2011: the Genie year in review: SLOBR

I’m not a great one for lists and New Year’s resolutions so I didn’t formalise what I wanted to do at the start of 2011. This may have been a mistake because there have been times when I felt I’ve swirled along without a clear direction whereas I’m usually fairly good at being task-oriented when I want to complete something. So what DID I achieve in family history during 2011? This is an aide-memoir for me as much as anything so feel free to skip as much as you like.


Blogging has been my big sharing contribution in 2011. After a tentative first year, I dedicated a lot of time and energy to it this year. Some of what I’ve learned from blogging, I’ve talked about recently here.

I like to think that by helping out the people who’ve contacted me through the blog, especially those with Dorfprozelten ancestors, that I’ve contributed a little to the genie community. There has also been extensive email correspondence around a number of families I research (though not my own).

I’ve started in on my Blurb blog-to-book already and finding that I should have inserted my images at higher resolution…live and learn. I plan to get one book in hard copy then others in e-books for my family. The sharing of my personal history in the 52 weeks series was motivated by being able to pass that on to my family. My failure was not getting my husband to write more of his off-line.


A morning of talks by Suzie Zada in the middle of the year was a highlight for me. We were going on holidays that weekend and I kept saying I’ll leave after this presentation – and stayed to the end, even though the topics were not specifically relevant to my own research.

I learn every day through the blogs I read and the strategies and discoveries other make. Books, books and more books also add to my learning.

I enrolled in four Pharos courses, two great ones on Scottish family history by Chris Paton, one on enclosures which was excellent and one on old handwriting which was also valuable but because I had other commitments didn’t dedicate time to properly engaging.

RootsTech was a fascinating insight into a partially-online conference and I was able to learn a lot from the presentations I watched, including using cloud document storage. Looks like a few mid-night wake-ups in February 2012 for me!

Shamrock in the Bush was and is a great learning opportunity as well being companionable. Not Just Ned was not only a great reminder of aspects of my personal history but an insight into Irish lives in Australia (especially that voyage chest).


This one teeters on being a fail. My weakness is gathering the information re disparate families and then not entering them immediately into my informal narrative. I don’t file until I’ve written them up – you can see the pitfall.

On the plus side I’ve started reviewing a potential book on my Melvin family – I wrote about 150 pages a couple of years ago and while I’d done some more research, the narrative needs editing, adding to, and reviewing for further research.

Also on the plus side I’ve been scanning lots of photos –some for the 52 weeks series, and hundreds of our old slides. This achievement gives me a big tick in terms of cyclone preparation as well.

Thanks to some house renovations and ensuing chaos, my library of books and family history references got catalogued. I used Collectorz but also dabble in LibraryThing. Still can’t decide which I prefer but I think Collectorz is quicker to find the book reference I need whereas LibraryThing is online and gives you tips on books similar or relevant to those in your library.

A couple of months ago I started documenting what I worked on each day. This has been a mixed success as I followed it faithfully for some weeks then dropped the ball. However I did find it useful in keeping me on-track with what I want to, and also not being distracted by emails etc as they arrive. When I do focus I am like a terrier in getting through something, so I need to find a balance there.


For the first time I found a trace of my Gavin family in Ireland.

Having chased up my grandmother’s brother’s family for years, I’m now almost certain that he has no surviving descendants. Ancestry releases of war records have also filled out his history.

Through a combination of my research last year in Hertfordshire, online resources and the enclosure course with Pharos, I learned about the pubs my Kent family owned in Hertfordshire.

New digitisation of newspapers with Trove gave me a full list of my great-grandfather’s property which was sold after his death, right down to the picks and shovels. I’ve confirmed his will is not held by the Queensland State Archives so this newspaper advertisement was a find.


Sadly, I didn’t get enough opportunities to get to the Archives interstate in 2011. While I’ve been in Brisbane a few times this year, research hasn’t been the primary purpose so archives visits have been all too brief and far too whirlwind. It’s been a few years since I’ve had good solid archives time. However with more information coming online there’s more background research that I can do from Darwin.

