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

Parents Unknown

William Etherington, "parents unknown"

Parents unknown

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.

Family tree of William Etherington

Family of William Etherington

29 January, 2011 at 5:43 pm 2 comments

Australia Day, past and present

Today is Australia Day and I am thinking how our attitudes to our history have changed over time. My childhood history book referred to Captain Cook ‘discovering Australia’ in 1770. That completely discounted the presence of indigenous Australians here for at least 40,000 years, not to mention all the European sightings of our continent long before Cook.

Then there is the changed attitude to a convict past. Not so many years ago it would have been a dreadful shame to have convict forebears. Now such ancestors are much sought after, as it associates us with pioneers, and we are amused by some of the rogues and think the Kelly gang bushrangers were forced into their crimes. Perhaps some people rewrite their history a bit by glossing over their ancestor’s ‘crime’ (“they were hungry so stole a loaf of bread”). I wonder what misrepresentations our descendants will accuse us of making?

The following is a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald  on Thursday 9 December 1937 (page 3, see it  in Trove) in response to preparations for the upcoming 150th anniversary of ‘Australia Day’. At that reenactment of the landing, they chose to gloss over even the presence of convicts in the First Fleet!

AUSTRALIAN HISTORY.

TO THE EDITOR OF THE HERALD,

Sir,-Dr. Mackaness, speaking at a meeting of the Royal Australian Historical Society last week, said that the 150th celebrations had done much for historical work and research. That may be so. It is interesting to note, however, that Dr. Mackaness made no protest against the inaccurate presentation of Australian history about to be made at the forthcoming celebrations. The landing of Governor Phillip without reference to the convicts, as decided by the 150th Anniversary celebration committee, is in conflict with Dr. Mackaness’s book, “Admiral Arthur Phillip,” just published, and here quoted . . .

“On 25th January at daylight, the Supply, with a company of marines and forty convicts on board, had weighed anchor, but could not leave the bay (Botany) till noon … anchoring the same evening at 7 o’clock, being obliged to turn up … At daylight on 26th January … the marines and convicts were landed from the Supply … The convicts were immediately set to work clearing a piece of land on which to erect the tents … After noon the Union Jack was hoisted on shore and the marines being drawn up to it, the Governor and officers to the right, and the convicts to the left, their Majesties and the Prince of Wales’s health, with success to the colony, was drank, in four glasses of porter, after which a feu de joie was fired and the whole (sic) gave three cheers …”

Here then is the landing scene. Take away reference to the convicts and you have the skeleton which is to be presented at the coming clebrations. Where are the protests of Dr. Mackaness, or the Royal Australian Historical Society? The silence of this society, which aims at historical accuracy, is astounding, while its motto, “Not unmindful of the past,” would appear to be a misnomer, at least as regards the convicts. The official voice of this society is dumb regarding the decision of the celebration committee to ban references to the convict pioneers, when this society’s protest should be loudest.

I am, etc.,

B. T. DOWD. Waverley, Dec. 7.

26 January, 2011 at 10:26 am Leave a comment

Early Australian documents

To celebrate Australia Day (26 January) Shelley at Twigs of Yore invited us to write about our earliest documentation for an Australian ancestor or relative.

It might not be my earliest Australian document, but this document dates from Perth in 1832, within 3 years of the new Swan River colony in Western Australia. So these ancestors were certainly Australian pioneers.

Thomas Farmer and his wife Ann and their two small sons arrived at the new Swan River colony (Western Australia) in 1829 on HMS Sulphur. Thomas was a Private in the 63rd Regiment, part of the contingent accompanying the first ship of European settlers to the new colony. Ann was reported to be the first white woman ashore in Western Australia. By 1832 Thomas and Ann had 3 sons, and Ann was pregnant again, when Thomas drowned.

After Thomas’ death, with no other means of support, Ann married again before the birth of her 4th son. Ann was to be widowed twice more, and have 9 children in total, before she herself died at age 64.

Anyway, back to that early document. The following is an extract from C.S.O. 20/155 (microfilm), from Battye Library, Colony of Western Australia.

