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Brick Wall Solutions – John Carnegie, John Stanley, John Carnegie (again) – Lost and Found | Unlock the Past

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Brick Wall Solutions – John Carnegie, John Stanley, John Carnegie (again) – Lost and Found

This is the second installment of a theme-based blog on brick walls in family history research and how to break them down. Initially I will be using my own examples but I also welcome input from others who have solved their brick walls using out of the ordinary resources or searches.

This blog intersects with Helen Carnegie’s story (Brick Wall Solutions Blog 28 Nov 2009) as John Carnegie was her father. I started researching the Carnegie family in 1977.

John Carnegie was born in Montrose, Forfar (now Angus), Scotland in 1837. He was the son of James Carnegie and Betty Sharp.

He married Helen Stratton, the daughter of Charles Stratton and Eliza Ferrier. Helen was born in 1839, also in Montrose.

John and Helen married in Dundee, Scotland in 1861 and had two children in Montrose – Helen born 1862 (Blog 28 November 2009) and John born 1864.

In 1865 John and Helen Carnegie and their two children Helen and John immigrated to Queensland, Australia.

Their passage to Queensland was to be the first brick wall in that I could not find them in the card index to immigrants at the Queensland State Archives.  So for many years the name of the ship they arrived on was unknown.

The next event in their lives was the death of their son John in Brisbane in 1866 and he was buried in the Paddington Presbyterian cemetery. The death certificate shows that the cause of death was teething and that the family were living in the Westend Estate, South Brisbane. The certificate indicated that they had been in Queensland for about 10 months, putting their arrival about May or June 1865.

I made another attempt at trying to locate the passenger list on microfilm but there were quite a few ships arriving at that time, the handwriting was poor and I am not sure my heart was in it as it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. So the name of the ship continued to be unknown.

In 1867 John and Helen Carnegie had another daughter Georgina Carnegie.

Early on in my research I had no trouble locating John and Helen Carnegie’s death certificates and they both died at Toorbul, Queensland in 1903 and 1913 respectively. John was an oyster farmer and I had found his applications for land selections at Toorbul in 1879 and 1885.

John Carnegie Land Selection Application 1879John and Helen had another daughter Clara ca 1872 and Georgina had died according to John’s death certificate. I tried finding Clara’s birth and Georgina’s death but without success and as it was the days before Queensland BDM indexes; I could not imagine why the Registrar General’s staff could not locate the entries.  They should have been born and died respectively in Brisbane or Toorbul, just north of Brisbane. Here was the second brick wall.

In 1980 I decided to get Clara’s marriage certificate and this partly paid off in that it told me that her name was Clara Stanley Carnegie and she had been born in Grafton, NSW. I promptly sent off a request for a birth certificate to the NSW Registrar of BDMs and was disappointed to receive a ‘could not find’ letter. Why not?

I was also puzzled my Clara’s middle name of Stanley, where did it come from? There was the County of Stanley where Toorbul is located but they hadn’t moved there yet. Another mystery.

Map of ToorbulAs I mentioned in the beginning, I started researching the Carnegie family in 1977 and it was not until 1987 that I had my breakthrough and the brick walls started to come slowly down.

That year I was pregnant with my son and as I could no longer work easily in the reading room at Queensland State Archives, I was asked to work on a special project. I suggested a guide to prison records, as these were an unused resource.

Why did I choose prisons? I had no real reason other than they contained lots of biographical information on people and a guide might see more use made of the records.

Well I found so many of my ancestors in the prison records that I was truly shocked to start with, but over time I came to see how ‘fortunate’ I was in that there was lots of information on them. I have been giving a talk on my criminal ancestors for the last 20 years and it is still one of my most popular and requested talks.

John’s Story

In the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence, I found a letter from John Carnegie dated 10 September 1869 asking for remuneration for his time in HM Gaol, Brisbane. He had been sentenced to two months gaol with hard labour. It was recommended that he be paid a remuneration of 7s 6d. He was discharged on 21 September 1869. Totally excited by this discovery I tried to find out why in the court records but without success.

I then turned to the newspapers because the offence would have occurred in July 1869 and after a search I found an account of the crime in the Moreton Bay Courier on 23 July 1869. John was brought before the Central Police Court charged with assaulting William Hays, a cab driver, at 11pm in Edward Street, Brisbane. It appears that Hays was standing in the street outside Dinsdale’s Hotel when he and John Carnegie quarrelled. John struck Hays on the face with an old worn out chisel causing a cut over the eye. John was found guilty and sentenced to two months hard labour.

