Archive for January, 2010

Recording Your Own Life

January 23rd, 2010

I have spent this week thinking about my own life. Why? I am enrolled in the 52 weeks to Better Genealogy program and week 3 is reflecting on our own lives and how we have recorded them. We document our ancestors and living family members but do we take the time to record our own lives.

My answer is both yes and no. As an archivist I have always been aware of the need for recordkeeping and one of my almost life long habits has been to keep a record of things I have done. I have kept newspaper cuttings that I have appeared in or have been about me, certificates of courses I have done, thank you letters, invitations and flyers to events that I have spoken at, conference programs and so on.

I started this habit with my first ever photo in a newspaper – the South Burnett Times 7 July 1982. Anyone looking at the photo today would not recognise me as a very skinny size 10 with a Mia Farrow haircut. I  had given a talk to the South Burnett Genealogical Club and the event had been of interest to the local newspaper. Flicking through to 1986 there is yet another hairstyle and now I am into my ‘big glasses’ phase speaking in Maryborough. Still with the glasses and a hairstyle very close to what I have now is a photo of me in the Courier Mail in 1989 with an array of blood stained murder weapons. That year was the 30th anniversary of the Queensland State Archives and I organised the exhibition hence the weaponry which the journalist was fascinated with.

In 1993 I gave a talk on the sinking of the hospital ship Centaur at the 50th anniversary seminar at the State Library of Queensland. For those who may have missed it, the wreck of the Centaur was recently found and I followed the search with great interest as I had met so many people connected with  it in 1993.

I seem to have kept the same ‘look’ until about 2001 when I ditched the big glasses for the contact lens and a photo of me at a labour conference in Canberra has me very young and very blonde. I forgot to mention that my hair colour varies from red to blonde and all shades in between!

I have eleven of these binders. I don’t want to bore you with the minutiae of my life so I will fast forward to 2009 and my farewell photo in PROV’s e-newsletter rEsearch which has me looking very much as I do today (which is a bit different from my web photo – now back to blonde).

It is hard to believe that these eleven binders represent my life in the public eye, someone who has been advocating family history in libraries and archives since 1981. It is now 29 years since I left my boring government job of  7 years to work in the John Oxley Library in Brisbane. Every talk, seminar, conference and so on is in those binders.

I wonder what will happen to them when I am gone?

At the beginning of this blog I said both yes and no. The above indicates that I have documented at least one aspect of my life. Also this week and for other reasons, I have been going through my photographs and here I am definitely not well documented as I am usually behind the camera. How true is this for others?

I have been putting together an album of photos for my partner to document our participation in the 200th anniversary celebrations in 2007 of the closing of the First Settlement of Norfolk Island. His ancestors Samuel Pyers and Sarah Johnson were both convicts who married on Norfolk and started to raise their family there before the decision was made to close the penal settlement down and move everyone to Tasmania.

I have been using Family Photo Book to give my compilation of photos more of a professional look. I have selected photos with Max in them and told the story of the re-enactment so that the album will become a family record for future generations. When our grandkids are older, I can imagine him sitting down and saying ‘I remember when …..’ and showing them the photos of our trip to Norfolk Island. There are a few photos of me taken by others or group photos but not many and I struggled to find suitable ones to include in the album.

If I think about the photos we took at Christmas I again have to admit I am missing in action. You would not even know I was there! Same with my mother’s 75th birthday party last year. Did I even attend? Obviously this is one area of my family history I can improve but, and there is always a but, I don’t like my photo being taken which is why I always have a camera in my hand. This may even be why I started keeping the newspaper clippings and other memorabilia as a way of documenting what I have looked like over the years!

In all seriousness, family historians should also document their own life stories to hand down to future generations. Although it may sound a bit gruesome, perhaps we should even think about writing our own obituary. What would we want people to say about us after we are gone?

As I said in the beginning, this week has been spent reflecting on how I record my own life and what records I will leave behind about me. I have lots about my public life but very little about me on a personal level – I have thrown out my teenage diaries, my old love letters and old photos. I now suspect that I will have to spend a bit of time ‘salvaging’ my personal life and capturing my own memories in the absence of records.

Challenge No 3 was indeed challenging – I only hope that future weeks don’t require such soul searching.


52 Weeks to Better Genealogy – My Progress So Far!

January 15th, 2010

I have accepted a challenge from Genea-Bloggers to participate in a 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy workshop. We are at the end of Week 2 and I honestly don’t know where the last two weeks went. I have done both challenges and as they are related I thought I would combine them into a single blog report.

One of the nice things about the workshop is that it is supposed to be fun and you don’t have to do it every week. I am going to try and keep up the weekly pace as I am sure that I will learn new things along the way. It will also provide me with blog ideas if I have nothing else to ramble about.

The first challenge was to visit my local library and to check out the genealogy section and see what is there. Week 2 was another visit this time looking at the local history collection or archives/special collections if relevant.

Visiting my local library (Heaths Road branch of the Wyndham City Council Library) is not a hardship as it is a pleasant walk of 20 minutes across parkland to Werribee Plaza. The Library has a website with an online catalogue so I can do some searching before visiting if I want. I can also extend my loans online if I can’t get them back by the due date which is also handy.

The Heaths Road Library has a dedicated Family History and Local Studies Room and a Genealogy Librarian and they also provide training courses from time to time. The Genealogy Collection has over 280 genealogy books, plus 7 genealogy magazines, microfiche and microfilm and not just for Victoria. There is also interstate and overseas material.

