3rd Australasian Scottish Genealogy Conference – What I Learnt!

April 18th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Finding Families in Cemeteries

June 2nd, 2010

I am still participating in the 52 Weeks To Better Genealogy program and Challenge 22 was to spend time at Find-a-Grave. This doesn’t have a lot of relevance for Australian researchers, although there are 164 people listed in the Australian section, so I am looking at my favourite cemetery sites for Australia.

A quick and easy site is Australian Cemeteries which covers all States and Territories and it includes links to online data for either tombstones or burial records, home pages without online data, undertakers records, lookups, maps and photographs.

The story of my gg grandparents John and Helen Carnegie can be found here and this blog will look at information that is now available online about their grave.

They were buried in Toorbul cemetery so I selected the State section for Queensland, selected T and scrolled down to Toorbul. This revealed that it is now known as Toorbul Historic Cemetery and that there is online data and photos of the headstones. Several people have submitted transcriptions and photographs so I selected all links, compared data, other information and viewed all the photos. The Toorbul information has also been placed on Interment.net, another cemetery site for Australia.

A new feature on Australian Cemeteries allows you to do a Google search over the site for an individual surname, on a State by State basis. Assuming that the cemetery you want has searchable pages this can be a quick way to find people but be aware that not all information is online or in a format searchable by Google.

In my example I went to the State section for Queensland and put in Carnegie as a keyword. This search brought up a Google search page with eight references to Carnegie (and remember not all information is online) and of the eight, four referred to the Toorbul Historic Cemetery. There are links to the Interment.net site and also a link to Kerry Raymond’s South East Queensland cemeteries headstone photo collection with still more photos of the Toorbul Historic Cemetery.

Interestingly I first went to the Toorbul cemetery back in 1978 with the local historian for the area. At that time the cemetery was very overgrown and I would never have found it by myself. While the Carnegie grave was the only cement grave, there were other graves with wooden surrounds and markers. The headstone on the Carnegie grave was still intact and upright.

Since then it looks like a fire has been through and destroyed all the wooden evidence marking the graves and shattered the Carnegie headstone. The area has been cleared and a fence built and signs marking the location have been erected. There is even a memorial board listing all those buried there. I am pleased that the area is now preserved and recognised as an historic cemetery but it is a shame that all the remnants of the earlier cemetery have gone.

As I mentioned above, Interment.net is another site listing Australian cemeteries and is useful as a double check as not everything is listed in both.

Another useful gateway site is Cora Num’s Websites for Genealogists: an Australian gateway site for tracing your family history. Under Cemeteries there is a range of information divided up under National and State by State.

While it is easier than ever to find cemetery information online, there is still a lot of information recorded in genealogy, family history and local historical societies so don’t neglect to look there too. Good luck.


Is My Family Already On The Internet?

January 8th, 2010

Not too many years ago, most genealogists and family historians used to submit their names and research interests to society journals or genealogical research directories (GRD’s), either local, national and/or international. We would then sit back and hopefully someone would contact us and there would be a connection and an exchange of information. Originally this was by snail mail and then email.

I made a few connections that way but not as many as I have made since placing my names in Genes Reunited a couple of years ago. This is the only online database I have placed my family names in although I do know of other similar sites like My Heritage, Ancestral File and Ancestry.com.au where other distant relatives have added family names.

However I have not made as much use of the ‘wonders’ of the Internet as I did so religiously every year with the GRD’s – why is this so? Is it because the GRD’s were once a year effort and then you just waited? With the online ones you are constantly checking, adding, contacting etc that sometimes there is no time to do it and there are so many more to be in contact with.

This blog ramble is because I am cranky with myself – I did not make the effort to check other online databases in case my family were already mentioned in them. Every time I went to a family history library in the past I would look up new GRD’s just in case there was a connection but I don’t do it with the online ones even though I can do it at home.

