'Big auntie Kate': three women find their connection to Kate Sheppard
By Eleanor Wenman
Stuff.co.nz (Dominion Post) | Thursday, 20 September 2018
Kate Sheppard's descendants, from left, Sandie Finnigan, Dhyana Tribe and Christine Kershaw gather to swap family history in Lower Hutt.
It's the mother of all family reunions: three women in a room exploring their common ancestor, Kate Sheppard.
Sandie Finnigan, Dhyana Tribe and Christine Kershaw gathered in the dining room of the historic Vogel House in Lower Hutt recently, to swap details and put together the puzzle of their family trees.
Finnigan, 52, from Upper Hutt found out about her familial connection about five years ago, when her brother started digging around in their family tree.
A family tree showing Kate Sheppard, born into the Malcolm family.
Sheppard is her grandfather's aunt.
Being related to Sheppard carried with it a certain amount of responsibility, Finnigan said.
Historian Sandra Greig, left, and Hutt City archivist Jennie Henton brought together the three women and set up the Women Suffragists in the Hutt exhibition.
"[Sheppard] was someone who would stand up and lead the way on a social issue of her day and I'm so proud of that."
"It makes you think: what are the issues of my day that need to be addressed? What would you like me to stand up for auntie Kate?"
For 72-year-old Dhyana Tribe, finding out her relationship to a landmark women's right leader came as a shock.
She learned she was Sheppard's great grand niece three weeks ago, when historian Sandra Greig sent her a message over Facebook.
Greig had been working on connecting the dots and tracing family trees of Hutt women who signed the petitions presented to the government, and of Kate Sheppard.
Based in Taranaki, Tribe said the family connection explained one or two things - namely her "wanderlust" which she compared to the journeys Sheppard took between New Zealand and England.
On the other hand, Lower Hutt's Kershaw, 64, grew up knowing she was related to Sheppard. She said she had fond memories of visiting her grandmother, who would have old photos, letters and family trees spread out around the house.
"We were always told we had this famous aunt," she said, "big auntie Kate."
The family had another aunt Kate somewhere in the family tree, but she was known as the "little auntie Kate."
The three women are visiting Lower Hutt to tie in with Women Suffragists in the Hutt, an exhibition and series of talks marking the 125th anniversary of New Zealand women getting the vote.
The exhibition is open from September 20 to October 2  in Vogel House on Woburn Rd, Lower Hutt.
Entry is by koha and all proceeds will go towards the rebuild of the Te Omanga Hospice.