Family History Feast Melbourne Aug 2013

August 7th, 2013

Having left Victoria last year I didn’t really expect to go to another Family History Feast but it was the 10th anniversary of the first Feast, and I was invited down for a photo opportunity with my two co founders of Family History Feast, Anne Piggott and Anne Burrows. As I had been working hard on National Family History Month administration, I decided a little holiday was in order. It also meant that I could catch up with all my Victorian friends who were surprised to see me there.

The 10th Feast was introduced with a bit of fan fare, literally, with a 19thC soldier (a Redcoat) blowing a couple of tunes on his bugle!  At least that’s what I think it was.

First up, Sue Roberts, CEO and State Librarian gave a brief history of how we started Family History Feast in 2003 and I was reminded that we named it Feast as I had recently watched Babette’s Feast (a 1987 Danish drama film) and to me, it would be like a smorgasbord of family history rather than food. State Library of Victoria had also done a collage of old photos from the various years which were good to see as well. Part of Sue’s speech is included in the library’s Family Matters blog if you want to know more about the history of Feast.

The first speaker was Tim Whitford, Education Outreach Officer with the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne. His topic was Identity and dignity: family history and the missing Diggers of Fromelles and this was a very personal and emotional talk as he outlined his search for the Missing Diggers and his battle with authorities to convince them that he had really found them. It was only after television programs such as the 60 Minutes Mystery of Fromelles and the 7.30 Report on the archaeological dig that authorities really got interested and the project started to make headway.

Most people will probably remember this story but I thought it was more recent and was a bit surprised to learn that the dig was back in 2008 with the recovery of the bodies in 2009. From DNA samples they have been able to identify almost all of the missing diggers including one of Tim’s own relatives. They are still continuing to try and trace the remaining diggers so that everyone will eventually be identified. Tim’s talk was the highlight of the day judging by all the verbal feedback I heard at lunch time and at the end of the day.

The next speaker was Charlie Farrugia, Senior Collections Advisor, Public Record Office Victoria talking on The Third Front: WWI and beyond in the PROV Collection. This highlighted what was happening at home ie the third front and included images from various PROV photographic collections. Charlie also talked at length about soldier settlement and how there are two main kind of files to look for – soldier settlement files and advances files.  The PROV Lands Guide is the best publication to look at as there is a chapter on soldier settlement. He gave a case study to highlight the types of documents that could be found.

All too soon it was lunch time and after a quick feed of sushi over in the Melbourne Centre, I enjoyed a great coffee and a ‘to die for’ chocolate cheese cake brownie at Mr Tulk, the cafe onsite at the Library. There are lots of cheap eating places around the Library and people filed off in all directions but they were all back on time for the afternoon sessions.

During lunch there was also a conservation clinic where people could get advice from conservators on their precious items. Always a popular service, individual sessions were limited to 10 minutes each.

The first talk after lunch was Darren Watson, Archivist, National Archives of Australia with Behind barbed wire: Researching enemy POW and internee records in the National Archives. This was another interesting talk illustrated by case studies and copies of the documents. Darren covered enemy aliens both civilians and prisoners of war and he finished up by highlighting the many research guides published by National Archives of Australia on this topic. Look out for In the Interest of National Security: Civilian Internment in Australia during WW2 by Klaus Neumann, Safe Haven: Records of the Jewish Experience in Australia by Malcolm J Turnbull and Allies, Enemies & Trading Partners: Records on Australia and the Japanese by Pam Oliver.

Next was Steven Kafkarisos, Librarian, Redmond Barry team with Well armed! The military history collection at the State Library of Victoria. This was a wide ranging talk and Steven introduced the Library’s new research guide The Australian Colonial Forces and Family History 1788 – 1902 which is online. Another useful website that he referred to was the British National Archives which has a number of military collections online. There is also a new online SLV research guide to maps which Anne Burrows pointed out when thanking Steven.

Finally it was time for The 2013 Don Grant Family History Lecture which was introduced by Jan Parker, President of the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations (VAFHO). This year’s lecture was by Lt Col. Neil C Smith AM on That elusive Digger: tracing your military ancestors in Australia and covered every Australian engagement from the New Zealand Maori Wars of the 1860s right through to the present day conflict in Afghanistan. Neil said it all with ‘military descendants – we all have them’ whether they are direct ancestors on collateral lines, we all have someone who was in the military at some time. He also mentioned repatriation files, medals, photographs and highlighted the National Archives of Australia and the Australian War Memorial as the best places to start looking. A prolific author, his works can be seen on his website Mostly Unsung.

The days’ sponsors were NAA, PROV, SLV, BDM Victoria, Immigration Museum Victoria, VAFHO and AFFHO and their brochures were in the show bag which was provided by PROV. As usual there was an evaluation sheet collected at the end of the day. I was a bit cheeky I think, because I suggested they should think about doing it further north! Wouldn’t it be great if all the other States copied the idea for next year’s National Family History Month.

As usual I thought it was a great day with great speakers and I learnt lots of interesting things. For a free event I don’t think you can ask for more. But there is more – the show bag and the lucky door prizes at the end of the day. A number of lucky people went home with a variety of prizes and I was sitting next to a vacant seat which was one of the lucky seats, but you weren’t allowed to move seats! So I missed out.

The Library has its own blog Family Matters and you can read the official blog of the day there soon.

Thanks State Library of Victoria and their genealogy team, National Archives of Australia and Public Record Office Victoria for a great ten years.

Next year’s Family History Feast is on 4 August 2014 but the theme hasn’t been identified yet. I’ll have to think seriously about another little holiday in Melbourne – I don’t think I want to miss it. Put it in your calendar too, especially if you are in Victoria!

National Family History Month Launch 2013

August 2nd, 2013

Yesterday was the launch of National Family History Month 2013 and as the voluntary national coordinator I had the pleasure of chairing the launch at the Brisbane Office of the National Archives of Australia. To start with I highlighted all the changes this year and I have included my talk at the end of this blog as it’s a bit lengthy and I don’t want you to miss what I have to say about the other speakers.

Next was David Swift from National Archives of Australia, Brisbane Office talking about what’s new at the NAA and there is heaps new and I know a lot of people commented on it during afternoon tea. Check out some of these new websites – ARKHive which is where you can help transcribe records to make them more accessible for all. NAA even has badges – beginner, enthusiast, expert and more!

Then there is new PhotoSearch where you can add tags and even link to map coordinates. I hadn’t even heard of SODA which is where you can see newly scanned records and it has social media buttons so you send links to all your media buddies. Destination Australia is for sharing post war migrant stories and their new A Ticket to Paradise permanent exhibition will launch next April.

NAA now have an agreement with Ancestry to index and digitise the incoming passenger lists and they will be available on both the NAA and Ancestry websites once completed. The Mapping Our ANZACS website is being redesigned into Discovering ANZACS and their touring exhibition is Shell Shocked: Australia After the Armistice. To find all these exciting initiatives visit the NAA home page and select Connect With Us.

