Archive for March, 2010

Mapping Your Ancestors

March 29th, 2010

Weeks 7 and 8 of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy were all about online map collections with the first exercise looking at Google Maps. Although I have briefly looked at Google Maps online, I have not really taken the time to explore it from a family history perspective.

I started by putting in my own address here in Melbourne and up came a street directory map but by switching to a satellite image I was able to zoom in and see all the houses on my street. When you click on Street View you can then actually see a photo of the house. I then repeated the exercise with a search for my brother’s house in Brisbane and found it just as easily.

My next search was to simply put in a place name Wednesbury, Staffordshire and up came a modern map with the options to look at some modern photos. One of these was the church of St Bartholomew’s Wednesbury where all my Price ancestors were baptised. Clicking on the photo took me to the photographer and other photos of the church and before I knew it I was searching photos not maps! So easy to get sidetracked when searching online.

Dragging myself back to Google Maps, I then clicked on the Places link for Wednesbury and it brought up a brief description of the town and its location. There was a further link to a full article in Wikipedia and yes, you guessed it, I was immediately sidetracked again with all the wonderful links in the article. There is a lovely photo of the Wednesbury Museum and Art Gallery and links to take you to their website.

As this was a maps exercise, I returned yet again to Google Maps and put in an address for my Price family from the 1881 census which was 20 Potters Lane, West Bromwich and up popped a street directory map showing that Potters Lane is still there near the Wednesbury Railway Station. Switching to satellite I was able to zoom in on No 20 but it is no longer a residential area and there seems to be a big factory on the site now which was a bit disappointing.

I then tried an address from a 1915 letter to my great grandfather Herbert White from his older brother Robert advising him of the death of his mother. Robert was living at 10 Polden Road, Salisbury in Wiltshire. The street map shows me where it is in Salisbury but it is the satellite image that is fascinating. Zooming in I can see that the terrace house is still there (and it looks like it could be the same building that might have been there in 1915). I can even move the image so that I can see up and down the street and across the road. It is almost as good as being there in person.

My great great grandmother had been buried in All Saints Church Farley so I then looked for the Church and Farley, West Dean and East Grimstead and found myself being able to tour around these villages and to see what they still look like today. Makes me want to visit in person more than ever.

I am now slowly making my way through all the various street addresses I have for my families and looking them up. Armchair travel with a real purpose!

Google Maps is not the only online mapping resource and in Australia I like using State Library of Victoria’s Melbourne Metropolitan Board  of Waterworks (MMBW) some of which have been digitised and are available online free. The Library has done a step by step guide for users. They show details of every building, including garden layouts and ownership boundaries; and environmental features such as fences, drainage, bridges, parks, municipal boundaries and other prominent landmarks as they existed at the time each plan was produced. A wonderful resource for anyone with Melbourne ancestors.

The Melbourne sewerage plans from the 1890s to the 1950s cover the following areas:

  • Melbourne CBD
  • Kensington
  • Richmond
  • Collingwood
  • Fitzroy
  • Port Melbourne
  • South Melbourne
  • St Kilda
  • Williamstown
  • Footscray

The National Library of Australia has an ongoing program to digitise maps in its collection and there is a listing of map collections digitised to date.  Some of my favourites include the Rail and Road Maps of Australia.

Quite a few of the local councils in Australia have been putting cemetery databases online and the Brisbane City Council’s Grave Location Search goes even further showing you exactly where in the cemetery a grave can be found. You can print out the map and go to that section of the cemetery and find the grave you are after.

These are just a few examples that I use in my own research. There are lots more so check out what is available in your area.  Now back to my Google Map trawling!


Why You Should Attend Genealogy Expos and Seminars

March 20th, 2010

The past week has been very busy with three genealogy events and while I do feel a bit weary, it was a worthwhile experience going to all three.

The first was the Second Australian Jewish Genealogy conference in Melbourne where I was giving a talk on Caring For Your Family Records. I have never had any involvement with Jewish genealogy before so listening to the other speakers was extremely interesting. I had thought tracing my Norwegian ancestors was challenging with the spelling variations and patronymics but after hearing them talk about some of the difficulties of Polish ancestors I will never complain again.

Handouts at conferences always interest me and I now have a copy of A Jewish Walk through “Marvellous Melbourne” which we hope to do one weekend when we have some free time. There are 34 sites briefly described on the walk through the CBD streets and just reading it has given me a deeper knowledge of Melbourne’s history. When you haven’t grown up in an area, you are often unaware of the history to be found in buildings you see every day.

I also collected a copy of the quarterly newsletter Jewish Genealogy Downunder published by the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society (Vic) which has lots of interesting information as well as a brochure for the Australian Jewish Genealogical Society based in Sydney. One of the conference speakers presented a talk on Why Have Family Newsletters? and provided a copy of the Powerpoint slides as a handout. This is packed with tips, encouragement and interesting illustrations. I wonder if I have time to do one?

