The joys of local histories

Shauna Hicks is writing a 52 week series on genealogical records to “stimulate her genealogy blogging efforts”. She’s invited us to join her on the journey and while I’m behind, how could I miss out on the Week 7 topic: local histories…. after all they take up a fair bit of my bookshelf space.

Why local histories?

local histories 2Local histories tend to come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes those tiny volumes can include significant information. Only rarely will they specifically mention one’s own family, but that doesn’t matter. Our families aren’t islands and they share their community with their friends, associates and neighbours (FANs) as well as, possibly, other family members. Anything which expands our knowledge of the family’s community adds texture and richness to what we know of family stories and – it may even break down brick walls.

I’d categorise types of local histories these ways:

1. “Anecdotal” local histories which draw on the memories of those who live(d) there.

These are often chatty, informative stories but can be very subjective, which is not to say they are incorrect. Rather that the reader needs to weigh up what they’re being told. I feel sure that if you’ve ever had a conversation with a spouse or sibling, you’ll recall instances where you each remember an event completely differently. For me, the weakness of this type of history is that often only a select group of people are interviewed, or choose to be interviewed, which lends a bias to the overall history. I wrote about this, in part, in an earlier blog post. Better than no history, of course, but leaving one craving more, or just wondering. Nor does this type of local history tend to include broader historical context so we can judge if the community’s experience is typical or uncommon.

2.      “Academic” local historieslocal histories 1

These may be somewhat esoteric and seem too dense to bother with at times. However because they have to be reviewed by academic peers, they generally have more depth. What they lack is often a sense of the individuals who lived in the community, though they are certainly a bridge between the individual’s experience of history and national or international perspectives. They may exist as published histories but it’s also worth searching local universities to see if a Masters or PhD student has written a thesis on your area of interest.

3.      “Rounded” local histories

I struggled to find a term which satisfied me for this category. These may include a blend of broader history together with the story of the specific community and its circumstances, as well as some of the families who lived there.

Crows Nest Folk Museum & Village.

Crows Nest Folk Museum & Village, Queensland.

4.      “Pictorial” local histories

Although they offer less depth than any of the above, pictorial histories can bring the stories to light more clearly by showing you photographs or paintings of communities or regions either currently, or contemporaneous with when your family lived there.

5.      Built local history

I’m sure this wasn’t what Shauna had in mind but why not consider the local history that a local historical museum can offer you? It may be they also have a small publication on the area which you won’t find elsewhere, but they’ll have artefacts and perhaps buildings which show you how your ancestors lived. I wrote about these, as well as local histories, in my 52 weeks Beyond the Internet series in 2012.

Beyond the Internet

6.      Local history theory

What does it mean to study local history? How do we know the best ways to study local history? I have quite a few of these types of books too, thanks to my study for an Advanced Diploma in Local History.

So what’s my favourite local history?

You can see from all the tags how much info I've got from these two books.

You can see from all the tags how much info I’ve got from these two books.

Hands down I’d have to say the book Dorfprozelten Teil II written by Georg Veh in collaboration with members of the community. I’m forever dipping into it for my own family and that of the other Dorfprozelten emigrants.

A phenomenal amount of work has gone into it, listing as it does the residents of this Bavarian village from 1844 when the first land register was prepared. Not only that, it includes a plethora of BDM details for many of the families, as well as photographs of the community which make it easier to understand the village irrespective of whether the reader understands German.

This is of course perfect for research into the families and individuals who not only lived in the community but who emigrated. In fact a section of the book called be sub-titled “Inns and Emigrants”. In this I was very fortunate personally as my ancestral Happ family had owned an inn in the village for at least 150 years. This book gave me wonderful information, and photographs, which I was given permission to include in my Kunkel family history.

In terms of the emigrants, there’s no indication in the book of where the information was sourced. I am culpable in regard to the Australian-bound emigrants. What I provided to Georg at the time has been added to, and in some cases amended, as my knowledge has grown of their experiences –sometimes after repeatedly hassling poor Georg to clarify particular family details.

Frustratingly, albeit understandably, there is no index but I have prepared a partial one for my own use.

Summary

So there you have it. Hopefully some of this will offer food for thought, and an inclination to give local history a whirl to add flavour to your family history. I truly believe it’s impossible to do a well-rounded family history without looking at your family’s community.

As well as finding books on e-bay (use Google alerts) or select bookstores, I’ve just found this site, ISBNS.net which might prove helpful to you and which I can see becoming a firm favourite of mine.

And don’t forget if you live near an Australian reference library you will be able to submit an inter-library loan for any books held by the National Library of Australia.

A sample of the local history books on my shelves, or that I can recommend:

A centenary of memories: The Dungog Chronicle 1888-1988. Muddle, J and Hucherko K. The Dungog Chronicle

Argyll 1730-1850: Commerce, Community And Culture. McGeachy, R A A. John Donald Publishers, 2005.

