Sep 12, 2016

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Report on Camden Cowpastures and Beyond Genealogy Conference Sep 2016

Whenever possible I try to attend the annual NSW & ACT Family History Organisations annual conference. This year it was in Camden New South Wales and I flew to Canberra and then hitched a lift with a long time geneafriend who was also going. So a long day of travel and we arrived towards the end of the Fair on the Friday afternoon. There were a range of speakers during the day on topics such as getting start in family history from a local history perspective, going beyond with FamilySearch, NSW BDMs and transcription services, local resources in Camden Library and an introduction to Trove. From feedback from others all the sessions were interesting and people picked up some new search ideas and tips.

After arrival I wandered around all the exhibitors offering a range of research services as well as the large number of genealogy/family history societies who had displays and tables selling their publications or offering research help. My promise to myself not to buy any books was short lived but I only bought two. Having to fly home does make you conscious of your luggage and the conference satchel was already weighing me down with lots of flyers, brochures, a copy of a past issue of Inside History Magazine, and a pen and pencil. The bottle of water, bag of lollies and small chocolates all most welcome too.

The Ryerson Index display and help table

The Ryerson Index display and help table

It was also a chance to catch up with various people including the lovely ladies from FIBIS (Families in British India Society), the folk from the Ryerson Index, State Records NSW, Unlock the Past, Heirloom Films, Carol Baxter and many others. Most of the exhibitors stayed until the end on Sunday and were kept busy right up until the end. It was good to see so much interest and enthusiastic people – break times were pretty noisy with everyone talking at the same time.

The Friday night Meet and Greet was also a time to catch up with people and there was lots of food, tea and coffee and you could buy your own drinks at the bar. Having had an early start, I was not keen to party on and so it was a relatively early night for me. But not before thoroughly exploring the contents of my conference satchel. After a good night’s sleep it was another early start as the conference kicks off at 8.30am with a welcome to country, and a welcome to delegates.

The Unlock the Past display table

The Unlock the Past display table

Chris Rowan was the MC and he did a marvellous job of keeping speakers to time, handling questions with the microphone and keeping delegates amused over the two days. Emeritus Professor Alan Atkinson gave the John Vincent Crowe memorial address and it was fascinating to learn that his own interest in family history started when he was 16 years old. He talked about how sense of place and sense of family are interwoven together, the importance of daily life and how the sheer bulk and mass of family history adds to our knowledge of the past. But we need to make it interesting to others, to have a wider audience.

Heather Garnsey from the Society of Australian Genealogists was next with a wonderful story based on Caroline Husband’s diaries held by SAG. From them, Heather was able to give us a detailed and interesting look at almost the whole of Caroline’s life from her life in Devon, the voyage out, her suitors, her marriage and the houses she lived in. While most of us will not have those kinds of family resources, we can still build reasonably detailed accounts of our ancestors lives by using church and civil records, newspapers, government records and photographs.

After a yummy and plentiful morning tea which was not rushed, we listened to Bruce Carter from the State Library of New South Wales. He basically explained how to make the best use of their website and there are lots of online guides to the collection including one on Family History. The guide to maps will take you to maps of Sydney decade by decade and real estate subdivision plans. In the Stories section there are online exhibitions on a range of topics and Bruce used Shipboard – 19thC Experience to illustrate what’s there. I was surprised to learn that their Ask a Librarian service gets about 350 enquiries a month from genealogists.

Historian Dr Nick Brodie was next and he used his own family history based in the Camden area as the basis of his talk. Little stories feed into bigger stories so we need to look at the wider events that were impacting on our families as well as the local community. His book Kin:A Real People’s History of Our Nation reflects this and he said not to try and include everything, just some of the events that feed into the wider stories. So yet another book has gone on to my ‘must read’ list.

There was an hour for lunch and again lots of yummy sandwiches, juice, tea and coffee. There were even tables to sit and chat if you wanted although you could also stand or go outside into the lovely warm Sydney day. I went back to have another look at the exhibitors because you can’t always take everything in on the first trip round. Or they may have been busy with someone else earlier.