Prison records are wonderful for biographical information and they also give the name of the ship if a person was not native born. John’s prison record gave me the name of the ship he and his family arrived on. At last!

The Sunda arrived in Moreton Bay on 26 May 1865 and it didn’t take me long to find the passenger list in the microfilm. If I didn’t know that the name was Carnegie I would never have read it that way. It is no wonder that the people indexing the passenger lists didn’t get it right. At least that brick wall was demolished.

The prison entry for John reveals he was from Scotland, 32 years old, 5 feet 4½ inches tall and with a stout build. He had a fresh complexion with brown hair and blue eyes. There is no surviving photograph of John, so this description is simply wonderful.

Also of immense interest were his three tattoos. Not one but three and they simply add to the mystery of this intriguing family. John had bracelets tattooed on both wrists, he had the Montrose coat of arms tattooed on his right breast (confirming that he must have been mine) and last but not least, he had the American colours on his right arm. Why?

When John married Helen in 1861 he gave his occupation as a seaman – had he travelled to America? Why did they come to Australia and not America? 1861 was the year the American Civil War started so that might be one explanation. The American colours tattoo is yet another mystery to puzzle over.

Was John’s conviction and time in gaol the reason why I couldn’t find the two missing certificates? The years went by again and the NSW BDMs were released on microfiche so I could do my own searching. But again no luck.

When the NSW BDMs came online and searching was free, I again tried to find Clara’s birth and Georgina’s death. In a moment of inspiration or perhaps it was desperation, I tried searching under Clara Stanley with Stanley being the surname. Clara was born in 1872 at Junction Road, Clarence River, NSW and her father was given as John Stanley, a gardener, 34 years old and from Scotland. Her mother was Helen Stratton and there was one living daughter and a deceased son but no mention of Georgina. So it was definitely my family but now calling themselves Stanley instead of Carnegie and where was Georgina?

Georgina Stanley transcription of death certificateWith this new information I then searched for Georgina and found her death under the name of Stanley in 1871, the year before Clara’s birth. Rather than purchase a certificate, I took the cheaper option of getting a transcription only, which is allowed in NSW.

Georgina Stanley died in Prince Street, Grafton and her parents were John Stanley, gardener and Ellen Stratton. Georgina was 4 years old and had died of diptheria. Her time in NSW was given as 12 months so this meant that the family had moved to Grafton about March 1870 or six months after his release from gaol.

Was it an attempt at a new life? Why did they move back to Queensland? Why did they start using the name Carnegie again? I will probably never know the answers to these questions but sometime between Clara’s birth in July 1872 and September 1879 they moved to Toorbul and John selected land and became a highly respected oyster farmer.

Brick Wall Tips

  • Search surname possibilities. If you can’t find an entry under an expected surname think of the possibilities. Are there are unusual middle names or even mother’s maiden names just in case there was no marriage
  • Search spelling variations for both given and surnames
  • Try other States – people moved around a lot more than we think and often for reasons we can’t even guess at
  • If you can’t get a birth record, try marriage or death records for clues
  • No one swam to Australia – most will be found on passenger lists but remember that handwriting is often hard to read, not everyone is recorded especially if they were steerage and so on.
  • Check all available records – people don’t just disappear, there is usually a reason and prisons and asylums are good starting places
  • Keep revisiting the research as more records become accessible and online
  • Never give up
  • Tell others how you did it – inspiration and clues for researching their own brick walls


Sunda 1865

Gail, did you ever obtain a copy of the passenger list? My Great Great Grandfather, R S Hews, arrived on that ship and I have been trying for years to find out what members of his family accompanied him.

Ken Harley

Passenger list for ship Sunda 1865

Hi Shauna,

You may be able to help me break down one of my brick walls.

I suspect, through a process of elimination based on information I already have, that a family I am researching for a friend arrived in Queensland on the ship Sunda in 1865, but there is no mention of the family name Kewin (and I have tried every variation I can think of) on the Queensland Archives online lists of immigrants. Perhaps you could let me know the details of the microfilm containing the passenger list so I can try to track it down. I am in Sydney and suspect I may have to ask a contact in Brisbane to have a look for me, although I would prefer to access it myself if possible.

