Family History Alphabet: H is for Health and Happiness

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research. This week’s focus is on the letter H.

H is for Health: have you ever considered how family history affects your health?  In my experience family history is great for your mental health because it keeps your brain buzzing and stimulated and gives you the chance to do something you love and be totally absorbed by. Of course there are those occasional days when it challenges your mental health driving you nuts as one lead after the other collapses…all part of the fun.

Yay for genie successes!

Family history is less great for your physical health as you sit hunched over a hot computer pursuing those same leads, or when you’re roaming a cemetery in the rain.  For those who have physical limitations, it also provides an enthralling hobby.

H is for Happiness:  You know…those moments when it all comes together and a problem is solved (even if it then leads to another). Or when you meet a new cousin, or you are given an ancestral photo etc. Cue the genie happy dance J.

Unlock the Past Expo Brisbane

Usually Brisbane winter days are “beautiful one day, perfect the next” with clear blue skies. But somehow the advertising went wrong just in time for the Unlock the Past Expoat Jindalee.  What dreary grey wet days they were but luckily for all the genealogists there was lots of warmth inside to toast our spirits. So many excellent speakers on a diverse range of topics made for a smorgasbord of learning opportunities to suit any interest.

Alona from Gould Genealogy discussing the wonders of the Flip-Pal which seemed to be one of the hits of the Expo. I surely love mine!

I hadn’t expected to be at the Expo so it was all a bonus from my point of view and when challenged by competing options I had to select speakers who I don’t often/ever get to hear in Darwin. Luckily Shauna Hicks and Rosemary Kopittke presented on a range of topics in Darwin earlier this year, and Shauna usually visits annually, so that left me free to listen to new presenters though I know others really enjoyed their talks.

Kerry Farmer presented on DNA for genealogists and as I’m belatedly dipping my toes in the genetic-testing pool, I had a lot to learn.  I also have Kerry’s Unlock the Past book on DNA so I can reinforce her talk with further reading when I get home.  I need to think further on which form of DNA testing can advance my own (and Mr Cassmob’s) family history.

Graham Jaunay emphasised the importance of considering photographic techniques and mountings in preference to clothing styles to date photographs. His information on how people were posed for photos was particularly helpful.

Helen, Carole and Kerry providing advice in the Research Help Zone.

I also took the opportunity to learn a little more about The Master Genealogist software program in the Research Help Zone. I have a strange aversion to genealogy software but Kerry has pretty much convinced me to change my ways.

I was disappointed in the talk on Crack Hardy as I felt it needed at least a few photos to illustrate the people and places being discussed, enabling the listeners to engage with the men more. It was plainly a good story but from my point of view I felt the strongest parts of the story got lost among other details.

Monday was a long day and Helen Smith’s was the final presentation I attended. It’s not easy to keep people engaged at 8pm when they’ve been going all day, but Helen managed it. Her talk was informative and interesting and her presentation style certainly kept me alert. There were many reminders to us about how we can break down those much discussed brick walls, with Helen querying whether this is really a misnomer and we just need to reframe the problem. Key points were to review++ all the documents we have for that person/family, prepare a life timeline, write out our brick-wall questions and if still going nowhere, consult another researcher who may easily spot that really obvious tree that we keep overlooking in our research forest. Given I’d missed Helen’s batch of talks in Darwin last Saturday due to family commitments in Brisbane, I was really pleased to have this opportunity to hear her speak.

Lauren Penny and the eye-catching display for her St Helena book.

The same commitments meant I could only attend a couple of presentations on Tuesday morning and I chose Cassie Mercer’s talk on Captain Starlight and Carole Riley’s on land records and I thoroughly enjoyed both. Cassie’s engaging story kept me entertained throughout even though I already knew the essential details. Little did I know though that Harry Readford was her ancestor.  Ted Egan, former Administrator of the Northern Territory, has written a song about CaptainStarlight, which is on his CD album The Overlanders (warning: these songs will stick in your brain and go round and round).

