Accentuate the positive…..

The wonderful Jill Ball (aka GeniAus) invites all her fellow Genies once again to take part in her end of year GeneaMeme for 2020.

Its been a bit of a strange one this year, so it will be interesting to see how our research successes stacked up this year. If you would like to take part, copy and paste the questions below and fill in your answers. Post on your blog and send Jill a link …. she will correlate all the responses in a further blog post.

So here goes:

(Please delete the items that are not relevant to your situation.)

1.  An elusive ancestor I found was My 6GG grandparents, James and Eliza Butcher….. and a further three generations below them – Finally GGfather Henry has some family!

2.  A great newspaper article I found was an obituary for a female relative….its not often you find much written about the women but this one was an exception:

Mrs. S. E. Gwin

The fourth death in the Gwin family, since January, occurred on Tuesday, when Mrs. Sarah Elizabeth Gwin passed away at her home, in Cobden.
She was 86 years of age and was a remarkably capable woman. Despite her illness for the past few weeks, and the sorrow of losing heronly son, a daughter and daughter-in-law within a few weeks ofeach other, she was brave to the last.
She was born at Barrabool Hills,near Geelong. Her marriage to Mr. Daniel Gwin took place 65 years ago, at Christ Church, Geelong. They lived at Ballarat, before coming to Cobden, where they took up farming 58 years ago.
So dense was the bush, that a track had to be cut through to their block, which was the first to be bought, when the Jancourt property was subdivided.
In those days, there was no railway line to Cobden, and butter had to be taken to the Camperdown station for transport to Melbourne. The rough tracks made the journey anything but a pleasant one, and yet Mrs. Gwin often undertook it.
She carried the first load of butter from the Cobden factory to Camperdown in a spring cart.
Her husband, who died 26 years ago, was a shareholder of Cobden butter factory for some years, and also held shares in the WesternMurray Co-operative Bacon Co., Mrs. Gwin retaining both lots until her death.
She leaves three daughters Maude (Mrs. D. Savage, Cobden), Florence (Mrs. T. Reilly, Kennedy’s Creek) and May (Mrs. J. Lock,Tesbury). A son and three daughters predeceased her.

There are 19 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
The funeral to the Camperdown cemetery will leave her late residence, Lord Street, Cobden, today, (Thursday), at 1.30 p.m.

OBITUARY. (1940, August 1). Camperdown Chronicle (Vic. : 1877 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved May 10, 2020, from

3.  A geneajourney I planned but didn’t take was a research/holiday trip to New Zealand… I was really looking forward to exploring the area around Cambridge where my Dixon family lived and worked before they relocated to Australia.

4.  I located an important record in the City of Melbourne’s digital archive – a job applications letter by my GGfather Robert in 1916. He got the job!

5.  A newly found family member shared images of cousins not known to me.

6.  A geneasurprise I received was a gift of access to a tree for a remote family connection with permission to use anything I wanted – a complete (unrelated) stranger offered this through Ancestry – such generosity!

7.   My 2020 social media post that I was particularly proud of was ….. perhaps its one I still have to write? Blog posts have been thin on the ground this year – however this one from my blog Seeking Betty, seemed to generate interest: Misinformation, Correction & Hyperoble

8.   I made a new genimate who has helped to facilitate our Zoom meetings and has handled some of our ‘correspondence’. Its great to have found someone who delights in being organised and who would help make the Zoom groups a really effective means of support and communication.

9.  A new piece of technology or skill I mastered was hosting Zoom presentations – where I learned how to use the whiteboard function, to record and share power point presentations and generally create a brand new sharing platform for the UTAS Victoria group.

10. I joined – a purely genealogical social media platform similar to Facebook.

11. A genealogy education session or event from which I learnt something new was A series of DNA videos from Family History Fanatics – still working through them as I probe further into the whole DNA thing

12. A blog post that taught me something new was Dana Leeds explaining the Leeds chart methods …. this was well presented in simple (non expert) language that helped me make sense of my results.