They even hire out Victorian and New South Wales BDMs, Victorian Directories pre 1900, Victorian Electoral Rolls and if you don’t have a microfiche reader, you can borrow one of them too! I wonder how many local libraries offer that type of assistance? Bookings are necessary and the loans are charged on a 24 hour basis with varying costs depending on what you want to borrow. For example if I want the Victorian BDMs and the microfiche reader then it costs $8.75 for a 24 hour period and this is cheaper than a train ticket to Melbourne CBD to visit the State Library of Victoria or the Genealogical Society of Victoria. Also saves me 2 hours of travelling time. How good is that?

They also have a range of CD ROMs, newspapers on microfilm, shipping records, cemetery records and a whole range of miscellaneous records for Victoria. More details can be found in the Genealogy Collection section of the website and also what is held for interstate and overseas. Pity that someone can’t spell ‘genealogy’ and the mistake has been cut and pasted many times over!

Also handy is A Guide to Family History Sources at the Wyndham Library Service and on the day I visited there were copies available to take home. It is a 24 page guide listing microform records and giving basic information on the Library’s genealogy services.

The Family History and Local Studies Room has a wide range of books, some of which cannot be borrowed and must be used there. Others can be borrowed for the usual 4 week loan. There are a number of tables, chairs and a computer for using CD ROMs and the microform reader. The Room could accommodate perhaps 8-10 people researching at any one time although I have never seen more than 4 people there at the times I have visited. Still better than travelling into Melbourne.

The Library is also home to the district’s local history collection. The actual museum is in the Werribee CBD (about 15 minutes by car down the road). The library catalogue allows a separate search of just the local history collection and putting in a key word ‘photographs’ brings up 12 titles. Clicking on The Boer War Volunteers title brings up 11 digitised images of men from the area who enlisted.

Not all the digitised photographs are listed under the category ‘photographs’ which is a bit misleading. I found more when looking for my suburb name of Hoppers Crossing and more when I looked for Werribee South. So always think laterally when using online databases and come at your topic from a number of different angles.

The Library is also a member of Picture Victoria and Picture Australia so photographs can be found there too.

The Local History Database also has information on agriculture, businesses and shops, pioneer families, sports, schools,churches, transport, historic buildings and sites. It is an ongoing project and more information is added from time to time and at present it has maps, posters and photographs included.

I don’t have any family interests in Wyndham so I mainly use the Genealogy section of the Family History and Local Studies Room. I also make use of the Library’s wider collection including Australian history, biographies, reference works and what ever other area of interest pops up in my family history.

Your local library is definitely worth visiting and if you haven’t been there recently, then it’s time to have another look and make use of those handy resources. Good luck!

Is My Family Already On The Internet?

January 8th, 2010

Not too many years ago, most genealogists and family historians used to submit their names and research interests to society journals or genealogical research directories (GRD’s), either local, national and/or international. We would then sit back and hopefully someone would contact us and there would be a connection and an exchange of information. Originally this was by snail mail and then email.

I made a few connections that way but not as many as I have made since placing my names in Genes Reunited a couple of years ago. This is the only online database I have placed my family names in although I do know of other similar sites like My Heritage, Ancestral File and Ancestry.com.au where other distant relatives have added family names.

However I have not made as much use of the ‘wonders’ of the Internet as I did so religiously every year with the GRD’s – why is this so? Is it because the GRD’s were once a year effort and then you just waited? With the online ones you are constantly checking, adding, contacting etc that sometimes there is no time to do it and there are so many more to be in contact with.

This blog ramble is because I am cranky with myself – I did not make the effort to check other online databases in case my family were already mentioned in them. Every time I went to a family history library in the past I would look up new GRD’s just in case there was a connection but I don’t do it with the online ones even though I can do it at home.

Those who have been regularly reading my two blogs SHHE Genie Rambles and Brick Wall Solutions on Unlock the Past will know that I have been looking for Helen Carnegie/Ellen Ferguson and recently had a breakthrough. I will be writing the whole story in a new Brick Wall Solutions blog next week and I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but the solution to my brick wall was on the Internet back in 2004. But I never thought to look at where I eventually found the answer. Intrigued?

Like everyone else,  I put my names into Google and come up with lots of references even when I use inverted commas eg “Helen Carnegie” I still get 2,380 hits. It drops to about 555 hits when I use an advanced search and add in her husband Alexander Ferguson. There are only 130 hits when I use Alexander Miller Ferguson and it was interesting going through those hits. But I still didn’t find what I was looking for.

The World Connect site is part of Rootsweb, an Ancestry.com community and one that I don’t look in very much for my own family. I have for my partner’s as I know he has relatives that have entered their families there. When I enter Helen Carnegie I get 112 results, when I add her father’s name John Carnegie I get 20 results. My Helen is the ninth entry and there is her second husband (that I didn’t know about until recently) and her death date and burial place (I ordered the death certificate back in November and only received it on 4 Jan 2010 but that’s another story). Her death certificate gave me the name of her second husband and it was his name, Charles Wademore Chick, that I was looking for, not Helen’s. The searches I illustrated above I did after I knew she was in World Connect but I would still have found her without knowing about the second husband, if I had ever looked.

I have since made contact with the person who placed the entry (connected via her second husband) and there will be yet another sequel to Helen’s story. Don’t miss next week’s Brick Wall Solutions as I will update the story from where we last left it.

So the point of this blog is – make more use of online databases but how do we know which ones are out there? I use Rootsweb mailing lists all the time but forget about World Connect. Should I now search all my names in case there are more distant relations out there? How do others keep up with these databases, especially when they don’t show up via Google?

Last words – I am finally going to sit down and thoroughly read Dan Lynch’s Google Your Family Tree: Unlock the Hidden Power of Google.  The question is not – Is my family already on the Internet? – but rather – How much of my family is already on the Internet?

PS I am not saying that everything is on the Internet, only that we need to make more use of it as a finding aid to assist us with our research whether it be in libraries, archives or digital collections and in making contact with other distant family members.


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