Dare I do it?

Tonight I had a glitch with GeniAus’s Hangout on Air for which the topic was an enquiry from Sharon from Gathering Dust blog re how we each handle our filing/”piling” system.

Perhaps the gods were laughing,as after the first minutes I was inaudible to anyone and my screen dump didn’t work. In the end I left to hangout with living family members who dropped by unexpectedly.

family-history-back-to-basicsHowever I think Sharon’s enquiry has a lot of merit and fits with my aspirations to get back to basics. I am much more confident of my old-style filing system which lets me readily (mostly!) find documents, whereas my digital filing is more like Topsy – it just grewed. At this point it’s worth reiterating that I have been researching for nearly 30 years, long before the digital era hence a partial-explanation of the Topsy system.

Hard copy system

I have long had multiple A4 arch-lever folders categorised by family name, and sometimes by generation. Within each folder I have the documents sourced by topic eg church, land, civic, certificates, military. This means that I have only one “cluster” of information to peruse if I want to locate a document. Generally this involves minimal disruption and has worked well over many years.

It also allows me to have folders for what have become my one place studies on Dorfprozelten and Clare. Dorfprozelten info is mostly filed by family as there is a limited number of them, while Clare is by topic. General research has its own tab/folder.

The only problem with this system is the increasing number of bookcases, and filing, required.

Digital filing system

This is where I start to come to grief more often than with hard copies. Once again I have all my families in one folder “111 Family History” which places it at the top of my file directories. Within that folder I have sub-folders by surname and in particular cases, by place or research topic. If the information regarding place is specific to one family I file under that name.

With women I file under married name, post-marriage, and by family of origin/maiden name prior to marriage.

Screen dump filing system

I haven’t been in the practice of naming the files consistently and this is one thing I want to remedy. I do use the surname, first name and content/source concept (again, generally rather than consistently).

In the past I was in the habit of filing photographs, including those of documents in archives/libraries, under my Photographs folder by name/place etc. I don’t believe this is working any more and that I need to move research photos to the family history folder which relates. In this way I have them all “together”. Nor have I been good about adding metadata but have been slowly adding this over time and with more knowledge under my belt thanks to a RootsTech lab class, hopefully I’ll get better. I need to remember that slow and steady wins the race rather than hustle, bustle.

Cluster Research (FANs) and One Place Studies (OPS)

This is where I can really get in a tangle. Even before I signed up to a One Place Study, I had been collecting all relevant names from whichever parish register/document I’d been looking at for my family. I’ve found it all too easy for this to get messy. It’s also why I find genealogy programs restrictive but perhaps I need to have another go with an open mind. I’m presently exploring Family Historian, RootsMagic and Heredis as my long-time Aussie program, Relatively Yours, seems to be on the way out which is a great shame as it has always offered an innovative idea of family.

In the past I’ve entered the OPS data into an Excel workbook which is saved under the family name, or the place, depending on which is relevant. This lets me sort the data into family clusters in a separate spreadsheet while maintaining the original in time sequence. I make a practice of entering surnames/family names in a separate column from first names which makes sorting more reliable and effective.


DunceI’ve been slack about consistent naming of files and I haven’t had an overall plan before launching into naming files.

I’ve separated photos I’ve taken of documents from my other research documents on that family (in some/many cases). Quite honestly I have way too many photos of all types!

My Downloads folder has become a default documents folder and needs a major spring clean and the relocation of sub-folders to their correct place.

The filing keeps on piling up until it annoys the hell out of me and I have to clear the decks – often before I travel!


I’ve kept my hard copy files according to a pretty coherent system. This applies in particular to my Kunkel family files because this is how I ordered them when writing my book. Within the Kunkel Book folder I have the family documents subdivided by the first generation. I have the photo folder following the same system. However, as you can see, I still have some wayward files.Family History Book screen dump

With my East Clare discoveries on Trove I’ve been more consistent with my file naming conventions, using SURNAME, First Name, article reference. This may be because I’ve been doing these more recently. If I source photos elsewhere I add a code which indicates the repository eg QSA, JOL, SLQ.

I did manage to keep my Kunkel research documents in a coherent fashion which made it possible to publish the family history and organise two reunions, for which I set up my own database. (some positivity is needed here!) However, even here you can see that some wayward files have escaped from their proper place.


Slow downGeniAus has given us hope and affirmation that there’s no one right way to process our family history (though she was a bit harsh on the cat!). However with the deluge of digital information I can’t avoid the conclusion that the data is now the master and I’m the slave….I need to reverse that process if it’s not to drown me out. What is quite illogical is that I’ve actually got worse since I’ve retired and had more time available…go figure!

I think Jill is absolutely spot-on when she says we have to choose a system which suits us – without that we will constantly self-sabotage.

Without a doubt I need to SLOW DOWN, take time, and be consistent.


mind-maps-for-genealogy-cover-smallThanks to a tip in the Hangout from Alex of Family Tree Frog blog, I’ve been playing with a new program called Coggle which I find quite intuitive to use. Her mention of this is timely as it fits with my long-term interest (but inaction), and the book I bought at RootsTech on Mindmapping for Genealogists. I’m playing with Coggle to mindmap how I’ve set out my Congress presentation on the marriage of family and local history.

 C’mon I’ve hung myself out to dry here….Do be brave and tell me: Am I alone in the schmozzle of filing/piling that I have? Are you totally organised and neatly systematic?





PROWLS Report Card on 2012 activity

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

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

P FOR PUBLISH: Successes

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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

W FOR WRITING: Successeswriting

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


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

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

L FOR LEARNING: Successes, and decision gapslearning

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

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

S FOR SHARING: Successes

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


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

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

Images are from Microsoft Office images online.

