Family History Alphabet: N is for….

Family History AlphabetMy theme for the Family History through the Alphabet is the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents we need to bring to our research. Week 14 brings us attributes from the letter N.

N is for notetaking par excellence: If we aren’t good at notetaking when we start this journey, we certainly need to develop those skills. Without them we lose track of what we’ve found and where we’ve stored the information. We also run the risk of missing anomalies in the data we find.

N is for navigating new records and new sites: As our family history develops we need to learn about new records and how to maximise our usage of them.  With more information coming on daily (yet still leaving a vast amount lurking in archives everywhere), we also need to learn how to navigate new web sites.

N is for the white noise you get in your head when you’ve wandered the online labyrinth for too many hours without a thread to lead you home.

N is for nurturing and assisting other researchers. We also need to nurture those family stories so we can bring them to life for others.

N is for negotiating the stumbling blocks that research throws up, and sometimes negotiating outcomes with other researchers.

More about Maps

Ironically even as my post on maps and gazetteers was scheduled to go online last Saturday I was attending the National Family History Week talks hosted by the Northern Territory Library, one of which was about maps.

I was riveted by Geoff Carr’s presentation on maps and mapping. Geoff is a cartographer with the Northern Land Council and his experience really added to the interest factor, including talking about making maps from notes by anthropologists in the field plotting locations of dreaming lines and sacred sites from information provided by Aboriginal elders: a whole other type of mapping for family history! Geoff also showed us a wonderful array of map types. Geoff has given permission for me to share some of his tips with you:

  • Check the provenance of a map: why it was made, for whom and how it was created: not all maps are created equal. Just because it’s on a map doesn’t make it infallible.
  • Always include a scale mark on the section of a map you wish to enlarge. Otherwise as the map section gets larger you will not realise just how far apart places actually are.
  • Always, always look at the legend (the written bit, often on the bottom of the map). This will tell you when it was published, the scale, and what the symbols mean.
  • Always carry your GPS with you so you can pinpoint the precise spot.
  • A simple, clear map is better than a cluttered map. But that made me think of those beautiful old maps with art work of wind and dragons etc…we saw one at the Napoleon exhibition in Melbourne recently. They may not be as helpful but they did look gorgeous.
  • Geoff talked about pinning places on Google Earth and using it to map locations, but many geneabloggers are already doing this.
  • Click on the history button in Google Earth to see what was at an address some time ago (the button looks a little like a clock). Although Geoff said some places have long timelines, I’ve only found maps back to 2001 for the places I’ve searched: much will depend on where you’re looking.
  • Aerial photos are more accurate than satellite images. You can buy these at different places. I got my aerial photo of the Fifteen Mile at Murphy’s Creek from Qld’s Dept of Lands years ago. But of course Google Earth is free so you’re only likely to use the aerial photos for somewhere you’re very keen to have, or to get an older aerial image.
  • The older the aerial photo the more distortion you’ll get away from the centre-point (nadir) of the picture.  The scale won’t be exact on the edges.
  • Explore the various guides and help facilities on Google Earth
  • Did you know there’s a program called Google Earth Pro? No, I didn’t either but it’s available for $399 a year and for that it can be used by two users. It did sound like tremendous fun as it apparently has far more options because it’s used by mapping professionals.
  • Geoscience Australia provides lots of helpful information and the place search option will give you coordinates for the place.
  • An evil tip to unbalance a cartographer? Fold a map in front of them!

Thanks Geoff for a fun, interesting and educational talk.

My 1968 copy of the Readers Digest Complete Atlas of Australia.

While on the subject of maps I wanted to add a book reference to my blog post. If you can get your hands on an old (1960s) copy of the Readers Digest Atlas of Australia via e-bay or online bookstores, it’s worth having. (in fact there’s one on sale right now)  The National Library has some more recent holdings). I’ve found all sorts of things in this atlas that are difficult to find elsewhere because it also shows the old properties and stations. For example I was able to pinpoint the location of an outstation for a property (ranch in American terms) for another family. Unfortunately they don’t appear in the index so ideally you need an idea of the general area it’s in before you go hunting.

