Friday, March 27, 2015

AFFHO Day 1 - Some of the talks

Here are a few thoughts about the talks I attended on the first day of the AFFHO congress in Canberra.

The first talk I attended (after the morning's keynote) was by Simon Fowler, whose talk was entitled Shovelling out Paupers: Researching assisted emigration in English archives.  I was most remiss and didn't take a photo of Simon, as I was too busy taking notes based on the talk.

Simon's talk was predominantly about some of the non-official schemes that assisted or paid for emigration from the UK. Sadly, some recurring themes were that it was "difficult" and there "weren't many records", so people who were looking for a list of online sites to check were disappointed.

Nonetheless, I found it very interesting and also useful, in that it mentioned many charitable and other non-official schemes to assist people to emigrate from the UK.  The other value to me was that he mentioned lots of schemes that went to places other than Australia and New Zealand, reminding me that there were other places where assisted emigrants were sent.

Another talk I attended was Paul Milner's Buried Treasure: what's in the English Parish Chest.  This didn't really cover any ground that was new to me, but I enjoyed seeing the examples he showed.  His talk was restricted to the records found in the parish of Leeds in Kent (not the one in Yorkshire), which was a good way to approach the subject.

Paul Milner

The final talk I attended was Helen Smith's In the Workhouse: Caring for the Poor.  Helen started with an overview of the background to the provision of poor relief since the Dissolution of the monasteries and the introduction of the New Poor Law Act of 1834.  She then focused on the outcomes of that act, such as the establishment of the Poor Law Unions and the construction of the workhouses.

Helen Smith

She then went on to describe the workhouse system, what life was like in the workhouses and then how to identify and find people who had (or may have) been in a workhouse. Finally she talked about where to find any records that may survive relating to a workhouse.

In contrast to the of the day by Roger Kershaw (see here), Helen did not read out her talk, but spoke to the slides.  Her slides effectively illustrated what she was talking about, and she was animated and interesting - all in all a talk that was well worth attending.

AFFHO Congress - Day 1 Keynotes

The 14th Australasian Conference on Genealogy and History opened this morning.  This triennial event is in Canberra this time, and is being attended by about 550 people. This year, for the first time at one of these conferences, 40 librarians attended a "Librarian's Day" on the day before the conference opened. 

The proceedings commenced with Kerrie Gray, conference convener, welcoming the attendees. She then introduced the Immediate Past President of the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC), Rosemary McKenzie, who told us all about the history of HAGSOC. Josh Taylor from Findmypast then told us about some of the recent and upcoming changes to Findmypast.  One of the exciting datasets that should be coming before the end of the year is the 1939 register from the UK, which was taken just before the outbreak of the second world war. As the 1931 census was destroyed in the bombing, and the 1941 census never took place due to the war, this is an important census substitute. This register is being indexed using "intelligent character recognition" which electronically "reads" the handwriting.

Josh Taylor from Findmypast

The keynote speaker, Dr Mathew Trinca, Director of the National Museum of Australia, then spoke on the importance of the stories of ourselves.  He himself was of Italian stock.  His mother was the Australian-born daughter of Italian migrants who arrived in the 1920s, and his father was a migrant himself who arrived shortly before the Second World War when he could see war looming on the horizon. These people's lives were their stories. They had both come from the same little town in the North of Italy near the Swiss border.  Matt's grandfather came out first to find a job and get settled, and then a few years later his mother and her children came out - later more children were born in Australia.

Dr Matt Trinca

Matt's father initially went to Melbourne, then worked in a gold mine in Kalgoorlie.  He kept a nugget of gold from that time and it is from that nugget that Matt's own wedding ring was made.

At university he started to think about his own story set against the past and his mixed Italian & Anglo-Celtic upbringing. He also started thinking about his father's story, and the hardships and prejudice he faced. He then highlighted two books written as migration memoirs.  The first, They're a weird mob by John O'Grady writing as Nino Cullota, approaches the subject from a humourous angel.  The other book he talked about, Romulus my Father by Raimond Gaita treats it in a more serious manner.

Matt made the point that all these stories, especially those about his parents' and grandparents' lives in Italy, help him make sense of who he is. He began to see his own family's past as connected to others. History is as much about the present conditions and preoccupations as it is about the past.  His own family history is closely connected to the pattern of Australia's past which is the history of a series of migrations, both before and after the Second World War.

Matt's Italian-Australian family

He then went onto talk about the "Defining Moments" project being run by the National Museum.  It encourages people to record the stories of people that connect them to the Museum's listed 100 defining moments in history, and acknowledges the connection between the history of a family and the history of the nation.

Strangely, since his talk was all about stories, he didn't encourage us to write down our own stories, or even to contribute to the web site, which would have been a logical conclusion to his talk.

