Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Family Migration Patterns

While single men probably made up the largest category of pre-WW2 Lithuanian-born immigrants to Australia, I continue to be surprised on this journey of discovery to find so many family groups making the voyage to the other side of the world. Some of these arrived as married couples, others singly with the intention of meeting their partners here, but many also arrived with already established families including children and occasionally siblings.
  •  In contrast to modern-day migration patterns, grandparents and older relatives seem to have been conspicuously absent, as were independent single females.   
The following examples may help illustrate the diversity of these family migration patterns.


Stasys and Elžbieta Urniežius (Stanislaus and Elizabeth Urniarz) reached Australia in 1904 from the Russian Far East. Stasys served in the AIF during WW1 (Egypt and France) and the couple returned to Lithuania in 1920.

Antanas and Ona Bauže (Anthony and Anna Bauze) arrived in September 1930 and Ona gave birth to their first child in November 1930. The family settled in Sydney and were prominent in Lithuanian community activities.

Ksaveras (Alexander) Skierys arrived in 1911 and his fiancee Ellen Petraitis followed him from Manchester in 1913. They were married in 1916 and raised 3 children in Sydney.

Pranas Šeškas (Frank Seskas) arrived in 1912, was back in Lithuania for a while in the 1920s, and was joined in Australia in 1928 by his prospective wife Natalija. They married here and raised a large family in Western Australia.

Alexander and Ellen Skierys with two children c1920. Courtesy of Rosemary Mitchell.

Couples with children

Jonas and Morta Mickevičius (John and Martha McCowage) arrived in Sydney in 1887. They had two children who had been born in England before departure and went on to have another three in Sydney.

Mamertas and Ona Marcinkevičius (Mamert and Anna Marcin) arrived in 1928 from Lithuania with three children and also settled in Sydney.

1928 passenger list with the Marcinkevičius family.

Single parents

Josephine Ruckman (Jusefa Rukman, born in 1863 in Kaunas, widow) arrived with her two sons John and Felix and daughter-in-law Klara in 1923 and settled in northern Queensland.

Juozas Ruzgas (Joe Ross), born in 1890, arrived in from Lithuania in 1930 and was joined in 1938 by his son Balys Ruzgas (William Ross). After a few years in Victoria the father and son settled in Tasmania.

Siblings and extended families

Kazys Astrauskas (Charles Ashe) arrived in  Western Australia in 1928, followed by his wife, children and his sister-in-law in 1930.

Brothers Petras and Vincas Kairaitis (Peter and Bill Kairaitis) had arrived from Scotland around 1911 and settled at Blacktown (Sydney). They were joined in 1928 by their neice Nelly and her husband George Peters and two nephews Bronius and Antanas Petraitis (Bronius and Anthony Patrick) as well as Bronius' wife and children (all came from Scotland and settled at Blacktown).

Friday, 19 June 2020

Anthony Minkshlin: soldier, sailor, witness to historical events

Anthony Minkshlin (also written as Minkslin or Minkshtin) was born 13 October 1892 in Vilnius to 'William' (Waltrome, or Baltromy) and Agatha Minkshtin. His father appears to have previously resided in Vidzy (now in Belarus, about 3km from the present Lithuanian border), before moving to Vilnius. Anthony stated that his father was a Lithuanian citizen. His mother's maiden name was Christopher - perhaps meaning the Latvian surname Kristofers - which may explain why the family moved to the port city of Liepaja in Latvia around the turn of the 20th century. Anthony attended schools in Vilnius and Liepaja before embarking on a seaman's career and leaving home at the age of 15.

With thanks to Dr Elena Govor (Canberra) for sharing this image (British merchant marine registration card)) and other details of her research on Anthony Minkshlin at The National Archives, (Kew, UK).
Before long, however, Anthony was based in Australia and working on a farm at Branxton in the Hunter region of New South Wales in between journeys away as a seaman (Branxton is around 40km from the port city of Newcastle). This continued until the First World War; he enlisted in August 1915 and was sent to serve as a trooper with the AIF's 4th Light Horse regiment in the Middle East. By mid 1916 he was in France on the Western Front with the Second Anzac Corps. After the war ended he decided to re-enlist, this time with the British Army and the North Russia Relief Force. His military experience and language skills were presumably well regarded, as he was taken on as a scout and interpreter with the 45th Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. Wikipedia notes that:
The 45th and 46th Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were part of the North Russia Relief Force, which landed in early 1919 to support the withdrawal of international forces assisting "While" (anti-Bolshevik) Russian forces during the Russian Civil War. The understrength 45th Battalion was composed mainly of former members of the Australian Imperial Force – many of them veterans of the Western Front – who had volunteered for service in Russia.
The Relief Force was evacuated by September 1919, and Anthony Minkshlin was subsequently awarded a Meritorious Service Medal for his service in the Northern Dvina River region. By December 1919 he had returned to Liepaja to visit his parents, and shortly thereafter found another posting that appealed to him - that of interpreter with the British Military Mission in Kaunas, working for Colonel Henry Rowen-Robinson. However by the second half of 1920 Minkshlin was back at sea, based in England, and had applied for naturalisation as a British subject. He received good references and a police check recorded that "he appears to be a respectable man".

