Thursday, February 12, 2015

Chapter 14: THE MOTHERLODE

I had been searching for my biological father for most of the past 25 years.  All I had known was a name, description, grandmother's first name and address (at my time of birth) and some partially recalled memories that seemed somewhat nebulous.  Suddenly I had a new name and all signs pointed to it being the name that I needed.  This find confirmed that Lionel and Arlene were most likely the parents of Malcolm Campbell.  I had Electoral Records with proof of them living together, as a married couple, for several years, as well as finding records of them living at separate addresses in the 60's and , as of recently, the newly discovered address for Arline (from 1963) had been confirmed as correct.

Holy crap.  I had broken through the wall.

Immediately I went back to the Electoral Rolls and quickly found evidence of the "Brant" family (including Isaac and Gertrude) living in the Colac, Victoria area in the 20's, 30's and 40's.  I found Gertrude living with two of her sons in 1943 in Croydon (a suburb of Melbourne).  I found a war record for Isaac that actually had a photograph of him.
I stared at the image for hours.  He was handsome and so dignified in his Australian Imperial Forces uniform- complete with the familiar khaki felt "slouch hat".  Because the picture was black and white and had a decidedly "sepia" hue to it, it was hard to tell if he had particularly olive toned skin.  He had slightly almond shaped hooded eyes and a full, almost pursed, mouth. One may use those same attributes when describing my face.  Upon further inspection I decided that he looked as though he may be of Italian or Spanish decent. In fact, he bore a striking resemblance to my friend, Ken whose ethnicity includes at least half Portugese. That could explain the 7% Iberian Peninsula attribute listed in my Ancestry DNA Ethnicity Estimate.  According to his military records Isaac served in the 14th Battalion of the Australian Imperial Forces during the First World War, and had spent most of that time in France and England.  He appeared to have been in and out of hospitals.  Further searching revealed that Isaac had died in 1929, in a place called Beeac (pronounced Bee-ack), not far from Colac.
So, Gertrude was left with a daughter and at least two sons and had moved closer to the city in the years following Isaac's death.

Regarding where to begin, one thing was clear.  There were two "clusters " of the Brant family in Victoria.  One up near the Victoria/NSW border and one in the Colac area (pronounced Cole-ack).  These clans stayed in those general areas up until, at least, 1980- after that no Electoral Rolls are published.
I spent a few days combing the internet, in particular Ancestry.com and public tree's of other Ancestry users. There were a few leads- but they were all private trees and frankly, I just didn't have the patience to e-mail the owners, explain my situation and expect them to grant me access to their private information. I realized that sharing too much information up front could send up people's suspicions and desire to "not get involved" if there were a chance they could be "outing" a relative. I've often thought about how I would approach potential family if I had a really promising lead.  My desire is to not scare them away- or give them too much time to ruminate on the potential consequences sharing information could have within their family.  I realized that the smartest way to connect and possibly retrieve information would be the old fashioned way.  The telephone.

This time there was no need to call an "information operator"- is there even such a thing anymore?  I went to the Australian on-line phone directory, whitepages.com.  I typed in the surname and under "area" I chose the entire state of Victoria.  Seven pages of names came up.  I skimmed through them as if I knew what I was looking for.  Most of the listings just had a single or couple of initials in front of the last name. What criteria should I base this search on?  Well, thankfully Skype is a thing now- so I could feasibly make an inordinate amount of international phone calls on my computer for a very nominal price.  Thank you technology.  I chose the first call to be someone who lived in the greater metropolitan Melbourne area.  I dialed the number with a surprising lack of forethought on what I would actually say to my potential new relative- but I did it anyway.  The phone rang that familiar characteristic Australian "double ring"- brrrrrr brrrrrr.  The butterflies began.  Breath.  In through the nose, out through the mouth.

"Hello?"
"Hi.  I'm sorry to bother you.  I'm researching the Brant family in Australia.  I have reason to believe you are a Brant?"
"Yes I am.  But, I came here from England a couple of years ago.  I don't have any relatives here."
"Oh, I see.  Alright then.  Thanks anyway."
"No worries.  Bye."

Strike one.  At least he didn't hang up on me.  I then decided that I should perhaps "hedge my bets" and try to focus on people more geographically appropriate- based on my research.  I have never been to Colac (that I can remember)- but I looked it up online (as you do) - and it was relatively close to a place called Geelong.  I had been there many times as it is (was) the last "metropolitan" type development before the final push to the "beach towns"  South-West of Melbourne.  I found a Geelong Brant and dialed the number.  Deep breath.

Brrrrrr Brrrrrr.....Brrr....
"Hello?"
"Hello.  I'm sorry to bother you.  I'm researching the Brant family in Australia.  I have reason to believe you are a Brant?"
"Yes, well, my husband is."
"Alright then.  Do you feel as though you could answer some questions?"
"I'll try."
"Great.  So, does the name Isaac Brant mean anything to you?"
"Isaac was my husband's grandfather."

You know when something momentous happens in your life and your senses just sort of- alter?  For me everything becomes hyper reactive.  My heart-beat becomes almost tangible- as though it's coming from inside my ears. My breath becomes short.  Everything around me is suddenly much more....I don't know....visible?  Almost as if someone just turned on a huge, white spot-light.

Breathe.

"Oh...alright then.  Do you know if he died quite young?"
"That sounds right"
"Could it have been in a place called "Beeac"?
"Yes.  That would make sense."

whitelightwhitelightwhitelightwhitelight...

"What about Gertrude?"
"Gertrude was my husbands grandmother"

HOLY MOTHER OF GOD........whitelightwhitelightwhitelightwhitelight.....

"Ummmm.  It sounds as though you are definitely the Brants I'm looking for."
"You should call my sister-in-law.  She would have all the answers."
"Oh, ok.  Would you feel comfortable giving me her number?"
"Sure."
"How about you call her first and give her a "heads up"

I'm not sure why I asked her to do this- except to ensure her that I didn't want to be rude, even though I had just cold-called her.  Perhaps it was clear that I had gained her trust and she could relay to the sister-in-law that I was A-OK.  She gave me "Tricia's" number and promised to call her immediately to advise her of my imminent communication.  I thanked her profusely and hung up.

JESUS, MARY AND JOSEPH AND ALL THAT IS HOLY IT'S HAPPENING!!!!!

I ran to the back of the house to tell my husband.  He runs his business from there, so his business partner is usually there on week days as well.  I periodically drop in to apprise them of my latest discoveries, however significant.  This time I burst in there and exclaimed something like "I HAVE MY COUSIN'S PHONE NUMBER AND I JUST TALKED TO THE WIFE OF MY OTHER COUSIN".  I don't think my husband saw that one coming, considering I had just ascertained Arline's maiden name a mere three days earlier.