E explores Edinburgh and Ennis

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

E is for Edinburgh, Scotland

Sunset lights up Calton Hill. © P Cass 2010

This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas.  A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.” Alexander McCall Smith, 2006

This quote was written on the side of an inner-city building when we visited Edinburgh again in 2010 and I imagine that Edinburgh is one of the places many people would have on their bucket list. I’m not entirely sure that I feel completely at home there…it is beautiful, or perhaps imposing, but the greyness of the buildings is always something of a shock coming from a sunny country full of blue skies.

Still I love walking on the streets and hearing the skirl of the pipes, even if it is rather touristy. I’d be more than happy to have the opportunity to live in Edinburgh for a while….imagine being able to sit in the archives as often as you like, or to see those days where the skies are a beautiful blue!

Despite having visited a few times over 40 years, I’ve rarely played the tourist. My time has invariably been occupied in the various family-history-related repositories. Thanks to the wonderful online access provided by ScotlandsPeople (SP), my most recent visit “freed” me a little to have a look around. I think I should have shares in SP as it’s by far cheaper to obtain digital copies of original records so that a real visit can be so much richer (hmm perhaps richer is not what I mean!). On my last visit I spent happy hours in West Register House (now closed) where the staff were wonderfully helpful and I could trawl kirk session records to my heart’s content…I’m looking forward to them becoming available online.

I loved the words on this memorial to a recent mariner who lost his life at sea. The words are the essence of what we aim for as family historians. Click on the photo to read the words.

Apart from the joys of archives, I have another reason for visiting Edinburgh. My ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, and his ancestors before him, lived in Leith which is Edinburgh’s port. Once, not all that long ago, it was a bit rough, ready and run-down but these days gentrification has come calling. There are expensive apartments being built near the Water of Leith, two Michelin-starred restaurants, and historical monuments including one honouring Australia’s, and Leith’s, Governor John Hunter. What remains constant in my visits are the grey skies. Only once or twice have I seen glimpses of blue skies, even though there’s evidence on the internet that such days exist…I’m sure they can’t all be photo-shopped. I love having a link to this earthy port with its tough maritime industry to which my family contributed for a very long time. Many of my ancestral family members are buried in the South Leith churchyard but of course, not being wealthy, I’ve found no gravestones. How coincidental that having just logged into my family history program, I’ve discovered today is the 158th anniversary of the birthday of my Leith-born ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin.

Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.

This was one of those rare sunny days between the grey so we went to the Botanic Gardens instead of Leith …what was I thinking to not put family history first!

One of the luxuries of our last visit was visiting the Impressionist Gardensexhibition which was wonderful. The Botanic Gardens had a related theme with certain areas of the Gardens highlighting aspects of some of the paintings. We really loved it and had a great time wandering for hours. Actually this was a beautiful “blue sky” day so perhaps we should have prioritised Leith instead of just having fun.One evening we took a trek to the outskirts of Edinburgh to hear a great traditional band, Fiddlers Bid, from the Shetlands. The music was fantastic, but some of the commentary was lost to us in the broad accents.

We also wandered around the old town looking for where another ancestor had lived and saw this sign. I’m not entirely sure I understand what it truly means, but I know I really like it…Alastair Grey himself does have an explanation of it here. Will Scotland vote for Independence I wonder?

My husband is a die-hard rugby union fan, as am I, and we love to watch Scotland play if for no other reason than to listen to Flower of Scotland and belt it out in our lounge room. Sadly the playing infrequently lives up to the music. I had a Scottish rugby union jersey for the 2003 World Cup which I wore in Ireland…I kept wondering why people were looking at me strangely. Mind you, I can get behind Ireland’s Call with a similar level of enthusiasm.

E is for Ennis, Co Clare, Ireland

Ennis has no direct links to my Irish ancestry but oral history suggests that at least my 2xgreat aunt was familiar with Ennis, but whether before or after her sisters’ departure for Australia is unknown. Broadford, their home town, was on the Bianconi route between Limerick and Ennis so perhaps they were able to travel to Ennis for the markets or similar.

For me, Ennis is the home of the Clare County Library and the adjacent Clare Local Studies Centre. I’ve sung their praises so often in my blog so there’s little need to repeat myself and yet I can’t resist. What a great job these people do, and how wonderfully innovative and creative they can be because of the forward-thinking of the powers-that-be above them. Thanks to them Clare family historians are infinitely better served than those with ancestry in other Irish counties. Thank you, I love using the site and I loved visiting in person even more!

