52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 5 Life experiences: Finding Mary O’Brien

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 GenealogyWeek 5’s topic is Life Experiences: Sometimes the challenges in life provide the best learning experiences. Can you find an example of this in your own family tree? Which brick wall ancestor are you most thankful for, and how did that person shape your family history experience?

This gorgeously framed photo of Mary O'Brien was given to me by my Sydney cousins.

This is a tricky one and after some reflection I decided on my ancestor Mary O’Brien from County Clare.  Why? Well for two reasons really. Firstly, with a name like that from Clare, you’d have had more chance of finding the proverbial needle in the haystack and secondly, her own life experiences gave her the fortitude to make her new life in Australia.

So how do you solve a problem like Mary O’Brien from Co Clare? I’d have to say that to a large degree I got lucky. I’d been doing my family history less than 12 months when I sent out a barrage of letters to people with the Kunkel surname in and around Toowoomba. What’s Kunkel got to do with it? You see Mary O’Brien, an Irish lady, married George Kunkel, a proud Bavarian and also a strong Catholic. Luckily for me, the Kunkel surname is an unusual one and my father always said anyone with that name in Australia was related…not 100% correct as it happened but about 97%.

Anyway, by pure chance one of my letters went to an unknown cousin who had close links to the surviving grandchild of Mary & George Kunkel and after they’d spoken to her, got in touch with me. Before long we’d organised a meeting in Toowoomba…it was the strangest feeling to find myself amidst a group of equally tall strangers who were really 2nd or 3rd cousins. Anne Kunkel, the granddaughter, was by then in her mid-80s and steadily going blind but her memory was as sharp as a tack. She quickly told me the family tree, who was whom, where they lived, and where they fitted in. She confidently knocked on the head that George and Mary had a daughter Elizabeth, but did have one called Louisa….one and the same person as it turned out.

During a few visits over the coming year or two, we met up again and Anne filled in gaps for me about her grandmother Mary O’Brien, telling me she came out to work for a sea captain, that she had a job lined up “before ever she got here”, that she was 16 when she left Ireland and was six months at sea. Despite the fact that Anne thought two of her sisters, Bridget and Kate, came to Australia with her, I have proved that Kate came later but have never found Mary and Bridget’s immigration records. Anne also knew the names of Mary’s siblings who stayed behind in Ireland.

Anne couldn’t remember Mary’s place of birth but thought it was something like Longford. She did however remember the name of Mary’s sisters in Australia including Bridget’s married name of Widdup. Mary’s death certificate hadn’t obliged me with anything more than the usual “Co Clare”. Luckily her sister’s death certificate was more helpful and named Broadford as her place of birth though mixing up the parents’ names. It also enlightened me that Bridget had spent a year in Queensland and the rest of her Australian life had been lived in New South Wales. This tends to support the story that Bridget and Mary arrived together. The benefits of tracing siblings!

Another of Anne’s historical gifts was the name of family members in Sydney. Through these cousins I was able to combine their personal knowledge with archival and other research to confirm the links in Australia and Ireland.  Through them, too, I was able to link up with some of Mary’s sister’s descendants who live in the USA.  The triangulation of the family names in the record sources meant I could pin down the family in the townland of Ballykelly in the Parish of Kilseily, Broadford, Clare.

I’ve never regarded oral history as one of my strong suits so I’m eternally grateful that Anne Kunkel was the perfect interviewee, clear and accurate in her responses in ways that could often readily be verified in the official records. Her closeness to her grandmother as a small child meant that she had kept these stories close to her heart through all those years, to pass on just before her own death. But her gifts didn’t stop there. She also provided me with stories of their farm and the day to day life (she, her brother and her parents had come to live with the Kunkel grandparents in their old age). The stories of George Kunkel preparing his sausages and the ways of the farm are treasured parts of our family history. Without Anne Kunkel’s gifts, her grandmother would have remained just another Mary O’Brien from Co Clare, never to be distinguished from her many compatriots of that name.