Next was Kerrie Gray, AFFHO President presenting the Nick Vine Hall awards for 2013. Patricia Barth, Nick’s widow, from Family Tree Scriptorium was unable to attend due to the launch moving from Melbourne to Brisbane and sent her best wishes. And the winners are:
Category A societies with up to 500 financial members
Winner: Newcastle Family History Society for Journal No. 200 December 2012
Runner up: Nepean Family History Society for Timespan No. 126 March 2012

Category B for societies with more than 500 financial members
Winner: New Zealand Society of Genealogists for Genealogist Vol. 43 No. 336
Runner up: Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra for The Ancestral Searcher Vol. 35 No. 3 September 2012

NFHM 2013 keynote speaker was Associate Professor Cliff Pollard talking about Brisbane Hospital’s Doctors and Nurses at War which was really interesting. A copy of the slide presentation is here and if anyone is related to any of the people in the presentation, Professor Pollard would love to hear from you. He can be contacted via this website.

Cliff has many academic and professional qualifications but what I want to share with you is Cliff’s family history connections. Cliff and my partner Max are cousins sharing the same maternal grandparents. On Cliff’s paternal Pollard line his G grandfather was William Pollard.

My GG grandfather Anders Gunderson married a second time to Ann Pollard, the sister of Cliff’s G grandfather William so I am related to Cliff and Max via marriage. Now for another family history twist, I first became acquainted with Cliff’s sister June about 25 years ago when we corresponded on the Pollard family and if there was a connection between our two Pollard families. Little did we know then that I would move to Canberra years later and meet her cousin Max! Family history is indeed a small world.

After his talk, Professor Pollard formally launched NFHM 2013 and we then shared a delicious afternoon tea hosted by NAA, Brisbane Office. Now back to the details of my talk.

Changes to NFHM from 2013

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the launch of National Family History Month 2013. My name is Shauna Hicks and I am the national coordinator of NFHM this year. It’s nice to be back in Queensland and to see so many of my old friends and colleagues here today.

I’d like to take a few moments to outline the history of NFHM and to introduce some of the changes to this initiative first started by the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO) in 2006. For the last seven years it was organised as National Family History Week but following the well deserved retirement of the founding coordinator, Lesle Berry, it was an opportunity to reassess NFHW.

Perhaps the biggest change was to trial a month long initiative rather than just a week. The extra time has allowed smaller organisations to incorporate their usual August meeting into a NFHM event and even some of their library days into NFHM open days. It has also avoided competition in the larger capital cities as the events can be spread out over the month allowing attendees to attend more events rather than having to choose which one to go to. I’m happy to say at this stage that there are more events in 2013 than in previous years.

Another major change has been with sponsorship. The last few years has seen tightened economic times and businesses are no longer in a position to contribute cash sponsorships which previously assisted with the administration of NFHW. In light of this, I turned sponsorship around and asked sponsors to contribute prizes to go into a prize draw at the end of NFHM. All genealogy and family history societies who put an event up on the NFHM web calendar and marketed their event as an NFHM event are eligible to be in the draw. This new approach means that sponsorship continues to benefit the winning societies for the whole year and is not simply spent on administration, printing and postage.

We are grateful to Australian Family Tree Connections,,, genEbooks, Gould Genealogy & History, Inside History Magazine and Unlock the Past for their continued sponsorship and supplying the prizes for this year’s inaugural NFHM prize draw. I’m giving a NFHM talk at the Bribie Island Branch of Moreton Regional Libraries on 30 August and the prize draw will be conducted then with the assistance of library staff. The results will be placed on the NFHM website shortly thereafter.

Not all of our sponsors are commercial businesses and therefore don’t have prizes to donate. We are grateful to the National Archives of Australia for their continuing sponsorship by providing a venue for the launch of NFHM. For the first time the launch is outside of Melbourne and I’m very happy that it is in my home town of Brisbane. As a national event, I like the idea of the NFHM launch moving around to other places, and not necessarily capital cities.

FamilySearch is also a long term sponsor and this year for the first time they have sponsored flying the winners of the Nick Vine Hall awards to Brisbane to receive their awards in person. When I have attended the launch in Melbourne in previous years, I always felt sad that the winners were usually not present due to the tyranny of distance. So it is really good to see FamilySearch sponsor this important part of NFHM.

Of course it does take some effort and real dollars to administer NFHM and this year I have tried to operate on a $0 budget with administrative support from my own part time research and consultancy business, Shauna Hicks History Enterprises (that’s the SHHE logo if anyone has been wondering what it was). I’m happy to say that real costs have been limited as I have tried to do everything via email and social media, avoiding the heavy cost of printing and postage. Organisations have been asked to print out the poster themselves and to organise their own publicity materials and everyone has been happy to do this.

I have also called on my own network of social media cyber buddies and we have been very active on Twitter, Facebook, You Tube, Google + and our own personal blogs and I thank them all for their ongoing support. All of our sponsors have actively promoted NFHM through their e-newsletters, magazines, social media and websites. There has even been some radio and newspaper interest and I expect that to continue throughout the month.

Of course not everyone will be able to attend a NFHM event in person as there may not be an event near them or they have to work, look after children, aged parents or whatever reason. In another first I have devised a list of 31 activities for researchers to undertake during the month and they can do as many or as few activities as they choose. I have also done a list of 31 activities for genealogy and family history societies which might help them promote their events more and perhaps even gain them some new members. Both lists can be found on the Resources page of my website.

Finally, there are many people I would like to thank but it would take far too long but they know who they are and I look forward to chatting to them via social media throughout August. I do however want to mention three people who have set a record this NFHM. First is my friend and colleague Seonaid Lewis from Auckland City Libraries in New Zealand who has organised a staggering 71 events for August and I will confess that I’ve only put a few of them up on the website. Back here in Australia the record for number of events goes to my Victorian friend and colleague Liz Pidgeon from Yarra Plenty Regional Library for organising 13 events. Lastly, but by no means least, Caitlin Gow a young Brisbane genealogist for doing what I believe is the first ever NFHM You Tube video promotion. If you browse the events listed in all the States and Territories, you will be simply amazed at the wide range of great events , most of which are free.

So it looks like NFHM 2013 is going to be a fantastic month!

Looking at the Irish & Immigration with GSQ

July 1st, 2013

I’m back home after attending the Genealogical Society of Queensland‘s annual seminar in Brisbane. This year the theme was Irish in the morning and Immigration in the afternoon. It was the first genealogy seminar I’ve been to since February (which is almost like a drought for me) and it was good to be back chatting to old friends and swapping information.

