Friday, November 15, 2013

Could family histories help with Dementia?

I recently compiled a family history for a client, who was intending to give copies to her mother and sisters.  Her mother is 85 and suffering from dementia.  Having a family history to read, which was laid out in a structured and chronological order, has apparently helped her memory and improved her response to people now.  The photos which my client provided and which I included in the family history also helped prompt her mother's memories.

One case on its own does not constitute a scientific study, of course, but it is interesting.  I wonder if the same effect has been seen before?
The bound 263-page report I provided

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Biographical Database of Australia now live

The Biographical Database of Australia is now live.  I have been playing around with it a bit and looking at a few of my ancestors.  So far most of what I have found I had already looked at, like convict indents, musters and the 1828 census.

But there is a possible death for my NSW Corps ancestor, Joseph Quinn.  Joseph was a private who arrived on the Earl Cornwallis in 1801, was discharged from the army in July 1802 and at some point married Elizabeth Boardman, a former convict who had also arrived on the Earl Cornwallis.  No record of this marriage has ever been found, nor any baptisms for their three children (Patrick born c1808, Elizabeth born c1810 and John born c1814.  This is not surprising, as they were Catholics and between 1804 and 1820 Catholic Mass and church services were not able to be legally celebrated.  Joseph's wife died in 1829 and is buried in St Peter's Church of England in Richmond. After this nothing is known about Joseph or his son Patrick, though the lives of his other two children are well known.

The BDA has come up with a death in 1829 at the General Hospital in Sydney of a 32 year old Joseph Quinn, whose burial was recorded in the records of St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, Sydney.  Now the age doesn't match other sources (the 1828 census says he is aged 60) and I don't know how he would have got from the Richmond area to Sydney, but I still think it's worth further investigation (like trying to find the hospital records, if they still exist.

There is also a marriage of a Patrick Quinn and Elizabeth Browne in 1830 at St Mary's, which also warrants further investigation.

Without the BDA I would not have found these leads as it wouldn't have occurred to me to look at St Mary's registers for people I last knew as living in the Richmond area.

The site is easy to use, and the indexes can be searched for free. A yearly subscription which shows the results of those searches is just $25 (possible because the BDA is a non-profit project).

The Biographical Database of Australia can be accessed at

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Family History Conference in Canberra - report on the main talks

Here are some selected comments on the first day of lectures in the 2013 NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies' Conference. I have not commented on everything, nor attempted to report everything that was said, because if I do I will never get around to posting this report.
The presentation by Chris Boyack on what’s new in FamilySearch didn’t tell me much that I hadn’t already seen or knew was coming (through reading blogs) except that in the future you are going to be able to add not just photos and stories to people on your online family tree, but also documents “like certificates”.  Those were his words.  I have serious concerns about that – certificates are copyright and cannot just be posted online without permission.
Martin Wood, maps curator from the National Library of Australia, spoke about using maps.  He started off with the comment that maps should be the first thing people look at, but are usually the last. He also told us that the National Library are in the process of digitising many of their out-of-copyright maps. These include the NSW parish maps, and in some cases these are different dates than the version on the Land and Property Information web site. The maps that have been digitised can be accessed through the NLA catalogue - restrict the search by selecting "maps" and looking for those online.
Gail Davis's talk on Education and school records in the State Records of NSW was full of information as usual. In fact it was so full of information that I missed taking down some of the details.  The main thing to remember is to consult the various Archives In Brief (numbers 9, 26, 76) and Short Guides 6 and 10 for all the details.  I really enjoyed her talk, and got a lot out of it (even if I couldn't write down all the dates at the time), but I did hear someone near me say that they hadn't enjoyed it - that it was just too much information too quickly and that they didn't like her presentation style.  I guess that just shows that everyone has different methods of learning.
The conference dinner on the Saturday night was really well done - one of the best I have attended. The table decorations were fantastic and all in keeping with the conference logo colours and images.  The food was really good, as was the entertainment, and I had good company at my table. 
My favourite talk of the whole conference was Angela Phippen's talk on Royal Commissions and Legislative Council Select Committees. It sounds like these would be boring and contain no information of value, but nothing could be further from the truth. Angela gave examples from five Royal Commissions: one into the Lunatic Asylum in Gladesville from 1846; one on noxious and offensive trades from 1882; a report from the committee on immigration from 1835; a report on the condition of the working classes of the metropolis from 1860; and a report on alleged Chinese gambling and immorality from 1892.  This was covered at a much faster rate than Gail's talk, so it wasn't possible to take down all the details. But fortunately Angela had given us a handout with the details of the five reports she had covered and also the finding aids.  The main point was to illustrate what a wonderful resource this can be, and how a dull title might be hiding invaluable information that appears to have no connection to the title.
The final couple of highlights I want to mention are Cora Num's talk on Women migrating alone and Angela's on Women and Divorce.  Both were excellent.
Before we knew it the conference was over for another year and it was time to say good bye to those people that we only meet at these sorts of events.  Can't wait for next year's conference.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Family History Conference in Canberra - Day One

