Community and Customs

Part of our sense of contentment and gratitude is our context in the community and our network of family, friends and neighbours. The American genealogist, Elizabeth Shown Mills has called this the FAN principle or the Friends, Associates and Neighbours network. In earlier times, research was also done into these extended connections but the acronym is now more commonly used.

When I’ve spoken to our local society about FANs, I’ve asked them to consider their phone books, or Facebook page, and who they share family stories and photos with over time. Inevitably it includes more than just immediate family, in fact sometimes our family by choice may be friends.

This would have been particularly so for our immigrant ancestors whose families were either deceased or living on the other side of the globe. Their children never met their grandparents, or often aunts or uncles or cousins unless they had also emigrated. Instead kin became close friends and neighbours. Sometimes there may have been connections from the past lives overseas that the children never knew about.

Many years ago, back in my early research days, I noticed there were German neighbours on the land selection map for my Kunkel ancestors. As I learned more about the emigrants from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria who had emigrated around the same time as George Kunkel, those neighbours’ names started to look familiar. Sure enough, after some digging, I discovered there were neighbouring families in the Fifteen Mile near Murphy’s Creek who’d also come from Dorfprozelten: Zollers, McQuillan, Ganzer (later Bodmann). Although I had various oral history discussions with George Kunkel’s granddaughter it was apparent she had no idea of this history. Of course, this is an assumption because she had died before all of this had gelled with me. Can I assume that this connection gave George a sense of connection and community beyond that he had with other neighbours? If nothing else it gave him people to speak with in his own language.

The Fifteen Mile was a wonderful little place in the early days. People came & they brought their customs and their knowledge & know-how from the old country. Annie Kunkel, granddaughter of George and Mary Kunkel.

Like many farming communities neighbours were involved in wedding celebrations, offered their barns for dances, or were givers or recipients of surplus farm produce.

The oldest, Bernard, the oldest brother, Tom’s oldest brother, Bernard Kunkel, he played the accordion. ….. And the Ganzers would come and visit the Kunkels, the Savages come over to the Kunkels, the Kunkels went to them, and then the Horrockses. We all sort of visited round about. Everyone was good friends. Everyone in turn called on the other. Annie Kunkel oral history interview with Cameron McKee, no date known.

People’s engagement with community was essential in those early days as they built up towns, established schools, churches and social groups. Men (and usually men) were on committees to apply to the government for provisional schools as the railway moved west. People like my great-uncle Joseph Francis Kunkel was one of the committee for the Pickenjennie Provisional School.


When all is said and done, the real citadel of strength of any community is in the hearts and minds and desires of those who dwell there. Everett Dirksen, American politician

Or my maternal great-grandfather, who to my vast surprise, coached the brass band in Longreach in Queensland’s west and acted as bandmaster. No one in my family had any knowledge that he’d done this, or even that anyone in the family was musical. Thank you Trove for showing us these hidden insights into our families.[i] As these new immigrants arrived, they added to the communities where they lived.

Other family members were union members and committee members – the extent of their involvement again something that would have been lost without Trove.

Our families didn’t need anyone to explain the need for their engagement – it seems obvious that they knew this at a fundamental level and those who were early immigrants could readily make their own contribution, with or without fanfare.

We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community… Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.  Cesar Chavez, American activist.


Even as late as the 1910s, my relatives were involved with establishing traditional activities within their new environment. While the bagpipes may have driven some of their Glasgow neighbours beyond tolerance, they brought their excellent skills with them to Australia. Peter McCorkindale won many competitions for piping or Highland dance and also played recordings on the radio or performed for charitable organisations like hospitals. His brother, Duncan, was a joiner and foreman of the Joiner’s Workshop when Canberra was being established. Apart from performing, he was also a judge at Caledonian Society events…his role now unknown to the society, without Trove.

The McSherry men were active members of the Hibernian Society wherever they went, and sometimes foundation members as we’ve seen above. One custom in Queensland that I remember myself was the annual Corpus Christi procession when I would see my grandfather marching with the Hibernians. In my own childhood I remember the enthusiasm with which our Irish Catholic ancestry was celebrated on St Patrick’s Day with concerts, Irish songs and hymns and shamrock rosettes on our dresses.

Townsville Daily Bulletin, 22 April 1939

In the quiet settlement of the Fifteen Mile, George Kunkel was following his ancestral customs of grape growing and wine making while his wife Mary O’Brien was taking her eggs to market up the range to Highfields.

The customs and fashions of men change like leaves on the bough, some of which go and others come. Dante Alighieri, Italian poet

I’m sure that there are other examples in my families that I could cite, but this shows how each family built up their communities, kept some customs and forfeited others.

Do you want to share some of your families’ contributions to community or their customs?

[i] (1901, February 5). The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1892 – 1922), p. 13. Retrieved April 3, 2020, from

Parish of Murphy, County of Cavendish, Queensland State Archives A3/18 1932 for the map of the Fifteen Mile.




3 thoughts on “Community and Customs

  1. Excellent choices for letter C. I have found community FANS invaluable in piecing together an ancestors’ life. In one case, near neighbors on property maps became citizenship witnesses. Customs are also important. Records and photos of fraternal and ethnic societies have helped me place ancestors I a broader context.


  2. I have many ancestors marrying neighbours, and even one staying with a neighbour’s relative in the US. You just never know!
    My kids loved the old family traditions but were also not averse to making some of our own.
    Both good topics!


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