Posts filed under ‘Research techniques’
The earliest records available in the new colonies were the church records of baptisms, marriages and burials. Many people are missing from these registers – not all records have survived and not everybody had a church ceremony (especially in those places where initially only the Anglican Church was recognised).
In due time, governments needed better records of the people in the colony, so they introduced government-administered registration of births, deaths and marriages – or civil registration. District registrars were appointed and information was reported to them. In an age where many people were illiterate, registrars had to guess how to spell the names. (Remember this when searching for names in indexes – often the reason for not finding someone is because of spelling variations.)
Church ceremonies continued to take place, so it may be possible to obtain a copy of the information collected by the church, as well as the corresponding civil certificate.
As a general rule, the government asked for more information on civil certificates than was contained in the corresponding church record – but sometimes the opposite is true. For example, NSW marriage certificates (especially in the 1860s and 1870s) may not include information such as parents’ names and occupations, even though such information might be found in the corresponding church record.
As English and Welsh civil registration began on 1st July 1837, the earliest Australasian colonies to issue civil certificates (of birth, death and marriage) followed the English model:
- Birth registrations asked for the child’s name, date and place of birth and the names of the parents
- Marriages registrations asked for the couple’s names, ages, residences and occupations and sometimes details of the fathers
- Death registrations included questions about the deceased’s name, age and occupation as well as the date, place and cause of death
When the Victorian government began civil registration in 1853, they requested more information on certificates. Other colonies (and Scotland) that introduced civil registration later largely followed the Victorian practice of collecting the additional information, such as:
- Birth registrations also asked for the parents’ ages, place of birth and marriage details, and details of previous children
- Marriage registrations asked for the couple’s birthplaces and details of both fathers and mothers
- Death registrations asked for the deceased’s birthplace, parents’ and spouse’s names, marriage details, children’s names and burial place
Some or all of these additional fields of information on Victorian certificates were added in later years to the certificates of the regions that had earlier followed the English style of certificates.
Colonies that followed the English model were:
- Tasmania, earlier known as Van Diemen’s Land (from 1 December 1838)
- Western Australia (from 9 September 1841)
- South Australia (from 1 July 1842)
- Northern Territory was administered by South Australia from 1863 to 1911, so their civil BDM certificates (from 24 Aug 1870) follow the South Australian pattern
- New Zealand (from 1848) – although registration was not compulsory until 1856
The colonies that followed the Victorian model were:
- Victoria (from 1 July 1853)
- New South Wales (from 1 March 1856)
- Queensland did not separate from NSW as a separate colony until 1859, so their earliest civil certificates were issued from NSW (1856-59)
- Australian Capital Territory (from 1 January 1930) – prior to that in NSW records
Even when registration was compulsory, not all births, deaths and marriages were registered and some registrations have been lost (especially in the early years). Perhaps the parties had to travel some distance to the District Registrar, and might not have bothered. They might have distrusted the government and been unwilling to supply the information.
Even if you find the certificate, just because a question is asked, does not mean that the informant knew the answer. Under such circumstances a field might be left blank, or the informant might simply have made a guess.
For example, in NSW the parents were required to register a birth, the minister registered marriages, and it was the responsibility of the owner of a house to register a death. If the parents registering a birth were unmarried, unwillingness to admit this might lead to an invented marriage date. Similarly a young couple might lie about their ages in order to marry without their parents’ permission.
Death certificates are notorious for errors and missing information. The informant might not have known the information – the son of an immigrant might never have met their grandparents, and so might not know their names. If the death took place in a hospital or institution, the owner might not know family details. There are death certificates where even the name of the deceased is unknown.
Each state and territory has their own Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. There are microfiche indexes, CD-ROM indexes and sometimes online indexes. Not all indexes contain exactly the same information, and sometimes an item is missing from one index but present in another. So if you can’t find the entry in an online index, try visiting a library or genealogy society that holds microfiche and/or CD-ROM indexes.
For privacy reasons there is restricted public access to ‘recent’ certificates of births, deaths and marriages. Each state or territory determines their own definition of ‘recent’. Generally more restrictions have been put in place for online indexes than existed at the time of the earlier microfiche and CD-ROM indexes. So if you can access these earlier indexes, you may be able to search more recent indexes than are available online.
When searching indexes, always ensure you write down reference numbers for records of interest, as certificates may be cheaper with reference numbers supplied. For NSW and South Australia it is possible to obtain transcriptions more cheaply than certificates. (Such transcriptions are not legal documents, but as they include all the information on the certificates, they may be suitable for genealogical purposes.)
