Family Search experts share their knowledge in Darwin

Dan Poffenberger seemed to enjoy his time presenting in the Northern Territory Library.

We’ve had an unusually good run of family history experts here in Darwin this year. Last Saturday we were lucky enough to have preview presentations by two of the speakers, Dan Poffenberger and Todd Knowles who were en route to the AFFHO Congress 2012.  Both were amusing, engaging and knowledgeable presenters who work at the Family History Centre at Salt Lake City and both have wide experience in their subjects. They were welcomed by about 50 or so family history researchers who seemed to thoroughly enjoy learning from Todd and Dan’s experience.

Using Family Search (Don Poffenberger)

Dan kicked off the day with a joke about his son and their surname, but I won’t give it away in case he’s using it in Adelaide. He spoke to us about five critical elements of the new Family Search: Records, Trees, Books (digital), Learning Resources (Wiki) and Classes and Forums. While none of these elements were news to me, it did remind me I need to schedule time to look at some of the videos by professionals on particular topics. Dan also talked about the contribution by volunteers to the wiki and the indexing projects which has spurred me on to lift my game with indexing.

I’ve used the wikis already in my research but there’s obviously far more that I need to look at. Some of these which Dan mentioned were English probate info by parish and Chancery Court and Equity pleadings.

Dan highlighted the need to selectively choose your search parameters when using Family Search through the advanced search option – his motto “you set the parameters not the computer”. He also emphasised that the LDS Church has a program to digitise its current holdings of microfilmed records in what will be a comparatively short time line given the sheer volume. Of course anyone who followed Roots Tech will have known about this huge digitisation project. He did warn us that they will not get permission to digitise certain records because this option wasn’t envisaged when they first got authority to film them.

One bit of news which stood out for me was that there are now 33 million Dutch records digitised online at Family Search. Dan didn’t think this was particularly important to Australian research but I grew up in a parish which had a huge post-war Dutch migrant population. So for all of them, this will be a massive advantage.

Another item of relevance is Dan’s emphasis on Family Search being “good neighbours in the family history community”. This is why you’ll see some digitised records are free and others might refer you to a paid site which first did the digitisation. Do keep a look out for the digital option on the search results page.

Dan also suggested that the forums provide a great way for getting expert assistance with your problems eg getting a translation of old German script.

Irish family research online

Todd Knowles empathised with all of us with Irish ancestry and how Irish research throws up brick walls and can drive us nuts. However he suggested that not all is lost and there are options out there to help sort out our Irish families. I disagree with his hypothesis that most people start out knowing their ancestors’ townland. Even in the Australian context, where we were can often learn our ancestors’ place of origin from the shipping records, the townland is often unknown in the beginning. I personally think it’s more likely we know a county or town rather than townland. I agree with him that knowing the parish is so important. (As a sideline, any new researchers might be interested in posts from Findmypast Ireland, here and here, about the responsibilities and definitions of Irish administrative areas such as these). Todd shared just how many resources are actually online to help us out: Irish Origins, Roots Ireland, Irish Genealogy, Irish Ancestors, and others. I did feel that a major oversight was the omission of Findmypast Ireland which is offering us increasingly diverse Irish research opportunities. A word of warning too, that it’s important to read the background information to see just what records are included.

Todd also referred us to the great information available on the Family Search’s Irish Wikis and the videos of expert presenters. He reminded us that we should look at the Church of Ireland records especially in relation to probate or burials as this Church had responsibility for these matters even where your ancestor was Catholic. He tantalised us with the wealth of data on the 1851 census, only for it to be destroyed –truly enough to make you weep. None of us would have brick walls if they still existed!

Some lucky people may have family members who submitted a copy of this census to obtain their old age pension, but even though I had relations to whom this should apply, nary a record was found in the National Archives of Ireland when I visited. Todd suggested that you might be lucky enough to find these old age pensions through the county heritage centre– but definitely worth enquiring first, and getting a quote for price and what they can provide.

I for one am off to check out the US Passport applications on Ancestry in the hope of finding some collateral lines of nieces and nephews.

All in all, great presentations which provided lots of learning opportunities for the attendees…the conference delegates at Congress 2012 are in for a treat. Thanks to the Northern Territory Library and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory as well as Family Search.

I used my ipad throughout the talks to take notes on google documents. It was also useful to follow along with some of the sites as it was easier than seeing detail of some slides.

