National Family History Month August 2014

April 4th, 2014

Last year I was the national voluntary coordinator of National Family History Month which is held annually in August in Australia and New Zealand and I have agreed to do it again in 2014. Behind the scenes activities included liaising with sponsors, organising the launch, maintaining the website, ensuring events are added to the web calendar, liaising with event holders, answering queries and most importantly, publicity and promotion to ensure that we get as many events as possible and that everyone knows about what is happening in their own areas.

Last year I added the concept of prizes for participating genealogy societies and this year I have extended the prizes to both genealogy societies and individuals. NFHM does not have its own blog so I use my website for major updates like this and my Diary of an Australian Genealogist for brief updates and promotion. There is a NFHM Facebook page and we are currently trying to reach 1000 Likes. Why not help us out!

I have just sent off a report to AFFHO (Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations) on progress to date for NFHM 2014 and it is time to start our publicity campaign. NFHM is an AFFHO initiative to promote genealogy and family history in Australasia and was started in 2006 as a week and changed to a month in 2013. More information is on the NFHM website Home page.

Major sponsors for 2014 are AFFHO, Ancestry.com.au and FamilySearch and the National Archives of Australia have agreed to host the launch again, something they have done since 2006. Without our major sponsors it would be very hard to keep NFHM going and we thank them for their generosity and support.

Prize sponsors this year has expanded and we welcome NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies, MyHeritage and the National Institute of Genealogical Studies to NFHM. We also welcome previous sponsors Australian Family Tree Connections, Findmypast.com.au, genEbooks, Gould Genealogy and History, Inside History Magazine, Shauna Hicks History Enterprises and Unlock the Past.

I am also pleased to announce that our major sponsors have donated prizes too. AFFHO has allocated two conference registrations for two lucky people to attend Congress 2015 in Canberra next year. The program with the theme Generations Meeting Across Time is sensational with great speakers and talks, definitely not to be missed! Early bird registration is now open. Ancestry.com.au have donated ten individual subscriptions and FamilySearch have a tablet prize.

Details of the competitions and prize draws will be announced closer to August but for now check out the list of prizes on offer on the NFHM Sponsors and Supporters page.

It would be great if everyone could encourage their local genealogy and family history society to do an event in August. It could be as simple as renaming the August monthly meeting to NFHM monthly meeting or having one of the library days as an open day for NFHM. Public libraries, archives, historical societies, museums and anyone interested in genealogy and family history are welcome to have an event in August. This year we even have a category for online events. It is easy to add an event, simply click on the link and provide all the details, not forgetting time of event.

My next task is to start contacting key organisations for genealogy and family history societies, libraries, archives, historical societies and museums for assistance in sending out the NFHM 2014 flyer which is also available from the NFHM Home page. The flyer can be used to help promote your events and if you are stuck for ideas, have a look at the 2013 list of events which is also available from the NFHM Home page.

Please join me and AFFHO in making NFHM 2014 our biggest and most successful August ever!


52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 10 Occupation Records

March 17th, 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:

Campaspe Library Week 10

Sharon Week 10

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 Week 7 Local Histories Week 8 Diaries Week 9 Inquest Records

Week 10 Occupation Records

This week’s topic looks at occupations and sometimes what our ancestors did for a living can lead to all kinds of documentation depending on what their job or profession was. I am going to look at my great great great grandfather John Carnegie who was an oysterman. I originally thought that it would be very hard to find out anything about oyster farming.

I knew from land records that John had selected to land selections on Pumicestone Passage near Toorbul and those files revealed that he had a house, garden and orchard on the land. Other documents told me he was an oyster farmer. For many occupations you need a government license so a good starting place is the government gazettes.

For Queensland these are freely available online at Text Queensland: Queensland’s Past Online for the period 1859 to 1900. A search revealed a number of references to Carnegie. For example, in the  Queensland Government Gazette for 16 March 1901 there is a list of licenses issued under The Oysters Act of 1886. In this instance it is a four column table listing employees, licensees, the names of their boats and the number of their license during the month of February 1901. J Carnegie is listed as the employee (this could be John or even his grandson James – it is always hard to know when only an initial is used), Mrs Davis is the licensee (this is probably his married daughter Clara), the name of their boat is the Clara and the number is 45.

Licenses were usually granted on an annual basis so it is possible to check each year for any variations. It is especially useful to know the start and end dates as these can often pin point when someone moves into an area or starts up in the job and when they retire, die or move elsewhere. Although reading government legislation can be a little dry and boring, it can be useful to learn what type of records were required to be kept under the Act and to then learn if those records have survived or were published in the Gazettes or elsewhere.

