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Teaching and Troving March 12, 2016

Posted by Robbie in Crowdsourcing, Musings, News.
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It is a pleasure to share the adventure of researching Family History and, over the last four weeks, I have been sowing the seeds of what is likely to be a lifelong addiction for the students attending the course I am teaching.

In this Beginners Course, we are learning about research skills, learning how to avoid some of the pitfalls, how to be discriminating about those wonderful family legends and how to keep all that you find in the safest and most organised of manners possible.

Most importantly, we have discovered the human impact of probing into the past. I could see that not everyone thought it was relevant to be cautious about with whom they shared their most recent exciting discovery. I could warn them of the possibility that someone was likely to get upset if a long held belief was overturned or family secret uncovered and published. It was impossible to ensure that they heeded the message.

It is easy to assume that an official document like a birth, marriage or death certificate will be of all things accurate.  After all, its the official record, it will be right, surely?

I had shared my own experience of arriving at the church to find all the documents I was asked to sign had my surname spelled incorrectly.  I can recall quite clearly Canon Holt telling me I was going to be fashionably late whilst he rewrote all the paperwork – it seems I would not have been legally married if he had gone ahead with the wrong name on the certificate! My students humoured me…. but they took a second look at their own paperwork.  Imagine the surprise when one discovered that she too had a marriage certificate with her given name incorrect – she had been married for over 40 years and had never noticed!

Their heads bent over the certificates and, with fresh eyes, they looked for all those little clues that could lead to a new line of inquiry. They discovered how the details given on any certificate could be incorrect, or that information could have been missed.  They learned that death certificates could provide clues but not all the answers they sought.

But what could they do to uncover details of family comings and goings, funerals and financial scandals, deaths and deliveries, if these events occurred within the embargoed periods where state held information was protected by Privacy Acts?

This is where TROVE and the combined resources of the National Library of Australia and all the state libraries comes in.  The digitised newspaper collections accessible through TROVE can offer up all sorts of wonderful insights into the events of the day.

How wonderful is it to be able to browse the pages of the local newspaper and find the report of the wedding of your grandparents detailing the gowns, the gifts and even the grub served at the wedding breakfast?   Or perhaps a social event they attended in the weeks leading up to their wedding?

Recently, it was announced that funding cuts to the NLA would be applied to TROVE, jeopardising this world class resource and service beloved by historians, researchers, students and family historians alike.

The response was immediate – a Facebook page sprang into life, the Twitterverse went into overdrive #fundTrove and its making the news: ABC News

Trove is part of the future for research… its going to be vital in the making of this ‘clever country‘ as it is already to the many thousands who have already discovered its abundant treasures.  Why would anyone think it was a good idea to take funding away from the very place it needs to be if we are to become world leaders as smart, inventive and scholarly people?  The very nature of Trove in itself is world class – why would we settle for second best?

Support the campaign to restore and extend the funding to the NLA. Sign a Petition, write to your local Federal MP, blog about it, tweet about it, talk about it. Become part of the community that learns from and helps to build the resource that is TROVE for future generations of students, teachers, researchers and all round clever people!

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Spreading the love January 25, 2016

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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It came as a surprise to be asked to facilitate a beginners family history course.  It seems our local neighbourhood centre are quite keen to see a course offered that starts with the basics of sound research with a view to providing an ongoing family history study group.

Researching family history is a pasttime that’s attracting more and more people – especially with the increasing amount of material available online making research far easier.

Is it easier? Or is it just more convenient? Some online providers would have you believe its simply a matter of typing in your name and off you go.  Given that the basic records of births, deaths and marriages within Australia are embargoed, its highly unlikely you will find your own birth listed unless you are a centenarian!

Some of us of a certain age may, however, find the notice of our arrival in that wonderful resource known as TROVE.

I did.

Type in your name in the Trove search box and it may just pop up in one of the hundreds and thousands of digitised newspapers now fully searchable via the website of the National Library of Australia. This is certainly easier that scrolling through miles and miles of michrofiched newspapers in the Library’s Reading Rooms.

One of the research skills I plan to cover in the course is how to access and use newspapers – TROVE and the NZ equivalent, PapersPast will both feature strongly.