Beyond the Internet Week 10: Church records – the life and times of a parish and its parishioners

This is Week 10 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is Church Records.

Please join in with your blog posts on this topic, and if possible provide the link on this page.

Last week’s topic was church registers: the records of baptisms, marriages and burials kept by parishes in the important era prior to civil registration, taking you back into the 17th and 18th centuries of earlier if you’re lucky. They remain relevant, although less critical, for the modern day.

This week looks at the other records kept by the churches which may provide invaluable clues to your family’s history, as well as that of the local parish where they live. In earlier days the parish was responsible for many of the day-to-day functions of the area, for example, the state of the roads; care of the poor, sick or destitute; foundling children; collection of tithes etc. The potential for finding snippets or nuggets of information about your family is pretty good. You may even find a signature for a distant ancestor who fulfilled ones of the parish responsibilities. The records were kept in a locked chest hence the name “parish chest”.

The parish chest in the village church at Hook Norton, Oxfordshire.

In this topic I’ll highlight a few of the parish records sources I’ve found useful in my own research. I’ve mainly looked at these records for Scotland and England but first let me mention an invaluable resource for German research.

FAMILIENBÜCHER (family books) (Germany)

You will find the standard baptisms and marriages (and sometimes burials) in the church registers but the familienbücher are especially worth seeking out, if you can access them. In essence they document each family as an entity. So when a married couple starts out their children are progressively added to the entry, sometimes with comments about emigration or relocation. Each son’s entry is cross-referenced to his new family once he marries, and each daughter’s entry refers to her husband’s name and her new family. Excellent value.

My hint: Don’t forget that there’s more than one religion in the old German states so do check place information for what churches were in your family’s area. It’s worth remembering that much of the southern areas of Germany are Catholic.

How to find them: The Familienbücher may be microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS), so try the Family Search catalogue. If not, they should be with the local parish or with the regional church archives.

The Kunkel familienbuch extracted from the parish records of Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.


My 2011 posts here and here referred to these wonderful records in some detail so I won’t repeat it here. They provide a unique insight into the day-to-day life in your family’s parish.

My hint is: don’t just search for your family’s name. In my experience reading the sessions for Inishail parish, each entry makes reference to families or individuals who may have no genealogical link to the key person and you may find yours among them.

How to find them: Essentially only available at (some) Scottish archives, most particularly Edinburgh.  Still it would be worth checking the Family Search catalogue to see if your parish’s records have been microfilmed. I’m longing for the day when ScotlandsPeople makes them available on line. I just hope it’s a full-subscription site because I don’t just want to look at odd pages with my family’s name.


If your family had some land and/or parish status, you may well find them taking on the responsibilities of overseer of the poor. The parish records may reveal their signature, how often they served and other extant information. I learnt that one strand of my ancestry served in parish roles for over 100 years – it was interesting to see how this had carried down the years. Genetics or training? If the family was poor, you may find references to them in the parish minutes.

How to find them: Search the Family Search catalogue for your parish and see what church records they have other than parish registers.

Hint: click on each entry to see what it includes. If you think it might be helpful give it a whirl. All you stand to lose is a few dollars and some time offset by the potential of finding something quite different about your families.

The local parishioners chosen to be Surveyors of the Poor may also be in the parish chest/church records and again give you insight into your family’s responsibilities and engagement.


The parish chest records may provide information on tithe and enclosure within your parish. This may list the amounts payable by each individual in the parish and their land and property name. Obviously this is invaluable information for your family’s story. This post elaborates on the impact this information had on my own family history. In other urban parishes I’ve found entries where the relevant parish official has gone door-to-door finding out who lives there and listing their liability.

How to find them: Again try the Family Search catalogue for your parish or the relevant archives for that area.


Some parishes have wonderful informal parish censuses in their records. You will give thanks if you find one of these. I’ve seen one (sadly not my parish, and also sadly I’ve forgotten which Northumberland parish it was) which said the woman “was very clean for a Catholic” and other equally acerbic comments.

HINT: If you would like to learn more about these wonderful records you might like to enrol in the Pharos course on the Parish chest.

FINAL HINT: Not everything has been microfilmed, digitised or indexed. Sometimes you need to dig deeper by approaching the local parish (offering them a donation to thank them for their time) or be visiting or contacting the relevant archives. Sometimes you’ll draw a blank but if you get lucky you’ll be delighted with how it enriches your story.