Where an occupation was monitored by the Government, there can also be annual reports published in Votes and Proceedings which are normally located at the State Library or possibly the State Archives. A search of these publications for the period 1884-1891 and 1900 revealed a number of references to John Carnegie. For example, in 1884 John held two banks north of Ninghi Creek and the inspector wrote that John ‘has gone to extraordinary labour on his selection digging drains and embankments. He has about 500 bags on it’. In 1885 it was reported that he had approximately 1000 bags.

By 1886 John held three banks north of Ninghi Creek and Mr Carr, the inspector again reported that John had gone to considerable trouble with the cultivation of his oyster banks. When John was informed about whelk tingle in Pumicestone Passage, John with his children Clara aged 14 years and James aged 6 years (really his grandson although the inspector would not have known this), collected several cwt of whelk tingles off his banks. John also had stones and stakes laid down for the catchment of spat.

In 1888 John Carnegie and other oystermen in the area were reported to have a large amount of cultivation but few marketable oysters. This was because of a borer, or whelk tingle, which was very plentiful in Ninghi Creek. The whelk tingle pierces and kills young oysters and this was one of the reasons why John’s oyster business started to fail.

Unfortunately there was no more detailed information in the Votes and Proceedings but I did manage to locate a map at the Queensland State Archives showing the location of the oyster leases. This allowed me to know exactly where John’s three banks were located, just off shore from his land selections (which were probably partly under water at high tide).

Another useful place to pick up information is newspapers and a keyword search for oysters, Pumicestone, Carnegie and other key words returned a number of useful hits in Trove. Although there may not be direct reference to my ancestor in some of the articles, the references are still useful in understanding the wider context of the industry in the area.

Most of us have ancestors who had all kinds of different occupations so pick one and then see how much you can find out about that particular person and the job they did. Once you have done that, do the same with another occupation and you may be amazed at how much you can find. I really like having teachers in the family as education records are usually easy to find in State Archives. It really is a matter of thinking what kind of records would be created and where would those records be if they still survive. Anything associated with government may be recorded in government publications like the Gazettes and Votes and Proceedings or in the State Archives.

It may not be so easy to trace people who worked in private businesses or companies but those employers may still have been registered with the government and you may be able to trace those histories. Post Office Directories and Almanacs can also be used to trace smaller businesses and some of these are online. For example, Sands Sydney, Suburban and Country Commercial Directories are free online (and there are other useful Sydney resources free online at the City of Sydney Archives), South Australia at the State Library of South Australia, Pughs Almanacs for Queensland at Text Queensland and Western Australia at the State Library of Western Australia. A Google search will often locate these types of resources.

If your ancestor was in a union then the Australian Trade Union Archives website may be worth looking at.  Another useful website for business records is the Guide to Australian Business Records.

Occupations is actually a huge topic but I hope that this blog post has given you some idea of what questions to ask and where to look to find out more about your ancestors’ occupations.


52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 8 Diaries

March 3rd, 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 WhiteCassmobAnne and Sharon for participating and encouraging me to keep up the blog challenge myself!

Also participating in this blog challenge:

Sharon Week 8

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 Week 7 Local Histories

Week 8 Diaries

I love diaries as they can provide so much information on a family, daily life or a trip or whatever. But sadly there are no diaries in my own immediate family records. But this does not mean that we should not look for other people’s diaries in areas that were relevant to our own ancestors.

The obvious example here is shipboard diaries – what happened to one person on a voyage probably also happened to others on board. Nicholson’s Log of Logs is a great resource to find the location of shipboard diaries and I was lucky enough to find an entry for the Mairi Bhan. This was the ship which my Irish ancestors John and Sarah Finn and their young son James came out to Queensland on in 1882. The diary was in private hands and when I contacted the family, they very generously gave me a copy of the diary.

On 29 August 1882 they all went on board the Mairi Bhan and by the next afternoon the diarist was sea sick. The next day he reported that nearly all were sick and some were wishing they had never set out. By about 3 September the diarist was feeling less ill and he started reporting sightings or porpoises, flying fish, birds and other sailing ships.

Events on board were also recorded such as fights or disputes between the passengers, concerts in the evening, the weather and in particular the wind as that impacted on how far they sailed, and routine events such as eating, washing and mending clothes.

Births and deaths on board were also noted. A number of babies and children died and were buried at sea. Two babies were also born on board, one of them on the diarist’s birthday. It just so happens that the baby born on his birthday was the son of my John and Sarah Finn! Coincidence is everywhere with family history. It also made me realise that Sarah was about 7 months pregnant when she boarded and endured all that seasickness at the beginning of the voyage, not to mention having to go up and down the ladder every day to go on deck.

As they neared the tropics, the weather became increasingly hot and most of the entries report on the weather, what the sailing was like, and as boredom set in there were more instances of disputes between some of the passengers. On 26 September 1882 the diarist got up at 4.00am to watch a beautiful comet and some of the sailors said that there had not been such a large comet since 1868. Thanks to Google and Wikipedia, I was able to identify it as the Great Comet of 1882 (it is identified by a series of numbers rather than a person’s name). I hope my ancestors also managed to see it and perhaps this is a family trait as I have always been fascinated by the night time sky and have often got up to watch for comets and shooting stars.

