I have recently heard from another Austen who lives in Australia. Brian Austen has been long at work on his own Austen Families, and while it does not yet appear that there is a relation to Jane Austen, his efforts have put him in touch with many of her descendants, including Ron Dunning! – Brian has been compiling his own family tree with global connections to both the Austen and Austin families [see website links below]. He has graciously written a few words on his findings, and I welcome him here today to share his story with you.
A Genealogical Interest in Jane and
the Many Other Austens
By chance and while googling for Ron Dunning’s website address, I came across the Jane Austen website with your interview with Ron Dunning on his wonderful genealogical contribution on Jane’s family. As I said in my comments* I have met Ron and emailed him on a number of occasions to solicit his help, answer a query of his or to give him a lead.
Quite some years ago I began to research my own Austen family history. Not much was known. My father thought that his father was born on the boat coming to Tasmania but that was all. However the Tasmanian archives did have a record of his passenger record, albeit spelt as IN.
Nevertheless I was underway. I was given copies of some family letters written during WW2 so I had various family stories, and some names and relationships. So armed I wrote to several Austens listed in the Kent (UK) telephone directory. I since found out that this did cause quite some consternation as none of the recipients knew of Australian connections! – but a couple were familiar with some of the people I had mentioned. I had pretty much scored a bulls eye, and across different branches of the family, branches that no longer had contact. So I managed to unite families in Kent and across the world.
Gradually I pieced together a part of the family history. But I realised that the task might be made a lot easier if I searched for others who had researched the family. I decided to track down genealogical histories of Austen families and although this was before the tremendous surge in the popularity of family history, I soon had a mushrooming pile of Austen information. Unfortunately none of it related to my family.
But it did two things. It demonstrated that although the name was relatively uncommon in Tasmania, it was much more common in England, very common in fact and we shared the same name and spelling as England’s famous Jane. If only we were related to her! And I did learn that part of the family folklore is that yes, we are related, although no one knew how.
I also learnt that I enjoyed the collecting and examining of other people’s family histories. Occasionally I would find connections between families who were overjoyed at being given links to lost family members. I exchanged emails, research and information with many Austens across the world and was even invited to family gatherings and reunions. This was great fun. I joined the Austins Families Association of America and attended Conventions. I joined other Genealogical groups and went on holidays meeting fraternal Austen researchers. And it hasn’t stopped.
Gradually I built my own tree by broadening the number of branches, rather than by extending very far back in time: [see the website Austens of St Peters and Tasmania ]. But it has been very satisfying to find new “cousins” and add to the store of family stories such as “Rediffusion” (early days of cable television in England) and a connection with the breaking of the German Enigma Code. But no connection with Jane, unfortunately. And I am not alone.
Most of the Austen families with whom I have been in contact claim an unknown family connection to Jane Austen; the rest just hope to be related. Naturally (before I found Ron – actually he found me) I developed a Jane Austen tree, which although being incomplete was nevertheless quite good which all too often gave me the information to be able to disappoint a lot of people, including myself. But the search for links goes on for even though Jane’s immediate family has now been well documented (thanks to Ron and others), there are still enough gaps in the families of her ancestors to be encouraged while her distant past remains unproven….
[For some recent considerations see “Untangling the Austens” by Pam Griffiths: http://www.genealogycrank.co.uk/austen.php - the document is here: http://www.genealogycrank.co.uk/pdfs/austen_evidence.pdf ].
To that end my great hope is to be able to convince a genuine, documented family descendant of one of Jane’s brothers to provide a properly conducted DNA sample. We are still looking and are still hopeful for there are some descendants somewhere in the world yet to locate.
So after twenty years what have I found? Mainly that despite an expanding collection of Austen families, I have just scratched the surface. And I really have not done very much at all with our sister families, the INs. I do have to learn how to improve my website presentation, (http://austenfamilies.weebly.com/ ) and I need to recruit extra hands to the task. But it keeps me off the street, and it is fun, especially meeting new family and contacts.
by Brian Austen, Hobart, Australia
Thank you Brian for sharing your family histories and the joys of genealogy! When you first contacted me, I related to you my own story of recently receiving a call from a young man in Australia who has been looking for my family for 10 years – his great-grandmother was my grandfather’s sister – we were the side of the English family who came to America in 1912 – there were five siblings – two stayed in the UK, two went to Australia, and my father and his family all came to America, losing touch through the years – now this young man, eager to find us has gotten us all together, cousins appearing everywhere! – so I understand the great joy that these connections can generate! I have no Austens in my family [none that I know of anyway!], but it is the global aspect of bringing veritable strangers together that is the most intriguing and heartening, as you so rightly say! Perhaps you and I are even related somewhere there in Australia!
*Brian’s comment on the JAIV Ron Dunning Interview: In the course of my attempt at collecting Austen family histories I have exchanged many emails with Ron and met him in London. I regard his work as a role model, a fine example for all of us who are trying to research and present our family histories. Thank you for this interview and transcript; I shall add a link to it from my page on Jane Austen’s family.
Brian Austen Hobart Australia
If anyone would like to comment or ask Brian a question, please to so below.