The other talk that I really enjoyed was by a man who had been adopted in England as a child. He and his wife had recently decided to return to England for a visit and to follow up his birth mother, whose name they’d got from his original birth certificate. Further sleuthing on Ancestry and phone books led him to his half-sisters and the man who would have been his step-father, all of whom welcomed him into the family. His mother had died in the late 1990s. His journeying was very emotional and it was a touching story. I really admired George’s courage in sharing his story with other family historians. Thanks George!

Wrote by Rote guest post

The Blurb book which includes the memoir posts from my blog. (the cover is actually high gloss snowy white).

A while ago I was generously offered a guest post on Wrote by Rote by blog-owner Arlee Bird who is one of the coordinators of the A to Z series. Wrote by Rote is a blog about writing memoirs so it fitted with my own contribution to the A to Z series where I wrote about family places. My post Recording Family History for Future Generation was published on Saturday. You can click on the link if you’d like to read it.

I’d like to thank Arlee Bird for the opportunity to write as a guest on his blog.

A recent post on Wrote by Rote which I found very insightful and thought provoking was Writing our life screenplay by Ron Easton from Dads UnLimited. Definitely well worth a read.

An example of the pages from my Advent Calendar posts.

An example of the pages from my A to Z series.

Beyond the Internet: Week 31 Maps and Gazetteers

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 31 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Maps and Gazetteers. This is part of the Archives and Libraries section of the series. Please do join in and write comments or posts on your experiences with these.

In Week 28 of this series I talked about the importance of place in your family’s history and what records you may also find to add to your knowledge of their lives. Today I want to talk about the specifics of the place.


Apart from having a general map obsession personally, maps really are the gateway to understanding the places where our ancestors lived: the topography, geographic layout, hills and mountains, rivers and streams.  All these physical factors affected how our families lived. It may have determined where their marriage partners came from or where they took their produce to market. It may even have affected their route to migration.  That’s a lot to gain from a piece of paper when it’s all said and done.

These days access to maps bridges the online and offline world. Major libraries are offering more and more maps of different vintages and mapping scales. Finding one that fits your family’s timeline in that place is particularly important, as much can change over time and the more the scale lets you zero in, the better. For example some of the streets where my great-grandparents lived in Glasgow c1880-1910, no longer appear on internet maps, or current street directories. However even street directories from 20 years ago will show them, enabling me to locate the place in real-time.

Similarly if your ancestor lived in a small village or hamlet, it may not be found when searching online maps. However with the aid of research, such as following the census pages around your village, you should be able to locate the nearest larger village. By then enlarging the image, you may find your place is actually on the map after all. My Scottish ancestors lived in a hamlet or clachan called Drimuirk in Argyll. Searching the National Library of Scotland gave me a zero response.  I knew what was close by from other research and from more modern ordnance survey maps so I kept at it until I located a mapwhich listed Cladich then kept zooming in, until lo and behold there was Drimuirk.

The stones are all that remains of the small settlement of Drimuirk by the shores of Loch Awe in Argyll. © P Cass 2010

Another challenge with old maps is the slight name changes and spelling variations. There’s really no simple way to get around this, other than to read what you can about the place; if searching permits, to use wildcards; try a neighbouring place with a less ambiguous name or zoom into the relevant area on the map (but first you need to know where that is).

Tithe maps, valuation maps and the like can provide wonderful insights into your family’s place of residence.  Try searching the local archive or library catalogue and see what maps they have available. If the maps aren’t available online and you can’t get to that archive/library, it may be worth your while to pay for a copy. In the UK use Access to Archives as well, because your map may be in an unexpected archive.

Other maps which can be utterly invaluable are land selection maps available through the archives. If you’re lucky these will show the selector’s name on the map giving you a broader understanding of the people who lived near your ancestors. Why does this matter? Well apart from building up your local knowledge there may be completely unexpected insights. For example the selection map for the Fifteen Mile near Murphys Creek in Queensland listed selectors with names familiar to me from my interest in the Dorfprozelten emigrants. Further research revealed that his small isolated pocket of settlement contained several families whose linkages back to Germany were unknown to their descendants –they had thought it was merely a neighbourly relationship. Well it was really –it’s just that the original neighbourhood had been tens of thousands of miles away in Bavaria, and quite a number of years.

In Week 3 I also wrote about the usefulness of survey maps when newer areas were opened up eg when suburban sub-divisions commenced. Similar survey maps may be available from the early settlement of rural areas. I was very fortunate to be given an early survey map for my Kunkel family land by the current owners. This was particularly lucky because I’ve found nothing similar in the archives. I’d love to show you these but they’re under copyright and I don’t have permission to reproduce them here.

