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Why do we Conference? November 8, 2017

Posted by Robbie in News.
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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.

 

 

 

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Define your Dash…. January 11, 2017

Posted by Robbie in Musings.
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When this line popped up in my Twitter feed, I was sucked in.  I had to go and see what this was all about. It seems that there’s a challenge been started to define the bits of your life that fall between the two dates that bookend your life – birth date and death date.

Memorial Plaque for Marion Dawkins 1918 - 1997 at New Ballarat Cemetery

Memorial Plaque for Marion Dawkins 1918 – 1997 at New Ballarat Cemetery. Image by R Stockfeld 2013.

I had to think about this for a bit – here I am spending hours each day or so ‘defining the dash’ of my ancestor’s lives, but I spend no time at all thinking about my own experiences, memories, stories, achievements, failures, the joys or sad moments. My first reaction was that this was a rather narcissistic exercise, then I thought it would be time wasted as no one would be interested.

The idea of this challenge is that you put pen to paper – or finger to keyboard – and write once a week. Now that for some would be a challenge in itself but the proposal contained lots of handy hints about topic areas you could address if inspiration failed you. By the end of the year, you would have put together 52 little vignettes that would tell others something about you and your life in that time represented by the dash.

I made the first move – I acquired a notebook.  That was the easy bit.  So far the notebook has just found its place on a table somewhere and hasn’t managed to tempt me to sully its virgin pages as yet. The discipline of regular writing isn’t something that comes naturally to me: I often start with good intentions and fail to follow through.

So, its off to read that blog post again recommending this activity taking note of those prompts and perhaps managing story number one this week (and to make the resolution to catch up on the other weeks I have missed!)

 

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!

 

 

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