PROWLS Report Card on 2012 activity

MM910001158 (1)On 2 January 2012 I posted my goals and aspirations for the year under the acronym PROWLS. So what does my report card look like? How did I do? Did I achieve my goals? Well my obsessive self says “not well” while my realistic self says “okay”….but not necessarily at what I intended initially. In fact the acronym should probably be WSLOPR or SWLOPR!

This is another of my epic posts, so don’t feel you have to stagger through it (just read my response to the Accentuate the Positive meme). This post is partly for my own benefit – an opportunity to reflect on what I did achieve, where were the gaps, and what might I do in 2013. Essentially a quality improvement process….<smile>

P FOR PUBLISH: Successes

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

    • 52 weeks of the Beyond the Internet series (over the year the steady digitisation of records became clear as topics increasingly “sat on the fence” between the real and virtual worlds.
    • The April A to Z challenge in which I wrote (extensively!) about places we’d lived which had been part of our/my family’s heritage, recent and historic.
    • Alona’s Family History Alphabet series: more “off the cuff”, about attributes we need or share as family historians, which generated a fair bit of conversation from my fellow genealogy-obsessives.
    • Two Blurb blog-to-books (somewhat tedious and time-consuming): (1)  my own personal history, based on the 2011 series, 52 weeks of Personal Genealogy and History and (2)  a collection of my other blog posts.
    • Rewrote the overseas portion of one of my family histories with a view to potential publication and handed it over for editorial comment, and then let it languish.
    • Started my Tropical Territory blog and tried to post either every day or every couple of days –until November when life took over and I lost the faith with it, or maybe just the energy.
    • Developed an addiction to Vistaprint, ordering business cards (complete with surname and place interests on the reverse), Kiva T-Shirts, note pads etc etc:  I used some of these products to promote Kiva Genealogists for Families throughout the year. (Did I mention I can be obsessive?)


    • My potentially-publishable family history languished at re-writing the Australian component. Solution 2013: refer the overseas component to a friend for further comment and re-kick-start the Australian section.
    • The children’s family photo history never got off the starting blocks. I was impressed by Carole Riley’s family history photo books that she showed me at Unlock the Past in Brisbane. Solution 2013: write the text, collect the photos in one place so I’m good to go when there’s another special.


Family historians are stars.

Family historians are stars.

    • Opportunistic rather than planned out.
    • Finding my Gavin family marriage in Dublin!
    • Tracking the Dorfprozelten emigrants, and my own 2xgreat grandfather’s step-siblings’ migration to the States….but where did his brother get to?
    • Travel in 2012 didn’t leave me much time to get down and dirty in the archives though I did find out more information about my Melvin family in Queensland and helped Mr Cassmob with his Victorian ancestry a fair bit – leaving him lots to do in retirement <smile>.


It doesn’t feel like I achieved much research-wise in 2012 but perhaps I also need to look again at my papers and notes from early in the year.

I’ve missed the consistent research sleuthing in 2012 so I want to pick that up in more detail in 2013.


It would be handy to have more arms

It would be handy to have more arms

    •  Labelling and sorting some of my non-digital photos and records progressed (is it every fast enough?)….still lots to be done there.
    • Following the disastrous loss of my hard drive back in August, I got a new backup system in place, thanks to advice from a friend. This is working so much better than how I used to do it, as I really thought I had all my bases covered, only to discover more time (and data!) had slipped past than I realised.
    • My folders and trays are organised (my desk not so much!) but there’s just so much info I need to get across –perhaps I should have done Michelle Goodrum’s 21st Century Organised Family Historian series! Certainly a possibility for checklisting in 2013.
    • An organisational tick also for having planned out the Beyond the Internet series and the two A to Zs from the beginning, and following them through.
    • Added translation options to my blog, and new statistics facilities.


I’m still dithering on whether I want to use Relatively Yours, The Master Genealogist or Family Historian though I now have all three on the computer. I still like RY’s ability to cope with “messy” family relationships but I don’t think that it’s had the development money thrown at it that some overseas programs have.

Goal: Increase my use of Evernote for information things I find.

W FOR WRITING: Successeswriting

    • This has a big tick as I did a lot of writing this year: 235 posts across the 365 days on this blog and 173 on my Tropical Territory blog, also 718 photos on this blog and 466 on TT (the latter was supposed to be photos only).  It was also supposed to be a photo a day but I lapsed big-time on this especially after mid-November.
    • While some of my posts respond to themes, others result from some “inspiration” that strikes, usually in the wee hours of the morning or when I first wake up.


  • I did start two other blogs From Dorfprozelten to Australia and GrassRoots Queenslanders. The problem is that I can’t quite decide if I’m better to keep all my topics in one place rather than try to grow yet more blogs and perhaps not have them shared as widely.

 If you have more than one blog, how do you find it works?

