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!


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!





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!


Overview of Unlock the Past Queensland Expo Jun 2012

July 5th, 2012

Regular readers will know that I reported on the Unlock the Past Queensland Expo in Brisbane 25-27 Jun 212 on a daily basis through my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog. If you missed it, here are links to Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Expo Exhibitors reports.

In this blog I’m reflecting on the expo overall and up front, I have to say it was another great genealogy experience although my hometown of Brisbane turned on some of the worst winter weather I think I have ever experienced in Brisbane. The cold and wet weather didn’t deter people and I think the coffee van made a small fortune over the three days. The local school ladies did an excellent job of catering morning and afternoon teas and lunches. The exhibition area was usually chilly but it was warmer in the theatres.

Most of the time there were four options – a choice of two speakers where you needed to have bought a ticket or an expo gold pass, a speaker where you didn’t need a ticket and the Research Zone and exhibition area. As usual I found choosing between speakers hard and my Diary blogs outline my choices. I also found I didn’t have enough time to spend in the exhibition area without giving up one of the speaker sessions. Perhaps I’m just ‘greedy’ and want to experience everything?

There was meant to be a ten minute change over period but some speakers went over and then that made it harder to move between theatres or take a quick rest break before the next session. Everything was really close together and level (no stairs) so that was a bonus. There were a few technical hiccups here and there but nothing that caused major issues.

I liked the opportunity to see the Flip Pal mobile scanner in operation and found that I had no trouble scanning some photos at Mums that night and then uploading them to my laptop. What I really like about it is that I can scan photos while watching TV whereas before I had to do it in the study by myself and without any entertainment. Scanning must be the most boring activity on earth!

The other great plus for me is that it was a perfect opportunity to catch up with all my old genealogy friends and colleagues from Brisbane, as well as other regular attendees and speakers at Unlock the Past expos and roadshows. I think we’re almost like one big family now.

I finally got to meet Ciaran from Clean Cruising and spoke to him about the next Unlock the Past genealogy cruise to Fiji in February 2013. I have been to Fiji twice (1975 and 1976) so it’s been a while! I’m really excited about going again not to mention the thought of ten days of genealogy with others equally passionate about their family history.

Audrey Collins from the National Archives UK was the international speaker (not counting Dan Lynch who ‘popped’ in electronically for his two talks on Google Your Family Tree) and after the expo, Audrey and some of the Unlock the Past team also did seminars in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne. I rejoined them in Melbourne for the seminar at the State Library of Victoria. My Diary blog on the day is here.

As usual I have come away with a notebook full of information and URLs to follow up and a bag of brochures on all sorts of topics from the exhibitors. One lady loved my talks so much she offered to let us park our caravan at her place in south western Queensland when she found out we would soon be homeless. While it was a nice gesture, I think she really wanted me to travel out there for some one on one chats! As usual I have put up the slides from my six talks on the Resources page of this website. Scroll down to Presentations.

Surprisingly I didn’t buy a book this time but as we are in the process of moving house, another book would not have been well received by my other half! From the verbal feedback I received from other attendees everyone enjoyed themselves and learnt heaps and they would probably like another one soon!

The Unlock the Past team should be congratulated on another great expo and though it all looks deceptively easy, there is a lot of work that goes into the planning and running of these expos. So well done everyone. I’m going to now start getting excited about the Queensland Coast Roadshow in September/October!


Darwin Family History Seminar

February 29th, 2012

While up in Darwin for the War Comes to Australia tour, I also took part in the Unlock the Past genealogy seminar in conjunction with the Northern Territory Library and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory. It was a full day with Rosemary Kopittke and I giving three talks each with small presentations from the Library, the Society and Unlock the Past.

Usually I am the only one blogging these events and it is always hard to write about my own talks. But this time well known Territory genealogy blogger Cassmob was in the audience and in her blog Family History Across the Seas, she has also blogged about the seminar (here). It’s good to get feedback on my talks and I acknowledge Cassmob’s point about the Board Immigrant Lists but as everybody knows, you can only fit so much in a 45 minute talk. Sometimes I wonder if broad ranging talks on State and National Archives are worthwhile but you never know who is going to be in the audience. On the other hand, if your talk is too narrow, then it is less likely to be of interest to everyone.

My talks were on State and National Archives Online: Practical Tips; Where Else Can I Look: It’s Not All Online and Convict Ancestors: Fascinating & Frustrating to Research and as usual I agreed to PDF the talks and put them on the Resources page of my website (scroll down to Presentations). I also put there my talk on Tracing Military Ancestors in Australia from the War Comes to Australia tour. This saves people madly writing while I am talking, but there is a lot of commentary that goes with the slides that isn’t captured in the PDF. Still it helps people to remember the points in the talks.

