Archive for April, 2011

3rd Australasian Scottish Genealogy Conference – What I Learnt!

April 18th, 2011

At the weekend I attended the 3rd Australasian Scottish Genealogy Conference Catch The Moments Scotland 1750 to 1850: A Century of Transformation organised by the Scottish Ancestry Group of the Genealogical Society of Victoria (GSV).

It is the first conference I have attended in a very long time that I was not giving a paper or working behind the scenes so all I had to do was sit back and enjoy myself along with about 140 other people from Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales, Tasmania, South Australia, Canberra and New Zealand.

My Scottish ggg grandparents John Carnegie and his wife Helen Stratton and family arrived in Queensland in 1865 and although I have found them in parish registers and census records, I have never really looked into my Scottish heritage. I’ve investigated my Irish, Cornish, English and Norwegian heritage but never my Scottish for reasons unknown.

So for me attending this conference was all about getting in touch with my Scottish ancestors at long last. The two days covered 16 presentations, some were concurrent sessions and a range of live entertainment including bagpipes, Scottish dancing, singing, a Gaelic choir and a Ceilidh and dinner.

The first thing I did after registration on Saturday was to buy my copy of the Conference Notes: Catch The Moments Scotland 1750 to 1850: A Century of Transformation for $25 which included all the papers and for the bargain price of $10 I could also pick up the 2006 Conference Notes also packed with lots of good papers.

I should mention the conference satchel with a handy notebook, pen, pencil, various information leaflets and a 10 credits voucher for Scotlands People.

The other two trade tables were the GSV with a range of Scottish publications and how to books and Mapworks – both seemed to be kept busy during all the breaks!

The first plenary was Alex Tyrrell on Scotland 1750-1850 which was a good introduction and while his paper was more ‘academic’ he did use some interesting illustrations which helped me to start changing my views of Scotland. An image of late century Dundee showed it as small and quite rural whereas my mental image was a big city with lots of buildings. A number of the papers commented on Scotland’s small population and I kept telling myself that it was smaller back then than Melbourne today!

The next session was concurrent with a choice of Susie Zada talking about the Scots in Geelong & District or Tracing Military Ancestors with Sheena Tait, the keynote speaker. I went to the latter and I wrote down so many links to follow up I will never get up from my laptop! Sheena also listed a number of useful books because we have to remember, it’s not all online.

An interesting point was that some of the National Archives UK (TNA) military series have also been microfilmed by FamilySearch (LDS) and that you can order those films in to your local viewing place. To find them in the FamilySearch Library Catalogue just put in the TNA reference number eg WO97 or whatever.

After lunch, there was another concurrent session with Ian Breward talking about Scottish Church History 1750-1850 and John Blackwood talking about Scotlands People Website. Although I have heard others talking about Scotlands People, I still went to John’s talk as I never seen to be able to find what I want. I was very glad that I did because John spoke about the Help and Other Resources, especially the Research Tools on the website which provide lots of great background. Lists of occupations (over 1500), with descriptions of tools of trade, handwriting help and so on.

He also did a live demonstration with a few problems logging on, line falling out and a general slowness as always when using a laptop. However his search for wills and testaments was interesting and I had forgotten that search results for wills are free and there is quite a bit of identifying information so I added ‘search my Scottish names for wills’ to my to-do list.

The next concurrent session was a choice between Susan McLean talking on The Record Keeper – Kirk & State and Lucy Frost on Scottish Convict Women. I went to Lucy’s talk and it was an ‘academic’ paper which she read with no slides. It was very interesting and I had not realised the differences between Scottish convicts and other UK convicts. I will need to reread her paper as I find it hard to take in all that information in a single session just listening to someone.

The final plenary session for the day was Sheena Tait on Scottish Hand Loom Weavers which was very relevant to me as my ancestors were weavers in the Montrose area. Sheena was also reading her papers but she was using images from SCRAN which illustrated the points she was making. She also listed a number of websites and useful books.

The dinner was onsite (the Hemisphere Hotel at Moorabbin in Melbourne) and it was excellent food, with live entertainment and a demonstration of Scottish dancing with a variety of reels. I hadn’t realised Scottish dancing could be so complex and wondered whether my ancestors had known how to do those dances.