Snippet from Trove - Argus Masthead, Tuesday Oct 5 1954

Snippet from Trove – Argus Masthead, Tuesday Oct 5 1954

 

 

Back to the Books December 10, 2015

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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Its hot and dusty here in my Spot already and I find myself more than ready to hunker down and sweat out the summer over the books again.

This semester I have signed up to study two units online at UTAS. “Writing Family History” is only three weeks old and already my head is swimming with ideas for stories.  Do I write a ‘fictionalised’ account of one ancestor? Do I try to tell the stories of several of the most interesting characters? Do I try to unravel some of that confused oral history and attempt to set the story straight?

The last thing I want to do is to write something that is essentially boring. Lots of family histories are boring – lists of dates of  births, deaths, marriages.  In ours, at least, there would also be a list of divorces and remarriages to make it a little more interesting if I took the conventional route.  Then there’s the rest of the family to consider. How would they feel about some of those stories being investigated, recorded and subsequently published? Its the conundrum that faces every writer of family history when dealing with those closest to you especially if the family story has been tucked under the carpet or hidden in the closet for many years.

We’re on semester break shortly so I have ordered an ebook for some light holiday reading : Hazel Edwards’ ‘Writing a Non-boring Family History’. I’m hoping this will give me some technical help and inspiration as I work through the remaining exercises or e-tivities, as they are called in the course.

The hardest task of all has been deciding just who to write about – there are so many little vignettes that bear recording before they are lost. I’m frightened that I might find myself taking a scatter gun approach and in the wash up, not do any of the ancestors’ stories the justice they deserve.

I’m tending towards a series of short stories – fictionalised accounts of separate incidents – that may or may not be about my family. ‘Names changed to protect the innocent’ and all that sort of stuff. Using a short story format also gives me the opportunity to explore a range of styles of writing.  I like the constraints of a word count – it focuses one’s attention on making sure there isn’t any ‘waffle’.

And I can waffle with the best of them!

 

‘What was the other unit you are studying?’ I hear you ask.

‘Photography and Social Media’

More about that some other time, dear reader.

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Tracing Back Women September 6, 2015

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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It has always struck me how much harder it is to track the female lines in families.  English and Australian marriage conventions have ‘dictated’ that women discard their birth surname in preference for that of their husbands…… subsequent baptisms and deaths, wills and probate documents often give no clue to the woman’s forebears as her birth surname has been erased from formal records.

In researching the history of my maternal grandmother, Dorothy Una Ophelia Richardson, I had always wondered about the middle names of her brothers: being Fairfax and Kirkby.  I surmised that both these names may well have been the surnames of mothers, grandmothers or perhaps even great grandmothers.

Many hours of research over the years has indeed proved that both names are surnames of previous generations and had been diligently preserved as a family naming tradition – one that has been unfortunately lost in my own generation and those following as my family had no knowledge of this when our own children and grandchildren needed names.

I am quite aware that one shouldn’t “assume” when researching back through the generations but I used the “Fairfax” second naming pattern as a clue as to where to look, after all, its a much less common name in a naming pattern than perhaps something like William or John as the first born son’s name.  It was an especially relevant pattern to follow when it popped up as a second name for females.  Fairfax was the maiden surname of my 3X great grandmother, Mary (b. 1790).  She named her eldest daughter and my 2x great grandmother, Dorothy Fairfax Welch (b 1814). 

Dorothy’s children continued the naming pattern – David (b 1839) beginning his own tradition by naming his first born with the surname of his wife’s family. William Andrew (b.1852 & my g grandfather) named his eldest child, Roy Fairfax (b 1890) and Roy carried it through with one of his sons also named Roy Fairfax (b 1917). David’s granddaughter Ida (b 1904) also carried the Fairfax middle name.

Mary’s son, Andrew named one of his daughters Henrietta Fairfax (b abt 1866)  but he also began his own family naming tradition using his wife’s surname as a middle name for three of his children.

Others of Mary’s children weren’t so rigorous. It took two generations for the descendants of Mary’s daughter, Mary before the Fairfax name was resurrected – but her g grandson Harry (b 1877) bears the Fairfax middle name.

