To conference or not to conference

GLOBE wwg MINE_edited-7In the aftermath of #Congress_2018 and as Caloundra Family History Research gears up for the 2019 Queensland Conference, Waves in Time, it seemed appropriate to re-post a story I wrote for the Worldwide Genealogists a few years back in 2015. I’d be interested in your views.

To conference or not to conference?

That is indeed the question!

Over the last few months (of  2015) I have been heavily tied up with family history conferences.

DSC_2893 cropFirst it was RootsTech-FGS in Salt Lake City in February and before I knew it the triennial Australasian Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry (the equivalent of the USA’s FGS conference) had arrived.

At RootsTech-FGS I was just there to learn, hit the family history library, maybe do a blog post or two, have fun, and meet up with genimates. Congress 2015 was a little more pressured with responsibilities as one of the three official bloggers (Jill Ball aka GeniAus, and Shauna Hicks) and also because I was presenting two papers. You can meet the speakers and learn about their topics by looking at this summary by TravelGenee, Fran.

We’ve had post-Congress blog reports from many genimates (you can see a list here – thanks GeniAus) as well as a Congress review hangout by GeniAus this week with its “kiss, kick, kiss” approach.

More recently others have been hanging out at WHYTYA Live! in Birmingham.

PROs and CONs

All of which has made me think in general about the pros and cons of attending genealogy conferences and how we make the choice.

This decision differs in some ways from work-related conferences where we have to convince managers and purse-holders that our attendance will benefit us, but also the organisation, and that we will add value in some way by either presenting or reporting back to colleagues. Even if we pay for it ourselves, it becomes a tax deduction (usually).

So here’s my “five bob’s worth” (Aussie-speak for opinion) on decision-making considerations for a family history conference, whether a local, national or international one.


money imagePut simply, dollars will be the first consideration for most people. Is there even enough money in kitty to consider it at all?

The funds may be available, but what are the competing priorities or possibilities for the individual or the family? What other travel opportunities are in the mix? (See the later section, touring).

What will the person gain from attendance? How will it improve their family history research, their skills and knowledge? Will the genea-obsessive be joined by other family members?


No matter how long we’ve been researching, whether we’re internet-driven or like to do on-site visits to libraries, archives and cemeteries etc, we will always have something we can learn from others.

Each of us develops special skills and interests, largely driven by the need-to-know basis of figuring out information relating to our ancestors. Depending on how wily they are at hiding from us, we will utilise, but also develop, brick wall strategies.

Others have suggested that it’s good to attend sessions which aren’t applicable to your own family. This doesn’t work for me simply because I don’t get many chances to attend such events as I live a long way from the hub of such activity. When I am spending significant amounts of family money on a conference I want to get maximum bang for my buck, and focus on presentations which will increase my knowledge and understanding of topics. This is why DNA talks were high on my list at RootsTech.

I also look for depth of content from speakers with a wide knowledge of their topic as well as a passion for it. Yes I’ll learn from every talk I attend, but I also want to be stretched.

Probably my key criterion to assess a presentation is whether the speaker has inspired me as well as imparting knowledge. For these speakers I will have notes which include “think about….”and maybe some mind-maps on how it might come together.

IMG_0595 edit

RootsTech 2015.

In the 21st mind-set of entertainment we expect the speakers to be skilled presenters but the reality is that they may not be professional speakers, just fellow family history obsessives who want to share their passion for a topic.  We also need to cut them a little slack.

Of course all this is difficult to assess in advance, so when making your decision you can only analyse what’s been submitted in the abstracts. If there’s more than one talk per session that really interests you (as there so often is) then you should be able to get knowledge value and the option to be flexible.

There’s other opportunities for learning in the many displays by sponsors and exhibitors. What a great way to learn about new products, check them out on-site and get the advice of other researchers.


The Expo Hall at RootsTech is quite simply mind-boggling.


While this sounds a little frivolous it can play a huge role in your take-home vibe from a conference.

This is your opportunity to talk about family history for days on end without putting people to sleep or sending them running for the hills.

 Congress 2015 bloggers
Geneabloggers at Congress 2015, Canberra.
Thanks to GeniAus and Mr GeniAus for the photo.

Do you know lots of other genimates from blogging or social media? This is your chance to meet them face-to-face over coffee/lunch or an informal dinner outing. One of the benefits of blogger beads (initiated by Geneablogger guru, Thomas MacEntee and shared at Congress 2015 by GeniAus and in 2018 by GeniAus and Lone Tester) is that you can readily identify fellow bloggers and have an immediate bond.

Are you a newbie who feels they “know no one”? Conferences can be a great way to meet new people with a common interest, perhaps even new cousins. Where there’s an opportunity for research interests to be listed do take advantage of them. GeniAus did a great job with the Genimates at #Congress_2018 facebook page which made the newcomers feel welcome and the ribbons she provided made them readily identifiable. Thanks Jill!


 bridge and opera house
Sydney Opera House and Bridge and a large cruise ship
– our immigrant ancestors would be astonished.