Carole Riley’s talk on land records helped demystify a variety of land records and clearly illustrated just how useful they can be to your family history. I always feel somewhat out of my depth using land records even though I’ve used many, so it was good to have an expert show the way.

The Expo was also a great chance to meet with my genie blogging mates whom I’ve only known virtually.  I did miss a couple (Alex and Tanya) but had a chance to say a quick hello to the others and a longer chat with some of them, which was fun. We even squeezed in a photo which you can see on Alona’s Lone Tester blog.

One of the exhibitors was Lauren Penny, author of St Helena Island, Moreton Bay: an Historical Account. As my ancestor had a short excursion in St Helena Gaol this was of great interest so I bought a copy of the book which is going to be great reading for my family history.

Also great to catch up again with an all-too-quick chat with Judy Webster, an expert on Queensland research as well as founder of the Genealogists for Families team on Kiva.

All in all, a fantastic opportunity to be part of the genie fun in Brisbane this week.  Thanks Unlock the Past, all the speakers and all the exhibitors! Not to mention the caterers and that poor overworked man on the coffee van (his coffee and hot chocolate matched the standard of the talks)!

Beyond the Internet: Week 25 Gaol records

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 25 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is gaol records. In this context I’m not planning on dealing with convict records with which I have limited experience but rather more recent excursions at His/Her Majesty’s pleasure. Please do join in and write comments or posts on your experience with these records.

So you’ve found one of your relatives in the gaol records…where now?

Firstly you need to learn to which gaol/jail your ancestor was admitted, unless the court records have already told you this, as the location may have changed over time and while you may know the city of interest, the gaol may have been different in earlier times. To learn more about this you may need to do some reading around the topic either online or the old-fashioned way in a library (remember not everything is digitised). While a book may not provide a name-reference to your ancestor it will provide that necessary background.

Your next priority is to check out the online catalogue for the relevant local archive to see what they may have in regard to the gaol/jail to which your ancestor was admitted. Do they have any online guides to gaol records which might be of use to you?

Having established what is available and which records might host an appearance by your ancestor, it’s time to make the trip to that archive if at all possible, or you may need to contract a professional researcher to find the documents.

Image from Office Clip Art

  • A physical description of him/her: height, weight, distinguishing marks (eg tattoos), eye and hair colour, compelexion.
  • The ship on which he/she immigrated and perhaps a year.
  • Past convictions.
  • Behaviour in prison (if those records survive)
  • Release from gaol.

In short you have a good opportunity to learn more about them especially if you don’t have a photo in your collection.  Last week in Melbourne, prison records confirmed that my husband’s ancestor, Biddy McKenna was definitely the Biddy Gallagher who arrived as an Irish Famine Orphan. I had known a Bridget Gallagher was married to William McKenna and this was one of my husband’s ancestral lines. What I wasn’t absolutely certain of, was whether this was the same woman who’d arrived on the Lady Kennaway. Because the gaol admission records provided this information, the query was resolved entirely. We also know she’d had prior convictions for vagrancy even quite close to when one of her children was born. There are also detailed descriptions of her appearance on each admission so, lacking a photo, we can now form some picture of her. So these gaol records have provided us with a great deal of information about the sad life of this woman….and by inference the equally difficult life of her husband and children.

I have also used these records for one of my own lines though with rather less effect simply because I already had photos and knew what he looked like. His offence was what we’d now call white collar crime and he seems to have kept a low profile in jail.

In short, gaol records can illuminate your family story, provide physical details of an ancestor and provide answers to genealogical questions.  If you have an ancestor with any sort of criminal history they are well worth exploring and don’t forget to follow the trail through all possible documents.

I apologise that this week’s post is late due to family commitments last week.

Family History Alphabet: G is for guts, gumption and generosity

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research. This week’s focus is on G and a couple of these attributes I’ve already highlighted in earlier letters.

