Jun 032014

The Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ) seminar titled “Hidden Treasures- Secrets from the Documents” was a jam-packed day with ten presentations by five well known presenters, including yours truly.

Dr Jennifer Harrison with Marg Doherty listening intently

It covered a wide range of topics as shown below:

Dr Jennifer Harrison: Convict Pardons and Ploughing through land Orders: Reaping Progenitor Rewards

Myself: Document Analysis and Computer Programs That Aid in Document Analysis

Stephanie Ryan: Biographical Detail in Unexpected Places and Gems in the Moreton Bay Records pre-1859 from the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence

Jane Wassell: School Files and First World War Connections: Names in the Archives

Shauna Hicks: Australian Joint Copy Project:Still Relevant in an Online World and Finding Ancestral Dirty Linen in Court Records.

So a range of very interesting topics!

Shauna Hicks has written a very nice wrap-up of the day with a lot of links to the resources mentioned so I won’t repeat that here.

The seminar is always a good day both for the talks and for meeting up with people, face to face! I stay in contact with many people via Facebook, Twitter and my blogs but getting together in person is still very special.

I met up with Lyn McMillan, an ex-workmate who had attended a lunchtime seminar I put on a number of years ago at work (yes we scientists can have fun lunchtimes too!) and she told me she has been doing some research ever since but  much more now she has retired. Lovely to know the effect a presentation you gave can have, and now she is as addicted as the rest of us.

A special event on the day was the announcement of the winner of the Joan Reese Memorial Shorty Story Competition Award.

Joan Reese Memorial Award

Joan Reese was a tireless indexer and had been voluntarily indexing many New South Wales  historical records since the late 1980s. She left a huge legacy to modern researchers as without her many indexes access to these gems in these records was fairly difficult. Joan was recognised posthumously in 2009 in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List being awarded a Medal in the Order of Australia “for service to the study of early Australian history and genealogy through research and indexing”.

Each year GSQ offers this award and as 2014 is the centenary of the beginning of World War One this year the topic was “A World War 1 Experience” 

Dr Jennifer Harrison, GSQ Patron presented the award to this year’s recipient Sue Bell.

Sue’s story will be published in the GSQ journal Generation.

Dr Jennifer Harrison presenting Sue Bell with the Award

All of the attendees were very well looked after as far as catering was concerned with morning and afternoon teas and lunch. A massive thank you to those volunteers!

The day went well with good timekeeping. It was interesting to try the short sessions but perhaps too many short sessions covering diverse topics maybe a better mix might have been a mix of short and long sessions or all the short sessions around a much tighter theme.

It was still a fantastic day and people certainly went away with a head full of things to try and new websites to check!

May 122014
Carol Baxter

  As genealogists we research  our family history and accumulate pages of facts and notes, some photos maybe some letters if we are lucky.
  Then it comes time to want to share your research, to produce it so it is available for the future generations, to tell their story, to bring them to life.
  So you sit down at the computer and try and start.
  But how to write it in a way that someone will actually read it?
  We have all read (well at least scanned to see if our names are mentioned) the family history books that read like a “who begot whom” saga.  The problem is no-one actually sits and reads them because they are a bunch of dates and places with no personality and definitely don’t bring our ancestors to life.
  So what do you do? How to write it so someone actually will read and know the people you have spent your time researching?
I have just attended the two day Unlock the Past Writing Seminar in Adelaide and would definitely recommend it for anyone who writes.

There were eight presentations given by Carol Baxter of History Detective fame. 
Carol has an impressive pedigree as she started her genealogical research at school and been involved in genealogy for more than thirty years. She is a Fellow of the Society of Australian Genealogists and an adjunct lecturer at the University of New England, and is now a full-time writer and speaker.

She has used her historical research skills to write and publish ‘popular history’ and is the author of four ‘true-crime thrillers’ . Three have been published by Allen & Unwin: An Irresistible Temptation: the true story of Jane New and a Colonial Scandal (2006), Breaking the Bank: An Extraordinary Colonial Robbery (2008), and Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg (2011), while The Lucretia Borgia of Botany Bay will be published in 2015. Also recently released was the “The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable” which I was able to get Carol to autograph for me.