I also gave a small presentation on the Genealogists for Families Project and how we can help others on an ongoing basis for as little as $25.00. I hope the Project sees a few more members from the Northern Territory soon.

Rosemary talked on FindMyPast (UK, Ireland, Australasia and the US coming soon) and I know I say this everytime, but it really is hard to keep up with what’s new. I also suspect that as FMP continues to grow Rosemary is going to find it harder to keep to the 45 minutes! Her other two talks were on Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes and Directories and Almanacs, both of which I have heard before. I like the way she now incorporates overseas references as well as Australasian although it does give me more follow ups to do!

One aspect of the day Cassmob didn’t mention (probably because she is a Territorian) are the small presentations by the Library and the local Society. I particularly liked the Library presentation as it highlighted resources available on their website and in particular their new Roll of Honour Bombing of Darwin 19 February 1942 online exhibition. This lists all known victims and includes a biographical entry for them and they invite anyone with more information to contact them. Another online exhibition is Remembering Territory Families and again contributions are welcome.

The Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory also had a small display table with their publications and information about the Society. I think it’s good that they briefly spoke about their library and resources as I firmly believe everyone should be a member of their local society. You can learn so much from others and it’s amazing what can be in their libraries and from my personal visit last time, I remember how surprised I was by the range of resources the Society had.

Unlock the Past also had a display table of their various publications and trade seemed to be brisk Lucky door prizes were supplied by Unlock the Past, FindMyPast Australasia and Inside History Magazine so there were four especially happy people at the end of the day. As usual I also came away with a number of things added to my to do list!

Someone once asked me don’t I get bored going to all these genealogy seminars and the answer is definitely not – there is always something new to learn and I hope I can share some of my own learnings with others. My next one is on Saturday, just one week after this Darwin one!

I’ll be in Kyabram at a family history seminar organised by the Kyabram Regional Genealogy Society and I heard this morning that there will be eight people from the Deniliquin Genealogy Society, including one person I met on the War Comes to Australia tour. Thank goodness I’m not the only genealogy addict!


Battlefield Tours – War Comes to Australia: 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin

February 29th, 2012

Well I am just back from my first ever battlefield tour and I’m hooked – it’s like genealogy cruising, you get to travel and learn more about things you have an interest in. Plus I didn’t have to do housework for almost a week!

I was privileged to be a speaker on the Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours War Comes to Australia tour to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin. As usual with my travels, I record my experiences in a daily diary (see Diary of an Australian Genealogist).  The six days of the tour are all detailed in my online diary so I’m not going to repeat all that here in this overview.

Although I had no personal connection to the bombing of Darwin, I still found my participation in the tour a moving experience. Just sitting in the Jetstar terminal waiting for my plane (an hour late due to ‘paperwork’), let me observe the various old diggers gathering to make the trip too. It was great to see that they could still travel and that most had younger family members with them. A number were also part of various tour groups as well.

I found myself thinking it was really good to see the authorities making a big event of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin this year as I sadly don’t think that a lot of the old diggers will still be around for the 75th.

The tour was a combination of visits to places with military heritage including museums, old WW2 airstrips, gun emplacements and other significant war time buildings and ruins. As well there were a series of talks from military historians – local Dr Tom Lewis OAM and tour historian Brad Manera and myself as the family historian. The tour also participated in the official bombing of Darwin commemoration ceremony and a number of tour participants went to other official ceremonies as well.

There was a welcome dinner and before we knew it the farewell dinner, a sunset cruise on Darwin Harbour to see where the various ships were damaged or sunk and air-conditioned bus trips to the various sites around Darwin and also down at  Adelaide River. Each day started with a hot and cold buffet breakfast and although I usually have cereal at home, for some strange reason I am always attracted to the hot breakfast when I am travelling!

I was pleased to see that I didn’t put on any weight despite all the temptation but perhaps it was the extra exercise getting on and off the buses and walking around the various places. Darwin was hot and steamy but it has been a dry wet season and we didn’t see much rain at all which was good for us but Darwin does need its rain before the dry season starts.

I know Darwin very well as I have been there lots of times over the last decade so for me the best part of the tour was the talks. I was interested to learn more about the bombing of Darwin and Tom Lewis gave us a good background talk and then followed up with the ongoing myths and perceptions relating to the bombing. Brad Manera provided a much broader backdrop by looking at Australia’s involvement in various wars including a special look at Gallipoli and the Western Front. On the home front, his talk on the Japanese submarines in Sydney Harbour was fascinating.