L FOR LEARNING: Successes, and decision gapslearning

    • Attendance at a flurry of Darwin talks in early 2012 from various experts – very interesting and with new information.
    • Attendance at the Unlock the Past Seminar in Brisbane for a couple of days due to an unanticipated family event. I learnt a lot but perhaps more than anything was delighted to meet some of my geneablogging mates there and at a Kiva gathering early in 2012.
    • RootsChat online, blog reading, book reading etc I’ve managed to fit in as much as possible given my distant location.
    • Pharos courses which proved interesting (though I’ve yet to decide whether to do a one-place study, and if so whether it should be Broadford, East Co Clare or Murphys Creek, Queensland).

In 2013 I want to learn more about Evernote, Scrivener and other tools to help me be organised.

S FOR SHARING: Successes

    • sharingThis may be an A+ topic. My blog posts have been well received and I thoroughly enjoy the comments I receive from people. It’s important to me to recognise that others have taken the time to comment so I like to maintain our virtual conversation by replying as soon as possible.
    • Since I know how important it is to me to feel like I’m not writing into a vacuum I want to maintain my blog reading and comment on others’ posts on a regular basis.
    • It’s also fun to follow the memes that are created or the themed topics that others suggest (Sharing Memories, Abundant Genealogy, Library Loot, A to Z, Carnival of Genealogy, Fearless Females, Saturday Night Genealogy Fun). I find them great ways to see our commonalities but also our differences, as well as document more of our own or our family’s stories.
    • Boosted my readership beyond Australia’s shores though Oz remains my main support base.
    • Shared my research skills and knowledge by helping a few friends with their own research or their trees, or even just brainstorming things together.
    • Talking on “Writing your family history” during Seniors Week was also one of my sharing activities and I was happy to find that people found it helpful.
    • On a fun note I participated in two swaps organised by Faith, Hope and Charity, one for the Jubilee mid-year and one for Christmas. Keep an eye out, they are good fun.
    • One of the big sharing successes has been the linkages:
    1. My blog drew in Cass family connections which led us to visit Melbourne mid-year for an amazing exhibition on Mr Cassmob’s great uncle, Brigadier WEH Cass and his wife Helena.
    2. The blog as a draw-card for the Dorfprozelten families. There are times I’ve felt like a matchmaker extraordinaire and some where I’ve been able to fill in the gaps in family connections and vital data.


Overall I’d say it’s not a bad report card. I’m disappointed at my gaps in research and publishing in particular so I’m hoping to address those more in 2013. Also a “could improve” in the Organise heading. Let’s see how the year progresses.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ONE & ALL. May you have health and happiness in 2013 and make many wonderful friends online and make many family discoveries.

Images are from Microsoft Office images online.

Accentuate the Positive 2012: Celebrating Successes

Geniaus has once encouraged us to reflect on our achievements in 2012 rather than all the things still on our wish lists or “gunna” lists. She rightly believes we don’t take sufficient notice of our successes in our on-going pursuit for more information. So she’s challenged us to take on the Accentuate the Positive Geneameme to encourage us to celebrate our successes.

2012 GeneamemSo here is my response (inevitably edited to allow more choices!)

1.  An elusive ancestor I found wasn’t a direct ancestor but my 2xgreat grandfather’s Ulrich step-siblings in New York State as well as new information on the Dorfprozelten emigrants to Australia.

Two excellent exhibitions at Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance in June 2012. Both had personal interest to us.

Two excellent exhibitions at Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance in June 2012. Both had personal interest to us.

2  Precious family photos I found were shared at the Melbourne exhibition re Brigadier Walter & Helena Cass –amazing family artefacts for Mr Cassmob and fascinating for me. Also gorgeous photos of St Nicholas of Myra in Dublin thanks to Jennifer from A Flesh and Bone Foundation.

3.  An ancestor’s grave I found was renovation was completed in February 2012 with a bronze plaque replicating the information on the (restored) original stone, and adding birth details (thanks to the financial contributions of family members!!).

4.  An important vital record I found was the marriage of Denis Gavin and Eleanor Murphy in Dublin thanks to Irish Genealogy (see #6)

5.  Newly found family members who shared photos and family stories of the Gavins; the curator and inheritor of the WEH Cass papers, photos and letters. Lots of Dorfprozelten connections and meeting new Cass cousins (not mine, but great fun). (Also see #2)

The renovated Kunkel grave at Murphys Creek, Qld

The renovated Kunkel grave at Murphys Creek, Qld

6.  A geneasurprise I received was finding my Gavin couple’s marriage in Dublin (see also #4)

7.   My 2012 blog post that I was particularly proud of was Labour Day, the workaday life of a Queensland Rail numbertaker.

8.   My 2012 blog post that received a large number of hits or comments was V is for the Valiant of Villers-Brettoneux on Anzac Day.

9.  A new piece of software I mastered was adding Translation options to my blog, and recovering at least a good deal of my missing data after my hard drive crashed. My new best friend is Syncback, an easy backup program.

