5th Blogiversary: Reflections and Goals

fifth birthday candlesIt’s hard to believe, but today is this blog’s 5th anniversary.  Perhaps it’s why I’ve been feeling something of a five-year itch with it.  Over recent months, in a scattered way, I’ve been reflecting on where I’m at with both my research and blogging. My prevailing sense has been that my blogs, and my research, have got away from me – another way to say I think I’ve bitten off more than I can chew, despite chewing furiously.

tiger's tailWhen I bought a large mobile whiteboard about a year ago, I wrote at the top “Beware of the tiger’s tail”. What I meant by that, was to be strategic in my blogging rather than catching hold of the tiger’s tail and having it drag me along willy-nilly. Sure, I’ve written lots of stories relevant to my research but I’m equally sure I’ve not been strategic in my approach. I’ve been tempted to take myself off to Kakadu for a couple of days sans technology and take the chance to step back and decide what’s important to my family history research, my blog and what I want to achieve in the future.

So where do I go from here…other than Kakadu?


In the past my practice has been to write up my family history in narrative form – partly because I started in the pre-computer age, and partly because it suited my style, following an example demonstrated by two academic researchers I met.

Genealogy programs tend to make me feel claustrophobic and for a long time I felt that the Australian program, Relatively Yours, solved my needs best. However the time has come to jump ship and make the move to another program, probably Family Historian. I definitely want one that permits more than a restrictive view of what constitutes “family”. After all I’m interested in my ancestors’ broad life experiences, not just the hatches, matches and despatches. I want to know the nuances of their lives, the place, siblings, neighbours and former neighbours etc as they so often break down brick walls.Revisit record revise

I have published my Kunkel family history but with so much coming online, especially via Trove, there are always new additions. Similarly I have unpublished narratives for several of my other lines: McCorkindale, Melvin, Gavin.

Project: Transfer my RY data to Family Historian. Because of the particular aspect of Relatively Yours I don’t find the gedcom works as well as it might.

Project: Prepare a spreadsheet which lets me check which certificates and records I’ve explored, hold or am still missing. Work on timelines for my tricky ancestors.


A couple of months ago I wrote a post for the Worldwide Genealogy blog called My Three Rs of Genealogy Research: Review, Record, Revise. It certainly seems pertinent within this context.

family-history-back-to-basicsOverall I feel my genealogy (the structure of who’s who) is accurate: I’m a Doubting Thomas and will worry at something like a bone until I find the answer. If it’s not certain, then I will only add it as an hypothesis in my narrative, clearly stated as such…another advantage of the narrative model.

A month or so ago I added this note to my whiteboard as I wrestled with the “where to from here” question: Back to Basics.

Project: Review my many notes in over 50 notebooks from archive and library visits, LDS microfilms etc (and continue to digitise them). Incorporate the information into my narratives and genealogy program. I will also focus on whether my assumptions have been correct or whether I need more data.


red-do-over-button - smallThomas MacEntee’s new Genealogy Do-Over Program is opportunely timed for me, as I think it will be complementary to what I’m trying to do here. However, I won’t be packing away my 28 years of research as I don’t think I need to…after all my data doesn’t come from online trees or other’s research. In (almost?) every case I’ve started with the basics and gone from there.

However, I will be going back to revisit my basics as mentioned above, and putting the research microscope over the conclusions I’ve reached, the gaps in my research, and where I can pursue further information. In short, be more strategic. I’m confident there’ll be lots of tips in the Genealogy Do-Over Program that will help me with what I want to achieve.

Project: Follow along with the Geneabloggers’ Genealogy Do-Over Program and implement strategies as appropriate.


I’m expecting 2015 to be a big year for the Cassmob clan as a lot is planned. Hopefully I’ll be able to tackle these tasks along with the family goals.

BAck to Basics flow diagramMy over-arching goals:

Be Strategic 

Back to Basics

Reflect, Review, Revise and Record.

There are also other decisions to be made about my Dorfprozelten blog, which has been languishing unattended, and my East Clare Emigrants blog.


starsAs this fifth year draws to a close I’d like to thank you all for reading. Blogging may have sometimes taken me off-track research but it’s given me a wonderful world-wide community of friends, some I’ve already met, and some I hope to meet at Roots Tech and the FGS Conference in February.

Thanks so much for reading my blog posts, commenting and being supportive!! You’re all stars!

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker: Jenny Joyce

Jenny JoyceLet me introduce you today to Jenny Joyce, another of the Australian speakers at Congress 2015 in Canberra. I’m looking forward to meeting Jenny in person at Congress, as well as following her advice about tips for genies. Her three talks will have lots to offer fellow family historians from beginner to experienced.

I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?  

