Coincidental Congress Discoveries

Congress 2015Unlike many other long-term genies, I haven’t attended lots of AFFHO Congress events over the years. As far as I recall my tally to date is only three, four counting Canberra in advance. I’ll blame family commitments, full-time work and distance but they’re probably just excuses.

Even though my batting average isn’t high, I’ve had some great one-off successes which I’d like to share with you and perhaps inspire you to come along to Congress 2015.

The Bait

fishingCongress 1994 was in Brisbane and held at the University of Queensland where I was working. One of the sessions I attended was by Jenny Paterson who German researchers know is a guru of all things related to the NSW Vinedresser Scheme and who publishes in Ances-Tree, the Burwood and District Family History Group’s journal.

I’d been researching family history on and off since late 1986, and with some difficulty discovered my ancestor George Kunkel came from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria. To this day I’ve never found his migration record so perhaps the family story that he jumped ship is correct.

However, during Jenny’s presentation my jaw dropped as she projected (on overheads typical of the era), a list of names which included several families from Dorfprozelten. I had no idea until then, that George was just part of a group of emigrants who’d left his home village. Over time this inspired me to research these families and learn the ways in which their migration experiences differed and also were similar. Without this subsequent research I’d never have twigged that the names around my 2xgreat grandparents’ property at Murphys Creek, Qld, were the same as some of the emigrants. Further research confirmed this cluster as Dorfprozelten emigrants and their descendants. You just never know where one comment in a talk will lead you…I presented about this group at Congress 2006 in Darwin and will talk about further aspects in 2015.

Studio portrait of Lt Col WEH Cass, CMG.  Photo from AWM, copyright expired.

Studio portrait of Lt Col WEH Cass, CMG. Photo from AWM, copyright expired.

Congress 2003 was in Melbourne and I took myself off for another conference adventure. On the morning of Anzac Day, the keynote presenters were Roger Kershaw and Stella Colwell. I don’t have the topic title (even on the CD of presentations) but I do have my notes. Their focus was on military records in the Public Records Office, now The National Archives (UK). Imagine my astonishment when they flashed up a reference to papers found in a haversack owned by a Major Cass of the 2nd AIF! The papers had been taken to England and filed in WO 95/4343 from Anzac Day 1915. At the time our National Archives of Australia had started digitising the war service records of the men, but my recollection says the process wasn’t completed. However, regular army people like Walter Edmund Hutchinson Cass, had not yet had their records digitised. Stella and Roger had no idea what had happened to him and assumed he’d been killed at Gallipoli. At the next tea break I made sure of catching up with them and telling him about Cass’s other war service at Fromelles –I’d bought the book Don’t Forget Me Cobber from Gould Genealogy the day before. What a coincidence that they chose WEH Cass and that I was in the audience. It’s unlikely otherwise, that anyone would ever have known of these documents lurking in far off England. If you want to read a little more about my husband’s great uncle you can read about the family’s amazing collection here and his career here.

the hookThe Hook

So from my limited attendance at Congress over the years I’ve learned heaps in general, but also made specific discoveries that otherwise might have eluded me.

What will you learn from Congress 2015?

Will there be a breakthrough that breaks down your brick walls, or gives you opportunities for lateral research?


Over the coming weeks the official bloggers will be interviewing Congress 2015 speakers via blog posts or hangouts to tempt you with what’s ahead.Official Blogger badge

Keep an eye on this blog and also on these blog sites by the other official bloggers:

Diary of an Australian Genealogist (Shauna Hicks)

GeniAus (Jill Ball aka Geniaus)

P1060966Special Event: AWM

One special event by the Australian War Memorial is the daily Roll of Honour name projections. Why not check when your family’s deceased soldier’s name is being projected – you never know, you might be lucky and it will be up while we’re all in Canberra. There’s also a unique opportunity to attend the Welcome Ceremony in ANZAC Hall at the Memorial.


The early bird special finishes on 31 October but of course, you can still register long after that date…remember Christmas presents are coming up.


Beyond the Internet Week 14: War diaries, shipping and photographs

This is Week 14 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week’s topic is War Diaries, shipping and photos.  I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your thoughts on this topic, especially if you live overseas and have a different set of records to tell us about. If possible please provide a link to your post on this page.

This week’s topic is going to be a bit of “dollar each way” because I realise that many of these records are now available online. And yes, it beats having to schedule a trip to the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, with all the associated expense, to read the documents themselves..but not always as much fun. Still and all, I suspect war diaries are not something that many people use in their family history, so I’m sitting on the virtual fence with this one.

War diaries

While war diaries can be succinct and uninformative on the day of the battle, the attached operations orders can be immensely useful to really add depth to your family history. This is some of the information I’ve found in them, taken from AWM 4, 23/66/1-37 for the 49th Battalion and AWM 4 15/6/1-18 ABGROC:

  • The men of the 40th walking 40 miles to Serapeum on the Suez Canal carrying full kits, packs and ammunition but limited water, in 110C heat.
  • The men of the 49th  referring to their colour patch as the “soccer ball” because they were moved so often.
  • Arrival of additional troops in the field may not mention names but when put with your family member’s service records you can see whether it was a big intake or only a few men.
  • Men going on leave may be mentioned.
  • Men injured or killed, usually only deaths of officers, otherwise numbers only.
  • Summaries of the battle.
  • Descriptions of the clothes issued to the men (sheepskin jackets, leather waistcoats, thigh-high gumboots).
  • The dispersal of companies across the battle field together with their list of responsibilities.
  • The Railway Operating Division’s nickname of “Right Out of Danger”. I’ve talked about their responsibilities here.
  • How the men spent Christmas, received special food treats, and their behind-the-lines activities.
  • Little asides about how the men dealt with being required to sleep on the ground under canvas while there were empty huts nearby.

If you’ve not yet used the war diaries of the AWM either virtually or in situ, I hope I’ve convinced you that there’s plenty there that will reveal the story of your family member’s service.

Of course this refers to the official war diaries for each unit, perhaps your ancestor left a personal diary or perhaps one of his fellow servicemen did. Just imagine what you might learn from those.

War transportation records

Another rich source is the files on the ship transportation of the men to/from foreign service. The men were probably well enough informed about the world (after all in those days schooling focused on the Empire’s history, not Australia’s) but it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t have been amazed by the sights they saw or the opportunity to go dancing or for picnics and motor trips in Capetown. On the way overseas the CO for the men on the Port Sydney[i] commended them for their excellent behaviour while on two days leave in Colombo. On the voyage over they also learned additional military skills but they also had a “fine brass band”, an orchestra and several concert parties. My grandfather returned to Australia on the Karmala[ii] in 1919 and the files report they had an orchestra, daily sports, chess, bridge and drafts competitions as well as a daily newspaper, the Karmala Kuts.


J06286 AWM out of copyright. Crossing the line on board Port Sydney November 1917.

This is another fence-sitter as many of these have been digitised, however they’re probably worth mentioning here. Things to look for: names of people, ships to/from field, battle areas.

I was lucky that there was an amateur photographer on board the Port Sydney with my grandfather so I have photos of the Crossing the Line[iii] ceremony on that voyage. There are also quite a lot of my husband’s great-uncle. The photos of Milne Bay or Norieul are certainly much better now in digital form than the old thermal printed ones I got back years ago!

I hope I’ve managed to convince you that there’s lots out there which can enrich your family’s wartime stories, whether in digital or non-digital form.

[i] AWM 7, Port Sydney [5]. This now appears to be item 528138.  Not yet digitised.

[ii] AWM 31, Karmala 306. This now appears to be item 514921. Not yet digitised.

[iii] AWM negative J06286