Today 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?
My website: www.familyhistoryresearch.com.au
Thanks so much for this interview Kerry…I’m looking forward to catching up at Congress.