Vale Ellen aka. ‘The Queen’ – Aged 106
In my role as Head of Content & Community, I often have the privilege of hearing powerful, emotional stories from our family history community.
Ancestry can help to unlock some incredible discoveries and although there’s no limit to the stories that could be shared, occasionally there is one that stands out.
Enter Ellen, or as she was also known ‘The Queen’.
In November 2022 I was introduced to Robyn, Ellen’s daughter. Robyn shared with me a story of discovery that I’d like to share with all of you.
The story below has been written by Robyn and shared with her permission.
Head of Content & Community
Ellen Jean Power (Stone, McGhie, Coomber, Power)
By Robyn – Ellen’s daughter
Ellen, my mother, was born on December 23, 1916, to unknown parents.
She was fostered in July 1917 in Sydney by Sarah Anne McGhie, who was 54 years old, and her husband, William McGhie. When I spoke with Mum, she said she was told she was born at 11:50 pm at Sydney Hospital but she was never informed that she had been fostered.
At the time, Sarah was married to William McGhie, a ship’s carpenter. Sarah was a widow and had three children when she married William, one of whom lived with her – Edith Mary Walker. Edith was 18 years old at the time and they lived at 18 Raglan Street, Darlington, New South Wales.
Sadly, Sarah passed away in 1920, when Ellen was just three years old. Sarah’s daughter Edith had recently married Harry Morrison a week prior and was living at Levenstrath near Grafton.
With Sarah’s passing, Ellen was sent to live with Edith and her family.
Ellen became the eldest daughter of her new family and grew up calling Edith her mother. The family had two more daughters, and they moved to Sydney. In the following years, Harry worked as a milkman, and as Edith Mary didn’t have good health, Ellen was often called upon to do more at home. She learned how to run a household and was always grateful to her dad, Harry, who held the family together.
Ellen married in 1940 and had three children. Over the years, they moved house several times: Hurstville & Padstow in Sydney, Hamilton South in Newcastle, Corinda in Brisbane, Queensland, then back to Newcastle. Most of these moves were due to her husband’s employment.
Ellen’s husband of 27 years passed away, and as her three grown children were no longer living at home, her life became very quiet. To fill that void, Ellen became a volunteer Pink Lady at the local hospital and worked there weekly for 25 years, being granted the Premier’s Award for her service. In addition to this, she cared for her “father” Harry Morrison as he aged. Ellen also was a regular blood donor for many years and was awarded a medal for that.
She remarried after five years of being a widow, and it was in her mid-adult life that she became aware that her birth story was not correct. When she applied for a copy of her birth certificate, she received a “Declaration of Birth” that detailed her parents as foster parents. This was devastating to her as people of that generation felt shame.
She spent many years wondering what her real story was and why she had not been told.
Over many, many years, we searched for information to fill in the spaces of her story, but it wasn’t until we did the AncestryDNA test that clues began to appear. When the DNA results were received, we began to discover some of Mum’s biological family, which was initially confusing as we couldn’t link these people with anyone we knew, although the Grafton area was very strongly featured. The results initially indicated Ellen’s great-grandparents and some of their family, but they also showed matches in America, which was also very confusing.
I looked at the closest match to her Great Grandparents and sent a message via Ancestry. Luckily, Lynne promptly replied to my communication. Together, we were able to identify another extended family member that confirmed our association with the Great Grandparents. We worked together for the next few years, trying to either find or eliminate the large number of family members as possible parents and grandparents to Ellen, but we still had only limited success. During this time, I organized a mitochondrial test with one ‘niece’ of her foster family and an Ancestry test with another ‘niece,’ which proved negative, showing that Sarah McGhie or her daughter, Edith Morrison, were not her biological mother.
Another DNA match, Geoff, was working with me as we could not identify our connection, but we felt it had to do with Grafton, New South Wales. Along the way, he suggested that I get in touch with ‘Find and Connect‘, which I did. They were very helpful, double-checking any information I could provide, but still no firm results. We were concentrating on Grafton as it was such a common location. Surprisingly, we had been looking at Ellen’s bio-father, but nothing was strong enough to confirm this interest.
There were many mysteries and dead ends, particularly as there were a great number of DNA matches in America who matched us but not our closest DNA match, and we couldn’t understand how this could be.
It was when I read a reference to a genealogist, Louise Coakley, in a Facebook group I had joined, ‘Using DNA for Genealogy – Australia & NZ,’ which spoke of her work in finding parents. I contacted Louise, and working with our family tree and our DNA matches, within 24 hours, she had discovered Ellen’s birth records, which were confirmed by our DNA matches. This was absolutely amazing news for our Mum and our whole family.
We now know that Ellen was born at Nurse Gees Private Hospital in Randwick, NSW, to Daisy Martha Stone and was named Edna Noel Stone. This name was changed to Ellen Jean McGhie when Sarah McGhie registered her as her foster child in July 1917, creating the “Declaration of Birth”. The final confirming fact was noted on her discharge papers – she was given to William McGhie of 18 Raglan Street, Darlington, New South Wales!
Our curiosity as to why Sarah and William fostered Ellen at six months of age is still unanswered, and perhaps we’ll never know.
It was a lot for Ellen to take in, being told that she had a large family spread over northern New South Wales as well as Sydney and Brisbane. In May 2018, we were able to meet with some of the new family for lunch to introduce Ellen, and she felt very warmed by this.
In January 2023 at 106 years of age, our dear Mum passed away. She will be sadly missed by many, but she gave so much love to us all.
Again, on behalf of the family, thank you for the momentous discovery of her birth details.
Our quest continues, we are still searching for anything more we can learn about her life and in particular, a photo of Ellen’s Mother, our Grandmother (Martha Daisy) Daisy Martha Stone / Simpson (1893 to 1983).
I thank Robyn for sharing this story with me, and now with all of you. When she first shared it with me verbally at the Family History Down Under Expo in November last year, you could see the excitement, relief and gratitude she had for everyone that had helped her & Ellen on their shared journey of discovery.
Robyn did go on to add that “it is so important to reply to a message from another Member of family researcher, as that is the tool we need to help decide if we are on the right track” and I couldn’t agree more.
A special thank you also to Louise Coakley – when she first heard from Robyn and learned of Ellen’s story late one evening, she ‘dropped everything’ to help the then 105-year old find the answer to her lifelong question.