Beyond the Internet: Week 3: Houses wrapped in red tape.

Don’t you find life is full of red tape? Someone always wants paperwork from you in relation to some part of your life. How do people survive who are uneducated I wonder.

The very same red tape that we often find so exasperating in day-to-day life, is heaven-sent when we’re doing family history. Much of it is found wrapped in brown paper tied with a pink ribbon, in an archive near you. Relatively speaking little of it is available on the internet. The Beyond the Internet series is intended to highlight some of the sources you may not have thought about and which will flesh out your family stories.

I’ve put a graphic on this page to represent our exploration Beyond the Internet. The unedited version was a free clipart from Microsoft Office so I think there are no copyright issues. Feel free to put it on your blog page if you want to join in and post to any of these topics…the more the merrier. It would be great too if there was representation from different regions and countries.

In Week 2 I talked a little about the sources available off-line about the history of your ancestral homes: personal records (papers, diaries, letters); cultural heritage studies; English land enclosure maps; LDS microfilms of parish records other than registers; photos and local and oral histories; as well as land selection records for early settlers. This week my focus is slightly different though the two topics interlink. I’ll focus on four sources and illustrate how they’ve helped my family history:

1. Land titles and title certificates

2. Council rates

3. Sewerage records

4. Survey maps

Land Titles

Land titles documents are available from the State lands department (its name will vary depending on place and government but in Queensland is currently the Department of Environment and Resource Management). Yes, they are not free but they can also be very useful and the money well spent.

My grandparents' house c1930

On a recent trip interstate I purchased two certificates of title for my grandparents’ property.[i] No one really knew when Grandad bought the land and built the house but these documents solved part of that mystery. The first certificate, dated 5 September 1917, showed my grandfather’s purchase of plot 31 from a David McMullen who’d bought it only a few months earlier from a James Taylor Searle. These transfers were around the time the subdivision took place. This purchase date was only a month before Grandad enlisted to serve in WWI, which tells me he was setting something aside either for his betrothed (if they were actually engaged) or his younger siblings in case he was killed. My grandfather was a steady, considered man so I have little doubt this was a planned strategy…it would be so interesting to see his military will. He’d been the eldest child when both his parents died so no doubt that impacted on his life attitudes. A few months later the title on the adjoining plots 30 and 31 were transferred to Susan Ann Easey on 23 January 1918.

But it doesn’t end there. On his return from the war my grandfather purchased plots 30 and 31 from Susan Ann Easey, stated to be the wife of Arthur Edwin Easey on 21 January 1921. Oral history also tells us that Mrs Easey is the woman with whom Grandad boarded his youngest brother after their parents’ died. Mrs Easey appears on the electoral rolls but interestingly not at this address.

My grandparents married in 1922 so my best guess at present is that the house was built between 1921 and his marriage. The house currently sits close-ish to the boundary between plots 30 and 31 but my mother told me recently that my grandparents’ house was moved a couple of metres when my parents’ house was built after their marriage. Hence my hypothesis is that Grandad built the house after he had purchased all three blocks and between January 1921 and April 1922.

Another snippet on the Certificate of Title has given me a further clue to explore when next at the Archives. His will, through the Public Curator of Queensland, was dated 15 January 1948 and as they acted as “devisee in trust”, I’m assuming the house had been left to my father but for my grandmother to have residence until her death.

I do find land records quite confusing and for New South Wales records some years ago I used a record agent to dig out the many land files for one of my ancestors. I figured it was probably worth my while and would be more efficient than me trying to get to the bottom of it all during brief interstate trips.

Council rates

Even though Council rates are local government records many historic records are held at the Queensland State Archives (other states may be different and I can’t speak for that). There may also be copies held in the relevant town.   After the establishment of Ipswich as a municipality, many of my ancestors appear in the records for that town’s rate payments. So what does this tell us? The value of the property relative to those nearby will give you an idea of the standard of their house. There may be maps which correlate to the land allotments allowing you to be absolutely certain where their house or business was located. This will enable you to compare that with current maps or to pinpoint the location during a site visit.

As rates are paid on all properties owned you may discover that your ancestors owned more than one property – something which doesn’t become clear from Post Office directories or electoral rolls, which are most likely to focus only on their residential property. I also made an interesting discovery that one of my ancestors changed his first name when he moved towns, probably because of a problem with the law. It makes you wonder how he came to revert to his original name and what people’s responses to that were in a small town…or was it only on the rate books that his name was different. Rate books will also give you an insight into the area –the type of housing, the area’s expansion etc.

It’s important to investigate where these sources are located. I’ve found them in the Queensland State Archives (my main haunt), local history libraries and Sydney City Archives (thanks to a tip-off from a genie-colleague). You may even find clues to assist your search you on the local real estate pages (yes, online I know!).

Sewerage Records

I’d never heard of these records until alerted to them by Susie Zada at a talk in 2011. She’s also published a helpful little booklet through Unlock the Past, called Sewerage Records: an untapped magnificent resource. I can recommend it highly.

I followed Susie’s tip and obtained the sewerage maps for my grandparents’ and parents’ street. The map shows all the buildings at the time, their location on the block and you will see where there were outhouses (dunnies/toilets) before the sewerage was installed.

Survey maps

One of the early houses in the area 1878. State Library of Queensland Negative 153648. Image out of copyright.

Early survey maps are so useful for learning more about the area where your ancestors lived. I look at them at the archives and the most important ones I purchase. Another source might be your Lands Department, especially if they have an historical library or such. Recently I obtained early maps of my grandparents’ and parents’ suburb (not urgent before because I was familiar with it from growing up there – or so I thought).