One of my favourite strategies is to use LDS films to read old parish registers, parish chest materials, land records or whatever else is available on microfilm for “my” parishes. I’d be lost without these.

Thanks to Scotlands People I’ve added more information to my own families, and kick-started a friend’s family history for her. Love SP and all for the cost of a coffee.


All in all not an unsuccessful year but I do want to have a more clear-sighted focus in 2012. More research and more documentation are on the agenda. Where to for 2012? Time to plan.


52 weeks of personal genealogy & history: Week 52: Advice to future researchers of my families.

The topic for Week 52 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Advice. Do you have any advice for future generations who may be researching your family?

Reflecting on my own experiences over 25 years of family history research, what advice would I give to someone researching our family in the future, which may be a new, or indeed a current generation? What lessons have I learned? Oh, this is one of those questions where you purport to be an expert even if you’re not, but here goes.

Enjoy the ride

Family history is a wonderful hobby – you may think you’ll control it but like any obsession it will eventually control you. Fortunately, unlike most other obsessions, the hazards are few (poor eyesight, a diminishing bank account, an inability to bypass a cemetery, and a tendency to write 1711 when you’re living in 2011 or even 2111). Enjoy the ride, you’ll have a great time!

Be a life-long learner

Family history is a great obsession hobby for anyone who wants to continue learning. As each family door opens there will be something you need to learn about, be it technology-driven or history in any of its guises. Be open and be a learner.

Are you a number? Neither were they.

Our ancestors were people, just like us in many ways, even though times were different. Don’t treat them as a statistic on a tree with bare biographical data. Learn as much as you can from a wide range of sources so that as you learn, they become real people with real lives in their moment of history. The power brokers may make world decisions but it’s ordinary people who implement those decisions and live the consequences.

Don’t be shocked

Don’t think that in the olden days everyone was virtuous and made no mistakes…they were people just like us…human nature changes surprisingly little. Don’t start the journey if you don’t think you can cope with finding out unusual, scandalous or unpalatable things about your ancestral families. Give them forgiveness and tolerance for things they got wrong and remember they are/were (usually) precious to their families. Don’t fudge the truth but don’t abuse the trust salaciously.

Get down & dirty

Even though it would have been inconceivable to imagine how much family history research would change in 25 years, I can’t imagine there will never be a need to visit a library or archive. It would be a sad world if it comes to that I think. So go old-fashioned: check out books, hold documents your ancestors signed, visit the churches where they married, and if possible look at the places where they lived, died and are buried. You will learn so much this way.

Review and reassess

Don’t trust every record you see or every index you read. Just because the surname Cass doesn’t appear in indexes for Papua New Guinea, doesn’t mean they weren’t there. Just because the family was called McCorkindale by the late 1800s doesn’t mean the McCorquodale family, with its many variant spellings, isn’t your ancestral line. Just because one family is called McSharry and another McSherry doesn’t mean they’re unrelated: they are one and the same. Go back to basics and compare birth, marriage and immigration records.

Don’t trust everything that an earlier researcher has written or published. They will almost certainly have done their best at that point in time, but check their sources if you’re concerned. No sources? Perhaps you shouldn’t trust them all that much. If we’re good researchers and keep on looking, we learn more which may change the original story, a little or a lot.

Revisit aka Persistance pays (usually)

Can’t find them on the first pass through the records? Please don’t give up. Go back, again and again. As you learn more about your family you see information with new eyes. Is it a waste of time? Not even if you don’t get answers…you keep learning.

When persistence doesn’t pay off

Perhaps in decades to come and more records come to light, someone will find how my “swimmers” came to Australia. That’s George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien and her sister Bridget that I’m talking about. And if some future researcher finally solves this riddle, can they please get an ouija board and let me know how George and Mary got here, because it’s driven me mad for decades! I have visions of them in heaven (they were good people) saying “try harder”.