13. A DNA discovery I made was none of the Stockfeld family have tested their DNA through Ancestry or posted their results to GedMatch 😦

14. I taught a genimate how to use Zoom and to present their research findings in a Powerpoint presentation.

15. A brick wall I demolished was  not so much a Brick Wall, just not a path I had ventured down…. but I discovered a whole new line of the family lurking just around the corner and with that, connected with a 5th cousin in Adelaide for whom I could provide quite a deal more information than he had.

16. A great site I visited was the Carolyn Simpson Library ; also The University of New South Wales – Australians at War Film Archive – Amazing video interviews of everyday Australians’ experience of war.

17. A new genealogy/history book I enjoyed was …. oh how to choose? I’m up to 81 books read this year and so many of them have been corkers! Non-fiction: Cassandra Pybus: Truganini Journey through the Apocalypse; Narrative non-fiction: Carol Baxter: The Fabulous Flying Mrs Miller (much better than Corey Head: The Lost Pilots – The Spectacular Rise and Scandalous Fall of Aviation’s Golden Couple); Historic Fiction: Meg and Tom Keneally: The Monsarrat Series, just to name a few.

18. Zoom gave me an opportunity to really connect with my fellow Victorian UTAS Alumni through weekly sessions. I’m writing autobiographical pieces, helping to expand the skill set of our participants through research presentations, providing learning opportunities that are truly interactive and responsive to the needs of the participants and generally using up all my bandwidth every month! At first I wondered about the effectiveness of what we had begun, but it became obvious just how important these sessions were to many of the participants and even with the lifting of restrictions, we will continue to interact this way.

19. I am excited for 2021 because there’s still so much to find out, to share and to explore. I’m crossing my fingers that a trip to Norfolk Island might be on the cards but I’m not holding my breath!

20. Another positive I would like to share is … how willingly people will step up to share, support, teach and facilitate in new and often complex environments. Genies are great people!

What frightens little kids…..

In my case, what frightened me as a small child was my great grandmother. I was lucky enough to have known my Nana Dawkins, or so I was told. But in truth, my only memory of her was being scared silly….

Hannah Mary Dawkins was born in Pitfield near Ballarat on November 11, 1872. She would be turning 148 today if she was still with us. She is still with us in our memories and in print – the Dawkins family story had been researched and documented by a relative some thirty odd years ago. Hannah was the only one of my great grandparents I was privileged to meet in person.

My abiding memory of her was one of being scared. Scared of the darkened room in which she sat, shrouded in dark, possibly black, clothing. She seemed like a witch. Witches loomed large in my young life – the story about my excursion to see “The Wizard of Oz” and how I spent most of the movie cowering under the seats will perhaps wait for another occasion. Suffice to say, the exploding witches were pretty scary.

I’m not sure how old I was but, as she died at 91 years old in 1964, I must have been under nine, possibly younger. I only ever equate my great grandmother with an unexplained childhood fear.

When I made mention of this to my mother some years ago, she was quite taken aback. ‘Nana Dawkins was a wonderful lady – warm, twinkly eyes, always laughing – what’s there to be frightened of?’

Its all about perspective. From that of a child, she did not seem to be at all ‘warm’. Mum related some of her memories: stories of Hannah’s resilience in the face of the sudden death of her husband, her commanding presence (despite her short stature) behind the bar in the hotel she ran, the wonderfully warm new family created with her second husband….clearly memories that sustained and comforted my mother as a child and adult. This was a totally different perspective to mine but she was clearly very important to my mother.

The second marriage of the young widow Hannah (L) in 1903 – Image from ‘Dawkins Dossiers’ by J.A. Ingle

When I began researching the family history, I knew I was going to uncover some stories that I would hesitate to share with my family. Hannah’s was one of those – I chose not to tell my mother that my devout Catholic great grandmother had been 4 months pregnant when she walked down the aisle of the Catholic cathedral in Fremantle, WA, to marry my great grandfather; a man she had followed to Western Australia, not necessarily with the approval of her family.