So Carol was an ideal person to teach this seminar and this was very much shown to be true during the two days

We started Day One with a series of three seminars
How to become a skilled historical detective
Help! Which information is correct? Strategies for determining historical truth.
Solving the ‘unsolvable’

Carol’s easy interactive presentation style made it a pleasure to listen and learn. Her use of examples throughout gave not only the theory but also the practical applications and reinforced the messages.

Carol led us through the process and gave many essential clues on how to proceed:
“How do you start the massive job of writing your family history book : just like the elephant, one bite at a time!
“Communication is the essence of writing”

“Think of your audience before you start writing. Time spent planning now will produce a significantly enhanced end result”

“Personification a great tool for bringing your writing to life: rambunctious tug, lazy river, sleepy town”

“Timelines a writer’s friend for research and also when writing as you can put the timeline in the appendix therefore leaving out of the main test long lists of just dates and places”.


Then we moved onto  Structuring a family history or other work of non-fiction

This seminar focused on basic structuring techniques for writers. It included a general overview of structural necessities as well as guidelines for those writing family histories.

On the Friday we also heard from from Rachel Kuchel from the Lutheran Archives on their holdings and after hearing about the wide range of records from around Australia it really made me wish I had Lutheran ancestors!
Then Dr Karen George talking on Oral history for family and local historians, another very interesting topic.  South Australia allows people to borrow the recording equipment and they will archive a copy of the recording (which can be allowed to be on open or closed access depending on the wishes of the participants). Definitely worth finding out if your State library has a similar program happening. Recording using great equipment is the ideal but obviously even a not so great recording has to be better than no recording.

Tamara Wenham and Nicholas Gleghorn gave a presentation on “Finding stories inside the Commonwealth, State and Local Government archives” This was particularly interesting as it showed the range of records, particularly images that were available.
And that completed Day One!
Day Two we were all there early eagerly waiting for what the day would bring and chatting to the exhibitors and each other before the presentations began. 
Today’s first three workshops were about refining our work and understanding writing fundamentals.

  • Crafting a good book
    This workshop covered some of the tools found in a writer’s toolbox including authorial voice, narrative voice, style, tone, person and story-telling. 
  • Gripping writing
    This workshop showed how to use historical context, action, dramatic tension, dialogue and description to engage their readers. 
  • Sensory writing

This workshop showed writers how to engage their readers by drawing upon all of our senses, and burrows down to the individual word level.

  • Here we all are having a go!

We had opportunities in each of these for practical hands-on tries at doing what we had learned then hearing what some of us had written and this was a very valuable part of the workshop. I find that having a go while it is very fresh in your mind helps to cement the concepts.
The last of Carol’s presentations covered all the facets of publishing, taking us through the process of the mainstream publishers (I don’t believe that very many family historians will ever go this route) then onto the independent publishers, much more likely for family historians and the other ways of being published (niche, independent and self-publishing and then journals, newsletters and websites including blogs).

So many family history writers forget their family history journals as a place to publish their writings. 99% of the editors of these journals would love you for evermore if you submitted your articles and it is a good way to get experience. Also you have the extra benefit that you are telling people about your research and giving them the opportunity  to contact you with questions and additional information (remember to have a genealogy email with Google ie a GMail address that will stay constant regardless of what home internet service provider you may use). I have had responses many years after my article was published because I was able to be contacted.

We also had a presentation by the well known Shauna Hicks on “Newspapers: Finding Online Family & Local History News!” 

Shauna showed the range of resources that can be used and this fitted in very well with what Carol had been telling us as Carol has made wonderful use of newspaper, court and police reports in her research to get some of the specific details of what had occurred. 

Often inquests, divorces, murders, accidents are reported in the papers in much detail often down to the “he said, she said” stuff. All valuable detail that can be used in your writing to provide wonderful life to those dates and place facts and still do it in a historically accurate manner.

Marie Maddocks gave us a presentation on “Exploring people’s lives @ The State Library of South Australia”, another wonderful resource for South Australian research and remember each State Library has similar resource collections so if you haven’t had a check of their catalogues recently you should definitely add it to your to-do list.