On the travel side I had not been to Snake Creek before and this was a surprise as I had not realised such a substantial military establishment had been there. The tropical bush is doing its best to reclaim the site and while some items are rusting very badly, the concrete walls and floors will be there for a long time. I came away wanting to find out more about Snake Creek and the people who worked there during WW2.

As I said at the beginning, I had a great time and would readily go on another battlefield tour especially if there was a personal connection for me. I have a newspaper clipping on my desk outlining a military tour to South Africa and Boer War battlefields but I haven’t looked up the website yet! I have a strong interest in my mother’s two uncles who went to the Boer War twice and one ended up staying there.

I can’t see myself doing the Kokoda Trail (I like my comfort a little too much) but Gallipoli and the Western Front have relevance and may be options. I’ve always been fascinated by the Crimean War and perhaps some of the battles in India – obviously the list could be long and open ended. Battlefield tours are a great way to combine travel and history and the War Comes to Australia tour won’t be my last!

Thanks again to Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours for inviting me to be part of the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Darwin.


Unlock the Past Scottish Irish Genealogy Cruise 2011 Overview

December 11th, 2011

Regular readers will know that I flew to Auckland New Zealand on 18 November for the  Unlock the Past history & genealogy cruise with a Scottish Irish theme. Throughout the trip I maintained a daily account of the genealogy sessions as well as the onshore excursions and shipboard life. They weren’t sent every day due to no affordable internet  for most of the time at sea but whenever I could use my Australian or New Zealand modems I sent out updates.

These can be found on this website in my SHHE Genie Rambles blog (more the genealogy session reports but not always) and also on my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blog (more the shipboard and onshore activity as well as a few genealogy sessions held on the days we were in port).

Fourteen days is a long time for a conference and I had wondered if it would be too long. Our earlier cruise was only seven days and I felt that was too short. The other change was evening sessions as well as day sessions and I had thought people might not attend given the other ship attractions. I was wrong on all counts – the fourteen days flew past and attendance at all sessions, day and evening remained strong right to the end.

There were also a lot of onshore days and these were exhausting as you tried to make the most of the time ashore, usually shopping, visiting local museums and other attractions. Shuttle buses, often free, or reasonably priced, took tourists from the wharf area to the CBD areas of the various ports. These all ran like clockwork and we never found ourselves waiting long for a shuttle in any port.

I attended most of the sessions on board ship unless I had heard it previously at an onshore seminar and I missed some due to time mix-ups. Overall I learnt heaps from the various speakers who often overlapped and complemented each other as they reinforced various aspects of Scottish Irish research. I have a notebook full of ideas, suggestions, and URLs to follow up.

As well as the Scottish Irish talks, other speakers gave a wide range of talks and these I reported on at the time (see above links) and there was something for everyone. I especially liked Rosemary’s talks on the subscription databases such as Ancestry, FindMyPast UK and FindMyPast Australasia, The Genealogist and also MyHeritage as her talks broadened my expectations of what you can find or do with these sites. It’s often not as expensive as we might think especially if you get lots of information and I’ve especially found this with Scotland’s People. It’s much cheaper than buying Australian certificates!!

I also gave eleven talks and received quite good feedback during the cruise which was nice. The Help Desk area was always busy and I had lots of sessions with people one on one to discuss their brickwalls or more simple queries. When we were within internet range, I also did some searching to see if I could actually solve some of these issues. I had some small success on a few and managed to find some things they hadn’t found. In the process, I also managed to locate Max’s mother’s RAAF file in the National Archives of Australia so now we are waiting to receive a copy once access clearance is organised. On a negative note, I am surprised (still) by people who don’t buy certificates – sometimes that is the easiest way to knock down a brickwall.

What didn’t I like? These were mostly specific to the Holland America ship Volendam and I was shocked to find that there was smoking in the Casino which was right next door to the Hudson Room where a number of our talks were held. You also had to walk through the Casino to get to the other end of the ship and it was also next door to a lot of the shopping areas of the ship. It was not an enclosed area so smoke did drift out into these other areas depending on how many were smoking. Most of the Australians I spoke to found this annoying as we are now so used to no smoking in public areas.