Now I have a bit of time to write about the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies Conference in Canberra.
The first day was a family history fair, along with some talks.  There were free 15 minute talks on the main stage, along with three other talks that had to be paid for.  One of the latter which I attended was the Trove Masterclass.
This was a fantastic learning experience.  It was a masterclass, not a beginners class, and although I knew some of what was spoken about, there was still plenty for me to learn. One was Lists. You can use lists to accumulate pointers to items in Trove that you are interested in relating to a topic, and also to live web sites (but not the archived web sites on Trove).
The other thing that I was unaware of were the RSS feeds that can alert you to new newspapers being added or new editions of existing newspapers.  This feature can also be used rather like a Google Alert, in that it can tell you about new results of a specific search.  This is fantastic, as it means you don't have to keep repeating a search and looking through results that you have already seen in order to find any new material.
I also picked up some ways of improving a search: 
  • proximity search, e.g. "john smith"~1 will pick up the words john and smith with a maximum of one word in between (allowing for middle names or initials to be captured in the same search)
  • Trove normally does a fuzzy search, so that plurals etc match what has been entered.  To stop this do a "fulltext" search.  Enter the keyword fulltext: followed IMMEDIATELY (i.e. no spaces) with the word you want an exact match on (e.g. fulltext:Huddlestone will not also pick up occurrenced of the name Huddleston)
I also listened to one of the main stage talks - Gail Davis from the State Records of NSW talking about How To Find NSW Court Records. As always, it was a fantastic presentation, though a little rushed, given that she had such a short time slot.
Apart from those talks I spent the day looking at the stalls and spending some money, mostly on second hand books.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Launch of the Biographical Database of Australia

Yesterday I went to the launch of the Biographical Database of Australia at History House in Macquarie Street.  The BDA won't be online for a couple more weeks but when it is it seems set to be a very valuable tool in researching people who lived in Australia. Don't go looking for it yet, but once it does go live I will make the URL known.

The BDA is the brainchild of Keith Johnson and Malcolm Sainty and will include tens of thousands of records of people who were born in Australia, or born overseas and came to Australia.  They include not only records of Europeans, but also Aboriginal Australians, Chinese immigrants and so on.  The only restriction is that the subject must be deceased.
 Left and Right: Malcolm Sainty and Keith Johnson at the launch

The "unique selling point" will be its ability to link different references to an individual together, despite name changes, errors when recorded or so on.  To give a couple of brief examples, one of my ancestors arrived in 1820 as a convict under the name James Ansley.  By the time he died the family name had morphed into Annesley (perhaps to sound more like the aristocratic Irish family of that name).  He appears as James Ansell in one of the musters, and at various other times he has appeared under the name Anslow, and another as Annerley.  Another convict ancestor, Elizabeth Boardman, appears under the name Broadman in one of the musters.  It is the aim of the BDA to link these people together and identify them as the same person. Input from subscribers will be welcomed to achieve this, as well as work by historians and other genealogists.

The number of datasets included in the BDA will increase over time, but at the initial launch it will include information from all the early musters and censuses, records of the NSW Corps, church records up to about 1833, convict records and much more.

Searches will be free, but to view the full list of references to an individual (called their Biographical Report) an annual subscription will be required. As the BDA is a not-for-profit organisation, subscriptions will come at the very reasonable price of $25 p.a.

Monday, June 10, 2013


The recent news story about the lost Teddy Bear made me think about my own Teddy.

When I was growing up the Teddy Bear I had was already an antique.  It had been my father's before me, and before that it had belonged to his sister who had died before Dad was born.  I had him dated a few years ago, and was told he dated from around 1910 and was British.  Given that Dad's mother was born in 1909, he might have even belonged to her as a little girl.

As you can see, he has been very well loved, and is rather bald now. Below there are some pictures of him with my father, when both were much younger.  I feel very lucky to have photos like this of Teddy.