I was unaware of the Makor Jewish Community Library and their Write Your Story program which offers support, classes and editorial advice for people to write their autobiographies. Most have been written primarily for the children and grandchildren of the authors but these memoirs have a much greater significance than that. Copies of all works published are kept at the Makor Library and are used by readers and scholars researching the social history of Melbourne’s Jewish Community. The Library publish a beautiful glossy catalogue (also available on the website) in which there are so many books that I now want to read because they sound really interesting.

The second event I attended was the monthly meeting of the Cobram Genealogical Group which usually has approx 12 people but had an amazing 25 people to hear my talk on Demolishing Brick Walls. It was really good to be able to share my knowledge of things like Unlock the Past blogs, Genealogy Wise and Looking 4 Kin nings and Twitter as most of those present hadn’t realised the potential for genealogy and family history research that these social media sites have. It also gave me an opportunity to learn more about this part of Victoria as I had not been there before and to catch up with friends who live in the area.

The final event of the week was the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies family and local history expo at Bendigo on Sunday which had over 200 people through the door. It seemed to be busy all day and it went surprisingly quickly. In all there were over 60 exhibitors so there was something of interest for everyone. Max and I staffed a small display for Unlock the Past, Gould Genealogy & History, World Vital Records Australasia and it was an opportunity to promote my new book Your Family History Archives: A Brief Introduction.

I took the opportunity in quiet moments to go round and say hello and catch up with all the familiar faces and to find out what is new. I also collected a range of flyers and brochures that I can read at leisure and follow up any research leads.

In one of those ‘bizarre’ coincidences we were at a table next to Betty Jackman selling her Bendigo Advertiser indexes which she has compiled and published. On the other side was Tasmania-Gen Tree who we have met before as Max has many Tasmanian families including Barwick and Jarvis. Towards the end of the day we were talking to them about Max’s brick wall (his grandfather Henry Spencer) and how he suddenly appeared in Tasmania and married Ada Barwick nee Jarvis.

We were a bit surprised when they said someone else had already asked about the Barwick family and it turned out that it was one of the ladies sitting beside us helping Betty to sell her books. So Max finds yet another cousin and I still can’t believe how he seems to find a relative every time we go somewhere!

I am now re-energised and want to get back to some of my own too hard ancestors and see if I can learn more about them. Going to genealogy events is fun, interesting, educational and inspiring so make sure you find out what is happening in your area. Unlock the Past has a Calendar of Events for Australia and New Zealand which is worth looking at and don’t forget your local genealogy or family history society!


52 weeks to Better Genealogy – Challenge 6 Online databases

March 16th, 2010

Challenge 6 in the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy challenge is about using online databases at your local library. I never seem to get time to go to the library much less spend time there doing research. The best time of the day for me to research is between 4-6am and libraries aren’t open then. At that time of day, the family is still asleep, the house is quiet, I can simply please myself, so it is the perfect opportunity for a little research.

That is why I like the ability to search library online databases at home whenever I want. I have both a State Library Victoria (SLV) and a National Library of Australia (NLA) membership card which allows me to access most of their subscription online databases at home. There are some that I can’t access but overall this is a fantastic free service.

Some of my favourite databases from State Library Victoria are:

19th Century British Library Newspapers – contains 48 British metropolitan and regional newspapers published between 1800 and 1900.

Times Digital Archive 1785-1985 – complete content of the London Times, fully searchable and viewable as images.

House of Commons Parliamentary Papers 1801-2003/4 – contains fully searchable, full-text British Parliamentary Papers from 1801 to 2003/04 sessions.

Informit Complete – indexes Australian magazines, journals and newspapers on a wide range of topics.

EBSCO Historical Abstracts – annotated bibliography of the history of the world, excluding the United States and Canada from 1450 to the present.

Oxford Reference Online Premium – History – extensive collection of online encyclopaedias and dictionaries covering various periods of history.

American National Biography Online – profiles of more than 18,000 men and women from all walks of American life, from the well-known to the infamous to the obscure.

Biography Resource Centre – information on famous figures from around the world and throughout history.

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography – an illustrated collection of more than 55,000 biographies of people from around the world who shaped the history of the United Kingdom, from earliest times to the year 2002.

The above are just some of the available titles from the Newspapers, Genealogy and History sections but there are a lot more available in other categories so have a look and see what interests you. To be able to access them at home you have to be a resident of Victoria, Australia.

The National Library of Australia has a similar E-Resources section and the criteria for access is that you live within Australia. I have only recently applied for my NLA access card because I was content with the SLV card and there are only so many hours in a day. While recently up in Darwin giving my Online Trends in Family History talk, I realised I should have one too and it arrived in the mail this week.