Christmas Memories 2011

As people go back to work and family return to their homes, I think we can declare Christmas 2011 over for the Cass Mob. The fridge has some space in it, the wine rack has been decimated, Cyclone Grant averted in Darwin, and everything is getting back to normal, including the grandchildren’s excitement levels. To our surprise the smallest grandchild didn’t undecorate the Christmas tree and the cat also had only one or two goes at climbing it and settled for lying decoratively near the silver tinsel.

Springer and "his" tinsel.

One daughter has returned south, ready for a move to Kenya in the New Year and the round of celebrations have finished for those of us still in Darwin. We had a great time even though it was all low key. The Christmas pudding was steamed, the cake and my Grandma’s shortbread recipe were ready on time and my grandson and I made up my best friend’s shortbread (her Grandmother’s recipe). We also had a craft day some weeks ago, making up some bon-bons (crackers) – I’m pleased to report that the jokes I got off the internet were greeted with the requisite groans! Xmas Eve was our traditional ham and prawns with interesting salads, plus some Christmas pudding and sweet-treats for afters. We all loved our eldest grandchild doing a reprise of Christmas carols from his pre-school concert. Christmas Day with our son-in-law’s family was traditional Christmas fare, all gathered around a long table mixing the families…thanks go to the other Nanna, ably assisted by Chef Jamie, for the wonderful meal and the Tiramisu queen for her dessert!. Christmas 2011 was a relaxed and happy time.

So, thinking that all the celebrations were complete, how delightful to open the computer yesterday and find wonderfully kind and supportive blogiversary greetings from my genie buddies. It was as much fun as opening Christmas presents from under the tree! Thank you for your virtual gifts!

Second anniversary of my blog – sharing and learning in community with other genies around the world.

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.Today is my second anniversary of blog-writing. It’s been a fascinating journey and one which has taken me on a different path from what I originally anticipated. When I began I wanted to share information on “my” Dorfprozelten immigrants, try to attract anyone with Broadford or East Clare ancestry and share some of my family history research and a little bit about living in the Top End of Australia. I was totally naive about genealogy blogging and didn’t even know Geneabloggers existed or how many genealogy bloggers were out there sharing their research, skills and knowledge.

My first year was a “toe in the water” year as I was still working full-time, unsure about my posts, and not devoting much time to the blog. After finishing work this time last year I ramped up my blog presence and thanks to people like Geneabloggers came to realise just how many fascinating blogs were being written. Tips from other bloggers like Geniaus and then RootsTech 2011 also expanded my techno skills in this area. In those early days, comments from fellow bloggers like Carole Riley inspired me to keep writing and let me know I wasn’t writing into a vacuum.

After two years, I’ve found that it’s the comments from fellow bloggers that I value most of all and so I also make an effort to comment on the various blogs I read. I’m not sure Google Reader is such a good idea because I now have a long list of blogs I look at in varying detail and some I read faithfully every post. 🙂

My most popular single post has been my Dorfprozelten page about the immigrants from that small village on the River Main in Bavaria, Germany. It’s been a great meeting place for people with ancestors from there, and there’ve been wonderful times when I’ve felt a bit like a match-maker connecting linked families. A big bonus! I’m considering splitting this theme off into a separate blog in 2012 and adding more of my research.

I’d love to have heard more from people with ancestors from anywhere in East Clare (from the Limerick/Tipperary border across to Ennis) and especially Broadford, but this hasn’t been as productive as the Dorfprozelten page.

This year I’ve participated in the series designed by Amy Coffin, 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History as well as the Geneabloggers Advent Calendar of Memories. The topics have made me dredge my memory for things that have been mentally filed away for years, so it’s been a great opportunity to revisit them and document the history. My main motivation for posting on these topics has been to leave my own history for my children and descendants so I will be combining these posts into book form (Olive Tree Genealogy has some tips here). It’s also been great fun to do some of the geneamemes that have come through…inspires me to think about what I might do differently, what skills to add to my repertoire and consider which things I want to include vs which I don’t. I also had a crack at a geneameme myself, Beyond the Internet, with the goal of highlighting just how much genealogy information is still off-line and what can be found there.