When my son was born I thought that Teddy had already been loved enough, and might expire if loved anymore.  Because I had such an old-fashioned Teddy, to me that is what a Teddy Bear should look like. Most of those that had that old fashioned look at that time cost of fortune, so I decided to make one for my son instead.  Needless to say, it was made with lots of love.

My son used to think of my Teddy as his Teddy's grandfather.  I think there is actually a family resemblance  .

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Genealogy Happy Dance

I'm doing the Genealogy Happy Dance today J.

I had my father's DNA tested.  His surname (and therefore my maiden name) is Gibbons, and his grandfather was John Lawrence Gibbons.  We know very little about him, except that he was born in Limerick, Ireland. He first appears on the records in Victoria, Australia, in 1887 when he marries Elizabeth Margaret Williams in Richmond, Victoria (I can't find his arrival in Australia).  His marriage certificate, death certificate and the birth certificates all give his place of birth as Limerick. His age keeps varying in the records, but they suggest a birth about 1842 or 43.  He says that his parents are George Gibbons and Ellen Sweeney. He was Catholic.
Dad came up with a couple of close matches to his Y-DNA, both to people called Fitzgibbon, one in Limerick and one in Cork.  I have been communicating with one of them by email, and this person had a spreadsheet of Fitzgibbon & Gibbon events, and these included
  • the marriage of George Fitzgibbon to Ellen Sweeney in 1830 in Newcastle West, Limerick
  • the birth of a son, William, in Newcastle West in 1831
  • the birth of a son, John, in Dromcollogher in 1834
  • the birth of a son, Roger, in Dromcollogher in 1835

I then looked to see what I could find on the web site, and found an additional birth
  • a son, Luke, in St Michael's, Limerick in 1836
Now I know that Gibbons isn't exactly the same as Fitzgibbon, but apparently the Irish records show many cases of people changing between the two versions of the name, and we have Y-DNA evidence to point to a close relationship between Dad (and me) and people named Fitzgibbon.  There is no middle name "Lawrence" shown for John on the baptism, but I have seen cases before when someone has adopted a middle name well after their birth.  The dates for John's birth don't match, but as I said, the records in Australia all have conflicting ages, and he did marry a woman much younger than himself, so may have altered his age accordingly.

I grant you, it's not what I would consider proof yet, but it's something to go on and investigate further, which has been sadly lacking until now.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Brick Walls: Why some might remain unbroken

This is my second "brick walls" blog, inspired by James Tanner's recent posts.  In this case I want to explain why some brick walls will never be breached, no matter how many obscure sources you know about and check.  This is because sometimes there never were any records about a person created in the first place. This could be the case (at least in New South Wales) well into the 19th century.

The example I am going to use is William Flynn, known to have existed in the Parramatta area of NSW in the 1850s.  How do we know he existed? He first came to light on the death certificate of his daughter, Mary Ann Julia Annesley (nee Flynn).  She died in 1930, aged 78 (indicating a birth about 1852).  Her death certificate gives her parents as William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia.  As an aside, we are lucky with New South Wales and Victorian death certificates, which contain much more information than their English equivalents.  They are much closer to Scottish death certificates. The NSW death indexes also contain the death of a William Flynn aged 76 in 1919 (thus born about 1843). His parents were William Flynn, labourer, and Lucretia Haslam. The NSW birth indexes include a reference to a baptism of Albert Flinn, son of William and Lucretia Flinn, at Parramatta in 1852.  This is before the start of civil registration in NSW (which commenced in 1856), so this is a church record.  It is a baptism in St Patrick's Roman Catholic Church at Parramatta, and says that Albert was born 6 Jun 1852 and baptised on 10 June.  His father is stated to be a labourer, living in Parramatta. 
St Patrick's in Parramatta c1860.  Photo from National Library
of Australia
So we appear to have three children, but there is only a baptism of one of them.  I have checked through the microfilm of the original register in case a relevant entry was omitted or mis-transcribed, but there was nothing else for the name Flynn or Flinn (or other variant).

William and Lucretia obviously married before civil registration started. That is if, indeed, they ever did marry.  No record can be found in the church records of a marriage between them. I then tried to look for deaths.  As you can imagine, there are a lot of deaths of people named William Flynn/Flinn (47 in NSW between 1850 and 1930, none of them from the Parramatta area), so the logical step would be to find Lucretia's death (nice unusual name, isn't it) and see if there was a clue as to whether William was alive or not at that time. But no death can be found for Lucretia (or any obvious variant of that name) in any state of Australia or New Zealand. Their son Albert is probably the infant who died in 1852, though I haven't checked that church record. William the son died in country NSW in 1919, and had married a woman called Annie Amelia King.  His death certificate says that the marriage took place in Parramatta, but doesn't give a date.  No such marriage can be found. There is nothing else on his death certificate that gives us any further clues about his parents.

