Archive for December, 2011

Unlock the Past Scottish Irish Genealogy Cruise 2011 Overview

December 11th, 2011

Regular readers will know that I flew to Auckland New Zealand on 18 November for the  Unlock the Past history & genealogy cruise with a Scottish Irish theme. Throughout the trip I maintained a daily account of the genealogy sessions as well as the onshore excursions and shipboard life. They weren’t sent every day due to no affordable internet  for most of the time at sea but whenever I could use my Australian or New Zealand modems I sent out updates.

These can be found on this website in my SHHE Genie Rambles blog (more the genealogy session reports but not always) and also on my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog (more the shipboard and onshore activity as well as a few genealogy sessions held on the days we were in port).

Fourteen days is a long time for a conference and I had wondered if it would be too long. Our earlier cruise was only seven days and I felt that was too short. The other change was evening sessions as well as day sessions and I had thought people might not attend given the other ship attractions. I was wrong on all counts – the fourteen days flew past and attendance at all sessions, day and evening remained strong right to the end.

There were also a lot of onshore days and these were exhausting as you tried to make the most of the time ashore, usually shopping, visiting local museums and other attractions. Shuttle buses, often free, or reasonably priced, took tourists from the wharf area to the CBD areas of the various ports. These all ran like clockwork and we never found ourselves waiting long for a shuttle in any port.

I attended most of the sessions on board ship unless I had heard it previously at an onshore seminar and I missed some due to time mix-ups. Overall I learnt heaps from the various speakers who often overlapped and complemented each other as they reinforced various aspects of Scottish Irish research. I have a notebook full of ideas, suggestions, and URLs to follow up.

As well as the Scottish Irish talks, other speakers gave a wide range of talks and these I reported on at the time (see above links) and there was something for everyone. I especially liked Rosemary’s talks on the subscription databases such as Ancestry, FindMyPast UK and FindMyPast Australasia, The Genealogist and also MyHeritage as her talks broadened my expectations of what you can find or do with these sites. It’s often not as expensive as we might think especially if you get lots of information and I’ve especially found this with Scotland’s People. It’s much cheaper than buying Australian certificates!!

I also gave eleven talks and received quite good feedback during the cruise which was nice. The Help Desk area was always busy and I had lots of sessions with people one on one to discuss their brickwalls or more simple queries. When we were within internet range, I also did some searching to see if I could actually solve some of these issues. I had some small success on a few and managed to find some things they hadn’t found. In the process, I also managed to locate Max’s mother’s RAAF file in the National Archives of Australia so now we are waiting to receive a copy once access clearance is organised. On a negative note, I am surprised (still) by people who don’t buy certificates – sometimes that is the easiest way to knock down a brickwall.

What didn’t I like? These were mostly specific to the Holland America ship Volendam and I was shocked to find that there was smoking in the Casino which was right next door to the Hudson Room where a number of our talks were held. You also had to walk through the Casino to get to the other end of the ship and it was also next door to a lot of the shopping areas of the ship. It was not an enclosed area so smoke did drift out into these other areas depending on how many were smoking. Most of the Australians I spoke to found this annoying as we are now so used to no smoking in public areas.

Another difference was the food which was American/Canadian in focus rather than the British food we had on the Pacific Dawn. Although by the end of the trip I noticed at the breakfast buffet there were three kinds of bacon – crispy (and I do mean crispy), Canadian and what I can only describe as more Australian style. Eggs were over easy (and we needed a translation) but the omelettes were divine. Lots of other differences but it was like being in the US rather than in the South Pacific.

Early on I discovered the Mexican style of food at the Terrace Grill on the pool deck and had lunch there many times but I didn’t like the cheeseburgers or their pizzas which weren’t like what we have.  Still when you travel overseas you do expect to eat different kinds of food but for some reason I wasn’t expecting American style food although I knew it was a Holland American ship.

The other area that threw me was wine and often depending on where we were dining, we couldn’t get Australian wines, only American or French. Although I will now confess a fondness for some of the wines from Washington State in the US. If you click on that link to one of the wineries I enjoyed, you will see that you have to declare that you are over 21 to enter the site (their legal drinking age is 21 yet our age is 18, another major difference if you are travelling with anyone between 18 and 21). We even tried a Budweiser (American beer) and if I am eating Mexican I do like a Corona!

