Sometimes at night, I just trawl through Trove using a combination of surname and place. Often the results just turn up finds I’ve made previously, tagged and linked to the relevant lists I maintain.
And then, out of the rabbit hole, pops a completely unexpected rabbit[i].
I have no idea why this was a surprise to me. Given the family’s strong Catholicism, it might well have been expected. However, I knew which girls had died, which had married and that one had lived with her parents throughout her life so hadn’t even considered it.
Now, if only the story had given “Miss McSherry’s” first name, not just her novitiate name. Which one of the girls was it? I’ve put a list together and the three likeliest are the eldest girls: Bridget 18 in 1900 (born Wexford), Margaret Mary 14 (who remained unmarried) and Annie 13. The next two Mary Ellen 11 and Elizabeth 9 seem too young to be eligible to take their initial vows as novices.
What strategies have I tried to get clarification?
- Eventually re-discovered the location of a database of nuns in Australia[ii]. (Thanks to the Wayback Machine). I had seen this many years ago when I had no idea we may have any relatives in the religious orders. Unfortunately, there is no mention of our McSherry girl or a Sister Mary Anthony so perhaps novices were not included. You can download the file if you think you have a long-term interest (I had done this but forgotten I had for a while, another “duh” moment).
- Written to an email address suggested by a friend to see if the Presentation nuns still have records of novices from all those years ago.
- Checked the marriage dates for the McSherry girls…setting up a timeline.
- Tried to find out the history of the Presentation Sisters in Queensland and was amazed to discover that Longreach was their first foundation, established in February 1900. Notably, the McSherry girl joined the novitiate only 3 months after the nuns arrived.
- Searched Trove for more clues to no avail – I’d imagine that there would have been none of the fanfare when she left the convent.
- Checked Electoral Rolls for these girls once they turned 21 (after 1900 when female franchise took effect federally).
- Searched school admission records at QSA for Longreach, Hughenden and Townsville, which was the family’s chain of residences with the railway. To my surprise even Hughenden had a Good Samaritan convent school which commenced in …you guessed it…1900. I’ve written to see if they have any school admission registers.
- Checked the school indexes on Find My Past – only found one entry that’s too early.
At this stage it seems that I must bide my time and hope I get a response to my email enquiries. Thanks Trove for this new discovery, and rabbit hole. Do you have any religious in your family?
UPDATE: I have been told that the novice was Bridget, the only one old enough to join the novitiate, and that she left after a short period, having concluded it wasn’t for her. She didn’t want to be a teacher and had joined as a lay sister.
[i] Longreach Items. (1900, May 29). The Western Champion and General Advertiser for the Central-Western Districts (Barcaldine, Qld. : 1892 – 1922), p. 8. Retrieved January 10, 2021, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75676580
[iii] Story of the arrival of the Presentation sisters: WAGGA NUNS IN QUEENSLAND. (1900, March 10). Wagga Wagga Express (NSW : 1879 – 1917), p. 7.