Family History Feast Melbourne Aug 2013

7 August 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!

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