Mary’s own life experience and stamina

Mary O’Brien was born around 1834 in rural Clare. She would have been about 12 when the Irish Famine decimated its people. Because the parish registers only start in 1844, there is no record of Mary’s birth, nor that of any siblings born before that time.  Catholic registers don’t usually record deaths and the Church of Ireland records, which did sometimes include all burials, no longer exist, so there is no way of knowing how many of her family may have died, though if they were typical perhaps as many as half would have fallen victim through this terrible time. What is clear from the registers is how the marriage and baptism rates plummet during the Famine.

Mary’s survival will no doubt have given her a high level of immunity to illness, as well as the strength as an adult to persevere when life’s challenges may have seemed insurmountable. She was a country girl, used to hard work and few frills, and life as a pioneer demanded all the skills, courage and stamina she could bring to bear. In her old age she was able to travel by train to Sydney to see her daughter and her sister’s children. I wonder did she ever meet up with her sister Bridget again after they parted in Moreton Bay in the 1850s? No one seems to know. Although she herself couldn’t write, the families plainly knew where each was, and must have kept in touch somehow. Perhaps her husband, who could write, had been able to keep them connected. Sadly no letters survive from their life in Murphys Creek, either in Australia or Ireland…at least as far as I can determine. How strange then, to meet with the inheritor of the O’Brien land in Ballykelly and both be astonished at our mutual knowledge of the family.

The power of oral history and personal knowledge! Oh, yes, and someone, somewhere has photographs.

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?

Beyond the Internet week 4: Donations and subscriptions

This is Week 4 in my Beyond the Internet series of topics in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens. I’d love it if you wanted to join in with your own posts on this week’s topic which is donations and subscriptions.

Have you ever considered how useful it would be to find the causes that your ancestors supported and to which they donated their hard-earned money? Well it’s sometimes (not always) possible to do so and today I’m highlighting some of the causes I’ve come across in my research. I’m walking a fine line between the online world and that beyond the ether but although I’m using linked examples from Trove, rest assured I only knew they were there because I’d seen them the old-fashioned way, by scrolling through day after day of newspaper microfilms. Yes, Trove is a wonderful source but not all papers are online as yet and not all countries have a “Trove” to fall back on. Not to mention that sometimes the OCR just doesn’t work as well on old newspapers.

extract from The North Australian, Ipswich, 15 November 1859 listing all subscriptions to the building of the new Catholic Church in Ipswich.

The benefits of donations and subscriptions first came to my attention when I found long lists of donations towards the construction of the Catholic church in Ipswich, Queensland. Not only is my George Kunkel listed, but one or two of his Dorfprozelten compatriots and other names familiar to me. The wonderful thing about these lists, too, is that as towns and churches were established there was often a very ecumenical support for the different churches irrespective of religious affiliation. Just because your rellie was on the Catholic list doesn’t mean he wasn’t a Methodist, or vice versa.

The other great thing about these donations is that they can pinpoint the location of ancestors before they made it into the official records in other ways. They may not yet be on the electoral roll, own land or have been naturalised but if the priest or minister was drumming up funds for the church, they had little chance of escape. You may find they were somewhere completely unexpected (unless you have a Smith, Brown or Jones in which case it’s more problematic).

Their relative contribution may also tell you a little about their economic security of the time, however not too much can be read into that. Those of us biblically inclined will remember the story of the poor widow’s mite: a donation well beyond what she could afford.

How do you find them if your family’s location is not served through the Trove digitisation program? Firstly look in the advertisement section of the paper as that seems to be the general positioning of these subscription lists as they are commonly called. You can also take your clues from the events of the day like the Crimean War, World War I, the famine and migration from Ireland and Scotland in the mid 19th century. Yes it’s tedious, and eye-crossing, to look through pages of microfilmed newspapers but it is possible and can be rewarding – you never know what else you might spot along the way.

Although I haven’t shown any links here, it’s also worth remembering that in those days people were accustomed to publicising their political affiliation and the newspapers would show published letters of support for one candidate or another. It’s all grist for the family history mill.

So straddling the boundary fence of the online and offline world, here are some examples of what you might find in a search like this.

Do you have other examples where your ancestors made donations or subscriptions to worthy causes?

