52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy Week 4: my kitbag of offline tools

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 4’s topic is Free Offline Genealogy Tools: For which free offline genealogy tool are you most grateful? How did you find this tool and how has it benefitted your genealogy? Describe to others how to access this tool and spread the genealogy love.

The (mostly) Irish migration corner of my library.

I confess that this topic confused me a little as I wavered between its meaning being a techno-tool which helped with my genealogy vs a source or repository, an equally valid interpretation. I opted to go with taking the term “tool” more literally as I’ll be addressing my offline sources and archive favourites in my Beyond the Internet series. So here is my priority offline kitbag (as you know I have trouble selecting just one):

  1.  My camera plus pen(cil) and paper.

This has been true for all the years of my research, long before digital cameras, or computers for that matter. I use my cameras (now digital) to photograph old family properties, streets where my families lived, their home towns, the cemeteries and the family’s graves, etc. In the various archives I can now mostly use my camera to photograph documents quickly and easily so I can skim-read them in situ,then transcribe and digest them at home at my leisure. I also use it to photograph images from microfilm, having been given permission to do this at the library. I truly would feel almost as bereft if I lost my camera as if I lost my computer. As to the pencil and paper, sometimes I find it easier to document information by hand – yes, regressive I know, but I do also use the laptop for specific projects.

Maps and War and a bit of Queensland

2.            My research reference library

Ever since I started family history I’ve been accumulating relevant research books (combines my love of FH + books). Since we’ve moved to Darwin this accumulation has accelerated and I now have a fairly substantial reference library of books, maps, CDs and DVDs to aid my research, not to mention my family-specific information in folders. I would be lost without having this library readily to hand when I need background to something I’m researching…but there’d be more space in my study :-)

3.                Inter-library loans

I do try to curb my enthusiasm for book-purchasing to references which I know I’ll use repeatedly or which are not available through the National Library of Australia on inter-library loan.  This is a great service and it means I can have resources sent up to Darwin from Canberra. These resources might be books but equally might be rural newspapers on microfilm which have yet to make it into Trove. Ken at the Northern Territory Library does a great job coordinating these loans at the Darwin end. (Don’t forget that if you live in Australia you can also get an NLA cardto access online resources).

Not to forget the Scots!

4.                My library and archive cards

I have a stash of these for libraries and archives from all over. Even if they have to be renewed from time to time they make for quick access when you arrive for a time-limited research trip.

5.                 Microfilms

I can’t say often enough how important microfilms from the local Family History Centre are to my research (see one post here, or search my blog). It’s not all online, so being able to research at least some parish records, shipping records, occupation documents etc is invaluable. Look at the FamilySearch catalogue for your ancestor’s home town, county or country to see which films might help your research. Order them online here, then when they arrive you’re in for tons of fun at your local family history centre, however big or small it may be.

6.                Scanners

My scanner is a vital part of my offline world. My old photos, slides, negatives and documents churn through the scanner and go into my digital records. I love the Flip-Pal for quick scanning of photos for my blog or similar. It’s the interface tool between my online and offline world. I talked about both scanners last year here.

So there you have it, some of my “can’t do without” tools.

Which tools do you use in your research and which is your favourite?

Reading The Northern Miner: human tragedy and stories

The other afternoon I was reading The Northern Miner newspaper from Charters Towers, an old mining town in North Queensland where one branch of my family had lived for some decades. I had ordered the microfilm in on an inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia to follow up some information on a friend’s family history.

I was focused on a particular month in 1947 and what struck me afresh was just how full of human misery a newspaper can be. This sometimes seems to be more obvious decades ago when it was reported more graphically.

It also struck me that this is perhaps the one down side to Trove, though I absolutely love it in all other respects. By not sitting in a library and turning page after page on a microfilm, we lose the broader sense of what was happening in that place and at that time. We also lose a sense of perspective on how that particular editor and newspaper handled their news stories, what they focused on, and their general credibility. You also lose the sense of how they structured their paper, and where particular news features are placed. Sure, we could browse any edition on Trove, but do we really do that?

