April 24th, 2013
As usual I am participating in Kintalk’s (Auckland City Libraries) annual Trans Tasman ANZAC day blog challenge. This year I am featuring my father’s three great uncles Robert, John and Denis Patrick Finn who enlisted in World War One. Although all three returned to Australia, I believe that the experience changed them and their lives were totally different from what they might have been had not war intervened.
John and Sarah Finn emigrated from County Wicklow, Ireland in 1882 to Queensland with their eldest son Robert. Another son James was born on the voyage and a further eight children were born in Queensland, Australia.
Their youngest son Denis Patrick Finn was the first of the Finn brothers to enlist on 19 September 1915 in Brisbane. Denis was 19 years old and single and working as a labourer at the time of his enlistment. He joined the 52nd Battalion. Denis was wounded in action in France and was the only Finn brother to become a prisoner of war in Germany. In September 1916 he sent his sister Sarah Jane Jewsbury a postcard:
Just a postcard to let you know that I am getting on very well and my wound is nearly better. I am at a German Camp here, you can send me anything you like at the address on the other side in full. We get no money here so you can tell Kitty to send me a pound or so. Good bye, best love to all. Tell Kitty to write.
Denis was also mentioned in despatches (not dated) for bravery under fire and it is probably at this time that he was wounded. In 1923 Denis married and had two children but the marriage did not last and by the early 1930s Denis had been convicted of a number or petty crimes. He was also using the alias Johan Romanoff and perhaps this was someone who he had met in the prison camp or at some other point during the war.
Denis seems to have disappeared after that and I’m still to trace when and where he died.
Robert Finn, the eldest son was the next to enlist on 12 February 1916 in Cairns and he joined the 9th Battalion. Prior to that he was working as a miner at Wolfram in Queensland and was still single at 36 years of age. Like Denis, Robert was also sent to France and returned to Australia on 18 July 1919. Robert never married and died in Mount Morgan hospital in 1953 but prior to his death he was living in Bouldercombe, another mining town in Queensland.
John Finn was the third brother to enlist on 10 June 1916 in Brisbane. He was also single, working as a labourer and 26 years old. He too saw service in France and returned to Australia on 2 June 1919. Like his older brother Robert, John never married and spent time working on the sugar cane plantations in north Queensland. John died in Cairns in 1967 and had been living at Trinity Bay.
All three brothers received the 1914-18 Star Medal, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for their service overseas.
Why did Robert and John never marry? Were they just confirmed bachelors or did the war change how they viewed their world? Why did they live so far away from their family? Would Denis have turned to petty crime if he had not gone to war or not spent time in a prisoner of war camp? Not only did the war impact on the brothers but it also must have impacted on their father and their siblings. My grandmother would never talk about her mother’s family so I will probably never know but as more and more records are digitised and made more easily accessible I can continue to slowly piece together their stories.
Lest we forget.
February 25th, 2013
This will be an overview of the whole cruise as I’ve already given detailed account of the genealogy sessions in my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog – check out Days 1-5 and Days 6-9. As this was my fifth cruise and third genealogy cruise I’m usually a very happy cruiser but I have to say I was a bit disappointed with some of the Royal Caribbean policies (we haven’t sailed with them before).
Of the nine nights on board we only got three reasonable nights sleep – normally on a cruise ship we never hear our neighbours and we sleep soundly. Not this time and for some reason that I still can’t understand we were allocated a cabin with an adjoining door to some very noisy teenagers. Their parents were in a cabin on the other side – my complaint is why weren’t the parents allocated the adjoining room to their own kids???
Not only are adjoining doors not sound proof, they are not light proof and these teenagers were up to all hours and every night we had to call security several times in the early hours of the morning. The kids took no notice and security had to come back when the parents got home, usually between 1-2am and then we had to listen to the father tell the kids off. I can probably understand why the parents wanted to get away from their kids but I don’t see why some poor unfortunate other couple had to put up with them.
While the kids then slept through the morning, we had to be up, dressed and breakfasted before the first genealogy session at 9am and some days I felt more like a zombie than a professional presenter! What really depressed me was that neither security or the desk staff who took our daily complaints could really do anything about the problem although we were grateful that the Clean Cruising staff person on board did offer to exchange rooms with us, but then why should she also suffer.
The other strange Royal Caribbean policy is that you can’t change dinner tables so that you end up having dinner with the same people over the nine nights. Part of a genealogy cruise is meeting new people and networking and learning from others so having the speakers at different tables or dining with new friends makes sense over the length of the cruise. I know others missed this opportunity that we had on previous cruises of dining with new people every night. In a it’s a small world example, we were surprised to find that one of the ladies on our table was also from Bribie Island and lives not that far from us. So we made another friend on the Island without even trying!
The other disappointment was not making it to Fiji but then I would rather stay on in a port (Noumea) and get repairs done there then run the risk of totally breaking down at sea somewhere. Still I had been looking forward to visiting Fiji again as I was last there in 1976! As all travellers know, anything can happen on a trip and sometimes you just have to make the best of these unforeseen changes.