There are 150 online genealogy E-Resources listed in the NLA collection and some of these are free to view on the web, some only available with the access card and some only available onsite, similar to SLV. When browsing the list I was surprised to see some free sites that I wasn’t even aware of so that in itself was a plus. The genealogy list is subdivided into Australian states, New Zealand and overseas.

There are a range of other categories and sub-categories and I plan to explore in the first instance the 23 titles listed under Biography, 50 under History, 10 under Military History, 14 under Geography and Mapping, and this is just a sample of my interests.

Visiting a local library and using online databases is very worthwhile but if, like me, you find it hard to get there during normal opening hours, apply for a free online library card from your State Library and/or the National Library of Australia. My research has benefited significantly just by using the Times at home and having the ability to search it thoroughly without worrying that someone else wants to use the computer or finding that critical bit of information just as the library is closing!  The only downside is that not everything is online (and we should always remember that) and not having enough time in the day to look at all these fantastic resources online.


Caring for your Family Records

March 12th, 2010

My presentation on Caring for your Family Records at the Second National Australian Jewish Genealogy Conference in Melbourne last weekend was very well received. I had intended to spend the whole day at the conference but we experienced some minor roof damage from the previous nights’ storm and minor flooding in the lounge room which delayed us a bit.

We arrived just in time for the two talks before lunch, and my talk was one of three concurrent sessions after lunch. The session was held in the Auditorium as almost 100 people elected to listen to my presentation which was very pleasing but I did feel sorry for the other speakers. That is always a problem with concurrent sessions – you usually want to go to more than one of them.

Due to the size of the audience, it was not possible to take questions during the presentation although a few slipped in and audience interest meant a number of questions at the end. We were followed by a plenary session so further questions had to be put on hold until afternoon tea. During the changeover of speakers, however, many people took advantage of the time to take copies of the handouts and complete the evaluation form that I ask people to do at all my talks. I love feedback, both positive and negative, as it allows me to deliver the talks that people want.

Some of the comments on the evaluation form were particularly pleasing:

  • More time – extend to a one day course
  • More time for questions
  • You have given me a lot more work to do, thanks for the nudge, great presentation
  • She could have talked for hours!
  • Fantastic presentation – very well put together/prepared and presented – many thanks
  • Would have liked it a little longer but I will now read your book

The only negative comments were around the fact that the hour session was not long enough and there was not enough opportunity for everyone to get their questions answered. I did speak to more people during afternoon tea.

The other big plus for the day was that I was able to promote and sell copies of my new book Your Family History Archives: A Brief Introduction which is an expanded version of the presentation. A small A5 40 page paperback, it is the basics of recording, organising and caring for family archives and what to do to ensure your collection is not lost to future generations of family and other researchers.

A family archive does not eventuate overnight, it slowly (sometimes quickly) grows over the years. The first section of the book encompasses collection, organising and accessing your family records and memorabilia. The second section is the conservation and preservation process to ensure that the records are kept for future generations. The final section is what happens to the collection in the future.

Front coverWriting the book was a good reason to look closely at my own practices and while some of my records are kept in good archival order, there are parts that I have not had time to do or I am not that keen on doing eg scanning all my certificates and other paper documents. I now have a long list of things that I want to work on.

I have been visiting my mother in Brisbane a lot lately and have become aware that she has been ‘hiding’ some family heirlooms at the back of cupboards. The photograph on the front cover of the book represents some of what I have ‘found’ – her wedding dress; Dad’s and Mum’s 21st birthday keys and the birthday cards lovingly put into an album now falling apart; a dilapidated folder of recipes and draft notes on a range of things including the guests invited to their wedding; a spine damaged photo album of my baby photos and my first ever pair of shoes!

Your Family History Archives: A Brief Introduction is available for sale online for $10 plus p&h from Gould Genealogy and History and I will have copies of it for sale at all talks and events that I attend in future.


Letters Home – My Irish Families

March 6th, 2010

This week’s blog is my contribution to the Carnival of Irish Heritage & Culture, 18th edition

With four gg grandparents born in Ireland it is no wonder that I am interested in Irish heritage and culture. Of the four it is only my gg grandmother Maria Jeffers who gives me any real insight into her life back in Ireland. However, I will also outline the other Irish gg grandparents just in case someone else is interested in those families.

Maria Jeffers arrived in Brisbane in 1864. Maria (daughter of Isaac Jeffers and Harriet Ballantyne) was born in Portadown, County Armagh in 1844. Maria came to Queensland, Australia on board the Legion of Honour in 1864. She married Adam Johnston (see below) in 1864 in Brisbane, Queensland. In later life she had a close friend Abraham Francis and she is seen with him in this photograph.Abraham Francis and Maria Jeffers

Of my four Irish ancestors, Maria Jeffers is the only one known to have kept contact with her family back in Ireland. A few surviving letters to and from one of her brothers who stayed in Portadown confirms this. The letters were in poor condition with pages and pieces missing and had been given to one of Maria’s grandsons on a collateral line who kindly let me photocopy them many years ago.