Land purchase documents may also provide mini-maps of your ancestor’s land –where the house was built and where the outbuildings were located, as well as the cultivated areas of the land.

Maps really are a critical asset to our research.

Extract from The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland c1850 on the parish and town of Stachur, Argyll.


Gazetteers are complementary sources to the maps you’ll find, or it may work in reverse and they’ll lead you to the maps.  Gazetteers will tell you more about your place of interest, rounding out the details of its environment, people, industry etc.  I still remember my pleasure, and astonishment, at being able to borrow the Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, circa 1850s, from the bookshelves in The University of Queensland library. That information formed the basis of my family history research way back when I first started on this journey.

Using the same search example as above, the Scottish Gazetteer now online does not give me any information on Drimuirk, but does provide links and a map for Cladich. Similar opportunities exist to search for Queensland place names or the place atlas via Text Queensland. Other states also provide similar facilities.

Once again some of these resources are finding their way online but it’s worth checking the library catalogues as well as Google books and general Google searches. You just never know what you’ll find tucked away in libraries or achives. Also don’t forget to keep an eye out on internet sales sites such as e-bay in case relevant books and maps turn up for sale.

I hope this topic has increased your appetite to search out historic maps and gazetteers for your ancestral places. Not only will you learn so much more about the external factors that influenced their lives, you’ll get to do a little virtual travel as well.

Please tell us what you’ve learned from maps and gazetteers, or provide links to your places of interest, either in your own posts or via the comments.   

Family History Alphabet: M is for Mental Gymnastics, Maths and Mothers

Family History AlphabetMy theme for the Family History through the Alphabet is the Attributes we need as family historians: the skills, experience and talents we need to bring to our research. Week 13 is in the middle of the alphabet and brings us the letter M.

M is for MENTAL GYMNASTICS: I guess this is appropriate for the half-way mark and in the midst of the London Olympics. Not only does our mind get a work-out with learning and acquiring new skills, but we need to become proficient gymnasts. Triple back flips with twists are often required to resolve our challenging problems.

M is for MATHS:

What’s maths got to do with it? Well it certainly helps if we understand some basic maths given that money drove many of the documents we need to track down, whether taxes, land purchases, probate etc.  As if that’s not enough we will probably have to deal with conversions from pounds, shillings and pence (in the UK or elsewhere) and acres, roods and perches to hectares. Not to mention trying to assess what an amount from the 19th century converts to in current economic value.

M is for MONEY: Okay, not exactly an attribute but we surely do need some spare reserves of money if we’re to pursue this obsession of ours and to know how to be canny in making it go as far as possible.

M is for MATERNAL ANCESTORS: tracing our female ancestors can be trickier because they don’t always appear in formal documents. It’s up to us to give them equal air time and find ways of telling their stories that goes beyond the standard genealogical conventions.

I’d like to add M is for MORTALITY: the survival rates of our ancestors, but then again it’s not a researcher attribute.

Do you have other M word additions to our suite of attributes?

One Place Study -Broadford, Co Clare, Ireland

Okay enough of the frivolous business of Paris and Provence – back to some hard core family history.

Over the past few weeks I’ve been studying the coursework from another Pharos course, this one on One Place Studies (OPS). I was so tempted to focus on one of my easy ancestral places in England or Scotland where I know there are lots of sources, but in the end I knew I had to bite the bullet and look at Broadford in east County Clare.

A Google Earth map of Broadford and surrounding areas, including the townland of Ballykelly.

The main street through Broadford. P Cass 2006

Now I’m going to do some thinking “out loud” so to speak. My hope in doing that is to see if any of my readers have experience in this process and can offer some advice, especially around how to store the data.

As I mention on my blog page about Broadford and East Clare, I have an interest in the emigrants from this area. Some years ago as part of an online Advanced Diploma in Local History, I built a database of anyone I could identify as coming to New South Wales (including Moreton Bay and Victoria prior to separation) between 1848 and 1870. I used the NSW Board’s Immigrant Lists and the Immigration Deposit Journals[i] (both of which I’ll be talking about in a later Beyond the Internet post).