I have been researching my family history since I was a teenager, inspired by the stories my grandmother told me about HER grandparents. After many years working in IT I now work as a professional genealogist, and I am currently one of the Vice Presidents of the Ku-ring-gai Historical Society. I am also a committee member of their Family History Group, and in that role I often run sessions at our monthly meetings, either teaching or showing our members aspects of genealogy.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

I don’t know that I can say it has changed or improved my life, since I have been doing it for so long, but it has helped define who I am and where I come from.  I feel that we are very much the product of our upbringing and experiences, and that in turn is influenced by our parents’ upbringing and influences, and so on going right back. Thus I feel that in some way I am the sum of all my ancestors.

What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history/heraldry?

The challenge of unravelling the puzzles and being able to connect events in history to people I am researching.

 Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

Yes, I was at the Adelaide Congress in 2012.

 What are your key topics for Congress?

I will be giving three talks – one on the (UK) House of Commons Parliamentary papers, another on the UK Gazettes, and the third will be about wills in England (and Wales) and Ireland.

How do you think your topic/s will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

I think that these talks will introduce some very useful and under-used resources to the attendees, which they will find very beneficial to their research.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

The benefits fall into two categories.  First, congress is a wonderful learning opportunity and a chance to hear overseas speakers that you might otherwise not be able to hear, and the other aspect is the chance to meet or renew a friendship with so many like-minded people, who themselves may have suggestions to help your research.

Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

Talk to as many different people as you can whenever you get the opportunity

Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

Email: jenny.joyce@writeme.com

Twitter: @JennyAJoyce

Blog: jennyalogy.blogspot.com

Web: www.jennyjresearch.com

Thanks Jenny for sharing your story with us, and letting us know a little more about your Congress talks and tips.

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker, Seonaid Lewis from NZ

Seonaid LewisOur Congress 2015 speaker for today is Seonaid Lewis from Auckland, New Zealand. I know Seonaid quite well from blogs and other social media but I haven’t heard her present. I’m looking forward to meeting her at Congress. I’m confident that if you have ancestors from across the Ditch, she’ll be your “go to” speaker.

I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?

I am married with twin 14yo daughters and currently live in Auckland, New Zealand. I worked for 26 yrs in graphic design and print, including six years on the Board of a one-stop design and print consultancy in London, that specialised in “ethic and social consultancy.

I’ve always been interested in history and have loved hearing my mother recounting family stories throughout the years, but I didn’t become actively involved in researching my own family history till towards the end of the time I was living in London (wish I’d started earlier).

I consider myself a family historian rather than a genealogist, as I am interested in finding out the history behind the genealogy (I believe there is a difference in the two terms, with genealogy meaning the study of pedigree).

When we returned to New Zealand, I decided on a career change – my husband suggested working as a genealogist, but I needed a career with security and regular income, so he suggested I became a librarian, as “that is one of the things Librarians do – help people with their research.”

I looked into it, and resigned my old job and started study towards a library degree at home, eventually got a job in a library as a shelver, and worked my way up the library system, until I landed my dream job as a family history librarian in April 2010.

Officially, I am “senior reference librarian, family history (specialist)” for Auckland Libraries, and I am based in the Central Auckland Research Centre where our international family history collection is.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

Discovering a love for family history has meant a career change for me. I love my job, and I’ve discovered I love teaching people how to research for themselves. Speaking in public was initially scary for me (still is at times), but I’ve learned confidence and seem to do ok most of the time,

I’ve learned a lot and am learning all the time – this is terrific for me, as I don’t get the opportunity to get bored.

Naively I thought I would have more time for my own research, but this is not so – maybe when I have finished my library degree.

 What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history? 

I love that it is about connecting family – whether its the ancestors or newly discovered living family members (or even reconnecting with living family).

I also get a real buzz when I’ve helped someone solve a mystery. For me, “the thrill of the hunt” is all part of it.

 Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

I attended the last Congress in Adelaide – my first time, and am really looking forward to this one!

What are your key topics for Congress?

I’m delivering a paper on our library’s family history services at the Librarians Day the day before Congress officially starts, and then have two presentations about what Auckland Libraries’ is doing for WWI commemorations; and also doing a case study that showcases Auckland Libraries online resources and the unique manuscripts and records.

How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

It should definitely help people with New Zealand connections – but also might help those think outside the square with their research, and consider what is available through libraries both online and in collections.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

For me this is personal and professional development. I learn such alot by attending these conferences – both in terms of my specialism and also in terms of developing my presentation and networking skills.

I think it is important that a New Zealand library the size of ours sends a representative to this Australasian Congress – wish more New Zealanders working in the field were able to attend to give a more rounded Australasian perspective.

 Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

You know, I find that it doesn’t matter how long you have been researching for, there is always plenty to learn.

However, one tip is to never overlook the obvious – if you have come up against a brick wall, always go back to basics and re-examine all your records; get someone else to review them with you as a second set of eyes can often help.