Another difference was the food which was American/Canadian in focus rather than the British food we had on the Pacific Dawn. Although by the end of the trip I noticed at the breakfast buffet there were three kinds of bacon – crispy (and I do mean crispy), Canadian and what I can only describe as more Australian style. Eggs were over easy (and we needed a translation) but the omelettes were divine. Lots of other differences but it was like being in the US rather than in the South Pacific.

Early on I discovered the Mexican style of food at the Terrace Grill on the pool deck and had lunch there many times but I didn’t like the cheeseburgers or their pizzas which weren’t like what we have.  Still when you travel overseas you do expect to eat different kinds of food but for some reason I wasn’t expecting American style food although I knew it was a Holland American ship.

The other area that threw me was wine and often depending on where we were dining, we couldn’t get Australian wines, only American or French. Although I will now confess a fondness for some of the wines from Washington State in the US. If you click on that link to one of the wineries I enjoyed, you will see that you have to declare that you are over 21 to enter the site (their legal drinking age is 21 yet our age is 18, another major difference if you are travelling with anyone between 18 and 21). We even tried a Budweiser (American beer) and if I am eating Mexican I do like a Corona!

The other thing I don’t like is round tables of eight, they are too big for everyone to engage in the conversation even if they don’t have hearing problems. We started out at the bigger tables but by the end we had settled nicely into rectangular tables of six which are much easier to hold conversations around without leaving anyone out.

I would also like cheaper access to the internet while on board and at sea. There must be ways for groups to do deals to access a cheaper rate. It would also be easier for speakers to help people if they could instantly show them a website or do a search with them rather than just outline what to do.

We had a disappointing end to the cruise, along with a few other genealogy cruisers, in that our prepaid ship to airport transfers didn’t eventuate for reasons I still don’t quite understand (I asked for a written explanation which I was told on the phone I would get but didn’t) but Clean Cruising have refunded our money.

So really my biggest gripe was the smoking issue and that would probably put me off doing another cruise where smoking is allowed in public areas that are open to other areas of the ship.

From a genealogy perspective, I would be off on another one tomorrow if I could. I always enjoy myself listening to other speakers and talking with fellow cruisers about their genealogy issues. Often their problems make mine look easy!

The next Unlock the Past history and genealogy cruise is 10-19 February 2013 departing Sydney with visits to Noumea and Lautoka, Fiji (I was last there in 1976 so I expect it has changed somewhat). This is a difference cruise line again, the Royal Caribbean and the ship is the Voyager of the Seas and there are more days at sea which means more genealogy sessions with less interruptions for onshore visits .

At this stage I’m planning to be on the Voyager of the Seas although the international speaker or other speakers for that matter, haven’t been revealed yet. For me genealogy cruising is an ideal combination – no housework, overseas travel and genealogy in an affordable package. Plus all that food and drink (I was pleasantly surprised to find  that I didn’t put any weight on this trip, must be all the additional exercise, walking and stairs that I don’t get at home)!

Now the long wait until February 2013 – perhaps I should check out some of the American genealogy cruises for 2012??

Finally I would like to thank all those who read my cruising blogs – it’s great turning up somewhere and someone says ‘loved reading about your cruise adventures’. It makes the effort of writing these blogs all the more worthwhile but don’t just read about the next one – why don’t you think about joining me and experience it all for yourself?

Two Full On Genealogy At Sea Days

December 3rd, 2011

Those following my Diary of an Australian Genealogist blogs will know that I am recording my touristy adventures there along with reports on the few genealogy sessions we have when in port. For the days we are totally at sea with no touristy distractions, I am putting those session reports on this website.

Day Ten

The extra hour of sleep last night was good and the day started with Chris Paton talking about Scottish Censuses 1841-1939 and then Perry McIntyre on Finding Your Irish Ancestors in Australia: BDMs and Arrival. I was familiar with both these areas but still good to have refresher sessions as it is amazing what you can forget or not realise what else you can do with certain resources.

I spent some more time with one on one sessions and took two more bookings for tomorrow. I have now got a growing number of searches to do for people once we get into internet connection range again. I will briefly see if my suggestions look like they will work, and then advise people to thoroughly search themselves when they get home.

After lunch it was a solid session of talks right through to dinner time starting with Rosemary highlighting the various resources on Ancestry for Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Scotland and America – all in 45 minutes. Even though I have been an Ancestry subscriber for a few years, I realised that I tend to use the usual suspects and there are lots of smaller collections which I should look at for my families. More notes on my To Do list!

Chris Paton then spoke about DNA and Genealogy and I found this very useful as it was not too scientific and more practical. His examples were from his own Paton ancestry and I need to look at some more DNA sites including Family Tree DNA which is one he mentioned a few times.