10. A social media tool I enjoyed using for genealogy was Google + though I probably use Twitter more. I can’t live without Google Reader which is where I subscribe to all the blogs I follow and star the posts I particularly like (not strictly social media I guess, but…)

11. Genealogy conferences/seminars/webinar from which I learnt something new were Roots Tech (online), genie visitors to Darwin and Unlock the Past in Brisbane.

12. I am proud of the presentation I gave during Seniors Month in Darwin, on writing your family history.

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

13. A journal/magazine article I had published was…..none, but I did write my 52 weeks of Beyond the Internet on my blog.

14. I taught a friend how to …can’t remember …lots of discussions, virtual and real. I did encourage others attending various Darwin genie events to join the Kiva Genealogists for Families team.

15. Genealogy books that taught me something new were Hey America Your Roots Are Showing and Finding Family, but I find I also learn so much now from reading blog posts and other’s web recommendations.

16. A great repository/archive/library I visited was PROV where we traced some of Mr Cassmob’s family and very brief visits to Queensland State Archives (for mine).

17. New genealogy/history books I enjoyed were How to Write History that People Want to Read and Titanic Lives.

193 welcome to Alotau18. It was exciting to finally meet some of Aussie geneablogger mates at the Unlock the Past Expo in Brisbane and also at the Kiva Genealogists gathering in Brisbane in March.

19. A geneadventure I enjoyed was returning to Papua New Guinea, recent family history but important nonetheless, visiting family homes and places. Also visiting Melbourne for the WEH Cass exhibition and meeting lots of new Cass cousins (connected through my blog contacts).

20. Other positives I would like to share is being listed  on Family Tree Magazine’s Around the World in 40 blogs and also Inside History’s Top 50 Genealogy blogs (selected by Geniaus) and publishing two books of my blog posts.

Beyond the Internet: Week 52 the Finale

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

This is the final post in the 52 weeks Beyond the Internet series. Despite the rapidity of digitisation, there is still so much lurking offline: in people’s heads, in libraries, in museums.

While it’s fantastic to be able to flash our fingers across the keyboard and find information or even digitised original documents from the other side of the world, there’s still so much discover by getting out and getting our boots dirty as the local historians say.

I want to touch very briefly on a couple of sources that haven’t yet been covered before leaving you with a summary of all the topics.


MP900315522The letters and documents of the Colonial Secretary (aka COL SEC) are invaluable but also tend to feel impenetrable at first, as well as time-consuming. As you pursue each document reference through its archival hierarchy, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by your search.

However if you think you have something very specific in your family that may have merited correspondence with the government’s senior bureaucracy it’s definitely worth your while to make the effort. Some have been indexed, but many have not, and try searching by topic or place as well as name. For example, Queensland State Archives has an index drawer with references to petitions regarding places. Give them a try and see if they prove useful to your own research.


Those with Irish ancestry might find it worthwhile to pursue the documents from the Devon Commission especially if their ancestors left some decades after the Famine. If you’re lucky enough to find your ancestor’s parish documented it will tell you a great deal about where they lived and their economic and physical condition. You can see an example of its value here (Donegal) or read it online via Google Books here.


I’m going to leave it there and thank you for following along with this series. I hope that at least some of the topics have triggered useful research strategies and may even have produced some successes!


Here are the topics that have been covered. I won’t hot-link them but you can readily find them by clicking on the Beyond the Internet Category in the right hand column. There’s mostly been a method in the sequence which I envisaged at the beginning of the year, with occasional deviations. I finally made it through to the end though those last weeks were a challenge!

29 bally st 7 frontTHE BUILT ENVIRONMENT

Week 1: Church Interiors

Week 2: Ancestral homes and their history

Week 3: Houses wrapped in red tape: land titles, council rates, sewerage maps, survey maps

Week 4: Donations and Subscriptions (a “ring-in” under this topic)


apple for the teacherWeek 5: Off to school

Week 6: School Administration Records

Week 7: Days of the old school yard: school histories, albums and newsletters

church weddingVITAL RECORDS

Week 8: Certificates

Week 9: Baptisms, Banns and Burials

Week 10: Church Records (not BDMs)


Week 11: Church Archives

Week 12: Church Histories


Week 13: Lest We Forget: War Memorials

Week 14: War diaries, shipping and photographs

Week 15: Battle, Battalion and Military Histories

Week 16: War Service Records


Week 17: Hospital Records

Week 18: Benevolent Asylums

Week 19: The poor are always with us: bankruptcy, workhouses, Board of Guardians, Kirk Sessions.