So that is the sum total of what I can find about William Flynn the father.  He had children William (c.1843), Mary Ann Julia (c. 1852) and Albert (born 1852).  He was a labourer, and lived in Parramatta. He baptised one child in the RC church, so we can deduce that he was probably RC himself.  Given that, and that his name was William Flynn, it is probable that he was either born in Ireland, or the descendant of someone who was. But we don't have any clues as to where or when he was born, or the names of his parents.

So here comes the reason why I may never find anything else.  It is possible that both William and Lucretia died before civil registration started in 1856, which would account for the failure to find death certificates.  As a labourer he probably would not have owned land. He wasn't a tradesman advertising his services.  If he did not get into trouble he would not be in official records (like court records).  And if he did nothing notable he would not be mentioned in the newspapers (I forgot to say that I keep checking those with no success).  Even if there was a baptism for him in NSW (and at various times Catholic masses and churches were banned within the colony) I wouldn't have the information to know that a baptism I had found was the correct person.  He just didn't leave a paper trail.

I will never stop looking for him when any new information becomes available, but I'm not holding out any hope.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: William James Spiller

My great-grandfather, William James Spiller (born Ireland c1856, died Melbourne 1933)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

My Brick wall solution

Inspired by James Tanner's recent blogs posts about Brick Walls, I thought I'd put together a couple of posts on the subject. In this first one I want to tell you one method I use to break down a brick wall.  I do nothing.  Well, to be more specific, I wait. Let me explain how this works.

The first family I got interested in tracing were the Highett family.  My grandmother, Dorothy Voila Highett, was born in Melbourne in 1901.  She knew a bit about the Highetts (even though she had been bought up by her maternal grandparents, the Alway family), and the stories she told were what got me interested in family history.  It was very easy to trace back to her great-grandfather, John Highett, who arrived in Van Diemen's Land (as Tasmania was then called) in 1830 in company with his brother, William.  Skipping over their time in VDL, John moved to what is now called Victoria in 1836 – just one year after the first settlement of Melbourne. You don't have to do a great deal when you arrive that early to make it into the history books, and it really helps when your brother William, who came over to Melbourne from VDL in 1838, became the first manager of the Union Bank in Victoria and a general pillar of the community.  This means that William and John got an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  The family also got an entry in Burke's Colonial Gentry.  Both of these sources said that William and John were born at Weymouth in Dorset in 1807 and 1810 respectively.  Back in the pre-internet days I went to the Dorset County Records office to find their baptisms.  The ONLY entry for anyone named Highett in the registers was for the baptism of John son of Joseph and Elizabeth Highett on 27 Sep 1809 in Melcombe Regis.  Joseph and Elizabeth (maiden name Harding) match the known names of John and William's parents, but the 1809 date doesn't match.  And there are NO baptisms of any of the other siblings of John and William, or anything relating to Joseph (baptism, marriage, etc). The latter didn't worry me, as Burke's said that Joseph was born at Rodmede in Wiltshire, and Melcombe Regis didn't worry me as it is one of the parishes in Weymouth.  But I was still left me with two interpretations for the lack of other Highett baptisms: either the 1810 date for John's birth was wrong and heavens knows where everyone else was baptised, or there were two sons named John and this one baptised in 1809 was baptised in a hurry because he was sickly and subsequently died, and all other children of Joseph & Elizabeth were taken back to their home town of Rodmede to be baptised, including a second John in 1810. The problem was I could (at that time) find no reference to the Highetts in Rodmede either.
William Highett (sadly, I have no picture of John)

Now Highett is obviously not a common name, so I looked for other people of that name in the IGI (as it was then) and found a smattering of them, but lots of them in Burbage in Wiltshire. Purely because the name was so rare I recorded everything I could find about the Burbage Highetts, and also posted my interest in the descendants of Joseph Highett and Elizabeth Harding on various mailing lists. After that I could proceed no further.

Time passed.  I focused on other families instead. 