Accentuate the Positive 2012: Celebrating Successes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The renovated Kunkel grave at Murphys Creek, Qld
The renovated Kunkel grave at Murphys Creek, Qld

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beyond the Internet
Beyond the Internet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

O is for Oceans and Oban

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which). The focus today is on migration to Australia.

O is for OCEANS

A sketch showing life on board for emigrants in the 1870s. State Library of Victoria IAN24/03/75/40 copyright expired. Searching Picture Australia for emigrant+ship will give you images of ships of the era.

My ancestors crossed the oceans wide to come to Australia braving the oceans’ hazards, health risks on board, and a new world. We can’t really imagine what they went through, cheek by jowl in the sleeping quarters, mixed with people of other nationalities and even counties, with whom they’d had no exposure prior to the emigration depot with all its own challenges. Just imagine the Babel, or babble, of the different dialects, including Gaelic, Irish, and English regional accents. Then put them all together on one small ship (averaging around 600 tons in the 1850s) and expect them to negotiate their mess arrangements and sleep in a hammock with others so close. Throw in the wild seas, anxiety and excitement about their future lives, and the potential for boredom and its surprising there wasn’t more dissension.

It was certainly one way to prepare them for what was ahead. For all that the emigrants to Australia had so much further to go, they were actually well looked after by the arrangements put in place by the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners (CLEC) with required lists of clothing, specified dietary standards, a surgeon to supervise their health and a matron to take care of their other welfare. Education was often offered but not always availed.

The Irish were unusual in that Irish women were as likely to emigrate as men, atypical compared to other nationalities which either exported single men or families. Even where these women appeared to travel alone, a closer look at the shipping records will reveal there may have been cousins or neighbours on board. In the later years of emigration, they would have family in Australia who may have sent their remittance for emigration. It pays to look beyond just the name you’re researching to see who they may have travelled with…they weren’t as alone as we sometimes think.

My ancestral migration to Australia is spread from the 1850s through to 1911. This graph gives some indication of the family pattern -only two people travelled without known family/friends. © P Cass 2012.

Pondering on my post from Saturday about the precious packages my ancestors would have brought with them, I decided to have a look at their travel and migration status: who they arrived with, and whether they had family in the colony. Even this is deceptive because it only looks at their relatives, not at their broader social connections such as people from their home village. George Kunkel, for example, is not known to have had any family here before he arrived, nor did any arrive after him (chain migration) that I know of. However there were quite a few people from his home village living quite close by in Queensland. Did he arrive after them or before? Either way he wasn’t entirely alone, there was the solace of some compatriots.

How did your families arrive, alone or in a family group? Did it change depending on when they arrived?

To quote an unknown immigrant Mary Anne, writing home:

There are no backdoors in Australia to creep out as you must take everything as it comes when you get here.”[i]


Important reference books for migration research to Australia in particular.

If you have Irish ancestry in Australia there are two books you really must beg, borrow or steal (just kidding!). They are Oceans of Consolation by David Fitzpatrick, an analysis of letters from Irish immigrants and Richard Reid’s Farewell my Children which I posted about last year. Also worth looking at are any of the little Invisible Immigrant series by Eric Richards with chapters by Richard Reid.

Fitzpatrick uses the emigrants’ own letters to tell their story of settling into a new land. I particularly liked some of the comments from Biddy Burke, an immigrant from Galway to Moreton Bay. She commented “you must think it was hot when the plaits (sic) on the dresser should be handled with a cloth[ii] She was intrigued rather than horrified by the mixture of religions and races[iii], showing the adventurousness of those who made this journey.

Fitzpatrick argues that the migration decision was a family one, but my research suggests this may not always have been so. Wills tend to indicate that at least some emigrants went where they thought it would suit them best. The decision by some emigrants to come to Australia even though other family members had already emigrated to America suggests they were clear about what opportunities they wanted to pursue.

O is for OBAN (Argyll, Scotland)

Early morning over Oban's harbour, March 2006. © P Cass

Back in March 2006 we were in Oban, planning to visit Mull the next day. In the middle of the night we got a phone call from daughter #2 to tell us that my mother-in-law was dying. Now a B&B is not the best place to get this kind of news (is anywhere?) so we had to skulk down to the harbour to make calls on the public phone to get the whole story and try to arrange flights before the B&B came to life. Suffice to say that those who helped us on that occasion have our gratitude: the B&B owners who didn’t hold us to our three day booking, the staff member on the desk at one of the harbour-side posh hotels who helped us with internet links, and Emirates who made and held our booking until we got to Glasgow, unlike our national carrier. That morning at sunrise we saw seals in the harbour and as we made our way back into Glasgow, the skies were clear blue and the snow on the hills was magnificent…a blessing in a strange kind of way.

The Scots may not be effusive but we couldn’t fault their wonderful support. We were home within 48 hours and could have made it sooner had we not been a bit far from Glasgow airport, and thankfully we made it in time to say our goodbyes. Sure this is recent history, but as I want to publish this series of posts for our family and descendants, I wanted to tell this story, and checked my husband agreed.

Imagine what it would have been like for our ancestors to finally receive a letter telling them of a parent’s death, months after it had happened. Would they have sensed something pivotal had happened or would that barrier have passed when they left their family behind in the homeland?

In the A to Z challenge, Julie at Anglers Rest is continuing the story of her 20th century travel to Australia and her family’s links to the land Down Under.

[i] Haines, R. Life and death in the age of sail, UNSW Press, Sydney, 2003, page 190

[ii] Fitzpatrick D. Oceans of Consolation, Melbourne University Press, 1994, page 149.

[iii] Ibid, page 148