Billabidgee: history of Urana Shire, Central Riverina, New South Wales. Bayley, WA. Urana Shire Council, 1959.

Conrad Martens in Queensland : the frontier travels of a colonial artist.  Steele, JG. University of Queensland Press, Brisbane, 1978.

Dorfprozelten am Main Teil II. Veh, G, Benedict Press, 2002 (this is my “bible” for historical research on Dorfprozelten around the time the emigrants came to Australia).

Dorfprozelten am Main: Ein Dorf im Wandel seiner 1000Jährigen Geschichte. Veh, G, Benedict Press 1995.

Footsteps through Time: a history of Chinchilla Shire (two hefty volumes). Mathews, T. Chinchilla Shire Council, 2004.

From Tall Timbers: a folk history of Crow’s Nest Shire. Crow’s Nest &​ District Tourist &​ Progress Association Inc., 1988.

Herston, Recollections and Reminiscences. Hacker, DJ; Hallam DR; Spinaze, M. Queensland Women’s Historical Association. 1995.

History of South Lochaweside. McGrigor, M. Oban Times Ltd, Oban, 1996.

Laufach. Jutta Fries, 2002.

Lismore, The Great Garden. Hay, R. Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 2009. (Lismore, Scotland)

Lost Argyll, Argyll’s lost heritage. Pallister, M. Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 2005.

Villages of Northern Argyll. Withall, M. John Donald Publishers, 2004.

Vision Splendid: a history of the Winton Shire. Forrest, P and S. Winton Shire Council and Winton and District Historical Society, 2005.

That’s not all folks but it’s surely enough for one day!

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!

Never rains but it pours: Historical talks in Darwin

It’s not just the weather in Darwin where it never rains but it pours. Over the past week we’ve had a flurry of diverse historical and genealogical talks. Today I’ll focus on the historical talks.

On Saturday 18th February the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory, with support from The Northern Territory Archives, hosted a talk by local identity Pearl Ogden on “The impact of the war years on Darwin” though Pearl extended it down to Katherine.  A couple of snippets that particularly caught my attention were that the prisoners were released from the Fannie Bay Gaol so it could be used to house servicemen, the number of army farms growing a wide variety of vegetables, there were Catalinas anchored at Doctor’s Gully (now fish-feeding tourism), the Vic Hotel was favoured by the Americans, and that indigenous women workers were treated and paid the same as men. There were obviously large communities of Army activity around Adelaide River and Katherine. Pearl also talked a little about the the bombings further down the Highway. I’ve now been in Darwin quite a while so as she mentioned innumerable places and streets I mostly knew where she was talking about. A big omission from the talk was any maps or photographs to illustrate the talks. It would have been greatly enhanced if these had been used – and no doubt the interstate visitors would have gained far more from what was a fascinating talk. And I still don’t know where the Victualling Yards are in Stuart Park –need to suss out a Darwin “old timer” and ask.

Monday evening 20th February a large number of people lined up for another session hosted by the Northern Territory Library and attended by many from the combined Unlock the Past and Mat McLachlan BattlefieldWar comes to Australia” Tour. The first speaker was Dr Tom Lewis, former naval officer and Director of the Darwin Military Museum and the wonderful new Defence of Darwin experience. (Previous to last week I hadn’t known there was a anti-submarine boom net across from what we call East Point but technically is Pt Dudley ). Tom’s talk had lots of fascinating detail which addressed some of the misconceptions and myths surrounding the bombing.  In particular he emphasised that some of the statistics bandied around were misleading, for example comparison with Pearl Harbor did not match up because the bomb capacity was lower even though more bombs fell. The torpedo bombs used on Pearl Harbor were far more damaging.  Dr Lewis made a very valid point which was that Nagasaki had only one (atomic) bomb and by a pure comparison of numbers, Pearl Harbor and Darwin would both be more important than that which would indeed be plainly ridiculous. He cited that 2000 civilians died at Pearl Harbour, which did not concur with the 40 listed on the Pearl Harbor website I’d already looked at, and wondered whether some were civilians employed on military bases. Certainly the Bombing of Darwin wasn’t the biggest disaster in Australia’s history and he cited Cyclone Tracy and the sinking of HMAS Sydney. He did not agree that Prime Minister Curtin had covered up the bombing deaths and also denied that we had insufficient  defences with 18 anti-aircraft batteries around town, which were red-hot after the battle. However he did agree that the men had not had much practice prior to the event. My own view was that the talk was fascinating and full of detail and that Tom’s personal experience  of the “fog of war”, as he called it, added to his understanding of the history of the event, but there were times throughout the talk when I wondered if it didn’t blinker him to some of the other views put forward. Shauna Hicks has also posted her views of the talk. What became very clear is that anyone with a serious interest in this historic event would need to read widely and critique what they read before reaching their own conclusions.