Those were the only three things I didn’t really like on this cruise. Everything else was great and I found the speakers easy to listen to and learnt lots of new things. It’s always good having international speakers but as one lady said to me, it’s also good having Australian and New Zealand speakers too as that’s where a lot of our research is to start with.
Perhaps the afternoon sessions were too long as I mentioned in my Diary but on the 4th Unlock the Past genealogy cruise in 2014 there is a port almost every second day so that will definitely break up the sessions more as this time there were only two ports. One point in the Voyager of the Seas favour is that it does have a dedicated conference area which meant that we didn’t have to fit things in around the ship’s program and all three rooms were great.
I also enjoyed the one on one sessions I had with various other cruisers. It’s always good when you can suggest other avenues to research which may or may not help them break down their brick walls. One cruiser, who I’ve known for a few decades, gave me a really good one so I’ve brought it home with me – I think it must be spelling variations but that doesn’t explain every roadblock he has. Still it gives me something to play with on these rainy days in a very soggy Queensland!
The food was great and plentiful, some of the cocktails might have had a bit too much ice in them, the on board entertainment was good and the cabin and wait staff very pleasant and helpful. So this experience hasn’t put me off cruising but I will ask a few more questions re cabin allocation next time. It never ever occurred to me that we would be landed with some one else’s noisy kids. Why couldn’t we have had other UTP cruisers on the other side of the door, at least they would probably go to bed about the same time as us!
I’ve happily accepted an invitation to speak on the 4th Unlock the Past genealogy cruise and I’ve got some new talks and books in the pipeline which I’m really excited about. I also know some others have already booked or are planning to book for it too. In some ways it’s like going to annual conferences where you get to meet up with friends and colleagues from all over Australia and New Zealand. So despite the not so good parts of this trip, overall I wouldn’t have missed it and I am definitely looking forward to next year’s with Chris Paton and Thomas MacEntee as the main international speakers. Why not plan to join me and other regular UTP cruisers!
January 1st, 2013
Good geneafriend Geniaus has thrown down another geneameme challenge to get us all thinking right at the start of 2013. As usual I can’t resist so here are my responses to her Accentuate the Positive 2012 geneameme. All contributions will be collated so if you also take on this challenge let Geniaus know too.
Remember to accentuate the positive – please delete the statements that are not relevant to your situation.
1. An elusive ancestor I found was – this year I haven’t progressed backwards but I have discovered more on a lot of my ancestors through Trove – digitised newspapers are allowing us to find more easily all sorts of information about their daily lives. Looking forward to more of that in 2013.
2. A precious family photo I found was - in the packing up of my house prior to relocating to Queensland I ‘rediscovered’ an early photo album of my paternal grandmother who had always claimed there were no photos. This turned up when we cleaned up after she died so none of the photos are named or dated. When I unpack in mid January I’m keeping this album out to see if I can identify any of the photos.
3. An ancestor’s grave I found was – again no new graves but I revisited a number of family graves in Toowong cemetery during a visit to Brisbane. We spent a good few hours weeding and tidying up as sadly it didn’t look like anyone had been there since our last visit a few years ago.
4. An important vital record I found was - I decided to buy some English death certificates on my partner’s Spencer family as we were wondering about family health issues and to our surprise his great great grandmother died of diabetes – so that answered the question was there anyone in the family with diabetes?
5. A newly found family member who shared – since our move to Bribie Island we have discovered that Max’s maternal relatives also have a history with this area and so far the information has been over the phone. But we are planning trips to Bundaberg and Brisbane to talk to his two remaining aunts (one’s 102 and the other 87, the oldest and the youngest) to see what more they can tell us.
6. A geneasurprise I received was – after joining the Guild of One Name Studies I was very pleased to be welcomed into the Guild by Queensland contact Helen Smith who also gave me a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdon: The Art of One Name Studies. This was unexpected and Helen’s advice on setting up my one name study has been invaluable.
7. My 2012 blog post that I was particularly proud of was – it’s not so much one post but all the posts that I do on genealogy events that I attend. Not everyone can get to some of these so I try and give a detailed account so that others can follow up on the links and learn from the speakers just like I do. These types of posts are always widely read and are mostly found in Diary of an Australian Genealogist although sometimes I do an overview and post it in this blog.
8. My 2012 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was – just looking at some of the statistics I would have to say the Deniliquin Genealogy Muster over three days in October. This was an inaugural event (and I’m pleased to say it will happen again in 2014). While it attracted a lot of people from nearby areas Deniliquin is not the easiest of places to get to so I think a lot of readers used my daily blogs to attend virtually!
9. A new piece of software I mastered was – I really got into using the iPad I finally purchased and it was fantastic for our house hunting but I’ve also downloaded a lot of genealogy books for reading without having to carry the weight around! That’s probably more hardware than software but still a challenge for me.