Then one day I got an email from someone who had been researching the Harding family. Not only had Joseph married Elizabeth Harding, but Joseph's sister Hannah had married Elizabeth's brother, William Harding.  I hadn't known about any of Joseph's siblings. William and Hannah had no children of their own, but had their niece, Sarah Highett, living with them who was mentioned in their wills, along with Joseph Highett (stipulated as being the brother-in-law of William Harding), Elizabeth Highett nee Harding and lots of other members of the Highett family. I went back and checked the Burbage Highetts, and the families seemed to match.  Further checking of wills, land transactions etc convinced me I had the right connection. Rodmede had been a red herring.  I eventually found that Joseph's father was living in Rodmead (note the different spelling) at the time of his death, but had been born and baptised in Burbage, as were all his children.  I could now proceed to trace the Highett family back further.

The moral of the story is to post your interests in mailing lists, or blogs, or any where that will "stick around" and can be found in a Google search, and you may one day make contact with someone who will have the information to help you break down your brick wall.

By the way, I never have found a baptism for William or a 1810 baptism for John.  Two of their sisters Sarah (born 1812) and Mary (born 1817) where not baptised until 1822 (in Middle Chinnock, Somerset), so perhaps Joseph & Elizabeth just didn't feel any compulsion to get their children baptised.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Book Review - Paul Bushell: Second Fleeter

I recently read a fascinating book about the early years of the Hawkesbury River settlements.  It is called Paul Bushell: Second Fleeter, by Louise Wilson. I have absolutely no connection to the Bushell family, but I do have Hawkesbury ancestors. This book gave a terrific sense of the history of this area, as seen through the eyes of and effects on one family.  This is always important, as it is vital to place our ancestors in the social, economic and political climate of the times in which they lived.
Amongst other things I learnt, while reading this book, about the difference between burglary and housebreaking.  The former happens at night, when people were likely to be sleeping in the house. It is therefore a more serious crime than housebreaking.
In this book Louise Wilson uses (amoungst other things) land transactions and similar records to show how Bushell's holdings grew over time, and manages to identify where they were likely to have been living at any point in time. This is a great example of something that all family historians should look at, but rarely do.  Land records in general are a little understood and largely ignored resource. This is a pity, as they can in some cases contain real gold mines.
This book also contains frequent references to other Hawkesbury people. Again, the people who live in the same community as our ancestors may have had an impact on their lives and should not be ignored.
This book has been written in a style that makes for easy reading. Each chapter covers an aspect of the Bushell family's lives ora period of their lives. There are plenty of illustrations and maps (though there is no list of illustrations).
I recommend this book to anyone interested in the early history of the Hawkesbury area.
Louise's web page gives details of how to purchase the book.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Piper James Watt

I wrote about my grandfather, William Spiller (my mother's father), and his experiences during WWI in a previous blog post. This time I thought I would write about someone on my father's side.  Dad's father did not serve in WWI, but the husband of one of Dad's Aunts did (though they were not married at that time), so it is him I am going to write about this time.

James Watt was born on 7 Jun 1884 in Newmains, Lanarkshire to William Watt and Jessie, nee Forrest. He joined the Glasgow Police in 1907 and was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Bravery. He migrated to Australia sometime between 1910 and 1914 (his arrival has not been found) and joined the NSW Police Force.

Shortly after the outbreak of WWI, on 2 Sep 1914, he enlisted at Randwick in the 4th Battalion AIF and was given the rank of Piper.  On 20 Oct 1914 he embarked on HMAT Euripides for the conflict as part of the first detachment of the Australian and New Zealand Imperial Expeditionary Forces.

HMAT Euripides

James Watt was amongst those who made the first dawn landings at Gallipoli.  A newspaper report in 2005 written by his daughter-in-law contains the following:

"Soon after the battalion was struggling up the hill with 300 rounds of ammunition, iron rations, etc, and Watt, who was hanging on to his bagpipes, was asked to stay behind for a while to take care of the packs.  This was no good to him; he was with the boys a few minutes later, bagpipes and all, and his pipe in his mouth."

He received a gunshot wound in the neck and shoulder, serious enough to result in him being discharged and sent back to Australia.  His military service records are confused on the date this occurred, but it appears to have been in May 1915.

The newspaper report mentioned above says that when he returned to Australia he was considered unfit for duties as a serving policeman, and so he was employed on light duties in the Central Court from 1916 until his death.

But on 3 Oct 1917, when he married May Brockbank at the Central Methodist Mission in Sydney, he gave his occupation as police officer. They moved to Lithgow, where May's family lived, and that was where their first child was born.  Two undated pension applications by James Watt which are included in his service record give addresses of "Police Dept, Bourke St., Redfern" and "Police Stn., Lithgow".  By 1923 at the latest they were back living in Sydney, and it is probably from that time that he worked at the Central Court.