The other thing I don’t like is round tables of eight, they are too big for everyone to engage in the conversation even if they don’t have hearing problems. We started out at the bigger tables but by the end we had settled nicely into rectangular tables of six which are much easier to hold conversations around without leaving anyone out.

I would also like cheaper access to the internet while on board and at sea. There must be ways for groups to do deals to access a cheaper rate. It would also be easier for speakers to help people if they could instantly show them a website or do a search with them rather than just outline what to do.

We had a disappointing end to the cruise, along with a few other genealogy cruisers, in that our prepaid ship to airport transfers didn’t eventuate for reasons I still don’t quite understand (I asked for a written explanation which I was told on the phone I would get but didn’t) but Clean Cruising have refunded our money.

So really my biggest gripe was the smoking issue and that would probably put me off doing another cruise where smoking is allowed in public areas that are open to other areas of the ship.

From a genealogy perspective, I would be off on another one tomorrow if I could. I always enjoy myself listening to other speakers and talking with fellow cruisers about their genealogy issues. Often their problems make mine look easy!

The next Unlock the Past history and genealogy cruise is 10-19 February 2013 departing Sydney with visits to Noumea and Lautoka, Fiji (I was last there in 1976 so I expect it has changed somewhat). This is a difference cruise line again, the Royal Caribbean and the ship is the Voyager of the Seas and there are more days at sea which means more genealogy sessions with less interruptions for onshore visits .

At this stage I’m planning to be on the Voyager of the Seas although the international speaker or other speakers for that matter, haven’t been revealed yet. For me genealogy cruising is an ideal combination – no housework, overseas travel and genealogy in an affordable package. Plus all that food and drink (I was pleasantly surprised to find  that I didn’t put any weight on this trip, must be all the additional exercise, walking and stairs that I don’t get at home)!

Now the long wait until February 2013 – perhaps I should check out some of the American genealogy cruises for 2012??

Finally I would like to thank all those who read my cruising blogs – it’s great turning up somewhere and someone says ‘loved reading about your cruise adventures’. It makes the effort of writing these blogs all the more worthwhile but don’t just read about the next one – why don’t you think about joining me and experience it all for yourself?

Two Full On Genealogy At Sea Days

December 3rd, 2011

Those following my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blogs will know that I am recording my touristy adventures there along with reports on the few genealogy sessions we have when in port. For the days we are totally at sea with no touristy distractions, I am putting those session reports on this website.

Day Ten

The extra hour of sleep last night was good and the day started with Chris Paton talking about Scottish Censuses 1841-1939 and then Perry McIntyre on Finding Your Irish Ancestors in Australia: BDMs and Arrival. I was familiar with both these areas but still good to have refresher sessions as it is amazing what you can forget or not realise what else you can do with certain resources.

I spent some more time with one on one sessions and took two more bookings for tomorrow. I have now got a growing number of searches to do for people once we get into internet connection range again. I will briefly see if my suggestions look like they will work, and then advise people to thoroughly search themselves when they get home.

After lunch it was a solid session of talks right through to dinner time starting with Rosemary highlighting the various resources on Ancestry for Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland and America – all in 45 minutes. Even though I have been an Ancestry subscriber for a few years, I realised that I tend to use the usual suspects and there are lots of smaller collections which I should look at for my families. More notes on my To Do list!

Chris Paton then spoke about DNA and Genealogy and I found this very useful as it was not too scientific and more practical. His examples were from his own Paton ancestry and I need to look at some more DNA sites including Family Tree DNA which is one he mentioned a few times.

Keith Johnson was next talking about the forthcoming  Biographical Database of Australia which will be hosted by State Records NSW and should be online in 2012. It is an ambitious project to list everyone who ever lived or visited Australia and link up all their records in a single database. I have heard Carol Baxter talk about this at various genealogy events too and I can’t help wondering if this will take all the fun out of searching in years to come.