So here’s my abbreviated misery list from one mere month in a country newspaper:

  • A Rockhampton woman jumped off a bridge into a river clutching her 14 month old baby to her chest. The baby’s body was recovered, the mother’s had not been. What tragedies lay behind this story?
  • A child’s arm was caught in a milking machine
  • A railway shunter was severely injured in an shunting accident (one of the most dangerous occupations, believe it or not)
  • A Javanese child stowed away on a plane and was found alive and wrapped around the landing gear when it landed in Darwin –he lived
  • A literally feral 7 year old child was found by the Salvation Army (place unidentified). He had been rejected by his parents because he was believed to have been swapped at birth. He had lived in their shed in the back yard with no clothes, toys or training and minimal human contact. He was responding well to the Salvos treatment. One family history you would not want to find.
  • A “Negro” woman had been enslaved by her employer, a “society woman” for 30 years: “reparation” for having a child to the employer’s husband. The court ordered payment of 30 years wages and a jail sentence which was revoked because the employer had otherwise been a very Christian woman
  • Inter-racial, inter-religious massacres in India

And one for the Darwinites: Darwin had no dentist and a man had to fly to Adelaide for treatment. And yes, we do have dentists now but the need/desire to fly interstate for some significant medical treatment still exists.

And a “good news” item: the wonder drug Streptomycin was to be mass produced.

Most of these stories were found easily on Trove and are reported in newspapers around Australia, demonstrating that you may find the stories you want well beyond the confines of the local newspaper.

So there we have it, what sad and tragic family stories lie behind each and every one of these news items.

JSTOR @ NLA: finding the historical context for family history

It’s likely that most Australian family historians are familiar with the National Library of Australia’s Trove site as a source for family research.  It’s also been well promoted that anyone in Australia can apply for a library card with NLA which then lets you access their eResources remotely. The Times Digital Archives and 19th Century British newspapers have been popular with family historians.

But did you know there’s another invaluable resource you can use for your research? JSTOR is typically used by academics and tertiary students to locate relevant journal articles published in their area of interest. The promo states: With more than a thousand academic journals and over 1 million images, letters, and other primary sources, JSTOR is one of the world’s most trusted sources for academic content.

Sounds a bit heavy-duty? Well some articles may be but there are plenty that will provide you with that valuable framework for your family’s local history, living and social conditions. Silly me, I knew JSTOR was available but somehow it had dropped off my mental radar in recent months.

This morning I had a fun couple of hours looking for information about Irish family life and inheritance patterns. Some of my readings included:

 Marriage and fertility in post-Famine Ireland

The Changing Irish Family

The Potato Famine and the transformation of Irish peasant society.

Whatever the family-history topic you want to know more about, I suggest you’ll find it here with careful searching.

HOW TO FIND IT:

Go to the NLA site

Assuming you’ve already got your library card

Click on the eResources tab at the top right hand side of the web page

Key in your card number and surname

Select “J” from the menu and pick JSTOR

Read and accept their terms and conditions

Start searching using a few keywords eg Scottish illegitimacy, Irish migration etc

Remember you can download the articles

Remember you must cite the article if you use it

Happy hunting!

Shamrock in the Bush 2011: a grand event to be sure!

 

Arriving at St Clements for Shamrock in the Bush 2009

Shamrock in the Bush 2011 has once again come and gone. This was the 19th Shamrock but while I have only been to three, the entire weekend has been as exciting and stimulating as in other years.

One of the things I like most about Shamrock is the atmosphere of collegiality among all the participants and speakers. As a residential weekend we spend so much time together and learn about each other’s interests and very quickly strangers become friends.

The other highlight of the weekend is always the diversity of the topics. I’ve learned that even when the topic doesn’t have any direct relevance or interest to you, the enthusiasm and knowledge of the speakers quickly engages you and stimulates your interest.

I think this year’s Keynote Speaker, Claire Dunne, would almost certainly be on everyone’s list of favourite presentations. For about an hour she held the whole room in thrall, fully engaged with her story. And what a story it was! She has led an amazing life which is only superficially covered in a recitation of her curriculum vitae. Every listener will have taken away their own special points from it with perhaps the sheer emotion of the emigrant’s sense of loss of home and place being perhaps the common point we’d all list. Claire’s emotive and emotional telling of her return to Ireland and engagement with the land had a very indigenous overtone which was incredibly powerful. Not surprising then, that she had experienced such identification with Australia’s own Indigenous people. Coming from the Northern Territory I found that aspect of her talk very fascinating.