The first session on Sunday was a choice between Irene Fullarton’s Scotland’s Presence on the Web and Sheena Tait talking about The Scottish Agricultural Labourer. As I have ag labs in the family I went to Sheena’s but not before checking that Irene’s paper and all her URLs was in the Conference Notes. In her paper Sheena also talked about how ag labs lived – their accommodation, health care, clothing and what they did for entertainment which all helped to give a better idea of their lives.

The next session was a plenary with Eric Richards talking about the Highland Clearances. Another ‘academic’ paper which Eric read with no illustrations but very interesting which I will read again. I hadn’t realised there were also Lowland clearances as well .

As I mentioned above, I personally prefer talks where the speaker just talks to slides or overheads but then I am a very visual person who finds it hard to concentrate (all the time) when someone is just reading. I think too because I am a speed reader that I often think I can save time if I just read it myself!

After lunch Malcolm Horsburgh spoke about Dissenting Churches & Records and Margaret McLaren talked on Life in a Scottish Tenement. I went to the latter as I believe my ancestors were living in tenements and Margaret had some great illustrations that really brought home to me how small some of those places were, especially if there were lots of children. Also sharing a ‘water closet’ between two flats was an eye opener and not having backyards or places to play made me realise why children were always seen playing in the streets or ‘closes’.

The next session was a choice between Joy Roy on the Evolution of Planned Villages in Scotland and Joan Mitchell on Gaelic Scotland which I went to. As well as giving a history of the Gaelic language, Joan and her friends from the Scottish Gaelic Society of Victoria gave an example of Gaelic singing and folding the cloth.

In the afternoon tea break the Scottish Gaelic Society choir entertained us with a number of songs and if anyone wants to listen to a Gaelic song, try looking up Ishbel MacAskill on YouTube.

The final plenary was Sheena Tait on Picture The Past where she covered a range of material including statistical accounts, maps, gazetteers, images, pictures. Again I ended up with a long list of URLs to look at, many I hadn’t encountered before.

For all the sessions that I didn’t attend, I now have to read those papers and no doubt there will be a lot of references to follow up. As I indicated above, I am also keen to reread some of the sessions I attended too as there was just so much to take in.

The venue was really good, lots of free parking and getting afternoon tea and lunch was easy with everything well laid out so that lengthy queues were not an issue. Plus there was plenty of food, healthy sandwiches and rolls with fruit for lunch and muffins and French pastries for afternoon tea. Personally I would have liked to see some Scottish shortbreads or other Scottish food (and at the dinner too) but perhaps the Hemisphere’s chefs weren’t up on that specialised area.

The whole two days was really well organised, all the speakers kept to the theme and to time, the publication of all the papers was a plus (now for sale in the GSV online bookshop, and overall the conference was great value. I have a much greater appreciation for what it means to be Scottish or of Scottish descent and lots of things to follow up in those spare moments.

Congratulations to the organising committee on putting it all together. I am already looking forward to the next one!!


Charles Douglas Spencer – Military Medal for Bravery

April 18th, 2011

Charles Douglas Spencer

Charles Douglas Spencer

Charles Douglas Spencer

This ANZAC day I want to commemorate Charles Douglas Spencer, and other Spencer family members who have all been involved in the defence services for over four generations.

Charles Douglas Spencer (SX 428), or Doug as he was more commonly known, enlisted in the Australian Army in World War II on 20 October 1939 at Keswick, South Australia. He was 20 years old. We have a copy of his army dossier from the National Archives of Australia which outlines all his activities during the war. He was discharged on 26 September 1945 and at the time was a Sergeant with the HQ SIGS 1 Australian Corps.

Of more interest to us as a family, we have Doug’s own memoirs which he wrote out for his sons Noel who served in the Australian Army for 20 years and Max who served in the Australian Army for 6 years and then transferred to the RAAF for a further 20 years.

Doug’s memoirs start with his leaving Australia, his training camps, and places such as Egypt, Libya, Greece as well as North Queensland in 1943 and Papua New Guinea. It’s only a half dozen pages of typescript but in it he gives personal stories of his army adventures that otherwise would have been lost to history.

