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The Simmons family reunion

Matilda Simmons
Sunday, August 13, 2017

EXPLORING your family history can sometimes be both daunting and exciting. Daunting because you're about to find some hidden secrets and exciting because you've discovered long lost relatives along the way.

I recently had the privilege of exploring my side of the family on a whim back in 2012. What started with just 50 immediate family members grew to almost 300 and counting as the research and connections among the family developed resulting in the first reunion for the family in 122 years back in 2014. And not to lose the connection, a second family reunion is expected to take place later this month from August 24.

For the Simmons family in Fiji, it all began with James Simmons (1839-1902), an English trader and Doretta Naisiline Guckone (1858?-1899), a part French/Kanake woman, who met and married in about 1877 in Mare, Loyalty Islands.

They left New Caledonia and first set foot in Fiji in 1892 (eight years after Fiji was ceded to Britain) with five of what was to become a total of 11 children. The couple had 10 sons and one daughter called Louisa Martha. Unfortunately Louisa and another son passed away at an early age.

The remaining nine brothers grew up and had families around Fiji, while some migrated. Those brothers were; Arthur Nicholson, James, John Morgan, Frank Morgan, Marmaduke Dobede, Douglas Carter, Roderick Anthony, Charles and Melton Scolcop.

It was the descendants of seven of the nine brothers who came for the first reunion and are expected to converge once again in Suva later in the month.

"Most of the descendants of James Simmons contributed to the early growth of Labasa Town," said main organiser and family historian, Donita Simmons.

"Three of James' descendants were members of the Labasa Town Council — as a councillor, mayor and deputy mayor. Most of his descendants stayed and worked for FSC, PWD and the Government. So it was important to show the younger generation of the family, and educate them about their history."

A celebration of elder Simmons members, the direct sons and daughters of James and Doretta's children will be held in the second reunion. These direct descendants are August Simmons, David Simmons, Dorry Simmons Billings, Eileen Simmons Lidise, Emily Simmons Balawanilotu, Jean Simmons Fuata, June Simmons Khan, Tony Simmons.

A talanoa session will be organised where the elder family members will talk about their life growing up. Secondly a Simmons memorabilia will be held where treasured items like family Bibles, scrapbook, photos, poems, glass teapot, an old White Horse whiskey decanter will be displayed.

The three-day family reunion is expected to bring in descendants from overseas who have never been to Fiji since their ancestor migrated across.

It was interesting to see some of these descendants had no idea about their Fijian heritage. This would not have been possible had it not been for the 'Simmons Family Connection' Page on Facebook which was created on an impulse back in 2012.

"My grandmother was Amy Simmons, a daughter of Charlotte Boehm and Marmaduke Dubedo Simmons, one of the nine brothers," explains Evelyn Heale of New Zealand in the Facebook group page.

"Amy was born in Levuka in 1917. I would like to build a family tree of my ancestors and to learn what I can about this branch of my heritage. I am astounded that this special page exists and feel very privileged to be part of it."

While another posted: "Kia ora whanau. My name is Daphne Matene (nee Welsh). I am the eldest child of Terence Welsh, who is the son of Amy Welsh (nee Simmons). Nice to see my dad's side of the family as I have always been surrounded by my mother's Maori side of the family, but now I can see and meet so many more of you all," enthuses Daphne, a descendant of Marmaduke Dobede Simmons.

The second reunion this year is looked forward to with much anticipation. It's a special occasion that will bring together a family that were once separated through time, distance and lost connection.

Note: If you have any family reunions or story you wish to share, email us on sbatiratu@fijitimes.com.fj.








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