Using this clue as a search criteria has helped to reconstruct the broader family and has helped to work out where all the various generations fit. To make things a little more ‘interesting’, there was the odd second marriage thrown in to complicate things.

Chasing back the Kirkby connection was a little more fraught.  I reasoned that Kirkby must have been a female forebear at some time but there was not the same naming pattern showing up.  My Gran’s brother was the only one I had found that had this middle name.  Fairfax had been carried down mainly through one branch of the family – perhaps Kirkby came from the other side?

Paying close attention to Mary Fairfax (b 1790) and establishing her parentage led to the first Kirkby – her mother, Dorothy (b 1766).  Another girl popped up around this time but she was married into the Richardson side of the family, Frances (Fanny) Hanna (b 1784).  At first glance there didn’t seem to be any connection.  Complicating things even further, it seemed that Mary’s father Benjamin Fairfax (b 1758) had been married at least twice – and each time it had been to a Kirkby girl.

Finding the will of Samuel Kirkby – the father of Dorothy, Mary and also Frances Hanna – solved the puzzle.  His will runs to quite a number of pages and is quite detailed in the bequests and names of his children, both living and deceased, grandchildren, sons-in-law, and his wife. In naming his deceased daughter Dorothy as the “late wife” of Benjamin and Mary as the “now wife” of Benjamin Fairfax, some of the complexities were unraveled.

To discover that Fanny Kirkby (b 1784) [named as Hanna Richardson in the will], wife of James Richardson (b 1780), was also a part of this Kirkby family came as  quite a surprise.  The Richardson family was based in Wapping, Middlesex and the Kirkby family was from Hertfordshire – didn’t seem like they should have crossed paths but they did! James’ son David married Dorothy Fairfax Welsh.

Am I confused still?  A little – Samuel Kirkby and Elizabeth Deverill are my GGGG Grandparents through two separate branches of my ancestors.  I think.

Lesson?

Focused searching using clues like unusual surname-like middle names can reveal a great deal!

 

 

Cousin Bait? August 17, 2015

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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Jill Ball’s great GeneaDictionary has a definition for Cousin Bait – “you’re fishing for cousins so you can compare information for your respective family trees” – which she attributes to her friend Amy Coffin.

I have heard fellow researchers mention that they often write or post pictures in the hope that their “bait” might flush out an unknown someone who was related to them.  These same researchers have often said they are careful about where they dangle their bait and just what it is they have on their hook.

It’s a shame that there are those out there in internet geni land who think that once something appears on the internet, that firstly it’s free to take and secondly, that it’s true! How many of us have seen publicly posted trees and family heirloom images snaffled up and suddenly appearing in all sorts of places? No ‘please’, ‘thank you’, ‘may I?’, ‘are we related?’

This wholesale harvesting of often unsubstantiated information makes for the perpetuation of misinformation, rumour and sometimes downright lies.  Its hardly good research practice no matter which way you twist it!

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Good genealogy (and good family history writing) depends on the quality of the research – always check the sources of the information you are gathering and then check again!  Assuming that family oral history is absolutely true is also risky – stories can be coloured  and embellished to make things seem better than they really are; they can be deliberate deceptions to cover up something that was shameful or socially unacceptable at the time. Check, check and double check.

I have always been somewhat cautious about the level of information that I place in the public arena having fallen foul of the infosnitchers in the past.  However, within this blogging environment, I find a more conducive atmosphere where a small part of the family story, as I understand it, can be shared.  I write and post these stories and images for my own benefit as well as the small number of people who happen to show interest.  I don’t put it out there into the ether as cousin bait as I haven’t really expected I would find any!

The past week or two have seen me spend quite a bit of time corresponding with a second cousin who discovered my images and posts – a second cousin whom I had never met.  It seems she had no idea I existed either!  We have swapped pictures (other than those already in the public arena) and compared notes about various family stories. We have managed to more correctly identify the people in some of the images we both share and we have the beginnings of a meaningful collaboration as well as face to face family connections to build.

So, deliberate cousin bait or not, my stories have given me the ‘catch’ of a lifetime – a whole hitherto unknown (in a personal sense) family branch to meet explore and get to know.  How lucky are we both?

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