Meet Congress 2015 Speaker, Seonaid Lewis from NZ

Seonaid LewisOur Congress 2015 speaker for today is Seonaid Lewis from Auckland, New Zealand. I know Seonaid quite well from blogs and other social media but I haven’t heard her present. I’m looking forward to meeting her at Congress. I’m confident that if you have ancestors from across the Ditch, she’ll be your “go to” speaker.

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

I am married with twin 14yo daughters and currently live in Auckland, New Zealand. I worked for 26 yrs in graphic design and print, including six years on the Board of a one-stop design and print consultancy in London, that specialised in “ethic and social consultancy.

I’ve always been interested in history and have loved hearing my mother recounting family stories throughout the years, but I didn’t become actively involved in researching my own family history till towards the end of the time I was living in London (wish I’d started earlier).

I consider myself a family historian rather than a genealogist, as I am interested in finding out the history behind the genealogy (I believe there is a difference in the two terms, with genealogy meaning the study of pedigree).

When we returned to New Zealand, I decided on a career change – my husband suggested working as a genealogist, but I needed a career with security and regular income, so he suggested I became a librarian, as “that is one of the things Librarians do – help people with their research.”

I looked into it, and resigned my old job and started study towards a library degree at home, eventually got a job in a library as a shelver, and worked my way up the library system, until I landed my dream job as a family history librarian in April 2010.

Officially, I am “senior reference librarian, family history (specialist)” for Auckland Libraries, and I am based in the Central Auckland Research Centre where our international family history collection is.

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

Discovering a love for family history has meant a career change for me. I love my job, and I’ve discovered I love teaching people how to research for themselves. Speaking in public was initially scary for me (still is at times), but I’ve learned confidence and seem to do ok most of the time,

I’ve learned a lot and am learning all the time – this is terrific for me, as I don’t get the opportunity to get bored.

Naively I thought I would have more time for my own research, but this is not so – maybe when I have finished my library degree.

 What do you love most about genealogy/family history/history? 

I love that it is about connecting family – whether its the ancestors or newly discovered living family members (or even reconnecting with living family).

I also get a real buzz when I’ve helped someone solve a mystery. For me, “the thrill of the hunt” is all part of it.

 Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

I attended the last Congress in Adelaide – my first time, and am really looking forward to this one!

What are your key topics for Congress?

I’m delivering a paper on our library’s family history services at the Librarians Day the day before Congress officially starts, and then have two presentations about what Auckland Libraries’ is doing for WWI commemorations; and also doing a case study that showcases Auckland Libraries online resources and the unique manuscripts and records.

How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

It should definitely help people with New Zealand connections – but also might help those think outside the square with their research, and consider what is available through libraries both online and in collections.

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

For me this is personal and professional development. I learn such alot by attending these conferences – both in terms of my specialism and also in terms of developing my presentation and networking skills.

I think it is important that a New Zealand library the size of ours sends a representative to this Australasian Congress – wish more New Zealanders working in the field were able to attend to give a more rounded Australasian perspective.

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

You know, I find that it doesn’t matter how long you have been researching for, there is always plenty to learn.

However, one tip is to never overlook the obvious – if you have come up against a brick wall, always go back to basics and re-examine all your records; get someone else to review them with you as a second set of eyes can often help.

Also – its not all online!

 Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

I am on Twitter @genebrarian which is my personal account, or tweeting @Kintalk for work.

My work Facebook page is

My work blog is and my personal blog is (although I only blog there when I have done some significant personal research)

I can also be contacted via the Contact Us form on the Auckland Libraries website:

I can see Seonaid is a woman after my own heart based on her advice that “it’s not all online”. Looking forward to meeting you in Canberra, Seonaid and thanks for sharing with us all today.

Meet Congress 2015 Speaker: Shauna Hicks

Shauna HicksI doubt too many Australian genealogists are unfamiliar with long-term researcher and knowledgeable speaker, Shauna Hicks. I’ve been fortunate enough to hear Shauna speak quite a few times, and I’m sure many of you have too but here are her topics for Congress 2015. Shauna has also been convenor of Australia’s National Family History Month for the past couple of years helping to grow our community.  Let’s learn a little more about Shauna in her own words and what she thinks we can gain from Congress 2015.

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

I started researching my family history in 1977 after watching the TV series Roots. It made me want to know more about my own family history and history in general. After a few years, my passion was so great it led to a career change and I moved into the world of archives and libraries while pursuing university qualifications part time at night. Somehow I still found time to keep the family history research going!

How has genealogy/family history/history/heraldry improved or changed your life?

Well as indicated in that last question, it totally changed my whole life. I went from a fairly boring public service job to a variety of positions in Queensland State Archives, the State Library of Queensland, the National Archives of Australia and the Public Record Office of Victoria. As a result, I was privileged to work with a whole range of talented people on some fantastic library, archives and genealogy projects.

What do you love most about genealogy/family history?

It is never ending! When I first started there was no internet, no personal computers, email and so on and research took time and you needed to personally visit archives and libraries. Now we have some fantastic indexes, digitised records and it is often easier to research than it was. But not everything is indexed or online and more new resources are coming online all the time. In the last decade I have seen some of my brick walls tumbled and new lines opened up.

Have you attended  Congress in previous years?

Yes I have attended quite a few. My first was in Brisbane in 1994,  Melbourne in 2003, Auckland in 2009 and Adelaide in 2012.

What are your key topics for Congress?

I am giving two presentations – one on sporting ancestors and the other on court of petty session records.

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

I like to know as much as I can about my ancestors and what their lives were like in the communities in which they lived. We often forget that they may have played sport, perhaps at school or part of a church group or even the local team. Plus there were sports that we don’t see these days such as egg and spoon races or billy kart races. It doesn’t have to be professional sports, there were lots of amateur sports that our ancestors could have been involved with, including our maternal ancestors.

Some of my ancestors were colourful and I have found references to them in the local court of petty session records. Some of the details I have found in the court records would never have been known if they had not been captured in the deposition statements of my ancestors or witnesses to the crime. All of this extra detail helps me to know and understand what their lives were like.

So I am hoping that my two presentations will make attendees think more broadly about who their ancestors were and what they did within their communities.

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

I always learn so much from the speakers and if I haven’t attended the congress, I always buy the congress papers because the wealth of new information is fantastic. Also as there are multiple streams, the papers let you find out about the topics you couldn’t attend in person. I also love all the trade stalls and I usually come home with a heavier suitcase and a lighter wallet! Finally the big bonus is meeting up with ‘old’ genealogy friends and colleagues and meeting new ones. It is also a place to meet all your online geneamates in person.

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

Just come along and be prepared to soak it all up, talk to others and take advantage of any offers from the trade stalls. Often there are some good bargains to be found or they are offering on the spot searches or help/advice.

Is there somewhere we can connect with you online?

My website is and I am also the author of

I particularly like Shauna’s tip to buy the Congress proceedings even if circumstances prevent you being able to attend. As for those of us who’ll be there, what great opportunities await us.