G is for Guts and Graft:

We flippantly say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” but it’s not a bad idea to keep in mind with family history. As your research reaches one brick wall after the other, or you can’t find a clue (or person) that you’re desperate to locate, you need guts to persevere and keep on going, to look laterally and see what else you can find.

You’ll also need your courage when you encounter your ancestors’ faults, foibles and behaviour that you don’t like or approve of, or that may have got them into trouble. Not forgetting that times change, attitudes change and how they wrote or spoke or acted may no longer be acceptable to our generation. We need the courage to give them acceptance, tolerance and forgiveness.

Research is also pure hard graft at times as we wade through one record set after another, track another “rabbit into its burrow” or unearth some hidden piece of information. Guts plus graft can work wonders in family history as in the rest of life.

G is for Gumption or plain common sense

Why gumption? When you’re stumped by a research question, it can be really helpful to think what records exist today and then translate that to what might have been there in the past and go hunting. It’s not just our generations that have left a paper trail in bureaucracy.

Gumption is also the ability to distil reality from the fascinating but unlikely stories that we inherit; to know that there may be a grain of truth in there and go looking in the records to either prove or disprove the story.

G is for Glory Glow

Well not really, there’s not too much glory in the family history business, but I liked the combination of guts, gumption and glory!

However you will definitely get a warm glow when you help someone crack a problem, given them a photo or some information about their family or write the family stories so the rest of your family members can learn more about their ancestors.

It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to bring generations of your family “to life” for their descendants who’ve previously known little or nothing about those who came before them. When I published my Kunkel family history it made me so happy when people told me how much they’d learned about these hidden ancestors who’d been a complete unknown to them.

G is for ***GENEROSITY***

Generosity is so important in family history. The kindness of others far away who help us solve a problem. Or the generous sharing of photos of stories about different family members. The generosity of people who share their expertise with us in specialised talks or their hard-earned knowledge about IT or writing etc through their blog posts. The generosity of people who volunteer in family history societies and libraries.  The generosity of someone like Thomas MacEntee who set up Geneabloggers so we can all link up. The generosity of all those who read our posts about family and family history, and their kindness in making comments to encourage us to keep going. The generosity of all those people who indexed dutifully in the pre-digital age and even now with digital records. Really I could go on and on and on….

Where would be without generosity in our genea-circles?

Beyond the Internet: Week 24 Court Documents

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 24 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. It would be easy to make a case for Law & Order to provide a separate A to Z theme for family historians because it covers so many items across the alphabet. However this week my focus is on a selected set of court matters: inquests, equity cases, and criminal cases. Next week we’ll dip into other related records.

It’s important to remember that in matters legal your ancestor or relative may be a victim, witness, defendant or plaintiff or even on the jury, a barrister, solicitor or a judge (when reading these documents do make a note of all the “participants” for future reference).

Inquests

Enquiries into sudden deaths can be complex or cursory depending on the circumstances, inaccessibility  of the location, availability of witnesses or even the time of year. A sudden death in Queensland in summer will certainly hasten the inquest process and the burial. You may find inquests indexed at your regional archive and/or available online. Looking at the original documents is of course highly recommended if you want to squeeze every drop of information from them. One thing worth keeping in mind is that not all deaths which had an inquest appear in the official death indices especially in the early days- I have encountered a few of these.  The records will certainly give you more information than the summary death index and may give unanticipated insights into your family. Some examples include:

  1. The story of how a young man died during a faulty explosion while well-building. Other than his name on the gravestone nothing else had been known about this man.
  2. The circumstances of the drowning of the young McSharry man, who had a recently immigrated: he tried to take his horse through a flooded river but lacked the necessary experience or the ability to swim. Living away from his family, his work colleagues did not know much about him.
  3. The discovery of unregistered children to one of “my” Dorfprozelten families when a son drowned, based on the sister’s witness statement.
  4. The almost cavalier dismissal of “unsound mind” when a middle-aged woman threw herself into a well in despair. Admittedly this meant she could possibly be buried in a blessed gravesite.
  5. The gruesome suicide of one of the Dorfprozelten immigrants. The witness statements seemed somewhat cursory to me.