Also – its not all online!

 Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

I am on Twitter @genebrarian which is my personal account, or tweeting @Kintalk for work.

My work Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/AkldResearchCentre

My work blog is http://kintalkfamilyhistory.blogspot.co.nz and my personal blog is http://huntingancestors.blogspot.co.nz/ (although I only blog there when I have done some significant personal research)

I can also be contacted via the Contact Us form on the Auckland Libraries website: www.aucklandlibraries.govt.nz

I can see Seonaid is a woman after my own heart based on her advice that “it’s not all online”. Looking forward to meeting you in Canberra, Seonaid and thanks for sharing with us all today.

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker: Shauna Hicks

Shauna HicksI doubt too many Australian genealogists are unfamiliar with long-term researcher and knowledgeable speaker, Shauna Hicks. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Shauna speak quite a few times, and I’m sure many of you have too but here are her topics for Congress 2015. Shauna has also been convenor of Australia’s National Family History Month for the past couple of years helping to grow our community.  Let’s learn a little more about Shauna in her own words and what she thinks we can gain from Congress 2015.

I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?  

I started researching my family history in 1977 after watching the TV series Roots. It made me want to know more about my own family history and history in general. After a few years, my passion was so great it led to a career change and I moved into the world of archives and libraries while pursuing university qualifications part time at night. Somehow I still found time to keep the family history research going!

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

Well as indicated in that last question, it totally changed my whole life. I went from a fairly boring public service job to a variety of positions in Queensland State Archives, the State Library of Queensland, the National Archives of Australia and the Public Record Office of Victoria. As a result, I was privileged to work with a whole range of talented people on some fantastic library, archives and genealogy projects.

What do you love most about genealogy/family history?

It is never ending! When I first started there was no internet, no personal computers, email and so on and research took time and you needed to personally visit archives and libraries. Now we have some fantastic indexes, digitised records and it is often easier to research than it was. But not everything is indexed or online and more new resources are coming online all the time. In the last decade I have seen some of my brick walls tumbled and new lines opened up.

Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

Yes I have attended quite a few. My first was in Brisbane in 1994,  Melbourne in 2003, Auckland in 2009 and Adelaide in 2012.

What are your key topics for Congress?

I am giving two presentations – one on sporting ancestors and the other on court of petty session records.

How do you think your topic/s will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

I like to know as much as I can about my ancestors and what their lives were like in the communities in which they lived. We often forget that they may have played sport, perhaps at school or part of a church group or even the local team. Plus there were sports that we don’t see these days such as egg and spoon races or billy kart races. It doesn’t have to be professional sports, there were lots of amateur sports that our ancestors could have been involved with, including our maternal ancestors.

Some of my ancestors were colourful and I have found references to them in the local court of petty session records. Some of the details I have found in the court records would never have been known if they had not been captured in the deposition statements of my ancestors or witnesses to the crime. All of this extra detail helps me to know and understand what their lives were like.

So I am hoping that my two presentations will make attendees think more broadly about who their ancestors were and what they did within their communities.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

I always learn so much from the speakers and if I haven’t attended the congress, I always buy the congress papers because the wealth of new information is fantastic. Also as there are multiple streams, the papers let you find out about the topics you couldn’t attend in person. I also love all the trade stalls and I usually come home with a heavier suitcase and a lighter wallet! Finally the big bonus is meeting up with ‘old’ genealogy friends and colleagues and meeting new ones. It is also a place to meet all your online geneamates in person.

Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

Just come along and be prepared to soak it all up, talk to others and take advantage of any offers from the trade stalls. Often there are some good bargains to be found or they are offering on the spot searches or help/advice.

Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

My website is http://www.shaunahicks.com.au/ and I am also the author of http://diaryofanaustraliangenealogist.blogspot.com.au/

I particularly like Shauna’s tip to buy the Congress proceedings even if circumstances prevent you being able to attend. As for those of us who’ll be there, what great opportunities await us.

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker – Kerry Farmer

Kerry FarmerToday it’s my pleasure to introduce to one of Australia’s excellent family history presenters, Kerry Farmer, who will be speaking at Congress 2015 in Canberra. I’ve heard Kerry speak a number of times and her talks are always packed full of information with ideas to spike your interest….I know I always learn something new from her. If you’ve got an interest in using DNA for your genealogical research, then Kerry will help to make that clear for you.

I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?  

I’m primarily a genealogist, but that means I am also a researcher and a historian. I am also the Director of Australian Studies with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.

How has family history research improved or changed your life?

It has brought a change of career for me. I used to be a computer programmer and systems analyst, who also liked to do family history research. Then in 1997 I started teaching classes at the local community college in ‘Family history using the internet’. In those days I was probably teaching how to use the internet as much as family history. Over the years I have taught many classes. Now I write online courses about Australian family history research, write books, give talks and do client research. Sometimes I even manage to still find time to do some research on my own family history!