The maps show where the early landed “estates” were: properties with grander houses some featured on Picture Queensland. It shows a water reserve in a dip in the hilly street which my father called Frog’s Hollow (apt I think) and where there’s currently a house on the market for about $800,000.  Reserves are set aside for schools and public recreation. Comparing these maps with stories published in the local newspaper (available online at Trove), brings the area to life. Each map reveals slightly different features including one showing the hilliness of the area. The names of some previously unknown homes will let me link them to the owners I researched through the electoral rolls.

These Beyond the Internet resources are, as so often, just the tip of the iceberg. I’d love to hear of other sources people have used to learn more about their ancestral homes.


[i] Certificates of title number 2228334 volume S 1319 folio 74 and 243499 Volume S 1387 and folio 239.

Beyond the Internet Geneameme

Following on my posts about the changes in family history over the past 25 years I thought it would be good to look at family history resources beyond the internet and how we use them today. I’ve built up a list of 60 resources or activities that take our research beyond the digitised records (much as I do love them!). It will be interesting to see which resources people are using most, and perhaps tip off new researchers on just how much is hiding in archives. To draw up my list I’ve used my own experience and referred to Judy Webster’s Tips for Queensland research and the PROV’s book Private Lives, Public Records. New researchers might also be interested in the Unlock the Past book It’s not all online by Shauna Hicks.[i]

Overseas researchers may want to add to the list or replace items with ones relevant to their own research. Remember this is all about locating information from sources not on the internet (with a couple of small exceptions). Please add your responses to the comments and I’ll put up a consolidated list in due course.

As usual the process is as follows:

Beyond the Internet Geneameme[ii]

Things you have already done or found: bold face type
Things you would like to do or find: italicize (colour optional)
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type
You are encouraged to add extra comments in brackets after each item

  1. Looked at microfiche for BDM indexes which go beyond the online search dates.
  2. Talked to elderly relatives about your family history.
  3. Obtained old family photos from relatives.
  4. Have at least one certificate (birth/death/marr) for each great-grandparent.
  5. Have at least one certificate (birth/death/marr) for each great-great-grandparent.
  6. Seen/held a baptism or marriage document in a church, church archive or microfilm.
  7. Seen your ancestor’s name in some other form of church record eg kirk session, communion rolls.
  8. Used any microfilm from an LDS family history centre for your research.
  9. Researched using a microfilm other than a parish register (LDS family history centre/other).
  10. Used cemetery burial records to learn more about your relative’s burial.
  11. Used funeral director’s registers to learn more about your relative’s burial.
  12. Visited all your great-grandparents’ grave sites.
  13. Visited all your great-great-grandparents’ grave sites.
  14. Recorded the details on your ancestors’ gravestones and photographed them.
  15. Obtained a great-grandparent’s will/probate documents.
  16. Obtained a great-great grandparent’s will/probate documents.
  17. Found a death certificate among will documents.
  18. Followed up in the official records, something found on the internet.
  19. Obtained a copy of your immigrant ancestors’ original shipping records.
  20. Found an immigration nomination record for your immigrant ancestor[iii].
  21. Found old images of your ancestor’s place of origin (online or other).
  22. Read all/part of a local history for your ancestor’s place of residence.
  23. Read all/part of a local history for your ancestor’s place of origin.
  24. Read your ancestor’s school admission records.
  25. Researched the school history for your grandparents.
  26. Read a court case involving an ancestor (online newspapers don’t count for this).
  27. Read about an ancestor’s divorce case in the archives.
  28. Have seen an ancestor’s war medals.
  29. Have an ancestor’s military record (not a digitised copy eg WWII).
  30. Read a war diary or equivalent for an ancestor’s battle.
  31. Seen an ancestor’s/relative’s war grave.
  32. Read all/part of the history of an ancestor’s military unit (battalion/ship etc).
  33. Seen your ancestor’s name on an original land map.
  34. Found land selection documents for your immigrant ancestor/s.
  35. Found other land documents for your ancestor (home/abroad)
  36. Located land maps or equivalent for your ancestor’s place of origin.
  37. Used contemporaneous gazetteers or directories to learn about your ancestors’ places.
  38. Found your ancestor’s name in a Post Office directory of the time.
  39. Used local government sewerage maps (yes, seriously!) for an ancestor’s street.
  40. Read an inquest report for an ancestor/relative (online/archives).
  41. Read an ancestor’s/relative’s hospital admission.
  42. Researched a company file if your family owned a business.
  43. Looked up any of your ancestor’s local government rate books or valuation records.
  44. Researched occupation records for your ancestor/s (railway, police, teacher etc).
  45. Researched an ancestor’s adoption.
  46. Researched an ancestor’s insolvency.
  47. Found a convict ancestor’s passport or certificate of freedom.
  48. Found a convict ancestor’s shipping record.
  49. Found an ancestor’s gaol admission register.
  50. Found a licencing record for an ancestor (brands, publican, etc).
  51. Found an ancestor’s mining lease/licence.
  52. Found an ancestor’s name on a petition to government.
  53. Read your ancestor’s citizenship document.
  54. Read about your ancestor in an undigitised regional newspaper.
  55. Visited a local history library/museum relevant to your family.
  56. Looked up your ancestor’s name in the Old Age Pension records.
  57. Researched your ancestor or relative in Benevolent Asylum/Workhouse records.
  58. Researched an ancestor’s/relative’s mental health records.
  59. Looked for your family in a genealogical publication of any sort (but not online remember).
  60. Contributed family information to a genealogical publication.

[i] I do not receive any remuneration from any of these people or organisations. I’ve just found them to be helpful in my own research.

[ii] The Geneameme is a new term coined by Geniaus.

[iii] Pastkeys’ indexes to NSW Immigration Deposit Journals 1853-1900 might be helpful as a starter.