Anzac Centenary 2015: A Gallipoli “Everyman” Victor Joseph Sanders

The man I am writing about in this year’s Trans-Tasman ANZAC Day blog Challenge (commemoration?) is not a relative. Initially I looked for someone who lived close to my One Place Study, Murphy’s Creek, and chose a man about whom I’d write. At midnight last night, something niggled me to look up men from Toowoomba and my decision was made.

9th battalion colour patch

9th battalion colour patch

Victor Charles Sanders was a member of Queensland’s 9th Battalion, one of those men who arrived in wooden boats just before dawn on that first Anzac Day 100 years ago. Before the morning was out, perhaps even before the sun rose fully over the Gallipoli Peninsula he was dead, his life sacrificed in the Empire’s cause.

Vic Sanders, as he appears to have been known, was not a fresh-faced young man, just looking for adventure. He had been born in the Queensland country town of Warwick 33 years and 11 months previously. Although Warwick-born his family had lived in Toowoomba for a while because he’d been educated at North Toowoomba State School[i]. By the time he enlisted, Vic had also travelled beyond Australia’s borders. His Roll of Honour Circular states that immediately before signing up he had been the “manager of (a) plantation in New Hebrides” and his attestation file lists his occupation as an “overseer”.

Victor Joseph Saunders
Image from The Queenslander 10 Oct 1914

Victor Charles Sanders stood 5ft 9½ inches tall and weighed 10 stone 11½ lbs: in current measurements, that’s 176cm and 78 kg. He had a dark complexion, possibly from his time in the tropics, and brown eyes and hair. He enlisted on 26 August 1914, and was given the regimental number of 502 and allocated to the 9th Battalion, a Queensland unit. His parents were Thomas Harrison Sanders and Elizabeth Keith Sanders[ii]. At the time of enlistment, Victor listed his mother as next-of-kin, living with her daughter, Emily Elizabeth and son-in-law Charles Fortescue, a jeweller in Toowoomba.

Meanwhile Victor’s nephew[iii], 21 year old Charles Fortescue[iv] had already applied for a commission on 17 August and was also attached, as a Lieutenant, to the 9th Battalion[v]. Later notes in Vic’s file indicates that he was attached to D Company, the same as his uncle and this is confirmed by the Embarkation Rolls at the Australian War Memorial (AWM).

The Transport Ship, Omrah, leaves Pinkenba whart, Brisbane with the 9th Battalion.

The Transport Ship, Omrah, leaves Pinkenba whart, Brisbane with the 9th Battalion. Did Victor’s mother and his sister and husband come to see their sons set sail?

After training Victor and his military colleagues sailed from the Pinkenba wharf in Brisbane on the transport ship Omrah on 24 September 1914, no doubt hastened by the belief the war would be over before Christmas.

While on board they undertook classes and training and when they arrived in Albany, WA, they apparently undertook a training march though I’ve found no reference to that in Trove and haven’t explored the brigade or battalion diaries.

Members of the 9th Battalion on a tender going ashore from the HMT Omrah (A5), for a route march at Albany. AWM Image CO2493

Members of the 9th Battalion on a tender going ashore from the HMT Omrah (A5), for a route march at Albany. AWM Image CO2493

I haven’t pursued what happened to the battalion in Egypt until they embarked on the ship Ionian, firstly to Mudros Harbour.

HMAT Ionian loading to take the troops to Gallipoli. AWM Image A02143

HMAT Ionian loading to take the troops to Gallipoli. AWM Image A02143

The 3rd Brigade diaries tell of the training the men did in preparation for the Gallipoli landing but the men weren’t too impressed and prophetic of what was to happen:

It was a laughable affair (on 19 April). Sergeant Polley was leading us all over the country, looking for the rest of the platoon. We would have been shot, over and over again. After several attempts, the exercise was given up as a bad job so we returned to our boats about midnight.[vi]


AWM Image CO2496. Lt Fortescue is 2nd from right in front row, on board Omrah.

The actual landing would have echoes of this but without the opportunity to backtrack to the boats. However the die had been cast, and the men were to go ahead. They were by turns nervous, excited, frightened…all perfectly normal and reasonable responses. However before they were launched off into the depths of their first battle the men were given hot food before embarkation, fed a decent meal rather than the usual army fare of sandwiches and hard biscuits[vii], thanks to Colonel Brudenell White’s detailed planning.

The Troops on the battleships were woken at 1 am, given a hot meal and a drink while the tows were being got ready, and by 1.30 am were ready for mustering into companies. This operation was carried out with impressive efficiency: no one spoke; orders were given in whispers. The only sounds were shuffling boots and muttered curses as men slipped on the ladders leading down to the boats. But for many, the tension of that still night magnified the sounds.[viii]

A tranquil day at Anzac in June 2014.

A tranquil day at Anzac in June 2014.

The night was still and clear, the sea as smooth as glass, much as it was today on the 100th anniversary of the landing. Unfortunately the moon silhouetted the ships, alerting the Turkish front line, who while they were unsure whether they were war ships or transports, the limited Turkish shore platoons and reserve units were now on standby until the relief contingents could be brought forward[ix].

On the boats, the men were silent awaiting their baptism of battle. To Victor’s nephew, Lieutenant Charles Fortescue, it seemed “the noise of the pinnaces being filled, in the stillness of the night, was enough to make the whole world vibrate”[x].