Church subscriptions Ipswich

Moreton Bay Courier 7 May 1853,  27 October 1855 and 5 January 1856 for the Roman Catholic Church, Ipswich

Church subscriptions Warwick

Moreton Bay Courier 16 April 1853 (Catholic)

Moreton Bay Courier 12 June 1858 (Wesleyan Methodist)

Moreton Bay Anniversary Regatta

Moreton Bay Courier 5 January 1856

Crimean War Patriotic Fund donations

The Courier Hobart 31 March 1855 and 2 April 1855

The Sydney Morning Herald lists donations received from regional areas as well as detailed lists of names on 2 March 1855 or 29 March 1855.

Moreton Bay Courier 14 April 1855

World War I Patriotic Donations

Mornington Standard (Frankston, Melbourne) 15 May 1915

An interesting medal is shown on the Australian War Museum website for gold donors in the 1915 Australia Day fundraising for World War I. Strangely it doesn’t refer to Australia Day on 26 January but it had been decided that 20 July 1915 an “Australia Day” was decided that on 30 July 1915 an ‘Australia Day’ would be celebrated across the country, and funds would be raised to help the Australian Division of the Red Cross continue to provide their services.

This one apparently belonged to a Captain R A McKillop.

Irish and Scotch relief fund

Sydney Morning Herald 18 March 1848

Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston Tasmania) 3 March 1847

Melbourne Argus 30 July 1847

Geneameme: My bucket list of geneawishes

Geniaus has challenged us again with The Bucket List GeneaMeme.

The list should be annotated in the following manner:
Things you would like to do or find: Bold Type
Things you haven’t done or found and don’t care to: plain type
You are encouraged to add extra comments after each item


You can see I’m just plain greedy when it comes to genealogy as I struggle to nominate only one option per question. Like my father when asked did he want custard, cream or ice cream, I’m just saying “yes please!”

I also haven’t put the things I want to do in bold as I want to do them all and then I’d be “shouting”. In the past I’ve combined my love of travel and family history, so I’ve been very fortunate and able to tick lots of things off my bucket list..I have an abundance of genealogy blessings….and a much emptier wallet than if I’d just taken up bridge or tennis 😉

  1. The genealogy conference I would most like to attend is the Australasian Irish Studies Conference in 2013.
  2. The genealogy speaker I would most like to hear and see is one who is enthusiastic and inspires me with new strategies and research “schemes”, but I’d especially like to hear Richard Reid talk about the Irish migration from 1848 to 1870.
  3. The geneablogger I would most like to meet in person is Lynn Palermo from the Armchair Genealogist (for writing) or Joan from Roots’n Leaves so we chat about the Scots …so many choices…
  4. The genealogy writer I would most like to have dinner with is Chris from That Moment in Time so we can talk about Clare research for hours. Even better we’d invite Angela from The Silver Voice as well and Jennifer from A flesh and bone foundation.
  5. The genealogy lecture I would most like to present is one that engages my audience and inspires them to try new research combining local and family history.
  6. I would like to go on a genealogy cruise that has lots of my genea-mates on it, and visits Dorfprozelten am Main instead of sailing past it, one that tours the Scottish islands, or one that takes me back to Papua New Guinea.
  7. The photo I would most like to find is one of Bridget and James McSharry or Denis and Ellen Gavin.
  8. The repository in a foreign land I would most like to visit is the National Archives of Scotland,  Edinburgh City Archives and Mitchell Library, Glasgow (three-for-one visit) or Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies.
  9. The place of worship I would most like to visit is Kilmorich church at Cairndow so I can plant more daffodils on my 2xgreat-grandmother’s grave (Isabella Morrison McCorkindale) or the old Murphys Creek Catholic church, now a library on private property.
  10. The cemetery I would most like to visit is Murphys Creek so I can see the renovated Kunkel grave with its new plaque or Rockhampton, Queensland where my McSherrys are buried.
  11. The ancestral town or village I would most like to visit is Leith…preferably in sunshine for a change. (I could combine this with #7).
  12. The brick wall I most want to smash is finding out how George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien arrived in Australia or what happened to my James McSharry.
  13. The piece of software I most want to buy is an updated full version of Adobe Acrobat or Dragon Dictate.
  14. The tech toy I want to purchase next is my own tablet (instead of pinching hubby’s ipad) or maybe a compact video camera for recording my husband’s interesting life story.
  15. The expensive book I would most like to buy is Ghosts of the Faithful Departed (thanks to The Silver Voice for this tip off) or The Families of Kilmaley Parish (thanks Chris).
  16. The library I would most like to visit is the local history library at Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies for more in-depth exploration AND Clare Local Studies Centre in Ennis, Co Clare.
  17. The genealogy related book I would most like to write is about Irish migration from East Clare to Australia in the mid 19th century or the Dorfprozelten immigrants to Australia or the history of Murphys Creek or my Melvin family history (oops that’s four!)
  18. The genealogy blog I would most like to start would be about the Dorfprozelten immigrants to Australia.
  19. The journal article I would most like to write would be about a pioneer sportsman in our family, Jack Bishop, a motorbike racer or maybe it would the bigamist in the family tree.
  20. The ancestor I most want to meet in the afterlife is George Kunkel so I can find out how he came to Australia, whether he felt he’d made the right choice to emigrate leaving an easier life in Bavaria and how it felt to know his grandsons were off fighting his original countrymen.

