Posts filed under ‘Archives’

Visit to Adelaide and Congress 2012

I’ve just returned from the 13th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry Adelaide 2012, where I delivered one talk (on ‘Which Genealogy Program?‘) and attended more than 20 others. I thoroughly recommend attending genealogy conferences – they provide access to a wide variety of speakers, with the opportunity to ask questions and discuss particular issues in my own family history. Websites are changing daily, and as more information is published online, conferences such as these allow attendees to learn about what is available and what is coming.

In addition there is the ‘buzz’ of spending days with others who share my passion for family history research, often also learning from discussions with other conference attendees. Genealogists are generous with their knowledge and usually keen to support other enthusiasts. Once you start attending conferences, your circle of genealogy friends and contacts grows. A highlight for me at this Congress was meeting up with friends from around Australia and some internationals – some friends I had previously only ‘met’ online.

Morning and afternoon teas, lunches and dinners were all busy times. In addition to looking at the offerings of the exhibitors (purchasing books, trying out websites, asking questions of librarians and society members) I enjoyed catching up with genealogy friends and swapping contact details with ‘new friends’.

So many genealogists gathering in one place provides the opportunity for meetings with some groups, sometimes over a lunch or dinner. I am proud to be a member of ‘Genealogists for Families’, whose motto is “We care about families (past, present and future)”. Through Kiva (a non-profit organisation) genealogists worldwide (and their non-genealogist relatives and friends) are working as a team to help less fortunate families. Kiva’s motto is “empower people around the world by making a $25 loan”. When many $25 loans are combined, borrowers without access to traditional banks can expand their business or support their families, and work towards raising themselves out of poverty. When the loan is repaid we can withdraw the money or lend it again.

Some of the ‘Genealogists for Families’ group in Adelaide met for dinner on the Wednesday (first) night of Congress. The dinner was an enjoyable time, with good food, chatting and much laughter, and when we passed around a collection box for spare coins, enough money was raised for 2 more Kiva loans.

Other nights were busy too: the (Tuesday) night before Congress was a Congress Welcome, Wednesday was the above Kiva dinner, Thursday night was a Lord Mayor of Adelaide’s function for speakers and exhibitors at Congress, and Friday night was the official Congress dinner.

Taking advantage of the trip to Adelaide, I flew over several days earlier in order to have some research time. Arriving on the Saturday afternoon before Congress, I spent Sunday and Monday researching in the State Library of South Australia and Tuesday at State Records South Australia. In addition I made brief visits to the Adelaide City Council Archives, to the Probate Registry – and also to photograph an old house in Norwood where my Grubb family ancestors made soft drinks in the late 19th century (F. C. Grubb soft drinks).

If you’re interested in family history and have any occasion to travel to where ancestors lived, prepare as much as possible before you travel. The time flies when you are actually in that library or archive office. You can be much more efficient if you have already searched online catalogues, and come prepared with references for books, microfiche, microfilms or computer files that you want to check. I had my netbook with my family history database, but I also had prepared reports of all those I knew were in South Australia at some time, so that I could quickly check whether accidental discoveries were likely to be my ancestors or not.

A digital camera is a great asset in libraries and archives offices, to quickly capture images of records found. A USB flash drive is also useful, as sometimes you can scan a document directly to a file. I had my new Flip-pal portable scanner with me (only owned for a week). Although scanning is slower than taking digital photographs, the Flip-pal did an excellent job of scanning & stitching documents and even screen images from microfiche or microfilm seen in the State Library. I was not allowed to use it in the State Archives.

So I’ve returned from a week in Adelaide with many books purchased, records scanned and photographed, pages and pages of lecture notes with clues to follow up for my family history – and also a backlog of emails and work that built up while I was away. One week in Adelaide is going to take me a lot longer than that to process! But it was a most enjoyable time and an experience I would heartily recommend.

2 April, 2012 at 4:11 pm Leave a comment

Multiple indexes are not all the same

I’ve been looking at Australian immigration records, and in particular the various indexes that sound as though they are indexing the same records but actually yield very different results.

Some years ago I searched through multiple microfilms until I found the records of John Hoadley and his family, who set out from England as ‘bounty immigrants’ in 1838. Colonists selected suitable immigrants to sponsor, and paid for their fares, in exchange for a ‘bounty’ from the government, which reimbursed part or all of the costs. The new immigrant would then be contracted to work for their sponsor for a time.

Immigration to New South Wales was the responsibility of the NSW government until 1922, and the records are now held by NSW State Records. (Immigration records after 1922  are now held by the National Archives of Australia.)

