Archive for November, 2009

Online BDMs Demolish Brick Walls

November 29th, 2009

My last two blogs have been about preparing for my talk on Convicts and Criminals and accompanying  Handout at Mulwala Family History Expo  and all the wonderful  information I discovered on my families because of new online resources. The talk went very well and I received some lovely feedback. One woman said she could listen to me all day which might have been a slight exaggeration.

But the more exciting thing was the discovery of my gg grandmother Helen (Ellen) Ferguson nee Carnegie after 32 years of searching. I had included a reference to her in my talk and was going to outline how I would follow up the new clue that I had discovered in the Police Gazettes. The morning of my talk I was up early and decided to check emails and there was one announcing the recent expanded range of Queensland BDMs online. Births now 1829-1914, marriages 1829-1934 and deaths 1829-1964.

So I logged on and did my usual searches for her and again a nil result. Then I used the name I found in the Police Gazettes – Ellen Chick alias Ferguson – and again nothing. Then I searched for Helen Chick and there she was. The full story of my gg grandmother and how I demolished the various brick walls that I came across over the last 32 years is in a new blog series called Brick Wall Solutions on the Unlock the Past website.

The attendees at the talk were so intrigued by Ellen’s story that they have asked to be kept informed of the outcome – what will her death certificate tell me? More mystery or finally the truth?

As this story demonstrates, online BDMs can resolve brick walls because they allow us to search wider time frames without having to pay fees, search for variations of given names and surnames, even search for unusual names or combinations of names, search others States and so on.

I have another brick wall that was demolished by being able to search the NSW BDMs online and that will be the second blog in my Brick Wall Solutions series on Unlock the Past next week.

As for a theme for this blog next week, I will let Serendipity guide me.


Using Police Gazettes

November 19th, 2009

In some ways this is a continuation of last week’s entry in that it relates to my talk on Convicts & Criminals this Saturday at the Mulwala Family History Expo. I had finished my presentation and was doing a final run through to see that it worked and realised I had forgotten Police Gazettes.

When I was doing all my criminal research in Queensland back in the 80s, Police Gazettes were actually closed to public access and one couldn’t even see them. Now twenty years later I can buy digitised copies of them courtesy of Archive CD books or even see them online through the World Vital Records Australasia site for a fee. Makes you wonder what all the fuss was about back then.

Anyway, because I did my research the hard way, I have lots of references to police, court and prison records for a number of my relatives. Putting these names into the online indexes brings up surprising results, a bit like the results for newspaper searches that I mentioned last week, only not so explainable.

Another one of my g g grandfather’s did some gaol time for a range of crimes including drunkenness, obscene language, wife desertion, assault etc. Now there is no reference to him in the Qld Police Gazette for the year in which this all happened and I am not sure why. One of the things I found in the Colonial Secretary’s correspondence was a handwritten letter from him requesting a remission of his sentence and he outlined all the things my g g grandmother had done wrong including adultery and naming the other party. Mind you, all this action was going on while they were living in a tent with ten children on the railway line at Beenleigh.

A policeman was sent out to investigate my ancestor’s claims and the policeman’s report makes very interesting reading and doesn’t paint too flattering a picture of my ancestor. There was one part of the policeman’s report that I found disturbing when the policeman said “on 24th October last his wife summonsed Johnson for assault – the case was dismissed as the wife was not injured and the correction was not more than a husband is entitled by law to exercise”. I wonder what law that was and yes, I know, it was Queensland!

However, I did pick up a reference to him in the Police Gazettes post his gaol time. In 1895 he served one month’s imprisonment in Roma for threatening language. It was under the name Adam Johnson, not Johnston, but I knew it was still my guy who I had lost track of after his release from gaol in 1887 and before his death in Mackay in 1900.

How did I know it was him? He was described as 51 years old, native of Ireland, 5ft 6ins, medium build, fresh complexion, light brown hair, and hazel eyes. In the remarks it said he was bald with a long scar on the right side of his head which matched the description back in 1887 but now he had also lost his two upper front teeth and he had a fresh lump behind his right ear. I actually named my son after this guy but that’s another story!

So now I know he was out Roma way in 1895 and recently I was contacted by one of my collateral cousins who was all excited for me. She is also researching the family and we share information and she informed me that my Adam had partnered up with another woman (but no evidence of marriage or none found yet) and had another three children before he died in 1900.

We are going to get together in Brisbane in December and swap information. I suppose it really is too late to change my son’s name but at least he can claim a colourful ancestor. Nothing worse than ancestors who lived a good life, they didn’t leave exciting records behind!

The point of this blog, do use Police Gazettes as an easy way into your family’s criminal past (if you are that lucky) and don’t forget that Police Gazettes also mention police, missing persons, victims of crime and other community affairs such as hotel licensing etc. So definitely worth a look. BUT don’t neglect going back to original records where you can, because there might be more information and possibly even information that never made it into the Police Gazettes. Good hunting!


Using Online Newspapers: the good and the bad

November 12th, 2009

I have been working on a talk Convicts & Criminals for the Mulwala Family History expo on 21 November and part of the talk is about the advantages of having Australian Newspapers online.

