HISTORY OF THE SWINTON FAMILY SOCIETY

The origin of the Swinton Family Society could have started very differently from what it is today however fate seems to have played its hand. With a little more success it could have been operated by Allan James Swinton of ‘Karu’, Armidale, NSW, Australia who in the 1970-80’s made a valiant effort to start off a society but who could not generate sufficient family enthusiasm for it to get going. The existence of the society does owe a debt of gratitude for Allan’s early efforts and for the advice and assistance that he gave me. Before Allan, my own father would have to be the one who initiated my original interest, along with my nature and circumstances of the environment that I was raised in.

As a youth I was always fascinated with the hand-copied collection of articles and stories that my father Robert Duncan Swinton, had collected about our family and the Swinton's of old.  These old notes charged my mind with pictures of knights in shining armour charging into battle to protect their lands and lofty castles located just over the border from England in that far away, almost mythical place called Scotland.  With these articles dad also had a miscellaneous collection of information on his own family ancestry.  Occasionally he would bring out the musty boxes in which these papers were stored and would spread the yellowing pages around the table, becoming engrossed in adding bits of information here and there.  Great excitement would be shown on the acquisition of a new photographic reprint of some distant relative, or some new scrap of information.  At a later date I realised that his sister, Ruth Tuck, had created our first family tree.

At this period in my life we lived in a little country town called Manilla, in central New South Wales, Australia.  Here we were half a continent away from any the relatives of either my father or mother. They mostly lived 1000 kilometres away, in or around Warrnambool, Victoria.  Today, to be reunited with these relatives you need only to sit in the armchair luxury of an aeroplane for two hours, then, in the 1950’s, it was an epic three-day journey by train or car.  As children, my sisters and I grew up with little knowledge or familiarity with any of our immediate relatives.  On the rare occasions when we did all manage to travel south I remember being confronted by numerous refined Victorian ladies and gentlemen who would be introduced as being an aunt or uncle, or the cousin of somebody.  To me, these relatives on my fathers side were all strangers to whom I knew, that in some way I was related and not being used to ‘real live’ relatives I was generally over-awed.  On my mothers side I was a little more familiar with my immediate relatives.  It was easier for her to travel than for my father who was tied up with the running the shop. Also during the long period of her mother’s illness and decline, these journeys were necessary.

I remember frosty winter nights in front of a crackling fire when my father would patiently try to explain who my relatives were.  Try as he would, these names with joining lines, spreading across the pages remained a mystery, these being my ‘paper relatives’.  I grew up being more familiar with the ‘paper relatives’ that my father had patiently tried to explain, rather than with the ‘real-life’ counterparts of these names. 

As an adult, through employment I came to settle in Melbourne, where before long I met and married Glenda J. Ward who came from a large family.  Against this large clan of in-laws, and now being in the position of having even less of my own family around me than I had in Manilla, it was probably not surprising that I started to develop an interest in the ‘paper relatives’ of my youth. 

During the ensuing years I started to get to know some of my Swinton relatives who were no longer so far away.  In the 1980’s I began to work with my father, adding to the information he possessed.  Being more accessible to sources of records I started to search for the parents of my great-grandparents.  Over the next few years I went through countless Mormon films finding absolutely nothing, but acquiring endless other records that I noted down just incase they were useful. As the collection of notes started to grow they began to fall into groups and families, however none of them were for my ancestry. The collection of history that I had on various branches of the family grew rapidly over these years. 

It occurred to me that with in searching through hundreds of records looking for one relevant piece of information and with the number of hours I had spent doing so, that a lot of other family historians must be doing the same thing. At this time I came up with the notion of attempting to set up a network of those people who were also researching the ‘Swinton’ name. The idea being that these people would record all ‘Swinton’ records from any source they were working through and send the list to me. I would sort through them and if there was anything relevant to another member of the network I would relay that record(s) on to them. I began mailing out requests to lists of Swinton’s taken from phone directories seeking their help but to little useful end. I had by this time come across Allan James Swinton, then of Loganlea in Queensland, Australia. He was a member of the Guild of One-Name Studies (GOONS) and   held the registration with them for the Swinton name. Allan had previously tried unsuccessfully to set up a society and so we were able to discuss various thoughts on how to go about it. From these discussions we came up with the name for our ‘Swinton Family Society’.  The idea was to work on a society where members would pay a minimal fee but would have a sense of belonging and that a newsletter would be produced to keep everyone informed of what developments were being made.

Our families were recruited as the initial members of the society and a newsletter was created. My notion was to act as a hub and have people send me a full copy of their family history so that I could record it and at the same time see if I had any other details for their ‘tree’.  In doing so I would then also be establishing an improved database of family groups. Allan sent me some old correspondence he had received through the GOONS registration from people seeking information on their own families. In August 1993 I began by recontacting these people and continued with the system of random mail-outs, sending them a newsletter and a brochure on the aims of the society. A letter was included asking them send their family details and any other ‘Swinton’ records that they may have possess.

Slowly I started to get occasional enquiries from people around Australia and overseas. In searching through my notes and records to see if I had an answer for them I soon realised how difficult it had become to sift through the growing volume information that I now possessed. If it was going to work adequately I knew that I would have to create a computerised database, which is now referred to as “The Swinton Family Inventory”. It has already proven its worth in the greater ease in doing a search.  During it’s creation I found that many miscellaneous pieces of information on different individuals, slotted into place within known families and trees. Alone these snippets had meant very little.

Along with recording information that people sent in I would produce a family tree for that branch for the Society records and would sent a copy back to these people.

Apart from the Swinton’s this inventory also includes details of the ancestry for :

(i)  my mother, Vere Ruth (nee Reeves) Swinton:  family names of REEVES, McLEAN,  JEFFARES, GRIER (GRIEVE, GRIERSON), ARNOLD and CURNOW going back to their early links with the Scottish and English monarchy;

(ii)  my wife, Glenda Jean (nee Ward) Swinton:  family names of WARD, BATH, JONES, VEAL (VALE, VAIL, VEALE).

(iii)  the Gordon’s: from the early ancestral branch of the Swinton Mainline family to the present day:  includes family names of GORDON, BLIGH, BRUCE, COBHAM, COWPER, HARVIE, McCRAE, MANT, MURISON, and others.

The recording of information is an ongoing mammoth task. Each year the records of up to about 3000 individuals are either updated or completely new entries.  There is a wealth of information coming in all the time and unfortunately this ultimately means that there is also a huge backlog of material just waiting for me to work through. Sooner or later all material that I have will be research though unfortunately some people have already been waiting for me to look at their material for a long time.

The age of e-mail and the Internet is a blessing in the improved ability to contact people rapidly though it also means that greater volumes work can arrive in microseconds.

I would hope that with the launch of this web site that it will not be an end here, but rather be a new beginning.  The files for “The Inventory” will be downloaded immediately and progressively all the charts will also be included. As this takes place I would hope that more queries will be able to be answered directly by those seeking details and that I will be able to devote more time to recording greater amounts of new information.