I have met many wonderful people, whom I would not otherwise have known. Some are other genealogists who I now count amongst my closest friends. Researching my family and finding and spending time with extended family members has led to some truly memorable experiences. There’s nothing quite like going to a new place and meeting someone for the first time and yet already feeling like ‘family’ – it brings a special feeling of belonging.

What do you love most about family history?

Apart from the above – actually meeting and sharing with family – there is so much to learn in family history. Researching the times and places in which my ancestors lived and discovering how they responded to those times provides insights into them (and sometimes into me). I like the mental puzzles and the joy of the discoveries but it is much more satisfying being so personal. Reading about hard times in an ancestor’s life – the death of parents, children or a spouse and how they coped – I wonder how I would have managed in their situation.

Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

Yes – I attend Congress whenever I can. I particularly enjoy meeting with genealogy friends from interstate as well as how much I learn. Some talks have extended my knowledge in areas already of interest and occasionally a talk has introduced me to a topic or resource I had never considered.

What are your key topics for Congress?

I’m giving two talks about DNA – one is more introductory, about the DNA tests that can be helpful in genealogy research, the other DNA talk is more advanced, about how to take better advantage of autosomal and X-chromosome DNA testing. In addition I’m giving a talk about immigration schemes to Australia.

How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

Some genealogists don’t know where to start with DNA testing and hopefully my introductory talk might help them. Others have had DNA testing done and then thought – now what? Hopefully the advanced autosomal talk will give them some more ideas. My immigration schemes talk is to help people realise that there is more to be learnt about an immigrant ancestor than just when they arrived in Australia. Identifying the scheme that brought them often provides clues about why they came, what their life was before and after arrival, and where to look for further records.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

Catching up with friends and making new ones. There is always something new to learn. A wide range of topics can stimulate ideas about useful new resources and techniques.

Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

Family history research is about people, not just facts. Putting people into a bigger context sometimes helps you realise why ancestors did something and often leads to other discoveries. Researching the history of where they were living (and, if they were immigrants, where they moved from and to) can help you understand their lives.

Use all the tools at your disposal, not just the easy ones. Information is not all online – consult books, archives and other family members. Finding other extended family members can lead to more information, photographs or even a family Bible. DNA testing provides tools that might help you find relatives – it also might help you find the unnamed ancestor in a document or confirm or challenge your carefully constructed family tree.

Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

Email: kerry@austega.com

My website: www.familyhistoryresearch.com.au

Blog: https://famresearch.wordpress.com/

Thanks so much for this interview Kerry…I’m looking forward to catching up at Congress.

Sepia Saturday 258: Meeting the GI Cousin in Sydney WWII

Sepia Sat 258 This photo gave me an instant connection to some from my 3rd cousin’s photo albums. This particular cousin, Nora, has provided me with so much information over the years: old histories, photos of my Kunkel ancestors and our mutual O’Brien relatives. I owe her an enormous debt in terms of what she’s given to my research, which is why I asked her to launch my Kunkel family history book.

Cousins meeting at Circular Quay, Sydney.

Cousins meeting at Circular Quay, Sydney. The American with glasses is not a relation. The three on the left are 1st cousins, once removed to the American on the right and his first cousin Nellie Garvey.

During World War II, many American soldiers were stationed in Australia, and to be honest they weren’t all that popular with the Aussie men who were left behind for whatever reason: the snapshot phrase was that they were “overpaid, oversexed and over here“…a case of jealousy I fear. The girls were not so reluctant to meet these men, and many married and became War Brides, relocating to the United States after the war, some successfully and some not so much. I think the American GIs had rather more finesse when it came to women than the rather blunt Aussie style.

Two cousins meet: John Garvey (USA) and Reg Gill (Sydney).

Two cousins meet: John Garvey (USA) and Reg Gill (Sydney).

SCAN1298_edited-1However in some cases this wasn’t all about the whole “boy meets girl” story, it was about cousins meeting cousins from across the world. This particular branch of the O’Brien family descended from Honora Garvey nee O’Brien from Bodyke County Clare, one of my Mary (O’Brien) Kunkel’s siblings who remained in Ireland. However Honora’s children were, and are, part of the great Irish diaspora with some moving to the States and some moving to Australia. I wonder why, and how, they came to the conclusion regarding which place to choose.  No doubt the increasing literacy of the Irish population assisted this branch of the family to keep in touch over the miles and the years and across vast distances.

The Sydney siblings, Nora, Kevin and Marie with their aunty Nellie (in the hat).  I like the war bonds notice on the building.