Victorian online indexes cost to search, however it is possible to obtain a copy as an unofficial ‘historic document’ more cheaply than an official certificate. For New Zealand, obtaining a ‘printout’ of the information on a post-1874 document is cheaper than obtaining a standard certificate.
(This article was written for findmypast.com.au)
- Links to Australian indexes of BDM & transcription agents
- Contact details for Australian Registries of BDM, and costs of certificates (Cora Num)
- Available Australian BDM indexes (Cora Num)
- See also my blog post on BDM certificates & saving money
It’s a common experience for genealogists – tracking ancestors forward through the UK censuses – to find that suddenly the whole family seems to vanish from the records. Eventually it might occur to us to wonder, did they migrate somewhere? If so, where did they go?
This is where the collection ‘Passenger lists leaving the UK 1890–1960′ on findmypast.com.au can be so useful. These are the digitised and indexed lists of passengers embarking on long-distance voyages made from all British ports (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales). If the ship stopped en route at additional ports, such as in Europe, passengers disembarking at those stops are also included. The original documents are held in The National Archives UK in series BT 27 (BT = Board of Trade). Findmypast has indexed together all departures from all British ports, allowing researchers to enter their ancestor’s name of interest and determine the destination.
The most common way of searching for immigrant ancestors is to search the archives of the destination country. But which government archives to check? In the case of passengers to Australia, the individual colonies (and then states) administered immigration separately until 1922, after which immigration control became a function of the Commonwealth Government. (A further complication when looking for immigration records is that, just as today, immigration is typically handled at the first port of call.)
Using findmypast.com.au, there is a better way. Look under ‘Travel & migration’ and select the record set ‘Passenger Lists Leaving the UK 1890-1960’. I was searching for the migration of my grandmother, Olwena KELLETT, who was born in Lancashire in 1901. I entered her name (with first name variants) and searched between 1901 and 1907. It is a free search – not even requiring a subscription to do the search.
I selected ‘name variants’ – which also allows for the fact that some passenger lists only identify people by an initial. I found her in 1905, where she travelled from Britain to South Africa.
The above information is as far as you can go with a free search. It requires a subscription or PayAsYouGo credits to see the transcription of the results or full image of the page. The amount of information available on the passenger lists varies widely over time. Some only have minimal information about the passengers, while others include their dates of birth, occupations, and addresses in Britain before departure as well as their ultimate destinations overseas.
I had already found the record of the family’s arrival in Australia, and had assumed they had travelled on that same ship from London to Sydney. But instead little Olwena travelled with her mother to South Africa first, and then 2 years later the family travelled on to Sydney.
As many of the passenger indexes available in Australia concentrate on ships that came from British ports, ancestors who travelled first to places like South Africa or North America might not be included in the indexes of arrivals in Australia. Looking instead at the departures from Britain might help us understand what happened.
Just as today, not every person travelling was an immigrant. Apart from the seamen, many of our ancestors (such as merchants) travelled for work and people travelled for holidays. Families who had already migrated travelled back to Britain to visit family and friends. In other words, a surprising number of our ancestors appear in passenger lists crossing the oceans. Using the indexes of passengers leaving Britain provides a very useful additional way of tracking their journeys.
DNA technology is advancing so rapidly that it is difficult to keep abreast of the advances and possibilities. Moreover rapidly falling prices make genetic testing more affordable and so more accessible. Here are some current options:
Test 1: Y-chromosome tests, for males to test DNA inherited from their father’s fathers
It is now possible for under US$200 for males to test the DNA they have inherited from their father’s father’s fathers, with sufficient accuracy to determine whether two men likely share a common ancestor ‘within a genealogical timeframe’ and how many generations ago that common ancestor probably lived.
I have used this test to discern whether two families with the same surname were actually related to each other, in situations where I have not yet found documentary proof. I have also used this particular DNA test to check (and finally refute) a theory about who might have been the biological father of an adopted male. It was necessary to find a living male descendant (down an all-male line) from the adopted male and also to find a living male descendant (down an all-male line) from the hypothesised birth father, and then compare the DNA that each inherited from their father’s fathers.
DNA is not related to surnames and so I am not restricted to testing two men with the same surname – the test is valid for any two men who might share a common male ancestor. However when I order this test, if I choose to use a commercial testing company like Family Tree DNA – which has a huge (and growing) database – I might find in their database a match with some living descendant who shares a common ancestor that I did not know about. This is especially useful for adoptees.
The above DNA test is only available to males (as only males have a Y-chromosome). Females like me need to ask a near male relative to be tested. I have asked my father and also my mother’s brother to be tested – this opens up for examination my nearest male lines.