Of course those in Australia may choose to search Trove first for a mention in a newspaper report. Where inquest documents have not survived this may provide equally valuable information.

Moral of the story: if you find out that there has been an inquest has occurred in your family, do follow it up as it may yield unanticipated clues.

Equity cases

These cover a range of legal issues and Queenslanders are lucky to have nearly 40 years of these early records indexed. The great value of this is that your ancestor will be indexed whatever his role in the case. Like most of us I routinely search indexes for my main surnames and was astonished when I found the Kunkel name among these early records. He was neither defendant nor plaintiff in the case of Diflo v Kiesar and Lieflar[i], but the statements included with the case documents were pivotal to my family knowledge:

  1. George Kunkel was working on the goldfields at Tooloom even though he was technically resident in Ipswich and his wife was still having children there. Basically he was commuting between the two places.
  2. George was working as a pork butcher on the goldfields. This coincided with other information I had on his occupation and raised the question if this was the work he did at Murphys Creek during the opening up of the railway from Ipswich to Toowoomba.
  3. While the other Germans used interpreters, George Kunkel didn’t, which led me to conclude he may already have spoken some English when he arrived in Queensland and certainly was somewhat competent by this time.
  4. His statement is clearly articulated.
  5. He and Diflo knew each other at home in the “old country” even though they came from different, nearby villages.

Moral of the story: your ancestor’s role as a witness can be pivotal to developing your knowledge of him/her.

Criminal cases

Criminal cases cover a wide gamut of issues. The judge and the jury determine the defendant’s ultimate guilt or innocence but you can also read these documents in detail for yourself and assess what you think are the merits of the case. In many cases the outcome may be blindingly obvious. Newspaper reports of the day can also be helpful as generally they are surprisingly accurate and true to the legal case presented.

Unfortunately I found my own great-grandfather S G Melvin as the guilty party in a civil case which hinged on documents about joint-ownership and development of a coal mine near Ipswich Queensland. As a result of that case, the judge deemed that Melvin and four fellow defendants should be tried for perjury. In the subsequent criminal cases three were found guilty and two released as innocent despite much the same evidence.  As part of my reading of this case I also reviewed the judge’s case notes, which I must admit were made trickier by the handwriting (doctor’s handwriting looks good by comparison).

I have also carefully read all the archived documents and all the newspaper reports. My conclusion was that both sides were sailing close to the legal wind. My view is not because I can’t believe my ancestor may have been in the midst of dubious business dealings to get ahead financially. I just can’t quite see why the judge and jury opted for one side over the other on the written evidence, but perhaps it was more obvious from their demeanour in court. How did this case finish? Well he had a stint in jail but as my grandmother was born not long after his sentencing there had to be more to the story.

Moral of the story: Follow the paper trail to the very end, unravelling documents as you go and critiquing what you read.  Read all components of the trial including the judge’s notebooks and perhaps even the Law Books for benchmark cases. Oh, and definitely don’t tell lies or stretch the truth in court.

Legal documents can be challenging to get into, let alone understanding the nuances of the law unless that’s your field of expertise. In these cases I wrote up my own summary of the documents with comments on my interpretation.  This is only the tiniest dip into legal waters for family historians. I will add some other resource in coming weeks but you will need to follow your own regional clues and newspapers may give you the first clue that you should even be looking at these in the first place.


[i] Queensland State Archives Item ID94874, File – equity, Number 2, Kiesar v Diflo.

F is for the focus of our research – family

Alona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.

The letter F goes to the heart of what we do: Family and Family History.

Image from clip art.

F is for Family: the people you’re doing this for – the family descendants long into the future, our siblings, children and grandchildren.  An aide memoir: it will be no use to them if we don’t leave our research organised and written up in such a way that they can benefit from it.

