A Mystery Solved…maybe

No proper research has been done at Smirk’s Cottage, my volunteer project, which I find untenable for a museum. Naturally I was happy to put my hand up to do it and have spent the weekend trawlling through search results from TROVE (newspaper searching), BDM (births, deaths, marriages) and the Cemeteries website. In fact, it wasn’t until I got to the cemeteries page that I had any joy. But, I should start at the start.

Johanna Kavanagh (b. 1866 d. ?) married William Smirk in 1902. William Smirk (b. 1867 d. 1942) built the cottage that is now the museum either during that year, just before or just after. Either way, they lived there, working a farm, until the 1930s. This was the extent of the information I had. I was firstly intrigued by the fact that these two people married so late – well into their 30s – and that they had no children. And I thought it odd that no one knew when Johanna died. Searching for Johanna Kavanagh got me nowhere. The only reference I could find anywhere on the net was in a vaguely related family tree that said she was born in Tasmania. Ah-ha! That’s why I can’t find her birth in WA records. Fair enough, but why couldn’t I find her death. I tried Jo, Hannah, Anna. I tried Smirk, Smirke, Smith (their marriage certificate is incorrectly noted in the computer records as Smith), Sm…, Smi… and other completely illogical ideas. It wasn’t until I remembered the use of  ‘Mary’ as a generic first name for many women through the history of Australia. Right, I thought. Mary Smirk. I happened to be at the Cemeteries website at the time, so I put that in and hit researchers gold. GOLD! There she was, Mary Joan Smirk. Her plot was the same as William Smirk’s and the Grantee was the same for both people – an unknown Helen J. Abbott. But Mary Joan? Huh? As in all things research you don’t try to make sense of it until you have all the information. So I continued. There was a Mary JEAN Kavanagh listed as being born in 1861 in WA. She had a sister, Mary Ann (I told you it was a well used name!) who married Frederick Stockbridge and had a daughter, Olga Amy Stockbridge. Helen J. Stockbridge married Alfred G. Abbott in 1922.

Did you get that? It isn’t a direct line, but it is just too perfect to be co-inciental. If I had to guess, I’d say that Johanna Kavanagh was actually Mary Jean/Joan Kavanagh and her sister’s daughter, Johanna’s niece, Helen J. (no death recorded, but I assume she has died) holds the grantee for the burial plot.

One last thing to check, then. I headed off to Fremantle Cemetery to find the graves. I love cemeteries, especially when I’m looking for someone – it is so thrilling to be looking, looking and then finding. I did find them. Mr and Mrs Smirk, buried together. He died in 1942 and she in 1946. She is listed as Johanna. D’uh!

More searching is needed. I’m suspicious that some scandal happened and she changed her name when she married. I can’t find any evidence of this, but I haven’t finished searching yet.

I’m sure that these details are fairly uninteresting to anyone not connected with the Smirks or interested in research in general, but perhaps you can just appreciate that I had a HUGE win this weekend finding this information – information no one else has been able to uncover – and that I loved every second of doing it.

Find something you love to do and get paid for it? Check to the first bit…still working on the getting paid part!


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