Male bounty immigrantAnyway back to John Hoadley – he was aged 26, a farm labourer from Chittington Sussex. His wife Mary Ann was a 22-year-old housemaid. They had 2 small children, George aged 1 and Mary Ann aged 2. According to the references supplied, John Hoadley was the son of Amelia Hoadley, a laundress of Blumton, Sussex. His health was good and the local curate attested to his good character.

As I say, I had found their ship and date of arrival by searching through microfilms. When NSW State Records added an online index to their website, that index started from 1844, so did not include the Hoadley family.

When the subscription site Ancestry.com.au released a ‘Bounty Immigrants Index for 1828-1842′, the Hoadley family was missing. (Or were they just wrongly indexed? The original writing is difficult to read.)

Recently I checked a newer Ancestry collection, ‘Assisted Immigrant Passenger Lists 1828-1896′ and this time it DID include the Hoadley family. (Why was an 1838 record missing from the 1828-1842 collection but found in the 1828-1896 collection?)

John Hoadley, Assisted Immigrants list on Ancestry.com.au

According to the record in the Ancestry collection, John Hoadley “jumped overboard in a fit of delirium … at midnight … Left a widow and 2 children”. I had not known that!

More recently, NSW State Records released ‘digital copies of the Bounty Immigrants lists, 1838-96′ – copies of the original passenger lists, freely available online. Note that these start 6 years earlier than the NSW State Records Assisted Immigrants index. I was pleased to find that the ship ‘Amelia Thompson’ was included – however the digitised images online only include the single men and women, not the families and married couples, so the Hoadleys were left out – again.

Most recently FamilySearch released an ‘Index to bounty immigrants arriving in NSW, Australia, 1828-1842′ – including digital images. Having seen the other records, I expected the FamilySearch image would be a copy of one of those – it wasn’t.

The image on the FamilySearch site is a filmed copy of a card index, including a transcription of all available information – including some I did not know. Poor Mary Ann Hoadley did not only lose her husband on the voyage, her youngest child died at the Quarantine Station 2 weeks after their arrival.

The above was a lesson to me that the indexes and images might sound as if they are all the same, but – for whatever reason – the ancestor you are looking for might be included in one index and missing from another. Or one record might include more information than another. Taken together, all the information tells much more of a story, that I would not have learned if I had stopped looking when I found the name of the vessel and a date.

FamilySearch bounty immigrants

10 March, 2011 at 9:34 pm 5 comments

You only have to look

I am irritated every time I hear the ad that says “you don’t need to know what you’re looking for, you only have to look”. Advice like that encourages some people researching their family history to accept anything they find without question, especially when it is the only name that seems to match when searching an index.

The internet is littered with family trees wrongly patched together by people who did not look for corroborating evidence before adopting an ancestor.

Some of my “problem” ancestors took a great deal of hunting, through every available source I could access, before I finally found some record or some descendant or something that provided a clue to a mystery. Then lots of cross-checking was required before I could have some confidence in my conclusion. For example, it took nearly 10 years of  very focussed research before I found the necessary evidence for one ancestor, Samuel ETHERINGTON. (I did also research other ancestors in those intervening years!)

I do believe that any research needs to be focussed and directed. Be systematic in the way you check all the sources you can. Lucky dip research occasionally brings unexpected finds, but without careful cross-checking of details, you won’t know whether that find belongs in your tree or not.

Having said all that, new indexes and newly digitised records are recently being released at such a rate that it is difficult to keep up. Because I was so obsessed with one particular ancestor, I once could be fairly confident that I had checked most of the available sources of information about him. But with more ancestors in my tree and more sources to check (and less time – but don’t get me started on that) – anyway there are bound to be people in your tree that you have not yet sought in unlikely places as well as the more obvious.

Because I’m writing some new courses, I was looking for examples of some lesser used sources. Today I was checking online indexes on the website of the State Records Authority of New South Wales, the archives of the NSW government.

You can’t browse shelves in a government archives (as you might in a library), but you can browse online indexes. Not every sort of record is indexed and not all indexes are online, but a lot of them are.

Today I was checking indexes I don’t usually bother with and was quite surprised at how much I found. I did not know before that John McNEILL was a 1st class porter at Darling Harbour Goods Yard in 1910. Or that two James ETHERINGTONs (father and son) held Publican’s Licenses for the Nell Gwynne Hotel (York Street Sydney) in the 1850s. I found more bankrupt ancestors (and bankruptcy files can contain a wealth of details about daily life).

Which brings me back to where I started. Perhaps I did know what I was looking for, but I was still surprised with what I found. And I am so glad that I looked!