The Sydney siblings, Nora, Kevin and Marie with their aunty Nellie (in the hat). I like the war bonds notice on the building. I was intrigued that Marie was the only woman wearing gloves as I’d have expected the to be de rigeur in this era. Those 1940s shoes were really not glamorous. I can’t quite figure out what Nora is carrying…is it just a purse?

The war provided a chance for the cousins to meet. On reflection it seems possible these photos were probably taken by the street photographers that have been the topic of blog posts lately…it just hadn’t occurred to me…we do tend to assume that cameras were as readily available then as they are today. On the other side of the Pacific, two other Aussie cousins were being welcomed by the American branches as they commenced their WWII Air Force service. These connections, many years after their grandmother, Honora Garvey, had died, reinforced the kinship links.

No one remembers what this guy's name was...will anyone recognise him I wonder?

No one remembers what this guy’s name was…will anyone recognise him I wonder?

So today we have a bunch of cousins and a ring-in GI mate, whose name is no longer recorded…I wonder if anyone will recognise him? Why not march over to see what other Sepians have made of this week’s prompt? And because I’ve found an image among Nora’s collection that suits last week’s image very well I’m going to post it here as well – I’d forgotten all about it.

The reverse says "Michael Keane and friend" circa 1900s. He would also have been 1st cousin to John Garvey.

The reverse says “Michael Keane and friend” circa 1900s. He would also have been 1st cousin to John Garvey in the photos above. Their chaps look as woolly as the dog in the featured image.

Sepia Saturday 257

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker Perry McIntyre

Dr Perry McIntyre

Dr Perry McIntyre

As you know there are three official bloggers for Congress 2015 in Canberra: Shauna Hicks, Jill Ball (aka Geniaus) and myself. We thought it might be interesting for you to learn a little more about the speakers at Congress, who they are, and what their interests cover. Shauna has already interviewed a few speakers but Dr Perry McIntyre is my first interviewee. I know Perry from Shamrock in the Bush and I’m really looking forward to hearing her speak at Congress so I hope this interview tempts you to join me in her sessions.

Q: I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?  Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?  

A: I began my steps into history through genealogy when I returned to Sydney from living in a mining town in Central Queensland. The stint in Sydney was to be short and I was 8 months pregnant! Five years later with two babies I’d completed the Diploma of Family History at the Society of Genealogists and was on the way to leaving my Science Degree and teaching career behind for a life in genealogy and history.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

These first steps in to family history ultimately led to more academic history study ending with a PhD in history inspired by the wonderful documents at State Records of NSW which linked transported men with their free families back in England and Ireland. Other spin-offs were a career as a professional genealogist, working for academics as a researcher on large projects, helping Richard Reid lead tours to Ireland in the 1990s and first decade of 2000s. Ireland had by then become a place that had to be visited often. Getting into genealogy also inspired me to write up some of the research projects and, with a fellow historian, we formed a small history publishing company. Keep an eye on www.anchorbooksaustralia.com.au

What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history?

 Pulling together the stories of peoples past, so I guess I’m still a genealogist at heart although one current obsession is the lives of all 4114 Famine orphan girls who came to Australia between 1848 and 1850 – not mine but still genealogical principals. I am current Chair of the Great Irish Famine Commemoration Committee and manage the website working with descendants to tell the stories of these young women.

Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

 Quite a number of them since the Canberra one in 1986 [was it 1986?]

What are your key topics for Congress?

 An examination of why we remember and trace our families and a taste of a new project looking at criminality in Ireland and who was and was not transported. This is exciting work in the National Archives in Dublin.

How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

Encourage genealogists to think beyond the mere pedigree and also show them that not all the records in Ireland were destroyed – two topics to broaden understanding and open minds.

What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this, for you personally and for others attending?

Catching up with old friends, making new ones and there is always something new to learn.

Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

 Go back over old documents. As we learn more we see what was not so obvious when we first started. Keep your mind open and read broadly.

Is there somewhere we can connect with you online? 

Not really. Have a look at www.irishfaminememorial.org and you can email me off that site at contact@irishfaminememorial.org but only if you have an Irish famine orphan girl who came under Earl Grey Scheme.

Thanks Perry for such interesting responses to the questions. With so many of us researching Irish ancestors I’m sure your topics will be of great interest at Congress.

So this is Christmas 2014 – a geneameme

Christmas_L6My friend Sharn from FamilyHistory4U blog has set us all a Christmas geneameme challenge.In previous years I’ve posted on the Geneabloggers’ Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories and this meme offers a change of pace for me. I’m lucky that I’ve been able to check with mum on a couple of the questions.

1. What kind of Christmas did you have as a child? 

Baby Jesus in mangerChristmas was always a religious event at our house with Midnight Mass and adoration on Christmas Eve. I’d often pester my father, who was a non-Catholic, to come with us….poor man, he got no Christmas peace. Our Christmas celebrations were pretty low key as we have a small extended family and so it was usually just roast dinner with Christmas pudding and cake.