Week 20: Orphanages

Week 21: Pensions


judgeWeek 22: Wills and Intestacies

Week 23: Probate and Deceased Estate

Week 24: Court Records

Week 25: Gaol records

Week 26: Police and Other Gazettes


Week 27: Archives: The tough stuff

Library Dublin

Week 28: Place and Petitions

Week 29: Hallowed halls and reference libraries

Week 30: Books

Week 31: Maps & Gazetteers

Week 32: Journals

Week 33:  Local history adds value to family history

Week 34: Family History Society Libraries

Week 35: Published Family Histories

Week 36: Photographic Archives


Week 37: Monumental Inscriptions and gravestones

Week 38: Burial Registers

Week 39: Funeral Director’s Records


Bon voyageWeek 40: A long voyage of Immigration

Week 41: Emigration Records

Week 42: Naturalisation Records


house deedsWeek 43: Griffith’s Valuations

Week 44: Offline Newspapers (another “ring-in”)

Week 45: Tithe Records and Maps

Week 46: Valuations and Council Rates


sailor2Week 47: Police and Railway Staff Records

Week 48: Teachers

Week 49: Merchant Seamen

Week 50: Licences


Ta dah! It's done!

Ta dah! It’s done!

Week 51: Oral History (family and local)

Week 52: Colonial Secretary, Devon Commission and Finale

Thank you once again for supporting me along this rather long path!

3rd blogiversary competition results

DSC_0356It’s now past the 27th December around the world so Mr Cassmob has done the draw for the Blogiversary competition I posted about a couple of weeks ago.

And the winner is…..drum roll…Helen Smith from Brisbane and From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard. Helen will be receiving the iPad sleeve designed by Indigenous women in Central Australia.

Fist Prize: Central Australian design iPad sleeve.

Fist Prize: Central Australian design iPad sleeve.

Second prize goes to Kristin in the USA and blog Finding Eliza. Kristin will receive the Tiwi purse.

2nd prize: the little purse designed by the Tiwi women.

2nd prize: the little purse designed by the Tiwi women.

Then because I remembered some badges I’d had made earlier in the year (in case I got a family historian for my Christmas Swap), we drew another two tiny give-aways.

One goes to Alona Tester (South Australia) and the other to Judy Webster (Queensland). The idea for these badges came from Fi at Dance Skeletons and were ordered from Cafe Press.


I’ll be in touch with everyone to get their postal address so I can send on the gifts.

Thank you to each and every one of my readers and commenters whose support keeps me engaged in this wonderful world of writing family history aka blogging. I’m only sorry I can’t give you all a little gift.

3rd Blogiversary: Brainstorming Family Folklore

Today is my 3rd blogiversary and rather than reiterate why I blog, which I’ve written about before, I thought I’d tap into my community of Genimates around the world for some brainstorming on a research challenge.

By the way, if you would like to participate in my blogiversary gift competition, why not pop over now to my blog post now and say G’day.

McDonald family folklore

Now, returning to my puzzle: A few weeks ago I was asked by a friend if I could prove or disprove family folklore that his McDonald family were at Glencoe when the massacre occurred. Being of a cynical disposition my first thought, was “not a chance”! I did say it was unlikely to be able to be proved but I’d see how I’d go tracing the family, working backwards. Luckily I was also given a bundle of Australian certificates which were very helpful. So I set to work determinedly to try to pin down as much as possible before Christmas.

I’d been told there were some likely trees on Ancestry, but being fond of recreating the wheel as well as being cynical, I set forth under my own steam to confirm ancestry. This worked well for a while as I quickly found the whole family’s immigration to Queensland in 1862, interlinking this with the family’s presence in the 1841 to 1861 censuses. The head of the immigrating family was Peter McDonald with his wife Ann nee Gard(i)ner and their six children along with Peter’s brother John.

Peter McDonald family in Queensland

In Queensland I traced the family’s life events through the online indexes and cemetery records and hit road blocks with electoral rolls, wills and school enrolments. Other options would be worth exploring (e g hospital records, land records) but only at the archives in Brisbane. Peter was impoverished at the time of his early death in 1870 and while there is one will at QSA, they have confirmed it is not for this man. Trove also gave me an interesting snippet about Peter’s death. Peter’s second wife, with whom he emigrated, died in 1864 only a couple of years after their arrival.

The Brisbane Courier, Friday 14 October 1870, page 2.

The Brisbane Courier, Friday 14 October 1870, page 2.

Census records

The census records told me of the family’s migration around the UK:  from Greenock (1841) to Bradford, Lancashire (1851) then Bury, Yorkshire (1861). Helpfully my friend’s direct ancestor had been born in London and the parish was nicely specified on the 1851 census and less specifically on the 1861 which took place within the year the family emigrated. I also found what I was reasonably certain was the birth of Ann Gardner McDonald on FreeBMD which could also be ordered.

Peter’s UK marriages

Peter McDonald’s death certificate had confirmed his parents’ names and this tallied with the presence of people with the same names in his Greenock household in 1841 (no relationships stated, as we know). His certificate had also alerted me to his first marriage which I found via ScotlandsPeople. As his second wife (with whom he emigrated) had been born in London like their daughter, I initially checked for their marriage in England via FreeBMD.

