Puzzle over 500-year family tree

By Laura Mills

The sheet has been handed in to the local library for safe keeping. Photo / Thinkstock
The sheet has been handed in to the local library for safe keeping. Photo / Thinkstock

Mystery surrounds the discovery of a Karamea family's 500-year family tree which somehow turned up in an attic on Waiheke Island.

The intricately researched documents charts countless generations of the Jennings family, originally drapers in Kent and London. David Jennings emigrated to Nelson in 1849 before building a house in Motueka. He had 11 children, some of whom settled on the West Coast.

A crumpled and damaged A2-sized sheet charting the family's 500-year history was discovered in a Waiheke attic and handed in to the local library for safe keeping.

Auckland Libraries issued a plea yesterday to find descendants of the Jennings family and reunite them with the family tree.

Staff have since been contacted by three Jennings descendants and now the last Jennings to have lived in Karamea is trying to work out how the prized document ended up in the Hauraki Gulf.

Owen Jennings, a former Karamea Dairy company director and Act Party MP, is a triple great-grandson of David Jennings. He left Karamea a few years ago, leaving only a sister-in-law, who remarried after her husband died, which means there is no one with the Jennings name left in Karamea.

Because his family were drapers, records existed back to the 1400s, as the guild kept records even before the church.

Mr Jennings said he was well aware of the family tree, which was updated in the 1970s and again by his daughter in the 1990s, and at a family reunion in 1999.

However, he was this morning puzzling over how it ended up on Waiheke Island.

Auckland Libraries Central Auckland Research Centre family history librarian Seonaid Lewis said the damaged A2-sized sheet was given to them for safekeeping, and had since been restored.

"It had been rolled up for some time which affected the photographs and caused some damage to the paper. We have flattened the document, restored the damaged sections and put it in a protective sleeve," Ms Lewis said.

The find was a remarkable example of genealogical research that someone had spent considerable time preparing.

"You might expect to find such a comprehensive family tree in England so it is 'pure gold' to find a piece of work like this in an attic in New Zealand."

She had been anxious to return it to its creator, or a descendant.

"What really interests me as a family historian is they have kept their interest in genealogy going."

J H Jennings surveyed the original Karamea township for the Nelson Provincial Government in the 1870s, and bought land there.

"We had it until a few years ago," Colin Jennings said.

Karamea historian Dulcie McNabb said J H Jennings's son, David, married the local midwife who became known as Granny Jennings. They farmed along the beachfront.

J H Jennings built a two-storey colonial cottage and surrounded it with an orchard. He died in 1911.

- Greymouth Star

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