Diary of a Genea-cruise: Day 9 – the finale

314 pyramidWednesday was Day 9 and the final day of our cruise as we headed for Sydney with another warning from the Captain that there would be “motion on the ocean” but that he had no control over it, being subject to a “higher power even than my wife’s”.

The UTP cruisers had a full schedule of activities for the day ahead with some earlier talks rescheduled due to illness. It was difficult to buckle down to being alert and “on plan” after the time in port at Hobart and I confess I made this one of my “time out” days, missing a few sessions. Inevitably there were clashes in the programming so I still missed some I’d liked to have heard.


Helen Smith kicked off the morning with excellent advice to prepare a family tree (genogram) without names but with gender, cause of death and age at death. Even reflecting quickly on the topic as Helen spoke I could see some scary family health risks, though to be fair, none that were a huge surprise….my family is largely blessed with longevity.813 dreamworks exp

She asked “what risk factors do you have?” and encouraged us to take preventive health measures to ensure we live long enough to do our family history. Also to talk with family members about health conditions such as miscarriages, mental health issues or cancers, but being aware of people’s sensitivities around the topic.

Key messages:  Approach your family tree using health data, rather than names and see what health conditions are prevalent. Talk to family members to tease out illnesses other than the specific cause of death.


Chris Paton was as always amusing and informative.

I was excited to learn that the Irish National Archives will “soon” be adding to their site, the extant field, house and tenure books which lie behind the Griffith Valuations. I’ve used these in Dublin before for the townland of Ballykelly but not for some of my other places and I need to revisit the images I have to make more sense of them. The website to watch is http://genealogy.nationalarchives.ie/

I didn't get to spend a minute in the sun loungers...
I didn’t get to spend a minute in the sun loungers…
402 pool deck
Or on the pool deck….but I did make it to the day spa.

Chris also mentioned the Revision books (aka Cancellation Books) which update the original Griffith Valuations. These are absolutely gold in terms of tracing who took over your family’s property over the decades and can provide clues to when someone died. They are available through the LDS Family History Centres by ordering in the microfilm, but they’re very difficult to follow because they’re only in black and white whereas the originals are in colour so you can follow the entry across the page. The Valuation Office in Dublin will send a copy to you for E40 if you know where you’re looking. It may be expensive but it’s cheaper than a trip to Ireland, though nowhere near as much fun!

Other land records are available at different sites eg the Defaulters’ Books (for those who refused to pay the Tithes) is on FindMyPast as are the Landed Estate Court Records.

The National University of Ireland in Galway has a database on the landed estates of Munster and Connacht…the provinces where so many Irish in Australia came from. This database will let you search for the owners of estates and whether there might be surviving estate records (but do look elsewhere as well). Those with Clare ancestry can use the wonderful Clare Library site to learn more about their ancestor’s parish and the estates before turning to this database.

PRONI (the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland) also has great information for those with northern Irish ancestry, including a national schools index.

Key messages: All of the above. If you haven’t used any of these resources then check them out.

My advice: Land records are a key gateway into Irish genealogy though you do need to know where your ancestor came from (well anyone will tell you that!). If you’re struggling to locate their townland or village check out obituaries, funeral notices and funeral directors, newspaper stories, the name they called their house/property, gravestones, family stories, immigration records and so on. Be lateral, sometimes that’s the only way you’ll find them.

822 DreamworksFAMILY HISTORIAN: Queries and Plug-ins (Jane Taubman)

I didn’t attend all the Family Historian sessions offered by Jane, largely because of clashes with other sessions. I have the program on my computer and have imported some data but have yet to really play with it. The program I have used for years is an Australian one, Relatively Yours, which offers great flexibility but doesn’t export to other programs as consistently as I’d like.

Key message (for me): Get my act together, experiment with Family Historian and decide if it suits my purposes.