7 January, 2011 at 6:42 pm 8 comments

Trove: hidden treasures

Preparing for a class this week I had another look at Trove. Trove is an initiative of the National Library of Australia, designed to “provide a single point of access to the resources of the deep web”, focused on Australia and Australians. Trove’s byline is “one search … a wealth of information”.

Trove itself was first released in May 2009 however some parts of the collections have been available for years, perhaps under other titles. Now they are brought together under a single search. Some are the results of digitisation projects undertaken by the National Library of Australia (perhaps in conjunction with others), but others are links into other collections (such as Open Library or Google Books).

You can log in to the site, in order to personalise the way you search and results found. You can create and save your own lists of useful items, list libraries you are affiliated with, tag or comment (on books, photographs,etc), correct electronically generated newspaper text – and more.

A recent survey showed that about half the users of Trove are family historians (equal to all the other categories combined). There is good reason for that – Trove provides access to information invaluable to family historians who want more than just names and dates.

The Australian newspaper digitisation project has been underway since 2007, making available newspapers published in Australia from 1803  to 1954, covering a range of titles from every state and territory. Now this collection is accessed via Trove. Family historians can search for articles about a family name of interest, or the first reports of a new settlement, ships’ passengers named on their arrival – or anything else you can think of. Searches can be narrowed by location, date, publication, article category – or even whether or not the article is illustrated.

Newspapers often reported on distant events, if those stories were deemed likely to be of interest to readers. In “The Canberra Times” of 1946 I found an article reporting on a fire at the home of my grandparents in the northern suburbs of Sydney. (A reminder not to be too hasty to narrow the location of  the search.)

The “Pictures and photos” collection within Trove includes even more than the Picture Australia collection. Family historians might search for an ancestor by name or a historic photograph of the town where they lived, or even photos of an event witnessed by a family member.

The “Books, journals, magazines, articles” collection provides access to the full text of some books (those held in collections like Project Gutenberg and Open Library). In addition users can search by subject or title for a book, and then find out which libraries in Australia hold that book. Such books can then be ordered by inter-library loan to the user’s local library – often even when the holding library is not itself a lending library.

“Archived websites” provides access to the Pandora collection, in which the National Library has been archiving Australian websites since 1996 – thus perhaps providing access even to pages no longer on the web. (I found a 2001 obituary of an ancestor published in an architecture magazine.) (If you don’t find the page you want in Pandora, also have a look at The Wayback machine.)

Other headings on the Trove gateway provide access to “Diaries, letters, Archives”, Maps, “Music, sound and video” and “About people and organisations”.

This is indeed a treasure trove of information, easily and freely available to anyone prepared to look.

10 October, 2010 at 12:33 pm 1 comment

British Army Service Records

I was searching today through the “Chelsea Pensioners” records on the website FindMyPast.co.uk These are the records of men pensioned out of the British Army, and the records will cover 1760-1913. (Corresponding to The National Archives documents in WO97).

Those of us familiar with searching Australian WW1 service records have been spoilt by free and easy access to digitised records, not only information about where and when our military ancestors served, but including physical description, next-of-kin, previous occupations, date and place of birth and more. Such digitised Australian records can be found by searching the National Archives of Australia website.

Gradually now more digitised British service records are becoming available for those of us unable to visit the reading rooms in London. Amongst these, the subscription site FindMyPast (UK) has a number of military collections including the Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920, Military Births, Marriages and Deaths – and now these British Army “Chelsea Pensioner Records”. The subscription site Ancestry.co.uk has WW1 service records and pension records. The National Archives (UK) website itself has an online database of Trafalgar Ancestors as well as Campaign Medals issued to WW1 merchant seamen on DocumentsOnline.

Many more military service records are available that are not yet online, but the above are some of the sources I’ve found useful. If we take the trouble to look, such digitised records make it much easier to find information about our military ancestors, even for those of us who live a long way from London.

1814 Service Record, "52nd Regiment, Light Infantry"

1814 Light Infantry Regiment, Service Record

4 October, 2010 at 4:47 pm Leave a comment

Historic photos

More on pictures today. I’ve just been looking at PictureAustralia, an initiative of the National Library of Australia and others. PictureAustralia has been in existence for more than 10 years and is still growing as a source of images of “all aspects of Australiana”.

When possible I like to add photos to my family history – photos of people when possible, but also photos of buildings, graves, schools – whatever is relevant and will add interest. Relatives often have acccess to photos that I do not, but I like to look at archives and website collections of old photographs as well.

In the past, one of my favourite sources of such photos has been ArchivePix, the City of Sydney Archives digital photograph bank. This can be found under the “Image Galleries” link (under “History & Archives”) on the City of Sydney council website.