10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was – I always like Twitter as genealogy news spreads around the world so quickly but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything!
11. A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was - I usually manage to learn something new from every event I attend but I think my vote would have to go to the Deniliquin genealogy muster as they had speakers from both NSW and Victorian State Libraries and State Archives which was a fantastic grouping of knowledge in one weekend.
12. I am proud of the presentation I gave at/to – I’m usually pleased with most of my presentations but this time I will nominate the three talks I gave to the Ulladulla Milton Family History Society. This is only a very small group and they don’t get the opportunity to have many visiting speakers so I’m happy to say that most of them left that day with their minds in overdrive.
13. A journal/magazine article I had published was - this is a toss up as I’ve done some articles for Inside History Magazine during the year but perhaps more demanding is the monthly series I’m doing in Irish Lives Remembered on Missing Loved Ones Downunder. Meeting deadlines has been a bit tight given all our travel in the last few months.
14. I taught a friend how to – I showed Max how to use my iPad and now we fight over it! Probably not so much an issue now that we have bought a new house but when we were looking it was a race to see who would get into bed first with the iPad! Laptops just don’t have that portability and ease of use in bed. Still I do prefer my books!
15. A genealogy book that taught me something new was – another tough one but I will go with Chris Paton’s Irish Family History Resources Online. I love anything that gives me more insight into Irish records and one day I’m going to find my families.
16. A great repository/archive/library I visited was – this was more a case of revisiting although I hadn’t been in the Society of Australian Genealogists new premises before. They have such a great collection of printed material which is often overlooked for what’s online.
17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was – so many but I have to say that the ever expanding range of books from Unlock the Past are definitely worth looking at. There’s almost something for everyone and more titles in production.
18. It was exciting to finally meet - attending so many genealogy events I’m lucky to meet lots of interesting speakers but I think the impromptu dinner I had with some New Zealand friends and David Holman in Adelaide during the AFFHO Congress was the most exciting. What he had on his iPad really amazed me (and was key in my purchase of one, see 9 above) but David is also Chairman of the UK Federation of Family History Societies and he’s from Cornwall another one of my primary interests.
19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was – I love them all but the Adelaide AFFHO Congress was perhaps the best as it brought together many friends and colleagues from all over Australia and New Zealand plus so many good speakers and talks. Can’t wait now for the 2015 Congress in Canberra
20. Another positive I would like to share is – I know that 2013 is going to be another exciting year for genealogy with lots of great events organised by societies, archives and libraries so make sure you plan to attend at least one thing! This is where I will put in a plug for National Family History Week in August 2013 and as the new national co-ordinator I’ve put forward some suggestions for putting even more oomph into the event. Here’s my article in the AFFHO December newsletter and all feedback is most welcome. Don’t forget to Like the NFHW Facebook page too!
Well that brings me to the end of this geneameme and as usual I’ve thought of even more things as I’ve made my way through the questions. Can’t wait to see what Geniaus comes up with next!
December 30th, 2012
Regular readers of this blog will know that each year I like to review the genealogy goals I set myself at the beginning of a year and then set new goals for the coming year. There has been varying success over the last three years but 2012 was definitely more challenging. Our sudden, although expected decision to relocate from Victoria, threw the second half of the year into chaos as most of my genealogy material was in storage and we were living in a caravan.
At the time of writing this blog we expect to move into our new home in mid January and I’m expecting it will take us a while to reestablish ourselves. Plus we have the genealogy cruise to Noumea and Fiji in February, a personal family holiday to Bali in March and we are going to the Ulysses 2013 AGM in Maryborough in April. So realistically I should only be planning on six months of ‘real’ time for my genealogy research.
But I’m getting ahead of myself! How did I go with 2012 goals? These were set out in my Genealogy Aspirations Reviewed and Renewed 2012 actually written on 13 January 2012 so I started the year a bit behind!
My 2012 aspirations and a brief result were:
1. Write up my mother’s Price family history, including photographs and other illustrations in time for her 78th birthday – not quite achieved, progress made on scanning images but now looking more likely for Mum’s 80th in 2014.
2. Do another DNA test, this time from a genealogy perspective and investigate my own DNA – just never got to this one and to be honest, not really sure that I’m into DNA that much at this stage.
3. Learn more about my Norwegian ancestors – I already know the basics from parish registers and census records but not the history and culture of Norway – another never quite got to it but still of interest.
4. Continue to scan photographs and documents so that I have digital copies as well as original copies and maintain a backup regime for both – this went into overdrive once we sold the house but there was still a lot still to do when I boxed everything up to go into storage. Will resume once I have unpacked everything and re-organised my new study which has purpose built shelving and bookcases (lucky me).
5. Conserve and preserve family heirlooms I have collected ensuring they are boxed and stored appropriately – during the packing up of the house, I realised just how much more ‘family’ material I have scattered around the house. So another goal to continue once we unpack again.