The second speaker was Brad Manera who is the Executive Manager of the ANZAC Memorial in Hyde Park in Sydney. Brad spoke more widely about the experience of Australians in war right back to our early white settlement. He also gave a good summary of the different Australian Brigades as they entered World War I. His explanation of the Gallipoli battles was clear and concise. It would be fascinating to be on a battlefield tour in situ to really understand more about this Australian-coming-of-age battle.  His discussion of Australians on the Western Front was informative and no matter how many times you hear the numbers, they remain sobering. Again it’s emphasised for me that a Western Front battlefield tour is one I’d really like to take so an expert can fully explain the mechanics of the battles on the ground. We visited Villers-Bretonneux , Amiens and Fleurbaix back in 1992 as these are “family sites” and they were tremendously moving but to learn more from an expert would add a greater dimension. Another item for the bucket list!

A number of my relatives were in the Light Horse so I was interested to learn that it was the Queensland Light Horse who started the tradition of the emu feather in their slouch hats and that it dated from the 1891 shearers’ strike in which they helped to break the strike –not so keen on that bit. The New South Welshmen apparently wore a black cockatoo feather while unsurprisingly the West Australians chose a black swan feather.

Brad also explained that the ubiquitous presence of war memorials around Australia post-WWI was partly because the families of those who died would never have a burial and were unlikely to ever see their relative’s grave because it was so far away (not to mention that some soldiers’ bodies were never found as evidenced by the huge wall at Villers-Bretonneux) .  Almost every family was affected and every community so they needed to have some symbol of their patriotism and tremendous losses.

Shauna Hicks was the last speaker at this seminar and spoke clearly about how to locate information on your military ancestors. Although I don’t have anyone in the Boer War, I was interested to learn that some of those records remain with the state libraries or other repositories. She also highlighted the Mapping Our Anzacs website, reminding me that adding scrapbook notes to my relatives’ entries is another item on my “to do” list that remains outstanding.  The other helpful site is the ADFA site which has had various incarnations over the years. As usual, Shauna will post her talk on her webpage making it easier to revisit the details.

Comments on Shauna Hicks’s talk re Online trends in Family History

As a fairly techno-competent family historian I didn’t expect to get so much from Shauna’s talk on Online Trends. I was wrong! Sure there were plenty of sites that I’ve used and love, but there were great insights into new ones and new strategies. I learnt what RSS was all about (not having bothered to find out before!) and promptly went home & linked Shauna’s webpage via RSS so I know when things change.

Even though I’m on Facebook I don’t really use it a lot nor had I felt inclined to twitter which always seemed a bit pointless. Once again I was wrong! Shauna’s tips revealed a wonderful world of up-to-the-minute bulletins of genealogical, historical and family history news. Looks like I might have acquired another obsession: -) I’m still figuring some things out about how to fully use twitter, not to mention the protocols, but it certainly is fun!

The benefits of general emails like yahoo and gmail were covered and people gasped when Shauna said she has six emails (I “only” have five). While I can see the benefits of keeping a generic email so you can change providers if you wish, my own preference is to keep a general email that I can “dump” if it gets spammed. It also meant I could screen who I could give which email to…I learnt the hard way with my old dial-up connection -far too many spam mails for obscene activities and viagra, even with a good security system. My plea is that people learn to use the Blind copy (BCC) facility on their email program when sending out bulk emails eg jokes etc. This limits where your email goes, or at least who can vacuum up your email.

I suppose many of us know the dangers of the internet but it amazes me how much personal information can be deduced from what’s on Facebook (for example) and probably also this blog.

Skype is great both in terms of cost-saving if family and friends are overseas or interstate and you don’t have a bulk package on your land-line. It also means you can use video links to see your family and grandchildren so you can see them grow and interact with them. You can even use it to have a live feed on the family’s new home by moving the laptop around the house to see the rooms.

I’m also a fan of RootsChat when you really can’t get to a records office or look at an original record. There are many kind souls who will help you out -BUT do make sure you pull your weight by doing as much as possible yourself first. It is your family history research after all.

I’m not much of a fan of Genes Reunited even thoughI’ve made some good contacts. I’m pathologically averse to people vacuuming up my information without even acknowledging my data and without responding or offering any information themselves. It’s really not courteous and definitely puts me off helping others until I test the waters. On the plus side, there are some serious researchers with whom you can work collaboratively.

Shauna’s talk was also a good reminder about how many learning resources for family history are “out there” on podcasts  -if one only (1) remembers to use them and (2) finds the time to get to them.  People with convicts might be interested in the podcast from The (UK) National Archives on Transportation to Australia http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/podcasts/. Or their podcast on Apprenticeship records for family historians. Perhaps I should heed my own advice and go and listen to some!

All this and I’ve yet to learn more about, and explore, nings.

So check out Shauna’s talk on her website at http://www.shaunahicks.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/Online-Trends-in-Family-History.pdf and learn more about these exciting online trends.