F is for Family:  I just said that, right? How about the families you’re researching? Who are the people you’re trying to learn more about? This all seems moderately self-evident but along the way you’ll need to make some decisions about your personal definition of family. Are you going to include only biological members of the family and if so will you include those who’ve perhaps been fostered or adopted out? What about children who are adopted into the family and who are naturally treated day-to-day as part of the family? I faced these questions when I wrote my family history and regard this as a critical consideration. For myself I wanted to include anyone who was born to a family member or who had been assimilated into the family. Only you can make these decisions. Of course you can also be misogynistic and only include the men and name only the women as they are born then ignore them for ever after. You won’t be surprised this was not my method even though I have been given a family tree exactly like this.

F is for Family Support: There is not a doubt in my mind that most of us rely on our other halves/family members to support us in this quest, to listen as we rattle off our recent discoveries, to humour us in our never-ending pursuit for information, not to mention driving us to cemeteries and hopefully joining in the search.  Much of it may be a mystery to them, but they’re there for us and can be a great cheer squad. Thanks Mr Cassmob!

F is for Focus: You know those days when you’ve been on the computer too long or at the archives all day. Your eyes and mind start to wander and it’s all too easy to miss that pivotal clue, so taking a break may actually pay off so you can regather your focus. Of course when you’re down the hole after the rabbit no one has a chance of breaking your focus, let alone getting your attention.

F is for Forensic Skills: You don’t need to know what you’re looking for, so they tell us. Well unless you acquire some forensic skills along the way you may well end up with a very strange tree. Each piece of information we acquire needs to be assessed in the context of the other documentary evidence and weighed up for accuracy and reliability of proof. We need to have the willingness to test our findings or those oral history stories against other evidence. Then we need to ferret out those titbits that are hidden away in esoteric places like archives, museums and libraries and again weigh up their merit. It becomes a dance of information which only our increasingly discerning skills can bring together to tell an accurate story. Really it could be Q for Questions as much as anything as we keep querying our research to build our family’s history.

Foreign Correspondence and why I am Australian

Spurred on by Kristin’s request for some Australian novels, I’ve recently been re-reading some of the novels on my Australian Reading List (and the additions in the comments). So far I’ve read A Town Like Alice, They’re a Weird Mob, Harland’s Half Acre and The True History of the Kelly Gang (can’t believe I read about Ned Kelly!). What’s particularly struck me is how strange it seems to read stories set in a geographical background that is familiar. Somehow reading “foreign” novels is normal, whereas a story set in my Australian hometown seems quite out of the ordinary. Perhaps more than anything it tells you of the cultural dysjunction with which we have traditionally lived.

The other day I picked up Foreign Correspondence by award-winning author and journalist/foreign correspondent, Geraldine Brooks. Geraldine grew up in Sydney in the 1960s and while there’s about a five year time difference from my own experience, so much of what she talks about is familiar. Her experience of living in Sydney’s western suburbs is so much starker than my own in Brisbane although the tightness of the community and a sense of its potential claustrophobia is similar. Much of Australia’s cultural attitudes of the 1960s come through in her writing, some overtly and other aspects more indirectly. She speaks too of the big events and issues of the era including the Vietnam war and the impact of Gough Whitlam’s election as Prime Minister.

Her health in childhood affected her schooling and how she interacted with others. She speaks very much as one who couldn’t wait to leave Australia and see what the big wide world had to offer and until she reached adulthood, she used pen pals as her gateway to the world. Nearly 30 years later she wonders what happened to those “foreign correspondents”. She traces them in the US, Middle East and France ultimately concluding that in fact her early life was not quite as circumscribed as she thought and that despite her many successes, at the time of writing this story she gained satisfaction from living a life not unlike the village-based life of her former French pen friend.

Her experiences made me reflect on my own experiences. My suburb also had a significant post-war immigration with people from Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Netherlands, Yugoslavia, Malta….. They were recent immigrants and many of the adults spoke little English. Playing with their children taught me indirectly about different cultural attitudes, tolerance for others and the language challenges. We never really knew of their lives before they came to Australia but their very presence in our daily lives opened the world’s doors: a pivotal influence in my life. Like the author I also had pen friends- three in the USA at different times and one in Holland. Also like her I’ve sometimes wondered where life took them. (Are you out there Patsy Kiwala, Carole Dzurban, Connie Cundiff and Ria Fyn van Draat?)