The injury he had received at Gallipoli eventually resulted in his death on 11 Sep 1932.  The medical officers had been unable to remove the bullet that had caused his injury

The cause on his death certificate was "Cerebral Haemorrhage lasting 2 hours", and it is considered to be related to his wound at Gallipoli, so his widow received a war widow's pension until her death in 1981.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Final thoughts on Rootstech 2013

Rootstech has become a victim of its own success.  The number of attendees was well out of kilter with the sizes of the rooms available. Several times the sessions I wanted to go to were full, with standing room only.  On one occasion I managed to get into a popular session by arriving 15 minutes before it was due to start.  Already the room was nearly full.  I had to climb over many people to get to a seat, as they really packed the seats into the room. This is a real problem with the people who are bringing along trundle bags with their coats, packed lunches and whatever else they feel they can’t do without.  Organisers please note: we need more leg room between the rows of seats.

Trying to leave sessions that were in one of the 155 or 255 rooms was a nightmare, as people were queuing to get into the next session, so no one could get through the foyer area to either join another queue or go somewhere else.  There also seemed to be an issue that some sessions overran slightly, delaying the exodus from that room and the subsequent filling of it for the next session. Organisers please note:  Having attendees pre-register a preference for which sessions they wish to attend can help you work out whether to schedule that talk in a 50-seat room, a 200-seat room, the main hall, or whatever.  This has worked well at other conferences I have attended.  It doesn't mean people have to attend the sessions they originally put their names down for, but it helps gauge the level of attendance likely at each talk.  The other option some conferences use it to schedule some of the popular talks to run more than once.

On the first day, the Thursday, the main hall and the smaller rooms were so overheated (especially with all the bodies in them) that on one occasion it made me feel quite ill and faint, and I had to leave half way through the session – not easy to do when I had to clamber over many people to get out of my seat – a go back to my room for a break.  Thankfully it was better the other two days, so the problem had obviously been reported and addressed.  Organisers please note: Thank you for lowering the temperature for days two and three.

Enough has already been said about the problems with the Wi-Fi internet access, so I will not comment further.

This all sounds rather negative, and I don't feel that way about the conference at all.  I merely see these things I have raised as areas where improvement is possible.  I think that the organization was superb, and almost everything went very smoothly – a big achievement with 6700 pre-registered attendees and another 1900 students on the Saturday.  I also thought the variety of exhibitors in the Expo hall was really good.  Some of them were of more interest to me than others, but that's as you'd expect.

But far and away the most valuable aspect of Rootstech for me was the networking – getting to meet new people, and getting to catch up with some of those I don't see too often.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Day 3 Keynotes at Rootstech

The final keynote speeches of Rootstech started with David Pogue, Technology columnist from the New York Times.  His presentation was fantastic.  He talked about the way the technology market has been moving at a phenomenal rate.  He demonstrated an iPhone app, Ocarina, which simulates the South American instrument.  The app has four buttons on the screen that represent the finger holes, and to play it, you blow into the microphone.
He showed some augmented reality apps, including a subway app that recognises where your phone is pointing, and if it is pointing down to the street or footpath it shows you which subways (or underground lines) are beneath your feet, and if you point it up in front of you it shows you where to go to get to the station for each line.  There was another app for the colour blind.  Pointing it at an item of clothing displayed a colour name and allows the colour blind to coordinate an outfit.  There is an app that allows you to point to a building and see how many people in it are tweeting.  A really mind blowing app was “World Lens”.  You point the phone’s camera at some writing at it instantaneously translates it into English (or whatever language you specify).
This huge trend in apps is colliding with another huge trend – web 2.0 where the audience creates the material, eg facebook, Wikipedia, Flickr, YouTube and so on.  Keeping up with all the changes and innovations is like trying to drink from a fire hose.
He finished up by playing a couple of songs on the piano.  These were popular songs where he had rewritten the words.  The first was the “Sounds of silence” about being on a phone queue, and the second was “I want an iPhone” (to the tune of “My Way”).  It was hysterical and the audience loved it and gave him a standing ovation.  I was standing next to The Ancestry Insider who said “I’d hate to be the MyHeritage Speaker”

He was referring to the second keynote, Ori Soen, Chief  Marketing Officer for My Heritage.  He had stepped in to replace the originally scheduled speaker, who could not attend, and introduced James Tanner (from the blog Genealogy’s Star) who talked about MyHeritage, how the process of loading your family tree works, and about the record matching (to people and resources) that can occur once you have entered people into your tree.
The Ancestry Insider was right.  David Pogue WAS a hard act to follow....