Those who have been regularly reading my two blogs SHHE Genie Rambles and Brick Wall Solutions on Unlock the Past will know that I have been looking for Helen Carnegie/Ellen Ferguson and recently had a breakthrough. I will be writing the whole story in a new Brick Wall Solutions blog next week and I don’t want to spoil the story too much, but the solution to my brick wall was on the Internet back in 2004. But I never thought to look at where I eventually found the answer. Intrigued?

Like everyone else,  I put my names into Google and come up with lots of references even when I use inverted commas eg “Helen Carnegie” I still get 2,380 hits. It drops to about 555 hits when I use an advanced search and add in her husband Alexander Ferguson. There are only 130 hits when I use Alexander Miller Ferguson and it was interesting going through those hits. But I still didn’t find what I was looking for.

The World Connect site is part of Rootsweb, an Ancestry.com community and one that I don’t look in very much for my own family. I have for my partner’s as I know he has relatives that have entered their families there. When I enter Helen Carnegie I get 112 results, when I add her father’s name John Carnegie I get 20 results. My Helen is the ninth entry and there is her second husband (that I didn’t know about until recently) and her death date and burial place (I ordered the death certificate back in November and only received it on 4 Jan 2010 but that’s another story). Her death certificate gave me the name of her second husband and it was his name, Charles Wademore Chick, that I was looking for, not Helen’s. The searches I illustrated above I did after I knew she was in World Connect but I would still have found her without knowing about the second husband, if I had ever looked.

I have since made contact with the person who placed the entry (connected via her second husband) and there will be yet another sequel to Helen’s story. Don’t miss next week’s Brick Wall Solutions as I will update the story from where we last left it.

So the point of this blog is – make more use of online databases but how do we know which ones are out there? I use Rootsweb mailing lists all the time but forget about World Connect. Should I now search all my names in case there are more distant relations out there? How do others keep up with these databases, especially when they don’t show up via Google?

Last words – I am finally going to sit down and thoroughly read Dan Lynch’s Google Your Family Tree: Unlock the Hidden Power of Google.  The question is not – Is my family already on the Internet? – but rather – How much of my family is already on the Internet?

PS I am not saying that everything is on the Internet, only that we need to make more use of it as a finding aid to assist us with our research whether it be in libraries, archives or digital collections and in making contact with other distant family members.


Online BDMs Demolish Brick Walls

November 29th, 2009

My last two blogs have been about preparing for my talk on Convicts and Criminals and accompanying  Handout at Mulwala Family History Expo  and all the wonderful  information I discovered on my families because of new online resources. The talk went very well and I received some lovely feedback. One woman said she could listen to me all day which might have been a slight exaggeration.

But the more exciting thing was the discovery of my gg grandmother Helen (Ellen) Ferguson nee Carnegie after 32 years of searching. I had included a reference to her in my talk and was going to outline how I would follow up the new clue that I had discovered in the Police Gazettes. The morning of my talk I was up early and decided to check emails and there was one announcing the recent expanded range of Queensland BDMs online. Births now 1829-1914, marriages 1829-1934 and deaths 1829-1964.

So I logged on and did my usual searches for her and again a nil result. Then I used the name I found in the Police Gazettes – Ellen Chick alias Ferguson – and again nothing. Then I searched for Helen Chick and there she was. The full story of my gg grandmother and how I demolished the various brick walls that I came across over the last 32 years is in a new blog series called Brick Wall Solutions on the Unlock the Past website.

The attendees at the talk were so intrigued by Ellen’s story that they have asked to be kept informed of the outcome – what will her death certificate tell me? More mystery or finally the truth?

As this story demonstrates, online BDMs can resolve brick walls because they allow us to search wider time frames without having to pay fees, search for variations of given names and surnames, even search for unusual names or combinations of names, search others States and so on.

I have another brick wall that was demolished by being able to search the NSW BDMs online and that will be the second blog in my Brick Wall Solutions series on Unlock the Past next week.

As for a theme for this blog next week, I will let Serendipity guide me.


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