Family History Alphabet: S sets us challenges

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. We’re on the final rush to the end now and S is our letter of the week. By this stage we’re reaching some antonyms of earlier attributes.

S is for STAMINA:  We surely need a lot of stamina/endurance to make it through our family history research. There have been recent blog posts on “aren’t you finished yet?” the ubiquitous question from those who know we’ve been researching for some time. It’s the corollary to the first-time question (you know it) “how far back have you gone?” A number of us have been pursuing our family history for decades so the stamina to keep on keeping on is essential.

S is for SLEUTHING:  I’ve always thought this was a universal truth about genealogists but after Olive Tree Genealogy’s post on “what type of genealogist are you?” I wonder. Still for me it’s a given.

S is for SHARING: This is a big one especially for geneabloggers. We love to share and we love that our genimates[i] care enough to read our posts and comments. We also like to share with our families, but often they’re not nearly as interested as we’d like. Over the years we acquire a range of expertise from work as well as family history –we can offer to share this with others through classes, informal advice or volunteering.

S is for SUPPORTIVE: When you’re part of the Geneabloggers community you no longer feel the need for support -there’s always a virtual friend (and some non-virtual ones too) out there who can provide advice, cheer you on, and believe in what you’re doing.

S is for SORROW: As we learn more about our families and the tragedies they experienced it’s all too easy to be overtaken with sorrow for their losses. I never fail to be overwhelmed when I read of the tragic death of my great-grandmother, Julia Kunkel.

S is for SYMPATHY: Similar to sorrow but different.  Learning more about the times our ancestors lived in can give us a greater sympathy for the challenges they faced: leaving home never to see family again, the loss of babies, losing a farm or business, the deaths of adult children before their time.

Are you climbing up the best ladder to find your family?

S is for STRATEGIC: Ugh, I feel like I’m back at work with this one. Still and all we do need to be strategic in our approach to research especially in this online era.

Remember Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits” quote from Habit 2?  “If your ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step you take gets you to the wrong place faster“. It applies to our family history goals as much as to the workplace or life in general.

So much information avalanches towards us these days, that we need to be discerning in our approach;  weigh up the most effective, and most accurate, way to discover more about our families; and perhaps balance where and how we spend our time. For me that means that I don’t always follow the social media for fear of being too distracted (I can hear the influence of our former staff development person in this). Each to his/her own.

S is for SKILLS IMPROVEMENT:  This seems like something of a tautology in a list of attributes but if we don’t focus on continually improving our skills then our research expertise will dwindle and we’ll struggle to say up with all the advances available to us.

What other S attributes do you think we need as family historians?

This seems like a visual metaphor for geneablogger sharing: colourful, connected, supportive.

Images from Office Clip Art.

[i] Thanks to Jill Ball from Geniaus for this very Aussie spin on genealogy friendships.

Chocolate delights

According to Geneabloggers, today is International Chocolate Day and ties in with the blog hop What’s your Chocolate which was scheduled for Monday 10 September. I only read about this blog hop yesterday on Denise Covey’s L’Aussie Writer blog. I know I’m late but it sounded like too much fun to miss out on.

When I was a child I was told my mother’s grandfather had a chocolate factory. As delectable as that sounded it seemed as likely as a Golden Casket win….or Lotto in today’s “money”.

However sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction and as Stephen Melvin was indeed a confectioner with a factory it seems likely that he did indeed produce chocolates as well as other sweet treats. Unfortunately that was long before my time but can you blame me if I have a genetic claim to a sweet tooth?

As I child my chocolate choice was Cadbury’s with its ubiquitous milk chocolate in a purple metallic wrapper:  the type of choccie factory I imagined my ancestor owning. One of the treats I liked was a chewy bar of minty toffee coated in chocolate called a White Knight and a similar one which had a musk centre, not to mention the popular Clinkers.

Nestles, note – not Nestlé, was the competing company to Cadbury’s and in those distant days it had acquired none of today’s multicultural nuances.  My favourite in their range was their Golden Rough, a round delight of chocolate and coconut. These days all I can taste is the copha…has the recipe changed or my taste buds matured?

Then as a teenager there were Maltesers for the theatre, Jaffas for rolling down the floor at the movies, and the toffee-centred Fantales with their snapshots of movie stardom. Later, when working, I was infamous for my 5pm run to the dispensing machine for a Cherry Ripe (mm, mm) or Bounty (mmm) to go with my Diet Coke: I still maintain the calories should have balanced each other out. There’s a “chocolate+ coconut = yummy” theme emerging here. I loathe Turkish delight chocs and don’t think much more of super-sweet cream fillings with strawberry or orange.