It’s funny the things that stay in your mind about a place: the truck jammed under a bridge on the way into town; the welcome and helpfulness of the research staff at the Local Studies Centre; finding the death certificates for my Mary O’Brien’s parents even without known death dates; the river that runs beside the centre of town so that you can have lunch in a café and watch the swans go by; the old narrow streets with their medieval feel; the school kids hogging the footpath as they do the world over; an anniversary dinner in the Old Ground hotel; updating my suite of topographical Irish maps; ginger bath gel for the unheard-of travelling luxury of a hot bath; cash deliveries to the banks complete with machine-gun-toting security guards and multiple armoured vans (this chicken colonial chose to duck into the Vodaphone shop…I’m sure there was something I needed…or not).

I’d love to show you some of my own photos of Ennis, but for the life of me I can’t find them, so have a look at what they have to say at the official website. I think the next time I visit I might take this rather intriguing walking tour…we think Mr Cassmob’s Clune ancestors may have come from Ennis, perhaps we’ll learn more.

Abundant Genealogy: Week 8: Fanfare and tribute for my genealogy libraries

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 Genealogy . The topic for Week 8 is Genealogy Libraries: Genealogy libraries (and dedicated departments in regular libraries) are true treasures in the family history community.  Tell us about your favorite genealogy library. What or who makes it special? 

The more I reflected, the more unfair it seemed to single out just one library, so here’s my tribute, with fanfare, to the family history libraries in my life.  Like choosing between your children, picking your favourites seems unjust but I’d like to give my trio of Genie Awards  to the following: GSQ, LDS Family History Centre(s), and County Clare Library, for their contribution to my family history. Read all about my credits below.

Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ)

My family history would probably have languished in the “I wonder where my name originated” basket, had I not happened upon a Colonial Street Fair in William St, Brisbane in 1986. GSQ had a “get ’em interested stall” and over 25 years later, the rest, as they say, is history. Not only did GSQ launch my family history search, but it fed and fuelled it for a very long time until I moved to Darwin. In those pre-digitisation days, I used to visit the library to search their hard copy documents but also their rolls of microfilm and especially their wonderful and vast set of indexes prepared by family history centres around the country. They also had special interest groups and when possible I attended their sessions. The GSQ seminars were goldmines of information to new genies like me, and I made sure I mined them to the full. GSQ also established a Pioneer muster register to celebrate the Bicentenary in 1988 and I submitted my own family trees, such as it was after 12-18 months of research (info was much slower to find in those days). The register was updated for Q150 in 2009. So GSQ Library is my first and biggest trumpet fanfare of thanks!

Darwin’s LDS family history centre 

Darwin's Family History Centre and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

 

If I was pinned down to one library I really couldn’t do without right now in 2012, it would be the Darwin LDS family history centre. Not at all like the flash Salt Lake City facilities, it nevertheless provides me with access to all the diverse records microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The films may take their time venturing across the seas but when those films arrive they provide the gateway into so much of my family story, especially when it takes my stories back across the seas to England, Scotland and Ireland (sadly my German village records are not filmed).  I continue to harp on about how wonderful they are, so I’ll let you read someone else’s story about why they’re genealogical gold. It bemuses me that researchers just don’t seem to “get” how much they can learn through the Mormon library: it’s just not instantaneous and perhaps that’s the problem in our impatient world.

Clare County Library

You could search my blog and find many references to this wonderful library. An innovator over many years I can’t sing their praises highly enough. If you have Irish ancestry, you want them to come from Clare so you, too, can benefit from the riches on their website: this is a virtual library you want to visit, trust me. Even if your Irish family comes from elsewhere have a look on the site to see just what may lie hidden in your family’s county of origin. And if you’re lucky enough to visit Ennis, as I have been, calculate the time you think you’ll need then multiply it: they have riches galore.

My other drum-rolls are for these libraries that have served me so well over the years. Each has wonderful research opportunities that have contributed to my own family histories and can do the same for yours. To each I say “Thank You!”.

State Library of Queensland (SLQ)

In my early research days, SLQ was then housed in William Street (and if my memory serves, staffed with Shauna Hicks among others) and became another home-away-from-home. Here I again used BDM microfiche, microfilmed newspapers, and that wonderfully old-fashioned thing, reference books. In those early days I don’t believe I had ventured into John Oxley Library but when time permits on Brisbane visits there are always things to follow up.

Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society (TDDFHS)

With family in the Darling Downs, as I soon discovered, TDDFHS had an impact on my research long before I joined the society or visited their library. GSQ held their index to BDM events in the Darling Downs Gazette and this was the key to learning more about the lives of my ancestors. TDDFHS have continued to hold a place in my genie heart with their local indexes especially their published books of newspaper extracts (especially great for “my” Germans). Because I live so far away I rarely get into the physical library but through membership emails etc I’m kept up to speed with what they’re doing.

Queensland Family History Society (QFHS)

I must mention QFHS even though I visited them infrequently because they were on the other side of town when I lived in Brisbane. These days my Brisbane visits are so time-constrained that I rarely make it to the actual library but I’ve gained so much from the resources they produce. Their Hamburg shipping indexes, school admission lists, electoral rolls, and so many other indexes and services are fantastic resources. Some of the information you’re finding on Findmypast, for example, comes from their indexing work. Hidden heroes! They also awarded me a prize in 2004 for my family history – a huge buzz for me! QFHS had a great Q150 project, Queensland Founding Families, for 2009 and if you have Qld family it’s a must-read.

Northern Territory Library (NTL)

With the encroachment of Trove and online subscriptions, NTL hasn’t seen me as much as they used to.  Their wide range of newspapers has often been a godsend to me in following up leads and where they don’t have them in house, NTL is efficient in ordering them in on inter-library loans from The National Library of Australia and similarly books that I need or want to suss out, are dispatched from Canberra to far-away Darwin for researchers like me.  Thanks Ken for your wonderful service with these loans! Always very much appreciated. NTL also hosts or co-hosts family history seminars throughout the year and includes family history, and history, journals and magazines for reference. They also have a great facility for people to tell their Territory Stories via online submission so if you have a family member who lived in the Territory in the past, you might want to put your entry there.

Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory (GSNT)

I’ve spent many hours at GSNT scrolling through Board Immigrant Lists searching for east County Clare immigrants. There were some wags who thought I was going to grow cobwebs! Tucked among the bookshelves are a wide variety of reference books to assist with family history and the microfiche and CDs provide further opportunities to round out what’s known about our ancestors. GSNT also holds an extensive pioneer register which hasn’t been of interest to me previously but I’ve now learnt that one of my family connections was in the Territory so I’ll need to see what they may have on them.

Thank you to each and every one of these libraries, without which my family stories would be just a litany of names and dates!

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 Personal Genealogy and History: Week 48: Thanksgiving for family history blessings

Having been following the 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series devised by Amy Coffin’s and Geneabloggers, I was initially disappointed to read that Week 48’s topic was Thanksgiving, with the questions of: What was on your family’s Thanksgiving table? Do you serve the same dishes now as your family served in the past?

As an Australian plainly I wasn’t going to be able to respond to the question in this way and I really wanted to finish the 52 weeks now I’ve come so far. I decided to draw on the tradition of gratitude by offering my own thanks for the many people who’ve contributed directly or indirectly to my family history…a genealogical Oscars Awards speech. I’d like to thank:

A page of Kunkel and O'Brien photos from Nora's family album.

*        All my pioneer families but especially my early Queensland ancestors, for their courage, hard work, tenacity, determination, and open-mindedness in emigrating so far from home and family.

*        Anne Kunkel, grandchild of George & Mary Kunkel for sharing an oral history of these ancestors and their family, and for linking me to Mary O’Brien’s sister’s families interstate (Widdup,Garvey and Hogan).

*        My 4th cousin Nora in Sydney for sharing her stories and connections with the O’Brien families in Australia and USA not to mention a host of wonderful old photos.

*        Cameron, local historian for Murphy’s Creek, Queensland and the nearby Fifteen Mile, for sharing his knowledge.

*        The church archivists who have helped me in my pursuit of family and “my” Germans –a huge thank-you to Gabrielle!

*        All those who’ve shared their knowledge and enthusiasm for the specialty areas over the years.

GSQ publication indexes: the 1988 Bicentennial Muster roll and the Q150 updated version on CD as well as the stories of Qld Pioneers.

*        Family members, and others, who’ve shared their family’s stories and photographs and brainstormed links.