Warriors at the Highlands Show, Goroka, PNG 1972.

Reading a book like this, which fits closely with one’s own experiences, raises questions about life differences. My first thought was that while I had always desperately wanted to travel, I never expected or wanted to live the life of an expatriate. Only one or two of our friends from university made the sea voyage to England to work, perhaps because many of us met our life partners at uni. It’s a paradox that when thinking of living “overseas” and the life of an expatriate, my focus remains on the UK. This is ironic because for nearly a decade I was an expatriate in Papua New Guinea, a country which was vastly different to anything that would have been experienced in Europe, despite its dominant Australian overlay. London would probably have been less of a shock.

With cheaper and faster flights world-wide it’s now common for our children’s generation to live and work overseas. Many parents (including us) have one or more children living at vast distances from them. Many  Australian young adults make the pilgrimage to live and work around the world. Most of them probably return eventually, but others live elsewhere for the rest of their lives: we are a peripatetic nation.

A centuries-old ghost gum in the East McDonnell Ranges, NT

There is a book by Nikki Gemmell called “Why you are Australian”, written to her children who had been growing up in London until the family made the reverse migration to Australia. Although some of it seems over the top or idealised, she does evoke so much about being Australian.

Why am I Australian? Apart from those five generations of Queenslanders who’ve gone before me, the reasons are based in country almost in the indigenous sense. When you return from overseas, the first thing that hits you is the light. The brightness of the colours almost hurts your eyes after the grey skies of northern countries. Perhaps that’s why the birds are so often colourful too –they have to compete. The sheer expanse of the sky and its vivid blue on its many clear days. The ocean of stars in the sky at night, spanned by the white haze of the Milky Way, more startling in the bush or over the desert. The Southern Cross tracking its way across the night sky spinning on its southerly axis.  The red desert colour, the roar of the ocean waves breaking on long stretches of white sand or the red beachside cliffs of north-western Australia. The starkness of our bush, and what foreigners see as its emptiness and isolation. Storm clouds over the Tropical north in the Wet Season, all sound and drama. The geological patterns stretching from shore to shore, across thousands of kilometres so that the country around Mt Isa will remind you of the Red Centre or parts of Western Australia. The ancient rock formations and the centuries-old ghost gums. For so long we saw ourselves as a young country when in reality we’re as old as time, deceived by the absence of buildings to declare man’s presence yet in caves around the country there’s ancient artgoing back thousands of years.

Floodplains, billabongs and aged melaleucas in the Wet.

I remember once a distant Irish cousin asking me if I was Australian or Irish. It was a genuine question but I confess I was both bewildered and astonished. For me it was a “no brainer”, I’m an Aussie through and through, much as I love visiting my ancestral places. You won’t (usually) find me beating the patriotic drum, flying a flag at every turn sets my teeth on edge, and those stickers saying “if you don’t love it, leave” make me want to scream (do they never criticise someone they love? I doubt it). But yes, I’m an Australian to my core. Funny how a book can make you want to declare your sense of belonging.

I wrote this story a week ago but hadn’t posted it. Last night soon after it was uploaded I was reading recent posts by a young Aussie blogger I follow at A Big Life.  Living in Bavaria she talks about being caught between two countries and the pull of home – the expatriate’s dilemma. Two of her reflective posts are here and here.

You can see other photos of the Top End of Australia on my Tropical Territory blog which shows just how beautiful this part of the country can be. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll have seen some of the magnificent east coast country.

Beyond the Internet: Week 23 Probate and Deceased Estate

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 23 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. This week the topics are probate and deceased estates. I’d love it if you would join in and either comment or post on your experiences with wills around the world.

