Mar 312011
Unlock the Past Cruise March 2011 aboard the Pacific Dawn
My first cruise and I was so excited at the idea of the conference with so many interesting speakers combined with the cruise. I was amazed at my first sight of the Pacific Dawn as it was so much larger than I had expected.
Clean Cruising and the Unlock the Past team had set up a priority line as we were quite a big group (about 240 committed/fanatical family historians and partners). We were on board quite early and had time to look around a bit before the other 1800+ passengers completed boarding. The cabin I was sharing with my patient friend, was lovely with plenty of room, even for me, who tends to spread my stuff a bit (OK quite a lot!).
People at work and other friends who have done this cruise over the last year have raved about the trip and their time on board  so I knew a good time was ahead. My planned agenda was to concentrate on immersing myself in the conference and the presentations with any cruise activities as bonus extras.
Then we were underway! We had a meet and greet the first night after the required safety demo. Then my first exposure to the food of which there was quite a variety and a variety of places in which you could eat! I could write lots about the food (and not having to cook!) but I strongly suggest you go and try it for yourself!
As I mentioned, my plan was to immerse myself in the conference, and this is precisely what I did with the 99 presentations that had occurred by conference end. The presentations catered for a variety of experience levels. I enjoyed everything I attended as there were many gems to be found.
We started the conference at 8am with an excellent presentation by Shauna Hicks, “At Sea, Then and Now” in the International Show Lounge (which was quite cool). Shauna was, as always, an excellent speaker and made the differences in our ancestors’ and our voyages live for us. We were lucky enough to have more presentations by Shauna throughout the conference on Trove,  Doing Genealogy on the Cheap, Google your Family Tree and Social Media. This gave me the impetus to finally get involved with Twitter (@HVSresearch). While I am only paddling now, I feel there is real potential for Twitter particularly if you are short of time. It is a fast way of finding out about new resources where as each post is restricted to 140 characters you get the gems without the extra text.
Carol Baxter gave a presentation on the forthcoming Biographical Database of Australia which will be a fantastic resource. The end result will be you enter a name and then you will get a list of records relating to that person eg a convict indent, shipping list, muster, newspaper report, court report, biography from a printed work and what is even more special, a biography that an individual such as you or me, has added to the database. The only requirement to be in the database is that the person has to be deceased. This sort of project shows the value of the internet and collaborative research and will definitely be a worthwhile resource.
Carol gave another presentation which was one of the  highlights of the conference for me. It was on “How to write an Interesting Family History” Carol is passionate about her topic and this comes through when she speaks. She is uniquely qualified to give this presentation as she has had two historical books based on actual Australian historical events with a third to be published soon on Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady. By attending this presentation I did have to miss the presentation by Jenny Joyce on “Researching Medieval Ancestors” which was a disappointment.
There were a number of themed dinner tables throughout the conference and the ones of these I attended or hosted went off well.  These were in tables of ten and at times the background noise could be a little overwhelming. It definitely helped when the expert had a loud voice. It was a great opportunity to talk to a specialist about their pet topic and I was able to get some great information about Gallipoli from Ron Austin who does regular battlefield tours to Gallipoli.
Cora Num did a number of presentations which included Online Irish Research and anyone researching Ireland should either attend this presentation or buy a copy of her book on the topic ( This is a website worth visiting for the wide variety of links to other resources. The other presentation was on occupational sources and this was well illustrated with examples.
Dr Leigh Summers also gave two excellent presentations, one on changing fashion styles and the impact this had on women and the other was on how our ancestors dealt with contraception. It was great to see this style of talk included in the program. Presentations like these give body and character to our family histories.
A consistent theme throughout the talks was the value of Trove for family and social history. Trove is continuing to expand and as a gateway for Picture Australia, the newspapers, Women’s Weekly and a number of other resources it should be high on everyone’s favourites list.
I had the pleasure of doing a number of presentations which appeared to be well received. Copies of these presentations will be available on the Unlock the Past website shortly.
Many of the tour participants had purchased the souvenir shirts and these and the lanyards were a great way of identifying participants both to us and to the other passengers. I had a number of discussions while waiting around as to who we were and what were we doing and how do you start?
I have only lightly touched on the highlights for me of the conference program and there were many presentations I haven’t mentioned. I felt there was something for everyone and a number of special interest group meetings also happened including those for various computer programs. Presentations in the Dome were also enhanced by imbibing the occasional cocktail.
For the non-genealogists (hard as it is to believe not everyone is as obsessed!) there were many options for entertainment on board from having a lie-in to the Boot Camp (at a civilized 8am), wine tastings, quilling classes, T-shirt painting, swimming , sitting on the deck relaxing, beautifying oneself in the spa for the nightly parties, to gambling in the casino  frequent movies to music shows to laser light shows and so, so much more.  There were of course, also the three lovely places we visited  Noumea, Lifou and Port Vila which were very beautiful but I have to admit I admired them more at a distance as I caught up with old and new friends, talked and relaxed on deck with the occasional cocktail.
The only slight downside for an Internet tragic like me, who enjoys checking out new sources mentioned in the presentations at night, was the cost of internet access (ranging from 40-75 cents a minute depending on your plan) but this was a very minor issue in the scheme of things.
I want to thank Alan, Anthea, Alona,  Rosemary, Erik and Aimee from Unlock the Past  and Jacqui and Lynette from Clean Cruising for all their work in organising this conference over the last twelve months , for getting access to more venues for presentations within the constraints of the p&O programming and for all the hard work I know went on in the background that we never saw to ensure a smoothly run conference for all of us.
I had a wonderful time attending this conference and would definitely attend another genealogical cruise.