Of course there were other genealogy related things I achieved in 2012 which weren’t on the above list. A long time desire was to start a one name study but I just hadn’t decided which name. In Deniliquin, New South Wales at the genealogy muster I finally took the plunge and signed up for a Burstow one name study which I’m pleased to say I have been working on. I now have a spreadsheet with Burstow information for Australia and England and a very preliminary finding is that most of the Burstows in Australia are descended from the one family.
Now for 2013 Aspirations.
1. Aspirations 4 and 5 above are very similar so I’m rolling them into one and as I unpack in the new house I’ll try and identify and list tasks to help keep this goal of scanning and rehousing progressing.
2. The Burstow one name study is also a priority and I need to get organised so that I can answer any queries from others interested in the name. I also need to set up my profile on the Guild of One-Name Studies website.
3. My Norwegian ancestors (Gunderson) – researching more about their culture and where they came from. The line goes back to 1688 so that’s lots of Norwegian history.
4. Now that we are living on Bribie Island, my Scottish ancestors (Carnegie) who were oyster farmers in Pumicestone Passage have again captured my attention and I’m looking forward to rediscovering my files on them during the unpack. It’s been over 30 years since I did that research so there must be new material to discover!
5. Finally I want to get back to blogging on a more regular basis – both my SHHE Genie Rambles blog and my Diary of an Australian Genealogist were a bit haphazard with all our travels and the big move. Blogging and participating in various blogging challenges forces me to write up some of those family stories and share them with others. Reading other peoples’ blogs not only helps me to learn about new things but also inspires me to do the same for my ancestors.
Well that’s my five key genealogy goals for 2013 – wish me luck!
July 28th, 2012
Although National Family History Week is a national event in Australia, it is only launched in one place which is usually in Melbourne. This year I was honoured to be asked to do the launch and below is the text of my talk for those not able to personally attend the launch. It was a great afternoon and I’ll report more on it in my Diary of an Australian Genealogist soon.
It’s 35 years Since the TV Miniseries Roots!
Good afternoon everyone. I was both thrilled and honoured to be asked to launch this year’s National Family History Week. It is a particularly important occasion for me in that 2012 also marks the 35th anniversary of my own interest in family history. Yes my ex and I were two of those many people who sat down in July/August of 1977 to watch the TV miniseries Roots based on the controversial book of the same name by Alex Haley. I had no inkling that night that my whole life, including my career, was about to change and that 35 years later I would still be as passionate and involved with family history.
Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family based on his own family history was published in 1976. The book, eventually published in 37 languages, had an impact not only in Australia but around the world, especially in the United States of America. It was adapted into the television miniseries in 1977 which was shown around the world, igniting a genealogy boom that I don’t think has ever really stopped. This is not surprising when it is claimed that the series was viewed by 130 million people. In 1979 it was followed by the sequel Roots: The Next Generation which I will also admit to watching.
However, it was only about ten years ago that I actually read the book, as I’m one of those people who, if I watch the movie or TV show first, don’t like to read the book and vice versa. Plus I had been dismayed by the criticism of his research and the copyright infringement claims and law suits that followed publication. Of course all of that court action didn’t change the increased interest in genealogy and family history around the world.
It’s hard to even believe that we could trace our family history back in 1977 without all the modern advantages we now have. There wasn’t even a genealogical society in Queensland, and I think the only three societies in Australia were the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney and the Genealogical Society of Victoria and the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies here in Melbourne.
While Roots was screening on television, we enrolled in a ‘how to do it’ course we saw advertised in the Brisbane newspaper. The course was organised by a local person who we became friends with. Through her we met likeminded people and were involved with the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Queensland. We even designed the GSQ’s logo which is still in use today. Two years later I was part of the Brisbane breakaway group that established the Queensland Family History Society although I have maintained good relations with both societies ever since. Over the last three decades hundreds of societies have been established across Australia.
As well as no societies, there were no easily accessed genealogical records. No BDM indexes, no cemetery transcriptions, no indexed passenger lists, no probate indexes, no computers, no emails, no internet and so on. So how did we do it?
Well we wrote hand written letters using blue carbon paper so that we could keep copies for our records, and enclosed international reply coupons to encourage a response and sat back to wait weeks for a response, even after sending it via airmail. I still remember the thrill of when I bought my portable manual typewriter and I’m sure there must be people in the audience who remember the ever so sophisticated golf ball typewriter!
I remember spending my Friday nights at the local family history centre winding my way through microfilm looking for my families in the UK census. I used to spend the rest of the weekend with a sore right arm from having to hand wind the film reader. Now I can simply use Ancestry or FindMyPast to key in my family names, and within seconds I can be looking at a digital image. So many of my brick walls came down with the digitisation of the UK census and the greater search capability that came with it.
My Saturday afternoons were spent with other genealogy/family history society members in various Brisbane cemeteries as we transcribed the headstones, typed them up, hand indexed them onto 5×3 cards and then filed them into card drawers. Today I can quickly search those records in FindMyPast Australia and New Zealand. In those early years there were lots of volunteer projects on the go and collectively family historians compiled fantastic data resources which today’s newcomers often take for granted.
