52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 6 Land Records

February 19th, 2014

This blog challenge is to stimulate my own genealogy blogging efforts in 2014 by focussing on a different kind of genealogical record each week. I wanted a challenge that reflected my own archival background as well as my own genealogy interests and there are probably lots of other records that I could have included. The challenge has an Australian focus but most of these records will be found just about anywhere in the genealogy world.

The 52 different types of genealogical records I finally decided on are listed in no particular order (each week will be a random surprise). Originally I planned to do this over 52 weeks but I now realise that I have to factor in travel and illness so it will continue a little bit over a year. Anyone is welcome to do all or part of this blogging challenge.  Let me know if you are participating and I will put a link to your post under each week’s challenge.

So far I know of five bloggers who are taking up the challenge and I have put links to their individual entries at the end of each week’s blog if they have submitted something for that week. Thanks Judy WebsterSharn WhiteCassmob, Anne and Sharon for participating and encouraging me to keep up the blog challenge myself!

Also participating in this blog challenge:

Anne Week 6 Land Records

Sharon Week 6 Land Records

Links to Week 1 Military Medals Week 2 Internal Migration Week 3 Probates (wills and administrations) Week 4 Memorial Cards Week 5 Family Stories

Week 6 Land Records

My families were not big land owners and only and only three of my great great grandfathers took up land selections in Queensland. The State Archives is the repository to look for original land records and in Queensland we are lucky that the records have been name indexed for the major series. Even better the files have not been culled in any way and therefore provide a wealth of information. In the example that I am going to use, the land selection file even included personal letters from my ancestor to the Department.

John and Sarah Finn immigrated to Queensland from County Wicklow with their young son Robert and another son James Joseph was born on board the Mairi Bhan on the voyage out in 1882. Another daughter Rose Anna was born in Brisbane in 1884 but her birth was not registered until 1886 by which time the family were living in Nambour, north of Brisbane. This is a reminder that some births and deaths may not have been registered until sometime after the event.

On 2 March 1886 John Finn applied to select a farm of 160 acres, portion 8V in the parish of Maroochy, county of Canning. The purchase price was £1 10s per acre making the annual rental £3 6s 8d. At the time of selection the land was described as very rough terrain covered with dense scrub which made farming the selection difficult.

Adding to this difficulty was the fact that the weather was exceptionally rainy after John moved onto the land. In a series of letters that John wrote to the Chief Commissioner of Lands  we can easily imagine the troubles that John experienced in trying to make a success of his farm.

In a letter dated 8 May 1890 to the Chief Commissioner of Lands John asked for more time to pay the annual rental as his crops of corn and potatoes had failed owing to the rainy weather. He had been unsuccessful in obtaining work elsewhere. Another letter dated 9 June 1890 reveals that the family were still struggling to make a success of the farm. In this letter John stated that he suffered a broken limb seven months ago and was now just starting to return to his full strength. The injury must have been quite serious as he sold all his cattle in order to feed his wife and six children as well as pay the person that looked after him during his incapacity.

A further letter dated 25 August 1890 shows that John was planning to leave the selection for a few months in order to go and get a job elsewhere. In order to make sure that his selection was not forfeited, John promised that one or two of his children would visit the homestead each week. This situation was acceptable to the Chief Commissioner of Lands.

The Bailiff of Crown Lands inspected the selection on 23 April 1891 and reported that the land was used for grazing and the cultivation of fruit and vegetables.

The improvements on the selection included a house of slabs, sawn timber, iron roof and 3 rooms, outbuildings, enclosed garden, rail fence and gate plus partly cleared scrub. This was sufficient to fulfil the conditions necessary before a Deed of Grant could issue. Consequently on 10 September 1891 John Finn paid £4 17s 6d the final balance owing on his farm and the Deed of Grant issued on 31 October 1891. John sold the farm in February 1892.

While living at Petrie’s Creek John and Sarah had three more children. They were Mary in 1886, Sarah Jane in 1888,  and John born in 1890.  Another daughter Margaret Anne was born in the Caboolture area in 1892 before the family moved to northern New South Wales where their last three children were born – Thomas Ambrose in 1895, Denis Patrick in 1898 and Kathleen Gertrude in 1900. Sarah died 15 months later, aged only 40 years old and leaving a very young family. But that is another story.