One of my father’s elderly cousins also said that Maria wrote to a brother in the USA but we had no proof until I recently received an email from someone in the USA descended from that brother. We are now exchanging information and pooling what we know on the family in Portadown.

The first letter I have is undated but seems to be re-establishing contact, possibly ca 1904.

Dear Maria

Just a line to say I got your letter all right. Am glad to hear from you would be well pleased to hear from you at any time, perhaps you will come over and see us all. If so, I would give you a good reception, and would keep you as long as you liked or in fact altogether.

Excuse writing bad pen

With love from all to all

James Jeffers

Another letter from James dated 30 Jan 1904 from Cabra, Tandragee includes more family information including the exchange of Christmas cards. Snippets include:

We have none of photos just, this weather is gloomy and dark, but in a few weeks when it brightens up, we will get them all taken, and will send you a copy as soon as possible.

My second wife has two daughters, will send them too, I have no great news to tell you of, except we are buying out our farm off the landlord at about 160 pounds sterling.

The names of the two girls are Minnie she eldest about 18 years of age and Annie about 14 years.

Minnie would willingly correspond with Maria is she cared to do so but in writing address put Minnie Calvin. NB Maria was Maria’s youngest daughter born 1882.

In another letter dated 2 April 1906 James gives some information on changes to the area since Maria left in 1864. Snippets include:

There are a great many changes here since you went away all the old neighbours are either dead or left long ago. John Woods is living (where Willie Brann lived) married one Bella Moore but he is dating long ago. All the other old neighbours are all away, the most of them dead. Mary King is still living in Richhill yet, she goes about the country with a pack and she has gathered money.

The old mill has gone to ruin not a soul living about it now. Mr Orr’s have left the course.

In a letter dated 9 March 1910 written by James’ wife Ellen, Maria is informed of the death of her brother James. The handwriting and spelling is very bad but snippets include:

We did not expect it he was just ill from Friday to Monday the docter ……thought it was influanzea and turned to newmonia on the lungs the minister was here

I wont beelong behind my James then we will meet to part no more the children are all with me yet I have it hard with them but will do what I can to Albert is left school I will do it for his father’s sake. They want the farm sold but it was so far in debt nothing is left when the first wife died the place was sunk in debt……..

In an undated letter, Ellen Jeffers now living at 96 Park Road, Portadown wrote to Maria complaining about no letters being received and her poor health and how much she missed James. Bad handwriting and poor spelling make it hard to understand Ellen plus she seems to be rambling at times. Snippets include:

I herd harriet was married in America sarah will bee in a sad truble she expected them home she com down and stoped with me a day and a night

Albert is got so wild I cant guide him harriet is not much …. I often want them to right you there is no love in them I don’t no how they will do when they lose me the one wont help the other

Another letter dated 2 Dec 1910 from Ellen indicates that she is not well again, still missing James and that she has included a photo of him with the letter. Sadly that photo doesn’t seem to have survived or no one knew who it was when going through Maria’s things after she died in 1930. However I have a copy of one photo of two girls believed to be Minnie and Annie Calvin, James two step-daughters. It is inscribed ‘to Auntie from Minnie’.

I am really grateful that these few letters have survived and it lets me know that Maria did make contact with her family again although after an absence of almost forty years. I wonder why she did after such a long time – what prompted her to make the effort to reconnect?

My other Irish gg grandparents are briefly outlined below and I am always happy to share information with family members.

Adam Johnston (husband of Maria Jeffers, son of James Johnston and Sarah McElwain) was born in 1842 in Knockbride, County Cavan and he arrived in Queensland, Australia with his brother James on board the Mangerton in 1861. Adam and Maria had nine children but separated sometime in the 1880s and Adam had a relationship with Mary Tyrell and had another three children before his death in 1900. Numerous members of the Johnston family from Knockbride also came to Queensland and there are many descendants actively tracing the family. A number of meetings have been held in the last twelve months to pool information and to sort out the various lines and how they connect.

John Finn (son of Francis Finn and Rosa Beakey) was born ca 1856 at Ballygannon, County Wicklow married Sarah Fegan in Rathdrum, Wicklow on 29 May 1879. Sarah (daughter of Robert Fegan and Sarah ?) was born ca 1862 at Glasnarget, County Wicklow. They arrived in Queensland, Australia in 1882 with their son Robert Finn born 1880 and another son James Joseph Finn born on board the Mairi Bhan during the voyage. Nothing is known about the Finn family in Ireland apart from these brief facts.

If anyone has more information on the families above, I would love to hear from you and expand my knowledge of my Irish heritage and culture.


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