The day started with Dr Jennifer Harrison talking about 19th century Irish arrivals in Queensland and Jennifer’s slides were available as a handout. After a brief look at the history of Irish emigration (I was surprised that 85% went to North America and only 15% to Australian and New Zealand, I would have thought more down under as we all seem to have at least one Irish ancestor), Jennifer pointed out that not everyone came direct to Queensland and it was a good reminder of the trans Tasman link and also inter-colonial movement. However, there were a number of immigration schemes in the 1860s which did bring Irish direct to Queensland including the Queensland Immigration Society run by Bishop Quinn. Also of interest were the History & Society series on Irish counties published by Geography Publications, Dublin. To finish there was a brief mention of St Patrick’s day and past parades.

Next session was Saadia Thomson-Dwyer talking on Irish in the Archives and I think Saadia mentioned just about every series held in Queensland State Archives as they can be found in most records including immigration, occupational records, wills and intestacies, prisons, hospital records and so on. I was particularly interested in the Imperial Pensions 1898-1912 for various country towns in Queensland.

The final session before lunch was Val Blomer from the Convict Connections group of GSQ talking about deliberate arson by Irish women in order to be transported to Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). I was fascinated by the number of times Val reported that the reason they had committed the crime was to join a father, mother or other family member already in VDL. I suppose you can see transportation as a means of emigration especially if they didn’t fit the criteria for the various emigration schemes. Val had a handout summarising her talk.

During lunch I managed to chat with Stephanie Ryan, genealogy librarian at State Library of Queensland, Helen Smith an Unlock the Past regular speaker, and various other old friends and time went very quickly.

After lunch Greg Cope from National Archives of Australia, Brisbane office gave a very interesting talk on immigration journeys using five case studies. The first was Joseph Gantz the inventor of the Volkswagen and I found his story fascinating. Other stories were Ernest Sung Wee, Bas Lie, Wolf Klaphake and Princess Ubangi, an African pygmy woman which was another really interesting story. NAA’s Destination Australia website is the place to go for post WW2 migrant stories and you can even add your own (if applicable). Greg gave out a handout of his slides.

Dave Obee was next with a talk on Destination America and how to research people who went to the United States and Canada and this was of interest to me as I have a couple of ancestors who went to both places although their children came to Queensland. I was struck by how much Dave’s talk was mirroring my own. For example using subscription sites and the need to do multiple searches on spelling variations and I particularly liked his ‘check the original image not just the index’. How true! Dave had a handout which summarised his talk.

My talk on 19thC immigration and where to look was the last session and as usual I have put the slides up on the Resources page of my website. Scroll down to Presentations. To highlight some of the difficulties in locating people, I used examples from my own family history (my Carnegie, Gunderson, Rosewarne and Trevaskis families) and how I finally found the name of the ship, or at least found possibilities to follow up. I have one ancestor whose arrival is still a bit of a mystery.

It was a great day and went very quickly. The goodie bag had the program, a notebook and pencil, an handy magnifier, a bookmark from Queensland State Archives, and brochures from NAA and a Vroom badge highlighting another NAA iniative which I suspect not too many people know about. Other brochures I picked up included the Adopt a Digger project, Unlock the Past’s 4th genealogy cruise brochure, Gould Genealogy & History leaflets, State Library of Queensland’s what’s on catalogue and Inside History‘s postcard. It is good to see sponsors supporting genealogy seminars like this.

As usual I’ve now got a list of things to follow up and I’m sure all the other attendees have too. Thanks to GSQ for the smooth organisation on the day which also included morning and afternoon tea and a delicious lunch. Can’t wait for the next one!

World War One & the brothers Finn

April 24th, 2013

As usual I am participating in Kintalk‘s (Auckland City Libraries) annual Trans Tasman ANZAC day blog challenge. This year I am featuring my father’s three great uncles Robert, John and Denis Patrick Finn who enlisted in World War One. Although all three returned to Australia, I believe that the experience changed them and their lives were totally different from what they might have been had not war intervened.

John and Sarah Finn emigrated from County Wicklow, Ireland in 1882 to Queensland with their eldest son Robert. Another son James was born on the voyage and a further eight children were born in Queensland, Australia.

Their youngest son Denis Patrick Finn was the first of the Finn brothers to enlist on 19 September 1915 in Brisbane. Denis was 19 years old and single and working as a labourer at the time of his enlistment. He joined the 52nd Battalion. Denis was wounded in action in France and was the only Finn brother to become a prisoner of war in Germany. In September 1916 he sent his sister Sarah Jane Jewsbury a postcard:
Dear Sister
Just a postcard to let you know that I am getting on very well and my wound is nearly better. I am at a German Camp here, you can send me anything you like at the address on the other side in full. We get no money here so you can tell Kitty to send me a pound or so. Good bye, best love to all. Tell Kitty to write.
Signed Denis

Denis was also mentioned in despatches (not dated) for bravery under fire and it is probably at this time that he was wounded. In 1923 Denis married and had two children but the marriage did not last and by the early 1930s Denis had been convicted of a number or petty crimes. He was also using the alias Johan Romanoff and perhaps this was someone who he had met in the prison camp or at some other point during the war.

Denis seems to have disappeared after that and I’m still to trace when and where he died.

Robert Finn, the eldest son was the next to enlist on 12 February 1916 in Cairns and he joined the 9th Battalion. Prior to that he was working as a miner at Wolfram in Queensland and was still single at 36 years of age. Like Denis, Robert was also sent to France and returned to Australia on 18 July 1919. Robert never married and died in Mount Morgan hospital in 1953 but prior to his death he was living in Bouldercombe, another mining town in Queensland.

John Finn was the third brother to enlist on 10 June 1916 in Brisbane. He was also single, working as a labourer and 26 years old. He too saw service in France and returned to Australia on 2 June 1919. Like his older brother Robert, John never married and spent time working on the sugar cane plantations in north Queensland. John died in Cairns in 1967 and had been living at Trinity Bay.

All three brothers received the 1914-18 Star Medal, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal for their service overseas.

Why did Robert and John never marry? Were they just confirmed bachelors or did the war change how they viewed their world? Why did they live so far away from their family? Would Denis have turned to petty crime if he had not gone to war or not spent time in a prisoner of war camp? Not only did the war impact on the brothers but it also must have impacted on their father and their siblings. My grandmother would never talk about her mother’s family so I will probably never know but as more and more records are digitised and made more easily accessible I can continue to slowly piece together their stories.

Lest we forget.

Third Unlock the Past genealogy cruise review

February 25th, 2013

This will be an overview of the whole cruise as I’ve already given detailed account of the genealogy sessions in my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog – check out Days 1-5 and Days 6-9. As this was my fifth cruise and third genealogy cruise I’m usually a very happy cruiser but I have to say I was a bit disappointed with some of the Royal Caribbean policies (we haven’t sailed with them before).