My first visits to Queensland State Archives were frustrating for a number of reasons. There was no weekend access which meant I always had to take a ’sickie’ as this was well before flexible working hours and time in lieu. There were only twelve seats in the room and one staff member so if you didn’t get there early enough, you were given a number and waited out in the courtyard.
Copies were done using a wet photocopier/reader printer and if you can remember wet copies, you will also know that they were always hard to read. When I recently looked at some of my copies from the late 1970s I was dismayed to find that most of them are now totally unreadable. I also noticed that the staples have gone rusty and the paper has foxed and stained showing the passage of the last three decades. Strangely enough I don’t seem to have aged that much myself!
The genie boom generated by Roots in the late 1970s also impacted on libraries and archives as hordes of avid genealogists descended on them either in person or by telephone and mail. This led to changes within these institutions to help cope with the increased demand for their services. We saw the introduction of volunteer programs with volunteers assisting with indexing programs to help make the records more accessible and reduce wear and tear on popular records such as passenger lists.
We also saw some archives start up microfilming programs to increase access to the more popular genealogy records. Queensland and New South Wales even produced genealogical kits for sale which meant that the records were available in libraries and genealogical society libraries. There were even collaborative projects with the Church of Latter Day Saints who microfilmed Queensland’s wills and intestacy files in the 1980s and immigration records from around Australia to mention just a few.
The sheer numbers of genealogists meant that most archives needed to find new accommodation and in most cases it was in the outer suburbs with PROV being very lucky to have its new building approved at North Melbourne. I’m not sure how then Director Ross Gibbs managed it, but Victorians will be forever grateful for a fantastic building which even has car parking onsite only a few kilometres from the CBD!
PROV also took the lead with a shared reading room with the Victorian office of the National Archives of Australia, firstly at Casselden Place and then here at the Victorian Archives Centre from 2003. Today there are shared reading rooms in Darwin, Hobart and Adelaide. It makes sense to have collaborative arrangements like this as it reduces the cost of providing reading room services to the archives involved and also it is more convenient for researchers with only one place to go. Quite often there is a link between records and its handy to have everything onsite.
The Genealogy Boom Will Fade Away
There was always talk that the increased interest in genealogy would fade away as people finished tracing their ancestors or it would simply die out as so many of its practitioners were elderly. This belief was particularly true in the lead up to the Bicentenary celebrations in 1988. Many people thought that once that was over, things would go back to normal. However, there were other factors at work, not just our interest in our own family histories or the history of our nation.
In the late 1980s, early 1990s we saw corrupt police and government agencies exposed and the rise of more accountable governments and the introduction of freedom of information legislation. This in turn put different pressures on archives to make information and records more accessible and more easily found.
The 1990s saw the development of archival systems which allowed their holdings to be more widely known. The National Archives developed RecordSearch, while Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory went with various versions of Archives One and New South Wales developed Archives Investigator which was also implemented by Western Australia. None of this was overnight and retrospective data entry and amendments are ongoing with upgrades and improvements to the systems continuing as funding permits.
In the last decade, here in Victoria we have seen PROV develop its digital archive, digitise microfilm and place it freely online, and enter into a collaborative partnership with FamilySearch to digitise wills, probates and inquests to 1925 now freely available online to mention just a few exciting developments. Other state archives have also been increasing access to their collections online.
But let’s pop back to the early 1990s for a moment. It was also the decade when desktop PCs became more affordable and popular and the Internet and the WWW were starting to capture our attention. I remember buying my first home PC in 1990 for what seemed like a small fortune and getting my head around DOS and other techno stuff. Today there is more memory on my portable USB then there was on my first computer!
Libraries too felt the impact and we saw the establishment of dedicated genealogy sections within State libraries and the appointment of genealogy librarians. Victoria was one of the leaders in this area and the Helen Macpherson Centre is probably one of the best genealogy libraries in Australia.
The early 2000s saw the start of major digitisation projects and the National Archives of Australia led here with its free digitisation on demand scheme. I remember being at a planning meeting where it was suggested that they would introduce the scheme gradually and I pointed out that the news would spread like wildfire – which it did and within days there was a backlog of months!
This led to more planned digitisation projects to totally copy series in high demand and I think we are all grateful that NAA have done the Boer War and WW1 nominal rolls as a priority as well as other popular series at both national and state levels.
The National Library of Australia’s more recent TROVE portal is almost miraculous in how it is allowing us to find all kinds of information on our ancestors with keyword searching of newspapers in particular. I could spend hours just reading the old copies of the Women’s Weekly and if you want an old fashioned recipe, that’s the place to go these days.
