52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 44 Conferences

It is Week 44 in the 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy series by Amy Coffin and hosted by Geneabloggers. The topic this week is Genealogy ConferencesWhat was your best genealogy conference experience? Why is it so memorable in your mind? Who hosted the event? What did you learn from this experience? How does it impact your genealogy research today? I couldn’t resist this topic because of the significance of one talk way back in 1994.

The most memorable genealogy conference I’ve attended was the 7th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry hosted by AFFHO at The University of Queensland in Brisbane way back in 1994. I was waiting to take up a new position at UQ so I had some time on my hands and was able to attend, and it was a pivotal conference for my research.

One of the speakers was Jenny Paterson from New South Wales and she was speaking on the employment of German immigrants to eastern Australia in the 1850s[i]. She presented a list of some names with their corresponding places of origin. I nearly fell of my chair when one place recurred against several names, and that place was Dorfprozelten, home of my George Kunkel. Regular readers of this blog will know that George has led me a merry chase trying to find any immigration records (still unsuccessfully).

A street-side shrine in the village of Dorfprozelten: there when the emigrants left and still there today.

Jenny’s talk revealed the significance of the German vinedresser scheme which had been relatively unheralded. For years I’d been told there were no Catholic Germans in Queensland, even though George plainly fitted that bill. Her talk also opened the door to my sideways research into learning as much as I possibly could about this cluster of Dorfprozelten emigrants, their backgrounds and their migration experiences. It really was a pivotal moment in my German research and led to me presenting what I’d discovered about the Dorfprozelten migrants to the Darwin AFFHO Congress in 2006[ii].

Jenny Paterson continues to write on the larger German migration experience through her regular articles in Ances-Tree, the Burwood and District Family History Group’s magazine. They are valuable reading for anyone with German ancestry to Australia and would provide an excellent comparison for north American researchers whose German ancestors migrated around the same time.

It was at the AFFHO congress on Anzac Day 2003, that I was stunned to hear the British keynote speakers talking about my husband’s great uncle, Walter Edmund Cass. I posted about it earlier this year in this post.  Mid-year 2012 Mr Cassmob and I went to see an exhibition about Brig WEH Cass and his wife Helena at the Shrine in Melbourne.

You just never know what you’ll learn or who’ll you’ll meet at a genealogy conference. You may read about the topics and the speakers but every now and then, a total surprise will leap out at you and propel your research in a totally unexpected direction!


[i] Available from the National Library of Australia Blending the cultures : congress papers / 7th Australian Congress on Genealogy and Family History ; 7-10 July 1994, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

[ii] They weren’t all Lutherans – A case study of a small group of German Catholics who emigrated to Australia from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria. Cass, P. Published in the Proceedings of the 11th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry, Darwin, 2006.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 42 – Greatest Genie Achievement

It’s ages since I participated in the 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy by Amy Coffin and hosted by Geneabloggers as I’ve been rather preoccupied with my own 52 weeks Beyond the Internet series.

This morning I read that the topic for Week 42 of Abundant Genealogy is Biggest Genealogy Accomplishment. What do you feel is your biggest genealogy accomplishment? What were the steps you took to get there, and what was the end result?

 My first thoughts turned to an earlier Abundant Genealogy post from Week 7 when I wrote about discovering my Bavarian ancestor’s roots. It was only later that I thought, no that’s not my biggest genealogy accomplishment, even though it was certainly a critical point in my family research.

 MY BIGGEST GENEALOGY ACHIEVEMENT?

The thing I’m most proud of, genealogically, is writing the history of my Kunkel family in Queensland: a pioneering family who, although not important as individuals, participated in important events in our country’s and our state’s achievements and progress. It was the family’s everyday ordinariness that gave me the name of the book: Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family.

Thanks to the discovery I mentioned above, and fantastic oral history connections that were uncovered, I was able to include the background story of my Happ-Kunkel families in Bavaria and my O’Brien ancestors from Ballykelly near Broadford in Co Clare, and a little about the other emigrants from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria.

