Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Mysterious Ancestor

It all started when I mentioned casually at dinner one evening, that I wanted to go visit Bukit Brown (BB) cemetery.  My father remarked, that in his childhood he remembered visiting the grave of his grandfather's father, every year at Cheng Beng (the day the Chinese visit the graves of their ancestors to remember them), in a "cemetery off Lornie Road".  Since BB is off Lornie Road, he thought this could be the same cemetery. 

I thought that the first person to come down from China was my father's grandfather!  Where did this mysterious ancestor come from?!!!  And could I be sure that my father's recollections were correct?  What was the name of this gentleman anyway?  My father only recalled the surname, which of course is not a big feat of memory since it is our family name anyway.  And so the investigations began.  My father checked with his sisters, all of whom remembered visiting the said cemetery but none of whom could remember the full name of the said ancestor.  They checked with their aunt (my grandaunt), who being one generation before them might actually know a little more detail.  Unfortunately, they drew a blank - he had died before she was born, she said.  But, after thinking about it, she vaguely recalled that one of his names was "Huat" - or something like it. 

So there I had two clues - the name "Huat" (or something like it), and a possible date of death, likely somewhere in the 1920s since that was when BB was opened and that was around when grandaunt was born.(Of course, that was before I found out that there were graves in other parts of Singapore which were exhumed and the bodies re-located to BB.)  Anyway, I found the BB Burial Register on-line, courtesy of the National Archives, and trawled through the first two documents before scrolling down and finding the index of names further down.  Ah, well, at least it still saved me quite a lot of work. Fortunately, my family surname is relatively uncommon, so the number of entries was not overly daunting.  And it was quite easy to knock out the females and those who died too young.  However, I could not find a "Huat", but found something which looked like "Huan" (the careful cursive script of the day was not always easy to read).  Alas, the full name still did not ring any bells with my grandaunt.

She did, however, reveal more about our family history.  My father's grandfather (my great-grandfather), came down to Penang at the age of 15 years old, to seek his fortune.  I have written elsewhere about how he met and married his second wife, my greatgrandmother - who just happened to be his boss' daughter.  So obviously, he had done reasonably well, well enough to bring down his family members - his first wife, father and brother, here to Singapore.  My grandaunt says that this was the time of the Boxer Rebellion, so considering my grandfather died in 1969 at the age of around 80+ years, it seems that he himself came down just before or during the Boxer Rebellion (around 1900-01) and brought the rest of his family over soon after.  His first wife together with her family, and his brother, settled in Johore where they ran a rubber estate and of course my relatives are still living there. 

So, sadly, I am not any nearer finding the name of my mysterious ancestor.  But at least now I know a little more about my family than I did one month ago.

Watch out for my next post on BB Cemetery!

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