The second Keynote of the day (during the immediate post-lunch session) was Roger Kershaw on Tracing Free Immigrants to Australia. I had attended a talk by Roger in Adelaide at the last AFFHO congress, which I thought was excellent, so had high expectations of this keynote speech.  Sadly I was rather disappointed. Firstly, Roger read the entire speech from notes. Most of the time his head was pointed down towards those notes, not looking at the audience. The keynote speaker in the morning had done the same thing, but his talk was captivating enough that we forgave that. Roger's talk was so full of important and interesting content that it was impossible to be able to write down all the notes I'd have liked to make - especially the references to certain document classes in the National Archives (those references weren't reflected on the slides, which would have made that task easier for me).  Disappointingly, his talk was also rather dry. While I was losing my place in the talk I was hoping that what he was reading was the contents of the paper he had submitted for the proceedings. However when I looked at my copy of the proceedings (on a USB drive) this was not the case.  I think I will probably be able to find the TNA references at least in that paper (which actually looks like it will be excellent and useful), but much of what he said is probably lost to me forever.

In summary, this was an important and interesting talk, that was let down by cramming too much information into a short time and by missing references to the sources of documents on the slides.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

A Visit to the Australian War Memorial

Today I visited the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. In exactly one month it will be 100 years since the ANZAC forces (and the English, French and other forces serving with the British) landed in the Dardanelles (i.e. Gallipoli).

I happened to arrive when a free guided tour was about to start.  As I had never been on one before I decided to join in.  It was supposed to last for 90 minutes, but it was closer to 2 hours by the time our guide finished.  At 11am the last post is sounded, which was 30 minutes into our tour, and I confess I got rather choked up.  The tour was excellent, and (as always) the war memorial was very moving.  Because we are going on a Western Front battlefields tour (where my grandfather served) in July, and because at the moment the focus is on Gallipoli and the First World War, I spent most of my time (after the tour) in the WW1 galleries.  These have been newly refurbished, but still feature the wonderful dioramas.

A picture speaks a thousand words, so I will fill this post with photos.

The Memorial Hall and Rolls of Honour Galleries

The WW1 Roll of Honour,
commemorating 62,000 Australian dead

The Unknown Soldier
"He is all of them. And he is one of us"

One of the boats from the Gallipoli landing

Lone Pine Diorama

Somme Winter Diorama

Somme Winter Diorama

Bullecourt Diorama

Ypres Diorama

When the Australians liberated Villiers-Bretonneux they
renamed all the German-named streets

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Year of Anniversaries

This year is a significant anniversary of a number of major historical events.

It is 100 years since the Australian, New Zealand, British and assorted other allied forces landed at Gallipoli.  Australians tend to assume that only themselves and their Kiwi cousins were at the Dardanelles, but other forces were also present. Amongst them were the British army, and accompanying 11th Division of the British Army was the 34th Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps. Amongst the members of that Field Ambulance was my son's great-great-grandfather, William Henry Bell.  William Bell had been born in 1880 in South Hetton, Co. Durham, and was working as a coal miner when war was declared. He enlisted early, and though his service records haven't survived, we know from his medal index card that he first served overseas in Egypt on 14 July 1915.  He was said to have enlisted at the same time as two of his brothers. Certainly his younger brother, George Robert Bell, has a regimental number two lower than William's, and their brother John James Bell also served in the first world war. The 34th Field Ambulance was not amongst the first landings at Gallipoli.  In fact they landed at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915.  

In his book Great Britain's Great War Jeremy Paxman describes the chaos that surrounded their landing and their time in the Dardenelles. Unlike Paxman's Uncle Charlie, about whom he writes in the book, William Henry Bell did survive the Gallipoli campaign.  He was eventually sent to the Western Front, where he died on 25 April 1918, leaving a wife and three young children.
Private William Henry Bell on left. Some of the others in
the photo may be his brothers

It is also 200 years since the Battle of Waterloo.  My son also has an ancestor who was there. Thomas Fife was a gunner in Captain Mercer's "G" troop of the Royal Horse and Foot Artillery.  Sadly, as a member of the rank and file, there is little other information available about his involvement in the Napoleonic Wars. Thomas Fife also survived Waterloo (as he is known to have fathered children up to at least circa 1836, but when and where he did die is not known.

300 years ago the 1715 Jacobite Rebellion (known as "the Fifteen") took place. My son does have ancestors from Cowper in Fife (though I have been unable to trace them beyond the 19th century), so it's vaguely possible that he had an ancestor or relative involved in the Fifteen.

1415 is a date which is well known to lovers of Shakespeare. It was during that year that King Henry V defeated the French at the Battle of Agincourt.  I have no idea whether my son or I have any relatives who fought in that battle.

And finally, this year also marks the 800th anniversary of King John signing the Magna Carta.  I suspect if my son had any ancestors there, they were merely holding the horse for one of the Barons, or doing his laundry, so some other menial task.