I mentioned earlier the volunteer projects that many of us have been involved in over the last 35 years. Volunteers also staff genealogy society libraries and in most instances, the societies are managed totally by volunteers who freely give their time and expertise to support their local society. I was reading in the May 2012 issue of Queensland Family Historian that the Federation of Australian Historical Societies value their volunteers labour at $45 per hour and they calculate that volunteer labour across the history and heritage movement throughout Australia is 100,000 members, each donating an average of one hour per month or twelve hours per year. This adds up to $54 million – a staggering amount.
While there is no comparable study of volunteers in genealogy societies, we probably have a similar number and most of them would work more than one hour per month. Even if we say two hours per month that still gives us an estimate of $108 million. Truly staggering. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those genealogy and family history society volunteers, past and present, for the wonderful job they have been doing for the last 35 years or more!
Another indication of ‘genie power’ is the mid 1980s and 90s ’save the census’ campaign co-ordinated by good friend Nick Vine Hall. By rallying genealogy and family history societies behind him, the campaign finally led to the inclusion in the 2001 census form of a tick this box if you want the return to be kept for future generations. These ticked census returns are to be kept for 99 years by the National Archives of Australia.
The question has been repeated on the 2006 and 2011 census forms and each census more and more people tick the box. In 2001 it was 52% and in 2006 it had increased to 56% wanting their census returns kept. The 2011 results are not yet on the NAA site, possibly still in the production process. This sustained 15 year campaign will be appreciated by generations yet to come.
I have found so many distant relatives through placing details of my families online through Ancestry, Genes Reunited, My Heritage, Find My Past, Lost Cousins and so on. These online sites are far more effective that the old published genealogical research directories of the 1980s and 90s that only allowed you to quote a surname, date range and location as well as contact details.
What has surprised me is the number of people finding my research through Google. I write a couple of blogs and my Genie Rambles blog often features my family stories and as Google searches everything, people researching the same names are finding my blogs and contacting me. My Diary of an Australian Genealogist is also read by people from all over the world. It could never have happened 35 years ago!
Twitter is probably the way I learn most about what is new in genealogy around the world. Once I had to go to the local family history society library and browse through printed society newsletters and journals spending hours of my time doing so. Now it is almost instant if you follow a few key people.
Twitter is also a great place to ask for help. I couldn’t find something in the London Gazette even though I had a page number and feeling frustrated I had a little whinge on Twitter. Amazingly the London Gazette people saw my tweet and contacted me with the news that there had been a supplement on that day which wasn’t as easily found. I’ve had similar help on other issues and now have good cyber friends in the UK, Ireland, Canada, USA and New Zealand.
Clouds on the Horizon
There is only one cloud on the horizon from my perspective, otherwise I think family history is just going to get bigger and better in the coming years. So what is the cloud? Back in the 1970s and 80s before the internet existed, the only way that people could get information on what was new or what was happening was to join their local genealogy society and attend meetings. Attendance numbers at monthly meetings was up, open times at the genealogy library were often packed and you personally knew other people.
These days when I give talks at monthly meetings of societies, I can’t help but note that attendance is really down and often it is the same faces I saw decades ago who still attend meetings. It seems that using the internet has replaced the need to join societies and attend meetings. I touched on this a little in the previous section on social media and genealogy.
Membership of societies is also slightly down, older members die or lose interest so there is a natural attrition rate which is offset by new members joining. However membership numbers of societies nowhere near reflects the actual number of people doing family history research today. When I go to genealogy expos and road shows I try and ask audiences who are members of societies and it is usually about half and half.
Those people who aren’t members of a genealogy society often tell me there is no point in joining their local society as their ancestors came from elsewhere and there is nothing for them locally. But societies run seminars, meetings with guest speakers, have libraries and bookshops, and informed volunteers to assist with research questions. When I moved to Victoria I joined both the Genealogical Society of Victoria and the Australian Institute for Genealogical Studies, I’ve used their libraries, attended seminars, conferences and made some good friends and expert contacts that I can call on for help as needed.
If I could have one wish, I would like to see everyone doing family history join at least one genealogy society and get involved with others in the society. Yes you can sit at home, alone, and do your family history, but you will never know what you are missing. I have always said that it’s amazing what you can learn over a cup of tea and nothing will ever replace the camaraderie of talking to people in real time, face to face.
Last but Not Least – Techno Toys
Nowadays most of us don’t go out to research without taking our laptop/notebook/netbook, our smart phone, our Ipad/tablet and our remote wi fi. We probably spend research time also checking our emails, Facebook, Twitter, nings, forums and whatever else we use. In a prolonged black out, as our batteries slowly went flat, I wonder what we would all do?
I’ve watched my son’s two thumbs when he is texting on his phone and I can’t get my thumbs to move like that. Granted I do have a bit of arthritis but still, I will never be able to text that quickly! I’m still very attached to my hand held mouse although my skills at using the inbuilt mouse on my laptop are improving it is still not intuitive to me.
Despite my techno limitations, technology for family history really excites me and my latest toy is a Flip Pal mobile scanner which you don’t even need a computer to use. Simply turn it on and start scanning and for larger documents it seamlessly sews together multiple scans. Of course you still need to upload your images to a computer, and name and tag them with whatever metadata you might need. But gone are the days of having to try and borrow material from family members who really don’t want to let their precious photographs or documents out of their sight. I can even scan family photos and documents while watching TV!