I am very pleased that I flew down from Brisbane for this two day workshop. I found it very valuable and would very much recommend this workshop with Carol Baxter to anyone who is interested in writing history whether it be family, local, business or any type of historical writing.

Dec 032011

We are now on our way across the Tasman to Burnie which is on the top of Tasmania.  This  means two wonderful days at sea with a full conference program.  With 19 (yes that is 19!) presentations over the two days including Shauna’s and my postponed talks, it was a fantastic but very busy two days. 

I am not going to review all the talks there is simply not enough time but do look at some other cruisers’ blogs such as Shauna Hicks  and her second blog  ,Jennifer Jones   and Chris Paton as they will also cover some of these.

Chris Paton did a talk on Scotland Censuses 1841-1939 (yes that is 1939) and one of the most important things to remember is that Scotland is NOT England and some things were done differently, some better some not as nice for us, such as the fact the 1911 census returns available are not the actual household returns filled in by your ancestor as is available in the English and Welsh 1911 census.  It is an important point and can have quite an impact on your research if you are doing Scottish research particularly as previously mentioned in doing land research.

Rosemary Kopittke continued her excellent series of presentations on the online databases: FindMyPast UKThe Genealogist, Ancestry AU and MyHeritage . These were all well attended as Rosemary has a knack for showing people what is available and the best way to search the databases for the greatest returns using her searches particularly for her research name Beeston.

Keith Johnson gave a presentation on the Biographical Database of Australia which intends to publish biographies of Australians on-line by linking together entries from original records, with their biographical material appended. Keith Johnson and Malcolm Sainty are ideally suited for this task as they were the originators of the Australian and Biographical Genealogical Record which gave us so much wonderful material that is taken for granted by so many today. This includes these records ably edited by the enthusiastic and talented Carol Baxter:

Musters and Lists, New South Wales and Norfolk Island 1800-1802 (ABGR, 1988)
Musters of New South Wales and Norfolk Island 1805-1806 (ABGR, 1989)
General Musters of New South Wales, Norfolk Island and Van Diemen’s Land 1811 (ABGR, 1987)
General Muster of New South Wales 1814 (ABGR, 1987)
General Muster and Land & Stock Muster of New South Wales 1822 (ABGR, 1989)
General Muster List of New South Wales 1823, 1824, 1825 (ABGR, 1999)

This project has amazing potential for all future researchers and is one I am watching with major anticipation! Major announcements are expected in 2012. I look forward to supporting this project in any way I can.

Richard Reid gave two more presentations: The Great Famine 1845-55 – Irish ancestral experience and memory and The Australian Imperial Force on the Western Front 1916 -1919. 

Richard’s presentations are full of information, much of it not so much about the records but about the life, the experience and the things that made it real to the people involved and to us. He adds colour and life to these subjects and others on which I have heard him speak. He is a professional historian and this shows through in his presentations. Again, if you have a chance, definitely go to these presentations whether or not you have ancestors involved. if you have, it will give greater meaning but this is history which has an impact on everyone.

Shauna gave her postponed presentation on using Google for your Family Tree and as always gave an excellent presentation. Google is an excellent search engine and Shauna gave many tips on using it more effectively to do the searches and find the items you want. 

Google also has so many facets and depths apart from being a search engine. so many people don’t use it to capacity but everyone who attended this presentation should be able to go out and use it more effectively. Google images, scholar, blogs, books, translate and so much more!

I gave my Researching in UK Archives from Abroad about which I received  some positive comments which are always nice to hear.

Chris Paton did a nice talk on DNA. Many presenters make this an overly complicated topic wanting to show you how clever they are knowing big words without showing the practical applications and problems. Most people are very happy to use a digital camera or computer without needing to know exactly how it works. DNA testing is the same, it is simply another tool which can be useful if used for the right reasons. It is not a replacement for good research. Chris showed how it could be used in real situations remembering people are real and non-paternity events do occur.  Name changes also can occur for a variety of reasons which can impact on expected DNA results.

It has been an amazing few days with a lot of information from the presenters and also from the cruise participants. So many people with their own research experiences and expertise.