“Money makes the world go around” says the song, and it’s always worth remembering this when doing your family history. Strange to say all those clerks didn’t have future genealogists in mind when they wrote up the various documents that become our research bread and butter. More often than not their concern was to follow the money trail and make sure matters financial were accountable.

This is particularly so in the context of this week’s post which follows on from wills last week…all part and parcel of the process which finalises our deceased ancestor’s property and assets no matter how meagre.  The will can sit happily in a drawer while the person is alive but once deceased the legal divvying up generates more documents. Not all of these survive and different jurisdictions will retain different records so you will need to investigate what’s available for your region of interest. Most archives now have useful online guides to these holdings so that should be your first port of call.

Once probate is commenced and advertised in the local papers, the summarising of legal matters arising from the person’s estate begins. In the archival probate packets you may find a dazzling array of information from original death certificates, signed authorisations from the executor or other family members, lists of property and other odds and ends, payments of debts etc. It’s a bit of a legal lucky dip.

Most of my research has been in Queensland or New South Wales so this post will be biased to those resources, though I’ve also had a bit to do with English records. As examples, over the years I’ve found:

  1. My great-grandfather George Michael Kunkel left an estate in Queensland valued at £433. There was £70 in the government savings bank, £200 in a life insurance policy and another £76 in the Railway Service Friendly Benefit. Living priorities were reflected in the property left behind: £47 for a harness and saddlery and only £18 for household furniture and effects, £3 for a water tank and £12 for a moveable hut.[1] George was only a railway ganger so it shows that its worth exploring these records even our labouring ancestors.
  2. The probate record for someone who had died in South Africa but who had property in Queensland (turned out he wasn’t related).
  3. Signatures of every adult “child” in a family when probate took place over 20 years after the husband’s death…who knows why the delay. John Widdup’s death is not recorded in the death indices or inquests or newspapers: only his grave in Urana and the probate records provide any clues.
  4. Lists of property in the will bequeathed to specific family members, some quite distant on the family tree or left to charities.
  5. Lists of debts owed by the deceased including medical and business expenses giving potential insights into the expense of medical treatment relative to income and other living expenses.
  6. Lists of individual land parcels owned at the time of death, allowing you to then chase up the land records to learn more about when and how they were bought. They will also lead you to local histories where you can learn more about the area in that era.

Deceased estate records have similar information but in my experience with them in NSW they provide a far more comprehensive summary of the deceased’s estate. After all the government was lining up for its share of the estate in the form of death duties.  In these I’ve found incredibly detailed lists of furniture and fittings in each room, providing a fascinating insight into how the family lived on a daily basis. Where the family member had a business you may also find a detailed list of their business assets with even more clues for research into land and business.

Another resource you may like to search in the official records (sometimes indexed on microfiche) is Transmission of Real Estate by Death. These provide another clue into the transfer of land from the deceased to his/her beneficiaries. Bear in mind however that if you have an ancestor who is into succession planning he may have done this prior to death – my George Mathias and Mary Kunkel sold their property to their youngest son presumably in quid pro quo to provide them with co-residence and support in their old age. Despite then not owning any property they do not appear to have applied apply for the pension.

Finally don’t forget the newspapers now that Trove makes it so easy to search in Australia. Even if the wills have been destroyed over the years you may get clues about the estate sales through public notice in the papers.  I wrote here about how I found a goldmine of information on the estate of my great-grandfather Peter McSherry through Trove even though that period of wills is not available at Queensland State Archives.

Are you surprised that I ensured my own will includes some specific bequests to listed people? I was happy to ignore the solicitor’s advice that this was unnecessary. On the flip side, a cousin’s even more detailed list of bequests generated an awful rigmarole as we tried to establish what had happened to each minor item, but it also showed that only one cousin and her children had been remembered.  What will generations in the future make of these I wonder?

What’s your experience with Probate or Deceased Estates? I’d love to hear more from a different perspective.  Once again this post comes with a warning that this area is not one of my research strengths. If I’ve got something wrong, including terminology please set me straight so others can benefit as well.