Keith Johnson was next talking about the forthcoming  Biographical Database of Australia which will be hosted by State Records NSW and should be online in 2012. It is an ambitious project to list everyone who ever lived or visited Australia and link up all their records in a single database. I have heard Carol Baxter talk about this at various genealogy events too and I can’t help wondering if this will take all the fun out of searching in years to come.

Rosemary then gave a talk on The Genealogist which is a subscription website I haven’t used before so I was interested to see what they have and how it differs from Ancestry, FindMyPast and others. If you have non-conformists then it is definitely worth a look and I was intrigued by the surname coverage maps and census name maps. It also has a lot of military records and even an international section for Australia and New Zealand so another notation or two on my To Do List!

Richard Reid followed with his interesting and moving talk on The Great Famine 1845-55: Irish Ancestral Experience and Memory and he highlighted a few books to read for more background and understanding. These included The Irish Famine by Peter Gray and The Sharing of the Green: A Modern Irish History For Australians by Oliver Macdonagh.

Chris then spoke on Irish Resources Online which is based on his new Unlock the Past publication Irish Family History Resources Online.

After dinner I gave my Google Your Family Tree: Tips and Tricks (an expanded version of which is on my website Resources page, scroll down to Presentations). Jan Gow followed with a talk on using Legacy Family Tree.

I wandered out to the Casino to find Max learning to play 21 so I sat and watched for a while. Amazingly he didn’t lose and finished the night with what he started with. While in the Casino the staff came around and reminded everyone to set their watches back another hour so that we would be on Australian time tomorrow.  (As I write this after the event, this was a disastrous announcement for us to hear – more in tomorrow’s blog).

Another full day at sea with a full day of talks – not sure if my notebook is going to have enough pages left as there are still some great talks coming up.

Day Eleven

As I indicated in yesterday’s blog, we were told to set our watches back another hour last night which is what we did. We woke up, went up to breakfast and then wandered down at what we thought was 8am only to find that Richard Reid was just finishing up his talk on The Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front 1916-19. What was going on??

It turns out that there was a miscommunication (love that word) and some crew were informed there would be an hour time change and some weren’t, this also applied to some passengers too. This meant great confusion for the first few hours this morning but didn’t really impact on anyone unless they wanted to attend a genealogy talk at 8am. I am really cranky that I missed Richard’s talk but hopefully I will have other opportunities in the future.

I’m also envious that Helen Smith has internet for these three days at sea – she has taken up the ship’s wifi offer whereas I had purchased a Vodaphone modem for use while in New Zealand which was a cheaper method. But it does mean I have no access until back into Australian waters.

Given that I was in a cranky mood, I decided to skip Chris’ talk on Scottish Civil Records and go down to my cabin and blog (vent) my frustrations. Having calmed down (and it really is hard to stay cranky on a cruise ship) I then met up for another two one on one sessions with fellow cruisers. The first wanted to know more about blogging and how to go about it so that was fairly easy as I am a great fan of blogging with two blogs myself – SHHE Genie Rambles on my website and Diary of an Australian Genealogist. The second query was more challenging!

After lunch it was non stop talks until dinner starting with Rosemary talking about FindMyPastUK which I am reasonably familiar with but keeping up with all the new additions is the hard part. Jan Gow followed with a repeat of her session on using Treepad which was cut short the other day.

Chris Paton then talked on Scots and Gaelic – D’ye Ken The Difference and I must admit he did lose me a few times on the complexity of the various strains of Gaelic and their history. Rosemary followed with a session on MyHeritage and again I have been a member for some years but have not really made the most of this site’s features. So more on the To Do List!

Chris then did Writing Family History Articles which was a good overview of the topic and he also included blogging your own family stories if you don’t want to publish as such. I finished the day’s sessions with my Where Else Can You Look: It’s Not All Online (handout on my Resources page scroll down to Presentations).

Then it was off to dinner where everyone discussed the various sessions and what they had learned. Helen Smith gave her Using UK Archives for Family History Research talk after dinner (this was the one postponed due to the clash with Milford Sound the other day). Helen’s notes will be on the Unlock the Past website in a few weeks time so keep an eye out for them as she had lots of great suggestions.

What is surprising (not really I guess) is how enthusiastic everyone still is and attendance at all sessions is still quite high given the ship’s other temptations. We set our clocks back another hour tonight as we are back in Australia from tomorrow. I’m starting to feel a little sad as there is only three more days left, with two of them port days, Burnie and Melbourne.

Time always flies when you are having fun!


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