No luck there so back to ScotlandsPeople (SP) where I found it in Peter’s home place of Aberdeen, parish of Old Machar. Ironically having just been checking Ancestry’s online trees, I’ve found that Peter’s marriage to Ann Gard(i)ner is also referenced in the English records –the banns were published in April 1848 at St George the Martyr in Southwark, which begs the question of how Peter came to be in London[i]. There are certainly families with Ann’s mother’s maiden name of Sangster in Aberdeen so perhaps she’d been visiting Scotland when she met Peter. Searches for Peter’s first wife’s burial were unsuccessful but that is inconclusive given burial records are the least reliable of all the pre-civil registration records.

Looking for Glencoe

Originally my goal was to go backwards in time, hoping I’d be able to find Peter’s McDonald family residing nicely in one parish for a long time, perhaps enabling me to reach some conclusions about the possibility of whether they’d been in Glencoe in the late 17th century. No such luck! This is a family that moved, then moved, then moved some more. On the up side, they kept gravitating back to/near the Old Machar parish in Aberdeen.

 Peter’s parents

Peter’s father is shown as Daniel McDonald on Peter’s death certificate and mother as Elizabeth Martin.  This is the couple who were living with Peter’s family in 1841. Searching SP and Family Search might reasonably have been expected to turn up their marriage, but despite using wildcards, no joy! Logically they might have married in Old Machar as this was Elizabeth’s home parish. Were they not part of the established church? Did they not pay the fee to register their marriage? Were they married in the old Scottish tradition without a church service? Were they perhaps Catholic….no. Was my search incorrect in some way? I also checked the English records given their propensity to flit around…again zip.

Daniel was also known as Donald McDonald as Family Search and SP reveal the births of at least some of their children. This Daniel/Donald interchange is not a great worry as these are common Gaelic aliases. Unfortunately without their marriage date, and not certain I have all the children (there appears to be at least one gap), I can’t confidently use naming pattern conventions either. Nor does son Peter seem to entirely stick with them with his children.

 Are you still with me?….or have you hit the snooze button …..zzzzz.Snooze

 1851 census: Peter’s parents

Back to the 1851 census: luckily Daniel and Elizabeth were both still alive and living back in the Aberdeen area. Unluckily Daniel’s place of birth looks like Miffee, Perthshire on the census forms (shown the same way on Ancestry and Findmypast transcriptions). Google search for Miffee–no outcome, or anything close. I posted to the Family Search forum and also the RootsWeb Aberdeen forum where someone kindly pointed out that FreeCen’s transcription has this edited as Methven. Try as I will I can’t get Methven from the written form but perhaps the enumerator just didn’t know how to spell it or couldn’t get Daniel’s pronunciation right. One possibility is that it might even have been Muthill?

Extract from the 1851 census providing Daniel McDonald's place of birth.

Extract from the 1851 census providing Daniel McDonald’s place of birth.

 Death of Peter’s father

Fingers crossed I hoped for an 1855+ death for Daniel/Donald…only to miss by a couple of months! So near and yet so far! I did find his burial in the churchyard of the Old Machar parish in November 1854. On the plus side the ages for Daniel are reasonably consistent so I searched SP for Perthshire under D*, and came up with too many hits for confidence. Fewer for Methven, and so I have a tentative birth for him with father Donald (no mother stated) when the family lived at Lonleven (Loanleven). However I would be reluctant to use this as definite. Nor does the family continue to appear in the Methven parish registers for more than a brief period, so it’s unlikely it’s their home parish. If there had been a mother-father/husband-wife combination I might have had a better chance of picking them up elsewhere but with Donald McDonald…..

 Death of Peter’s mother

Elizabeth lived well beyond her husband’s death and after flitting back to Greenock where it appears to be her living with a daughter and son-in-law, Jane Seal*, she dies back in Old Machar parish in 1866 of “irregular habits” – in the workhouse. Her certificate reveals her parents and from this I could find her baptism, but of course this goes nowhere to establishing the McDonalds potential association with Glencoe.

If I were in Scotland I’d be hastening towards the Kirk Session records for Old Machar for both Daniel and Elizabeth to see what they might reveal about the family’s history. Ditto in regard to the workhouse records available through the Aberdeen Archives. Ditto in regard to Valuation Records.

Across the various records Peter’s UK occupations are listed as wool comber (1839), wool carder (1841), file grinder (1848), wool scourer (1851), and machine guider (1861).

What have I missed? Is there a stone I’ve left unturned, a blind spot I’m not seeing? I keep wondering if they may have come across from northern Ireland but as yet I haven’t fully explored that option for which I have no evidence or justification. I’m sure I’ve left some information unstated but otherwise it would be a treatise.

Any brainstorms welcome, please.