Perhaps not the most critical aspect of the decision-making, or is it? The venue of the conference may be a temptation in itself. I’m sure it formed a part of my decision to attend RootsTech/FGS as it meant I could visit the genealogy holy grail, the Family History Library.

Congress 2015 was held in the Australian capital, Canberra, which was certainly a temptation with the National Library, Archives, Australia War Memorial, old and new Parliament house and other wonderful research and touring opportunities. Congress  2015 social events were held at the AWM and Parliament House – what a privilege!

And for those who’ve always wanted to visit Australia, perhaps Congress 2018 is something to put on the bucket list? It’s being held in Sydney, perhaps our most well-known city with its spectacular harbour, Opera House and Bridge. Appropriately the Congress theme is “Bridging the Past and the Future”. Judging on the reactions of the overseas visitors to Sydney, it was a popular choice for Congress 2018.

Informal Survey – HAVE YOUR SAY

During a final-day Congress 2015 panel session led by GeniAus, Josh Taylor mentioned that perhaps the term “society” is out of date for younger potential genealogists. Do you agree? Are you a member of a family history/genealogy/local history society?

Also I wonder if the word “genealogy” continues to fully reflect how we refer to what we do. What is your preferred term when you tell people about your hobby obsession? Is it genealogy or family history?

What other things do you consider when you make a choice about attending a family history conference?

Have you been to conferences locally or nationally? Were they of benefit? Have you changed your views over the years?

It would be great to hear your views and comments! Congress 2021 is still under debate, and who knows, your comments might help inform the future.

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.

Congress 2015: The Carnival Is Over

Kerrie Gray in pre-injury mode on Day 1.

Kerrie Gray in pre-injury mode on Day 1.

Congress 2015 has come and gone and The Carnival is Over.

I imagine Convenor Kerrie Gary and her team of “green people” and “purple people” have all collapsed in a heap after a job well done…they certainly took care of us very well and provided us with a luxury smorgasbord of speakers.

So…what of my thoughts on Congress? I’ve been so absorbed during the event that I haven’t blogged but let me try to give you a summary of what I’ve enjoyed most about Congress. Feedback on individual sessions will need to wait until some mental digestion has taken place I think.

The Humorous

The welcome to Sydney Congress 2018 by Bridge Climber Gerhardt (aka Martyn Killian from SAG) was very funny and provided levity just as everyone’s brains had gone into meltdown. I wonder what fun and learning Sydney will have in store for us?IMG_0862

The quirky green-haired “So Long, Farewell,  Auf Wiedersehen, Good Bye” from the Congress 2015 team was also fun.IMG_0868

Not so much humorous as hilarious was the finale of the Congress dinner with Canberra comedians, Shortis and Simpson, in an  irreverent mockery of Australia’s Prime Ministers past and present. It says a lot for our country that our national leaders can be satirised from within its very halls of power…in many countries it would merit a firing squad.

The Friends

Fellow blogger, Fran aka Travelgenee, was pretty pleased with her beads and ribbons.

Fellow blogger, Fran aka Travelgenee, was pretty pleased with her blogger beads and ribbons. Read her blog at

One of the joys of Congress is meeting fellow obsessives with whom we can swap notes and experiences. I wonder how many people met cousins or others with fellow research/family interests?
I had a great time catching up with people I’ve met online or at past events, especially those who have become online friends via hangouts or blogging. I really enjoyed catching up with mates I’d made at RootsTech only a month or so before hand.

DSC_3196For those who are still wondering, the black and gold beads worn by some were generously provided by GeneaBlogger guru, and good mate, GeniAus aka Jill Ball. The pale blue Kiva ribbons tagged onto name badges were to promote the Genealogists for Families lending team about which the members are passionate. Hopefully our promo spiel may have encouraged some new members to join us. Since I was ordering those, I also ordered some Queenslander ribbons which caused some consternation among my Blues friends. Thanks to fellow GFF member and Kiwi blogger, Roger Moffat in the US who helped minimise postage costs. Kiva1

The Learning and the Passion

Mum and I outside the Broadford Catholic church cemetery 1989.

Mum and I outside the Broadford Catholic church cemetery 1989.

Of course the real reason we all attend Congress is to benefit from the knowledge and passion of the wonderful speakers who talked on their fields of expertise.

From my point of view this was a great conference with so much expertise condensed in one place. It was especially enjoyable and educational to hear more from my history hero, Richard Reid (even if he did try to embarrass me in his presentation! Was I ever so young, and skinny, as in that photo?!). And then there was the opportunity to speak with Irish experts Perry McIntyre, Cheryl Mongan, Jenny Harrison and Nick Reddan. Heaven on a stick for me.