It was when we lived in Papua New Guinea that I acquired a taste for European chocolate. Bizarrely all sorts of Swiss and Belgian delights arrived fresh from across the oceans while the Australian chocolates, and especially Easter eggs, seemed inevitably to be stale with a white coating.

I’ve never really looked back from my luxury chocolate tastes and much prefer these to any other, except perhaps upmarket hand-crafted ones. Do you think that’s my great-grandfather’s inheritance to me?

This blog hop was hosted by M Pax, Laura Eno, Brinda Berry and Ciara Knight. Thanks guys it was fun to have this sweet walk down memory lane.

Remembering 9/11

It seems presumptuous for an Australian to be talking about 9/11 and yet it was an event which affected us all, wherever we lived, and yes it’s right that we should also  record our memories for our descendants as suggested by Thomas MacEntee at Geneabloggers..

On 11 September 2001, we were woken by a call from our daughter interstate soon after 10.15pm…her message seemed garbled, something about a plane and the World Trade Centre. It made no sense but we turned on the TV as directed and to our horror saw the recurring image of the first plane impacting the WTC.  We phoned our other two daughters who lived in Darwin not far away and they jumped in the car in their pyjamas to head to our place as we had cable TV.

Incredulous we watched as the second plane smashed into the towers.  There was no chance now that this had been some kind of bizarre pilot error and accident. Like the usually case-hardened CNN journalists we couldn’t assimilate what we were seeing as the vision rolled again and again, as if by watching it would suddenly somehow make sense.

Image from Wikipedia Commons.

We were aghast as the tower crumbled like some giant disintegrating sand castle … stunned, horrified.  How to reconcile that with the gorgeous views we’d seen from the WTC less than 10 years before, the thoughts of the poinsettias and the Christmas fairy lights in the foyer, people going about their business.

My thoughts turned to a couple of our 4th year medical students from the Northern Territory Clinical School who were doing clinical rotations in New York. I feared for what they would see and have to deal with in the coming hours, with visions of ambulances screaming towards hospitals. As the clock ticked round, the reality dawned and it was so much sadder and more sobering…there would be no overloaded emergency departments, the loss of human life was enormous.  No longer much of a praying person I prayed for all those lost and especially their families.

We watched for hours as the stories unravelled: the Pentagon, people jumping to their deaths, firemen climbing the stairs as others came down (how much courage did that take?); farewell in-flight phone calls to families (a blessing or a horror?).

Fireman calling for assistance; author Preston Keres. Wikipedia Commons.

In the aftermath what I remember most is those courageous firemen, the bewildered people on the streets covered in dust and that slowly crumpling tower.

We knew no one who was there, it didn’t affect our friends or families, and yet it touched our lives and changed our world.

Perhaps one day we’ll have the opportunity to revisit New York and pay our respects at the 911 Memorial.

The World Trade Centre in happier times. P Cass 1992

My new Genealogists for Families page

As my regular readers know I’m a big fan of the Kiva Genealogists for Families (GFF) team and the good it’s doing for those who are less fortunate than us which is why I have the big green Kiva badge on my sidebar.

Shauna Hicks gave me the great idea of adding a dedicated page to my blog about GFF. I’ve previously posted here so I thought I’d make my new page a response to some hypothetical FAQs.

Why not pop over and have a look at it? If you can think of something I should have added do let me know in the comments section and I’ll modify the page.

Meanwhile here are some graphs to show where our loans have been made and how they’re being used. These loans are joint loans by Mr Cassmob and me even though the name on the GFF membership is mine.

Strangely the category “personal use” is actually for the borrowers to build their own homes. The construction category is for those in the building industry.

How our loans are distributed.

Our combined loans on Kiva’s GFF team.

Trove Tuesday: a little boy wins a prize

Yesterday I came across this little snippet on Trove about my grandfather’s younger brother George Michael Kunkel. He had won a prize at the Beenleigh Show in September 1895 for “a home exercise book for children under 10”. Now this would be a delightful but comparatively unimportant find in the normal course of research events. However it meant much more to me than that because George would die, aged just 14, less than four years later on 1 May 1899.

Can’t you just see him sitting at a table in the railway camp, writing his evening homework in his exercise book by the light of a kerosene lamp.

Just imagine his excitement to have won that prize – I wonder whether it involved just a certificate or if there was some practical item or money. It warms my heart to think of his pride in his achievement. I’m so pleased that this young boy experienced success in his short life.

Trove Tuesday is an initiative of Amy from Branches, Leaves and Pollen.

