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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Elizabeth Tregonning - my favourite female ancestor (Fearless Females)

In honour of National Women’s History Month (, Lisa Alzo of The Accidental Genealogist blog ( presents Fearless Females: 31 Blogging Prompts to Celebrate Women’s History Month.

I am not going to attempt to respond to all of the topics, and I am already too late to attempt to post them on the appropriate days, but I thought they were such a great set of blogging prompts that I wanted to participate.

March 1 — Do you have a favourite female ancestor? One you are drawn to or want to learn more about? Write down some key facts you have already learned or what you would like to learn and outline your goals and potential sources you plan to check.

When I first read the question I immediately thought of my ancestor, Elizabeth Tregonning (1858-1952). I was drawn to her because her death record was so elusive for a long time. As a result I spent a lot of time looking at what I knew about her and thinking about her life – wondering what it much have been like. The more I learnt, the more I wanted to fill the gaps in my knowledge.

What I know and what I would like to know

Elizabeth was born in Avoca, Victoria, Australia on 11 September 1858. Her father was William Tregonning a copper miner from Gwennap, Cornwall, England, and her mother was Elizabeth Martin. Her parents and brother, William Henry Tregonning, had arrived in South Australia on the ship Reliance in 1851. They didn’t stay in South Australia for long – less than a year – before making their way to the Victorian goldfields where the family stayed.

In 1860 when Elizabeth was two, her mother died in childbirth. Her father married Elizabeth Hill just two months later. Two years later Elizabeth had a half-sister, Mary Ellen.

I would like to learn more about what life was like on the Victorian goldfields for women and children. I plan to do a literature survey to identify sources. I also want to look into what schooling was available and see if any records exist.

Fast forward to 1884. Elizabeth, 26, had a son Albert William Tregonning and two months later married a widower 50 years of age, Joseph Tregonning (no known relation between them) also from Gwennap, Cornwall. Albert William’s birth was registered by Elizabeth two days after her marriage to Joseph but he was not named as the father. She had a daughter to Joseph, Violet Adeline Tregonning, in 1886.

I may never know who Albert’s father was.

The next period of Elizabeth’s life seems to have been difficult. It appears that her husband Joseph was insolvent in 1887, and possibly went to gaol. While these events are yet to be proved I do know he died in 1891. Even before I saw references to an insolvent fitting Joseph’s description, I had wondered how strong this family unit was. The details given for his first wife on the death certificate are complete with names and ages for each of their five children; the details of his second marriage to Elizabeth were sketchy with the children described as “1 boy and 1 girl” “ages unknown”.

I am in the process of trying to obtain the insolvency and prison records to confirm it is the same person. Perhaps they will shed more light on the family circumstances.

Elizabeth remained in Avoca and married again – a widower called James Henry French. It was a family of ‘yours, mine and ours’ with young children from two previous marriages and their own five children, the youngest being my grandfather. Elizabeth’s daughter Violet (by her marriage to Joseph) died at age 11 from tuberculosis. All five of Elizabeth and James’ children survived to adulthood.

After her second husband, James, died in 1915, Elizabeth stayed in the Avoca area until around 1924. Elizabeth seems to have lived with her daughter Bessie Ada French, and moved as Bessie moved, even after Bessie’s marriage to Bruin Farquhar Bernard.

I have limited success tracing Elizabeth, Bessie and Bruin through the electoral rolls. I may have more luck as more rolls are included on I have some other ideas about how I might trace Bruin, but they are a lower priority for now.

Finally, Elizabeth moved with Bessie and Bruin to Brisbane, Queensland, where Elizabeth passed away at age 94 on 11 November 1952.

Further details and source references for Elizabeth are available on my research data website. Please contact me if you are researching Elizabeth, I would love to hear from you.


  1. Elizabeth and James' son Walter is my great great Grand father. His daughter Elizabeth Rosina Jeffers nee French was my great grandmother. Looking through her I found your blog.

    1. Thanks you for getting in touch! I remember my Dad waking me me one night to see your great-great-grandfather playing the gumleaf on television. I'd love to be able to fill in more on your part of the family. With the help of some of the other "French" cousins I've been able to put together quite a bit on the extended family. I hope you might contact me at Regards, Shelley.