Ned Ryan's slice of Tipperary in Australia: Galong, NSW

Her own unplanned, evolutionary path through life, shows the power of the mysterious and requires responding to spirit…as well as a surfeit of courage. She talked of the need for spiritual sustenance for her life which she found in her return visits to Ireland where she drew from engagement with the land. These periods represented to me a form of spiritual “retreat” though she nevertheless connected with many people during these times. What they did was feed her spirit and give her strength. Without them she said she would be like a tree whose leaves and branches look in fine condition but whose roots are slowly dying. Very powerful stuff!

Her path was also sometimes revolutionary, as with establishing ethnic radio broadcasting. She told the emotional story of a Turkish man driving down Parramatta Road in Sydney in 1965 who suddenly stopped in the middle of the traffic, got out and started to dance. ‘That’s my language, that’s my music,’ he shouted.

The overall theme of the conference presentations linked to the Not Just Ned exhibition and provided a background depth to the objects and images on display. The skill and commitment shown by the conservators who worked behind the scenes to present the objects in optimal condition became very clear from the talk given by David Hallam who focused on the story behind getting the anchor from the Nashwauk, shipwrecked with Irish female immigrants on board, and the Kelly armour exhibition-ready. David’s talk was absolutely riveting including the complex science involved in confirming the armour was consistent with being made from plough-shares, and rough-made over a bush fire and not prepared by an expert blacksmith over a forge. The bullet mark in the centre of one of the suits was not, as might be thought, from the siege at Glenrowan but a 20th century addition! The restoration of the Nashwauk’s anchor after 160 years of depredation by salt water and salt air was equally impressive.

Bridget Kilfoyle's gravestone in the Galong cemetery. This Clare emigrant's husband was related closely to the Duracks.

Perry McIntyre’s talk on the early male students at St John’s College, University of Sydney left me brainstorming potential research strategies. Perry’s book  Free Passage: The Reunion of Irish Convicts and Their Families in Australia, 1788-1852 was also available for sale & I’m looking forward to an in-depth reading of it.

Dr Richard Reid’s book Farewell my Children: Irish Assisted Emigration to Australia 1848-1870 was also available. This book is heavily based on Richard’s thesis and will provide wonderful background for anyone with Irish ancestors. I have a particular interest in it because of my research with East Clare immigrants/emigrants but there’s also a wonderful chapter on the Donegal Relief Fund and those immigrants. If buying a copy for your personal library is not possible, then you can always request it on inter-library loan from the (NLA) National Library of Australia (assuming you’re in Oz).

Two other talks I especially enjoyed were those by the National Library’s Oral History staff. Rob Willis spoke about childhood taunts of Catholic vs Protestant pre-1970 which brought back a number of personal memories. The Unit’s Curator, Kevin Bradley, highlighted the value of the NLA’s oral history collection with a sample of Irish music recordings as well as interviews with a range of Irish Australians. Some of their collection is online now so it’s well worth a look. A few years ago I found bush poetry, bush ballads and political satire by Tom and Michael Widdup, descendants of my great- great-grandmother’s sister. The highlight of Kevin’s talk was listening to Mary Durack talking of her father’s emotional reaction to seeing emigrants leaving from Sligo and farewelled by family and friends. It was clear to Mary Durack that her father’s reaction came from the brief time-distance of 46 years which separated the Durack family’s departure from Ireland and these strangers’ emigration from Sligo. The Duracks came from the far north-east of Clare they are part of my East Clare database and of particular interest to me for this reason.

This view of St Clements shows a little of Ned Ryan's turreted castle.

A feature I particularly enjoy about Shamrock is that each talk is introduced by a poem, reading or song, often by Shamrock minstrel John Dengate. It adds a richness to this event that’s just not found with other conferences.  On top of the talks we also had a trip to Canberra to visit the Not Just Ned exhibition and the Irish Embassy….how much fun was all that!

Combine all this with a wonderful Shamrock Christmas-in-July dinner in Ned Ryan’s little slice of Tipperary (Galong House), throw in great camaraderie and enthusiastic conference attendees and it was a recipe for another superb weekend. Thanks to the organisers, speakers, and the volunteers who provide us all with such a great time.

But don’t let these sunny photos from an earlier Shamrock fool you….Sunday at Galong this year was FREEZING especially for a Top Ender.