Saturday, March 31, 2012

AFFHO Congress Days 3 & 4

There was no time last night to blog about the day’s talks as it was the Conference Dinner.  So I will just cover some of the highlights of the last two days.
I went to a talk by Roger Kershaw of the National Archives of the UK about tracing convicts in the National Archives.  Disappointingly I realised almost as soon as he started that I had already heard this talk as a podcast as I recognised the name John Jobson.  The positive side is that it was so full of good information that I hadn’t deleted the podcast as I intended to listen to it again and make notes.  So now I’ve had the chance to make notes, and it was a good talk.
I also went to a second talk by Roger about the National Archives web site, and the new catalogue, which is available now, but is not the default way to search the catalogue, however it will be in a couple of weeks.  The contents of Documents online can already be accessed through the new catalogue, but the old way of accessing it will be turned off on the 23rd of April.  The other thing that was new to me was their media centre.  I have long had a link to their podcasts from my iGoogle page, so didn’t realise this media centre existed, or that it contains videos as well as podcasts.
Another good talk was by Todd Knowles on the Tax Records of England.  He talked about estate duty records, hearth tax, window tax and many more.  Although I did know these records existed, I didn’t realise that they had been filmed and are available through the FHL.
But far and away the highlight of the conference for me has been Colleen Fitzpatrick’s talks.  I have already mentioned her talk on the unidentified child from the Titanic, but I attended two of her other talks.  One was Forensic Genealogy: CSI meets Roots.  This was about getting information out of old photos – looking beyond the clothes and the mount and discovering all sorts of interesting things.  This is the subject of one of her books which I bought, so I am looking forward to reading it.  The final talk of hers that I attended was The Curious Case of James-Jake Smithers-Gray in which she described the search for a man known only to his Australian children as John Henderson Grey.  They knew this wasn’t his real name, but with Colleen’s help tracked down his true identity (James W Smithers) and many of the details of his life.  It was the kind of story that if a novel had been written it wouldn’t have been believed.
The conference has been a great opportunity to catch up with many people, some of whom I see only rarely, and to meet others, who I will hopefully see again.  It has also been a great learning opportunity, with plenty of entertainment.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

AFFHO Congress 2012 Day 2

This morning started with a Plenary session by Jenny Higgins of the National Library of Australia talking about putting your ancestors into their social context.  She focused on the resources that the National Library has which can help with this, both in the library itself, in its eResources and (of course) on Trove.
When we all split up to go to our various sessions I went to a talk by Lesley Silvester.  It was called “New Methods for Old Records”, and in it she talked all about the PhD she has been working on and how she has had to convince traditional historians of the validity of genealogical sources and their value in historical research.  Her PhD is concentrating on the poor of Norwich in 1570, and it was a great illustration of just how many sources can survive for research into the poor, as opposed to the well-off.
Suzanne Maiden then talked to us about marriage contracts & marriage settlements from pre-medieval to the 1850s.  And she really did mean pre-medieval – there was an example of a marriage contract from Babylon in 2200 BC where if the woman wished to end the marriage the husband could drown her in the river, but if he wanted to end it he had to pay her 10 sheckels.  No equality in Ancient Babylon then!  I suppose it was inevitable that covering such a long period of time and many countries, not just the UK and Babylon, but Greece & Italy, and ancient Persian marriage contracts woven into rugs, that the talk would not be able to go into great detail on anything.  That was rather disappointing.  As I have looked at English marriage contracts before, I didn’t really learn anything from this talk (well, I learnt about the Babylonian situation, but not about England and Wales).  I guess that’s the way it happens sometimes – it is important to have talks aimed at different levels.
After lunch David Holman started off with a Plenary session entitled “Fascinating Facts & Figures from Five centuries”.  It was a humorous look at surnames, given names and occupations, primarily from Cornwall.
Next I attended another talk by Lesley Silvester – this one about putting the lives of Londoners into their social context.  Lots of good sources were discussed, including one or two I hadn’t used.  Those that I had used were very good sites, and it is always worthwhile having them bought to mind again.
Final talk for the day that I attended was Dan Poffenberger, talking about his incredibly confusing and convoluted family.  Not really a lot to learn from this talk except for the importance of speaking to older relatives while they are alive, but very amusing.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

AFFHO Congress 2012 Day 1

Day one of the 2012 Genealogy Congress in Adelaide and the talks have gotten off to a good start.  The first talk was a keynote speaker, Colleen Fitzpatrick, talking about finding the identity of the unnamed child from the Titanic.  A fair-haired boy aged about 2 had been amongst the bodies recovered and not identified.  A Swedish family believed it was their relative and therefore in 2001 the grave had been opened and it was found that all that remained were three baby teeth and a small piece of wrist bone.  From that they were able to recover mitochondrial DNA which proved that the child could not have been the boy in question.  After a long investigation they finally managed to identify the child and give him a name.  She was a very good speaker and it was a fascinating topic.
Next session I attended was by Dan Poffenberger about reading old writing.  He focused on Secretary hand, and first went through the letters of the alphabet and the forms they took at in that style of handwriting. He then showed an example of a will and worked through most of it practicing reading the writing.  Although I have done a lot of palaeography work before, I still got a lot from his talk.  Again he was a very good speaker.
The afternoon started with another keynote speaker, Daniel Horowitz, whose talk was entitled How we preserve and share memories in the Digital Age.  This started as a discussion of the history of recorded information and methods of digitisation and storage of data.  But it quickly changed to what was essentially an advertisement for MyHeritage.
Next talk was Chris Watts discussing records for British Merchant Seamen.  Lots of information, but some of the slides were flicked over too quickly to allow me to make comprehensive notes.  But he has written the book My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman which is part of my library, so I can check that for further information.  The main thing I got out of the talk were the large number of different records that have information about Merchant seamen.
Final speaker for the day was Shauna Hicks, talking about Ancestors in church records.  She was focusing not on parish registers, but on other records like church newsletter/newspapers & church histories.  Shauna is always a very knowledgeable speaker and I always learn something from her talks.  This reminded me that I really must look for the Alway family in the records of the Baptist Church and Salvation Army in Victoria.