Of the nine nights on board we only got three reasonable nights sleep – normally on a cruise ship we never hear our neighbours and we sleep soundly. Not this time and for some reason that I still can’t understand we were allocated a cabin with an adjoining door to some very noisy teenagers. Their parents were in a cabin on the other side – my complaint is why weren’t the parents allocated the adjoining room to their own kids???

Not only are adjoining doors not sound proof, they are not light proof and these teenagers were up to all hours and every night we had to call security several times in the early hours of the morning. The kids took no notice and security had to come back when the parents got home, usually between 1-2am and then we had to listen to the father tell the kids off. I can probably understand why the parents wanted to get away from their kids but I don’t see why some poor unfortunate other couple had to put up with them.

While the kids then slept through the morning, we had to be up, dressed and breakfasted before the first genealogy session at 9am and some days I felt more like a zombie than a professional presenter! What really depressed me was that neither security or the desk staff who took our daily complaints could really do anything about the problem although we were grateful that the Clean Cruising staff person on board did offer to exchange rooms with us, but then why should she also suffer.

The other strange Royal Caribbean policy is that you can’t change dinner tables so that you end up having dinner with the same people over the nine nights. Part of a genealogy cruise is meeting new people and networking and learning from others so having the speakers at different tables or dining with new friends makes sense over the length of the cruise. I know others missed this opportunity that we had on previous cruises of dining with new people every night. In a it’s a small world example, we were surprised to find that one of the ladies on our table was also from Bribie Island and lives not that far from us. So we made another friend on the Island without even trying!

The other disappointment was not making it to Fiji but then I would rather stay on in a port (Noumea) and get repairs done there then run the risk of totally breaking down at sea somewhere. Still I had been looking forward to visiting Fiji again as I was last there in 1976! As all travellers know, anything can happen on a trip and sometimes you just have to make the best of these unforeseen changes.

Those were the only three things I didn’t really like on this cruise. Everything else was great and I found the speakers easy to listen to and learnt lots of new things. It’s always good having international speakers but as one lady said to me, it’s also good having Australian and New Zealand speakers too as that’s where a lot of our research is to start with.

Perhaps the afternoon sessions were too long as I mentioned in my Diary but on the 4th Unlock the Past genealogy cruise in 2014 there is a port almost every second day so that will definitely break up the sessions more as this time there were only two ports. One point in the Voyager of the Seas favour is that it does have a dedicated conference area which meant that we didn’t have to fit things in around the ship’s program and all three rooms were great.

I also enjoyed the one on one sessions I had with various other cruisers. It’s always good when you can suggest other avenues to research which may or may not help them break down their brick walls. One cruiser, who I’ve known for a few decades, gave me a really good one so I’ve brought it home with me – I think it must be spelling variations but that doesn’t explain every roadblock he has. Still it gives me something to play with on these rainy days in a very soggy Queensland!

The food was great and plentiful, some of the cocktails might have had a bit too much ice in them, the on board entertainment was good and the cabin and wait staff very pleasant and helpful.  So this experience hasn’t put me off cruising but I will ask a few more questions re cabin allocation next time. It never ever occurred to me that we would be landed with some one else’s noisy kids. Why couldn’t we have had other UTP cruisers on the other side of the door, at least they would probably go to bed about the same time as us!

I’ve happily accepted an invitation to speak on the 4th Unlock the Past genealogy cruise and I’ve got some new talks and books in the pipeline which I’m really excited about. I also know some others have already booked or are planning to book for it too. In some ways it’s like going to annual conferences where you get to meet up with friends and colleagues from all over Australia and New Zealand. So despite the not so good parts of this trip, overall I wouldn’t have missed it and I am definitely looking forward to next year’s with Chris Paton and Thomas MacEntee as the main international speakers. Why not plan to join me and other regular UTP cruisers!

Blog of the Year Award

January 8th, 2013

I am honoured to have been nominated for Blog of the Year Award 2012 from Geniaus for my My Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog.  Jill wrote that she read the Diary for the ‘news, views and a slice of life’ which is a nice way of saying that sometimes it’s not always genealogy related. My change of abode (in 2 weeks time) and a more settled lifestyle should see a return to more genealogy time in 2013 (I hope) but the Diary will always include my travels as getting out there and seeing where our ancestors lived can sometimes help us to know them better.
I’m grateful that Jill and others enjoy reading the Diary and this recognition makes it all worthwhile when I sit there thinking what to write about next. Thank you Jill for the nomination, it is most appreciated.
Geniaus (aka Jill) nominated some of my favourite Aussie blogs along with a UK and a US blog. You can see the full list here.
Nominating blogs for this award is difficult as there are so many fabulous ones out there in the blogisphere. My five nominations for today are:
Lone Tester HQ - Alona Testerfor her family history through the alphabet challenge which inspired many to tell their family stories
British GENES (British Genealogy News and Events) – Chris Paton – for keeping us all up to date with news ‘over there’
From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard – Helen Smith –  really interesting stories about her family through participating in various blog challenges throughout the year
Inside History Magazine – Cassie Mercer – for their news, great competition prizes and blogs on their weekly Facebook Q&A sessions
‘Genealogists for Families’ project – Judy Webster – Details the progress of a brilliant geneaproject (this was Jill’s nomination but it deserves a 2nd or more nominations)

The ‘rules’ for this award are simple:

1. Select the blog(s) you think deserve the ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award
2. Write a blog post and tell us about the blog(s) you have chosen – there’s no minimum or maximum number of blogs required – and ‘present’ them with their award.
3. Please include a link back to this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award – and include these ‘rules’ in your post (please don’t alter the rules or the badges!)
4. Let the blog(s) you have chosen know that you have given them this award and share the ‘rules’ with them
5. If you choose, you can now join our Facebook group – click ‘like’ on this page ‘Blog of the Year 2012’ Award Facebook group and then you can share your blog with an even wider audience
6. As a winner of the award – please add a link back to the blog that presented you with the award – and then proudly display the award on your blog and sidebar … and start collecting stars… For further information on collecting stars, just click on the link provided in Rule 3.

Accentuate the Positive 2012 Geneameme

January 1st, 2013

Good geneafriend Geniaus has thrown down another geneameme challenge to get us all thinking right at the start of 2013. As usual I can’t resist so here are my responses to her Accentuate the Positive 2012 geneameme. All contributions will be collated so if you also take on this challenge let Geniaus know too.

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

1. An elusive ancestor I found was – this year I haven’t progressed backwards but I have discovered more on a lot of my ancestors through Trove – digitised newspapers are allowing us to find more easily all sorts of information about their daily lives. Looking forward to more of that in 2013.

2. A precious family photo I found was - in the packing up of my house prior to relocating to Queensland I ‘rediscovered’ an early photo album of my paternal grandmother who had always claimed there were no photos. This turned up when we cleaned up after she died so none of the photos are named or dated. When I unpack in mid January I’m keeping this album out to see if I can identify any of the photos.

