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  • Writer's pictureAimee Wilson

Chasing History...

About two years ago my mother started talking about some family reunion she'd like to go to in Tasmania. Yawn. Always only half listening and wondering why she'd want to go and meet up with people who were distant relatives that she'd never met - I never really properly understood.

Then one day I started listening. As my mother is an only child - a post-war baby, she never had brothers and sisters and therefore no nieces or nephews either. There was some deeper reason for wanting to attend this family reunion. She mentioned the family name a few times and finally when I was properly listening she revealed who this ancestor was - William 'Effingham' Lawrence.

So I Googled him. And appears he has a Wikipedia page and I'm related to someone prominent and a once famous pioneer of Southern Australia. Well why didn't you say so? I was thinking....

Maybe I wasn't ready to listen then and learn about my family history? I was born a Wilson and have never married and never really considered my mother's side of the family because it was so small.

The Lawrence family name carried through into Southland where I was born. My grandmother Elsie Sharp (nee Lawrence) was brought up on a big farm in Hedgehope - owned by one of the grandson's of this 'William Effingham Lawrence. The rest of the 10 children are scattered throughout NZ and Australia.

So my mother and my oldest and only sister Lisa and I are heading to Launceston in March for this reunion, and we'll be meeting other descendants like us too. This Lawrence character certainly made his mark on Tasmania in the 1800s, not only as the major landowner, but in establishing two distinctive schools, a steam boat company and as a member of the legislative council advocating popular rights.

I now understand the importance of this trip - in not only being company for our mother, but honouring her family and our heritage. The family tree has been thoroughly researched and goes right back to London and New York in the 1700s when William's father was a merchant between the two cities.

To anybody else this all sounds rather boring, but I felt it was important to share because there is a bigger message in all of this - in discovering these ancestors I have also started to unravel a little extra layer of myself.

My whole life people have asked me "so which Wilson are you?" My grandfather on my father's side was the South Island manager of Four Square back in the 1950s, also based in Southland.

But now I can also proudly say I'm a descendant of the Lawrence family of Tasmania. It's a weird new sense of belonging. When I shared this news with a lady in Invercargill I was interviewing months ago for a story (a Maori lady who started a successful charity food kitchen), she began telling me how she had been adopted into a pakeha family, and last year also went back to the North Island to meet her real whanau. When she walked into the room there were all of these people that looked like her. 'Really' looked like her, not just because of the colour of their skin. She said it was just incredible. "This might happen to you," she said. You could end up in a room full of a few hundred people and feel this connection and familiarity." This trip to discover my ancestral line has moved from being one of slight enthusiasm to one of intense curiosity and I can't wait to start learning more about it.

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