[i] Ancestry’s London Marriage records, as alerted by the Wilkie family tree on Ancestry.

Beyond the Internet: Week 51 Oral History

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

This week we’re up to Week 51 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is Oral History.

Oral History can be an invaluable asset in our suite of offline research resources. Again and again we read others say that they wish they’d listened to their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents. I too wonder how I could know so little about my grandparents when they lived next door for up to 21 years of my life. However I think we also need to “forgive” ourselves: it’s far more common than not, for us to be self-preoccupied in our teenaged years, caught up with study, work and later our own families.


oral historyIt’s only as time goes along that we start reflecting on missed opportunities, almost always too late. It also assumes that each and all of our immediate ancestors would have willingly bared their souls to us, yet we also know we reserve secrets and private moments in our own hearts. So respect and acceptance are required on this journey into oral history. It was only as I started to write my Kunkel family history that I was able to tease some information from my father before his death, contrary to his decades as a human information-clam.

If we’re lucky some of our parents may be alive and we can start to ask them questions with interest and respect. Even if our parents are not alive there are other opportunities to capture some of their stories: what about close family friends who sometimes know more than we assume, or perhaps there’s an aunt or great aunt to tell the stories?

As you interview your family’s friends and relatives, there are many guidelines to follow so that you tease out answers without prejudicing what you’re told. You also need to weigh up past slights, family feuds etc to get a feel for whether you’re being told the “truth” which of course varies with almost every individual.

If you’re planning to do a series of oral history interviews you might be able to find out if your local library, archive or family history centre offers seminars of how best to go about them.

family memoriesIn Australia, a good starting point is the Oral History Association of Australia (OHAA). They also have useful publications for sale.  Your local archive may even have recording equipment that you can borrow: the OHAA would probably be able to advise you. I know that our reference library here in Darwin offered a training session a couple of years ago which was excellent, and there is now a wonderful resource on the NT Library webpage of Territory Stories.

A book I’ve found really helpful is Family Memories, A Guide to Reminiscing by Bob Price, available through the State Library of NSW Shop. It provides a helpful framework in which to consider the questions you want to ask your family. Quick readers can pick up a copy on eBay at present for a very good price (assuming it’s still available when this post goes up). Or you can get it on inter-library loan through the National Library of Australia.


local historySo far it’s been implicit that we’ve been focusing on our family’s specific history, but if that’s not possible, there is a way around this apparent “brick wall”. Don’t forget there are other families who’ve lived in the area for many years and experienced many of the same crop failures, weather problems, wars, socials and weddings. You may find that you can learn a great deal about your family’s life indirectly in this way to add richness and texture to your story.

One of the most valuable contacts I made was with the man who was the Murphy’s Creek (Qld) local history experts. Not only did he share a great deal of information with me but also provided me with copies of a recording of my grandfather’s younger cousin, Ann. I had met her a couple of years before her death and we had several discussions about the Kunkel family and as documentary facts proved her stories, it was apparent she was a “reliable witness”. I’ve mentioned this experience previously, and its importance to my own research here.

.However, what was especially interesting was the difference in content between Cameron’s recording and mine. In the local history version the stories were of playing tennis socially and competitively, social outings and people she knew including some relating to the Dorfprozelten descendants though it’s obvious she had no idea of this prior link. My tape of our conversations is about family connections and stories. Both are valuable and offer quite different dimensions to family and life in rural Queensland in the early years of the 1900s.


I think it’s important that we don’t leave our own life stories as a blank page for our families. We know how much we’d love to have heard or seen our ancestors or to have something they’d written. It’s up to us to ensure that we leave a suitable legacy for our own descendants.


 Have you had any successes in recording and documenting your family’s history orally? Do you find it easy to do or challenging? I know I find it quite difficult and don’t think it’s one of my strengths.

Happy Christmas to one and all

Baby Jesus in mangerIt’s Christmas Eve and we’re all looking forward to a special day tomorrow -especially the littlies…what will do without the bribery of Santa?  I do hope my grandchildren’s little hearts cope with minor disappointments about the precise gift the bearded gentleman, and his helpers, leaves for them.

Is your refrigerator like mine? Jammed to the rafters with good food and treats -and that’s without the goodies the daughters and their families will bring. No room for the drinks which will have to go in an Esky full of ice. We are so very fortunate to be able to look after our families in this way. If you feel that you want to share your good fortune with others, why not join us on the Kiva’s Genealogists for Families team. If you’ve missed someone from your gift list, how about a Kiva gift card?

From my family to yours, in Australia or around the world, may you all have a wonderful happy Christmas with your loved ones.

It’s easy when there is so much seasonal good cheer to remember that others have families who have severe illnesses or deaths to cope with over Christmas. Other people may have family disappointments or fractures to bear while everyone else is celebrating. To them I send my prayers of empathy and support. May you be blessed with the strength to know there will be better times ahead.