Kerry Farmer provides really clear advice in her presentations and the DNA session was no different. In theory I understand the process and significance but ….every time I turn my mind to this task I wonder how it can still befuddle me despite five years of science training, albeit a long time ago. One of my stumbling blocks is that I don’t have any other (known) relatives who have tested and all the 3rd or 4th cousins who pop up only identify relations within the USA. Kerry suggests asking them if they know of anywhere overseas their families came from. Perhaps it’s time to follow Kerry’s lead and offer to pay for tests for key people in my family puzzles.

Key message (for me): try, try again to understand my DNA results, read blog posts, download the data and try to make more sense of it. Kerry’s tips: get other family members tested, join the haplogroup that fits your profile (and perhaps a surname group, if applicable), and follow Family Tree DNA on Facebook to get early warning of special deals. There are also some good webinars online. Plainly there’s lots of homework to be done, and some concentrated thinking instead of head-in-a-bucket methods.


Shauna Hicks gave a great talk on benevolent asylums and similar that housed consumptive patients or the infirm. The key places to find information about these is the relevant archive and they can be rich sources of information which can solve many mysteries or add more information not available elsewhere –I’ve certainly had great success with them. Many of the archives have at least some of these records indexed so do have a look at them. My notes on Shauna’s talk include a lot of reminders of action to follow up.

Key messages: Don’t forget to use an advanced google search combined with the relevant URL eg www.archives.qld.gov.au.


It was a shame to know the cruise was coming to an end even though our brains were getting rather befuddled and full of information. Once again our table had a lovely time chatting –what a pleasure it was to spend time with Cathy, Dot, Marlene and Thomas…we never did see the other person who had been allocated to our table (we must have looked scary). Nearly every evening we were among the last tables to leave the dining room. Thanks for your company each night my new friends!

319 the dining room

The evening post-dinner session was held back in Cleopatra’s Needle and there were lots of prizes handed out to participants and my table mates were all thrilled that the big prize of $2500 towards any Unlock the Past cruise went to our new-found friend Marlene!! I think we were more excited than she was as she seemed quite stunned but accepted her prize with what is her characteristic graciousness.

The waiter's finale
The waiter’s finale

Chris Paton gave the final presentation of the conference speaking on British civilian POWs in the First World War. While it has specific relevance to his family it had broader implications and was a fascinating study of Ruhleben Internment Camp. After the nuts and bolts of the conference talks it was intriguing to listen to a broader historical topic. It was amazing to hear the diversity of learning that occurred in the camp as professionals and academics (and no doubt tradesmen) passed their skills on to their fellow internees.

Thank you to Unlock the Past for the learning opportunity of a conference held on board ship. I thoroughly enjoyed myself despite my earlier “me, cruise…never!” attitude. Now I think I may have caught the cruising bug! I will most likely write a separate post in a day or two on my general perspectives of the cruise.

616 sunrise in Sydney

Thank you also to each of you for journeying along with me…I hope you’ve got a sense of the fun we had, and that I’ve shared some of the learning opportunities.

The steward's towel monkey...our final towel creation.
The steward’s towel monkey…our final towel creation.

Diary of a UTP Cruise Day 1

Voyager at SydneyAs we the scale of the Voyager of the Seas towered over us, my thoughts turned to my ancestors and their long voyage to Australia. While we anticipated being internet-less for a couple of days at a time it was inconceivable to think how they would have felt, standing on the dock with their life’s possessions, venturing into the unknown. They’d have known the chances of seeing their families was virtually non-existent rather than the brief hiatus in our communications.

Each of us on the Unlock the Past Cruise is able to travel with all mod cons and tech toys, and to a large extent our own space. We were not cramped together in a confined space below decks, cheek by jowl with people we’d never met before, and not for nine days, but for upwards of ninety days.