As they continued sailing south, the weather became colder and they started to see whales, sharks, albatrosses, and other birds which the diarist said looked beautiful flying around the ship. The rougher seas meant that people were again sea sick but the strong winds also meant that they made good progress. Finally, on the morning of 26 November they saw land in the distance and by the afternoon they could easily see Moreton Lighthouse. On 28 November they  boarded the steamer Kate to be taken into Brisbane and it was a ‘grand parting when we left the ship. They fired three rounds out of the cannon and there was plenty of cheering’.

They were 91 days at sea and the diarist made an entry for every day so I have a day by day account of what the voyage was like for my own great great grandparents. It would have been slightly different for them, especially after the baby was born, but they would still have seen  and experienced the same weather and day to day sailing highs and lows.

There are all kinds of diaries, some more detailed than others. I also try to find personal accounts of areas where my families lived and recently I have started to look for military unit histories and diaries to supplement what I have found in army dossiers. If you have never thought of exploring these types of records before, why not try and find a shipboard diary for an ancestor’s voyage. You may be pleasantly surprised.


52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 Week 7 – Local Histories

February 26th, 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:

Sharon Week 7

Cassmob Week7

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

Week 7 Local Histories

Local history often goes hand in hand with family history as our ancestors were very much a part of the communities in which they lived. I have always looked for local histories for areas they lived in and this also includes any church or school histories or anniversary celebrations. Quite often there has been direct references to my families and if I am lucky, a relevant photo or two.

However like all resources, anything we find in a published history should still be checked for accuracy. Many older histories do not cite their sources and it can be very hard to trace where a particular story has come from. In one instance, locals told me not to buy the local history because there were so many mistakes in it (which was a bit sad as I am sure that a lot of hard work went into producing the publication). I still purchased the book as there were lots of references to my families but there was no bibliography, no footnotes or end notes, no list of sources and the index was more a contents list. The acknowledgements was a long list of people and I suspect that the book was written more from an anecdotal perspective than a records perspective.

People’s memories of an area will differ according to their individual perspectives but they should still be considered as these memories may not be recorded in any other source and may supplement the official records. For example, Clara Bishop (nee Carnegie) was my great great grandmother’s sister and Clara told a story to one of her nieces that was then published in a local history, From Spear to Musket 1879-1979 Caboolture Centenary: stories of the area once controlled by the Caboolture Divisional Board.

Clara’s first husband was Charles Davis and with him she had two sons Alexander (Alec) Thomas Davis and John Carnegie Davis. According to this account Alec died of black flu when it reached the isolated settlements along Pumicestone Passage shortly after World War One. Apparently the authorities in Caboolture refused to handle the body unless it was closely wrapped to prevent contagion and this was reported from several sources (but unfortunately these sources are not cited). Clara then sewed her son’s body in a sail and drove her spring cart along the bush track into Caboolture in the dead of night and left the body in Carmody’s buggy shed to await a doctor’s certificate. The writer goes on to say ‘that the buggy shed served as a morgue more than once, but that night it must have covered human grief and human courage beyond mortal measure’.

So how much of Clara’s story is true? She would have been remembering it many years later and the niece similarly would have been remembering what was said many years later again for the history. As other sources are referred to but not cited we cannot check them either. One obvious source to check is Alec’s death certificate.  He died in May 1919 aged 26 years with cause of death given as oedema of brain and a note that he had a skull injury a few months ago from shrapnel. There was a circular portion of his skull about two inches in diameter that was uncovered by bone and bulging and that he had a blow of his head shortly before his death but on the other side of his skull.

It appears that Alec received his head wound in the last months of the war and was sent home where he somehow hit his head again and this possibly aggravated his existing injuries leading to his death. Clara’s grief must have been two fold – she would have worried about Alec the whole time he was away at war and then to lose him shortly after his return must have been terrible for her. She probably did have to take his body into Caboolture because of Toorbul’s isolation.

A search of Trove in the Brisbane Courier in 1919 for black flu reveals no entries, although a search for influenza reveals many entries. There are reports in April and early May 1919 that Queensland is still clear of the epidemic so it is unlikely that Alec had the black flu when he died on 5 May and it is not mentioned on his death certificate. However after May 1919 there were influenza cases in Queensland and in retrospect perhaps his death became associated with the epidemic although in reality he died just before it began.

With access to today’s online resources we can revisit the stories in local histories and check for accuracy and supporting evidence. They say do not judge a book by its cover – so too do not accept the contents as fact without supporting evidence. There will probably be some elements of truth but the facts may also be obscured by the mists of time. Why not see if there is a local history (or two) written about the area where your ancestors lived? You might be surprised at what you discover.


