Family history: The mystery of Uncle Joe 6



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I grew up in a family with a mysterious character called Uncle Joe in our background.

Uncle Joe was my grandfather’s younger brother. The story was that as a young man he argued with his father and as a result disappeared. What they argued about we have never been able to ascertain. But no one in the family saw him alive again.

I recall my father saying that as a kid his dad would take him down to the local park and wander around among the homeless men looking to see if Uncle Joe was among them.

I remember my aged Aunts once saying with a degree of glee as if this was a fanciful family myth: I wonder what happened to Uncle Joe.

We knew his birthdate so we had an idea of his age but no one knew what happened to him or where he went. The story was that he had gone to Queensland and died there.

It wasn’t until a cousin researching the family tree was able to locate a record of him so we knew that in 1919 he was alive and living in the records of the police station in Tamworth. He was a vagrant and of course homeless. We also discovered that at one time he was incarcerated in Maitland Gaol for indecent exposure.

The interesting thing about the discovery of Uncle Joe, we still don’t know where he died or where he is buried, was that within the family there was a sense of relief and excitement that he had been found. Well partially found at any rate.

It was as if a family mystery had been solved. Even more fascinating was the discovery of a photograph of him, a police one at that, and when looking at him the resemblance to my older brother is quite remarkable.

Sadly all this came after my dad had passed away. Only one of my dad’s siblings survives him of the eleven children their parents had, good Irish Catholics.

I think every family has some mystery within it and a character who demands to be researched and discovered as having led a life so very different from every one else.

I have often wondered if Uncle Joe missed his family and the connection that affords all of us, that sense of belonging.

I’m wondering if other readers have similar experiences within their respective families.

Do you have a similar experience?

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Michael Grogan

  1. Hmmmmm – that sounds a bit like an Uncle Joe that I’ve been researching for a friend’s cousin. However, he was born in Victoria & seems to have lived in NSW & QLD & been in & our of jail for various reasons (mainly stealing to support his homelessness). I found where he’d been in the Bayswater (Vic) Boys Home (apparently an incredibly dreadful place) & to all intents & purposes disappeared. Found him in one instance as a cook on a ship, so perhaps he went overseas & who knows what happened then.

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    • It the sad thing about so many relatives in that past that records were not accurately kept and some vanished. Its also fascinating discovering the harsh lives some of them led….Thanks Judith for joining the discussion.

  2. Had a great, great great grandmother, ran a gold mine in Ararat. Had five husbands, no one knows what happened to them. I suspect they ended up dead at the bottom of a mine shaft.

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    • Haha, I bet that is a possibility….we all have someone interesting in our families, Thanks Susan for your comment. In fact that is a great research topic I would think….

  3. My Great Grandfather was a ‘remittance man’ paid by his family to leave England a move to the colonies… And not to return. Not too sure what he did to deserve this. But I think he behaved himself after he got here.

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