  1. Where did you spend Christmas?

We always spent Christmas at home, apart from when we’d visit my maternal grandfather’s house across town – no mean feat on a public holiday using public transport.  Mum tells me we mainly did this before her mother died, and only occasionally after that, which surprises me that I can remember, as I was only a small child when she died.

The maximum number of people we had were my own family, plus grandfather and sometimes one set of maternal aunts and uncles and cousins, so between 7 and 11 tops. For the life of me I can’t remember my paternal grandparents, who lived next door, being invited to partake in Christmas lunch….don’t go there, sigh…perhaps Grandma came over after Grandad died. Mum tells me the rellies would come over on Boxing Day mostly.

Image from Shutterstock.com

Image from Shutterstock.com

When I was a child we never went away on holidays at this time of year because it was peak period and expensive.

When we lived in Brisbane I used to dislike (hate/loathe) sitting in the northbound traffic to visit rellies, while the southbound freeway was totally free.

Mostly we’re at home for Christmas, though once when we lived in Papua New Guinea and once (or twice?) since we’ve been in Darwin, we’ve been back to Brisbane for Christmas. Once we had a white Christmas in Lucerne (some of the family) and once Himself and I returned from a trip on Christmas Eve, just a tiny bit jetlagged. And a few years ago we had Christmas in Tasmania with DD1.

  1. A letter and something yummy for Santa

I may have written to Santa (surely everyone did?) but I have no recollection of doing so. We certainly didn’t leave anything out for Santa or the reindeer – I remember being a bit mystified to find that other people did that.

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

  1. The Christmas Tree

Yes, we always had a Christmas Tree and it was always a small gum tree (eucalyptus) from down the creek bank near our house I’m pretty sure we only put it up close to Christmas so it would survive.

We still maintain our family tradition of putting up the tree together, though now it’s an artificial one, and we always decorate it while playing Christmas music. It basically stays up over Advent.

  1. Decorating the Christmas Tree 

Mum and I would decorate the tree together as Dad would either be on shift-work or think he was too clumsy. I think we had a mix of handmade and special glass baubles. I see in one photo we had balloons – I guess gum trees are less spikey than firs.

We have a wide variety of Christmas tree decorations – no colour-coordinated themes for the Cass mob. Some go back to the first year of our marriage, some were made by our children, some were gifts and quite a few have been brought back from our travels which has become a family tradition, helped by the fact we often travel off-season.Xmas decorations collage

  1. Did you decorate outdoors? 

Not really. I think we may have had some sort of wreath but no lights as they were not readily available then, as far as I know.  I don’t remember anyone else doing it either, unless it was those paper chains we made as kids…but then it is the rainy season in Queensland (and Darwin). These days we put up a wreath and solar lights in the frangipani.

7  Christmas Cards

P1160921Mum would write our Christmas cards and send them to a small group of family and friends…she has amazingly neat writing, even in her advanced years. What did we do with them? Hmmm, I think we may have cut them up and used them for craft and Mum would save the stamps and send them to the Missions. If I remember correctly they were hung on tinsel with our clock in the centre (why, I don’t know).

Remember when the postie would do two mail “runs” a day in the stinking heat of a Brisbane summer? We would always have a cold drink for him when he came by with his big pack…I think he was more like Santa than Santa himself.

These days I send electronic cards to some, paper cards to the older generation and try to ring my interstate friends for a catch-up chat…more fun, and informative, than a card.

I made this kermit stocking for my youngest daughter but it is really only used for decoration.

I made this kermit stocking for my youngest daughter but it is really only used for decoration.

  1. Christmas Stockings 

No, I never had a Christmas stocking other than those ones you bought in the shops with little round lollies, blowers, cartoons etc, which I really liked. All our presents would go under the tree. In my husband’s family there would be one gift at the bottom of the kids’ beds and they were told when they first woke up they could open that and read (it was usually a book). We maintained that tradition too, but the joy of Midnight Mass is that it makes the kids too tired to wake up super-early.

9. Christmas Presents

I got presents from Mum and Dad and Santa, something from my grandparents and a small gift from my aunts and uncles, and I would swap gifts with close friends. I think I made small gifts for my parents and I remember the first time I was able to go shopping in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley for gifts for my parents. Mum’s confirmed we didn’t do gifts for the nuns who taught me.

My bride doll Mary on display.

My bride doll Mary on display.

I remember that it was traditional to always leave out some beer as gifts for the garbos in those days when they had to carry the bins and empty them manually. The milko also got something.