Sailing shipAs the ocean turned on the waves after venturing through the heads, we were given a sample taste of what they might have experienced. Even with modern day stabilisers our floating palace was creaking and swaying. Just hearing the walls move in the night, and hearing the wind, brought my Mary O’Brien to my mind. Imagine the sound of sails flapping in the wind, timbers creaking, and sailors calling to each other. It must have been incredibly overwhelming for people who’d never left home before. Our ancestors were brave souls indeed to take that long journey to a hopefully better life.

Meanwhile back in 2014, we were having a fine time, greeting people in the boarding queues or after getting on board. In the majority of cases we’d never met before or only through blogs and hangouts yet it was very much a sense of being among friends.  I never fail to be astonished by the familiarity of meeting those I’ve only known in the virtual world. I was reminded of the words of Irishman Michael Normile in his letters home “You might think I fell from the heavens to her when she knew me.[i]Promanade

I took the time after boarding to roam the ship and check out its facilities…it’s rather like being on a mall at sea, without that many shops. Despite the full capacity of the ship (about 3000 pax) it never feels crowded as there are so many places for people to disperse. It’s all very bling-y with chandeliers in the dining room and Greek statues round the pool(s). Intriguing to see the bridge with all the captain’s super-speccy tech toys!

Sydney let us down with our sailout – grey raining and a wind that could have carried us to Melbourne. However it certainly gave a bird’s eye view of the Opera House! I enjoyed seeing the juxtaposition of Sydney’s old buildings and new.

Sharn White, Thomas MacEntee and Jill Ball at the Meet and Greet.
Sharn White, Thomas MacEntee and Jill Ball at the Meet and Greet.

After dinner the genea-cruisers had our first get-together with the meet and greet in Cleopatra’s Needle. Much fun greeting each other and having photos taken in groups….two of us nearly got caught out putting our hands up as a total reflex when they called for the Queenslanders! Even more amusing was seeing everyone trying to stand straight as the ship moved….we really hadn’t been hitting the bars beforehand.

All in all a fun day with new experiences and a day of learning adventures ahead in Day 2 as the conference proper kicks off.

[i] Michael Normile’s letters in Fitzpatrick, D. Oceans of Consolation. pp 53 and 76. Fitzpatrick says “A rediscovered neighbour could take the form of an angelic apparition.”

Packing for the 4th UTP geneacruise

This week GeniAus hosted another Hangout – to which she’s become somewhat addicted <smile>>

220px-Steamer_trunkThe topic this week was “Packing for a Geneajaunt”. Since this time next week we’ll be sailing through Sydney Heads on the 4th Unlock the Past (UTP) cruise. My spare bed is currently inundated with bits and pieces of packing which looks like it might need an old-style steamer trunk. My husband asked, ever so politely, do you think that’s all going to fit?

So what I have got on my long-list and have I forgotten anything?


My Sea Pass and relevant paperwork, including personal ID.

Laptop with my life’s work, photos etc (lightweight as that’s a key selection criterion)

iPad for reading and music on the plane flight and Feedly/FB etc when I have a connection, plus download cable for connection with SD card

Mobile wifi goes with me on every trip

Smart phone (mobile download to be turned off when not in port)

Chargers for each of course!

SLR digital camera, spare battery and SD card (spare)

US power converters for the cruise

Binoculars (in my packing but forgot them off this list)

A sheet of bubble wrap – for gifts etc (weighs nothing and can be thrown out if desired)

Society membership cards for visits to interstate genie societies

Sign-up forms for archives if required.

“Business” cards with my family research names on the reverse

Genealogists for Families postcards for the promos we want to do

My Flip-Pal scanner is coming because I’m visiting a cousin to do lots of scans & spare batteries

Notebook for reminders, planning and lecture notes

A hard copy of my presentation (insurance!)

Blank DVDs (maybe) and memory stick

Printed list of attendees

Headset for hangouts and skype calls home.

A geneabook for Jill Ball’s genea-reader forum.