Merry Christmas 1

Christmas Lights in Darwin: our 3 yo grandson declared these "just perfect".

Christmas Lights in Darwin: our 3 yo grandson declared these “just perfect”.

Beyond the Internet: Week 50 Licences

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

This is week 50 (alleluia!) of my Beyond the Internet series and this week’s topic still partially relates to occupation but is a grab bag: Licences

Bureaucracy isn’t a new thing and really we should be grateful for it historically, if not in our day-to-day lives. There’s so much that is documented thanks to the need for governments to raise taxes one way and another, and to monitor appropriate standards. I’m not going to deal with the professionals like doctors here as they are generally fairly easy to track down one way and another, and other occupations I’ve already written about.

Instead I’m going to briefly touch on some licences which may tell you about your ancestors. They may only tiny scraps of information but don’t we just thrive on any snippet?


pub2Some archives will hold copies of licences for ancestors who were publicans. As always what survives is a matter of luck really, and while the indexes may be online you will likely have to visit and/or pay for a copy of the actual document. For example here are relevant links, New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland etc.

You may also find references in the Court of Petty Session documents for your area of interest.

You will definitely want to see if any good books have been published about “your” pub, or hotels in general, as well as searching for images online or offline in reference libraries (search for the town, not the pub name).

Government gazettes will often throw up links publishing their licence, enabling you to see if your relatives moved from pub to pub.

Keep a look-out too, for local history websites about pubs in the region, as well as references to the hotel in local newspapers.


FARM HORSEHow about looking for horse and cattle brands? In the early days horses were day-to-day transport so you may well find out something about your ancestor’s livestock. Does it tell me much that George Kunkel’s brand was GK2…not really but it makes his farming work more real to me.

If you’re in Scotland, you might want to search the farm horse tax rolls or the female and male servant taxes (useful for my farming Sim family). You can find the link here (yes I know they’re not offline) but for those of us who aren’t in Scotland offline is good, especially for digitised original documents.


Shelley from Twigs of Yore talked about the public health requirements for her butcher ancestor, Daniel Miller Couper, in her Australia Day 2012 challenge and it provides interesting insights into how some occupations were carefully monitored.

Similar requirements were surely in place for the likes of bakers and confectioners but to date I’ve been unsuccessful in tracking them down for my own family.

I would generally expect that these might appear in the government gazette or be recorded by the Court of Petty Sessions.


Dog licences don’t appear to have been preserved in the records, though I’m willing to be corrected on that. However it was plainly a requirement as old newspapers will record that ancestors may have been fined for not paying their dog licence. Another of those moderately useless pieces of information that add texture to our stories.

Did you know that in the “olden days” (ie when I was young) you had to pay a licence fee to own a radio or TV? I expect it will take a while they become available, assuming they’ve been preserved. Just imagine our descendants being astonished by there being no television!

Will our car licences one day be available for our descendants to view? Will they be embarrassed by our choices in vehicles or will they be astonished at what we owned? Will they be impressed that someone that thought quite sedate once owned a flash car or be astonished by a mid-life crisis vehicle purchase?


I feel sure I’ve missed some licences that would be helpful to other researchers but my mind is simply not retrieving any. Have you used licences in your research? If so which have been helpful? Please share them with us via the comments or your posts.

Beyond the Internet: Week 49 Merchant Seamen

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

If you’re feeling it’s a case of “that week went quickly”, you’re right. I’m busy catching up with my Beyond the Internet series. So let’s just pretend it’s now Week 49, not weeks 48 or 50,as weexplore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and this week’s topic is Occupations –Merchant Seamen.

 I have a whole branch of these on my family tree and even after they left this occupation they remained my international travellers even 100 years ago or more.


Writing about this topic is a classic example of the speed of genealogical events and records overtaking us all. I’ve had this on my scheduled list since the beginning of the Beyond the Internet series. Meanwhile the subscription site, Findmypast UK, has added digitised records which you can search here, under Education and Work. To see the image you will either have to pay, take out a subscription or visit a local reference or family history library (or order in the microfilm via the LDS church).  What you are mainly looking for here are your merchant seaman’s ticket.

Sailing ship. Image from Microsoft ClipartFamily Search, which is free, has indexed some of the same merchant shipping records enabling you to identify which microfilm you might wish to order in: this is how I’ve done my maritime research pre-digitisation. You can also search the Family Search catalogue for the keywords “Board of Trade” to see what other records are available and pertinent. It’s worth noting that sailors on British ships will need to have been ticketed with the Board of Trade so these records also include men from non-British countries including Ireland and Scandinavia.

Of course there are more records available for officers within the merchant navy so you should also explore the records for these as they had to sit for exams to gain their officer’s and captain’s tickets.