The really exciting bit is that I have found new information on one of my convicts, Richard Walker who arrived on the Somersetshire in 1814. There was an inquest into his death which I never found when looking for death and funeral notices on microfilm in 1832, the year he died. As it was before civil registration I wasn’t even aware that there had been an inquest. Richard’s total story is in the Resources section of my website – From Iron Chains To Gold Bars: The Story of the Walker Family and Its Descendants including the Evans, Potter, Bullen and Atkinson Families, 1814-1941. This discovery of an inquest was a terrific plus for my research and just so exciting. I will definitely have to do a sequel on the Walkers now.

I also did a search on my 40 year old Norwegian g g grandmother Osie Gunderson who decided to one day in 1885 hit her landlord over the head several times with a piece of hardwood without provocation and for reasons unknown. She was eventually released and the trial did not proceed. When researching this many years ago I found four references in the Brisbane Courier which were more informative than the court records. She still spoke Norwegian with some English but would not converse with the court appointed interpreter so the official record is not all that helpful from her perspective.

The four newspaper references helped me fill in more of the details although it is still not clear why she did it. By her account, he had been breaking her windows (but she rented a room from him so it would have been his windows he was breaking). By his account he thought it might have to do with his reporting her for cruelty to three puppies but his wife had recently complained about my g g grandmother’s obscene language but that case was dismissed. There is no mention of Osie’s husband and two sons other than her husband posting bail and a surety. If only one could go back in time!

Now the interesting thing is that only two references to her come up currently in an online search of Australian Newspapers for a number of reasons. Primarily ocr (optical character recognition) has its limitations and the original quality of the microfilm and newspaper might all make it very difficult to get a meaningful transcription and index. An added fact here was that she was Norwegian and both her given and surname were spelt in a variety of ways. So the lesson here is don’t assume you have found everything in a single search online. Cross check with official records or other information and search specific dates if you have them. I have been steadily correcting text for entries that relate to my families, as are many other researchers, but it will be a long time before it is all text corrected.

A third example relates to where I could not get the official records because they were within a closed access period. Even though I have been an archivist for over 25 years, I always find it strange that you can get information in the newspapers which you officially can’t see in the court records but that is an aside.

On my grandmother’s death she left me a box of newspaper clippings and photos with no dates or names of newspapers after telling me repeatedly she had nothing on the family. Thirteen years have gone by and I still tense up when I think about it even though I know why she still tried to hide things even knowing that I had already discovered most of it back then.

Anyway, one of the clippings related to her uncle who had served in World War I, was wounded in France and became a German prisoner of war. He returned to Queensland in August 1919. I could guess that the news clipping was probably in the 1930s. I was doing this research in 1997 and the prison indexes were closed and I couldn’t pin down the date.

Today a simple search of Australian Newspapers online brings up two references to him – one is the original clipping and another one. The records are now on open access so I should plan a trip to the archives one day when I am next in Brisbane. There may be other references not showing up and the official record will give me some dates to check against.

What I would dearly love to know is why was Denis Finn,  the son of Irish born parents using an alias Johann Romanov? It just seems such a strange choice or was it someone he knew during the war? Perhaps the reason is in the court or prison records giving me another reason to seek them out.

These three examples demonstrate how Australian Newspapers can assist your research even if you have been doing it for years. It offers a quick and easy option to revisit your research and find new information or information that you never knew existed. Be creative in your search strategies and I am sure that you won’t be disappointed.

Final word of warning – Australian newspapers is a highly addictive site and it is very easy to spend hours on it without even realising the time. Good luck.


Mining and Criminal Records in Queensland

November 5th, 2009

In 1992 I successfully completed the Diploma in Historical Studies at the Society of Australian Genealogists. It was the end of an annus horribilus year, my son turned five, my then husband had major cancer surgery followed by chemotherapy, I was working full time at the John Oxley Library while nursing my husband at home and for relaxation I thought I would do the Diploma. Looking back I can almost laugh but at the time the Diploma kept me focussed. Therefore these two theses mean a lot to me and having salvaged them from a Word Perfect format into Word although losing some formatting and style, they are both still readable and informative. The illustrations are not in the document and I will have to scan them and attach separately. Also since 1992 my research has progressed, and some of the questions in my thesis I have now answered. Ideally I will do a sequel but not today. So in the meantime, I have put my two 1992 research theses under Resources on my website. I hope someone finds Criminal Records: A Guide to Sources in Queensland and From Iron Chains to Gold Bars: A History of the Walker Family including the Evans, Potter, Bullen and Atkinson Families, 1814-1941 useful and interesting.

Radio interview in Mount Gambier, South Australia

November 3rd, 2009

On Monday 2 Nov 2009 I was interviewed by Stan Thomson during his Mornings program on ABC SE South Australia on my visit to Mount Gambier and my talk to the Mount Gambier History Group on Discovering Military Ancestors Online . I was a bit surprised to find that Stan also wanted to know about my own family and how I became interested in researching the past. A copy of the interview is available here.

The talk was in Powerpoint but I need to do some explanatory text to make it stand alone on this website. Hopefully I will be able to do that in the next day or so.


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