Where to Now
I probably don’t have another 35 years but I am looking forward to the next 5-10 or perhaps even 15-20 years. The amazing growth in technology and the benefits it has brought to family history over the last 20 years has been so exciting. I think it is technology that has helped keep genealogy and family history to the forefront of popular hobbies and it is also responsible for changing the demographics of family history. It is no longer only the aged and retired but much younger people who were born with smart phones and started using laptops at kindy! That last might be a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean.
The last 35 years have gone quickly with lots of exciting developments to keep genealogy and family history as one of the more popular hobbies around the world. I can’t see that changing in the foreseeable future. We have the National Archives of Australia’s annual Shake Your Family Tree day in February to keep us motivated and six months later we have National Family History Week. So twice a year we have events that will enthuse, encourage and motivate genealogists and family historians. Not to mention introduce new people to this fascinating pastime that some of us don’t seem to be able to give up or finish!
And with that, I now declare National Family History Week 2012 open!
July 13th, 2012
Thanks to Geniaus I have received an Illuminating Blogger Award originally started by Foodstories. It was for my blog Diary of an Australian Genealogist and in her nomination Geniaus said – Shauna Hicks lectures, writes, and blogs about genealogy in Australia. In her journal style blog she shares stories of her daily life and genealogy journeys, her friendly style makes one feel that Shauna is writing a chatty letter to the individual reader.
I am really honoured and thrilled to have received this nomination for Diary as I’m fortunate in being able to travel around and attend genealogy events that not everyone can get too. By sharing my experiences and passing on some of my learning on new resources or old tips and tricks I hope to help others with their research.
As a condition of accepting this award, I am able to nominate six blogs that I also find interesting and useful. Like Geniaus I have tried to avoid those who have already received nominations. There are a lot of genealogy blogs out there but here are my six nominations in no particular order.
Family History Across the Seas by Cassmob – I love the way Cassmob contributes to blogging series and currently it is the Blogging From A-Z challenge held in April and her own Beyond the Internet series. It is often hard to think up blogging topics so prompts like these challenges really help and by the end of the series you have written quite a bit on your families or genealogy resources.
Twigs of Yore by Shelley – is another favourite and knowing that Shelley is a busy young mum I often wonder where she finds the time to blog. One of the things I particularly like is her Australia Day blog challenges and its great to see more and more Australian bloggers taking up her challenge each year.
From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard by Helen – having known Helen for ‘decades’ it is really nice to see her now blogging and Helen is a participant in the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge and it is fascinating to read her family stories all nicely illustrated too. Helen demonstrates just how easy it is to tell our family stories through our blogs.
Carole’s Canvas by Carole – is another favourite as Carole is very techno and into social media and quite often blogs about it but in a way us less techno people can understand. Carole actually has quite a few different blogs (where does she find the time) and there are links to them from this primary blog and the NSW Genealogy one is good for all those with NSW roots.
The Boggo Blog by Chris – as so many of my ancestors spent time in Boggo Road gaol I feel like it’s almost a family home and Chris’ blog on the historic gaol and all activities associated with it have a personal interest to me. It would be nice to see the future of the gaol settled and the Boggo Road Gaol Historical Society allowed to get on with their research and promotion of the site.
Sharn’s Genealogy Jottings by Sharn – I really like the way Sharn writes up her family stories and accompanies them with great photographs. It always inspires me to write up my stories but time is always an issue for me (and everyone else) but by doing it one story at a time we can all tell our family stories over time.
I’m also suppose to say one random thing about myself – I think that’s supposed to be an easy task but I’m struggling with it. Perhaps my passion for collecting fridge magnets is worth a mention – now over a fridge, freezer, two filing cabinets and in our new place (where ever that is) the other half is going to build me a huge area, probably in the garage so that I can really indulge my habit!
- The nominee should visit the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/) and leave a comment indicating that they have been nominated and by whom. (This step is so important because it’s the only way that we can create a blogroll of award winners).
- The Nominee should thank the person that nominated them by posting & including a link to their blog.
- The Nominee should include a courtesy link back to the official award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/) in their blog post.
- Share one random thing about yourself in your blog post.
- Select at least five other bloggers that you enjoy reading their illuminating, informative posts and nominate them for the award. Many people indicate that they wish they could nominate more so please feel free to nominate all your favorites.
- Notify your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog, including a link to the award site (http://foodstoriesblog.com/illuminating-blogger-award/).
July 5th, 2012
Regular readers will know that I reported on the Unlock the Past Queensland Expo in Brisbane 25-27 Jun 212 on a daily basis through my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog. If you missed it, here are links to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Expo Exhibitors reports.