Gail Davis from State Records New South Wales kicked us off after lunch with a detail packed talk on orphan school and related records. The term orphan back then had a wider meaning and one or both parents may have still been alive but simply unable to care for their child or children. For example, children of convict women may have been taken into care if the convict was assigned to someone who did not want their children too. The online Care Leavers Guide is a good place to start and Gail also mentioned the online resource Find and Connect which can be searched by place.

The last speaker of the day was Dr Lisa Murray on the Dictionary of Sydney which I have used before but often forget about. There are categories for Place, Events, Artifacts, Buildings, Organisations, Maps, People, Subjects and so on. Entries can include text, images, audio and there are multi links on the right hand side to make sure you don’t miss any related information. The A-Z searching is good for browsing and getting contextual background on an area or event. There is even an easy citation button and you can share your finds through social media. Definitely a website to spend some more time on.

The conference dinner

The conference dinner

That was the end of the talks for the day and people could check out the exhibitors or go home and get ready for the conference dinner while member societies of the Association went to the AGM.  The conference dinner was well attended with 16 tables of 10 people. The food was good but took a while to come out and I was still eating past my usual bedtime but then perhaps I’m just an old fuddy duddy. The conference ‘cows’ were auctioned off and a raffle saw some lucky winners but not me.

A thirsty conference cow

A thirsty conference cow

Next morning we had Andrew Gildea from Finders Cafe explaining how their product allows people to have ownership controls over their images and it allows for tagging, autofill and discussion of images. There is a free option as well as a pay option with different benefits.

The next speaker was Gillian Kelly on the lace makers of Calais and although I don’t have any, I still found this an interesting talk which was well illustrated. Most of them came out on three ships in 1848, the Harpley, the Agincourt and the Fairlie although there were smaller groups on other ships. Most were English but there were some French too. I was left feeling a little jealous, a bit like not having a convict in the tree when others have them. Learn more with the Australian Society of the Lacemakers of Calais.

The final talk of the conference was Jody Taylor from Ancestry DNA explaining their DNA kit and how to undertake the test and how to follow up on the results. Siblings can have different results and it can help break down brick walls, find cousins or even a sibling or parent if you are adopted. There were certainly lots of questions and from my own experience last year, I would have to agree with her ‘you can discover ethnicity you never knew’. Perhaps it needs to come with a ‘how to get over the shock’ kit too! Still I can see the benefits for those with no skeletons lurking in the cupboard.

All of the sessions were more interesting than what the program suggested and that was probably due to vague session titles and descriptions. The venue itself was excellent with everything held onsite. Food was plentiful and if you wanted to walk it off, it was not that far to walk up to the main street and take in some of the sights of Camden. The streets were all lined with lovely beds of flowering pansies. There was lots of parking nearby and the only real issue was not that much accommodation close by which is why quite a few were staying at Campbelltown about a 20 minute drive from Camden, depending on traffic.

Well done to the conference organisers for a enjoyable time and I’m sure that everyone went home totally motivated to start writing up some of their own stories or to discover what lies in their own DNA. The next conference will be in Orange on 22-24 September 2017. The conference organisers seem to have already done a lot of planning and their  website will be up in a few weeks. Orange is a little more problematic for me to get to – either a very long drive or two plane flights. Still it is in the calendar for next year and it looks like being another great NSW & ACT Family History Association conference. I might see you there!



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  1. Thanks for the report, Shauna. As I wasn’t able to attend the conference I have enjoyed vicariously with you.

  2. Sylvia Murphy says:

    Great report Shauna – you have encapsulated everything very well – but we expect nothing less from you!! 🙂 Look forward to catching up again in Adelaide. Sylvia

  3. Shauna Hicks says:

    Thanks Jill. Happy to help out and really sorry that you could not make it yourself. Maybe next time.

  4. Shauna Hicks says:

    Thanks Sylvia. Good catching up in Camden and looking forward to seeing you again in Adelaide. Nice to see some genealogy events in the last half of the year.

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