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Uncovering historical family connections

Uncovering historical family connections

Discovering you are a mokopuna of leading Ngāpuhi chief, Tāmati Wāka Nene; that your great great grandfather was a stretcher-bearer during World War 1; or that your grandmother was a survivor of the 1947 polio epidemic – these are just some of the family connections Year 11 History students are making in class.

The project is called ‘Who do you think you are’, based on the television series, and is a two-part NCEA assessment. It encourages the students to dig deep into their family trees to uncover connections with significant historical people and events. “We continue to be amazed at the stories that come from this research, and this year was no exception. The students’ ancestors have played vital roles in turning-point events in New Zealand history,” says St Paul’s History teacher Defyd Williams.

Examples include Blake Walker who is researching his tupuna Tāmati Wāka Nene – one of the first signatories of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Lachie Dryden’s great grandfather Jack Lindsay was a strapper for a horse named Nightwatch, who beat the legendary Phar Lap. Clay Richardson’s great great grandfather James McIntosh, the Liberal MP for Wallace, played a major role in the advancement of interest-free loans for settlers. Lucy Gray’s great great grandfather William Gray died in the Waihi mining disaster of 1906, a place of great significance in New Zealand’s labour movement; and Sarah Gjzago’s grandmother Judith Cash was a victim of the 1947 polio epidemic.

Some of the students have focused on New Zealand’s involvement in conflicts abroad for example, David Hancock’s great great uncle Pilot Officer Mervyn Lund who was shot down over Holland while serving with bomber command. Others have researched ancestors in World War 1 including, Adam Jeffers whose great great grandfather died from a malaria epidemic in the Middle East and Madison Bailey’s ancestors William Mecheam and Leo Kyle who served as stretcher-bearers.

Reasons how and why families migrated to New Zealand is another popular theme. Robert Merryweather focused on the German Dose family who migrated to New Zealand from Eastern Europe, after World War 2, and Caelen Mclay’s Italian ancestor Carlo Tuchi migrated to remote Jackson’s Bay as part of the Vogel’s migration scheme.

Some of the stories look at more recent events such as Bryn Singers’ grandfather, Graham Singers, who was pro the 1981 Springbok Tour and attended the controversial Waikato Game that was called off; and Molly Flavell’s ancestor Gifford Jackson who was described as “New Zealand’s industrial design pathfinder” for his work with Fisher and Paykel. Oliver Rassmussen’s great great grandfather played a major role in introducing trout to New Zealand by establishing hatcheries in the 1890s.

“Canadian historian Margaret McMillan believes that 'the History Craze' is a modern phenomena and that people want to find out more about themselves, nationally, globally, and perhaps mostly personally,” says Williams.

“Ancestry DNA sites, according to McMillan, have opened the door to self-knowledge, making family history a fascinating area to research,” he says.

Photo: Year 11 student Blake Walker with his 'Who do you think you are' history research project on his tupuna Tāmati Wāka Nene.