3. An ancestor’s grave I found was – again no new graves but I revisited a number of family graves in Toowong cemetery during a visit to Brisbane. We spent a good few hours weeding and tidying up as sadly it didn’t look like anyone had been there since our last visit a few years ago.

4. An important vital record I found was - I decided to buy some English death certificates on my partner’s Spencer family as we were wondering about family health issues and to our surprise his great great grandmother died of diabetes – so that answered the question was there anyone in the family with diabetes?

5. A newly found family member who shared – since our move to Bribie Island we have discovered that Max’s maternal relatives also have a history with this area and so far the information has been over the phone. But we are planning trips to Bundaberg and Brisbane to talk to his two remaining aunts (one’s 102 and the other 87, the oldest and the youngest) to see what more they can tell us.

6. A geneasurprise I received was – after joining the Guild of One Name Studies I was very pleased to be welcomed into the Guild by Queensland contact Helen Smith who also gave me a copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdon: The Art of One Name Studies. This was unexpected and Helen’s advice on setting up my one name study  has been invaluable.

7. My 2012 blog post that I was particularly proud of was – it’s not so much one post but all the posts that I do on genealogy events that I attend. Not everyone can get to some of these so I try and give a detailed account so that others can follow up on the links and learn from the speakers just like I do. These types of posts are always widely read and are mostly found in Diary of an Australian Genealogist although sometimes I do an overview and post it in this blog.

8. My 2012 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was – just looking at some of the statistics I would have to say the Deniliquin Genealogy Muster over three days in October. This was an inaugural event (and I’m pleased to say it will happen again in 2014). While it attracted a lot of people from nearby areas Deniliquin is not the easiest of places to get to so I think a lot of readers used my daily blogs to attend virtually!

9. A new piece of software I mastered was – I really got into using the iPad I finally purchased and it was fantastic for our house hunting but I’ve also downloaded a lot of genealogy books for reading without having to carry the weight around! That’s probably more hardware than software but still a challenge for me.

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was – I always like Twitter as genealogy news spreads around the world so quickly but sometimes it’s hard to keep up with everything!

11. A genealogy conference/seminar/webinar from which I learnt something new was - I usually manage to learn something new from every event I attend but I think my vote would have to go to the Deniliquin genealogy muster as they had speakers from both NSW and Victorian State Libraries and State Archives which was a fantastic grouping of knowledge in one weekend.

12. I am proud of the presentation I gave at/to – I’m usually pleased with most of my presentations but this time I will nominate the three talks I gave to the Ulladulla Milton Family History Society.  This is only a very small group and they don’t get the opportunity to have many visiting speakers so I’m happy to say that most of them left that day with their minds in overdrive.

13. A journal/magazine article I had published was - this is a toss up as I’ve done some articles for Inside History Magazine during the year but perhaps more demanding is the monthly series I’m doing in Irish Lives Remembered on Missing Loved Ones Downunder. Meeting deadlines has been a bit tight given all our travel in the last few months.

14. I taught a friend how to – I showed Max how to use my iPad and now we fight over it! Probably not so much an issue now that we have bought a new house but when we were looking it was a race to see who would get into bed first with the iPad! Laptops just don’t have that portability and ease of use in bed. Still I do prefer my books!

15. A genealogy book that taught me something new was – another tough one but I will go with Chris Paton’s Irish Family History Resources Online. I love anything that gives me more insight into Irish records and one day I’m going to find my families.

16. A great repository/archive/library I visited was – this was more a case of revisiting although I hadn’t been in the Society of Australian Genealogists new premises before. They have such a great collection of printed material which is often overlooked for what’s online.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was – so many but I have to say that the ever expanding range of books from Unlock the Past are definitely worth looking at. There’s almost something for everyone and more titles in production.

18. It was exciting to finally meet - attending so many genealogy events I’m lucky to meet lots of interesting speakers but I think the impromptu dinner I had with some New Zealand friends and David Holman in Adelaide during the AFFHO Congress was the most exciting. What he had on his iPad really amazed me (and was key in my purchase of one, see 9 above) but David is also Chairman of the UK Federation of Family History Societies and he’s from Cornwall another one of my primary interests.

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was – I love them all but the Adelaide AFFHO Congress was perhaps the best as it brought together many friends and colleagues from all over Australia and New Zealand plus so many good speakers and talks. Can’t wait now for the 2015 Congress in Canberra

20. Another positive I would like to share is – I know that 2013 is going to be another exciting year for genealogy with lots of great events organised by societies, archives and libraries so make sure you plan to attend at least one thing!  This is where I will put in a plug for National Family History Week in August 2013 and as the new national co-ordinator I’ve put forward some suggestions for putting even more oomph into the event. Here’s my article in the AFFHO December newsletter and all feedback is most welcome. Don’t forget to Like the NFHW Facebook page too!

Well that brings me to the end of this geneameme and as usual I’ve thought of even more things as I’ve made my way through the questions. Can’t wait to see what Geniaus comes up with next!

Genealogy Aspirations 2013

December 30th, 2012

Regular readers of this blog will know that each year I like to review the genealogy goals I set myself at the beginning of a year and then set new goals for the coming year. There has been varying success over the last three years but 2012 was definitely more challenging. Our sudden, although expected decision to relocate from Victoria, threw the second half of the year into chaos as most of my genealogy material was in storage and we were living in a caravan.

At the time of writing this blog we expect to move into our new home in mid January and I’m expecting it will take us a while to reestablish ourselves. Plus we have the genealogy cruise to Noumea and Fiji in February, a personal family holiday to Bali in March and we are going to the Ulysses 2013 AGM in Maryborough in April. So realistically I should only be planning on six months of ‘real’ time for my genealogy research.

But I’m getting ahead of myself! How did I go with 2012 goals? These were set out in my Genealogy Aspirations Reviewed and Renewed 2012 actually written on 13 January 2012 so I started the year a bit behind!

My 2012 aspirations and a brief result were:

1. Write up my mother’s Price family history, including photographs and other illustrations in time for her 78th birthday – not quite achieved, progress made on scanning images but now looking more likely for Mum’s 80th in 2014.

2. Do another DNA test, this time from a genealogy perspective and investigate my own DNA – just never got to this one and to be honest, not really sure that I’m into DNA that much at this stage.

3. Learn more about my Norwegian ancestors – I already know the basics from parish registers and census records but not the history and culture of Norway – another never quite got to it but still of interest.

4. Continue to scan photographs and documents so that I have digital copies as well as original copies and maintain a backup regime for both – this went into overdrive once we sold the house but there was still a lot still to do when I boxed everything up to go into storage. Will resume once I have unpacked everything and re-organised my new study which has purpose built shelving and bookcases (lucky me).