With thanks to Dr Al Taškūnas (Hobart) for supplying this image from 1920 (Anthony Minkshlin in Kaunas wearing an Australian Army slouch hat).

Anthony returned to Australia in 1923, married Irene Serova in 1926, and the couple settled in North Sydney. Anthony continued to maintain his links with the sea, working as a seaman for some years and naming his new home "Albatross". Irene was listed on the electoral roll as a tailoress. In older age Anthony resided at the War Veterans' Home in Narrabeen and displayed his craft skills in creating abalone shell jewellery. He died in 1983 at the age of 92 and is buried in the Roman Catholic section of the Frenchs Forest cemetery. Irene had been born around 1905 and died in 1987.    

Sources and further reading:
National Archives of Australia - https://recordsearch.naa.gov.au/SearchNRetrieve/Interface/SearchScreens/BasicSearch.aspx
Elena Govor: personal communication and and her publications on 'Russian Anzacs', including https://russiananzacs.net/
Trove -  https://trove.nla.gov.au/result?q=minkslin&l-availability=y
Dr Al Taškūnas, Lithuanian Studies Society, University of Tasmania.


Saturday, 6 June 2020

Petras Stasiunas (Peter Stanton)

Around 100,000 people emigrated from Lithuania during the interwar years, mostly for economic reasons, The peak period for emigration was 1926-1930, with an estimated 60,000 leaving. Most made their way to South America but at least 50 that we know of, and probably many more, reached Australia. Petras Stasiunas was one of these young migrants who had been born in czarist times, experienced the First World War and the birth of independent Lithuania, but had decided to leave in the late 1920s.

Born on 5 August 1898 to the north of the town of Pašvitinys, Petras appears to have spent his first 30 years in Lithuania and to have participated in the Wars of Independence (1918-20), but on arrival in Sydney aboard the Orontes from London in 1929 his occupation was listed as farm labourer. He settled in Newcastle and within a few years appears to have become relatively successful, being listed as a motor tyre dealer ('Peter's Remoulds') in the mid 1930s.

 Source: Trove, Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) Saturday 28 May 1938 p 22.

Petras kept in touch with his compatriots in Australia, participating in the activities of the Sydney-based Australian Lithuanian Society, and in 1937 traveled overseas to visit Lithuania.  He was still a single man at this stage, and may have returned 'home' to find a wife. If so, that quest was unsuccessful - or the Second World War may have interrupted plans - and in 1941 Petras married a Newcastle woman (Kathleen Comerford). That marriage, however, was short-lived and divorce soon followed.

By the late 1930s Petras had improved his standing and had built a tyre service centre in Newcastle at a cost of over 2000 pounds (Peter's Tyre Service at Tighe's Hill). He had also become a naturalized British subject (1939), changed his name by deed poll to Peter Stanton (1940), and offered himself for army service at the start of the war.

The war years may have adversely impacted the service station business because during that period Peter returned to his earlier occupation - farming - purchasing a property at Louth Park, near Maitland. In August 1948 he married a second time; this time he chose a newly-arrived Lithuanian refugee, Ona Venclauskaite (born in 1928, she had arrived in Australia only in February 1948). Sadly, their marriage did not last long either as Peter died in June 1949 at Maitland after attending to flood damage on his farm. He left a wife and a son.

An obituary was published in Mūsų Pastogė on 6 July 1949, including the following details (my loose translation):

One of the older Australian Lithuanians, Petras Stasiunas-Stanton, died on the 28th of June in Maitland. The deceased was 53 years of age, born in Kriukų county, and had been a volunteer [in the Wars of Independence]. He arrived in Australia in 1929 and settled in Newcastle, working in those difficult times for one and a half pounds a week. Nevertheless he managed to save and get ahead, securing his own tyre repair workshop. During the last war he bought a farm at Maitland, where he lived until his premature death. He had married a new Lithuanian migrant only about 8 months ago; a conscientious Lithuanian, even though living far from any community groups he always cared about their activities and often supported them financially (Written by Antanas Bauže).