Geniaus also asked us: Is there anything else on your Genealogy Bucket List?

  1. Finding out who the people are in this photo. If you know anyone, or think you do, please contact me.
  2. Unlimited time in my archives and libraries of choice – and a bequest or Lotto win that lets me do that!
  3. Being able to attend Who Do You Think You Are Live! in London would be fun.
  4. More study in family or local history.
  5. More hours in the day!

Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the starsLes Brown

Australia Day 2012: Wealth for toil on the railway?

Denis Joseph Kunkel (Centre) with his brother James Edward (left) and an unknown friend or relation (right) c1917.

Shelley from Twigs of Yore has again initiated an Australia Day blogging theme. In 2012 the focus is  “wealth for toil” drawing on the words of our national anthem, Advance Australia Fair. Our challenge is to choose an Aussie ancestor and relate how they toiled. There were several alternative approaches but I chose to tell the story of my grandfather’s occupation as a railway worker both in times of peace and at war. Is wealth for toil meant to signify the wealth generation workers create or does it mean they will gain “wealth”?

Many years ago, long before the advent of Ipswich’s wonderful Railway Workshops Museum, I visited a dusty, daggy old office where I was permitted to trawl through equally dusty drawers and boxes of old index cards. These were the records for some of Queensland’s railway workers. Although I’ve since searched similar records at Queensland State Archives, I don’t believe they hold the same cards.

This old image is thought to be Fountain’s (railway) Camp near Murphys Creek.

One of the cards I found all those years ago was my grandfather’s service history. Denis Joseph Kunkel came from a railway family, indeed he was born in a railway camp at the Forty Mile near Dalby. He might be said to have had iron tracks running through his bloodstream and the rattle of the trains in his ears: his grandfather worked on the Ipswich-Toowoomba line around its construction, his father worked on various lines on the Downs and near Jimboomba, while his mother also had jobs as a railway carriage cleaner and gatekeeper[i].

Denis joined the railway as a young lad and is first listed as a 19 year old lad porter at Central Station in Brisbane in 1900, earning a daily pay of 1 shilling and 8 pence (about 18 cents!). Wealth for toil…it appears not!

It’s likely Denis had been out working well before this but I’ve found no record of what he did or where. Denis was the eldest child of George and Julia Kunkel both of whom died in late 1901, and his move back to Grantham in 1902 was probably precipitated by the need to be involved in some way with his younger siblings. Even though he was still a lad porter, his pay increased to 5 shillings a day. Was this in any way related to his being the eldest and needing to provide some financial support to his younger siblings? My father always said that Dinny supported them financially though there are no anecdotes on this in other branches.

Roma Street railway yards c1897. John Oxley LIbrary Image number: APO-023-0001-0001 Copyright expired.