Many thanks,

Gail Macqueen

Passenger list for Sunda 1865

Hi Gail

I don't have a copy of the passenger list but it is microfilm Z1957 which was part of the Immigration Kit so you should be able to see it at a genealogy society or other local library if they bought the kit.



Passenger list for Sunda 1865

Thanks Shauna. I'll let you know how I get on.


Gail Macqueen

John and Helen CARNEGIE

Hello Shauna,

                          I just this evening subscribed to this forum,and was surprised to see this posting.

Helen CARNEGIE (junior),married Alexander Miller FERGUSON in Brisbane on 21 January 1889.

Alexander Miller FERGUSON died in Brisbane and was buried in South Brisbane Cemetery on 19 August 1925.

Helen FERGUSON(Nee CARNEGIE)then married Charles Wademore CHICK(born at Bathurst in 1871 with

parents Henry Thomas CHICK and Jane HUTCHINSON and died at Parramatta on 28 October 1929 and buried

at Rookwood Independant cemetery on 29 October 1929) on 3 February 1927 in Country Queensland(I did find

Charles Wademore CHICK with Helen CHICK at Sapphire,Queensland in 1913.)

Helen CHICK returned to Queensland to live with a sister Mrs C.S.BISHOP(Clara Stanley BISHOP,died 1960 in

Brisbane)at "Karisma",Toorbul till her death on 23 December 1946 aged 84 years,her death was registered at

Brisbane.A death notice was published in the "Courier Mail  on page 8 of the issue dated Thursday 26 December


Charles and Helen FERGUSON(nee CARNEGIE) had no children that I am aware of as Helen appeared to have

taken up with Charles in her later years.




Hi PeterThanks for this

Hi Peter

Thanks for this comment - since posting the original brickwall on 9 Dec 2009 I posted a follow up on 28 Jan 2010 and again on 9 July 2010 following various breakthroughs in my research. One of these was making contact with a Ken Pascoe (a relation to you I suspect) who gave me information on the Chick connection. We were totally unaware of it as Helen's family seem to have wiped her from the family memory so it has been really interesting to find out that she was alive until 1946 and that her sister Clara was aware of it.

If only I could go back in time and ask my grandmother and her siblings if they knew a woman called Ellen Chick - perhaps they did and just didn't realise it was their grandmother. Or perhaps their father didn't want anything to do with his mother and stopped all contact between them.




Hello Shauna,

                          Ken PASCOE is my father's brother,and we have been doing family history together for possibly eight

years(time gets away on us).Between us we have pulled down a few brick walls,and have a fairly good grasp on

most lines of our families,but occassionally hit brick walls of our own.

                           Both uncle and myself have helped a lot of other people who have hit their brick walls and uncle seems

to enjoy doing the family research.


Regards from Canberra,


Try weird ways of searching on BDM's

I hit a brick wall looking for the birth of my g-g-g/mother, Elizabeth Lorne Brackenreg. I already knew the info but wanted to buy a certificate, except she wasn't coming up on the NSW BDM. After many frustrating searches I listed her first name only (thankfully Lorne is an unusual middle name) and her parent's first names, and up she popped! Her birth had been mistakenly transcribed online as Crackenreg, not Brackenreg.

So my advice is to try searching but leave out fields here and there in case there's been a simple typo.

Good luck!


I know a bit about this family.  Lizzie Brackenreg was a daughter of Charles James Brackenreg and his wife Mary Ann Bailey, who is my ancestor.  Mary Ann was a daughter of Samuel Bailey (per Lord Eldon 1817) and his wife Sarah (married previously as Morris and per Princess Charlotte).  Mary Ann was transported with her mother at as an infant and brought up as a child of Samuel and Sarah.  Sarah & Samuel operated the Cottage of Content Hotel at East Maitland for many years.  Two of thier daughters married Brackenreg boys.

Cheers, Mim


From a NSW POL GAZ 1886

Singleton.-A warrant has been issued by the Singleton
Bench for the arrest of Harriet Leggatt, charged with
absconding from the hired service of James Brackenreg,
Singleton , on the 28th December last. Leggatt is 16 or 17
years of age, about 5 feet high, stout build, dark hair and eyes;
wore spotted print dress ; an apprentice from Biloela. Supposed
to have gone to Maitland.