We are even more fortunate to have a photocopy of a letter written by then Lt Col R Kendall, at AIF Headquarters in the Middle East on 21 September 1941. In that letter Kendall outlines why he nominated Doug for the Military Medal.

Dear Spencer

As your Commanding Officer during the campaign in Greece, I am delighted to learn that you have received an ‘immediate’ award of the Military Medal. Please accept my very hearty congratulations.

The Act for which I recommended you for the MM took place near the VEVADIA railway station in Greece on 20th April 1941, when three trains of petrol, gun ammunition and explosives were set alight by intensive bombing and machine gun attacks by enemy aircraft. You were engaged in jointing and repairing the wires of a vital telephone route. In spite of the great risk to your own life and despite terrific heat, exploding shells and bursting petrol tins in the very near vicinity you continued jointing and repairing telephone lines throughout the bombing raid. As a result vital communications were quickly re-established.

Your act and its recognition add to the pride I feel in having commanded 1st Aust Corps Signals.

Yours sincerely

R Kendall

In 1979 Doug also received from the Minister of National Defence, Hellenic Republic (Greece) the Commemorative Medal of the Campaign 1940-1941. In 1980 he was invited to attend the anniversary of the Battle of Mainland Greece and Crete but he was unable to attend.

As well as the Military Medal and the Greek Commemorative Medal, Doug was also awarded the 1939-45 Star, the African Star, the Pacific Star, the Defence Medal, the 1939-45 War Medal  and the Australian Service Medal.

A very modest man, Doug was persuaded for ANZAC day 1993 to be interviewed by The Murray Pioneer, a newspaper in South Australia. The article, published on 28 April 1993, focussed on Doug and his sons Noel and Max – all Sergeants in the Defence Forces and gives a brief outline of how they all became involved with a military life and what they had been doing since leaving the Defence Forces. The newspaper article does have a few inaccuracies but it also provides more information on the Spencer family’s military traditions.

Only one of Doug’s grandsons followed the family tradition and that was one of Max’s sons who spent 5 years in the Australian Army and is still with the Army Reserve. Recently we learnt that Doug’s father Henry Spencer had also spent time with the Royal Horse Artillery in the UK before he immigrated to Queensland in 1882.

Doug’s original medals are with his eldest son Noel and Max has made copies for himself, his Army son and Max’s grandchildren and all attend ANZAC Day ceremonies in their various home towns each year. The Spencer military tradition continues.

Lest we forget.


52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & History Week 15 Sports

April 15th, 2011

I’m participating in the 52 weeks of personal genealogy and history challenge.

I’ve missed a few weeks in this series due to my overseas genealogy cruise and catching some dreaded virus on my return to Melbourne from the tropical north.

This week’s topic is sport and I don’t have a lot to talk about because as a sickly asthmatic child in primary school no one really wanted me on either the softball (summer) or basketball (winter) teams. I more often than not found myself on the sidelines cutting up the oranges for the other players.

My only real recollection of playing softball was the time I was hit in the face with the ball, luckily my nose wasn’t broken!

My younger brother was the athletic one playing soccer during the winter and being quite good at it too. So most weekends I was dragged along to watch him play. To this day I can’t bring myself to go to a football match of any code although I did watch my son’s games. Sadly, he was a bit like me when growing up, much preferred a good book or his computer.

Once I started high school I seemed to grow out of the asthma and took up swimming and played more tennis but not in any competitive way. I was still very ‘bookish’ and preferred weekend visits to the library rather than a playing field.

During summer my parents had a long standing love affair with the Gold Coast and most weekends we were dragged down there and of course during the summer holidays we lived down there. Both my brother and I liked surfing although he became much more a surfing addict than I did. I lost my enthusiasm after nearly drowning off  Burleigh Heads one year.

On my recent trip back to Brisbane I came across some early photos of my brother and I in our sporting gear – obviously our parents were proud of our achievements  and we were snapped on Mum’s old Box Brownie by the look of the photos.