Denis worked his way through the standard railway progression from lad porter to porter then to shunter, the most dangerous job in the railways with a tremendously high injury rate. However shunting was a necessary stepping stone on the way to becoming a guard. As he worked these jobs he followed the opportunities from Maryborough to Roma Street then to Ipswich and Gympie before finally buying his block of land in Brisbane (see this post). The old timber storage box in which he carried his belongings as he moved from one posting to another is a fixture in my mother’s house.

In his early working days he was involved with the unions and thanks to Trove I now know he was secretary to the Railway Employees Association in 1909 and was the Traffic Employees’ scrutineer in the election of members for the Railway Appeals Board. He attended the Federated Railway Transport and Traffic Employees conference in Brisbane in 1909 after which he was one of a deputation of 5 men to present “certain requests” to the Traffic Manager. He attended the Federated Railway Transport and Traffic Employees conference in Brisbane in 1909 after which he was one of a deputation of 5 men to present “certain requests” to the Traffic Manager (ii). Wealth for toil….every step negotiated with “management” and dependent on the strength of your union.

Railway workers were in a reserved occupation during World War II and as yet I’m uncertain as to whether this was the case in World War I. Either way my grandfather didn’t rush to enlist even though two of his younger brothers and several cousins had already volunteered. Two cousins had already paid the ultimate price on the Western Front. It was only in 1917 when the Army called for men with railway expertise that he enlisted with the AIF in the 59th (and later 5th) Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (ABGROC). As the battles raged on the Western Front, experienced men were needed who could operate the railway infrastructure so vitally important to the movement of men, fuel and supplies.

A Railway Operating Division (ROD) train at Couchil-le-Temple 1918: precisely where my grandfather was stationed at the time. AWM Image AO2516 copyright expired.

As their train steamed south to meet the troop carriers, Denis passed through Murphys Creek where his grandfather had worked on the railway and where his grandmother still lived. His young cousin, Anne Kunkel, remembered seeing these khaki clad men going off to war. Did his grandmother also come down to the station from the Fifteen Mile to see him while the steam train took on water for the steep climb up the range? A newspaper report specifically mentions that he and his brother Jim passed through Toowoomba en route[iii]. Did he defer joining up until after his German-born grandfather died in March 1916? So many questions without answers.

Although these new army recruits were experienced with Australian railway systems, they needed training in the specifics of European rolling stock before playing their part in the battles, and once in Belgium or France, to learn the routes. The Company’s war history reports on the shelling of the line in July 1918 between Ypres and Poperinghe, where Denis was stationed. It was generally thought that the Railway Operating Division’s men were “Right Out of Danger”[iv] but when the enemy knew how vital the railway was to the Allied war effort it’s hard to imagine it was entirely safe. Dad talked about the heavy weaponry being brought to bear on them with the Germans’ “Big Bertha” guns taking a line on them. The war diaries provide a surprisingly rich description of life for the members of the ABGROC. No doubt they were preserved to a degree from the craziness and unpredictability of the battlefront which impacts other war diaries. Perhaps this is the closest they came for wealth for their toil, despite the hazards of war.

Denis’s army file shows that only days after his 38th birthday he had two weeks leave in Paris. Somehow it’s hard to imagine him strolling down the Champs Elysees. Afterwards he had little to say about this adventure other than “one city is much the same as another”. After the Armistice he was granted a further two weeks leave in England and it’s also possible that during this leave he may have visited his future wife’s family in Scotland, but this is merely family story.

Railway staff card for Denis Joseph Kunkel showing wage variations based on economic conditions, changing Awards, and war time allowances.

On his return to Australia in 1919, Dinny resumed his working life in the railway. He was posted at Roma Street (1919-1925) then Mayne Junction (1926-1945) and by the time he retired he was a 1st class guard. Over the years his wages fluctuated with the Depression, the 40 hour week, and the WWII effort but he earned enough to have a secure livelihood for his family. Wealth for toil = steady wages + secure position – physical danger.

