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!



AFFHO Congress 2015

Well…. that’s Day 1 done and dusted!

Canberra has turned on a beautiful day but several hundred people have only glimpsed it through the windows of the National Convention Centre today as they moved from lecture theatres to exhibition halls and back.

Opening proceedings at 8.30am saw us all in the Royal Theatre, welcomed to Congress and to Canberra by Kerrie Gray, chair of the organising committee.  The opening address by Dr Mathew Trinca from the National Museum of Australia was both personal and global – a fascinating insight into his family’s migration experience. He emphasised the importance of examining the family experience in the light of local, regional and global influences and how we can enrich our research and the stories we tell of our family and our own understanding of self if we take a wider view.

The rest of my morning programme included David Berry presenting about the digital resources for tracing my ancestors available through State Library of NSW

Digital resources are becoming the primary means by which researchers, especially those not held locally, can access primary and secondary sources – and its amazing the range of material held in public institutions like libraries.  Seonaid Lewis from Auckland Libraries, NZ, reaffirmed this in the second presentation I attended this morning when she detailed the wide range of digital resources held by her libraries and these were just the materials relevant to researching and commemorating WW1!

The afternoon Keynote Presentation was from Roger Kershaw from The National Archives, UK.  He gave us many avenues to pursue in finding out how our ancestors arrived here in Australia – from the UK end of the process.  Tracing those who came freely is far harder than following those who arrived unwillingly and at the insistence of the Court!

Carol Baxter’s presentation “Help! What information is Correct?” was a great refresher for me as I have just finished a unit of study at UTAS on Family History with Dr Diane Snowden.  How easy is it to just accept that record or family story as the truth?  Too easy! Carol’s talk reminded us all, no matter how seasoned a researcher we may be, of the necessity to think critically and to analyze carefully what we have uncovered.  Find Carol’s website and information about her books here

Lastly I decided that David Holman might be able to offer me some  background and insight into British Medals.  My grandfather had been awarded a Military Medal in Oct 1917 and not two weeks later, Mentioned in Despatches.  He was 20 years old and had been in the Australian army since 1915 after having fudged his way through the medical (his eyesight was was definitely suspect!)


David’s talk gave me a much clearer understanding of the history and hierarchy  attached to the awarding of medals, citations and commendations for members of the British and Commonwealth Forces.

An early night is on the cards ….. a chance to process all the information and refresh before Day 2.

Photographic Orphans

Over the past few weeks, I have embarked on the massive task of digitising most of the family photographs currently in my mother’s custody.  These photographs cover both sides of my family’s history in Australia and also some from New Zealand and England – the earliest of which are a group of family portraits taken in Liverpool before the family embarked on their journey to New Zealand in 1878.

It has been a wonderful opportunity to marvel over their stories played out in these pictures. Some journal my uncle’s experience in Japan with the Occupation Forces in 1946 & 1947. Others record delightful beach experiences and visits to zoos as the children ‘grow’ before my eyes.

The most touching are the pictures of my Great Grandfather inscribed on the back – “For Dorothy”.  My grandmother was barely 3 years old when he died in 1903 and these few cherished photographs were all she had of her father as she grew up.

I collect.

I scrounge through boxes of dusty cards and pictures looking for treasures.

Every now and again I find something that needs to be reunited with someone who is as committed as I am to chronicling their family’s journey. Today was no exception – several pieces attracted my attention so I bought them.  I bought them with the intention of finding someone who is researching these families.  I hope these orphan photographs add some life to your research whoever you are!


If you recognise these Mackay family members, and would like high quality images emailed to you for no charge, please don’t hesitate to contact me with your email address.  The images will include scans of the backs of two of the images with the hand written annotations identifying the subject of the photograph.

More orphans in a week or so…..

People power…

In no time at all, the power of the people to support a worthwhile project is demonstrated by the success of Mark at Archival Access Victoria.  His proposal to raise a moderate funding base to enable the digitisation of court records has reached its target well ahead of the proposed time frame.

Digitisation of historic records serves several purposes, the least of which is enabling a wide range of people access to records that would otherwise be out of reach.  For historians of any sort – family, local, academic, student – access to primary source material can be difficult to obtain.  Archival Access is changing this.  Thank you, Mark.

Thank you for Supporting History to Country Victoria

Have you considered supporting a project that would otherwise not happen without broader community contribution?

It has always bothered me that so much of the digitization of our historic records is carried out by overseas entities who then charge us for the privilege of being able to view them.

I am pleased to be able to support this digitization project where the work will be carried out by Australians in Australia!

Thank you for Supporting History to Country Victoria.