The Future of Genealogy (as seen from Feb 2014)

February 24th, 2014

On the recent Unlock the Past genealogy cruise, Thomas MacEntee chaired a panel session looking at the future of genealogy. The panellists were myself (Shauna Hicks from Queensland, Mike Murray from Western Australia, Chris Paton from Scotland and Kirsty Gray from England. Thomas had a set of six questions which he put to each panellist.

This session was of great interest to me so even though I was on the panel, I tried to make notes of what everyone was saying to write up this report.

Question One

What was the most amazing development in the field of genealogy and family history for 2013?

I was the closest panellist to Thomas so the microphone and the option to answer first always fell to me. That was OK because I had seen the questions earlier and had prepared some notes whereas Kirsty had not seen the questions before and needed a little time to think about her answers. My response was increased usage of technology with webinars, Google hangouts etc allowing active participation from anywhere in the world. Genealogy and family history societies should make more use of this type of technology if they want to retain/increase their memberships and attract younger members.

Mike mentioned the growth of online records and that it was almost too easy now. Chris mentioned archives and genealogy and the use of structured searching in archives catalogues. He gave SCAN (Scottish Archives Network) as an example. Kirsty pointed out that there was more social networking, blogging and that this could be very collaborative. They obviously all said a bit more than that but those are the points that I noted down.

Question Two

Is there a “typical genealogist?” How would you describe the demographic of the genealogy consumer industry in Australia? Outside of Australia?

My response was that there is no typical genealogist, it ranges from old timers like me to Ancestry newbies. Plus there is also the other divide which is those who belong to societies and those who are by themselves online  and I thought that most were female and probably over 50 but we are seeing a few younger people. However I do not think societies are welcoming or meeting their needs so younger people are mostly online and using social media. The other mindset is that a lot of people want it all free or very cheap which is probably also a result of the aged demographic and reduced income dynamic.

Mike reported seeing more younger people in the west and suggested that it was because there are more IT options now to attract them. Chris agreed with me that there was no typical genealogist but they were probably over 50. He pointed out that membership of societies was shrinking and that most people now were doing their own research and only using professionals for problems or where they could not find something themselves. Kirsty said that in her areas (one name studies and one place studies) there were probably more men than women, people were interested in their own families and she did mention the word ‘eccentric’.

Question Three

Are there any setbacks or pushbacks you’ve seen over the past few years that are a cause for concern, especially when it comes to growth of the genealogy industry?

My response was that societies are finding it hard to retain memberships and to stay viable they increase their membership fees, without offering new services to all their members (those at a distance can not always get to a stepped up education program or whatever in person) and this in turn tends to lead to even more members not rejoining. Some societies are aging and not looking at, or are unsuccessful in recruiting newer committee members and I can see some societies even folding within a decade or so.

Mike mentioned the standardisation of BDMs across Australia and how that has meant that some records that were previously available in some states are now restricted and the proof of identity issues are a block to professional researchers.  Chris highlighted that people forget that it is not all online and that you still need to look at the records, not just the indexes. He also mentioned declining society memberships and that crowd sourcing projects was a new way for societies to do big indexing projects. Kirsty commented that there are not as many volunteers now as many people are now busier tied to their mobile phones and other online demands.

Question Four

What role will media (television, print, online) continue to play in the genealogy field?

My response was that online will only continue to grow and societies who really embrace this will remain relevant. Print is slowly being replaced by ebooks etc but it still has a place due to the aged demographic at least for the next decade or so. Television is only really good for the big companies who can afford to advertise and it can give people a false impression on how easy and interesting family history can be.

Mike pointed out the big impact that WDYTYA has had on the interest in genealogy and that there was increased interest in DNA. He does not think much of social media and referred to it as ‘froth and bubble’ which I think annoyed some people in the audience as this cruise attracted quite a number of geneabloggers who are all into social media and how it can assist with your research and your genealogy business (if you have one). Chris agreed with the impact of WDYTYA and that it will continue to highlight genealogy until the next big thing comes along, and that the bubble will burst sometime. Kirsty said that WDYTYA had been phenomenal for societies in the UK but I am not sure that is the same for Australia.

Question Five

Five years from now, what will be the most popular method for the “newbies” to find genealogy and get hooked?

My response was probably online but I would also like to see archives and libraries still having a role – if people do not use them then chances are there will be staff cutbacks, reduced services etc. Although we often find after cutbacks more digitised resources available to all, not just those who can visit in person.

Mike said online also and that ‘apis’ would be used to tap into mass data from archives and libraries. Chris was totally honest and said ‘no bloody clue’ as the last five years had seen so much change but he did think that archives and libraries would be using more social media to reach their clients. Kirsty also said more social media networking for everyone and that it was a way for archives to advertise what they have for researchers.