The workplace was a different environment then – no workplace mediation or counselling. If you got something wrong, you got fined, and every now & then if you did something innovative, you got a financial reward. In 1940 Dinny was fined £5 and loss of pay while on suspension for having “failed to keep a good look out and give due observance to the down home signal when approaching Roma Street station, thereby contributing to the engine and portion of your train passing the said down home signal in the stop position[v]. This annotation was on his staff card but from TroveI learned that this resulted in “his” train being in a collision with the up train. Denis appealed the charge at the Railway Appeals Board and won, gaining compensation of £2/2/- (two guineas). It’s not clear whether he was also recompensed the lost fortnight’s wages or the £5 fine. Wealth for toil: if you got it right and made no mistakes.

Illustrated front cover from The Queenslander October 2 1930 shows te head and hands of a railway guard. With one hand the guard holds a whistle to his lips and with the other he raises a green flag. John Oxley Library Image 702692-19301002-s001b. Copyright expired.

Denis took his job seriously and a family friend remembered that you didn’t dare run late for a train on which he was the guard, because he’d just blow his whistle at the allotted time and you would be left behind. Eventually, after 45 years and 9 months employment with the railway he took a well-earned retirement. He enjoyed sitting on the back steps smoking his pipe and watching the world go by. The wealth from his toil kept him secure in his retirement thanks to his pension and his savings.

However even in his retirement his occupation left its traces: his old railway whistle was one of my informal inheritances while his old guard’s cap lived at the very top of my grandparents’ wardrobe and was the home “bank” with spare cash, savings books, best jewellery etc stored in it. Obscured by the riser at the front top of the wardrobe it was “as safe as houses”. Wealth for toil indeed.

If you have relatives from the Darling Downs please have a look at this picture which includes Denis and some people with a Kunkel family resemblance. I’d love to find anyone who might recognise one of the other people in the photo.

——————-

[i] http://fhr.slq.qld.gov.au/qldrail/names_k.htm

[ii] http://trove.nla.gov.au/ . The Brisbane Courier, 23 February 1909 and The Brisbane Courier 28 June 1909. The Worker 3 July 1909. .

[iii] The Toowoomba Chronicle, 5 November 1917. Both Denis and Jim were said to be well known in the district.

[iv] No doubt a sentiment exacerbated by the large ROD acronym on the side of the engines.

[v] Rule 71b, 223a, 251s, Book of Rule By Law 308.

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.

Week 2 of Sharing Memories 2012: First flight(s)

OliveTree Genealogy is celebrating the 3rd year of Sharing Memories – A Genealogy Journey with the goal of writing our memoirs and childhood memories for our descendants. The topic for Week 2 is “First flight”.

This seems like such a simple question doesn’t it, yet for me there were three flights that fitted this description. As this theme is intended as a memoir for my descendants I’m going to take some authorial licence and write about each of my first flights.

One of my first occurrences in the bureaucratic record as a married woman was my entry permit to the Territory of Papua New Guinea. This is the second one that was issued to me.

When I was at university a friend was in the Air Force cadets and as part of his training he’d been taught to fly. For some reason he invited me to take an early flight with him from Brisbane’s general-aircraft airport at Archerfield. This was the first time I’d ever flown and it was fabulous to be up in the air and see the world from above (Thanks Matt!). I don’t remember being scared at all as I’d always had a fascination with flying perhaps attributable to my mother’s enthusiasm – she’d been a volunteer aircraft spotter in Brisbane during the War.

A few years later I took my first “real” commercial flight. We had been married less than two weeks and were heading to the then-Territory of Papua New Guinea where my husband had lived for many years and was just starting work with the government. Leaving Brisbane where I’d grown up meant leaving behind my family and many close uni friends so there was lots to be sad about, as well as excited about the life ahead. I remember there were many tears on all sides at that departure as we knew it would be likely be two years before I’d see them again. When I think about my ancestors setting sail from Ireland, England, Scotland and Germany, never to see their families again, my paltry two year absence is quite miniscule and irrelevant. But it wasn’t for me or my family. To my parents’ great credit they did not place pressure on me at this very difficult time of separation even though I know how much it cost them.

My hubbie's baggage tag from our first flight to my new home in TPNG. We flew in a Patair Piaggio: six seater from memory.