Major Fortescue, spoke of a solid mass of Turkish bullets and a cacophany of bugle calls. ..However official historian Charles Bean disagreed. He concluded “was the beach the inferno of bursting shells and barbed-wire entanglements and falling men that has sometimes been described or painted?” Turkish artillery, in particular, didn’t start to fire shrapnel until 5.10am (some reports said 4.45 am), or about an hour after the first Australians landed[xi].” Bean’s theory fits with what is known from the Turkish archives: they were hanging on at all costs until they could be supported by relief troops.

Meanwhile the Battalion’s succinct diary reports that “It was apparent that the naval people has missed their direction it was discovered afterwards that we were two miles north of the position intended. The landing was effected under rifle fire and the troops pressed forward. The enemy gave way and the advance continued. Turkish reinforcements saved the rush and our troops were driven back and hastily entrenched on a commanding position. Turks attacked again about midnight but were repulsed. The Australians displayed great bravery and held on tenaciously[xii]. It would be interesting to read a diary by Peter Stewart (378, 9th Battalion) to get a sense of the ordinary soldier’s take on the chaos of the day.[xiii]

The first roll call of the 9th Battalion at Gallipoli a few days after the landing. The lack of numbers makes it more understandable how Vic Sanders' fate could have been unclear. AWM Image JO6121.

The first roll call of the 9th Battalion at Gallipoli a few days after the landing. The lack of numbers makes it more understandable how Vic Sanders’ fate could have been unclear. AWM Image JO6121.

In the midst of this confusion of that first battle by the ANZACs, Victor Joseph Sanders was killed or died. Perhaps he was among those shot before landing, perhaps he was among those who drowned due to the depth of water, or perhaps he died later in the morning as the 9th Battalion made its assault towards Plugge’s Plateau and was lost among the crevices and gullies of those ridges rising up from Hell’s Spit at Anzac Cove.

What is certain is that Victor Sanders was missing in action (MIA) from that first Anzac morning and was never seen again and his poor family was left in a limbo of confusion as to what had happened to him. Initial reports suggested he was MIA (missing in action). Later his cousin, William Sanders (#2430) had written to his father that Vic was in hospital in Lemnos which presumably he believed since no one could be cruel enough to raise such hopes in his family. The fact that Victor was in his nephew’s company and Charles Fortescue didn’t know what happened to him speaks volumes for the ambiguity and confusion of that first Anzac Day.

From Vic Sanders' Attestion File.

From Vic Sanders’ Attestation File.

In August 1915, Vic Sanders’ brother-in-law, Charles Fortescue snr, wrote to his local Parliamentary member, Mr Bloom, for assistance saying “As you can imagine, the women folk are exceedingly worried. From what the wife told me it will evidently be a considerable time before the Department get any information in the ordinary way”. He offers to pay for telegrams to the hospital at Lemnos but the responses remains negative.

Eventually, in January 1918, Victor’s mother received a parcel of his belongings despatched per the Marathon. Included were 4 belts, housewife, photos, 2 knives, pouch, comb, corkscrew, “house” game, 2 notebooks and letters. What a treasure they must have been for his mother and siblings. For them to have survived it seems likely that either his pack was found though his body was not, or more likely, that he left them on the ship in case his number was up.

As the months, and years, passed the questions remained. It’s hard to imagine two families living under the same roof, one proud of their son Charles Fortescue who was awarded his Military Medal and one worrying about the truth of whether their son and brother was missing, in hospital or killed in action or long since deceased.

For me, it was Vic’s nephew, Major Charles Fortescue’s, report on July 11th  1921 that clinches his death “he landed on Gallipoli with the 9th Bn about 4:30am on the morning of 25th April 1915 with the company to which I belonged. No information has ever been received as to what happened to him from shortly after he landed”.

And yet, on 29 July 1921, a letter from the OIC Base Records says “The Imperial War Graves Commission has sanctioned a continuance of the search, and in the event of a more favourable report forthcoming, next-of-kin will be at once advised.[xiv] By then it is too late for his mother, Elizabeth, who died on 25 July 1920 – perhaps she had given up hope of her son returning.

Despite the lack of pleading letters in Victor’s military file (so common among records for deceased servicemen) the loss and confusion is clear. No doubt his mother’s grief remained until her death in 1920.

To my mind Victor Joseph Sanders serves as “Everyman” of the Gallipoli campaign. One of the earliest who landed on Gallipoli’s shores at Anzac Cove, his fate remains shrouded in mystery. He is not mourned in annual In Memoriam notices for continued periods – perhaps his family felt that would jinx his survival.  That the details of his death are unknown even to close relatives highlights the continued ambiguity and confusion of that first day of battle. The length of time until his death was declared by a Military tribunal in France in June 1916 evokes the trauma and tension of his family’s wait.

I’d have liked to find a photo of Victor among the Queenslander’s WWI images, but unfortunately it’s likely he’s among those whose details are obscured in the Queenslander newspaper editions of 3 and 10 October 1914. When I get a chance I’ll check the indexes at John Oxley Library.

Despite the grief his family bore, it perhaps made it easier that he was not married and did not leave behind a widow or child.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. P Cass, June 2014.

Lone Pine Cemetery, Gallipoli. P Cass, June 2014.