Not all land files have personal correspondence in them but you will usually find the application forms (including an ancestor’s signature), maps or sketches  of the portion and reports on what the improvements to the land are. In this example I found out a lot of details about the family’s life that I would not have found elsewhere. For example, I know that John and Sarah Finn were living in a three room house with six children, John badly broke his leg in late 1889 and that wet weather led to his failed corn and potato crops. They were only on the land for six years but thanks to the land file I have a very clear understanding of what their life was like during those six difficult years.

Land records are worth looking for even if you do not think the family was on the land. I only expected to find one of my great great grandfathers on a land selection, the other two were happy surprises although neither stayed for very long. So check any indexes in case there is a happy surprise waiting for you too.

The major national and state archives in Australia and New Zealand are:


Australian Society of Archivists conference report Oct 2013

October 22nd, 2013

The ASA’s conference was held in Canberra on 15-18 October 2013 and it was great to catch up with old friends and colleagues. The networking opportunity is what makes a conference really good for me but of course, the program has to be interesting too. With a theme of Archives The Future it’s not surprising that there were a number of sessions examining where we might all be in 2033. Considering how much has changed in the last 20 years, there will probably be just as much if not more change.

Special interest group meetings were held in the morning on 15 October and the Loris Williams Memorial Lecture was in the afternoon followed by the AGM. The Welcome Reception and the Mander Jones Awards were held in the early evening of that day. The venue was the National Film and Sound Archive and it was good to visit there again. The outdoor reception was a little chilly but the catering was excellent.

Day 2 was at the main conference venue which was the Museum of Australian Democracy which is in the Old Parliament House building. This is a beautiful old building and a great place for a conference. After the Welcome to Country and the ASA President’s Address it was straight down to serious discussions with a round table of the heads of archival institutions. On the panel were David Fricker from National Archives of Australia, Greg Goulding from Archives New Zealand and Michael Loebenstein from the National Film and Sound Archive. An interesting question time followed.

After morning tea there were two streams with Stream A looking at technology and social and business trends in the next 10-20 years and Stream B looking at access and freedom of information, beyond 20 year rules, whistleblowing and wikileaks. I went to the technology session and found Antony Funnell’s talk stimulating and I will have to get a copy of his book The Future and #Unrelated Nonsense from the library although Booktopia has it with a discount of 49% at the time of writing (cheaper than the ebook).

After an excellent lunch the technology stream continued by examining the impact of technology on archival programs and Stream B looked at privacy and changing social attitudes and new ways of managing privacy requirements. Again I went to the technology stream and really liked the talk given by Leisa Gibbons from Monash University. I’ll never be able to look at You Tube in quite the same way again.

Afternoon tea was plentiful and delicious and the Stream A examined appraisal and shifting the paradigm while the second looked at the possibilities and impacts of mergers in Australia and overseas. This was the session I attended and it was interesting and the most well known example in Australia to date was the merger of the Archives Office of Tasmania with the State Library heritage section to form the Tasmanian Archive and Heritage Office.

Then it was a short walk to the beautiful Albert Hall for those who were attending the launch of Dr Ted Ling’s new book, Government Records About the Australian Capital Territory: A Research Guide. I purchased a signed copy as it is a comprehensive guide for all records in this geographic region of Australia and should be quite useful.

Day 3 again had two streams until the final plenary of the day. Stream A was on resilient cultures and the archive and I went to Stream B on legislation and archival legal frameworks for the digital future. Another interesting session with lots of questions from the floor.  The other two sessions in Stream A were education and the archivist and requirements in the digital age and managing non-government and private records in a national framework. I didn’t go to either as I went to the two sessions on the archives profession and its voice and visibility within Australia and of course the ASA itself. Having been a member of the ASA for 25 years I had heard a lot of this discussion before at other conferences so it will be interesting to see if the ASA does continue to move forward after this conference which looked so steadily to the future.

These sessions took us through lunch and up to afternoon tea and the final plenary. This session really encapsulated the whole program with its theme of the future of archives and archivists and how they can remain relevant in an era of commercialisation and digitisation. Brad Argent from Ancestry put forward some challenging ideas including that in the future archives will be a commercial product, with a seamless interface that satisfies user demand for quick one stop access in an online digital world and with archivists having limited roles. Another thought provoking idea was that archivists are handing over unique and valuable content from the archives and only receiving (wanting) a digital copy in return while companies like Ancestry gain profile and revenue dollars  and archivists slip further from public view.