From my mother’s perspective, Hannah could do no wrong yet if she had known this about her, it would have caused her unnecessary distress, so I chose not to say anything.

Sometimes it pays to leave some stones firmly in place, until turning them over won’t cause harm.

On Hannah’s birthday today, I remember the ‘scary old lady’ not for being so scary any more, but for providing me with some great stories to look into and for giving me an excuse to potter around graveyards. I think it may have been Hannah who provided my mother the genes for her unruly curly hair that was the bane of hairdressers everywhere.


The commemorative plaque in Rokewood Cemetery Pioneer Families Memorial Section. Rokewood Cemetery is the site of the unmarked graves of Hannah’s parents and her sister Ellen. Author image 2018

That darkened room is now light, bright and occupied by others of her descendants who still live in the home Hannah and her second husband built when they left Ballarat and resettled in Melbourne.

Secrets and Lies…

It’s a feature of many childhoods – hearing someone say “be careful, there are little ears listening.” I know my childhood was peppered with adult conversations I wasn’t meant to hear. Sometimes I did overhear stuff I wasn’t meant to and, being a rather introverted soul, I gathered those stories in and stored them up. I never asked what was meant, so often I didn’t truly understand what I was hearing. I was just witness to the sadness, the anger or the denial that hovered in the background.

Image sourced from:

The first family secret deliberately shared was that concerning my convict forebears. This was not an unusual secret to be held in Australian families but I was privileged to be made party to the ‘secret’ by my great aunt – she had carried with it the shame of having badgered her grandfather into telling her the truth. So the secret had compounded over time – she was willing to share with her teenage great niece this story, but not with another adult relative who was actively researching the family history. Her final statement on the matter was that “he could find out for himself,” if in fact he could discover the truth whilst on his journey to England.

What is the impact of uncovering the family secret? I read with interest Ashley Barnwell’s post on the TROVE blog: Unlocking Family Secrets and recommend it to anyone who is researching family stories for themselves or others as it draws attention to both the positive and negative sides of finding the ‘truth’.

With the recent upsurge in DNA testing by curious family historians, the chances of finding out about unknown family connections could be quite exciting or quite confronting. Be careful what you wish for!

Sometimes secrets are best left undiscovered as not everyone might share your joy in finding out that mother was an axe murderer or that their grandfather was a bigamist. Sometimes its worth thinking about the broader impact of sharing those discoveries – its not just your story, after all.

I was recently asked if I could research a family to see if I could uncover why it was that the family was apparently alone. My client described a childhood that was bereft of cousins, aunt and uncles, yet she knew that her parents had siblings. I went to work on what was publicly available, particularly through TROVE, and uncovered a story of unrequited love, attempted murder and suicide. Whether this scandal was sufficient to cause the rift is unknown but it certainly wasn’t a story shared with the children!

I advised my client that this wasn’t necessarily the answer she was seeking but it certainly told some of the story of her predecessors about whom she had been completely unaware. She was delighted with the results and hurried to share them with her sister – who wasn’t in the slightest bit interested or concerned that she knew nothing of her wider family!

For some, the quest to know is important as it fills a gap that exists for them. The answers that are found become part of their story and are not necessarily important to others.

Where is this leading?

For committed family researchers, its a reminder to take a good hard look at your motivation for what and who it is you are researching and to evaluate what you are going to do with the information you gather and the stories you uncover.

It’s also a reminder to consider the ethics of sharing what you have found. An ethical approach considers privacy, respect, legality and consideration of others amongst other concerns. Not everyone will be happy about what is uncovered so care and good judgement must be applied to what is placed in the public arena.

Ask yourself: would you appreciate your dirty linen be aired for all to see?

I’m sure that many of us have enjoyed watching the SBS programme “Every Family Has a Secret” or “Who Do You Think You Are?” I would ask you to consider the impact those stories have, not only on those taking part but on those who view programmes like these. One thing that springs to mind for me is “brave”.