Steve soccer Shauna tennis Bardon 1960s

Steve soccer Shauna tennis Bardon 1960s

Steve Shauna surfing Gold Coast 1960s

Steve Shauna surfing Gold Coast 1960s

I suspect the other photo is us on our very first surfboards, coolite by the look of it! My brother still goes regularly surfing down to Byron and other beaches in northern NSW.

Nowadays when I visit Byron, I do the shops and the restaurants, visit the lighthouse and think about the good old days.

The only sport I’ve done for the last few years (or is that decades) is chasing ancestors but we are planning to take up golf now that we are retired and of course, take the boat out more often and go fishing. Another pastime that my family used to do way back when but that’s another story!

I always find it amazing how many memories start to come back when I’m given a personal blog topic to think about. Probably why I enjoy being part of this challenge. If you haven’t tried it yet, I can thoroughly recommend it!


Unlock The Past’s Brisbane seminar

April 2nd, 2011

It was a bit strange turning up for an afternoon of genealogy talks only a few days after the Unlock the Past history and genealogy cruise. There were quite a few friendly faces from the cruise and perhaps over a 100 other attendees.

It was a free half day seminar featuring interstate speakers and there was an option to stay on for a Battlefield Tours and Cruises wine and cheese information evening. I only stayed for the afternoon and went home to pack in the evening as we were flying back to Melbourne the next morning.

First speaker was Rosemary Kopittke on Connecting With Family Lines Online and this was one of the talks I missed on the cruise as it was in the Captains Lounge so I was happy to finally be able to listen to it. Rosemary mentioned all the usual suspects and a few I haven’t looked at – so that added a few more things to my ‘must follow up list’ post cruise.

The second speaker was Paul Parton talking about FamilySearch including New FamilySearch and I have heard Paul on previous occasions. I had expected from the title of his talk that he would be demonstrating how to use/search New FamilySearch but he didn’t and only pointed out the Feedback button if we didn’t like the new site. However he did talk about some of the new features such as the Research Wiki, the online 1851 England Jurisdiction maps, learning resources and tutorials and so on.

Alan Phillips gave a brief talk on the War Comes to Australia seminar and NT Tour in 2012 and more details are on the Unlock the Past site.

The third speaker was myself talking on Researching Military Ancestors in Australia and while I covered the usual suspects I also tried to highlight online resources attendees might not be familiar with. It pays to advertise your research interests and in my talks I tend to mention my own military ancestors. Someone doing a PhD on a Queensland regiment in the Boer War is interested in the exploits of my William Price. We are now swapping information which is exciting.

The final speaker was Mat McLachlan on Australia at War: A Brief Overview which was more about his battlefield tours and their increasing popularity. He had some very moving video footage from the Western Front and as one of my family members died there it was especially relevant.

Post seminar I was left with the feeling that I should do something this coming ANZAC Day on all my military ancestors – not sure what yet but last year I told the story of Tasman Jarvis who died at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915. I’d like to do something similar on all of them but won’t have time.

There were also exhibitors – Clean Cruising, FamilySearch, Friends of Toowong Cemetery Association, Genealogical Society of Queensland, Gould Genealogy & History, Queensland Family History Society, Unlock the Past and the State Library of Queensland who had some of their brief guides on a range of topics.

I picked up the eye catching brochure for the UTP history & genealogy Irish & Scottish Theme Cruise leaving 21 November 2011 for 14 nights around New Zealand and coming back via Burnie, Melbourne and Sydney. Not sure that you can say that a cruise is ‘relaxing’ – the last one was full on from start to finish, although it was all pleasure with no cooking, cleaning or other housework!

Also picked up the brochure for the Gallipoli Cruise 2015 which will commemorate the 100th anniversary 1915-2015. It looks like a great trip (36 days) with entertainers John Williamson, Ross Wilson, Normie Rowe and Daryl Braithwaite and visiting Fremantle, Albany, Cocos Island, Colombo, Luxor, Cairo, Kusadasi, Gallipoli, Istanbul, Santorini, Athens, Palermo, Naples and Rome.

It was a great afternoon and I saw the other attendees writing down notes, collecting handouts or buying books from the various exhibitors. I’m sure they all thought it was worthwhile and I have new leads to follow up in my own research – all I need to do is stop travelling around so much and get back into my own family research!


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