In those pre-security days Brisbane airport was just fenced and farewelling friends could stand at the fences to wave goodbye as those departing walked across the tarmac. I recall one of our very good male friends standing at the fence with two of my closest girlfriends draped on his neck, having a really good cry. I was no better and shed more than a few tears. For my husband, this was like taking a bus trip across town as he’d been doing the same flight a couple of times a year for about 15 years. As we disembarked at Jackson’s Airport in Port Moresby my first impressions were the wall of tropical heat and the ground crew with dark faces and curly hair and dressed in lap-laps or sulus with the initials of TAA down the side. My life had irrevocably changed in a few short hours. I had left my familiar life and family behind to start a new life…perhaps a tiny glimpse of life as an immigrant. It’s not the thrill of flying that I remember from that first commercial flight but the all-encompassing emotional rollercoaster.

This little book is my student pilot's licence. Currently in my archives, I hope it survives into the future.

By the time I took my final “first flight”, I’d notched up many hours on commercial flights in an array of aircraft. I’d had an urge to learn to fly for some time and as I headed into my 30th year, my husband decided it was time for me to take the plunge. I remember in my first lesson being inundated with diverse technical information before taking to the air. Do you remember when you first learned to drive and you struggled to assimilate all the skills required of you? Learning to fly was like that…I couldn’t begin to imagine how I would manage the controls, radio the tower and watch the skies, let alone get that little Grumman Tiger (code-sign VH-SPG) into the air or down to earth again safely. I vividly remember watching from mid-flight as an early Qantas jumbo took off into Moresby’s skies with effortless ease like a pelican getting airborne.  Although I enjoyed learning the skills and feeling slowly more competent, I eventually reached the conclusion that I would never be a natural pilot and gave up my lessons when I was pregnant. I have no regrets about giving it away, I was pleased I’d given it a go, but I don’t think I ever felt sufficiently confident or competent to be a good pilot. The 3D world is an unforgiving space as Papua New Guinea’s flying history testifies.

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 Abundant Genealogy: Week 2 – Thistle do me: ScotlandsPeople

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 2’s topic is Paid Online Genealogy Tools: Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? What special features put it at the top of your list? How can it help others with their genealogy research?

Which paid genealogy tool do you appreciate the most? For me this is indisputably the ScotlandsPeople web site. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve used it for myself or my friends. With an efficient search you can get that certificate for the cost of a cup of coffee and you have to admit that’s good value. Sure you can also get the wrong answer to your search ie not the one you were looking for, or hoping for. However the site lets you search using wildcards which can limit the risk so my trick is to use wildcards as much as possible within my requirements, but narrow the search parameters where necessary to ensure I don’t get too many pages of indexes. One year for my friend’s birthday I was able to do a family tree for her for less than $100 (she’s a long-standing, generous friend) and all of it in less than two days. Admittedly I was lucky that her families were in parishes with good stretches of records and that they didn’t move too much. Still it shows what’s possible.

What special features put it at the top of your list? The accuracy of the indexing (mostly) and the ability to see primary records electronically are my top reasons. I may use my Ancestry subscription or FreeCen, for example, to narrow the margins and search for names in the census until I know I probably have the right one then I will go to ScotlandsPeople to see the actual record. That way I can also see the header page for the enumeration district. I also LOVE that the Scots retain the woman’s maiden name and so you are even more likely to be able to find her.

How can it help others with their genealogy research? I’ve heard many people say they’ve looked at it but never paid to use it because it’s expensive. Of course we all have different economic resources, but for me, in terms of bang for your buck, I strongly recommend using ScotlandsPeople. It’s accurate, efficient and you’re seeing a primary record “immediately”…all for the price of that coffee, remember. You are not reliant on what some indexer has decided the document says. You also get to look at who is on the same page and you may even find another relative lurking there. Give it a go, you won’t regret it!

Beyond the Internet Week 2 (belatedly): Ancestral homes and their history

My good intentions to publish this in week 2 were derailed by house-hunting interstate so, with my thoughts locked on real estate, it seemed appropriate to talk about ancestral houses and what we can find out about them beyond the internet.