Today I searched PictureAustralia for “21 Buckingham Street” – where ancestors lived 130 years ago. What I found was a photo of terrace houses at 21-25 Great Buckingham Street, Redfern. The “Rights” published on the website advise that the photo can be saved or printed for private research, but permission must be sought if you wish to use it for other purposes. What is interesting is that the photo comes from the City of Sydney Archives, implying that PictureAustralia might be the gateway now for photos from that collection too.

Even individuals may now contribute photos via Flickr to PictureAustralia, allowing individuals to share &/or sell copies of their photos, or perhaps have theose photos “preserved for perpetuity” by picture curators.

An Advanced Search allows users “exact phrase” searching or to select the year or place of interest, or even to select a particular contributor. Looking at the list of Contributors suggests other possibilities to search – including photos from New Zealand.

Not only places but images of people can be found too: A photo entitled ‘BATTLER FROM DOWN UNDER MEETS “THE CHAMP” ‘ is described “Shows Sergeant Graeme Etherington, amateur middleweight boxer from Sydney, squaring off with Jack Dempsey” – interesting!

3 October, 2010 at 12:33 pm Leave a comment

Film Archives

If a picture tells 1000 words, then what about moving pictures?

I’ve mentioned my ancestor (Leslie) Hay SIMPSON, who played the role of Ned Kelly in the 1934 film of When the Kellys Rode and then was lost at sea in 1937, soon after making the film Mystery Island on Lord Howe Island. The National Film & Sound Archive has many audiovisuals at http://aso.gov.au, including clips from Mystery Island. Hay Simpson can be seen in http://aso.gov.au/titles/features/mystery-island/clip2/ (he’s the drunk with the bottle).

However you don’t need an actor ancestor to find something interesting on film. World War 1 troops heading to the docks in Sydney can be seen in the 1915 footage at http://aso.gov.au/titles/historical/ww1-troops-embarkation/clip1/

Crowds at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 can be seen at http://aso.gov.au/titles/home-movies/farey-sydney-harbour-bridge/clip2/

Even educational resources are available. Excerpts from a documentary retelling the story of the Victorian gold rush can be seen at http://aso.gov.au/titles/tv/peachs-gold-eureka/clip1/

Have a look at the offerings on the Australian Screen website. Try entering a town or suburb name of interest, and see if there is historic film footage available. Think about the significant events in which ancestors might have been involved, and even if you can’t identify an ancestor, such historic footage gives you an opportunity to see things through their eyes – and isn’t that one of our goals of  family history research?

"Mystery Island" (1937)

Hay Simpson

1 October, 2010 at 10:22 am 6 comments

Even the price of his braces

I was searching State Records NSW (the NSW Government archives), looking for background information about my ancestor Samuel HOLMES (otherwise known as Samuel ETHERINGTON – but that’s another story).

A “keyname search” (searching almost all the digital indexes) of the NSW State Records led me to the Insolvency Index, which informed me that Samuel HOLMES, a baker of Sydney, was declared insolvent in July 1862.

Insolvency was the inability to pay your debts, and was originally treated as different to Bankruptcy, which involved a  person’s assets being administered and distributed to creditors. Insolvency doesn’t appear to have been particularly unusual – at least not amongst my ancestors – some of whom were declared insolvent or bankrupt a number of times in their lives.

Finding someone’s name in an index should only be the beginning of the story. Almost invariably the full document holds more information than the index entry.

In this case Samuel was also declared bankrupt (in December 1862), and corresponding notices appeared in the NSW Government Gazettes of 1862. The Government Gazette notices were as business-like as any government notice, but the real gems were discovered in the original documents. Those documents can be seen at the Western Sydney Records Centre (of NSW State Records) at Kingswood. In Samuel’s Insolvency file were all the invoices he could not pay.

If Samuel knew in July 1862 that he would be unable to pay his bills, it does not seem to have curbed his spending, as  his September 1862 quarterly account from the David Jones (department store) indicates. This invoice includes: 6 white shirts (3 pounds), 6 Cambric handkerchiefs (1 pound, 5 shillings), 1 pair of braces (4 shillings)  – and even a bottle of scent (another 4 shillings).

Such documents tell so much more about this ancestor (and his fashion sense!) than an unemotional announcement of his debts, and certainly rewarded the effort of obtaining the original records behind the index entry.

Quarterly account from David Jones, 1862

Invoice from David Jones, September 1862

28 September, 2010 at 11:14 pm Leave a comment


Discoveries and musings of a family history researcher and instructor - including tips and hints.

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