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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!

keep-calm-and-check-your-sources-9

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?

tz2hG

Looking Back… July 21, 2015

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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Researching family history is not a competitive sport yet there are some out there who evaluate their success as family historians by how many people they have in their tree or by how far back they have managed to trace their various lines. The further back you are able to go, the more points you score.

I think not!

For me, its not the numbers nor is it the distance back in time I can take my trees.  Its all about the stories, the people, the memories, the contributions they made, the trials and tribulations they faced and how these stories have helped to shape who I am and those who come after me.

21 July is my father’s birthday. If he was still with us, we would be blowing out 87 candles this year. It is my plan to spend this day writing and researching a little of my father’s story and making pancakes for breakfast.

Why pancakes?

Because the tradition of birthday breakfast pancakes is a part of my story and that of my siblings and their children we owe to Dad.  It was Dad’s way of celebrating our birthdays.  He would storm into the kitchen early and announce to all and sundry that he was making breakfast for everyone and especially for the birthday girl or boy.  There would be messily mixed bowls of batter on the bench, spoons dripping excess onto the kitchen floor, lemons being cut into wedges and the smell of hot butter melting in the frying pan.  Enthusiastic sprinkling of sugar usually resulted in a delicate crunch underfoot.

It was loud, messy, sticky and delicious!  They were never the best pancakes in the world as Dad’s cooking prowess was a trifle suspect, but who cared?  It was a special way to start a special day and we loved it.  We have carried this memory into our own family’s lives and shared it with our children.  This little piece of ‘history’ for our particular family makes our story just that little more about the people as people not just another name on the tree.

Gerhard Douglas Noel Stockfeld 1928 - 1997

Gerhard Douglas Noel Stockfeld 1928 – 1997

 

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