You should also make it a priority to beg, borrow or “steal” a copy of Records of Merchant Shipping and Seamen by Smith, Watts and Watts, in my opinion THE benchmark book for understanding this occupation. This book explains in detail the cryptic entries you will find on your ancestor’s ticket which you’ll want to pursue to complete your understanding of his service. You might also find information on the National Maritime Museum (NMM) useful to understand more. You may also want to read more widely on your ancestor’s specific responsibilities in the merchant navy.

Online there are many sites with images of various ships (but make sure you’re not looking at a later one than the one your ancestor served on, as the names are often reused). You may even find postcards of them on e-bay which I’m pretty sure are mainly copies of an original. In Australia you will want to look at the Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters (who might come from anywhere in the world)

A further source of information on the ships is to look at the Lloyd’s List for the timeframe so you learn more about where it was registered, who owned it, size etc. Another option that has come online instead of needing to search in a reference library.sailor


It is also worth paying particular attention to maritime deaths, and also newspaper reports, which will tell you more about their lives including the hazards of working and living on board ships which sailed in dangerous conditions.

It might even be wise to check that there’s not a second marriage lurking somewhere in the records, not that I wish to malign our ancestors.


If you can identify one of your ancestor’s ships it may lead you through the others that he served on. You should then see if you can find the ship’s crew lists through the CLIP site even though you may need to order them in. I have one friend who was very lucky with this (sadly I haven’t been, at least so far!). Some of these are also on Findmypast UK under Education and Work.

Census records may include your ancestor’s name on board ship, provided they are in port somewhere in England/Scotland or Wales: in fact you may even find your ancestor mentioned twice! It’s worth searching to see if there are special CDs which coincide with the census, as some years ago I discovered a series called Seamen’s Crewlists 1851 which was most helpful.


And a final word of warning: don’t rely entirely on the online transcriptions. I know I have entries which are mis-indexed on the online sites as well as some information that I’ve found in microfilms or on site at the National Archives in Kew, and vice versa. I only regret that I didn’t have more time to spend in the NMM when I was there a couple of years ago.

This is a huge topic which needs further development. My intention had been to do that here, but it will need to be a topic in its own right in 2013. Meanwhile if you have an interest in this area, you may wish to have a preliminary look at a series of conversations on RootsChat from a few years ago. The researcher found the tips he’d received from a few of us very helpful and you might do as well: no point everyone re-creating the wheel.

Beyond the Internet: Week 48 Teachers

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

This week I’m belatedly writing Week 48 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and this week’s topic is Occupations – Teachers.

I wrote a few posts early in the year about school admissions and other school records, which will obviously be of relevance if you have teaching ancestors.

However you’re probably looking for more personal information about their careers.

I have no teachers in my family tree but Mr Cassmob’s is fairly littered with them so much of the information I’ve acquired has come from them. Some are his immediate ancestors, one is our daughter, and others go back to the early-mid 19th century.

Where to look

The first port of call will be the relevant archive for the area where they taught.

If they were in a religious school, you may have to approach the school or religious order they worked for (not so easy, sometimes).

I’d also look at reference libraries to see if there’s more general information about their records.

 teacherSo what might you find about your teaching ancestors?

 Their inspection reports: Remember those school visits when we thought the inspector was only assessing us, but in reality was probably mainly interested in the teacher, and whether they’d taught the necessary curriculum to the right standard. They must have been intimidating for the teachers as 50 years later we met a lady in Alotau who remembered her mother being inspected by Mr Cassmob’s father (who could do intimidating quite well in his professional role).

teacher 2Their other roles in the community:  for example my mother-in-law was the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages in her rural Victorian community when she was only 20 or so. As a family historian you have to love information like that!

Their academic training: whether they had teachers’ college training, university, or were thrown in largely at the deep end to sink or swim.

Their history in schools: For example: my in-laws were both teachers and both were required to establish small bush schools in rural Victoria with absolutely minimal training. In their specific case this experience was no doubt invaluable as they launched and taught at new schools in Papua New Guinea.  Did your ancestors teach in large urban schools, small multi-class schools or even one-teacher schools? Who was in their class? Did their own children have to call them “Mrs Cass” in the classroom, for example.

Books: You may find some reference to your teaching ancestors in books relating to the areas where they taught, or specialised books on education.

 GazettesGovernment and Education Their postings may feature in the various gazettes –check them out. (I’m indebted to Rosemary Kopittke who alerted me to the education gazettes last year). Goulds have a range of the Queensland Education Gazettes which you can see here.

Apple on DeskIf you have teachers in your tree I hope these tips will help you learn a little more about them. If you have used other records please do share with us via the comments or your own blog so we can all learn.

Teachers really are pivotal to the development of a community’s children, a debt we all owe them, as they work so hard to educate and care for their students. In the past week we’ve also seen their heroism as they protected children, sometimes with their own lives.

So let’s all say a huge “thank you” to the teachers who’ve helped form us into who we are today. 

Did you have a pivotal teacher: if so who was it? 

The teaching images are from Microsoft clipart.