My ancestor's inn in Dorfprozelten stood where the bank is on the left of the image. Sad as it is that it was demolished only about 40 years ago, the street remains much as it was so I could get a good sense of where my family lived.

For most of us a high point on our ancestral wish-list, is to actually see our ancestors’ homes. Sometimes that’s possible because they’re close by and still standing. Sheryl’s transcriptions and comments on her grandmother’s diary illustrate how personal documents can highlight the day-to-day usage of the family farm or house, but even just seeing the building can give us great excitement.

It was 19th century land enclosure records from the Hertfordshire Archives in England that gave me the necessary clues to identify the precise location of my ancestor’s pub in Sandon. I told this story here.

This stone wall is actually the remains of the old O'Brien house in Ballykelly townland, Parish Kilseily. How would I have known that without the knowledge of the inheritor of the property? You see the land they lived on in the header images for my blog - the red roofed shed.

Don’t forget, too, that there may be LDS microfilms for your ancestor’s original parish which may tell you about their house or land eg parish vestry minutes can be a wonderful source of information. In the online world, Heritage-listed property information gave me more details about the structure of the building and google rounded it out with some clues into its more recent life.

An underutilised resource, both offline and online, are the cultural heritage studies undertaken by many Shire Councils in Australia.

A view of the back of the old kitchen on the Kunkel property framed by the old fig tree.

These may make mention of your family’s home or property and it may be worth asking if there are unpublished reports on individual properties even where they are not mentioned in the final report. I was very fortunate when the current owner gave me a copy of the Cultural Heritage Study by Gatton Shire Council which referred to my Kunkel family’s farm at the Fifteen Mile. It makes mention of the kitchen outbuilding as a “slab building…of local significance”. Similarly the huge old fig tree that overlooks the cottage and kitchen, is a “significant fig tree” and is tied to the wedding photo of my grandfather’s sister where the whole family gathers underneath it.

The stone steps at the Kunkel property at the Fifteen Mile, Murphys Creek.

The study found that the stone steps to the cottage were a later addition, and yet they so exactly mirror the ones found in George Kunkel’s home village that I wonder. I confess that further investigation of cultural heritage studies is still on my to-do list though many references can be found on the internet. Time and being able to visit the local records office can be stumbling blocks but a phone call may reveal whether such reports exist.

Of course many of us can’t get to see our ancestors’ homes for one of two reasons (1) they’re too far away or (2) they’ve been demolished. In these cases we’re dependent on old records (some available online) to tell us more about them: newspaper articles, old photos or local histories. When the digital British Newspaper Archives was opened up recently I found a news article about my great-grandmother talking a little about troublemakers on their farm…because I’d seen the property I could envisage what was happening. Back on the internet, old online maps, Google earth or street view enable us to see houses, streets and places far away from where we live.

Similar stone steps in Dorfprozelten worn down by decades, if not centuries, of use.

Local archives host a vast array of records, some of which are likely to help with the history of your family’s homes. Queensland family historians are very fortunate that they have access to wonderful records of their ancestor’s land selections outside the urban area. As part of their selection, our ancestors were required to improve the property and the records that arose from this process are invaluable. You will find when and where on the block your ancestors built the land (especially useful if it no longer exists), a description of the house, what fencing they’d done, what crops and animals they had on the land and the like. On George Kunkel’s land selection it makes mention that there was a “four roomed cottage” with the “selector’s wife and family residing during the last five years” in compliance with the residence requirements. Does this mean that George was elsewhere or simply that the family’s residence was continuous while he may have been off working on the railway or pork butchering? As always each discovery seems to lead to more questions. It’s worth remembering that even if that house no longer exists, the paper records in the archives retain the story of its earliest life. You may never see a photograph but you will have a mental image of your ancestor’s home and how they lived their lives.

These records are held at the Queensland State Archives and no doubt similar records may be available from other archives. Local heritage centres and libraries may also provide further clues. It would be interesting to hear from other regions and countries about the resources they’ve found to fill out the story of the ancestral homes.

Week 3’s topic, coming up in a day or two, will also be house-related.