It all started at a family gathering where we suggested that, since he knew so little about his ancestors, my father, Nevill Lynch, must be descended from convicts.
A few weeks later, Dad produced a manila folder containing a basic family tree prepared by a work colleague and genealogist, Selwyn Paine, which traced our paternal Lynch line back to the early years of the Auckland settlement.
John Lynch, my great-great-grandfather, was the Government Gardener.
That small folder started an extensive ancestor hunt in which every little gem of information discovered raised more questions.
Who was John Lynch, where did he come from, how and when did he arrive here? What exactly did the Government Gardener do?
Although no record has been found of his entering New Zealand, he is possibly "John Lynch, gardener, Roman Catholic, native of Dublin", a passenger on board Salsette into Port Phillip, Australia, in 1841. He could read and write and had complained, "biscuits no good".
Various records, including those of the Salsette, suggest he was a tough character not averse to complaining or demanding his rights.
The Salsette - which sailed from Liverpool in August 1840 with 190 migrants, 14 of whom died - was responsible for infecting Melbourne with typhoid.
We have a record of his 1843 marriage in St Patrick's Cathedral, Auckland, that shows he was born Joannem Lynch in Dublin, Ireland, 37 years earlier. His bride, Elizabeth Sullivan, 21, was from Cork.
We have a record of his signature - he was one of many of those at a birthday tribute to the former Governor, Sir George Grey, reported in the New Zealand Herald on Monday, April 26, 1886. He gives his date of arrival in the colony as April, 1842, two years after the Treaty of Waitangi and Governor Hobson's decision to govern the country from Auckland.
When he came to record his official employers, it reads like a who's who of Auckland's founders. "I received my appointment ... from Mr Willoughby Shortland, then Colonial Secretary - Captain Hobson being at the time Governor. The Honourable Mr Swainson was then Attorney General and Captain D. Rough, Harbour Master and Overseer of the Public Works, made out my salary abstract for me ..."
As Government Gardener (1842-1868), John Lynch was responsible for cultivating the gardens, orchard and plant nursery in the Government Domain, where economic and ornamental plants were grown for the Governor's and colonists' needs. The Domain also had a public botanical garden.
During his time as Government Gardener, John was in frequent contact with Sir George Grey, Colonial Secretary Andrew Sinclair, Governor Thomas Gore Browne and Premier Sir Edward Stafford.
When he began work, the Domain was a rough, marshy scrubland near the eastern edge of the settlement. The plant nursery was established near ponds below the grounds of today's Auckland City Hospital. A brief history of the Domain in Paul Tritenbach's book Botanic Gardens and Parks in New Zealand records that European plants, seeds or cuttings were given free to anyone who would plant them.
Settlers also helped themselves to trees for timber until 1845, when Governor Fitzroy ordered that all remaining native bush in the Domain was to be protected.
In 1849, Governor Grey had a cottage built not far from the garden for the Waikato Maori leader, Potatau Te Wherowhero, who lived there for nine years until the Kingitanga movement elected him King and he moved back to the Waikato. It was not until 1860 that two stone blockhouses were built in the grounds and Paul Tritenbach records that "The Government Gardener, John Lynch, lived in one".
By that time, the gardener was frequently winning Auckland Horticultural Society competitions. At the 1843 show, according to an early newspaper, the Southern Cross, the Government Gardener won the prizes for cabbage, hops, pansies and the greatest varieties of flowers. The following year, he won the award for baking apples and hops again.
In 1849, his dahlias were winners and in 1857, "outstanding exhibits" included a "lofty bouquet ... from Mr Lynch and his Maori assistant".
The prize-winning flowers could have come from the gardens of Government House, now in the grounds of Auckland University, which were also the Government Gardener's responsibility.
Hobson had intended the Domain to contain a grander Government House but nothing came of that plan before the capital was moved to Wellington in 1865.
By 1867, changes were coming to the administration of the Domain. We have a copy of a letter written by John Lynch on June 16, 1868. It says: "Having received a letter from the Agent of the General Government ... intimating that the services of myself and labourer would not be required after the 30th, I have the honour to request that you will be good enough to move the Governor in Council to grant me a pension ..."
His pension of 71 pounds, 8 shillings and 8 pence for 26 years of service is listed in the Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives in 1878. With his wife, Elizabeth, and younger children, John Lynch retired to Thames where he died in 1890.
I am descended from his eldest son, Thomas O'Sullivan Lynch, born in Auckland in 1844. He was a carpenter who fought in the New Zealand Wars of the 1860s and appears to have moved around the country for work. Electoral rolls show him living in Wellington, Wairarapa and the Coromandel before eventually moving back to Auckland.
Thomas' son, Mylford John Lynch, was a fitter for the Waihi Gold Mining Company before going to the Great War with four of his brothers, two of whom died in France. Another sustained a permanent foot injury at Gallipoli and my grandfather lived barely 11 years after the war, dead at 46.
His eldest son, Gordon John (Jack) Lynch, joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at the outbreak of World War II and was held captive on the German prison ship Altmarck after the steamer Doric Star was sunk by the Graf Spee in December 1939.
The Altmarck, notorious for the way its crew treated prisoners, was apprehended off the Norwegian coast in February, 1940, and three New Zealanders among the captives were hailed as heroes on their return to Auckland.
Jack Lynch was keen to get back to the action and served on the Achilles before transferring to Britain and taking part in the 1942 raid on Dieppe. Four months later, he was killed by an accidental gun explosion at Portsmouth.
His younger brother, my late father, Thomas Nevill Lynch, was 6 when their father died. He went to Dilworth School and later recounted the hardships of life there in the 1930s for a series on "Eminent Dilworthians" written by the school's journalism students.
Dad was in the NZ Army during World War II, commanding the 7th Anti-Tank Regiment in Italy.
After the war he had a career in the ANZ Bank, retiring as Auckland regional manager.
Genealogy is seldom a solitary interest. Our stories often overlap the paths of others, who are only too willing to share their knowledge and discoveries. My grateful thanks go to to Selwyn Paine and the late Gwen Reiher, who dug around and planted the seeds of my interest, and John Adam for his generous assistance on all things botanical.
If you'd like to climb your "tree", a good place to start is the New Zealand Society of Genealogists: www.genealogy.org.nz.