Be brave enough to seek the answers, knowing that those answers could be confronting, ugly, raw and potentially damaging.

Be brave enough to keep quiet about what you find.

Be brave enough to know the appropriate way to share what you have found with the right people.

Be brave enough to say no.

Be brave enough to understand that you might not have all the truth behind the story and that its not your place to judge, condemn, forgive or forget.

Above all, be ethical.

Something to ponder…..

Searching for the parents and birth details of one Amelia Johnson, my Trove explorations today turned up this entry from The Mercury newspaper in 1863.

JOHNSON.—August 10th, at her residence, Collins-
street, Mrs. Johnson, of a daughter, the 17th child; the
united ages of the parents, 113 years.

That’s something to think about – 17 children isn’t entirely unheard of, but the calculation of the ages of the parents is something to wonder at;  if Dad is 63, mum is 50…. Either way, its a remarkable achievement for the time.

Family Notices (1863, August 22). The Mercury (Hobart, Tas. : 1860 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved July 22, 2020, from

Doesn’t quite live up to this claim:



A Geneagift …… or How to Spend a Weekend Chasing New Relations!

Just recently, and quite out of the blue, I received a message on Ancestry from a total stranger.  Often messages through Ancestry are “I think I’m related to you, can I have your research???”

Not this one.

This lovely stranger told me that she had been ‘tidying up’ the research on her husband’s tree and had come across a common link to my DNA tree (one where I have nothing other than names and dates of birth and death) She explained the connection and where there was common ground, and gave me a little insight into the people concerned.  She was apologetic that she didn’t have more to offer on my direct line, but gave me carte blanche to use any of her photos and research that might help me flesh out my family.

To say I was surprised and grateful is an understatement.  I spent a good few hours checking out what she was offering and, of course, it led me down all sorts of byways and trails, extending and exploring lines I had neglected.

Her gift had led me to examine this particular branch of my family more closely.  The connection she offered was one by marriage into my line – so her husband and I share cousins in common. There were a couple of pictures of family members that could reasonably fit to enhance my family story.

Her prompt to investigate this line has led me all over the ‘countryside’ today – I have been looking at war records, streetscapes, cemetery records, newspapers, electoral rolls, BDM indexes and Honours lists.  It’s been quite a journey.

I have returned her gift with a gift of my own.

In that exploration, I had found birth notices for three of those cousins in common that give clear dates of birth instead of the approximations we both had recorded, based on their deaths. These births were outside of the current historical disclosure period, so no BDM index search would have turned them up.

I also discovered a wonderful resource about which I had hitherto been unaware – The University of New South Wales – Australians at War Film Archive.  Within this I discovered 5 hours of video interview with Victor Albert Dey OAM.  Victor was my 3rd Cousin 1R.  I sat transfixed for hours, watching him speak about his family and his early life.  I couldn’t believe how much he reminded me of my brother.

Image from UNSW – Australians at War Film Archive

I haven’t been game to search the Archive to see if there are any other interviews of family members …. I would never see daylight again! This is a wonderful resource that offers a first hand view of the wartime experience of ordinary Australians as well as what life was like in ‘the olden days’.  To hear Victor speak of his mother, Dora Blanche Gertrude Dey (nee Welch) gave me a picture of a woman that, despite her still being alive in my lifetime, I had never met.

Thank you, Jan, for your very special geneagift.

I’m paying it forward to anyone who reads this – if you are an oral historian in the making, perhaps studying the Diploma at UTAS, or just curious to hear first hand what life was life for Australians living through a wartime experience, I commend the Australians at War Film Archive to you.

From Convict Exile to Gentleman Farmer

How brothers Francis and Henry turned a conviction into a future

Author Diane Henders

Thrillers with humour and heart

Lyfelynes Family History

Genealogist and Seeker of Stories

The Chiddicks Family Tree

Every Family has a story to tell..........Welcome to mine

Anne's Family History

An online research journal