Victor Joseph Sanders is remembered on the Lone Pine Memorial at Gallipoli, just one of many whose bodies were never found and never laid to rest. He is also remembered on the grave of his mother and sister in the Anglican section of the Drayton Cemetery Toowoomba (though with anomalies in fate and age). It was his eldest brother, JW Sanders, who inherited the memorial scroll and plaque, King’s Message, 1914-1915 Star (#2169), Victory Medal (488) and British War Medal (513). Hopefully they are being lovingly cared for and treasured by Victor’s family to this day.

Victor Sanders E600

Lest We Forget.

The words of modern Turkey’s founder, and a Gallipoli military leader, show respect and consolation for the families.


[i] Australian War Memorial Honour Roll circular–878-.pdf

[ii] Ironically Vic’s mother had connections with the Qld railway line and so was probably familiar with Murphy’s Creek, one of my One Place Studies. Parents details from attestation files and Qld BDM online indexes.

[iii] The relationship is stated in the Roll of Honour circular.

[iv] Son of Charles Fortescue, a Toowoomba jeweller, and Emily Elizabeth Sanders. Awarded a Military Cross for his actions on April 25th-29th during operations near Gaba Tepe “For gallant conduct. He twice led charges against the enemy and rendered good service in collecting reinforcements and organising stragglers”[iv]. (Charles Fortescue, Lt, requested commission 17 Aug 1914, aged 21y 3 mos, jeweller.

[v] Having only just returned from Canberra, it’s frustrating to discover Major Fortescue has private papers held by the Australian War Memorial, including details of the landing at Gallipoli.

[vi] 36 Days. Dolan, H, Macmillan Digital Australia, Sydney, 2010. (ebook location 4156)

[vii] ibid. (ebook location 4717)


[ix] Defending Gallipoli: the Turkish Story. Broadbent, H, Melbourne University Press, 2015.  (ebook location 411)


[xi] Bean, however, didn’t go along with men like Major Fortescue, who spoke of a solid mass of Turkish bullets and a cacophany of bugle calls. “Neither then nor at any time later,” Bean concluded, “was the beach the inferno of bursting shells and barbed-wire entanglements and falling men that has sometimes been described or painted.” Turkish artillery, in particular, didn’t start to fire shrapnel until 5.10am (some reports said 4.45 am), or about an hour after the first Australians landed.

[xii] 9th Battalion War Diary, April 1915. Series AWM 4 Item 23/26/5


[xiv] Attestation file, Victor Joseph Sanders.

“When I was young” geneameme

Alona from LoneTester blog has offered us this fun “When I was young” geneameme and it’s been a pleasure reflecting on the answers.

  1. Pauleen baby book131

    Already there’s a cat 🙂

    Do you (or your parents) have any memorabilia from when you were a baby? (ie. baby book, lock of hair, first shoes etc.) Yes, I am lucky to have a baby book, baby photos, bracelet and other odds and ends.

  2. Do you know if you were named after anyone? Quite the opposite – I was named so none of my name included any of my paternal grandmother’s…hence the “een” ending. Ironically Catherine is a name I now know to be threaded through generations of my Irish, German and Scots ancestry.
  3. And do you know of any other names your parents might have named you? Paul,  because I was supposed to be a boy.
  4. What is your earliest memory? Hard to say, I have vague memories of my maternal grandmother who died before I was four and used to bring biscuits when she visited. No specific memory other than that.
  5. HeidiDid your parent/s (or older siblings) read, sing or tell stories to you? Do you remember any of these? Yes both read to me. Mum liked fairy tales and Dad would buy me religious comics when I was sick (odd because Mum was the religious one). Mum used to sing around the house and at night would sing “turaluralura”, an Irish lullaby.
  6. When you were young, do you remember what it was that you wanted to grow up to be? I wanted to be a marine biologist until 2nd year uni…just as well it didn’t work out as I get claustrophobic with snorkel masks, let alone scuba diving gear.
  7. Did you have a favourite teacher at school? Sr Gemma in Grade 8 and Sr Mary Benedict for Years 11-12. Both made an enormous difference to my eduction.
  8. How did you get to school? Primary School: Walking – it wasn’t far and we didn’t own a car. Secondary school: bus to Fortitude Valley. University: Bus and tram.
  9. What games did playtime involve? Skipping, tiggy, elastics….??? At home, dolls and dress-ups or guns and cowboys.
  10. Did you have a cubby house? Not a fancy one, but a special play space under the house (remember Qld houses are on stilts), and I’d sometimes build one with old sheets etc under the steps etc.
  11. Cousin Jimmy, me Aunty Mary, Mum and Dad in Cairns.

    Cousin Jimmy, me Aunty Mary, Mum and Dad in Cairns.

    What was something you remember from an early family holiday? The 2.5 day train ride on the Sunlander from Brisbane to Townsville for holidays on Magnetic Island. Throwing newspapers to the railway gangers in their tents by the line. Buying fish, chips and (potato) scallops in Rockhampton. Meeting up with Mum’s childhood friend and her family, and a couple of aunts.

  12. What is a memory from one of your childhood birthdays or Christmas? The smell of the small gum tree that dad would cut from down the creek bank. I remember that my friends were often away for my birthday as it was school holidays…poor me, boo hoo.

    Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

    Our gum tree Christmas tree when I was a child.