To end the conference there was a brief look at next year’s joint conference with ARANZ in Christchurch, New Zealand and Michael Piggott did an interesting exercise moving through the alphabet A-Z with members of the audience suggesting words to form a word cloud.

Well known Adelaide Archivist Jenny Scott took many photos of the conference and these can be seen on Flickr here.

The principal conference sponsor was Ancestry.com.au with other sponsors Charles Sturt University, Monash University, National Archives of Australia, National Library of Australia, Gale Cengage Learning, Inside History Magazine and the National Film and Sound Archive. There wasn’t the usual exhibitors area but Ancestry, Gale and Charles Sturt University had tables and people to talk to on both days of the main conference.

The conference was a sell out success and I don’t think the organisers could have fitted another person into the room. It was extremely well organised with sessions running to time, several areas set aside for morning and afternoon teas and lunch and the catering was superb and plentiful. Together with the interesting program and early evening events I would have to say one of the best conferences I’ve attended in recent years. Well done to the entire conference committee who were visible, helpful and busy throughout the conference.

I also have some of the social and touristy news in my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog.





Reading For Genealogy – Archives Annual Reports

December 22nd, 2010

This is a continuation of my last blog What Are You Reading For Genealogy? Government publications might seem a strange choice and some might think my working in government for 35 years has coloured my choice of reading material, especially for genealogy. But I hope to show in this blog that you can discover new tips and information by looking at annual reports published by archives.

The 2009-10 annual report of the National Archives of Australia is a hefty volume with 180 pages but only a small percentage is of real interest to the genealogist and family historian so you can actually read the reports for quite a few archives in a relatively short space of time.

I always read the Director-General’s Review of the year as this gives all the highlights and alerts you to what to look for in the rest of the report. For example, it mentions the Archives use of Web 2.0 and the publication of images to Flickr and videos in Vimeo as well as their Facebook page. If you weren’t aware of their presence in these social media, you could go and have a look.

Another area of genealogy interest is the digitisation program and their priority areas of immigration and defence, of great interest to genealogists and family historians which is provided free of charge to users. The year also saw the release of a new enhanced version of RecordSearch, the Archives’ online catalogue. If it is sometime since you last used the catalogue, you should check it out.

Under Challenges we learn about the closing of State offices in Adelaide, Darwin and Hobart and the revised decision to co-locate with other institutions in those areas. Another challenge is the introduction of the Freedom of Information Amendment (Reform) Act of 2010 which will eventually see access reduced from 30 years to 20 years over a ten year period. Exciting news for all researchers and if you hadn’t heard about it from other sources, this would be one reason to read the annual report.

The main areas of the Annual Report of interest to me are the sections relating to access and I was surprised to read that 93% of the Archives users access records through digitised images on the website (p36). This statistic makes me ask the question – what about all the other relevant records not yet digitised that researchers are missing out on?

As well as what is already in custody, you can learn what has been transferred in during the year and this is partly listed in detail in Appendix C – Selected Records Transferred and Described.  For example, under Collector of Customs is correspondence series SP42/1 which includes applications for passports, certificates of exemption, entry permits, repatriation and certificates of naturalisation mostly relating to Chinese nationals and covering the period 1901-1948. Obviously of interest to anyone with Chinese ancestry or research interests.

Appendix F is the Publications Programs and this is a good place to find out what new Fact Sheets have been published during the year as well as more substantial guides and publications.

Like all annual reports there are oodles of statistics and RecordSearch now contains more than 22 million pages of digital records while PhotoSearch, a module of RecordSearch, contains descriptions and images of over 5 million photographs which are also available through the Picture Australia portal site. The passenger arrivals index has 879,000 names of passengers arriving by ship, or passing through Fremantle on the way to the eastern States, between 1921 and 1950. The index also records information about arrivals at Perth airport between 1944 and 1950 (p 37).

These few snippets from just one archives’ annual report demonstrates the value of at least having a browse through annual reports of archives which hold records relating to your own family research. New indexes, new digitisation projects, more detailed item descriptions and so on are all making it easier for researchers to find information in the archives and you can get an overview of this activity once a year in the annual reports.

For information throughout the year, subscribe to the free e-newsletters that most archives publish usually on a monthly basis.  The key thing to remember is that only a very small percentage of what is available is online, so use the catalogues and other finding aids to find original records that may be even more important to your research than the popular series being digitised first. Make 2011 your year to discover archives both online and in person! Don’t forget to share your success stories – success inspires us all.


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