5. Conserve and preserve family heirlooms I have collected ensuring they are boxed and stored appropriately – during the packing up of the house, I realised just how much more ‘family’ material I have scattered around the house. So another goal to continue once we unpack again.

Of course there were other genealogy related things I achieved in 2012 which weren’t on the above list. A long time desire was to start a one name study but I just hadn’t decided which name. In Deniliquin, New South Wales at the genealogy muster I finally took the plunge and signed up for a Burstow one name study which I’m pleased to say I have been working on. I now have a spreadsheet with Burstow information for Australia and England and a very preliminary finding is that most of the Burstows in  Australia are descended from the one family.

Now for 2013 Aspirations.

1. Aspirations 4 and 5 above are very similar so I’m rolling them into one and as I unpack in the new house I’ll try and identify and list tasks to help keep this goal of scanning and rehousing progressing.

2. The Burstow one name study is also a priority and I need to get organised so that I can answer any queries from others interested in the name. I also need to set up my profile on the Guild of One-Name Studies website.

3. My Norwegian ancestors (Gunderson) – researching more about their culture and where they came from. The line goes back to 1688 so that’s lots of Norwegian history.

4. Now that we are living on Bribie Island, my Scottish ancestors (Carnegie) who were oyster farmers in Pumicestone Passage have again captured my attention and I’m looking forward to rediscovering my files on them during the unpack. It’s been over 30 years since I did that research so there must be new material to discover!

5. Finally I want to get back to blogging on a more regular basis – both my SHHE Genie Rambles blog and my Diary of an Australian Genealogist were a bit haphazard with all our travels and the big move. Blogging and participating in various blogging challenges forces me to write up some of those family stories and share them with others. Reading other peoples’ blogs not only helps me to learn about new things but also inspires me to do the same for my ancestors.

Well that’s my five key genealogy goals for 2013 – wish me luck!

Christmas Geneameme

December 10th, 2012

I’m a fan of geneamemes and I couldn’t resist this timely Christmas geneameme from Cassmob which makes us think about our own Christmas traditions and memories. Anyone can join in and if you leave a link in the comments section of the link above then it will be included in the overall collation of responses.


1. Do you have any special Xmas traditions in your family? Not really although we all do try to spend it together.

2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day? Not really although my parents used to attend midnight mass on occasions.

3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa? I still believe in Santa! To me that’s part of Christmas and I always try to keep that magic alive although my son just thinks I’m a bit odd.

4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood? No and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone going around carolling (except in movies) but I have attended some Christmas carols/shows.

5. What’s your favourite Christmas music? We have a number of Christmas CDs with various carols and Christmas music which we play as background music. No particular favourites.

6. What’s your favourite Christmas carol? I’ve never really gotten into carols but the one I know best is probably The First Noel.

7. Do you have a special Xmas movie/book you like to watch/read? Not really although the other night I rewatched Tim Allen in The Santa Clause which was fun.

8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)? For years we only used to do presents for the kids but now everyone is grown up and working we have started to do presents for everyone again although we don’t spend much. There are only 9 in my immediate family including partners so we’re quite small!

9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away? It’s always been indoors as Mum prefers a hot traditional lunch although one year we did do a seafood lunch downstairs. As I have lived interstate for many years  I usually fly home for Christmas.

10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal? Mum always cooks pork, roast potatoes, cauliflower, peas and gravy while my brother brings the ham and chicken and I usually end up doing the dips, chips etc as I only arrive a day or so before.

11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Xmas? I used to make my grandmother’s secret rum ball recipe but I haven’t done that since I moved interstate. Now that I’m back ‘home’ I’d like to start doing that again. We move into our new home in January so next year!

12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Xmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited? My mother in law has usually done a Christmas pudding in recent years but when I was a child Mum used to do them (or buy them) and then stick the old 3d and 6p coins in for us kids to find.

13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they? We always have ham and chicken but if it was up to me, we would do away with the hot foods and just have seafood and salads.

14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas? No it’s always been a matter of time to do those sort of things but perhaps we will have more time in the new house.

15. Do you return to your family for Xmas or vice versa? I’m always the one to travel home as everyone else is in Brisbane. My partner’s family is quite scattered but we have been to Adelaide a couple of times for Christmas.

16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ? The most obvious difference is that there is not as many of us so it is much more low key these days. With the addition of partners we are now going up in numbers again.

17. How do you celebrate Xmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Xmas outings? Drop-ins?

18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot? I usually just have lunch with friends as we used to live a fair way out of Melbourne so that was easier for them. I always decorate the house with a tree and other decorations and our street used to participate in Christmas lights so we had them around the garage, front of the house and a couple of trees in the front yard. Not sure what happens in our new neighbourhood but we will have a drive around so that we know what to expect next year!

19. Is your neighbourhood a “Xmas lights” tour venue? Our last place wasn’t although it did look good and I know that the canal area near our new place has a Christmas lights boats parade and the canal houses doing their lights facing the canals. We are going to book a cruise on the local ferry to see them which should be great.

20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where? Not usually but we have noticed lots of adverts for Christmas Carol nights nearby but we will be going to Brisbane to spend a few days with Mum before Christmas so we will miss them.

21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)? Yes as a child we always went camping in a tent to either the Gold Coast or the Sunshine Coast for Christmas holidays.

22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue? It’s usually at either my mother’s or my brother’s place these days. They alternate hosting it but when I lived in Brisbane I also used to host it every third year.

23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live? No but I would like to have a white Christmas some time.

24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year? Yes but sometimes it is just a small plastic tree as it depends on when I leave for Brisbane. When I was younger we had a gum tree which was nice but then we started getting real pine trees before my parents bought the plastic tree. The leaves were too messy!

25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation? Oops I answered this in the last question but I’m hoping to go back to a real potted tree in our new home from next year.

26. Do you have special Xmas tree decorations? No but I like lots of lights and tinsel.

27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving? We don’t have Thanksgiving so it has to be Christmas.

National Family History Week 2012 Launch

July 28th, 2012

Although National Family History Week is a national event in Australia, it is only launched in one place which is usually in Melbourne. This year I was honoured to be asked to do the launch and below is the text of my talk for those not able to personally attend the launch. It was a great afternoon and I’ll report more on it in my Diary of an Australian Genealogist soon.

It’s 35 years Since the TV Miniseries Roots!

Good afternoon everyone. I was both thrilled and honoured to be asked to launch this year’s National Family History Week. It is a particularly important occasion for me in that 2012 also marks the 35th anniversary of my own interest in family history. Yes my ex and I were two of those many people who sat down in July/August of 1977 to watch the TV miniseries Roots based on the controversial book of the same name by Alex Haley. I had no inkling that night that my whole life, including my career, was about to change and that 35 years later I would still be as passionate and involved with family history.