I knew literally nothing about this family when I started out other than the fact Kunkel was plainly a name of German origin, and that my grandfather had several siblings only one or two of whom he had anything to do with. I also knew that he had originally been a Catholic and one of the points of contention had been his marrying a Scots Presbyterian.

 GOING ABOUT IT

My research started in the pre-internet era so I accumulated every snippet of information I could find from as many sources as possible. One day I realised that if I didn’t write up this family story, it would become a major regret.

So what did I do? One of the strange things I did was to decide not to look at other family histories because I didn’t want to pinch their ideas. In retrospect this was fairly silly as there are so many strategies that can be used – you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Instead I launched in, started writing and kept at it, day after day, until the story came together. I was still working full-time so I wrote in the early mornings and late into the evenings.

Sir Cassmob is knighted for services to genealogy.

As I found gaps in the story I chased down more clues, did more research, and phoned more people. I’m proud of all the research, determination and sheer persistence that went into writing up this story, including challenging my reluctance to contact formerly unknown relatives.

Like the Oscars I have to acknowledge that many people helped me along the way with their stories, photos etc, but my greatest debt is to Mr Cassmob, who got a Family Knighthood for Services to Genealogy! I’ve said many times, either the book wouldn’t have been written or I’d have been much thinner.

Sir Cassmob receives his award.

When I first held my “baby” in my hands I was just so thrilled and besotted. Now of course I can see its flaws, mistakes, and things I could have done differently, but even so it was, and remains, an achievement to be proud of.

THE END RESULT

The book was launched by one of my distant O’Brien cousins, who always tells me “oh you’re wonderful” but what she really means is that I’m quite mad to keep doing all this family history. We launched the book in Toowoomba not far from where the family had lived for many years and as far as is known it was the first Kunkel family reunion in close to 100 years.

A mob of Kunkels chatting hammer and tongs.

It was a great day and there was a non-step level of chatter even among people who’d never met before. Many were astonished to discover they had Kunkel ancestry and everyone appreciated learning more of the story. The genealogy chart stretched along the walls and everybody had fun finding their name. Another great thing, retrospectively, is that quite a number of the third generation of Kunkel descendants were able to attend even though in their eighties or nineties Many have now left us so it was a special privilege to have them there. The reunion and all the pleasure people got from it and from the book was definitely the icing on the cake.

My beautiful Alexander Henderson Award was hand-delivered to the GSNT.

The glitter on the cake was winning two awards for the book. I was so proud to be joint-winner of Queensland Family History Society’s annual award with Joyce Philips’s book The Wrights of Tivoli.  And then to my utter astonishment I also won the Alexander Henderson Award from the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.  I was over the moon with excitement and pride as you might imagine.

It’s very counter-cultural to blow one’s own trumpet, certainly in Australia where there’s an absolute dislike of people who puff themselves up, so it feels very brazen to be telling this story.

There’s something special about knowing you’re leaving a family history for posterity and that you’ve opened up your family’s story to many family members. It’s certainly one of my proudest moments.  So if you’ve been thinking of writing your own family history, give it a go and don’t let the fear stop you. I guarantee you will be so pleased to have provided this inheritance for generations to come.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 18: Historical Books

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 18: Historical books.  This week we’re going to shine the spotlight on other historical books that benefit the genealogy field. Do you have a favorite book that falls in this category? What makes this book special to you? How can other genealogists benefit from its content?

As usual I find it impossible to restrict myself to just one book because the history books you’ll find useful will differ depending on where your families come from. So here are some of my Irish, migration and Scottish references.

IRISH HISTORY REFERENCES

I’ve written about a couple of these before so I’ll also refer you to my previous posts.

Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, Fitzpatrick David

I regard this book as a truly unique insight into the Irish migration experience. Yes, it focuses on Australia but anyone with an interest in Irish migration generally would find it fascinating. Fitzpatrick uses a series of letters to/from Ireland by emigrants and their families. It gives us a unique perspective on these correspondents’ experience of their new life, the loss of family and mediated new loyalties against those of (Irish) home and family. A wide range of counties are represented among the letter-writers: West Clare, Down, Galway, Tipperary, Kerry, Cork, Meath, Kings, Armagh and Fermanagh. Sadly for me, nary a one from East Clare. If you didn’t already wish for a stash of emigrant letters, this book will certainly make you do so, and mourn their absence if they don’t exist. The spelling is often “exotic” but they managed to make their message very clear.

At last year’s Not Just Ned exhibition, extracts of these stories were available in the sound booths on iPads and in heavy demand. I could have sat there all day listening to them.

Biddy Burke from County Galway is one of my favourites. She ends one letter Queensland for ever and agus an baile beag go brâth (and the small town forever)[i]….pertinent in relation to Hidden Ireland (see below), and demonstrating her loyalty to both her old and new homes.

The End of Hidden Ireland, Robert James Scally

Unless you have Irish ancestors from the townland of Ballykilcline in Co Roscommon, you’d be wondering why I’m recommending this book. While it focuses on the events and people in this townland, it provides a valuable insight into the life of one townland in the midst of the Famine. What I find fascinating is how it informs us on the nuances of townland life, obligations and familial and social obligations. Scally talks of it as baile, a settlement and landholding together, with community links often with specific family links [ii] while we’re more accustomed to only associating the townland with the geographic space/land. I’m about a third through re-reading this book and finding even more subtleties than on the first reading…you can tell by the annotations and the flags.

Farewell my children: Irish migration to Australia 1848 to 1870, Richard Reid

Sure this book applies to the Irish coming to Australia, but Richard’s approach to understanding more about the process and the immigrants is, in my experience, somewhat unusual as he complements the general history with personalised grassroots examples. I’d be surprised if anyone with Irish ancestry couldn’t gain insights into how their own Irish immigrant fitted into the broader data.

Mapping the Great Irish Famine, Kennedy L, Ell P S,  Crawford, E M, Clarkson L, (eds)

I mentioned this book briefly last year in a post on the impact of the Famine. It is a book I used extensively when researching my East Clare migration data, and it certainly provided some startling comparisons. Most books on the Famine, easily found, focus more on data for all of Ireland or perhaps one county. What I think is so valuable about this book is that it compares the before and after data for baronies or poor law unions, meaning you can drill down and make valid comparisons with your own family’s experience, and to see how typical they were of their place in terms of education, occupation etc. This article tells a little more about the book and the project.

SCOTTISH HISTORY REFERENCE

There are innumerable general histories for Scotland, but I am going to focus on a region-specific history.

Argyll: 1730 -1850, McGeachy, R A A

This book explains the ways in which Argyll changed across the important years 1730 to 1850 and includes such important aspects as Jacobitism, clearances, industrialisation, cultural change, and fragmentation of families and society. He addresses occupational changes and how this affected people at a grassroots level and provides many examples drawn from across Argyll. My own copy is annotated throughout and post-it notes sticking from the edges.

In the introduction, James Hunter (himself a noted Scottish historian) remarks “universal themes can sometimes best be understood by studying their local impact”. This runs contrary to how history was perceived for many years, but is an approach that I personally identify with, and have been inspired by in Richard Reid’s historical writings.

Judging on the prices you will need to shop around if you want this book, and will probably need to buy it used (unless you’re up for $413 for a new book). I paid £25 from a bookshop in Scotland in 2006.

MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA: HISTORY REFERENCES

Two books which provide valuable insights into the experience of Australia’s immigrants from recruitment to arrival are both by Robin Haines.

Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian Recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-1860

This book focus on the pre-departure experience of the potential immigrant and the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’ (CLEC) approach to recruitment. If you want to know how your immigrants may have been recruited and how they fit into the broader migration data, this is the book for you.

Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, Haines, R

This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to learn more about the emigrants’ experience at sea. There is a broader overview into how the emigrants were provided for, and the care taken by the emigration commissioners in ensuring the voyage was as safe as possible. The book also discusses the migration experience in different decades, pertinent with the changes to medicine as well as type of shipping. It is interspersed with extracts of letters and individual examples which illustrate the experiences.

SUMMARY

Australian residents should be aware they can borrow these books from The National Library of Australia on inter-library loan to their local reference library, assuming it’s not already on the shelves there.

Another tip for genealogists everywhere is to see if your local university library has these books in its catalogue. You may not be able to borrow them, but you will be able to sit in the library and read them (yes, I know, no coffee or snacks!…I’m reminded of 84 Charing Cross Rd when I say that). You may also find some in your favourite online bookshop or real bookshop, new or used. I can see I also need to go into my blog and add these titles to my Reference Books tab.


[i] Oceans of Consolation, page 155

[ii] The End of Hidden Ireland, Scally, page 12

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 6’s topic is Family Heirlooms. For which family heirloom are you most thankful? How did you acquire this treasure and what does it mean to you and your family? 

As a child I lived next door to my paternal grandparents so it was rather like having two homes. I knew where “everything” was and largely had free rein. Through all those years my grandmother kept one drawer in her kitchen dresser for her family news clippings. Into it went all the notices for births, deaths and marriages that occurred in her family, and probably her friendship circle, though I must admit I never knew her to have a friend other than family. Of course she was quite elderly when I was growing up (hmm thinking on it, when I was a child she was probably a similar age to me right now). She’d also emigrated with her mother and siblings when she was in her twenties so I guess that made them even more tight-knit.

I’ve spoken to different members of my grandmother’s family over the years and we all hold the memory of her BDM drawer. As a teenager I could so easily have talked to my grandmother about the family stories represented in that drawer and built a family tree from them, but I was a typically self-obsessed teenager, focused on school and uni. My love then was science not history so this great opportunity for family knowledge was wasted on me.

So what happened to this family heirloom collection?

My grandmother died near Christmas one year when I was down from Papua New Guinea on holidays but her effects weren’t sorted for some time. My best guess is that in the cleaning-up process this “scrap” paper went into the bin. A couple were salvaged, including those relating to her brother’s violent death in a road accident, but most have long gone. It would be nice to think that if I’d been around I might have boxed all those clippings up, but if I’m honest I may well have taken no interest – in those days I was preoccupied with our young baby. I’d also have lost the opportunity to understand their significance as my father was never big on family stories. I do have other heirlooms that have family significance though none has any financial value. I also have furniture from my grandparents’ house. I treasure them and will hand them down to my children and grandchildren but somehow the “one that got away” is the one that haunts my “might-have-beens”.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 3: Celebrate the generosity of free websites

This week’s questions are gifts in themselves. I have two sites that I routinely sing the praises of, one international and one for regional Australia, and one that I think deserves to be better known.

Ennis has delightful narrow streets. This image is from Wikipedia. Unfortunately I've now discovered my Ennis photos have gone AWOL.

Clare County Library is my all time favourite resource for free family history and Clare history, aided and abetted by CLASP (Clare Local Studies Project). In the real world you will find them in Ennis, County Clare where the Local Studies Centre is a treasure trove. The good people there have been leaders in the field of promoting the county’s history at a personal, regional and international level for many years. While the rest of Ireland languished in a “what can we get from you” mindset, Clare Library was generously sharing its information and harnessing the enthusiastic energies of volunteers around the world. Careful scrutiny of transcriptions have ensured their indexes are reliable. The townland and parish indexes are particularly helpful.  The value of the site is really only fully appreciated when you go to look up something in another county only to find blank walls or minimal information. I can’t thank them enough or praise them highly enough! If you have Clare ancestry you just don’t know how lucky you will be with this site.