A while ago I posted on Open Thread Thursday about The Benefits of Blog reading and Why I blog, based on my experiences over the past two years. It’s been a great journey and I’ve gained so much from being part of the online genealogy community – even more valuable to me as I live away from many of the resources and learning opportunities others take for granted.

To all my followers and occasional readers, a HUGE thank you! You have become my online community and it’s your visits and especially your comments that make blogging so interesting and keep up my enthusiasm levels. I look forward to “speaking” with you again in 2012.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 51 – Holiday events.

The topic for Week 51 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday Events. Where did your family gather for the Christmas as a child? Which family members and friends attended the event?

I talked a little about this in an earlier post about holiday travel. When I was young we would go to my mother’s family home but later on Christmas was mainly celebrated at our house, sometimes with aunts and families and sometimes just our family. We’ve never had the big jolly Christmas celebration with myriad relations as so often portrayed, mainly because I come from a family that just isn’t all that large.

In our years in Papua New Guinea we celebrated with our friends who formed a family-type group when our own families were many many miles away. A couple of years we had friends visiting from Australia and only once was our Christmas celebrated in Australia, the year our daughter was tiny and my grandmother died.

Since returning to Australia all those years ago, we’ve celebrated with a mix of family and/or friends either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. As our children have formed their own families we’ve mainly been fortunate to have the majority of them around at Christmas time, but no matter where we are, we’ve been in touch by phone or Skype. Our celebrations are never large events but they’re still important to our family and we have our own traditions.

Happy Christmas to all! Christmas lights celebration Darwin 2011

Happy Christmas to all my readers wherever you are. I wish you health and happiness today and lots of wonderful genealogy discoveries in 2012.

Today I’m sharing with you some photos from our drive around Darwin and Palmerston looking at the Christmas lights.

This display in Leanyer was the first we saw and was gorgeous….kids were enjoying being photographed near Santa. The owner was chatting to the visitors and was disappointed that his train display and accompanying sound were no longer working as they’d been destroyed by the bad weather. The visitors’ enjoyment was not deterred.

Hotham Street Leanyer is apparently Christmas Lights Central for Darwin. We’ve been here all these years and didn’t know that! Apparently this tree is the tallest Xmas tree in Darwin and required two visits from a cherry-picker crane to set it up and decorate it. Their efforts were well worth it for all the visitors’ pleasure.

By the way, the dots in the  sky are raindrops not snow falling – we have a cyclone around the ridges so there was a bit of rain about. Out in the satellite town of Palmerston this house is apparently another of the top houses for the lights and it was truly spectacular!

In a nearby suburb in Palmerston this display highlights the reason for the season. Happy Christmas!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 24th December – Christmas Eve

How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

Christmas Eve is an interesting day because depending on which day it falls can affect what happens for much of the day. Unless Christmas was on a Sunday, Christmas Eve has usually been spent at work and as this was a peak admin workload period in universities it meant working flat out for a good deal of the day with little opportunity for an “early mark”. Our work Christmas party started on the stroke of midday except for the elves who set up before hand and of course the end-of-party clear up. Then a quick dash home and get into the serious business of family Christmas preparation. It was only in years when Christmas was on a Sunday, as in 2011, when the Christmas Eve preparations could be more leisurely.

Christmas Eve dinner chez Cassmob

I don’t know why but procrastination most often affected present wrapping so that would often happen on the family room floor while we listened to the Carols from the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne on TV. If there was one cooking chore that was a list-minute one it would be making shortbread, and true to tradition, it’s on my list for today.

A postcard for Das Goldenes Fass, owned for 200 years by the Happ then Kunkel families, but not by the time this photo was taken, it was in other hands. However I doubt much changed over the years..

