Why do we Conference?

I made a comment to a fellow researcher that I would be attending the VAFHO conference in Colac, Vic., in October.  She asked “Why? Do you have family in Colac?”

I don’t have any living family in Colac (that I’m aware of) however there were a few distant connections that resided permanently in the local cemetery so I thought I’d go visit, photograph, fill in a few gaps and whilst I was at it, find out a bit more about Writing Non-Boring Family History with the wonderful Hazel Edwards. Besides, I needed a bit of a break.

I had few expectations of the weekend except that I could indulge my passion for family research without deliberately boring anyone else to death. What a fabulous weekend it turned out to be!

Friday’s trip down was going to be at least 2 1/2hrs driving – I love long distance country driving and this was fun.  No-one else much on the back roads, pleasant temperatures and some spectacular scenery. Of course there needed to be the odd diversion – so it was off to find the cemetery at Rokewood and to check in with the great great grandparents William Henry Dawkins and Mary Ann Considine.

Rokewood Cemetery has a Pioneers Section and in 1993 a family reunion was organised and a commemorative plaque erected by the descendants.  William and Mary Ann have been joined by quite a few more in the Pioneer Section over the years since that reunion.

Colac Family History Group, members of VAFHO, were hosting this weekend’s activities and the first part of the event was a seminar with Hazel Edwards on writing Family History.  This 3 hour session was just fantastic – Hazel had us talking, writing, laughing, planning, motivated and resolving to get started as soon as we could.  No more procrastination, just great writing!

What did I come away with from this event?  Two new friends one of whom, it transpires, was distantly connected by marriage.  Neither of us had any idea that there was a link however we discovered over the course of the weekend our familial connection whilst asking questions of each other, helping solve each other’s mysteries, enjoying a shared meal or two and searching around those rows of gravestones for further clues.

The Colac Family History Group members were welcoming, enthusiastic and willing to share their love of their region and its history.  Who knew that Colac was famous for growing onions and had its own rail line devoted to ensuring those onions made it quickly to the city markets? I certainly didn’t. I came away with some great images of the landscape coupled with a better understanding of how the area was developed and thus how my family members fitted into that environment.  I discovered more family than I knew about previously, found their final resting places and I now know how to find where they worked the land they were granted.

This is why we conference.

To make new connections, to share what we know, learn about what we don’t know, to reconnect with old friends, to enjoy the company of fellow travellers on the road to understanding ourselves by understanding the dynamics of our ancestors’ lives.

Charles Clinton Dawkins (1stC2R) remembered in Colac Cemetery.





Another round of classes

Not content with currently studying two units of the UTAS Diploma of Family History, I decided to sign up for a MOOC. What’s a MOOC?
A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course – you can search for and take part in free online courses offered by Universities all over the world by looking here. What a great way to learn about something new!


And just what did I decide to study?  Preventing Dementia.  This is a MOOC offered by UTAS and its an area I have wanted to investigate and learn about.  There’s a unit to do with Dementia offered in the degree I’m enrolled in that I had considered taking on this semester but chose to leave it until next year by which time I would have just about finished the Family History course. In the meantime, it seemed like a good idea to take this short unit and bring myself up to speed on all things demented before I launched into the other unit.

MOOCs are a great way to break into study as an adult – no fees, no exams, no stress and a supportive international student cohort who are all in the same place as you.  Learning to navigate the delivery of the MOOC subject matter through UTAS is also a great way to learn their  formal online study delivery system without the pressure of passing or failing hanging over you.

My local neighbourhood centre has invited me back to facilitate a second round of Family History classes – so not only am I knee deep in learning, I’ll be sharing those skills with others as well.  If you’re a Central Victorian and want to get started on your own research, there are just a couple places left in this 4 week class that begins in August. Enrol here.

The neighbourhood centre has a computer lab and a library subscription to Ancestry.com.au so you don’t even need to have a computer to be able to get started – the centre is a GoDigi partner and have mentors in place for people wanting some IT guidance and support.

Teaching and Troving

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!


Searching for Signatures

Today’s Melbourne paper “The Age” carries an article by Bridie Smith about a 19th Century signature quilt.

You can read the article here.

The challenge for conservators is to identify all the people whose names appear on the quilt.  What a challenge for the geniesleuths amongst us!  Who wouldn’t want to take up the challenge of identifying those mysterious donors and the story of this wonderful work of art and its fundraising background.

The National Museum of Australia has already begun some of the research but now needs the help of the public in order to identify some of the donors.  As we are all no doubt aware, not everyone pops up in the Australian Dictionary of Biography as a potential source! Check out the research progress here.

