Family history seminar Darwin 25 February 2012

Yesterday I talked about the history seminars that had been held in Darwin over the past 10 days or so. Thanks to Unlock the Past and the War comes to Darwin tour, we were also fortunate to have an all-day family history seminar co-hosted by the Northern Territory Library and the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory. The guest speakers at Saturday’s seminar were Shauna Hicks and Rosemary Kopittke both well-known in family history circles.  Thanks to family links here Shauna has been a regular visitor and speaker in Darwin over the past few years.

Over forty people (my rough head-count) attended and were fortunate to learn from speakers with extensive and diverse experience. Shauna’s first talk was about state and national archives online and with her experience in both types of repositories she’s well qualified to talk on this topic and I imagine people got a lot from these talks. I would have liked to have seen some reference to the Board Immigrant Lists (which aren’t online) when referring to the NSW immigration records which have been digitised as the former provide far more information where they’re available. Shauna emphasised the need to “read the manual” ie check the background detail to see what’s included in the indexes you’re searching –an important tip. Another great tip was to use the Victorian outward migration indexes for your people as Port Philip was often a transit point for ships coming along the south coast or to/from Tasmania. I’ve used these regularly for my Germans and other families to great effect. The three different options cover different date ranges and the information included often differs slightly from what you find on the NSW immigration records so well worth a look. I also use the Victorian unassisted passenger lists as if they were sponsored by NSW they were still unassisted within the Victorian context.  This has been very useful for my German research.

Rosemary then spoke about the different branches of Findmypast (UK, Ireland and Australia) with a passing reference to the recently commenced American branch. Ultimately the plan is that all these will be combined in a layered subscription site but there is no timeline for this as yet. I was excited when Rosemary mentioned that Hertfordshire Archives and Library Services would be coming online this year with Findmypast. Having been behind with my blog reading I hadn’t then seen the references to this. It will be a great boon for my family history even though I’ve already read many of the microfilms I need through the Family History Centre. Still I’m hoping this will bring other records online. Exciting! Rosemary also highlighted other additions to the findmypast suite: the merchant seamen records from the 19th century, the Irish Petty Sessions (but beware, they’re not all there yet), Irish landed estate court rentals, prison records etc. One of my favourites on FMP is the Outward Shipping from the UK. If you don’t use FMP regularly you are missing out on something. I personally find their transcriptions much more accurate than some.

Shauna’s next was “it’s not all online” and I could hear so many echoes of what I’ve already said, and have on my 52 week plan, to say in my Beyond the Internet series. Her first point was that there seemed to be two groups involved with genealogy: the name gatherers who are mostly content to acquire names and dates for an expanding range of ancestors; and the family historians who want to learn as much as possible about their ancestors’ lives and experiences. I fall firmly into the second category so there was no need to convert me on this topic! Shauna’s talk provided many examples of the vast array of sources available beyond the internet through libraries and archives in particular. I smiled when she highlighted the importance of certificates and how at least one researcher had claimed a brick wall when a certificate promptly broke down the wall. You can read what I had to say about certificates here.

Convict ancestry was covered well by Shauna and I found the topic interesting even though I have no direct lines of “Australian royalty” as Jack Thompson called his convict. I do research one Irish exile who arrived in Queensland in 1849 who unfortunately isn’t as well documented as some of the earlier convicts. Quite a lot of people put up their hands when Shauna asked who had convicts in their tree and I notice she was surrounded by enquirers after this talk. I made notes for when my husband pursues his convicts in the future.

Shauna also made mention of the Genealogists for Families group which supports micro-loans to people around the world who are trying to improve their family’s economic security. If you haven’t heard of it, and the good work that is being done, do pop over and have a look. Since the group was established by Judy Webster back in October or so last year, nearly $10,000 worth of loans have been made by the 148 (mostly) genealogists who joined the group.

Rosemary gave two talks which might be broadly discussed together: government and police gazettes, and almanacs and directories. I really enjoyed these talks too and hopefully they convinced people of how much is contained within them…far beyond the mundane matters of business you might expect. I was particularly taken with the education gazettes which I haven’t used previously and will look at to learn more about Murphys Creek in Queensland and its education history.  All the snippets you can learn about your family in these documents where your family may be mentioned in terms of a licence they required, as a victim or witness to a crime, or indeed the perpetrator, etc.  Rosemary highlighted how an ancestor’s business may have an advertisement within the directories (not so far in my family’s case). You can also use the street indexes within the post office directories to pinpoint which side of the street and between which cross streets your family may have lived.  So much grist for the mill.

Both speakers will have their talks online: Shauna through her website and Rosemary through her profile page on Unlock the Past.

All in all an enjoyable and informative day…I’m sure people went home much better informed although a little mentally over-loaded. Rosemary and Shauna also merit our thanks for such interesting presentations at the end of a heavy week or so of touring. I reckon they’d have been pretty pleased to be on the plane home. Thanks!