Question Six

Over the next five years, what will be the biggest motivator or product or concept to propel genealogy forward?

Thomas was going to skip this question as it had been basically covered by the answers to the first five questions. However, this is where I wanted to promote NFHM so I was allowed to make my plea to those in the audience to support me as voluntary national coordinator. In Australia and New Zealand we have National Family History Month in August – it was a week from 2006 to 2012 but I increased it to a month in 2013 as a week is simply not long enough to get coverage across the country. I hope that NFHM will continue to grow and that should also be a central point for societies and other organisations to rally around and promote family history each year. They might even get some more members!

Questions from the Audience

The first question picked up on the fact that the panel was divided on the question of social media and its relevance so we were all asked about our own use of social media. I am a fan of Twitter but also use Google+ and Facebook and of course have two blogs, this one and Diary of an Australian Genealogist.

Mike confirmed that he did not use social media and that he felt it was more essential to get more family stories told and more apps developed. Chris pointed out there would be more interactive websites and gave the example of Scottish post office directories linked to maps.  He uses Twitter and Facebook but is not into Google +. Kirsty said we would see more personal websites and that it was important to use technology to leave something behind. She uses Google + and Skype.

The next question was about crowd sourcing and Chris said it was always important to have a back up. Another question concerned archives to be more collaborative with genealogists and Chris said some already were but others were still to see the light.

Another question concerned the use of social media for campaigns and I mentioned the Australian Save the Census campaign of a few years ago before social media and that it would be easier to do that type of thing now. Chris said that it did need serious coordination between groups to be really successful. Mike pointed out again that he did not find social media useful or relevant. Kirsty gave the example of the 1911 census which was released early and that government organisations are interested in what users think.

The final question was about volunteers and how hard it was to get people to do projects or to sit on committees. Chris pointed out that some indexing projects are just duplicating what has already been done by some of the big companies and Kirsty said it was important to show committees that a project will work. Her One Place Studies is totally online and world wide. Mike mentioned that WA now has a members only section and that has increased interest in the society. Chris said some societies put their records online for free so that they could attract world wide attention.

Unfortunately I did not note my own answers to the questions but the panel was in agreement over most things with the exception of the value of social media for research and business. I hope I have not misquoted anyone and it was a pity that I could not note everything that was said (but I just can not write that fast).

So what is the future of genealogy? Well I do not think we are all going to lose interest anytime soon (I started in 1977 so now into my 37th year of researching my family). Technology is obviously a major player and we will continue to see more digitised records and mega databases. Social media is definitely a big player too and I have numerous examples where I have been contacted by distant family members who have found me via my blogs and stories written about my ancestors. Thanks to technology we can communicate cheaply and easily in person via Skype, Facebook, Google hangouts  and email.

The responses from all of the panelists showed that there was not a great lot of difference between the various countries and technology and social media is bringing us all closer together. Thomas moderated the panel session expertly and I think everyone went away with a lot of thoughts going through their minds. I must make a note to revisit this blog post in five years time!!


Review of 4th Unlock the Past Genealogy Cruise Feb 2014

February 21st, 2014

The cruise left from Sydney then on to Melbourne, then Adelaide, then Hobart and finally back to Sydney. This was my 4th cruise with Unlock the Past as a cruise presenter and as usual I will do an overall review of the cruise. Perhaps the question I was asked most was, why go to Australian ports as it is much more exotic to travel to Pacific Islands such as Lifou, Noumea, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Well I wanted to know what it was like for our ancestors who travelled through Bass Strait (or around Tasmania) on their way to Sydney. There is no comparison between a cruise ship and an old sailing ship but some of the swells we saw going down the west coast of Tasmania made me think that it could not have been a great experience. It would have been even worse in bad weather.  You could almost imagine their relief as they entered the more sheltered waters on the way into Hobart.

So travelling in my ancestors footsteps (so to speak) was one reason I went on this cruise. The second reason is that a number of my long term genealogy friends from around Australia are now also regular cruisers with Unlock the Past. This is an excellent way to catch up with all these friends in a single place once a year. Not to mention making new friends and some people even found they were related to each other.

My third reason is that I am a genealogy tragic and try to attend every genealogy conference I can, whether it is on land or sea. I love the smorgasbord of talks and presenters and there is always something new to learn about. This cruise had an amazing range of speakers including Thomas MacEntee from the USA, Chris Paton from Scotland, Kirsty Gray from England and lots of speakers from Australia and New Zealand. If anything there was too much choice!

My fourth reason is that cruising is a really relaxed way to travel. You unpack once, someone tidies up your room every day, others do all the cooking and cleaning and probably the hardest decision you have to make is what you will select from the menus at breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you get peckish in between times, there are little cafes to satisfy your every need.