The Extras

Sunset illuminates Parliament House.

Sunset illuminates Parliament House.

I learnt a lot from my lunch sessions especially Paul Milner giving us tips of preparing and presenting at a Conference…a little intimidating when I was speaking an hour later…too soon to assist, too late to change much.

Who could forget the imposing surrounds of the Australian War Memorial’s aviation hall or the Parliament House dinner setting?

During the Congress dinner, winners of the AFFHO Meritorious Service award. past and present, were given the new, very impressive badges.

Jan Gow, NZ, proudly displaying her medallion at the dinner.

Jan Gow, NZ, proudly displaying her medallion at the dinner.

2015 AFFHO Meritorious Awardee, Heather Garnsey, from SAG.

2015 AFFHO Meritorious Awardee, Heather Garnsey, from SAG.










Touring and Research

The film show during the Congress welcome.

The film show during the Congress welcome.

I did get to do a little research at the National Library and the National Archives but there will be more to do another time. The Australian War Memorial is, as always, inspirational and moving, especially the Remembrance Garden. As always I placed poppies on the walls for family members James Gavin, Thomas Paterson, and Robert Kunkel.

James Thomas Paterson is remembered.

James Thomas Paterson is remembered.

Once again, thanks to the Congress organisers for a great time of learning and fun in Canberra. Thanks also for the opportunity to be an official blogger for Congress 2015.

Apologies for this delayed posting – despite writing it on the train from Canberra to Sydney, the iPad defeated me in finessing the presentation.

Welcome to Congress

Registration completed, bags collected and blogger beads have been donned.

The crowds gathered and the conversations began…in fact the bus to the Australian War Memorial for the welcome did sound like a flock of happy lorikeets settling into the gum tree for the evening <smile>.

The buzz didn’t cease as we entered the hall dominated by famous Lancaster G for George. Here’s just some of the happy delegates, meeting each other, renewing old friendships and making new ones.


June Tomlinson from the GSNT meets some of the geneabloggers: Jenny, Jill, Fran, and Kerry


The Irish “push” Cheryl Mongan, Richard Reid, and Perry McIntyre with fellow speaker Shauna Hicks (2nd right)


Gail (NT), Judy (Qld) and Jill (NSW)

Gail (NT), Judy (Qld) and Jill (NSW)


Roger Kershaw from the UK is back in Oz chatting to Anne Burrows.


June Tomlnson (GSNT) chatting to Paul Milner.



Canberra turned on a magnificent clear day yesterday for its visitors …though that wind was a touch chilly for those from northern climes. This morning is another beautiful day with open skies and sunshine as we look forward to hearing some wonderful speakers.


All App’d up for Congress in five more days

Congress 2015My email this morning included one from Congress 2015 convenor, Kerrie Gray…the new Congress app (on Android and Apple) is now available. Over my morning coffee I downloaded the app to my iPad, and added the sessions, and keynotes, that I was attending.

Kerrie offered these useful guidelines for adding presentations to the “My Program” section of the app so you can have all your planned sessions in one place (don’t forget to add the keynotes and any lunches you’ve signed up for):

You can personalise the App by adding your Program.  When viewing any presentation from the program there is a button to add (or remove) that presentation to “My Program” and, when you have done that and select then My Program from the menu,  you will get a list of all the presentations you have chosen in chronological order.

I had no problems adding all my selected sessions to the My Program app and now I’m all set for when the Congress speaking program kicks off on Friday 27th.

I was also pleased to see my revised Sunday session title is on the App (Harness the Power of Blogging for your One Place Study…and other research). This is not a session about how to blog, rather the benefits you can gain when you put your family stories and research online with a blog. My focus is on how you can use this for your research into a particular place, irrespective of whether you have a formal One Place Study.

There are other tabs on the app:

  • The wonderful sponsors who help to make Congress possible without costing each of us an arm and a leg. We also get to learn more about these genealogy programs, books, cruises, and companies who can help us add value to our research.
  • Exhibitors and supporters who will have stands in the Exhibition Hall
  • A list of the speakers with their presentations and hot links to the abstracts for each presentation…lots of fantastic talks on offer.
  • Congress Functions: I’m looking forward to meeting people at the Welcome and also the Congress dinner.
  • Facilities: you can see the layout of the rooms we’ll be using in the Convention Centre.
  • A push facility to tell us when the next bus will be leaving etc.

I used my RootsTech app constantly while in Salt Lake City so I’m very excited to have this Congress 2015 app available (go to Google Play or the App option on iPad). I can see it being my “go to” place to keep on top of where I need to be and what I’m listening to. I type my notes into Evernote (most of the time) so it’s handy to have everything on the iPad. I may also load it on my Android smart phone.