Enquiry into the causes of the death of Thomas Farmer, a private in His Majesty’s 63rd regiment of foot, taken at Perth in the said colony on Friday the twenty fourth day of February 1832. … Edward Barron, Colour Serjeant of His Majesty’s 63rd Regiment of foot being duly sworn saith -

“Yesterday morning about six o’clock I accompanied the deceased along with … two Privates of my regiment to the Flats to bring back a flat boat …

We had gone but a few yards from the bank when the painter broke. The sea breeze was blowing choppy and drifting the flat on shore on which account I called to Steel to pull his small boat round. He tried but I saw he could not pull it round. Upon which I told him to jump out of the boat into the water knowing he was a good swimmer and lay hold of the painter of the small boat and bring it to me in the flat.

Farmer on hearing me say this said there was no necessity for anyone swimming hereunder he could find bottom and at the same instant he jumped out. He was immediately out of his depth and went down below the surface. I called to Steel to lay hold of him and pull him into the boat. Steel did accordingly pull him into the boat. I ordered Farmer not to jump out of the boat again.

Steel again jumped out and got hold of the painter and as soon as Steel jumped out Farmer again jumped out saying he could find bottom. He immediately struck out but I saw then he could not swim and that he was beginning to paddle like a dog on which I called to Steel to lay hold of him and at the same time I undressed myself and jumped into the water after deceased and was making towards him, and had got within about four strokes of him when he went down. He never came up again. Steel swam round the boat while I dived down after deceased but we never saw any trace of him.”

25 January, 2011 at 10:12 pm 4 comments

Ancestor Approved Award

Ancestor Approved

Ancestor Approved Award

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:

  1. They should write 10 surprising, humbling, or enlightening aspects of their research
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. I was surprised by the number of my ancestors who went bankrupt, and enlightened by reading the detailed accounts of their debts and possessions.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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’.
  10. 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.)

  1. 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)
  2. Australian Genealogy Journeys at http://ausgenjourneys.blogspot.com/
  3. Lyn Dear at http://genealogy-new-zealand.blogspot.com/
  4. Carol Baxter at http://www.carolbaxter.com/blog/
  5. Family History South Australia at http://familyhistorysa.blogspot.com/
  6. Kylie Willison at http://kyliewillison.blogspot.com/
  7. Kirsty Wilkinson at http://professionaldescendant.blogspot.com/
  8. Blair Archival Research at The Passionate Genealogist
  9. London Roots Research at http://londonrootsresearch.blogspot.com/
  10. Amanda Epperson at http://scottishemigration.blogspot.com/

17 January, 2011 at 6:03 pm 5 comments

Coat of arms / ‘family crest’

Some interesting comments in my last blog post (‘You only have to look’) made me wish I’d replied into a separate blog post, so at least the comments related to the topic.

Someone said in a comment: Those “accept anything they find without question” folks must be the ones who patronize those generic “family crest” suppliers where you get a crest of somebody, somewhere, who happens to share your surname.

I disagreed because I think you can hang anything on your wall that takes your interest, but to say “my great grandfather was …” without sufficient cross-checking to ensure you have the ancestor who belongs to you – well it might be a very interesting family tree, but it’s not yours. And I guess that’s the same point the commenter made about how many people think of a ‘family’ coat of arms.

To be entitled to use a coat of arms you must have either been granted it yourself or be descended in the male line from the original grantee.

My point was that I might know that, and not actually use the arms, but still be interested in them as a curiosity.

However the mention of a ‘family crest’ touched a particular irritation with me. There’s no such thing as a ‘family crest’.

The term ‘coat of arms’ (or ‘armorial bearings’ or just ‘arms’) descends from the days when knights in battles or tournaments wanted to be identifiable, and with the visor of their helmets down, clad in armour, it was difficult to tell friend from foe, so they started to paint the symbols that identified the knight onto a sleeveless linen surcoat, worn over the armour.

Different parts of the armour had different names, and some of those names continue in the words used to describe ‘armorial bearings’ (what we think of as ‘coats of arms’).

The only essential part of the armour was the shield (which could be different shapes & sizes). The crest was ornamentation that might have been worn on top of the helmet and usually was chosen as a bird or beast that the knight thought reflected his martial qualities.

So a crest was optional, but you cannot have a crest without arms. So please – refer to a ‘coat of arms’ not to a ‘family crest’!

Fraser of Lovat

Coat of arms

10 January, 2011 at 6:17 pm 1 comment

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

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