Test 2: Mitochondrial tests, for anyone to test DNA inherited from their mother’s mothers
Useful DNA tests are no longer limited to males. We all have a different type of DNA (called mitochondria) that we inherit from our mother’s mother’s mothers. Mitochondria mutates so slowly that formerly the only conclusions we could draw from our maternal line was about ancient ancestors and their migratory patterns.
However that is no longer true. The company Family Tree DNA offers full sequence tests of all our mitochondria (DNA that is inherited from our mothers) that allow us to identify people who share an ancestor through our mother’s mother’s mothers, within about 200 years. [Thank you Bill Hurst for pointing out that while 23andMe also tests the 'coding region' of our mitochondria, they do not test or give results for all 16,571 locations, so theirs is not in fact a full sequence test.]
When the above matrilineal full sequence tests first became available, they cost close to $1,000. That price has dropped now to under US$300 (sometimes under $200).
Test 3: Autosomal tests, to test the DNA inherited half from each of our parents
We are not restricted to testing only the DNA of our father’s fathers or our mother’s mothers. Since 2010 it is possible to test the remaining nuclear DNA (that is, not the sex chromosomes). This DNA is called autosomal. Family Tree DNA calls their autosomal test Family Finder, while 23andMe calls a similar test Relative Finder. (Again these tests are under US$300 and sometimes under $200.)
These particular tests can check the DNA of our ancestors regardless of gender, because we inherit about half our autosomal DNA from each of our parents (and via them, from their ancestors) and this DNA can also be compared with the DNA of others. However as we inherit about one quarter of our DNA from each of our grandparents (and so about one eighth from each of our great grandparents) – eventually the inherited material from one particular ancestor becomes so small as to be difficult to identify definitively. Consequently, when comparing this autosomal DNA with someone else, our best conclusions are when the common ancestor lived no more than about 6 generations ago.
Use the tests in conjunction
While the above tests examine separate DNA, the tests can be used in conjunction. When looking at the summary of DNA results for people that 23andMe identified as likely to be my 3rd to 5th cousins (identified via the Relative Finder – or autosomal test), I noticed that one of the matches also seemed to have very similar Y-chromosome (father’s fathers) DNA to my mother’s brother. I sent an email and by swapping names of grandparents and their parents, we soon identified that this person was the son of a 3rd cousin to me (and so indeed within the range of 3rd to 5th cousins).
It is not necessary to understand how a car works in order to drive it, but it is necessary to know the functions of driving. In the same way it is unnecessary to understand much about the science of DNA in order to use it as a tool – but it is necessary to understand what sorts of questions can be answered by the different DNA tests so you know how to apply them as tools to aid your family history research.
This field is changing quickly
Because genetic tests available to the public are changing frequently (and certainly the prices are) readers need to beware of relying on conclusions written years ago or by someone who has not ‘kept up’ with tests currently available. This blog post is partly in response to an article I read this week entitled ‘The DNA dilemma’ – I do not agree with many of the conclusions in that piece.
It is no longer true to say that the only available information to be derived from maternal DNA (or mitochondria) is about ancient migrations of peoples – recent relatives can now be found by a full sequencing of the mitochondria (test available from Family Tree DNA for under $300).
It is no longer true that autosomal DNA can only make generalised indicators of race origins. (Autosomal DNA is sometimes referred to as ‘nuclear DNA’ but that is incorrect because the sex chromosomes are also inside the cell nucleus and the autosomes are the other pairs of chromosomes that are not the sex chromosomes.) Nor is it necessary to ‘test each generation in turn’. Autosomal DNA can identify that two people shared common ancestors within 6 generations (and possibly beyond, but it is less accurate beyond 6 generations). Many genealogists will not know all of their ancestors back even 6 generations, and so this DNA test can predict likely distant cousins who may not have been found by a paper trail.
There are differences between the DNA tests used in forensic law enforcement compared to commercial tests. Without going into too much scientific detail, legal forensics examine repeating groups of DNA at certain points on the autosomes whereas commercial autosomal tests examine the autosomal SNPs (something like ‘typo’ mutations). The tests are entirely different. Be wary about confusing the markers referred to in tests of the Y-chromosome (the DNA inherited father-to-son) – which are entirely different to the markers of autosomal DNA examined by forensic law enforcement agents.
Some people have suggested that male DNA studies are only relevant between males who share surnames. That is not true. There are many examples where family trees show a son with a different surname to his father – whether the name was changed by deed poll, by adoption, by remarriage of the mother – or for many other reasons. It is not the same surname that defines two people as father and son. Likewise DNA tests do not take surnames into account, so the test result is just as accurate whether two men share a surname or not.