And a reminder: don’t forget to add your Research Interests to the main Congress website by logging in with your registration password and spend some time seeing who else may be interested in your families/place. We’ve all received a list of those delegates who agreed to have their names published so you can keep an eye out for them.

DSC_3196And if you are from Queensland, or research Queensland families, try to find me around the traps as I have a ribbon you can add to your Congress name badge.

I also have a ribbon for members of the Kiva Genealogists for Families group – so once again see me or or GFF founder and team leader, Judy Webster.

And if you need to know more about what’s where in Canberra, buy your shuttle bus tickets, or just ask a general Congress question – visit the Purple Patch stand in the Exhibition Hall or keep an eye out for the Purple Patch people roaming the area…what a great idea.

thanksAt this stage I’m pretty sure Kerrie and all the Congress volunteers will be running on adrenaline to get across the line…I’d like to offer them a huge THANK YOU for all they’ve done to bring Congress 2015 to fruition.

Don’t forget that if you use social media you can follow what’s happening by looking at the Twitter tag #AFFHO.

Are you excited? I know I am! Look forward to seeing you there.


Meet Congress 2015 Speaker: Grace Karskens

KarskensToday’s Congress 2015 speaker interview is with Grace Karskens from the University of New South Wales, one of the keynote presenters. I’m excited about her presentation and think it will offer much food for thought for all of us.

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

I am a historian. I teach Australian history at the University of New South Wales. I also have a degree in historical archaeology, so I always try to read the material record of the past as well as the documentary one.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life? What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history/heraldry? 

Family history is so important in my work. Many of my books and articles take a close look at societies and people who have vanished forever. Family history offers a rich source for understanding those societies and people, for example, for looking at family formation, who married whom, where people moved to, and so on. I’m always looking for patterns, and how these patterns fit into the bigger picture – the economy, society, culture and environment. Like most family historians, I am so often amazed at the great human stories even just the lists of births, marriages and deaths open up or suggest. I am also very grateful for the generosity and skills of so many family historians who are happy to share their work.

One day I would love to explore my own family history – my parents were both post war migrants, they met in Sydney in the 1950s. Dad was from Zaandam and Harlem in the Netherlands. Mum grew up in a Dutch-Indonesian family in Indonesia. But I’m too busy with other people’s stories at the moment! Maybe a retirement project?

Have you attended Congress in previous years?

No, looking forward to my first.

 What are your key topics for Congress?

My keynote is called ‘Men, women, sex and desire: family history on Australia’s first frontier’. I’m getting down to the nitty gritty of what family history – making families – is all about! I’ll present some of the findings from the book I am working on at the moment – The Lost World of Castlereagh – exploring male-female relationships and what sort of community settlers made on the Nepean River, why finding a partner and having children was so important to these people, the impact of the uneven gender ratio, and the fact that there were so many young convict men around, and so few women.

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

I’m hoping I can bring the lost world and people of Castlereagh to life: recreate the landscape of relationships between men and women, and also parents and children; look at what mattered to people, and what choices they had. In short, see them as human beings in complex situations.

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

Reaching so many people will be great, and I always learn a lot from questions and chatting during the breaks.

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

One of my favourite inspirational quotes is from the great historian Greg Dening. He wrote that we have re-imagine ‘the past’s own present’. That is, we have to try to enter the worlds of past people from their own point of view, their own situations, their own moral and cultural ideals, rather than our own.

In the ‘past’s own present’ we have to imagine what it is like not knowing what happens next, because they didn’t.

 Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

People can email me at my university email address.

Thanks Grace for sharing your “take” on family history in its broader context. With such an interesting title I’m sure you’ll get lots of interest. 


Let’s get Congress ‘Appy

Congress 2015Exciting news to hand from the Congress 2015 organisers…we are to have a Congress app which will contain all sorts of handy info making it easy to carry Congress content (and current) on your smart phone or tablet.

I used the RootsTech app when I was at Salt Lake and found it super-helpful so expect the Congress App is bound to keep me similarly ‘appy.

What content is expected to be included in the App? Here’s the interim list:

  • Able to be navigated by day/session/room/speaker – with details and abstracts for each presentation.
  •  Your own list of selected sessions under a function called “My Program” which can be added to/amended throughout to enable you to keep on top of what you have planned to attend.
  •  A list of Sponsors, Supporters & Exhibitors (with links to their websites),
  •  Speakers (with links back to their presentations),
  •  Facilities (with information about transport, the exhibition hall and catering),
  •  Functions and  About Congress 2015 (with an interactive Google map of the area & a downloadable floor map of the venue etc) be-happy-use-the-congress-2015-app (1)
  •  Push functionality so any Congress messages can be sent out at short notice.  eg next bus for the Dinner leaving at …

Delegate information will not be included so don’t forget you need to add your research interests on the website by using your Congress log-in. Have a scroll through the interests already added and see if anyone else is researching the same names or places.

 Let’s get Appy for Congress 2015.