Great Aunt Nellie

Great Aunt Nellie
How Trove newspapers helped give names to a family photo
4 November 2015

When answering reference questions, I often turn to Trove Newspapers. This Ask a Librarian question from someone trying to fill in some family details was a fun example for me.

I am looking into my great aunt's career. She was with the JC Williamson Company in the early 1900's. Her name was Margaret Ellen (Nellie or Nell) Simpson and was very musical playing a variety of instruments but mainly the flute. She did a tour with the Company. I will attach a photo of a group but cannot make out the name and do not know if she is in this photo as her name doesn't appear on it and I have no idea of what she looked like. She was born in 1886 in Greymouth, New Zealand. 

 Family photograph courtesy of Gaye Lyons of Palmerston North, New Zealand 

In this case, the family story of a JC Williamson tour could not be confirmed through our Williamson manuscripts, finding aids or ephemera. So the logical place to look was Trove Newspapers.

There was no advertising of Williamson productions where Margaret Ellen, Nell or Nellie Simpson may have appeared, so I had to look a bit deeper.

One of the signatures on the photograph could be interpreted as “Doris---Struble” so I searched the Newspapers for Nellie Simpson and Doris Struble, and found these results for 1919.

The English Prima Donna. (1919, November 18). Robertson Advocate (NSW : 1894 - 1923), p. 2. Retrieved September 21, 2015,

Doris Struble was a pianist. Looking at the above article from November 1919, Nellie Simpson is listed with other musicians including Ava Symons. Miss Symons could be the second signature on the photograph, and she is listed as a violinist. We could therefore speculate that the ‘Flautiste’ in the picture is indeed Nellie Simpson. According to the headline, the singer of the group was Carrie Lanceley.

There is a 1911 picture of Carrie Lanceley held at the State Library of NSW which could be a match. I also looked at the ephemera collection Lanceley, Carrie (singer) : programs and related material. This contains one photograph of Carrie Lanceley taken in 1907. My colleagues and I agreed that the photograph of Carrie Lanceley looks like the same person in the picture.

This would make the four ladies in the photograph (from left to right) Nellie Simpson, Carrie Lanceley, Doris Struble and Ava Symons.

The New Zealand connection

The New Zealand equivalent of Trove newspapers, Papers Past, showed several results for these names. It appears that Carrie Lanceley toured New Zealand earlier in 1919, then went to Australia with her “Melody Maids”.

You can see more about Carrie Lanceley and her New Zealand tour online.

A basic search for “Nellie Simpson” at the National Library of New Zealand also produces some interesting results, including music scores, ephemera and other newspaper articles. Continuing the search in Trove and Papers Past may well result in additional related articles.

I have heard from Gaye Lyons to say that Papers Past has given her some insights into Nellie’s touring around with the Melody Maids, as well as the odd piece of information regarding her siblings. Thanks to Gaye for allowing me to share the first part of the story here.

Not sure where to start your research?  Stuck somewhere along the way? Ask a Librarian. 
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I'm loving trove, I probably don't use it to its full extent, but I'm willing to learn. I love the circumnavigating to get to the answer. I need to learn all the tricks to find my holy grail!