There are limitations to the data for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here, but in the early 1860s Broadford played a pivotal role in the Australian migration process.  Over the years I’ve played with my database trying to take the study a step further and make linkages between the emigrants and the records in Broadford with only limited success.  Every now and then I have another dabble then give up in frustration. Part of the problem is that I don’t like the database (no one to blame there but myself!). The One Place Study course was a strategy for making myself look at it further.

View towards the Catholic Church in Broadford, built when my ancestor Mary O’Brien was a young girl.

My ultimate goal is not to do a One Place Study per se. Even though I’ve visited Broadford four times, I don’t really have the in-depth knowledge of a local person born and bred. There is a researcher who has expertise in the area, Pat O’Brien (unfortunately not related to my O’Briens from the same area). Pat did his Masters thesis at Limerick University on Broadford 1830-1850[ii] and has also written several articles for the East Clare magazine, Sliabh Aughty.  Perhaps my contribution will be to analyse the emigrants, make some linkages, and crunch some data.

As a general rule, a One Place Study aims to reconstitute the families in a parish or village, revealing their kinship links and also learning more about population changes and who lived in that place. Of course other documentary sources are also used to build up the story of the village, its industry or occupations, migration patterns etc. The One Place Study website is useful but there aren’t too many studies for Ireland, though I was pleased to see a couple. Interestingly there are a few in Australia too which I’ve used without realising their formal role as an OPS.

This graph gives a fairly good idea of the impact of the Famine in the Parish of Kilseily where Broadford is situated

Now I’m going to stick my neck out here, and say it’s pretty difficult to do family reconstitution in the Republic of Ireland. The primary reason for that is the paucity of parish records. For example in Broadford, the RC parish registers start in 1844 but they’re very difficult to read, and initially they don’t mention which townland the person comes from. The Church of Ireland registers are no longer extant. Add to that the absence of (almost all) census records until 1901, and family reconstitution takes on a whole new level of complexity. Throw in the Irish Famine, An Gorta Mór, with its horrendous toll of death and migration and it gets worse.

As a trial I have focused on my ancestral townland of Ballykelly in the hills near Broadford.  About 15-20  families lived there c1852, so as I work through initial phases of this process it’s manageable. The documents I have to work with are:

  1. My transcription of the RC parish registers for Kilseily parish from 1844 to 1866 (in Excel and also my DB)
  2. Transcription of the townland residents, and owners, from the Griffith Valuations (GV) of 1852 (in Excel).
  3. Some information on the changed inheritance under the GV revisions (more to come from the microfilm)
  4. Transcription of the 1827 Tithe Applotments (TA)
  5. Link between the GV and TA data.
  6. Analysis of 1901 and 1911 census data with a particular focus on those people who were born between 1840 and 1870.
  7. Australian migration data 1848-1870 which mention Broadford or east Clare parishes or townlands. It does however include parents’ names, whether they were alive or dead at the time of migration and relatives in the colony. I’ve also done some work on linking them to relatives on board the ship.
  8. I have occupation and literacy analyses from my previous study and drawing on the DB data.
  9. Findmypast Ireland has some records which in theory should be searchable by place but don’t always work and Ancestry can also be searched by place.
  10. Newspaper downloads after place searching.
  11. Valuation maps which can be annotated with residents in the Griffith Valuation.
  12. Census statistics from Histpop. I also have some data I collected previously through a site link that’s no longer active.
  13. Reference books, theses and journal articles.

Do you have any thoughts on how I can link these up?

I’m wondering if it would work to document each person in a genealogy program which would then let me link up those I know to be families, or have them as stand-alone individuals until I know more.

Could I link all the Broadford families under a hypothetical set of pseudo-parents, called for example, Male Broadford and Female Broadford? I thought this might be a way I could see everyone who comes from Broadford and slowly see what the linkages are. Has anyone else done this and found it will work? Perhaps for a One Name Study?

I love Excel and can use databases, but somehow there’s still a dysjunction between the data. I’m not a fan of genealogy software (yes, strange I know) which is part of why I’m floating these ideas.

Any pearls of wisdom or lateral thoughts would be much appreciated.

[i] Pastkeys originally indexed the IDJs. See  The indexes are now also on Ancestry, I’ve just discovered.

[ii] O’Brien, P. Broadford. County Clare 1830-1850: A study of a rural community. Unpublished MA (History and Local Studies), University of Limerick, 1999.