Sep 022011
Geelong Bollard

Have had a wonderful Day One at the Expo. There was a late, but fun night yesterday due to packing 680+ kits. It was good to have time to chat about family history and what had been happening in our lives while we were doing it.

Then up early this morning, ready to face the day which was chilly (well chilly to a Queenslander) but was fine and sunny. We were greeted at the venue by one of the famous Geelong Bollards by Jan Mitchell.

He was quite an elegant gentleman with his striped jacket and boater hat. He also had, like any genealogist, the camera available and ready to photograph that headstone, house or document!

All the exhibitors worked hard at getting their displays and databases ready for when the exhibition opened at 8.30. Quite a number of people came down from Melbourne via train and took advantage of a cup of coffee at  the cafe before the official opening time. The Registration staff were very busy getting everyone their name-tags, showbags and program and this busynes continued throughout the day.

Lots of people looking through the exhibition hall until the talks began..There was a  bit of confusion with  the signs which was a shame but was soon rectified.

I attended Rosemary Kopittke’s talk on Find My Past. I have heard Rosemary talk on FindMyPast before but with all the recent changes and improvements to their site, it was well worth listening again. Also today FindMyPast announced the release of one million merchant seaman records!!!

Rememebr to check back regularly to this site (and their sister sites FindMyPast.au and the new FindMyPast.ie) as there are so many new record releases that it is easy to miss the announcement. FindMyPast does announce  new releases on Twitter (@FindMyPast , @FindMyPastIE and @FindMyPastAU are the tags you should follow if you are on Twitter)  and Facebook and also on their blog. 

Then I managed to attend Shauna Hicks’ talk on Asylums. I have been trying to get to this one for a bit and each time have been prevented because we have  been speaking at the same time or last time  the volcano prevented Shauna’s from giving the talk in Cairns. As expected it was an excellent talk. Shauna gave a lot of information about the reasons people were admitted to asylums and the wide range of records that are available.Certainly there are restrictions on access to more modern records but considering the sensitive information these can contain, some restrictions are quite reasonable.

Some of the goodies available

Shauna emphasised the importance of reading the guides to records produced by the various Archives as they give you so much information n how the records are structured. A lot of records are becoming available and Victoria have released many of these. Shauna mentioned some great sites to start your Asylum research: Cora Num Hospital and Asylums gateway site and Judy Webster’s  Queensland page.

I dropped in and out of a number of other talks in between being on the Research Zone desk along with Kerry Farmer, Carole Riley and Rosemary Kopittke. Dr Diane Snowden’s Tasmanian talk and Paul Parton’s talks on Family Search looked very good and I heard some very positive feedback about these.

I also had some time to make a few purchases among the goodies available but did restrict myself today as there are quite a number of exhibitors I haven’t managed to see as yet.

David Evans at the Guild stand

For the regular readers of this blog you will know I am a member of the Guild of One Name Studies with the registered surname of Quested. I am also the Queensland Regional representative. Members of the Guild devote much time researching and collecting anything and everything to do with their chosen surname. This, of course, means if they are researching one of your names they could become your next best friend! I try and promote the Guild where I can as so many people don’t appear to understand the potential benefits. Today I was very happy to have David Evans who specialises in the Akehurst name manning the stand and helping a number of people.

One of the major pleasures of attending these  Expos (besides the talks and exhibitors) is meeting up with people whom I have met on Twitter, Facebook or via a blog. Today I met Brona who is the human behind the Twitter tag @AncestryComAu. Brona is the one who keeps us aware of new record releases.

If you are at an event and follow me on any of the social media sites please make yourself known as it is always nice to put a face to a name.

There was so much going on today that I would be here all night but I can’t leave without telling you about the last presentation of the day. This was a special presentation Hit the Road Digger which was about the building of the Great Ocean Road using no machinery and taking 14 years. This project was masterminded by Geelong Mayor Howard Hitchcock who had also done so much in the building of Geelong. The presentation was given in story and song and was the perfect finish to a busy but lovely day.

And what  is even better is I get to attend again tomorrow with lots more interesting talks and I still have a number of exhibitors I wish to see.