In my opinion, the most recent DNA tests available to genealogists offer precise information which can supplement traditional genealogical methods. Family trees are still needed to identify ancestors and draw conclusions, however DNA tests can supplement other genealogical research, filling in gaps left by paper trails. With such tools we can test our conclusions and assumptions in constructed family trees as DNA can confirm or disprove reputed relationships. As databases grow, commercial DNA tests are more likely to help us find relatives that we might not have found by ‘traditional methods’.
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.
There are many excited genealogists at present, partly because of the huge RootsTech conference currently running in Salt Lake City. I could not join the 3,000 people attending RootsTech live, but I can still benefit by downloading the syllabi (handouts from the talks) and also by joining the many thousands more, listening over the internet to some sessions being broadcast live.
However this set me thinking about the changes that have already happened in genealogy during my lifetime, and wondering what will happen in the future?
Marian Pierre-Louis wrote a great blog post entitled ‘Top 3 changes in genealogy‘. According to Marian, those ‘top 3 changes’ are:
- Increased visibility, due to eg the increasing popularity of television shows like Who do you think you are? I would add to that – the online advertising of Ancestry.com tells people how easy it is to find your ancestors and that you don’t need to be an expert. (For my views on such advertising, see my earlier post ‘You only have to look‘.)
- Education and outreach, including courses for amateurs and professionals, some face-to-face but many now available over the internet.
- Technology – including blogging, social media like Facebook and the digitisation of records.
When I started my family history research, access to records meant either visiting libraries, archives and genealogy societies in person, or writing letters. It was the sort of ‘hobby’ mainly undertaken by retirees with time on their hands.
Now technology brings access to digitised records and indexes, but also to opportunities to learn from others, even experts in the fields – (almost) wherever in the world you and they might be. Only a few years ago I could not have sat at my desk here in Australia and listened to a lecture being delivered in Salt Lake City.
But the changes in technology bring dangers too:
- Not everybody is able (or willing) to embrace technology, and that will leave behind some people, as more information becomes almost only available online.
- Just as information is made readily available online, so errors are broadcast more widely too.
- Many seem to expect to find all information easily available online, so traditional sources that require more time to explore are being ignored (or at least until they are digitised!)
- Because some questions are answered easily and quickly, many no longer see the need for education and learning ‘how to do research’. So they don’t learn that the first apparently matching record found might not be the right answer. The preferred solution becomes ‘whatever is quickest and easiest’ – and that could well be adopting somebody else’s family tree – warts and all.
So back to my original question – what of the future? Can the number researching their family trees continue to grow at the current rate? Is there a limit?
The average age of genealogists seems to be getting younger and perhaps that is partly because of the attractions of technology and ‘saving time’. Can the current trends continue?
More than one website has attempted to ‘stitch together’ family trees, aiming at one world-wide family tree. Mostly that has been fraught with errors – there are too many coincidentally similar people’s names, dates and places. Considered weighing of evidence and acknowledging that some conclusions are at best unreliable is needed in our own trees, and so I wonder how could any computer program reliably make that decision for us? Apparently there is already one family tree for everyone in Iceland, could that eventually be true for the rest of us?
Is DNA the answer? Certainly DNA tests can already predict the probability that we share a common ancestor with someone, but cannot tell us precisely who that common ancestor must be. More traditional methods of genealogical research are needed in conjunction with the tools provided by DNA.
So – what of the future? Technology will continue to race ahead – that is probably the only thing that is certain. It will become easier, perhaps more fun, to find more records and publish our conclusions. Will those family trees be any more accurate than now?
What do you think? Can you make any predictions for 20 years? 50 or 100?
I’ve written before about indexes whose titles suggest they are accessing the same records but in fact yield different results (see ‘Multiple indexes are not all the same‘).
However, competition between subscription websites as well as freely available material means that sometimes we now have the luxury of choosing between more than one index to the same information. Especially when those indexes are separately created and not just duplicated, we have an increased chance of actually finding the record we are looking for.
I transcribed some of the 1901 London census and I am well aware how difficult it can be to read the writing. Sometimes I am almost surprised at the amount the indexers seem to have correct! Plus I hope that when researchers find an indexing error they will take the trouble to notify the webmaster (or database or index owner), so a correction can be made, and the general accuracy of the indexes will increase.
I had a reminder this week of the usefulness of multiple indexes. Dr Landsborough took a local census of the inhabitants of Stevenston in Ayrshire (Scotland) in 1819. (A version of this index can be seen on the ThreeTowners website).
We all know that Bill could be William. In Scotland Jessie was interchangeable with Jean, Jane or Janet. Morag becomes Sarah, and Donald could be Daniel.