During their teenage years in high school and uni, our children worked part-time in hospitality and often seemed to have a roster on Christmas Day. Over the years we adopted the tradition of having Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve – a bit more suitable than midday on a hot summer’s day, and I think we all enjoyed the festivities leading into Christmas Day too.  It occurred to me writing this story that there’s a link between our children working Christmas Day in hospitality and the life of my ancestor George Kunkel in Bavaria as a child and young man. His family owned one of the village inns which had visitors from far and wide, so it’s quite possible that he and his family spent Christmas Day providing a wonderful meal for visitors. Some of their culinary treats included fresh pike cooked with cardamom and mustard, salmon prepared with lemon, special beer, home-made apple wine, bacon, roast pork and local wine.[i] I’m assuming that in a small village like Dorfprozelten, most of the local residents would have spent Christmas with their families and friends. Perhaps the Kunkel and Happ families had also celebrated their family Christmas on Christmas Eve? Looks like another research activity to learn more about what might have happened.

Traditionally our family’s Christmas Eve finale was attendance at midnight Mass. It always had such an atmosphere with candles sparkling through the darkness, little kids (and big ones!) yawning, and then the music throughout culminating in the rocking carols belted out by the band at the end of Mass.

[i] Veh, G. Dorfprozelten am Main Teil II, pages 193-195.

52 weeks of Personal Genealogy & History: Week 50: Gift giving, Secret Santa and Kiva

The topic for Week 50 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Holiday gifts. Describe any memorable Christmas gifts you received as a child. As I was travelling I missed posting on the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories on 10th December when the topic was Christmas Gifts: What were your favourite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors? As these topics dovetail neatly I’m going to combine them.

My bride doll Mary on display.

There are two Christmas gifts that stand out from my childhood – the beautiful bride doll I received when I was about seven I think. Then there was the year that I nagged my parents fairly remorselessly for a particular book published by the Readers Digest. It was all about animals and the natural world. Of course I received it and was very thrilled.

A good Christmas is always one with a book in the gift collection. I think most years I got a book of some sort from friends or family, some of which I have to this day despite the many moves of house and home. Within our own family, gifts almost always include good books: some years are more book-focused than others. One year my husband got a whole repertoire of books relevant to his family history: Argyll, Easdale, Lismore. Isn’t it a shame that I also have Argyll ancestry, but to be fair none from the Isles 😉 I’ve put in a request this year for How to write history that people want to read: a friend has lent it to me and it’s full of great tips and strategies. I do hope Santa’s got good links with the online bookstores.

The other gift-of-choice over the years has been music: LPs then CDs. Many is the year that we have almost bought the same book or CD for each other, but I don’t think we’ve ever actually doubled up…just come close.

One year our family looked at the pile of gifts under the tree and were somewhat dismayed by our indulgence, even though we’ve never been really extravagant with gifts. We decided there and then to simplify our Christmas in terms of expense, time and commercialism. Each family household has a Secret Santa of another household and we limit the price. We can nominate a handful of “things” we’d like, then it’s up to the gift-giving household to do the shopping and selection. We also do a silly secret Santa of low value for each individual. This year I messed up the name draw by putting our street suburb as well as our post office suburb…a neat strategy to get more presents? Well no, as it happens this year our nominated Secret Santa is to be put towards Genealogists for Families Kiva donations, as anyone on the Kiva lists needs a Christmas treat more than we do, and we get to feel good about what we’ve done. However having discovered the name-draw mix-up, the missing household has been sorted out – lucky they were leaving town before Xmas and it came to light before the shops shut! Lucky too that they didn’t want to take the gift away with them!

The littlies of course are exempt from this tradition and continue to get their own presents but not over-the-top. We also encourage them to be involved in making and giving the presents so they understand it’s about sharing and not all about them.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 23rd December 2011 – Christmas Sweetheart Memories

Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

The Christmas season has been pretty unpopular as a marriage time for those on my family trees: probably because it’s just too hot here, but only one in the European branches too.

Apparently we’re both far too unromantic since neither of us has a memory of what my first Christmas present was from my husband (my first sweetheart). Nor does he remember what I gave him. I think his present to me may have been the carved ornament of a Chinese fisherman but I’m not sure. Not too much should be read into this gift-amnesia, after all I remember many of the other gifts he gave me for no reason at all when we were dating, not to mention the bunches of violets and other flowers.

The wharf at Alotau in Milne Bay a few years after we lived there. This is just a small snippet of the Bay.