Signature quilts and quilts with signatures worked into them, like the Victorian era Crazy Quilts, are the most wonderful source of family history.  Signature quilts were, as described by the NMA, often used as a means to fund raise for specific purposes.  They were sometimes known as shilling quilts – as that was the price to ‘buy’ your space for your name to appear.

Shilling quilts were used by Red Cross groups to raise funds to support the work of the Red Cross during World War 1.  I believe there is one such quilt in the hands of a local historical society in Melbourne but at the time of writing was unable to confirm this.

Perhaps the most well known signature quilts are in the possession of the Australian War Memorial – I refer, of course, to the Changi Quilts created during WW2 by women prisoners in held Changi Prison – the history of these quilts can be read here.


This is just one of the blocks created in the Australian Changi Quilt – all the blocks and the complete quilt can be viewed on the AWM website along with transcriptions and descriptions of each individual block.

When a quilt of this nature is held in a public institution, it becomes something more than its initial purpose.  Quilts such as these have become, in effect, memorials to those people whose names appear on them.  They no longer fulfill the goal of fundraising, having done their duty in this role at the time the quilt was created.  They no longer offer a distraction from the horrors and boredom of prolonged incarceration as this time has passed.  They do, however, provide us with some small insight into the lives, aspirations and conditions in society at the time they were created.

A quilt such as that which is currently being studied and researched by the curators at NMA tells us something of society in Melbourne and Sunbury at the time of its creation.  It is also a reflection of the skills of the women who created it and these are quite possibly not the names recorded thereon.  Yet this quilt stands testament to their devotion to church and community.

Do you have quilts in your family treasures collection? These wonderful objects conceal stories about which we can only guess, especially those in the hands of family members treasured as often all is known is that great great grandmother bought the quilt with her on the journey from England or Ireland in the 1800’s, or from Scotland early last century. There are some families who treasure their Scandanavian and German pieces, others who have American made quilts acquired whilst their ancestors followed the gold from California to Ballarat and beyond.

Embroidery Sampler originally brought to Australia by Lucy Jane Dixon (nee Banks)
Embroidery Sampler originally brought to Australia by Lucy Jane Dixon (nee Banks)

I am lucky enough to have pieces of embroidery and a lace veil that made the journey from Liverpool to New Zealand in the 1870’s and then on to Australia in the 1880’s.

Not all signature pieces are quilts…. cushions, tea cosies, piano covers all appeared at times during the Crazy patchwork fashion period. This lovely example is still a mystery:

Crazy Patch Tea Cosy Side 1    Crazy Patchwork Tea Cosy side 2

Front and reverse of a Crazy Patchwork Tea Cosy made in velvets, silks, cottons and other fabrics dated 1899. As all the initial sets end in R, it is reasonable to assume this has been made by a family group or is intended to record a family.



In a few days time I will be leaving for Canberra to attend four intense days at the AFFHO Congress for 2015. There’s been quite a bit happening personally, so preparations for my attendance has been a little haphazard.
However, I have been reading a bit of timely advice and taking note:

Keeping up with Congress2015 through Jill Ball at http://geniaus.blogspot.com.au/ and Pauline Cass https://cassmob.wordpress.com/

How to pack for every circumstance with Susie Zada …. http://justlovehistory.com/historians-backpack/

……And discovering that I really did need to get some, new up to date business/contact cards thanks to Judy Webster ….. http://genie-leftovers.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/top-3-things-to-do-before-genealogy.html


and now I have the Congress App (It’s iOS and Android friendly) as well….

The App allows for me to load up my personal programme of lectures and events and for timely updates to be sent straight to my phone or iPad (both of which will be packed with chargers according to Susie’s instructions!)

I’ve registered some of my research interests…. I need to go back and put in a few more names.  This event draws such a wide range of attendees, it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to connect.

The final part of my preparation for this event involves being right up to date with my online study commitments (UTAS and NIGS subjects underway and FutureLearn (Monash) about to start) and to resolve as many of the outstanding research queries I have on a project I am completing for my friend as I am to deliver her a preliminary report on my way to and from Canberra.

Having taken part in UTAS Introduction to Family History class with Dr Dianne Snowden  over summer, I was one of over 1,000 people who stepped back into formal study or undertook a university subject for the first time.  Many connections were formed and online groups were started – Facebook and Google+ – and some of us are getting together for a social evening during the conference.

Enough said…. its back to work for me…. counting the days!!!