Keynote speakers Day 2 of Rootstech

Day two of Rootstech and there were two keynote speakers. The first was Jyl Pattee, who  was talking about the “WOW!” moments in our lives.  She was basically advocating a combination of Oral Histories, to capture other people’s “Wow” moments and writing down your own, so that all the memories will be captured for eternity. One really good idea she came up with is to capture the small moments when they occur in a blog.  This can become the basis for a book.  She entreated us not to wait til the end of the experience to record it as you won’t remember it all by then.
The second keynote speaker was Tim Sullivan, President and CEO of  He stressed that collaboration is the key to building your family history.  When you work with others you will achieve much more.  Naturally, he was advocating doing this by putting your family tree on Ancestry and then collaborating with people who find they match your tree.  He quoted one ancestry user who says that she “benefits from other people’s eyes looking at my tree and offering corrections”.  It forces her to get out her research, review it and make corrections.
So collaboration is absolutely key to success.  Ancestry try to create a space where beginners and experts can come together to work on their family history.  Then he made a shocking revelation: the trees on Ancestry are not always 100% accurate.  There are some mistakes. :) But ancestry thinks it is still worth those trees being there, as people can benefit from publishing their families and therefore getting the opportunity to correct their mistakes.
He also announced some new things that are coming to Ancestry.  The ones that we were told about were US based, but the audience was very excited to hear that US Probate records will be added (a collaboration with Familysearch).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mormon Tabernacle choir

The Mormon Tabernacle choir put on a special mini-concert for the Rootstech attendees on the Thursday night.  It called the concert "Land that I love: The immigration of Irving Berlin". 
I got there early with Liz and Peter Pidgeon and we got to hear part of their rehearsal, which was an incredible experience.  It is a fantastic venue with great acoustics.  Interestingly, the tabernacle was the first building completed in Temple Square
Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearsing

Rootstech Day 1 - Keynotes

Yesterday was the start of Rootstech 2013.  The day started very early as bloggers were given a special tour of the expo hall and then shown to specially reserved seats in the main hall where the keynote talks were taking place.  It had actually been snowing outside, after having been a glorious sunny day two days before and only overcast on the previous day.  Fortunately, since I was staying at the Radisson which is right next door to the Salt Palace Conference Centre I could just put up with the cold and snow for the two minutes it took to get between the two, and thus not have to lug around a coat for the whole day.
The conference has 6700 registered attendees, and on the Saturday another 1900 young people will be coming in for a special youth stream of the conference.  That is a LOT of people, as the crush to get out of the hall after the keynotes attested.
Shipley Munson, head of Marketing for Familysearch International welcomed the attendees and then introduced each of the speakers.  The first of these was Dennis Brimhall, President & CEO of Familysearch.  His message was that Family History is all about family, and about those stories associated with the family.  Without them family history is only names, dates and places.
Dennis entreated us to ask ourselves what our great-great-grandchildren  would wish that we had done.  This would probably be to record the stories that are happening now, or have happened in our lives.
Dennis told us a story from his family, about his father’s experiences in World War II, when he was in a plane that was shot down over Germany.  His father was one of only two people to survive from that plane, and amazingly, someone from another plane had taken photos as the doomed plane burst into flames and plummeted to the ground.  Dennis’s father had not told him anything about this, but his daughter asked her grandfather about his experiences, and wrote a book about it, which meant that these stories would be preserved for the family.
The second speaker was Syd Leiberman, who told us stories about his family.  He was a great speaker and the audience really went with him to the places and events that he was talking about.  The final speaker was Josh Taylor, lead genealogist, 

And now for the talks....
Syd Lierberman giving his keynote address

Friday, March 22, 2013

Not finding something can be important too

Originally, when I booked for Rootstech, my plan for the Wednesday before the conference was to spend the day in the Family History Library doing my research.  Then it was announced that there would be talks by Else Churchill, Alec Tritton and Audrey Collins on various topics relating to UK genealogy.  So I decided to attend those, even though it would mean only a little time for research that day.  Sadly, Else Churchill and Alec Tritton’s flight from the UK was delayed and they missed their connecting flight to Salt Lake City and thus were not going to be there to give the talks.  Audrey Collins kindly stepped in to give an extra talk during the 2nd slot, as well as the talk she was already giving during the 3rd slot.  All this meant that there was some extra time for research during the 1st slot as well as after the talks.
As it was, I managed to have a very productive day.  Sometimes not finding something is as important as finding something.  I knew that my ancestor Joseph (or Joshua) Huddleston married Agnes Gibson in Aldingham in Lancashire in 1747.  I wanted to check the registers of that parish earlier to see if Joseph or Agnes had been baptised in that parish and thus find the names of their parents.  Well, they weren’t baptised in Aldingham. There were very few Gibson events there at all, and the small number of Huddleston event started relatively late.  I now know that those families came from somewhere else in Lancashire.  I just need to figure out where!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Salt Lake City Research