Rosemary then gave a talk on The Genealogist which is a subscription website I haven’t used before so I was interested to see what they have and how it differs from Ancestry, FindMyPast and others. If you have non-conformists then it is definitely worth a look and I was intrigued by the surname coverage maps and census name maps. It also has a lot of military records and even an international section for Australia and New Zealand so another notation or two on my To Do List!

Richard Reid followed with his interesting and moving talk on The Great Famine 1845-55: Irish Ancestral Experience and Memory and he highlighted a few books to read for more background and understanding. These included The Irish Famine by Peter Gray and The Sharing of the Green: A Modern Irish History For Australians by Oliver Macdonagh.

Chris then spoke on Irish Resources Online which is based on his new Unlock the Past publication Irish Family History Resources Online.

After dinner I gave my Google Your Family Tree: Tips and Tricks (an expanded version of which is on my website Resources page, scroll down to Presentations). Jan Gow followed with a talk on using Legacy Family Tree.

I wandered out to the Casino to find Max learning to play 21 so I sat and watched for a while. Amazingly he didn’t lose and finished the night with what he started with. While in the Casino the staff came around and reminded everyone to set their watches back another hour so that we would be on Australian time tomorrow.  (As I write this after the event, this was a disastrous announcement for us to hear – more in tomorrow’s blog).

Another full day at sea with a full day of talks – not sure if my notebook is going to have enough pages left as there are still some great talks coming up.

Day Eleven

As I indicated in yesterday’s blog, we were told to set our watches back another hour last night which is what we did. We woke up, went up to breakfast and then wandered down at what we thought was 8am only to find that Richard Reid was just finishing up his talk on The Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front 1916-19. What was going on??

It turns out that there was a miscommunication (love that word) and some crew were informed there would be an hour time change and some weren’t, this also applied to some passengers too. This meant great confusion for the first few hours this morning but didn’t really impact on anyone unless they wanted to attend a genealogy talk at 8am. I am really cranky that I missed Richard’s talk but hopefully I will have other opportunities in the future.

I’m also envious that Helen Smith has internet for these three days at sea – she has taken up the ship’s wifi offer whereas I had purchased a Vodaphone modem for use while in New Zealand which was a cheaper method. But it does mean I have no access until back into Australian waters.

Given that I was in a cranky mood, I decided to skip Chris’ talk on Scottish Civil Records and go down to my cabin and blog (vent) my frustrations. Having calmed down (and it really is hard to stay cranky on a cruise ship) I then met up for another two one on one sessions with fellow cruisers. The first wanted to know more about blogging and how to go about it so that was fairly easy as I am a great fan of blogging with two blogs myself – SHHE Genie Rambles on my website and Diary of an Australian Genealogist. The second query was more challenging!

After lunch it was non stop talks until dinner starting with Rosemary talking about FindMyPastUK which I am reasonably familiar with but keeping up with all the new additions is the hard part. Jan Gow followed with a repeat of her session on using Treepad which was cut short the other day.

Chris Paton then talked on Scots and Gaelic – D’ye Ken The Difference and I must admit he did lose me a few times on the complexity of the various strains of Gaelic and their history. Rosemary followed with a session on MyHeritage and again I have been a member for some years but have not really made the most of this site’s features. So more on the To Do List!

Chris then did Writing Family History Articles which was a good overview of the topic and he also included blogging your own family stories if you don’t want to publish as such. I finished the day’s sessions with my Where Else Can You Look: It’s Not All Online (handout on my Resources page scroll down to Presentations).

Then it was off to dinner where everyone discussed the various sessions and what they had learned. Helen Smith gave her Using UK Archives for Family History Research talk after dinner (this was the one postponed due to the clash with Milford Sound the other day). Helen’s notes will be on the Unlock the Past website in a few weeks time so keep an eye out for them as she had lots of great suggestions.

What is surprising (not really I guess) is how enthusiastic everyone still is and attendance at all sessions is still quite high given the ship’s other temptations. We set our clocks back another hour tonight as we are back in Australia from tomorrow. I’m starting to feel a little sad as there is only three more days left, with two of them port days, Burnie and Melbourne.

Time always flies when you are having fun!


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