I did get sick this trip but then you can get sick whenever you travel. It is a bit like the weather, you hope it will be fine for the trip but if not, you have to adjust your plans accordingly. Amazingly I managed to deliver my five talks but did miss some sessions that I really wanted to go to. Hopefully those speakers will be making their handouts available and I can see what I missed. As usual my presentations are on the Resources page of my website, scroll down to Presentations.

This was a nine day cruise and it went so fast with five days (or part days) in port and four full days at sea. Even on the part days in port there was usually a session or two to attend. I have published my daily accounts of the cruise in Diary of an Australian Genealogist and a number of other geneabloggers have also written up their experiences (or are still doing so).  There is a list of them in Diary here. I hope I have not missed anyone.

I am not going on the 5th Unlock the Past cruise not because I am sick of genealogy cruising but because I want to go on the 6th genealogy cruise which is a three night cruise out of Sydney followed by an optional 5 day tour to Norfolk Island, another place I love visiting. People can either just do the cruise or just do Norfolk Island or both. This is in October 2014 and already I am looking forward to catching up with genealogy friends and learning more from the various speakers on the program. It should be a real boost to my Australian research including my convict lines.

So I guess I am going to have to restyle myself from a genealogy tragic to a genealogy cruiser tragic because now it is a double addiction! If you have not tried it yet, you do not know how much genealogy fun you are missing out on. Roll on the October 2014 cruise!


52 Weeks of Genealogical Records in 2014 – Week 5 Family Stories

February 3rd, 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). 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 5 Family Stories

Sharon Week 5 Family Stories

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

Week 5 Family Stories

One of the first things I did after getting hooked on genealogy back in the late 70s, was to visit as many of my elderly relatives as I could. I jotted down the bits and pieces of information they gave me, copied photographs and documents and filed it all away in my manilla folders in my filing cabinets. Now as I work my way through the dozens and dozens of folders, weeding and scanning to reduce the size of my family history records and also to make backup copies and to more easily pass the information on to other family members, I realise that I probably should have asked more and different questions and I should have made more fulsome notes. But that is nearly 40 years of hindsight and we quite often cannot go back to revisit those interviews.

Even after all that time, there are some family stories that I can remember easily. My grandfather’s cousin was Doris Eileen Manville nee Maher and everyone called her Aunty Dorrie. She was good friends with my grandmother Kathleen May Gunderson nee Carnegie so we saw a lot of Aunty Dorrie and her husband Stan Manville. When I started researching she was 71 years old with a good memory and she lived to 99 years. It was from her that I learnt most about my Gunderson and Johnston families .

Her best family story was regarding my great great grandfather Adam Johnston. His wife was Maria Jeffers who was Dorrie’s much loved grandmother. While Dorrie could tell me about Maria, she was always reluctant to talk about Adam but she did tell me that he had simply disappeared having been taken by a crocodile in Oxley Creek which runs into the Brisbane River. I had been having trouble finding a death certificate for Adam but I did not really think it was because of a crocodile. Still I looked into it and there was no inquest and without an exact date it was not possible to check newspapers back then. I even investigated crocodiles in the Brisbane area but could not come up with any evidence of any in the river.

So I guessed that Adam had deserted Maria at some point and had subsequently been dropped from the family history. It was not until 1987 that I stumbled across a reference to Adam in Brisbane prison records and found out that he had deserted the family and failed to pay maintenance and was subsequently sentenced to gaol time. Local court records gave me lots of information on Adam and Maria and some of their public fights and I could see why Dorrie’s generation did not want to talk about it and would have preferred to keep it secret from the next generations. Family stories often have some truth in them and it is a matter of working out the relevant pieces of information.

On my mother’s side of the family there is the story of how her father Henry Price participated in the capture of German New Guinea in World War One. I sent away for Henry’s army record and after a lengthy (9 months) wait I eventually received a two page letter outlining his brief military service. I have previously written about Henry Price’s military service (read it here) but briefly he was part of the Kennedy Regiment that was sent to New Guinea at the start of the war. He was on board the Kanowna whose crew mutinied and they were all eventually sent back to Townsville.  Most of the Kennedy Regiment reenlisted and were sent to Gallipoli but Henry decided he had had enough of military service and stayed on in Townsville. Again there was an element of truth in the family story but not the complete story.

Sometimes family stories can have you looking in all the wrong places. Max’s grandfather Henry Spencer was older than his wife Ada Barwick nee Jarvis and the family story was that he had had another family in England before he came out to Australia. Ada and Henry separated when Max’s father was young and the family lost contact with him and no one knew when or where he had died. The family had lived in Tasmania and South Australia and we looked in both those places and Victoria for Henry’s death without any success. We wondered if he had gone back to England and we also tried to find the family that he was supposed to have had over there.