A Scottish ancestor of mine was Grizel McKENZIE. Over the years I’ve looked for spelling variations of Grizel, but until this week I hadn’t tried looking for the English version of the name ‘Grizel’ – which is ‘Grace’. So the Grizel McKENZIE I was looking for seems to be the Grace McKENZIE who married Andrew SILLARS in Stevenston (Ayrshire) in 1833.
SILLARS is a name that seems to beg mis-spelling – SILLERS and SILAS are common, so when searching an online index I was trying SIL*S. The wildcard * (asterisk) can substitute for none, 1 or more characters. That picked up a number of spelling variations but not all.
That’s when multiple indexes came in handy. For English censuses I might check both FindMyPast.co.uk as well as Ancestry.co.uk but for Scottish censuses I was looking at Ancestry as well as ScotlandsPeople. (You can do a fair bit of searching on ScotlandsPeople before you have to pay). Ancestry only has transcriptions of the Scottish censuses, rather than the full images of the records on ScotlandsPeople, but I have a subscription for Ancestry and so did not have to pay more to search. (Ancestry.com is also generally freely available at libraries.)
In the 1841 census on Ancestry I found my couple as ‘Andrew and Gaiyle SILLARS’ – I thought that Gaiyle might be a mis-reading of Grizle. But although knowing they were likely there somewhere, I could not find the same couple on ScotlandsPeople – I tried putting a wildcard on the *front* of the name and even that did not find them. In the end I abandoned looking for the surname at all. Fortunately their first names were uncommon so I tried looking for them by first name only, coupled with age and place – and finally I found them – as Andrew and Grizle LILLAY!
So ‘Andrew and Gaiyle SILLARS’ in one index were ‘Andrew and Grizle LILLAY’ in another. Here’s a copy of the image – what do you think?
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.)
Anyway 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?)
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.
If a death certificate has the dreaded word ‘Unknown’ – think about other ways of getting the information.
I was looking for the origins of William Etherington, a carpenter who died at Delegate (southern NSW). On his death certificate, not only were his parents listed as unknown, but so were any spouse or children.
Death certificates often have errors or missing information, because the owner of the property where a death occurred was the person required to register the death. The accuracy of their answers depended on who that was and how much did they know.
Next possibility – was there a will naming family members? If so, it might be found in a ‘Probate Packet’ – such files contain information about the property of the deceased and who was to inherit.
Checking the online indexes of NSW State Records (holders of New South Wales government archives), I found no entry for William in the Probate Packet index, nor the index of the Deceased Estate files (generally these contain an inventory of property and possessions).
However there was an entry for William Etherington in the index for Intestate Estates (‘intestate’ means died without leaving a will). The Curator of Intestate Estates determined who was to inherit when there was no will to indicate the wishes of the deceased.
The online index gave a clue that this file was working checking. The comments column included “contains original BDMs”. What an understatement!
William was one of 9 children, most of whom had married (and perhaps remarried) and had children of their own. William’s brother claimed that all his siblings and their descendants deserved to share the inheritance. In evidence there was a family tree (4 generations) along with all the applicable birth, marriage and death dates for everyone named. Not only that, but the file also contained all of the birth, baptism, marriage, death and burial certificates. Most documents were from England and the baptisms and burials were certified by the vicar.
Instant family! And photographing them all with my digital camera cost me nothing. (Fortunately I had a spare camera battery, as there were so many documents.)
I don’t think I have ever before found so many certificates in one file! However it was also a reminder that if the information is missing in the first place you seek, check elsewhere.
I was delighted to be nominated for the Ancestor Approved Award from Pauleen at ‘Family history across the seas‘.
I have been busy preparing for an engagement party, worrying about weather and tidiness – but then came horrifying tales of the floods. How could I worry about rain at the party, when others were struggling with the loss of lives and possessions? Likewise, when I consider the difficulties and personal tragedies faced by some of my ancestors, it puts into perspective my own concerns.
This Award was created by Leslie Ann Ballou at Ancestors Live Here and asks two things of those who receive it:
- They should write 10 surprising, humbling, or enlightening aspects of their research
- Pass the award on to 10 other researchers whose family history blogs are doing their ancestors proud.
So here are my 10 surprising, humbling or enlightening findings, in no particular order of importance:
- I am humbled by the difficulties faced by immigrant ancestors, like David and Jane MOORE and their three small children, who were shipwrecked when the “Sacramento” was wrecked at Point Lonsdale, Victoria, in 1853. They were rescued, but their possessions were lost. Our ancestors faced incredible difficulties leaving their families and settling so far away.