  13. What childhood injuries do you remember? I was lucky to have no broken bones etc (touch wood!) so one stands out….I cut my left calf on a sticky-out bit on a bike pedal. The family friend in the next street carried me home with it bleeding everywhere then we went to the hospital – strangely I don’t remember how, given we didn’t have a car. I still have the faded scar as a memento.
  14. What was your first pet? Cats, cats and more cats.
  15. Did your grandparents, or older relatives tell you stories of “when I was young ..?” Not really. My paternal grandparents lived next door but they didn’t tell those sorts of stories. Instead my grandmother introduced me to Scottish music, bagpipes and dancing.

    Pauleen baby book 136

    Some things don’t change!

  16. The record-playing part of the gramophoneWhat was entertainment when you were young? The radio I guess, though I don’t remember listening to it a lot until I was a teenager. My grandmother had a gramophone which I’ve inherited (currently being minded by my friend in Brisbane) and I loved checking the needle, winding it up, and playing those heavy old records. Sometimes if you visited a home where they had a piano there might be singalongs but my family didn’t do this much, perhaps because of Dad’s shift work. Otherwise entertainment was books, hence my addiction, one I shared with Dad. Sometimes we’d go to the neighbourhood picture theatre for the movies. I remember seeing Fantasia in the city with Mum and Aunty Emily and being scared silly by all those marauding brooms.
  17. Do you remember what it was it like when your family got a new fangled invention? (ie. telephone, TV, VCR, microwave, computer?) Heck, I even remember when we first got some colour camera film when a “rich” relation brought some back from the USA for us. Until we got a telephone when I was in my mid-late teens I used to have to sit nearby while Mum rang her friend from a public phone box…man they could talk! We bought a Commodore computer for our own family in the late 1980s and a VCR in the mid-1980s.

    One of our first colour photos - Dad among his roses.

    One of our first colour photos – Dad among his roses.

  18. Did your family have a TV? Was it b&w or colour? And how many channels did you get? I remember the neighbours down the next street getting a black and white TV – maybe because they had several children? We got a B&W one when I was in my teens – probably a good thing because we didn’t have any in PNG after we were married. Channels – no idea.Two or three I think.
  19. Did your family move house when you were young? Do you remember it? No, I lived in the same house until I married and Dad lived on the same block his whole life.
  20. Was your family involved in any natural disasters happening during your childhood (, flood, cyclone, earthquake etc) I remember an early trip to Magnetic Island when there was a cyclone and the palm trees seemed to touch their toes. Despite this Dad took me up the back to go to the toilet….probably I was scared….it’s a wonder he didn’t say to use a bucket! We got taken off the island by army duck then a couple of days later we took the ferry to Green Island and as Mum always says “were green on the way over, and green on the way back”. I still remember the boat dipping from side to side, just touching the water. Dad was one of the few who didn’t get sick, but put him on a mill-pond and he’d be violently ill.

    One of my favourite photos - Dad, me and the kittens.

    One of my favourite photos – Dad, me and the kittens at the holiday flat at Picnic Bay, Magnetic Island, where we stayed during the cyclone.

  21. Is there any particular music that when you hear it, sparks a childhood memory? Tura lura lura, Bing Crosby, Oh Tannenbaum, certain hymns. My daughter still sings turalura to her children. I wonder who Mum learnt it from – perhaps her Irish father.
  22. What is something that an older family member taught you to do? Mum taught me to sew, and must have taught me some crocheting too I think.Dad’s mother had been a dressmaker but as she was already in her late 70s when I was a child, she never bothered sewing any more, though I did enjoy playing with the buttons she had in a jar.
  23. What are brands that you remember from when you were a kid? TAA, Ansett (thanks Alona!), Waltons, McWhirter, TC Beirne’s, those heart-shaped lollies with writing on them (and yes, fags lollies), Persil washing powder, Reckitt’s blue bags, Lux flakes. I’m sure there are many I’ve forgotten.
  24. Some of the lovely shells I still have in my collection.

    Some of the lovely shells I still have in my collection.

    Did you used to collect anything? (ie. rocks, shells, stickers … etc.) Shells and books. (see above) Now I feel very guilty about the environmental impact of shell collecting. Like Dad I still have a partiality for collecting the odd stone that takes my fancy.

  25. Share your favourite childhood memory. Hmm,
    A gift from Aunty Emily.

    An Easter gift from Aunty Emily.

    this is a tough one. We’d sometimes go to a highpoint nearby and admire the city lights or the stars….one of Mum’s much-loved things to do.  Or, at Easter, getting to eat all the lollies one had given up for Lent but kept stored in a jar….time for a pig-out. Getting special treats like tiny cups and saucers from my maternal great-aunt. Visiting New Farm Park with her and Mum and seeing the beautiful roses there. Helping Mum with the cake and biscuit baking on Saturdays….and licking the bowl. School fetes etc etc.

  26. Sport: I was pretty rubbish at sport though I enjoyed informal sprints down the streets with the neighbourhood kids. I also learned to play tennis which I can’t say that I loved…or was very good at. Ditto swimming classes and swimming club at the Valley Pool….ugh.
  27. Music: I learned to play the piano for a while with the nuns at my primary school. I remember playing chopsticks or Elvis Presley’s Wooden Heart on our neighbour’s piano with my friend. We would race to complete it in the shortest time possible -it’s a wonder her parents didn’t throw us out.
  28. Games: Who remembers this game…it seems to be having a resurgence as we saw some in Sydney. And then there was the introduction of hula hoops and yo-yos. And what about board games like snakes and ladders or Chinese chequers?