The truth was that Henry had come out to Queensland as a single man, married twice in Queensland with families to both women and after the death of his second wife moved to Tasmania where he met Ada, a young widow with two children. I had not thought to look for him in Queensland and only stumbled on his death in Ancestry when they listed BDM indexes for the various states. These days it is easier to accidentally find people by simply searching huge databases for them. Once we had his death certificate we could then trace all the step siblings but for a while we were looking for him in all the wrong places because of the family story.

It is definitely worth contacting older relatives and noting any family stories and anecdotes but like any resource, family stories need to be checked and proven against other records. In Adam and Maria’s case it led to a wealth of information in court and prison records which gave me details not found elsewhere. Military records may be quite different from what the family remembers and all too often, those who returned home from war were reluctant to talk about it so a more complete picture may be in the official record. Certificates are probably the records that surprise us most often, revealing unknown marriages or children not to mention incorrect parents names on death certificates and so on. If you still have some elderly relatives out there, now is the time to have a chat and capture those family stories!


Accentuate the Positive Geneameme 2013

January 1st, 2014

Well known geneablogger Geniaus has again invited the genealogy blogging community to her annual Accentuate the Positive Geneameme. As usual I can’t resist the challenge so below are my responses to her twenty questions. Anyone can join in this activity in their own blog post but don’t forget to let Geniaus know too so that she can link all responses into her original blog post. Write as much or as little as you want.

Remember to accentuate the positive – please delete the statements that are not relevant to your situation.

1.  An elusive ancestor I found was – I didn’t discover anyone new but I did find out a lot more about my very elusive great grandmother Helen Carnegie! I’ve been asked to give a talk about the family at the Bribie Island Historical Society which I’m looking forward too.

2.  A precious family photo I found was – When unpacking all my study stuff in our new house, I rediscovered an old family photo album that was only found after my grandmother died in 1994. Mum, thinks it is the Carnegie family but she is not sure and of course there is no one left now to ask.

3.  An ancestor’s grave I found was – Strangely enough I don’t think I visited one cemetery this year but I have to visit the Carnegie grave in the Toorbul cemetery as I haven’t been back there since the late 1970s. The headstone is now shattered but I have a photograph of it still upright.

4.  An important vital record I found was – I discovered that Helen Carnegie and her second husband Charles Wademore Chick both left wills in New South Wales so I happily sent away for them. While the documents answered some questions, they raised yet more questions which is often the way in genealogy.

5.  A newly found family member who shared - A number of distant cousins on various family lines contacted me throughout the year, mainly finding me via Google and my blog posts on the families. It does pay to advertise!

6.  A geneasurprise I received was - After moving to Bribie Island we discovered that Max also had family connections to the area through his Burstow and Eldridge families (his mother’s side).

7.   My 2013 blog post that I was particularly proud of was – As voluntary national coordinator for National Family History Month I did quite a bit of blogging to help promote NFHM. Perhaps the post I am most proud of is the National Family History Month Launch 2013 blog as I outlined some of the changes I have introduced to this annual event each August.

8.   My 2013 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was – For NFHM I drew up a list of 31 genealogy activities for researchers and 31 activities for genealogy and family history societies and these blogs attracted a lot of attention (to see all four blogs scroll through the August 2013 archive). Also Diary of an Australian Genealogist was selected by the National Library of Australia to be archived in their Pandora web archive reflecting the interest in that blog.

9.  A new piece of software I mastered was – I have bought a new piece of technology that allows me to plug into my laptop and then hear directly into my hearing aids, which avoids echoes and other background noises I was picking up when just using speakers or headphones.

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was – I still like Twitter for instant news but I find I am also picking up useful information from Facebook posts by my genealogy friends.

11. A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was - I really learnt a lot from Paul Milner‘s presentations on the 3rd genealogy cruise with Unlock the Past. He gave some brilliant talks.

12. I am proud of the presentation I gave at/to - I went out to Chinchilla in western Queensland with Sue Reid from the Queensland Family History Society to give a one day seminar. We both gave two talks each (mine was on Trove and Google for Genealogy and Sue’s two talks were on online newspapers). Small groups in rural and regional areas don’t often have the opportunity to get experienced speakers so it was really good that the Chinchilla Family History Group received financial support from their local council to make the trip possible.

13. A journal/magazine article I had published was - I have had a series of articles published in Irish Lives Remembered and I have also had some pieces published in Inside History Magazine. I really enjoy writing!

14. I taught a friend how to – use an IPad. I’m self taught and when my local library ran a free ‘how to use your IPad’ I went along and learnt a few more things but I’m sure there is even more that I can use my IPad for!

15. A genealogy book that taught me something new was – In the raffle at the NSW/ACT Association of Family History Societies genealogy conference in Canberra I won a copy of Geoff Rasmussen’s new book on Digital Imaging Essentials: Techniques and Tips for Genealogists and Family Historians. This has been useful in my project to scan all my photos and documents (an ongoing project)!