*        Betty and Carmel, the first two researchers with whom I worked on family history (it transpired we had all attended the same school, despite our geographic dispersal and different ages).

*        All those valiant people who indexed and transcribed records long before the digitisation of (some) records and whose publications are still out there waiting for new researchers to discover them.

*        Those who have written theses about my places and topics of interest.

*        Georg Veh for his local histories of Dorfprozelten, Bavaria.

*        The parish priests in Tullamore, Gorey, Broadford and Dorfprozelten, for showing me the church registers with my families’ baptisms and marriages.

*        The acting parish priest for Kilseily, Broadford, Co Clare in 1992, for dropping us at the doorstep of the unsuspecting family who inherited the O’Brien family farm.

An array of published indexes by QFHS and one by Dr Perry McIntyre.

*        Paddy who walked us over the old farm at Ballykelly townland and exclaimed in astonishment at the Australian half of the story, and Nancy who fed us and dried muddy shoes on our return.

*        My parents for clarifying more recent family and answering myriad questions.

*        The archives, libraries and universities which are digitising records eg the TextQueensland collaboration between State Library of Queensland and The University of Queensland; the wonderful George Washington Wilson photo archives at the University of Aberdeen which includes some old photos of Australia; and my old favourite the Clare County Library.

*       The innovative local councils which have made it possible to search their cemeteries’ graves databases online.

*        The family history libraries where I’ve researched.

*        Family history bloggers who’ve become part of my community.

*        Mr Cassmob who has visited countless cemeteries, listened to countless ramblings and supported my genealogical flights of fancy.

You are all STARS in my family history galaxy.

Clare County Library

As you can see from one of my blog pages, I have an interest in emigration to Australia from East Clare, and in particular from Broadford, Parish of Kilseily. The Clare library site has been an invaluable tool in my research.

This week is Library Ireland Week with the slogan “Smart Libraries for Smart People” so this is an opportune time to post on why I am so in love with Clare County Library and the adjacent Local Studies Centre. While many Irish counties seem to give little thought to history and genealogy for those with Irish roots, Clare County Library has been making its presence known to those with Clare ancestry – and most amazingly in the Irish context, free-of-charge. Their forward-thinking deserves all the kudos it can get!  http://www.clarelibrary.ie/index.htm

Over the past perhaps 10 years or so they have been steadily increasing the information available on their genealogy and history pages (but don’t forget to look at the others “tabs” available. http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/genealogy/genealog.htm and http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/coclare/history/intro.htm

This is another achievement for family history volunteers as much of what is on there has been transcribed by people around the world. Specified formats are used for each source and cross-checked prior to publication. This helps to ensure optimal accuracy. It also tends to mean that the people transcribing the records probably have a fairly good idea of the place names etc, and care whether they are right. These are not mass-indexed publications by people who have no idea of the people, names or places they’re indexing.

So what might you find on the library website? There are:

  • An index to townlands in Clare
  • An index to all Clare parishes
  • Indexed Griffith Valuation records and Tithe Applotment records, searchable by name or parish
  • Maps of the parishes throughout Clare as they apply to the above.
  • Digitised copies of the Griffith Valuation maps that previously had to be viewed in Dublin
  • Historical reference books of travel through Clare
  • Gazetteers
  • Information on the Great Famine
  • The Bodyke and Kilrush evictions
  • 1901 census data for Clare, searchable by name or parish
  • Some graveyard transcriptions
  • Some transcribed parish records (complete or partial). My only concern about these is whether there are publication or copyright issues around the transcriptions.

While some of this information has been overtaken by official government releases, or commercial organisations, this remains a free-to-view site. It really is a wonderful site for any with Clare ancestry, and could provide background information for other Irish research as well.

The Clare Local Studies Project (CLASP) has written a large number of the historical background “stories” for the library site but they have also printed books available to order, which can provide wonderful background information for your family. http://www.clarelibrary.ie/eolas/library/local-studies/clasp/index.htm. For example, Sable Wings over the Land highlights the impact of the Famine on one area.

There’s also some information detailing an action plan for those lucky enough to visit Clare and Ireland: http://www.ourlibrary.ca/phpbb2/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1548. Paddy Casey’s tips are excellent and a great boon to anyone going to Ireland.

As a disclaimer, I have no official involvement in the Clare County Library, nor do I receive any benefit other than that available to all researchers.  I just want to keep singing their praises! If your family come from other counties you are much less fortunate, sorry.