Our first Christmas together was the one after we married…all the preceding years he’d been far away in Papua New Guinea with his family with no means of communication other than very slow snail mail and radio telephone. We lived in a very small town in Milne Bay District and had limited shopping opportunities –just four trade stores in the town and a somewhat larger store on Samarai where “himself” used to work when they lived on the island. We bought our first family Christmas decorations and our first LPs of Christmas music from one of these trade stores. The decorations were very 1970s as they were in flourescent colours. We still have one or two that successive cats and children haven’t mangled and proving that what was “once old is new again”, a few years ago the colours even came back into fashion.

Our first Christmas Day nearly ended up being a repast of very simple standards – the planes hadn’t been able to land for some days due to the weather. Milne Bay is shaped like  a horseshoe with mountains surrounding it meaning that when it rained HEAVILY during the Wet Season the bay was filled with dense clouds and the mountains shrouded. It was a foolhardy pilot who took the flying conditions lightly..it was an unforgiving place to fly.

Anyway on that Christmas Day we sat at a friend’s place, with food to nibble on but with no main course as all our meat had to be flown in from Port Moresby. We listened optimistically as once again we heard the buzz of the small aircraft trying to find its way through the murk. Imagine our excitement when we could hear it below the clouds and heading for the runway at Gurney. Everyone jumped in a vehicle of some sort and took off for the airstrip some 20kms of rough road and a couple of un-bridged creeks away. We happily recovered our Christmas food orders and were joyful that our Christmas meal would no longer be such a simple repast. Ironically neither of us remembers what it was that we ordered – only that it arrived in the nick of time, thanks to the efforts of a gutsy pilot who was working on Christmas Day. Hopefully when he got home there was a nice meal waiting for him too.

We didn’t own a camera at this stage of our married life when funds were tight, so we have no visual record of our first Christmas together.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories: 22nd December 2011 – Christmas and Deceased Relatives

Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honour deceased family members at Christmas?

Our family didn’t visit the cemetery at Christmas nor was any mention made of family members who died around this time. I guess when family members die at this time, the ones remaining just want to reflect on it themselves and don’t want to air their feelings.

The beautifully tended cemetery in Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

This is in direct contrast to my Kunkel family’s Bavarian heritage where the local cemetery and the deceased family members are honoured throughout the year with seasonal decorations and candles on the graves.

A couple of branches of my ancestry also arrived in Australia within days of Christmas so really I should celebrate them as well on Christmas Day.

My grandmother died on 19 December and as we were in Brisbane from Papua New Guinea at the time it was very sad even though she was in her eighties. Dad was very close to his mother so he didn’t want to talk about it at all, and there was a general injunction not to mention the “D” word even in relation to inanimate things like trees. However that Christmas my daughter was also an infant on the crawl,and as the first grandchild whom they saw infrequently due to being in PNG, she provided a great distraction in what was otherwise a sad time for Dad.

My grandmother with me as a child.

My paternal grandfather had good reason not to talk about deceased family on this day. His father, George Michael Kunkel aged only 43, died on Christmas Day 1901.  Just six weeks earlier George and his children had lost their wife and mother, Julia. As the eldest son and child, my grandfather would have been at the forefront of all the impact of their being orphaned. On that Christmas Day the message was sent to my great-great grandparents, George and Mary Kunkel, that their son had died of a heart attack at Grantham, about 14 kilometres from the Fifteen Mile at Murphys Creek where his parents lived. What a horrible time they would have had on that Christmas Day. It was always going to be a sad day with the loss of Julia being so recent, but to lose George as well was truly a tragedy – about which I knew nothing until I started doing family history. As far as I know my father knew nothing about this event either – my grandfather kept his own counsel.The Kunkel grave in the Murphys Creek cemetery.

George Michael Kunkel was buried in the Murphys Creek cemetery on 26 December 1901 in the grave where his sister had already been interred and where his parents would later lie at rest. The restoration of this grave has been completed in 2011, as a memorial to their people who founded the family, and their descendants.

Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers is encouraging us to celebrate the 2011 Christmas season with a series of posts called the Advent Calendar of Memories. This is today’s entry.