I arrived in Salt Lake City late Sunday afternoon, but too exhausted to do anything.  Today I have spent some very productive research time in the Family History Library.  I did some work towards going one generation further back on my husband’s side.  I had looked at baptisms from FreeREG and found that William Joicey (note the spelling – there are so many variants on Joyce I can’t believe it: some of them are here), his 6xg-grandfather, was baptised in Netherwitton on 5 Dec 1728 and his father was William.  The problem was trying to identify William senior’s father, as there were three potential Williams in the parish.  The first was baptised in 1700, son of Henry.  The second in 1703, also a son of Henry.  The third was baptised in 1705, the son of Nicholas.  Many web sites on Ancestry and online said that the William we were interested in was born c1700.  A couple of sites actually said he was the son of Henry.  But now that I have looked at the parish registers and found the burials I know that William son of Henry (the first of that name born to Henry) was buried in 1701.  So that narrows it down to two candidate fathers - Henry and Nicholas.  Now I need to find another way to work out which one is “mine”.
Apart from my research I spent lots of time meeting new people and talking to them.  I even got included in the tail end of a “Dear Myrtle” hangout on air in the morning.
Dear Myrtle during her hangout on Google+

 Some of the Patrons of the Family History Library

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sentenced Beyond the Seas

Yesterday I went to a talk by Janette Pelosi from the State Records of NSW about the recent addition to their web site, a collection of early convict records called Sentenced Beyond the Seas.  It covers records of convicts who came to NSW up to 1801 and was a gift to the people of Australia to commemorate the 225th anniversary in 2013 of the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove on 26 January 1788.

This is more than just the convict indents.  This collection also includes Orders in Council, Special bundles of the Colonial Secretary, lists of books sent to the Principal Superintendent of Convicts and other treasures.
The records that are included have been digitised, not scanned, except for Order in Council No. 11, relating to convicts on the Surprize (1), Neptune and Scarborough (2), which were missing from the State Records and were therefore sourced from the AJCP microfilms.  Being in colour makes it much easier to see later pencil annotations on the indents.

Sadly for those will ancestors who came on the Lady Juliana, Sentenced Beyond the Seas only includes one document about that ship, which contains the names of only three of the 250 convicts who came on that ship.  This is because State Records do not have any copies of any other records relating to this voyage.

The collection also includes a previously unknown letter dated 1822 containing a list of Convicts sent out from Ireland in 1800 in the Ship Anne (Stewart Master) "whose periods of Transportation have never been sent out ‘till now, and who are to be allowed to go Home, in Case their Sentences have expired."

The collection can be searched by name (including alias), place of trial, county of trial, sentence, ship, ship page or remarks from here.

This collection adds to the information on convicts that they already had on their web site, which includes details of later convicts, convict pardons, tickets of leave, convict bank accounts and much more.

State Records are to be thanked and congratulated for making this invaluable resource available online.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Friday funny

Unless you have been living under a rock lately you would be aware that the skeleton discovered under a carpark in Leicester has been confirmed as that of Richard III.  I have been very interested in this as, like many people, I have been interested in him since I read Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time in highschool.  That wasn't what first interested me in history - that was the TV shows with Keith Michell as Henry VIII and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth R.

My husband found a sign from a Leicester City Carpark inspired by the discovery that was so wonderful I felt I had to share it.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

A picture really is worth 1000 words

I have been doing some work for a client, and part of her requirement was to write up the findings as a narrative.  To illustrate the document the client lent me photos of the family.  Suddenly these people who I had been studying came to life.  These people who had previously been just names and dates really came to life as real human beings.  Even though they were not my relatives I loved being able to visualise them during their life.  In one case there were photos of one person (still alive and aged 85) that covered her whole life.  Even though I have never met this person (the mother of my client), I can now recognise her even in the photos that are unlabelled.

Being able to "get to know" the members of this family at a different level has been a real treat for me.

(I have not included any copies of these photos as they are not mine to make public)