- I am humbled by the personal sacrifice of the many young men who ‘did their duty’ and fought in the various wars overseas. Whether they died overseas or returned to deal with their memories of war, they were willing to ‘do their bit’.
- I was surprised and enlightened when I found (via the internet) the relative in England who held a letter from 1903, which detailed how the ancestor I’d long been searching for had also lived under another alias.
- I was surprised by the number of ancestors who committed bigamy (or else had more than one partner at the same time, with children, and without marrying either partner). It was enlightening to read the detailed report of the Old Bailey Trial of my 4g.grandfather, Thomas MILLS, who married 3 times and was sentenced to transportation for 7 years for bigamy.
- I was surprised by the number of my ancestors who went bankrupt, and enlightened by reading the detailed accounts of their debts and possessions.
- Searching the births and then the deaths indexes for NSW, I was humbled and saddened to discover that Thomas and Ann ETHERINGTON lost 9 children in 20 years – one daughter reached 18 years, the rest did not survive to double digits. Then Thomas died, and Ann lived another 30 years as a widow.
- I am enlightened and fascinated when interviewing elderly relatives, with the details of early lives. For example, an elderly relative spoke of her grandfather’s car and how he would chain a log to the back of his car, to function as a break when he drove down the long slope from Armidale to Tamworth.
- I was enlightened by 2 reported desertions from the army of an ancestor, William Joseph ETHERINGTON. Orphaned at aged 7, he travelled with his brother to Victoria and enlisted as a drummer boy. When the regiment was to leave Victoria, he deserted and was recaptured. He deserted again in New Zealand 2 years later, trying to get back to Victoria. Police gazettes gave detailed physical descriptions at the time of each desertion, so now I even know how much he grew in those 2 years.
- I was surprised to discover that my ancestor, James BOND (with a son Felix), belonged to the BOND family whose motto was ‘The world is not enough’.
- I have been surprised to discover several family members who were not the child of their commonly believed ‘parents’.
Our ancestors are not just names and dates, but were real people, and we understand them better when we consider how we would cope with some of the events in their lives.
And now to nominate 10 other researchers whose blogs are doing their family proud: (I’m sure some of these would have been nominated before.)
- Shauna Hicks at http://www.shaunahicks.com.au/shhe-genie-rambles/ (Someone else has probably already nominated Shauna, as she does so much for family history in Australia)
- Australian Genealogy Journeys at http://ausgenjourneys.blogspot.com/
- Lyn Dear at http://genealogy-new-zealand.blogspot.com/
- Carol Baxter at http://www.carolbaxter.com/blog/
- Family History South Australia at http://familyhistorysa.blogspot.com/
- Kylie Willison at http://kyliewillison.blogspot.com/
- Kirsty Wilkinson at http://professionaldescendant.blogspot.com/
- Blair Archival Research at The Passionate Genealogist
- London Roots Research at http://londonrootsresearch.blogspot.com/
- Amanda Epperson at http://scottishemigration.blogspot.com/
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!
This week I prepared my first exam, for the ‘Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages’ course for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I actually found it surprisingly difficult, partly because I remember sitting many exams in the past & finding fault with multiple choice questions where answers could be argued.
How do you measure somebody’s skills at using births, deaths and marriages indexes, and interpreting certificates? I didn’t want all answers to be found in the notes. (Although knowing “What year did civil registration start in NSW?” – 1856 – might be useful, because there is usually more information on a civil birth certificate than the early church records baptism certificate.)
I believe that effectively using BDM indexes is more about your searching skills and being able to analyse and look for clues in the results found. Such skills improve over time – perhaps because after falling into a trap you are less likely to do so next time.
In this exam I tested skills like recognising the possibility of spelling variations, where you won’t find the birth if you search for the name exactly as it appeared in the death index (using a wildcard helps). Or linking that bride named Annie with the birth of a daughter named Ann.
I think these are the real skills of researching family history. Not jumping to conclusions when you stumble on one person who happens to have the right name and is born in the right place, before looking to see if they might have died as an infant and so could not possibly be the groom in a marriage 25 years later. Alternatively if you look and don’t find, then thinking about how else to search.
Researchers need to be aware that just because the marriage certificate said they married at age 20, doesn’t mean it’s true. I always start searching a range of dates and increase or decrease the range if necessary. One couple in my family had 5 children and then were married. (The bride was previously married and could not remarry until after the death of her first husband.) I would not have found the marriage if I only looked before the birth of their first child.
One skill that improves over time that I did not test in this exam, is handwriting recognition. (Ironically someone in my family has dreadful handwriting and he is fantastic at helping me interpret old hard-to-read handwriting.)
