A notation beside the death date of a great-uncle in our family record read, “Died on way to New Zealand, buried at sea.” It was sad, surely, but had connotations of adventure. Little did we dream, however, of the impact these few words were going to have so many years later.
We let him rest at the bottom of the ocean for over a hundred years.
Then a very old letter from my great-grandmother came to light, and in it was a reference to “Catherine” in New Zealand. This awoke in us the realization that even though George Perkins died and was buried at sea, his wife and family went on, and we felt impelled to learn more about that family.
So we began the search, first in old shipping records. We checked the embarkation records from Greenock, Scotland. There we found information that “George Perkins, Gentleman,” his wife Catherine and five children had set out in the sailing ship Mooltan to that idyllic land under the Southern Cross. The names of those five children were a great find. I thought of those wide-eyed, excited little children going with their parents to build a home in a new land halfway around the world.
Next, I wrote to the Alexander Turnbull Library, and the Public Library at Dunedin, New Zealand, the Old Settlers’ Association, and the National Archives at Wellington. All sent prompt and fruitful replies full of information about these kinfolk of mine—where they lived, what they did, who they married. We learned of a baby born after their arrival there, a little girl who must have brought joy to the young, widowed mother.
I learned of cousins, very far from me in distance and time, and of a relative “killed in the Maori Wars.” My New Zealand family had suffered perils, trials, and hardships similar to those of their kin in Utah who were “killed by the Indians.” All were pioneers who started out from the same British shores.
I found that these early settlers were the founders of cities and towns, of businesses and farms, of family dynasties. I learned more about that great-uncle who while still in England had bought a great deal of land in New Zealand and had then sailed away with such high hopes only to die and find a resting place in the vast and lonely ocean.
I knew there must be present-day kinfolk still living in New Zealand, so I researched and found many descendants of those early kinsmen of mine. I put an advertisement in the Otago Times asking for the descendants of George and Catherine Scott Perkins to correspond with me.
Again the response was overwhelming—grandchildren, great-grandchildren, cousins two and three times removed. I have found them so friendly, so helpful, so anxious to give me all the information they had, and they were even willing to find information they did not have. Bits of legend and lore, added to the store I already had, helped me in writing family histories. I found that those pioneers to New Zealand, who traveled there at the same time as my other pioneer forebears came to Utah, had taken very good ancestral records with them. They could furnish me with some additional names, places of birth, and dates a generation or two further back.
We have had some of the family come to visit us, and even their friends have come. We have found them to be warm and friendly and very British. When they came, they brought more records. One lady in particular sat with me as I typed for most of one day in order to copy a very large pedigree chart her cousin had made for me.
Can someone be homesick for a place they have never been? I am sure they can, because the feeling I have now toward New Zealand is so strong. This warm feeling I have for that land is not just because it is one of the islands in the exotic South Seas, nor because it awakens a yearning that most of us have to visit “faraway places with strange-sounding names.” It is a deeper something awakened in me by the notation at the side of my great-uncle’s name. It has been interesting to study, to read, to search the maps of New Zealand.
I would like to walk down the streets of Christchurch and Auckland, to call on folks in Dunedin, Invercargill, Greymouth, Timaru, Buckland’s Beach—names now recorded in my family history book. I feel that some day I must visit there, and if I knock on the doors of the homes of my kinfolk, I know I will find a welcome. They will not be strangers, because we have met on the family tree and through the world of letters. What an opportunity—what an adventure there is in hunting folks!