These days we’ve rationalised our family present buying: the adults exchange a secret Santa gift to a limited amount and I swap presents with some of my friends. Ironically my oldest friend and I don’t do presents any more – we ran out of inventiveness – but if we see something during the year we’ll buy it at the time.

Each year we have a craft session with the grandchildren when they make gifts for their parents. They seem to have a good time and so do we. I remember some school holidays when the girls were young and we had chaos while neighbourhood kids made fymo necklaces and decorations.

  1. Your favourite Christmas Present

Well I’d be stretching it being confident about this but one I very much remember was a large Readers Digest book on animals. I was desperate that it would be among my gifts and was thrilled when I did, but was it a Christmas or birthday gift? I still have it in my library.

Actually my favourite Christmas present was always a book, any book. A sad Christmas would be one with no book (don’t think that every happened). I still have many of them, especially some from one of Mum’s close friends.

  1. Was there an unrealistic present you wanted but never received?  

I was going to say “no” but on further reflection, every year I wished for a baby sister or brother but it never happened. Obviously that was not in God’s plan for our family.

12. Did you give gifts to teachers and friends at school? 

I thought I might have given presents to the nuns in high school but mum thinks not, and since she would have done the buying (what mum doesn’t?) then I’d guess not. I don’t think it was the almost compulsory activity it has been with our children onwards. Perhaps we just gave them a holy Christmas card.

Again, close friends exchanged gifts but the wider circle of girls would exchange holy pictures with messages on them.

Christmas in Tasmania was all about the seafood and a fantastic meal by DD1, oh yes, and the company :)

Christmas in Tasmania was all about the seafood and a fantastic meal by DD1.

  1. Christmas Food
Green Peppercorn Xmas cake recipe from the Australian Women's Weekly (I think) circa 1990

Green Peppercorn Xmas cake recipe from the Australian Women’s Weekly (I think) circa 1990. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

Now this I do remember!

Despite the heat we always had a hot Christmas meal. Chicken was an expensive treat in those days and I don’t recall anyone having turkey or seafood. Roast potatoes, carrots and onions with peas for vegetables. Steamed Christmas pudding, custard and cream for dessert (yes please Dad would say, meaning all three). Shortbread was made according to my Scottish grandmother’s recipe and we would always have crystallised ginger on the table….one of Mum’s favourites. Dad might have a  beer (remember that Scottish mother) but no one else had anything alcoholic.

We always had our meal inside on a formally dressed table with all my parents’ quality linen and crystal…one of the few times each year that the crystal made an appearance.

  1. A special Christmas Recipe

Yes we made the shortbread (see above) which I still make to Grandma’s recipe. The pudding was also her recipe and is a delicious, moist version. Mum made the same delicious Christmas cake for decades which I also made until I found a new recipe for a Green Peppercorn Christmas Cake which we really like but which no longer likes me…sigh.

  1. Christmas Traditions 
Backyard Christmas celebrations Gerehu, Port Moresby.

Back yard Christmas celebrations Gerehu, Port Moresby.

Bon bons were always on the table too with their usual sad jokes but still fun. We didn’t go carolling – that was done around the church services and we also listened to them at home.

And yes, grace before and after meals –always, not just at Christmas.

In Papua New Guinea where we were all far from our families of origin, we would hold Christmas gatherings of friends and rotate through different households from year to year. It was always great fun.

  1. Christmas Music 

Me, in a choir?? Thank heavens, no! Mum has a good voice and I would sing at home but that was it. Dad was tone deaf unfortunately and couldn’t even carry a tune. We would listen to the music on LPs once we got a player and one of our first Christmas records was one which included Oh Tannenbaum. That was when I was learning German so I guess we got it when I was in Grade 10.

At church in Brisbane the band would play carols before and during Mass, but then let rip with the liveliest ones as the Mass ended.

It’s a shame that the abuse of Christmas carols in shops as a marketing ploy has taken the edge off our enjoyment of such a happy part of Christmas.

For a very long time our family would go to Carols by Candlelight in the park in Brisbane – our youngest even went when she was only a few weeks old. It was a very special part of our family’s Christmas tradition until it became way too commercialised and tacky.

nana-mouskouri 1_edited-1We love listening to a CD we have of Carols from Oxford…just so relaxing.

  1. Your favourite Christmas Carol 

Can I remember that far back? I guess the traditional ones like Silent Night and Away in a Manger then as a teenager Oh Tannenbaum. As an adult, Feliz Navidad, the Little Drummer Boy, and Mary’s Boy Child are my absolute favourites.

  1. Christmas Parties

Our family didn’t do parties, period. I remember being taken to the Railway Club where I got presents but not every year. I was in Guides but again, I have no recollection of having parties there.

Hmm, I guess I contradicted myself with the Gerehu parties above, but then I didn’t really see them as parties per se.