.Thanks Alona for this trip down memory lane. And thanks Mum for all the photos I have and my own love of photography.

Congress 2015: Panel Session re Societies

Panel slide CongressThe final session of Congress 2015 was a Panel discussion entitled Family History Research: why leave home to do it. The panel members were Josh Taylor (FGS and FMP, USA), Carole Riley (SAG) and David Holman (FFHO, UK) and it was moderated by Congress 2015 Official Blogger Jill Ball aka GeniAus.

Jill had a list of questions which were decided by a number nomination from someone in the audience. The number determined which slide came in which order. A tricky way of keeping things lively.

Since there’s no proceedings paper with a focus on societies I thought it might be helpful to present the summary as I typed it up throughout…feel free to correct me if I got something wrong. I may not be able to resist having my threepence worth on a couple of the items too.

Thanks Jill for the change of pace and generating interesting discussions. Thanks also for the use of your slides to check the question titles.

 Curt witcher panel quoteCurt Witcher said at Rootstech that 80-92% of people who “do genealogy” do not belong to a society. How are you going to reverse this trend in your societies?

Josh:  Your society needs to know what’s going on…need to be on FB, Twitter or you don’t know what’s going on. FGS (US equivalent of AFFHO) is going to other groups as well.

Stalk the dead, stalk the living

Younger demographic may not like “society” because the term is old-fashioned. Use different term? Try different approach?

David: someone with local knowledge; get with the program of newer strategies, about doing things not just putting out data.

Carole: education – source of how to do it properly


  • There are thousands of members on Australian Genealogy FB page but can only comment as an individual not as a page owner eg on behalf of SAG

My thought since coming home: is the term “genealogy” too dated? Would family history capture people’s imaginations more?

The quality of online advice from well-meaning (and inexpert) people on message boards and Facebook groups is sometimes dubious. What can society members do to combat this?

When there is inexpert advice on Facebook (FB)…put your head above parapet and clarify.

 DSC_3325In Australia societies are not taking advantage of nationwide promotional activities eg National Family History Month. Do they exist overseas?

David: No (too many other national days); month too long

Josh: NFHM (USA) is October; some societies are really good, some have seminars. Suggests researching which politician is relevant in terms of funding and get them to promote it by researching their family.

Carole: just another job to do

Jill: Shauna said all you have to is relabel your August activities as NFHM and let it be known widely.

How do traditional genies embrace those who want to do it all from home?

Carole: both can learn from each other

David: can’t do it all from home…great to get out

Josh: great that you can do it at home, but there are also extra documents offline (in another talk Josh mentioned only 15% are online).

HAGSOC librarian: collaborate with other society libraries.

Jill: can make society libraries online via Trove

stop-is-it-yours-ask-acknowledgeOnline genies may be unaware of copyright regulations and the niceties of sharing. How can we educate them in ethical behaviour? 

David: legislation varies across nations; may even need legal advice; there are some unethical,people, however some don’t know/understand the basics. Up to FH society to educate them.

Carole: Australian Copyright Council has booklets, talks etc. Buy and share them in our FH libraries.

Josh: great article in FGS mag- getting it wrong by mistake; use examples; dot points of key items

Jill: if you don’t ask, don’t do it; check out Creative Commons

 Random Acts of Genealogical Kindness: RAOGKs can make it unnecessary to travel to a repository or visit a society. Online genies can barter with others to make visits, do lookups, take photos etc. What impact do these activities have on societies?

David: society members who live in area will do photos for £5 of grave

Josh: great reason to bring together

Carole: no effect

 Do family history shows on TV help or hurt the concept that everything can be done at home?

Josh: have an “elevator pitch” to tell people how to do the research without the quick and easy TV way

David: ordinary people want to see famous brought to their level – not usually famous in previous generation; perhaps get a plug for the society

Carole: shows people it’s not all online as they have to go to different places

 How can we promote the joy of holding original documents in our hands with those who do all their research online?

Carole: go to repository to hold/see it; emotions on faces

Josh: hard to convey – impact of dust in archive; video and emotion to see it.

David: archives don’t want you holding original docs.

Jill: Perry McIntyre has inspired her to go to Ireland and see original documents

tRANSCRIPTION ERROR_edited-1Many resources found online are transcriptions. What is the danger in relying on these?

Carole: you are going to make mistakes – the more transcriptions, the more errors likely and might be more than in the transcript

David: doesn’t have to be online transcriptions eg Bishops Transcripts have errors ; ditto transcription of certificates and church records

Josh: you miss other records, nuances in original, notations, context of papers, order of data (Couldn’t agree more Josh)

Audience: a contracted person transcribing vs those with local knowledge and understanding of names (local transcriptions by societies may be more accurate)

 Is social media friend or foe to Family History Societies?

Josh: Can be biggest foe – If you’re not on social media you don’t exist; life is 2hrs on social media – MUST reply promptly or is it a foe

Carole: can’t/won’t survive without social media; didn’t even know one society organisation: be prepared, where the people are, have memb forms, keep members informed but let others know you’re there

David: FFHO – employed someone to change social media from being foe to friend.


  • friends within society, enjoy each other’s successes, don’t do social media., “what’s the membership”
  • schedule FB posts to reduce time…needs to be dialogue

 What can you get from a society that you cannot get ‘online‘? Are societies providing and promoting whatever this is?