[1] Queensland State Archives: SRS4486- 3- 466. SCT/P466 560/1902. Microfilm Z1670.

Genie Happy Dance – Thanks Family History Magazine!

Australia may have good telecommunications but I’ve been in one of those service-provider black holes for the last 36 hours or so. Not even my mobile phone would work but now I’m back online. Alleluia!

Early Saturday morning, rushing around madly, I got a great surprise to see tweets from Rebelhand and DanceSkeletons revealing that this blog is listed in Family History Magazine’s article Around the World in 40 blogs  It appears that it may have been my Beyond the Internet series that gave me the guernsey, and if so I’m delighted because regular readers know just how obsessive I can be about offline resources.

I don’t need to tell you that the news had me doing the genealogy happy dance, but I was also astonished. There are just so many great blogs out there, with other family historians documenting their family’s stories online or expanding local histories (you can read some of those I follow on my Blog Links page). I was very pleased to see that On a Flesh and Bone Foundation is listed because Jennifer writes such great stories and has excellent information for Irish researchers. Another of my favourites, Olive Tree Genealogy is also on the list. I’ve been following some of Lorine’s Sharing Memories prompts. I’ve also picked up some new ones for my Google Reader feed.

Genealogy blogging is such a wonderful community to be a part of and finding Geneabloggers and all my geneamates has been such an important discovery for me over the past 18 months.

Thanks Family History Magazine for this privilege and my two geneamates for letting me know! In the midst of family commitments at present it could have so easily passed me by for a time. Why not check out the blog list and see if your favourites are listed?

Family History Alphabet: Attributes with E…

Family History AlphabetAlona Tester from Gould Genealogy has proposed a Family History through the Alphabet series over the coming 26 weeks. I decided that my theme would be the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents you bring to your research.

The letter E seems to Encapsulate quite a few attributes for family historians.

Ethics: How on earth did I forget this one on my first pass? Far too important to leave out, I’m adding it late. There are so many ethical issues we face as family historians. In particular those that affect living people and which may be confidential. Ensuring we don’t publish or put information about living people online without their permission. Ensuring we respect other’s work, copyright etc. Treating even the dead with respect, so that we tell the truth as we find it in the records but with compassion and not in a sensational way as if their only purpose is to give us a Good Story. Weighing up the stories we’re told by others, looking for possible bias, and presenting a balanced story.

Enthusiasm: When we start out on our journey we may be tentative and unsure about what we’ll find, but as we learn more about our ancestral families we become if anything over-Enthusiastic. However there are times when the trail turns cold when we need to heat up our Enthusiasm.

Expand our perspectives: I know I’m talking to the converted here, but blogs and reading of the old-fashioned kind broaden our perspectives and strategies.

An Office Clip Art image.

Managing Expectations:  Linked to those lulls in enthusiasm, we need to manage our expectations. Some questions will never be answered but with luck may be intuited to a degree from other reliable sources. Some sources simply no longer exist. You may have to manage others’ expectations as well. How often have you heard the questions “Aren’t you finished with that yet?” or “How far back have you gone?” What emphasis you place on your family history research, and where it takes you, is up to you…do you look at all your branches? Try to go back in time as far as possible? Try to learn more about each ancestor and their life?

Education, an Enquiring mind and Exploring: True of life in general but this obsession of ours challenges us daily to learn more, to try new strategies, to learn new technologies. That enquiring mind will be your guide in planning new research paths, developing research hypotheses and exploring new sources of information. Learn, learn, learn!

Energy: You need a lot of energy to keep going on the research trail, to climb cemetery fences, to explore old homesites….

Excellence: In some ways an ambitious goal but we can aim for the stars in our research, how we tell the stories and document our findings. This isn’t a goal to beat ourselves up with, this is one to inspire us to keep learning and trying.

Excellence is not a skill. It is an attitude[i]. Ralph  Marston

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young[ii]. Henry Ford.