Alex Haley’s book Roots: The Saga of an American Family based on his own family history was published in 1976. The book, eventually published in 37 languages, had an impact not only in Australia but around the world, especially in the United States of America. It was adapted into the television miniseries in 1977 which was shown around the world, igniting a genealogy boom that I don’t think has ever really stopped. This is not surprising when it is claimed that the series was viewed by 130 million people. In 1979 it was followed by the sequel Roots: The Next Generation which I will also admit to watching.

However, it was only about ten years ago that I actually read the book, as I’m one of those people who, if I watch the movie or TV show first, don’t like to read the book and vice versa. Plus I had been dismayed by the criticism of his research and the copyright infringement claims and law suits that followed publication. Of course all of that court action didn’t change the increased interest in genealogy and family history around the world.

Back Then

It’s hard to even believe that we could trace our family history back in 1977 without all the modern advantages we now have. There wasn’t even a genealogical society in Queensland, and I think the only three societies in Australia were the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney and the Genealogical Society of Victoria and the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies here in Melbourne.

While Roots was screening on television, we  enrolled in a ‘how to do it’ course we saw advertised in the Brisbane newspaper. The course was organised by a local person who we became friends with. Through her we met likeminded people and were involved with the establishment of the Genealogical Society of Queensland. We even designed the GSQ’s logo which is still in use today. Two years later I was part of the Brisbane breakaway group that established the Queensland Family History Society although I have maintained good relations with both societies ever since. Over the last three decades hundreds of societies have been established across Australia.

As well as no societies, there were no easily accessed genealogical records. No BDM indexes, no cemetery transcriptions, no indexed passenger lists, no probate indexes, no computers, no emails, no internet and so on. So how did we do it?

Well we wrote hand written letters using blue carbon paper so that we could keep copies for our records, and enclosed international reply coupons to encourage a response and sat back to wait weeks for a response, even after sending it via airmail. I still remember the thrill of when I bought my portable manual typewriter and I’m sure there must be people in the audience who remember the ever so sophisticated golf ball typewriter!

I remember spending my Friday nights at the local family history centre winding my way through microfilm looking for my families in the UK census. I used to spend the rest of the weekend with a sore right arm from having to hand wind the film reader. Now I can simply use Ancestry or FindMyPast to key in my family names, and within seconds I can be looking at a digital image. So many of my brick walls came down with the digitisation of the UK census and the greater search capability that came with it.

My Saturday afternoons were spent with other genealogy/family history society members in various Brisbane cemeteries as we transcribed the headstones, typed them up, hand indexed them onto 5×3 cards and then filed them into card drawers. Today I can quickly search those records in FindMyPast Australia and New Zealand. In those early years there were lots of volunteer projects on the go and collectively family historians compiled fantastic data resources which today’s newcomers often take for granted.

My first visits to Queensland State Archives were frustrating for a number of reasons. There was no weekend access which meant I always had to take a ‘sickie’ as this was well before flexible working hours and time in lieu. There were only twelve seats in the room and one staff member so if you didn’t get there early enough, you were given a number and waited out in the courtyard.

Copies were done using a wet photocopier/reader printer and if you can remember wet copies, you will also know that they were always hard to read. When I recently looked at some of my copies from the late 1970s I was dismayed to find that most of them are now totally unreadable. I also noticed that the staples have gone rusty and the paper has foxed and stained showing the passage of the last three decades. Strangely enough I don’t seem to have aged that much myself!

The genie boom generated by Roots in the late 1970s also impacted on libraries and archives as hordes of avid genealogists descended on them either in person or by telephone and mail. This led to changes within these institutions to help cope with the increased demand for their services. We saw the introduction of volunteer programs with volunteers assisting with indexing programs to help make the records more accessible and reduce wear and tear on popular records such as passenger lists.

We also saw some archives start up microfilming programs to increase access to the more popular genealogy records. Queensland and New South Wales even produced genealogical kits for sale which meant that the records were available in libraries and genealogical society libraries. There were even collaborative projects with the Church of Latter Day Saints who microfilmed Queensland’s wills and intestacy files in the 1980s and immigration records from around Australia to mention just a few.

The sheer numbers of genealogists meant that most archives needed to find new accommodation and in most cases it was in the outer suburbs with PROV being very lucky to have its new building approved at North Melbourne. I’m not sure how then Director Ross Gibbs managed it, but Victorians will be forever grateful for a fantastic building which even has car parking onsite only a few kilometres from the CBD!

PROV also took the lead with a shared reading room with the Victorian office of the National Archives of Australia, firstly at Casselden Place and then here at the Victorian Archives Centre from 2003. Today there are shared reading rooms in Darwin, Hobart and Adelaide.  It makes sense to have collaborative arrangements like this as it reduces the cost of providing reading room services to the archives involved and also it is more convenient for researchers with only one place to go. Quite often there is a link between records and its handy to have everything onsite.

The Genealogy Boom Will Fade Away

There was always talk that the increased interest in genealogy would fade away as people finished tracing their ancestors or it would simply die out as so many of its practitioners were elderly. This belief was particularly true in the lead up to the Bicentenary celebrations in 1988. Many people thought that once that was over, things would go back to normal. However, there were other factors at work, not just our interest in our own family histories or the history of our nation.

In the late 1980s, early 1990s we saw corrupt police and government agencies exposed and the rise of more accountable governments  and the introduction of freedom of information legislation. This in turn put different pressures on archives to make information and records more accessible and more easily found.

The 1990s saw the development of archival systems which allowed their holdings to be more widely known. The National Archives developed RecordSearch, while Queensland, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory went with various versions of Archives One and New South Wales developed Archives Investigator which was also implemented by Western Australia. None of this was overnight and retrospective data entry and amendments are ongoing with upgrades and improvements to the systems continuing as funding permits.

In the last decade, here in Victoria we have seen PROV develop its digital archive, digitise microfilm and place it freely online, and enter into a collaborative partnership with FamilySearch to digitise wills, probates and inquests to 1925 now freely available online to mention just a few exciting developments. Other state archives have also been increasing access to their collections online.

But let’s pop back to the early 1990s for a moment. It was also the decade when desktop PCs became more affordable and popular and the Internet and the WWW were starting to capture our attention. I remember buying my first home PC in 1990 for what seemed like a small fortune and getting my head around DOS and other techno stuff. Today there is more memory on my portable USB then there was on my first computer!

Libraries too felt the impact and we saw the establishment of dedicated genealogy sections within State libraries and the appointment of genealogy librarians. Victoria was one of the leaders in this area and the Helen Macpherson Centre is probably one of the best genealogy libraries in Australia.

The early 2000s saw the start of major digitisation projects and the National Archives of Australia led here with its free digitisation on demand scheme. I remember being at a planning meeting where it was suggested that they would introduce the scheme gradually and I pointed out that the news would spread like wildfire – which it did and within days there was a backlog of months!