A couple of zip-lock bags

Remote control for my power-point presentation

Small torch and red cellophane (for Melissa Hulbert’s sky tour)

Blogging badge

A couple of Australia Post post-packs

ODDS and ENDS (some suggested by geneacruisers, some from online cruise reviews)

suction plug for extra hanging space?

small sink plug

Small amount of laundry detergent and some pegs

Febreeze to spray on clothes and eliminate wrinkles

SPACE for gifts for my grandchildren, whose eyes sparkled when they saw the Disney characters.


Hmm, clothes perhaps??

Bling enough to do you think? Just kidding...
Bling enough to do you think? Just kidding…

Some suitable evening wear tops to wear with black trousers on formal nights

Swimsuit in the optimistic thought that I’ll get to the pool

A weather-proof jacket and umbrella

A light jumper and pashmina for the conference room, having been warned how chilly it is.

Comfortable shoes

Let’s hope I can pull off a Mary Poppins, and fit everything into my usual suitcase and hopefully <17kgs (not counting my laptop bag).

Never Say Never: Ship Ahoy

unlock the pastIn the past I’ve been just a tad averse to cruising as a holiday option. However, there’s nothing like the temptation of being in the midst of a bunch of obsessive genealogists, including quite a few of my geneablogging mates. And so, never say never, I’ve signed up to participate in the 4th Unlock the Past cruise around the south of Australia in February 2014.

We'll be sailing from Sydney at 9pm so we should have a view something like this.
We’ll be sailing from Sydney at 9pm so we should have a view something like this.

And since I was breaking the rule of a lifetime, why not do it on the biggest cruise ship afloat in Australia, Voyager of the Seas!

One of the rationales which also helped get me over the cruise-phobia was my family’s links to the sea. My Melvin family were merchant seamen for several generations and my great-grandfather, Stephen Gillespie Melvin was an early international traveller from Australia. He travelled on the maiden voyage of the rather grand Aorangi in 1925. Voyager of the Seas looks extremely flash, so as well as all my genealogy learning and participating, I’ll complete my voyage understanding a little more about my ancestors’ maritime experiences.

The Aorangi was also state of the art when she was launched.
The Aorangi was also state of the art when she was launched.

What fun we’ll have with such a great array of speakers to listen to. I’m especially looking forward to meeting and listening to Thomas MacEntee of Geneabloggers and Hack Genealogy fame: he seems such a character it will be fun to meet him in person (I hope he’ll be bringing some blogging beads, big hint Thomas!). I’ve also done Pharos classes with Chris Paton so that’s another great opportunity. Not to mention family history writing expert, Noeline Kyle.

Also in the speaker line up are quite a few Aussie speakers who I know and have heard present elsewhere: Jill Ball, Shauna Hicks, Kerry Farmer, Helen Smith, German-genealogy guru Rosemary Kopittke, and my overseas mate Julie Goucher. I’m suspecting we might all be hoarse from nattering by the end of the voyage. Jan Gow from New Zealand is another person I want to meet as I believe she has a connection to my uncle’s family: not an ancestral link for me, but I have some photos which might be of interest to her. Not to mention all those presenters I’ve never had the chance of hearing in Darwin.

Voyager image 1
Bling anyone?

How I’m going to fit in even one visit to the pool, day spa and ice rink I don’t know. Will I have the nerve to don some skates after decades off the ice? Wait until February and we’ll all see. I’ll be sailing solo as Mr Cassmob has decided to keep the house afloat –not literally I hope given it will be cyclone season – he reckons he wouldn’t get any attention in the midst of all the genie chatter…he’s probably right.

The icing on the cake is that I will be an official blogger on the cruise so you can expect to read regular posts from this voyaging novice. Thanks Alan from Unlock the Past and Gould Genealogy for this great opportunity.

There are still some cabins available so if, like me, you’ve left your run rather late, why not give it some thought.

Come sailing and conferencing with us.
Come sailing and conferencing with us.