16. A great repository/archive/library I visited was – The National Film and Sound Archive. While in Canberra for the Australian Society of Archivists conference I had the opportunity to visit the NFSA for the first time since I left Canberra in 2003. It has some amazing records and memorabilia.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was – Since moving to Bribie Island I have been reading some of the local history books on the area. When researching families, you also have to look at what else was happening in the local community at the same time.

18. It was exciting to finally meet - I would have to say the overseas speakers on the Unlock the Past genealogy cruise mentioned above in 11 above. They were all easy to talk too and of course the cruise brought a lot of good Australian and New Zealand speakers together too, although most of them I’ve known for many years.

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was – I don’t really think you can go past a genealogy cruise – all you have to do is shower, dress and toddle off to the lectures with no cooking, housework etc to distract you!

20. Another positive I would like to share is – technology and the internet just keeps on getting better and better and more and more archives and libraries are making new indexes and digitised records available. It really is essential to revisit your research and check out what’s new. Roll on 2014, I’m looking forward to more exciting genealogy discoveries.


Genealogy Aspirations 2014

December 23rd, 2013

This year has gone incredibly fast! It has been busy with settling into our new home on Bribie Island and doing some travel as usual. Regular readers will know that I like to review my genealogy goals at the end of a year and to set myself some new genealogy goals for the coming year. So how did I go with my Genealogy Aspirations 2013?

The five aspirations (in brief) were:

1. As I unpack to identify and list tasks to help keep my goal of scanning and rehousing photographs and family heirlooms progressing. I’m happy to say that I did manage to do some scanning and rehousing but it always takes longer to do than you think.

2. The Burstow one name study – to get organised so that I can answer any queries from others interested in the name and to set up my profile on the Guild of One-Name Studies (GOONS) website. I managed to set up some spreadsheets for the UK census and some other miscellaneous records in Australia and I received one query on the name via the GOONS website.

3. My Norwegian ancestors (the Gunderson line goes back to 1688) – researching more about their culture and where they came from. Sadly, this was the aspiration that got away!

4. As we now live on Bribie Island across from where my Scottish ancestors (Carnegie) were oyster farmers in Pumicestone Passage, to re-look at their files. I have been re-looking at this family and discovered new information. I’ve been asked to speak about the family’s history at the March 2014 meeting of the Bribie Island Historical Society so that will definitely focus my thoughts as I prepare for the talk.


5. Finally 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 in 2012. Again I was not as active here as I would have liked but I really did achieve this goal during National Family History Month (NFHM). I was the new voluntary national co-ordinator and I suspect that is where a lot of my spare time went this year. One big plus here was that Diary of an Australian Genealogist was selected by the National Library of Australia to be archived into Pandora, accessed via the archived web sites section of Trove which was a thrill and an honour.


As usual there were other genealogy related things that arose during the year to capture my attention. Perhaps the most time consuming (outside of NFHM) were two new research guides for Unlock the Past which are due out in January 2014, just in time for the fourth UTP genealogy cruise. I also attended a number of meetings in Canberra of the National Archives of Australia‘s advisory committee for the centenary of World War One and it has been really interesting being part of that committee and I am looking forward to the 2014 meetings.


Now to my Genealogy Aspirations for 2014


1. I have to keep the scanning of photographs and documents at the top of the list (I am very much an out of sight out of mind person). Now that we live in Paradise and all its distractions, I do not want to be tied down to any fixed timetable but perhaps three hours  a week, which would be 156 hours for the year. That might even finish the job!


2. My Burstow one name study will continue (one name studies are actually never ending) but one thing I do want to try this coming year is to do some family reconstructions if I can. It is not an essential part of a one name study but one that intrigues me, especially for the name here in Australia.


3. Each year I try and focus on at least one of my families so in 2014 it will be my Irish families (Finn and Fegan from Wicklow; Jeffers from Armagh and Johnston from Cavan). There are lots of new resources for Ireland so maybe I can finally push these lines further back or at least learn more about the families they left behind when they came to Australia.


4. As well as new resources, there are new ways of doing genealogy and catching up with long lost relatives. My friend Geniaus has started having Google+ hangouts but so far I’ve been hesitant to join in as I’m not that techy but like all new things it is just a matter of learning how to do them! Often easier said than done. So 2014 will be my year to try (and probably like) some of these new social media events.


5. I am not sure if organising National Family History Month on a voluntary basis is a personal aspiration but it will take up my time and I do want to make it even more successful than 2013, so I have included it here. Although it is only during the month of August, there is lots of planning and organising through out the year. Plus it is a great chance to work with my genealogy friends and colleagues to help spread the word about the joys of chasing your ancestors!


My 2014 genealogy aspirations are listed – wish me luck!





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.





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