This led to more planned digitisation projects to totally copy series in high demand and I think we are all grateful that NAA have done the Boer War and WW1 nominal rolls as a priority as well as other popular series at both national and state levels.

The National Library of Australia’s more recent TROVE portal is almost miraculous in how it is allowing us to find all kinds of information on our ancestors with keyword searching of newspapers in particular. I could spend hours just reading the old copies of the Women’s Weekly and if you want an old fashioned recipe, that’s the place to go these days.


I mentioned earlier the volunteer projects that many of us have been involved in over the last 35 years. Volunteers also staff genealogy society libraries and in most instances, the societies are managed totally by volunteers who freely give their time and expertise to support their local society.  I was reading in the May 2012 issue of Queensland Family Historian that the Federation of Australian Historical Societies value their volunteers labour at $45 per hour and they calculate that volunteer labour across the history and heritage movement throughout Australia is 100,000 members, each donating an average of one hour per month or twelve hours per year. This adds up to $54 million – a staggering amount.

While there is no comparable study of volunteers in genealogy societies, we probably have a similar number and most of them would work more than one hour per month. Even if we say two hours per month that still gives us an estimate of $108 million. Truly staggering. So I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those genealogy and family history society volunteers, past and present, for the wonderful job they have been doing for the last 35 years or more!

Another indication of ‘genie power’ is the mid 1980s and 90s ‘save the census’ campaign co-ordinated by good friend Nick Vine Hall. By rallying genealogy and family history societies behind him, the campaign finally led to the inclusion in the 2001 census form of a tick this box if you want the return to be kept for future generations. These ticked census returns are to be kept for 99 years by the National Archives of Australia.

The question has been repeated on the 2006 and 2011 census forms and each census more and more people tick the box. In 2001 it was 52% and in 2006 it had increased to 56% wanting their census returns kept. The 2011 results are not yet on the NAA site, possibly still in the production process. This sustained 15 year campaign will be appreciated by generations yet to come.

Social Media

I have found so many distant relatives through placing details of my families online through Ancestry, Genes Reunited, My Heritage, Find My Past, Lost Cousins and so on. These online sites are far more effective that the old published genealogical research directories of the 1980s and 90s that only allowed you to quote a surname, date range and location as well as contact details.

What has surprised me is the number of people finding my research through Google. I write a couple of blogs and my Genie Rambles blog often features my family stories and as Google searches everything, people researching the same names are finding my blogs and contacting me. My Diary of an Australian Genealogist is also read by people from all over the world.   It could never have happened 35 years ago!

Twitter is probably the way I learn most about what is new in genealogy around the world. Once I had to go to the local family history society library and browse through printed society newsletters and journals spending hours of my time doing so. Now it is almost instant if you follow a few key people.

Twitter is also a great place to ask for help. I couldn’t find something in the London Gazette even though I had a page number and feeling frustrated I had a little whinge on Twitter. Amazingly the London Gazette people saw my tweet and contacted me with the news that there had been a supplement on that day which wasn’t as easily found. I’ve had similar help on other issues and now have good cyber friends in the UK, Ireland, Canada, USA and New Zealand.

Clouds on the Horizon

There is only one cloud on the horizon from my perspective, otherwise I think family history is just going to get bigger and better in the coming years. So what is the cloud? Back in the 1970s and 80s before the internet existed, the only way that people could get information on what was new or what was happening was to join their local genealogy society and attend meetings. Attendance numbers at monthly meetings was up, open times at the genealogy library were often packed and you personally knew other people.

These days when I give talks at monthly meetings of societies, I can’t help but note that attendance is really down and often it is the same faces I saw decades ago who still attend meetings.  It seems that using the internet has replaced the need to join societies and attend meetings. I touched on this a little in the previous section on social media and genealogy.

Membership of societies is also slightly down, older members die or lose interest so there is a natural attrition rate which is offset by new members joining. However membership numbers of societies nowhere near reflects the actual number of people doing family history research today. When I go to genealogy expos and road shows I try and ask audiences who are members of societies and it is usually about half and half.

Those people who aren’t members of a genealogy society often tell me there is no point in joining their local society as their ancestors came from elsewhere and there is nothing for them locally. But societies run seminars, meetings with guest speakers, have libraries and bookshops, and informed volunteers to assist with research questions. When I moved to Victoria I joined both the Genealogical Society of Victoria and the Australian Institute for Genealogical Studies, I’ve used their libraries, attended seminars, conferences and made some good friends and expert contacts that I can call on for help as needed.

If I could have one wish, I would like to see everyone doing family history join at least one genealogy society and get involved with others in the society. Yes you can sit at home, alone, and do your family history, but you will never know what you are missing. I have always said that it’s amazing what you can learn over a cup of tea and nothing will ever replace the camaraderie of talking to people in real time, face to face.

Last but Not Least – Techno Toys

Nowadays most of us don’t go out to research without taking our laptop/notebook/netbook, our smart phone, our Ipad/tablet and our remote wi fi. We probably spend research time also checking our emails, Facebook, Twitter, nings, forums and whatever else we use. In a prolonged black out, as our batteries slowly went flat, I wonder what we would all do?

I’ve watched my son’s two thumbs when he is texting on his phone and I can’t get my thumbs to move like that. Granted I do have a bit of arthritis but still, I will never be able to text that quickly! I’m still very attached to my hand held mouse although my skills at using the inbuilt mouse on my laptop are improving it is still not intuitive to me.

Despite my techno limitations, technology for family history really excites me and my latest toy is a Flip Pal mobile scanner which you don’t even need a computer to use. Simply turn it on and start scanning and for larger documents it seamlessly sews together multiple scans. Of course you still need to upload your images to a computer, and name and tag them with whatever metadata you might need. But gone are the days of having to try and borrow material from family members who really don’t want to let their precious photographs or documents out of their sight. I can even scan family photos and documents while watching TV!

Where to Now

I probably don’t have another 35 years but I am looking forward to the next 5-10 or perhaps even 15-20 years. The amazing growth in technology and the benefits it has brought to family history over the last 20 years has been so exciting. I think it is technology that has helped keep genealogy and family history to the forefront of popular hobbies and it is also responsible for changing the demographics of family history. It is no longer only the aged and retired but much younger people who were born with smart phones and started using laptops at kindy! That last might be a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean.

The last 35 years have gone quickly with lots of exciting developments to keep genealogy and family history as one of the more popular hobbies around the world. I can’t see that changing in the foreseeable future.  We have the National Archives of Australia’s annual Shake Your Family Tree day in February to keep us motivated and six months later we have National Family History Week. So twice a year we have events that will enthuse,  encourage and motivate genealogists and family historians. Not to mention introduce new people to this fascinating pastime that some of us don’t seem to be able to give up or finish!

And with that, I now declare National Family History Week 2012 open!

Thank you.