Carole: indexes, transcriptions, experienced members and knowledge, gravestone images/transcriptions from before they were faded through time and weathering.

David: people – here we have Purple people – can’t get those online

Josh: people

My question: does the society have any form of online information to tell potential members what unique indexes etc they hold for their region and others.

aPP IMAGEHow do researchers find out what local databases, indexes and files are held by genealogy societies? How should societies promote these?

Josh: Working on a smartphone app that will beep if you are close to a different society in a new location.

Carole: social media

David: App might overtake social media

It was good to see a session which focused on online-offline research and the role of societies in today’s genealogy. Thanks to Jill, the panel and the audience for your contributions.

This is my final post on Congress and so the end of my role as an official blogger. It was a successful conference with lots of food for thought. Time to collect my thoughts, have a breather and focus on hearth and home for a while.

Congress 2015: Navel-gazing

Congress 2015Having reviewed some of the talks I attended at Congress 2015, it’s time to turn to a little personal navel-gazing. Decades of working as a senior administrator means I can’t help myself when it comes to assessing what went well and what wasn’t so successful. How else to improve one’s own performance in any sphere?

It’s always tricky when preparing papers for any seminar to know what the audience expects to hear as there’s inevitably a range of knowledge, experience and aspirations. Then there’s the slides,timing and not wanting to cause death by power-point. I gave two presentations at Congress – this is my own assessment of how they went. Others may well differ.

The marriage of family and local history

marriage local and family historyThere was so much more I’d have liked to include but I whittled away until I felt I had sufficient to tell the story sensibly. While the paper I submitted to the proceedings provided the nuts and bolts of the tools and techniques I’d used, I wanted the presentation on Murphy’s Creek to illustrate how these might come together to tell the story of a place through the marriage of local and family history.

I was pleased with how this talk went as it seemed to be well received by many in the audience. Certainly quite a few people came up to me that day, and later, to comment on what they’d got from it. It was also a pleasure to meet two people from towns near Murphy’s Creek.

The downside was that my little sound snippet on the image of an old barn (the property of Mr Horrocks, mentioned in the extract) refused to work even though it had been fine when I’d tested it multiple times at home…of course.

I have included it here: 

You can hear Annie talking to local historian Cameron about the social life in Murphy’s Creek in the early 20th century.

Here too is a graphic which I decided to exclude because (1) it wasn’t necessary and (2) it was too busy. Thanks to Alex from Family Tree Frog blog who introduced me to the mind-mapping tool, Coggle. You never know, someone might find the framework useful.


Harness the power of blogging for your One Place Study (OPS).

Grassroots research revolution

A grassroots research revolution is taking place to change the history of ordinary people. Image from

This topic suffered a little from confusion over its title in each program (online, app, printed) .…despite the convenor’s best attempts to sort it out. My fault for not noticing sooner and my apologies to those who thought they were getting a talk about blogging per se. Hopefully the paper in the proceedings will make it clearer.

My retrospective assessment is that I hadn’t achieved the depth I’d have liked with this presentation. Perhaps in this case I’d whittled and edited too much. Again the intention was to demonstrate how blogging could be used for a one place study, or indeed your own research. I wanted to highlight the issues I’d encountered in this type of blog – mainly time, and ambivalence about which blog to use. I hope those with an interest in the topic will explore the different styles used by the other OPS blogs I mentioned as well. In retrospect I could also have added some slides showing some of the stories on my two OPS blogs.

Those who are keen can look at my OPS blogs here: East Clare Emigrants and From Dorfprozelten to Australia

Travelling in our time machine. Image from

Travelling in our time machine. Image from

Although speakers had a target time of 35 minutes for each presentation, leaving time for questions, I was surprised to finish this talk in 30 minutes. The upside is that it left time for lots of Q&A to involve the audience. Nick Reddan’s question of “why blog, not publish a book?” was pertinent…my response: depends on the project and what you want to achieve. I was really pleased to see the lively dynamic in the Q&A session which lasted 15 minutes and also allowed my geneablogger mates to offer their five bob’s worth too ….thanks genimates! Twitter tells me my quotable quote was “bloggers are part of a gang“…in a good way of course since we support and encourage each other.

The technology was a little frustrating – a problem shared by others – with the screens so far forward and the remote forward-back buttons in different places in the different rooms. I also learned not to wear an outfit with a cowl neckline…something to add to Paul Milner’s “don’t” list.

Thanks to everyone who attended and who offered questions or opinions on what I’d said.

My two papers and the slides are now on this blog under the Presentations tab. 

I’ve also added the (different) papers and slides on the East Clare and Dorfprozelten emigrants which I presented at Congress 2006 in Darwin.

Please note: these papers and slides are copyrighted to me. I’d appreciate it if anyone wants to refer to them, that they acknowledge my work.

Congress 2015: Cherry-picking papers

cherriesIt’s a week since Congress 2015 came to a close and for most of that time I’ve been gallivanting around Sydney with my other half. My reflections on the speakers I heard and my thoughts have been distracted by the offerings of the Big Smoke. Thank heavens I wrote all my notes into Evernote where I can easily follow up my thoughts at the time, and since.

Rather than go through day-by-day I’m going to cherry-pick some papers to offer some comments….once again a hazardous process.