In this blog I’m reflecting on the expo overall and up front, I have to say it was another great genealogy experience although my hometown of Brisbane turned on some of the worst winter weather I think I have ever experienced in Brisbane. The cold and wet weather didn’t deter people and I think the coffee van made a small fortune over the three days. The local school ladies did an excellent job of catering morning and afternoon teas and lunches. The exhibition area was usually chilly but it was warmer in the theatres.
Most of the time there were four options – a choice of two speakers where you needed to have bought a ticket or an expo gold pass, a speaker where you didn’t need a ticket and the Research Zone and exhibition area. As usual I found choosing between speakers hard and my Diary blogs outline my choices. I also found I didn’t have enough time to spend in the exhibition area without giving up one of the speaker sessions. Perhaps I’m just ‘greedy’ and want to experience everything?
There was meant to be a ten minute change over period but some speakers went over and then that made it harder to move between theatres or take a quick rest break before the next session. Everything was really close together and level (no stairs) so that was a bonus. There were a few technical hiccups here and there but nothing that caused major issues.
I liked the opportunity to see the Flip Pal mobile scanner in operation and found that I had no trouble scanning some photos at Mums that night and then uploading them to my laptop. What I really like about it is that I can scan photos while watching TV whereas before I had to do it in the study by myself and without any entertainment. Scanning must be the most boring activity on earth!
The other great plus for me is that it was a perfect opportunity to catch up with all my old genealogy friends and colleagues from Brisbane, as well as other regular attendees and speakers at Unlock the Past expos and roadshows. I think we’re almost like one big family now.
I finally got to meet Ciaran from Clean Cruising and spoke to him about the next Unlock the Past genealogy cruise to Fiji in February 2013. I have been to Fiji twice (1975 and 1976) so it’s been a while! I’m really excited about going again not to mention the thought of ten days of genealogy with others equally passionate about their family history.
Audrey Collins from the National Archives UK was the international speaker (not counting Dan Lynch who ‘popped’ in electronically for his two talks on Google Your Family Tree) and after the expo, Audrey and some of the Unlock the Past team also did seminars in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I rejoined them in Melbourne for the seminar at the State Library of Victoria. My Diary blog on the day is here.
As usual I have come away with a notebook full of information and URLs to follow up and a bag of brochures on all sorts of topics from the exhibitors. One lady loved my talks so much she offered to let us park our caravan at her place in south western Queensland when she found out we would soon be homeless. While it was a nice gesture, I think she really wanted me to travel out there for some one on one chats! As usual I have put up the slides from my six talks on the Resources page of this website. Scroll down to Presentations.
Surprisingly I didn’t buy a book this time but as we are in the process of moving house, another book would not have been well received by my other half! From the verbal feedback I received from other attendees everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt heaps and they would probably like another one soon!
The Unlock the Past team should be congratulated on another great expo and though it all looks deceptively easy, there is a lot of work that goes into the planning and running of these expos. So well done everyone. I’m going to now start getting excited about the Queensland Coast Roadshow in September/October!
April 25th, 2012
Today is ANZAC Day and I foreshadowed back in February during the Bombing of Darwin 70th anniversary tour that my ANZAC Day blog this year would be dedicated to my Uncle Gordon, my mother’s eldest brother.
During the bombing of Darwin tour, I met historian Brad Manera and was privileged to have him advise me on a ‘kidney dish’ that Gordon had carried around with him during his time in the army. For years I believed all soldiers had one, but perhaps not as engraved and decorated as Gordon’s. To my surprise Brad believed it was actually an enemy souvenir and because of the illustrations quite unique. I resolved then and there to get Gordon’s army dossier from the National Archives of Australia and within a few weeks of getting home from Darwin I received the dossier.
Gordon’s army record is indeed reflected in his ‘kidney dish’ – all the big battles of the Middle East and New Guinea are recorded as he was part of the 2/13 Infantry Battalion in World War 2. The Australian War Memorial has a brief history of the unit and a listing of Battle Honours including the defence of Tobruk, the battle of El Alamein, Borneo, Lae and the liberation of Australian New Guinea to mention just a few.
The army dossier had one surprise for me and that was Gordon’s date of birth – according to the file he was five years younger than he really was. So instead of enlisting at 23 he was in fact 28 years old although I’m not really sure why he would have changed the year of his birth.
The disappointment in the file is that the small photographs are not all that clear but I do have some Christmas postcards he sent home to family members that have a small photo of him in uniform. I have memories of Uncle Gordon but as a much older person as he was 45 when I was born.
Mum still has the albums with all the photos that Gordon sent home to her while he was away and when I visit her again in June, I hope to borrow the albums so that I can copy the photos and match them up to the places on the ‘kidney dish’ and in the dossier.
In the meantime I am reading Peter FitzSimons book on Tobruk to gain a better understanding of the war in North Africa having read the basics of the Siege of Tobruk in Wikipedia. The Australian War Memorial also has the 2/13’s unit diaries and these are digitised and online so I can really begin to understand what it means to be a ‘Rat of Tobruk’. Lest we Forget.