Drayton & Toowoomba Cemetery

Closer to home, my much-used Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery grave search, hosted by Toowoomba Regional Council, is my top contender. I couldn’t have done without it when writing my Kunkel family history or in researching “my” Dorfprozelten emigrants or other Darling Downs ancestors. It not only tells you who is buried there with their grave location, but also gives you a death date and tells you how old they were as well as who is buried in the same grave revealing further, sometimes unanticipated, links (like the stray Gavin buried with my female Gavin ancestors). Other councils have followed suit and offer similar services, but like the Clare County Library they get the honours for being truly innovative as well as tremendously useful.

Another site I use less regularly but which deserves to be better known is one which is dedicated to photographing gravestones in cemeteries in South-East Queensland. This is a personal rather than an organisational website and again was among the leaders in this type of activity. If you have ancestry in South East Queensland, do have a look at what they have to offer.

The abundance of free sites available to us as family historians is quite remarkable and is truly something to be grateful for.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 2 – Thistle do me: ScotlandsPeople

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 2’s topic is Paid Online Genealogy Tools: Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? What special features put it at the top of your list? How can it help others with their genealogy research?

Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? For me this is indisputably the ScotlandsPeople web site. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve used it for myself or my friends. With an efficient search you can get that certificate for the cost of a cup of coffee and you have to admit that’s good value. Sure you can also get the wrong answer to your search ie not the one you were looking for, or hoping for. However the site lets you search using wildcards which can limit the risk so my trick is to use wildcards as much as possible within my requirements, but narrow the search parameters where necessary to ensure I don’t get too many pages of indexes. One year for my friend’s birthday I was able to do a family tree for her for less than $100 (she’s a long-standing, generous friend) and all of it in less than two days. Admittedly I was lucky that her families were in parishes with good stretches of records and that they didn’t move too much. Still it shows what’s possible.

What special features put it at the top of your list? The accuracy of the indexing (mostly) and the ability to see primary records electronically are my top reasons. I may use my Ancestry subscription or FreeCen, for example, to narrow the margins and search for names in the census until I know I probably have the right one then I will go to ScotlandsPeople to see the actual record. That way I can also see the header page for the enumeration district. I also LOVE that the Scots retain the woman’s maiden name and so you are even more likely to be able to find her.

How can it help others with their genealogy research? I’ve heard many people say they’ve looked at it but never paid to use it because it’s expensive. Of course we all have different economic resources, but for me, in terms of bang for your buck, I strongly recommend using ScotlandsPeople. It’s accurate, efficient and you’re seeing a primary record “immediately”…all for the price of that coffee, remember. You are not reliant on what some indexer has decided the document says. You also get to look at who is on the same page and you may even find another relative lurking there. Give it a go, you won’t regret it!

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 1: Blogs to inspire.

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.  Week 1 is Blogs: Blogging is a great way for genealogists to share information with family members, potential cousins and each other. For which blog are you most thankful? Is it one of the earliest blogs you read, or a current one? What is special about the blog and why should others read it?

After some deliberation I decided that Judy Webster’s series of blogs are most deserving of my #1 Vote. In 2011, Judy set up the Genealogists for Families blog with the motto: We care about families (past, present and future). Judy inspired many of us to join her and make microloans through Kiva. By doing this we can have a great impact on the lives of families around the world who are struggling for economic and family independence.

However, Judy Webster has also been a force in Queensland (Australia) genealogy for many years. Her blog Queensland Genealogy builds on her earlier webpage in which she offers free indexes to a large number of resources held by the Queensland State Archives and tips us off on which ones are valuable to use. Anyone with family history interests in Queensland would benefit from following her blog or reading her book Tips for Queensland Research. She also hosts other blogs but for me, the Queensland Genealogy blog is leader of the stable.

The topic called for one blogger to be nominated but as the topic is Abundant Genealogy I can’t omit Geniaus who is a lynch-pin for Aussie genealogists providing linkages, pertinent posts and geneamemes and is “our” RootsTech blogger. I’m also thankful to Geniaus and Carole Riley for their supportive comments on my own blog during its infancy, which encouraged me to keep going.

And abundantly, those many bloggers whose stories I follow regularly, some of whom are listed here.