Perry McIntyre on Remembering Ancestors, and Irish Convicts

I’ve rarely had the opportunity to hear Perry speak even though I’ve known her from years ago at Shamrock. I was especially taken with her talk on Remembering and Commemorating our Ancestors. Her early words were “it’s obligatory to write up our stories to preserve their legacy” and If it’s accurately sourced, it’s the detail that adds to the history”.

Perry reminded us of what we all know from our personal experience but often forget in the broader arena: memory is variable (and possibly fickle?). She questioned how family historians have influenced the wider practice of history. My response would be that it is by revealing the small-scale ordinary stories of families within the context of local, state and international history.

Perry’s talk on Irish convicts was dense with offerings for those with “Australian royalty”. Without that claim to fame I was more interested in the detail offered by the Chief Secretary’s Office Record Papers (CSORP) at the National Archives of Ireland.

I liked Perry’s idea of taking a layer-cake view of various historians’ research until we discern and assess a balanced position.

Colleen Fitzpatrick

Colleen’s reputation preceded her and was well deserved: all her talks were informative and engaging…and I enjoyed her dry sense of humour.

Who would have thought how much photographic assessment could arise from the image of a dead horse in downtown Shaboygan? It just goes to show how much we can gain from squeezing every ounce of information from a photograph. I was also amused by the fact that during the past week, the aforementioned Shaboygan visited me via a standing google ebay alert on a family name…another example of six degrees of separation?

DNA remains one of the challenging concepts for 21st century genealogists to get their heads around. I mentioned that I made a point of listening to as many DNA talks at RootsTech as I could. I’ve also learned from Kerry Farmer’s talks on DNA at different times, as well as her Unlock the Past Book. It seems to me that DNA is one of those topics that slowly reveals itself the more exposure we have to different talks. Colleen used the analogy of DNA as a book which was something most of us could relate to as well. It’s a shame I didn’t leap in and buy her book on the first day as they sold out.

Colleen has weekly quizzes on her website.

Paul Milner

Paul was a keynote speaker as well as session and lunch speaker and I learned heaps from his talks. Like many of the US speakers he has a dynamic speaking style which engages the audience. Although I’d used the Parish Chest records for some of my English ancestry there was lots of information to consider, especially whether my mariner ancestors may have generated settlement certificates for their wives and children.

His session on mining ancestors was particularly useful to me with its diverse information and has given me lots of avenues to explore for my Northumberland mining ancestors, the Reeds/Reids/Reads. The quirky side-shoot to his mining talk is that he has links to the Northern Territory, having worked in the mines at Tennant Creek as a young man.

Paul’s lunch time talk on preparing a presentation submission, then effectively delivering your presentation was pertinent and helpful – though it might have been less nerves-inducing if it hadn’t been only an hour away from my second Congress presentation.

Paul has a comprehensive website you can explore.

Grace Karstens on Sex, Marriage and the Frontier

Anyone who thought the whole roller-coaster complexities of human relationships is a modern thing had to think again after Grace’s talk. Essentially it was a type of One Place Study on the Nepean-Castlereagh area in the early days, focusing on relationships, sex and marriage. After all building families was a way for people to build their identity in the new colony. There was an emphasis on children and fecundity. It must have been incredibly tough for those women who were infertile or could not bear children.

I was much amused by the quote “boys as wild as goats with no shepherds”.

David Rencher – Landless Irish

As we know, Irish genealogy gives us a run for our money, especially if our ancestors were poor and landless.

David, like Perry, talked about the CSORP documents and I was intrigued that outrages were reported daily, setting the context for our families’ day-to-day lives….the Irish were by no means as passive as we like to think. Who knows what references you might find there? All you need is a trip to Ireland until more are indexed by the Crowley Bequest.

He emphasised the need to look for Catholics even in the Church of Ireland parish vestry records – where they survive. It was something of an “aha” moment for me to think I need to check further whether Church of Ireland records exist for my Irish places of interest.

Poor Law records and Board of Guardian minute books (some at least are online) are important potential sources for the landless Irish. It may also be worth considering if they moved across to Liverpool and appear in the Poor Law documents there. If you’re planning a trip to Ireland David also recommends rent books and estate records, usually at the National Library of Ireland. I’ve certainly had some success with these for Bodyke in Co Clare.

One book in my library which I think is enlightening on this topic is The End of Hidden Ireland by Robert Scally.

Cheryl Mongan – Famine Orphans

As there were over 4000 famine orphans, it stands to reason there must be lots of genies with an interest in this topic. Cheryl told us that not all the “orphans” were Irish – some were from Australia, the USA or England. I knew they weren’t all orphans but hadn’t known they weren’t all Irish.

My interest is in my husband’s ancestor Biddy Gallagher/Gollagher who arrived on the Lady Kennaway and it was interesting to realise she was on only the third ship to arrive – don’t know why that hadn’t struck me before. Biddy’s actual origins are more ambiguous as I mention in this blog post.

Cheryl told us how the orphans generally travelled from Ireland across to Plymouth on the open decks of the regional ships. This complemented Perry McIntyre’s statement that after 1848 the Irish emigrants left either from Plymouth or Liverpool.

I particularly liked the quote that found one ship’s matron “could not control her middle-aged self for a fortnight” so couldn’t control 250 young girls.

My take-home message is to have another sleuthing session for Biddy Gallagher in the Victorian Police Gazettes, government gazettes etc (it seems she turned to alcohol).