What do you think of this? (I remember how hard I found this at first, but now it seems not bad.)
Australians refer to Births, Deaths and Marriages (or BDM) – in alphabetical order. In UK these are described as BMD (in chronological order) while most Northern Americans refer to Vital Statistics.
I’ve been writing a course on Australian Births, Deaths and Marriages for the National Institute of Genealogical Studies. In Australia births, deaths and marriages are managed separately by each state or territory. While these have some common history there are also differences in the records and indexes available. (Links to the various BDM Registries can be found here.)
The following are some tips for saving money, while searching Australian BDM:
- Check whether a family member already has a copy of the certificate you want.
- Most states’ and territories’ Registry BDM indexes online are free to search, although Victoria’s cost & some regions don’t have online indexes.
- Most states and territories have BDM indexes on CDROMs that can be searched freely at libraries and genealogical societies.
- Ancestry.com is available to use freely at many libraries, genealogical societies & Family History Centers, so you do not need a personal subscription to check the combined ‘Australian Birth, Marriage and Death Index’.
- Cross-check details as much as possible before ordering, to minimise wrongly ordered certificates.
- Check holdings of genealogical societies – someone else might have deposited a copy of the certificate you want.
- Check the Australasia Births, Deaths & Marriages Exchange in case someone else has the certificate you want.
- Certificates are often cheaper if you can provide the name, year and registration numbers (and sometimes registration districts) – so check an index first and write down ALL the details.
- For New South Wales (NSW) and Tasmania, many 19th century church records are microfilmed & you may be able to see them at a genealogical society or library and write down the details yourself.
- For NSW transcriptions are cheaper than full certificates. Obtain these from Marilyn Rowan, Joy Murrin or Laurie Turtle. Early Church Records transcriptions are cheaper than civil certificate transcriptions.
- In South Australia transcriptions can sometimes be obtained free from the public libraries that hold District Registers. Note that each library can only provide transcriptions of one district, not others. Some libraries charge for this service and some offer it free. (eg Unley Library holds Adelaide District Register ONLY and will copy for researchers who live too far from the library to visit.)
- South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society (SAGHS) offers transcriptions of all districts of historic South Australian certificates.
- For Victoria, historical images of certificates (downloaded immediately as PDF files) are cheaper than certified printed copies of certificates (posted to you).
- Search Queensland BDM indexes online for free and order online the historical image of a certificate more cheaply than a certified historical certificate here.
I’ve been very busy lately, writing and teaching, but without time to write new blog entries.
At the recent History and Genealogy Expo, run by Unlock The Past, I gave talks entitled ‘Which Genealogy Program?’ and ‘DNA for Genealogists’.
‘Which Genealogy Program?‘ is the title of the book I wrote with Rosemary Kopittke, and it is available through Gould Genealogy & Heraldry. Actually today I finished the revisions for an updated edition 2 of the book, which will be launched next week at the History and Genealogy Roadshow. Edition 2 of the book includes reviews of the latest versions of Ezitree Plus, Family Tree Maker 2011 and MacFamily Tree.
A second talk I gave at the Expo was ‘DNA for Genealogists’, and a short excerpt from my talk can be seen in this clip. (Having seen it, I realise that I really must learn to trust the remote controls for changing slides, so I don’t need to keep looking down at the computer in order to step through the slides of my presentations!)
I have also attended the ‘Lost in the Internet’ seminar at the State Library of NSW, conducted by the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG). My topic to speak on there was ‘How Pay-to-view Websites can be Good Value’. A photo from that day can be seen here.
Today Louise St Denis, the Managing Director of the National Institute of Genealogical Studies (NIGS) released some information that will also be announced next week at the Roadshow – I am to be the Director of Australian Studies for an Australian Certificate course run through NIGS. Her announcement can be seen here. The various courses will be released over 2011.
Anyway all that is why I haven’t had time to write about anything in particular, although I have actually been doing a lot of genealogical writing. With all these talks, I decided to make available on my website the handouts from some of the talks I have given in the last few years. (Bear in mind that some of these handouts were prepared some years ago – each shows the date indicating when it was prepared.)
I retain the copyright, but hopefully at least some of the information contained might be useful for others. Handouts include: Arrivals (Immigration); Australian births, deaths & marriages; Australian government archives; DNA for genealogists; Pay-to-view websites; New Zealand research; Publishing personal research to the Internet; Scottish research; Victorian Goldrush; Western Australian genealogy.
I was fortunate enough to attend two reunions this weekend, in both cases with friends I’ve known half my life or more. This set me thinking about our ancestors and their friends. When we find a ‘visitor’ or ‘boarder’ staying with our ancestors in a 19th century census, how much effort do we put into trying to track down who that visitor was?
