fever and that he was left alone in his room over the barn for a week while he fought the horrible disease. I was amazed to think that he was working at such a young age and that no-one was there to take care of him. Where was Nana Collins?  Why wasn't she taking care of him?

One thing we knew without doubt was that our ancestry was Scottish and Irish - yeah right!

​Dad's name was Maxwell Trevor Davenport Collins so we pretty much knew that was where the Irish came from. Mum often used to call Dad "bog Irish" if he did something she felt was inappropriate. During my early research I discovered that Dad's Collins origins were not Irish at all. Collins is in fact, an old English surname with the Collins family being Lords of the Manor and seated in Shropshire before the Norman Conquest.  As I delved into Dad’s maternal side I discovered the Todd family. This is where the Irish side of my Dad’s heritage is from – but did he know that? Or did he think Collins was the Irish connection?

Mum's maternal grandfather was Duncan James McKenzie so that was where the Scottish came from. More than that I never knew, until I home-schooled my youngest daughter Emily for a year in 1994. Part of the school curriculum was discovering how people came to New Zealand so Emily and I decided to look at my mum's ancestry.  We didn't get very far but we did discover that mum's paternal grandparents were John Henry George and Emma Alice Leslie. Finding the name "Leslie" convinced us that mum's paternal forebears came from Scotland as had her maternal forebears and thus she was Scottish through and through.


The assumption was wrong. Emma Leslie's father was Alfred Isaacs - a Jew who had to change his surname and the surname of his wife and children in the 1800s in order to gain employment in London in his chosen career as a solicitor.


Tme went on and I went back and forth to my pathetic little family tree from time to time, but without any real enthusiasm. By the time I had resolved to start seriously looking for ancestors my mother began to get sick and nearer to death.  ​In January 2009 my mother died and I never had the chance to share her family history with her.  The secrets and lies, the good honest lives and the not so good and dishonest lives, the connections with family all over the world, the tragedies and the triumphs - the new world of family history opened up for me.  I did, however, get to tell her that she had Jewish ancestry and that her grandfather had been an architect – the profession she had longed to join when she was a girl.

As my tree began to build, my excitement and addiction grew. I began to find forgotten and hidden family stories, tragedies and scandals.  I met new people. I discovered cousins. I discovered my father had an illegitimate sister that he never knew. I found photos and documents and certificates. I visited libraries, museums, cemeteries, archives and I joined genealogy sites, discussion groups and Facebook pages all over the world. People began to contact me when they found my online trees.  Some were thrilled to find “their” family history and some had additions and/or corrections for me.  I was (and still am) thrilled by every contact, always learning, always sharing, always correcting and still surprised and excited. Some people wanted help with their own tree and I am very happy to do that.

​Later in life I was surprised to learn that my Dad had been brought up in a children's home because his parents had divorced when he was very little.  My mother's parents too had split up when Mum was a toddler.  Both my grandmothers were solo parents at a time when it was not very acceptable.

And then, about a year ago, the game changer! DNA began to get more and more common and I decided it was time for me to see how DNA could aid in my search. Now the queries come from people who are NOT in my tree but who have DNA links to me.  It is quite a different thing to try and link two trees when there is no common ancestor to be found originally.  It has turned me into a super sleuth!  And yes, Irish heritage figures strongly – maybe my Dad was “bog Irish” after all!


You will see that there are four trees attached to this website.  One is mine, one is John’s and the other two are our children’s biological family trees.  Click here to see all four of our trees. If you think I can help you with your ancestry please feel free to contact me whether you are part of one of  “our” families or not.

Deborah Watson