  1. Christmas Concerts/Plays

Mum confirmed for me that we didn’t have Christmas concerts at my primary school, only St Patrick’s Day ones. We didn’t have them at All Hallows’ because every second year was the state-wide exam so we all finished school on different days.

20. Christmas Holidays

As I mentioned, we never went away over the summer holidays so mine were spent hanging around the house, playing with the kids who also were at home. I remember that at least once we went up to my aunt and uncle’s camp site at Noosa, right in the midst of what is now a very upmarket resort. My cousin says we stayed with them at least once, but I only remember visiting.

I loved it when I got books as Christmas presents and could just hide from the heat and read…not that mum was so keen on that idea when there were jobs to be done <smile>. One Christmas in high school I read an entire collection of Dickens’ books which my cousin had left with us to mind. Since I read books like a glutton at a smorgasborg I’ve forgotten much of what I read.

Christmas Holiday camping at Hastings Point in northern NSW

Christmas Holiday camping at Hastings Point in northern NSW….a packed “house”…better to just visit.

21 What is your earliest Christmas memory? 

Whew, my brain is stretched from all these questions….I don’t have a specific memory but I guess it might be the year I got my bride doll.

Thanks Sharn for inventing this meme for us. I’m looking forward to seeing what others have written – it’s so interesting to see the things we have in common, and the ways we differ.




Trove Tuesday: Support Trove

Support TroveI’ve just been reading my monthly e-newsletter from the National Library of Australia.

Every day around the country and around the world, family historians sing the praises of our wonderful Trove. It is a truly amazing research opportunity of a world-class standard. Certainly no other newspaper digitisation I use comes close to it, let alone all the other aspects of Trove: maps, journals, images, sound, books etc. The newsletter tells us that 22 million people are using Trove annually…isn’t that an astonishing success. Equally astonishing is that there are over 396 million items digitised on Trove!

support trove2And we’ve been able to access this wonderful resource completely free wherever we live around Australia or the world! Distance and isolation just don’t affect us with Trove.

The Library is appealing to us for make a donation towards the cost of maintaining Trove. I don’t know about you, but Trove has opened up family stories that I’d never have known any other way. Sure, you can go to the library and search microfilms for known events like weddings, deaths or probate, but it’s those random discoveries that reveal our ancestor’s day-to-day lives.

Why not join me in making a donation to Support Trove? I know I’ve surely had my money’s worth from it and happy to make an occasional donation to help out. I’m adding the image to my blog bar, perhaps you’d care to also?


The Library also has great things in store for those of us visiting Canberra for Congress 2015:

A Special Collections Reading Room

This is how the library describes it: The lovely new space overlooking the Main Reading Room will open on schedule on Monday 5 January 2015. Readers will then have direct access to the Library’s pictures, maps, manuscripts, oral history recordings, music, ephemera and rare printed material collections in one place for the first time.

What fun we’ll have, and I wonder what family discoveries we’ll make?

Keepsakes: Australians and the Great War.

This will be a display of the Library’s own resources and memorabilia relating to World War I.


Professor Bill Gammage AM, author of The Broken Years, is presenting this Friday 5th December about “First AIF Men I Knew“. If you can get there, you really shouldn’t miss it. His work is remarkable.

By the way, have you ordered a National Library card yet? Do make sure you have one before Congress <tip>.

William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel: Always missed

A few years back I wrote in detail about my father’s cousin, William Rudolph (Robert) Kunkel, who went missing in Korea. Dad always said that Robert’s parents never gave up hope of finding him. Like so many families whose sons went missing in action during battle, there must have been a sense of ambiguity and uncertainty…perhaps one day he’d turn up.

Recently I was searching Trove and came up with another news story about Robert Kunkel. It was a very big entry on page 4 of Brisbane’s Sunday Mail on 12 December 1954[i]. Robert’s mother, Hilda, plainly believed that it was her son seen in the march-past at the City Hall of the 3rd Battalion, recently returned from Korea, even though he’d served with the 1st Battalion. As a child I always heard that Robert had never returned so it’s plain that the man marked didn’t turn out to be her son. What a sad loss it was for Robert’s parents, Hilda and Bill, who never stopped missing their son.

I had hoped to hear from one of Robert’s mates after my previous post, but would still welcome contact from them or a descendant if they inherited a story about Robert’s capture by the North Koreans. The surviving men from the patrol were Corporal William Crotty, Brian Ransfield Mau from Hamilton, New Zealand and S Brent (Sidney Henry Brent?). Crotty and Kunkel were apparently good mates.

Robert Kunkel from Sunday Mail top of pic

Robert Kunkel from Cour Sunday Mail 12 Dec 1954

[i] Mother seeks her son. (1954, December 12). Sunday Mail(Brisbane) (Qld. : 1926 – 1954), p. 4. Retrieved December 1, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97951154