A child might well turn out to be a grandchild (or niece or nephew), and their surname might provide the clue to what happened to missing children or siblings. Often the boarder or visitor is a relative. Just as today, when visiting or moving to a new location, it might be convenient to stay with a family connection. Or perhaps the visitor was a work colleague.
Sometimes we don’t know the reason why the boarder is staying in that particular family home, but they continue to be present at census after census. One such person in my family history is Ralph MORT. In the 1851 census, Ralph and his younger sister Ann were lodging with the family of William and Maria KELLETT, in Preston, Lancashire (England). William was my 3g.grandfather, and in the 1851 census William was listed as a coal carter and Ralph MORT was a (railway) engine driver, so perhaps they knew each other through work. That is the nearest I have found to a possible explanation for their connection.
In the 1861, 1871 and 1881 censuses, Ralph (without his sister Ann) continued to live with the KELLETT family. William KELLETT died in 1883 and his wife Maria in 1889. In the 1891 census, Ralph was listed as the head of the household, living at that same address with KELLETT relatives. In 1901 (again same address) 81-year-old Ralph is back to being a boarder with a KELLETT son as head of the household.
When I ordered a copy of the 1889 will of Maria KELLETT, I had a sinking feeling as I deciphered the names of her heirs. I had never heard of the children that were named and the children that I knew about were not mentioned. I thought I must have the wrong Maria KELLETT – until I interpreted the signature of a witness – Ralph MORT. It was the confirmation I needed that in fact I had the right will and so a number of new children to research as relatives.
Ralph Mort – long-time friend or a branch of the family not yet connected? (Ralph’s will unfortunately does not answer that question.) Either way for me “and Ralph Mort” is like the full stop at the end of this family sentence. He is also an example of why it is worth paying attention to the various lodgers and visitors listed with our families on census nights.
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.
My great great grandfather, Samuel ETHERINGTON, was a “brickwall” for many years. For only 1 of his children could I find a baptism (in 1859) and that document referred to “Samuel Etherington, engineer”. Every other reference was to “Samuel Etherington, builder”.
Except one – when his daughter Emily married in 1883, her father was named as “Samuel Etherington, baker”. I could not find Samuel born, married or died, nor immigrating – he just seemed to be there, fathering children. I tried all sorts of spelling variations, hunted him through directories, electoral rolls and every other source I could find. I followed the family’s rates payments to local councils. I learned a lot about his life – but not where he was born or died.
Eventually I expanded the search and started researching everyone surnamed ETHERINGTON in 19th century Australia, placing them in families and looking for a Samuel. (Fortunately the name was not too common.) When that didn’t solve the mystery, I expanded the search further, looking for those families’ origins back in England. I found one possibility – Thomas ETHERINGTON (who migrated from England to Sydney) had had a brother Samuel born in England, whose death I could not find.
By this time Internet bulletin boards and email lists were available. Wherever I could, I posted queries – did anybody know anything about this English ETHERINGTON family of Thomas and Samuel? Eventually somebody saw my message who knew someone who knew something – and he put me in touch with a lady in England who held family documents which explained the puzzle.
This lady’s ancestor had received a letter from Australia in 1903, from a Henry HOLMES, who wrote – “you don’t know me but I am the son of your brother Samuel ETHERINGTON, who has been living here in Australia under the name of Samuel HOLMES”. Henry HOLMES was the oldest son of Samuel and Hester HOLMES. With that clue, things started falling into place.
Samuel HOLMES, baker, had 6 children surnamed HOLMES with Hester HOLMES. Samuel ETHERINGTON, builder, had 8 children surnamed ETHERINGTON with Sarah EVERETT. I’m guessing that the dual lives must have been revealed at some point, hence the ETHERINGTON daughter’s marriage certificate, naming Samuel ETHERINGTON as a baker, just before Samuel ETHERINGTON disappeared from the records.
It appears that Samuel eventually abandoned the ETHERINGTON family and moved away with his son Henry HOLMES, until his death (as Samuel HOLMES) in 1903 in Bombala (southern NSW). In 2003 I visited England and saw where Samuel was born in Bermondsey – later that same year I visited Bombala and saw his grave.
Because I had hunted so hard for Samuel, for more than 10 years, I eventually knew a lot about him. When I found that bankruptcy file (mentioned in an earlier blog post) for Samuel HOLMES, it included the signature of Samuel HOLMES, baker. The English ETHERINGTON family had a prayer book inscribed by Samuel ETHERINGTON – what do you think of the 2 signatures?