And FYI the Famine Orphan webpage, including the database, is here.

Carol Baxter on Evidence and Surnames

I had heard a talk on evidence at RootsTech and found Carol’s to be an excellent complement to that one…so much so I went and bought her book. There is direct, indirect and negative evidence as well and primary and secondary sources…lots of food for thought with this and I need to dedicate some focused time on it. When I heard the RootsTech talk I wondered if I’d really got my conclusions soundly based on the evidence I had and I want to zero in on this concept, aided by Carol’s book.

I hadn’t originally planned to attend the surnames talk but another look at the abstract convinced me it would be worthwhile and it certainly was. Although Carol’s talk and slides were clear and pertinent, it’s quite a complex process so I can’t hope to summarise it here…just go and buy the book like I did. What you do need to know is that it can affect soundex, and hence the success of your online searches.

Thank you to each and every one of the speakers for sharing their knowledge and passion for their topics. A lot of work goes into the preparation of each talk from which we all benefit.



Congress 2015: Inspirational Keynotes

Congress 2015One of the challenges of any conference is the selection of competing topics when inevitably we want to listen to at least two of the choices, if not more.

Perhaps that’s why Keynotes are so appealing – not only are the presentations by experts in their field but we don’t have to pick and choose.

I’m going to stick my neck out and make a couple of “Top of the Pops” Keynote picks from Congress 2015. My choice of these is based on how much a talk engages me and makes me think about big-picture issues or new strategies, rather than just about learning new techniques and tools. Others will have different selection criteria and a different response to the speaker’s content.

Mathew Trinca: Opening Keynote

For my money, Mathew Trinca’s Opening Keynote hit the spot for the start of Congress. Migration research is a passion of mine so the story of his own family’s migration within the broader span of history totally captured my imagination.

Mathew used his son’s growing understanding of his place within the family, and ultimately the community, as a template. He enjoined us to look at the dynamic between our personal, family and social history and broaden our own historical understanding. We need to understand “the clay between the joins (of our families and trees); and connecting to a wider understanding of history gives validity and meaning to what we do.”

My favourite quote from his talk: “migration is a journey of the mind as much of the body”. How very true this is for our migrating families, even more so perhaps for those early immigrants who never expected, or were able, to return “home”.

For further reading he recommended Romulus My Father by Raimond Gata and Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War by Joan Beaumont.

Have you looked at the National Museum’s 100 Defining Moments of our Nation’s History? Do you agree? What would you add from a personal perspective?

Josh Taylor: Connecting across past, present and future.

What an engaging talk Josh gave us about the joys of family history and how children can be bitten by the genie-bug. He won lots of points by telling us that “grandmas are great” as there were plenty of grandmas in the audience all too willing to agree with him!

He challenged us to include the younger generations in our enthusiasm for genealogy and family history. It’s about more than data: how do we share a rich family experience. We need to attract new members to our societies by diverse means: word of mouth, website, community outreach, social media and email.

Josh reminded us that not everyone suffered from the genealogy addiction: some were curious, others casual explorers or frequent explorers.

Quoteable quotes:  You will never find everything: It’s okay to be discouraged but you need to keep going. There is always another way.

Remember only 15% of available documents are online right now.

Twitter is an opportunity for 145 characters of your words to be left for your descendants.

Richard Reid: if you ever go across the sea to Ireland

Honestly, I could listen to Richard talk all day….you’ve heard me say before that he’s my history hero. Why? Yes, he’s an engaging and informative speaker but it’s more than that. Ever since I first read any of his research publications it is his “everyman” approach to history that totally appeals to me. He digs beneath the surface of “the great and the good” to uncover the story of the ordinary people lost to the grand span of traditional history.

Richard asked “how do you understand what it means to live through the Famine?” Similarly in a later talk he asked how can we understand the impact of WWI on families. Surely we can only gain these insights by reading as widely as we can around the subjects.

He reminded us that for the post-Famine emigrants from Donegal the people told their own tales of life when they were brought across to the UK from Ireland to report to the Select Committee on the Destitution of Ireland. I had read these over the years, but never realised the people had not been interviewed in situ: imagine how they felt when they arrived in the big city from the small settlements or clachans of Donegal.

Richard made the point that it is a furphy to think that all emigrants changed their ages on arrival. His Tipperary study showed that 98% tallied with the data from the baptismal registers. For those not familiar with his studies, this was the breakdown of Irish migration: 21% families; 4% couples; husband or wife 2%; alone 44%; widow/widower 6%; relatives in Australia 17%.

Michael McKernan: Writing War on the Home Front

Although I’ve read some of his work, I’d never hear Michael McKernan present and I found this keynote totally absorbing. He highlighted the transition to a greater interest in the “ordinary soldier” – a change from the cannon fodder of previous war.

Who could forget the pathos of the family who wrote personalised poetry every year for 30 years in memory of their son who was killed?

Or those who could not afford the fee the government charged families to engrave on their headstones? I had known this and it always outrages me that, despite the loss and sacrifice of their sons/husbands/brothers, relatives were once again imposed on to pay for their gravestone memorials.

Quotable quote: we need to avoid thinking of them as “just numbers”. We should never lose sight of the grief for each soldier – it was always personal and tragic and had consequences.

I truly think we were well-served by the Congress committee’s selection of keynotes in 2015. There were so many great offerings and these reflect my own interests…other delegates will have different choices.