Citation: 1895 ‘THE PRIZE SCHEDULE.’, The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), 14 September, p. 520, viewed 11 September, 2012,

Biographical Background

George Michael Kunkel was born in Toowoomba on 18 October 1884 and conditionally baptised there on 10 December 1884 with witnesses Thomas Iain and Annie Iain. Why his baptism was conditional I don’t know but I suspect he was not a well child and may have had some physical disability. It was certainly nothing to do with his parents’ religious standing as George and Julia were dyed-in-the-wool committed Catholics. The mathematical among us will already have realised that George was already 10 when he won the prize. Again his possible disability may have had something to do with that.

Little else is know about George other than that he attended the Logan Village school in the early 1890s.  Oral history suggests he was buried at Jimboomba but I have been unable to verify that. Perhaps it’s time I bought his death certificate.

Beyond the Internet: Week 36 Photographic archives

This is Week 36 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Photographs and Postcards.

Strangely perhaps this topic ties into the archives and libraries branch of the series. This is something of a case of “teaching your grandmother to suck eggs” since most of us are forever on the hunt for photographs which show our ancestral families.  With our focus on the personal perhaps we’re a little less likely to think out images of places. So where might we find these hidden treasures?

FFANS: Family, Friends, Associates and Neighbours

A Kunkel wedding at the Fifteen Mile.

You will almost certainly harass every close relative you’re aware of to see if they have any old photos. But what about the family’s friends? Do you remember your family receiving photos of a distant cousin’s First Communion, school photo or 21st? Well it’s quite likely that this happened back as long as there were photos, so isn’t it worth trying to track down who might have what you’re looking for.  

For example one of my treasured family photos of my grandfather’s sister’s wedding includes the extended family group, excluding him (they’d had a falling out over religion). This photo came to me from two 2nd cousins but had been taken by the Kunkel’s neighbour who was the local photographer. I did try to see what happened to this photographer’s images, but sadly without success.  

A page from a 4th cousin’s photograph album.

One photograph of my Mary O’Brien (2x great grandmother) came to me from her granddaughter who had lived with them. However the photo of Mary’s husband, George Kunkel, came from a 3rd cousin in Sydney who has whole suitcases full of photos from her aunts and cousins! Sadly not all of them are labelled or known.

This highlights the importance of shaking the family tree (hard) to see what photos emerge.

Not only are the hoarders among us absolute gold-mines with documents and photos, but there are also friends who are photo-fiends while others take no photos. When a close friend of ours died tragically in his early 30s, the family had very few photos of him but we had lots of photos and even home movies.  

Bric-a-Brac stalls or markets  

A Queensland railway camp, possibly Fountain’s Camp at Murphy’s Creek.

It’s less common to see photos or postcards at market stalls in Australia than it is in the UK (not sure about other countries) but it’s certainly worth snooping among the piles if you come across them.  Don’t forget old postcards which illustrate the places where your families lived, and add richness to your story. I got a great old photograph of a railway camp family through hunting through boxes of photos.  

Local history libraries/museums

I talked in detail about this topic a couple of weeks ago so won’t elaborate much here. However, these places are great opportunities to perhaps find old photos of your family if they lived in that town for a while. For example the Winton Local History Museum has photos of my Mellick relations’ shop. Alternatively there may be photos of their businesses or the local area. My post linked to these types of discoveries by Joan, Sharn and Tanya. 


Again this has been the subject of an earlier post in this series. Old local history books or books about your ancestor’s occupation or industry may well provide you with either indirect or direct images to add to your own story. (Don’t forget to get copyright approval to use them though you can take a photocopy for your personal, unpublished, use).  From a local history book I was able to contact an elderly lady and obtain a copy of the photo of a railway work gang, very relevant to my family history.

Reference Libraries and Archives

This also ties in with books as this is your best chance to find a relevant book. You can also borrow from your national library on an inter-library loan to your local reference library.

The photo of Hannah Partridge from the Queenslander newspaper 7 August 1909 page 62.

These reference libraries may well have archival sections where they store a wide range of photos of people and places (more often catalogued under places or topics). While Picture Australia, now via Trove, has many digitised photos, they’re not all there so it’s still worth working your way through the catalogue to see what they have. For example I’ve looked at old photos of places where my families lived, and the hobbies and activities they were involved with. Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes you don’t, but at least you’ll know you’ve given it your best effort.

I first found a photograph of my maternal 2xgreat- grandmother, Hannah Partridge courtesy of an index at the John Oxley Library in Queensland. Her photo had been published in The Queenslander as part of a series for Queensland’s Separation in 1909.

Similarly they have an index of many of the Queensland men who joined up in World War I. Both sets of images were published in The Queenslandernewspaper. This has now been digitised but if you search Trove you may not necessarily find their names pop up, or at least that’s been my experience. I know they’re there, have the date and page references from years ago, so I could find them. If you know your ancestor went off to World War I it’s worth while checking to see if there’s a passport-sized photo of him. Try using the search term “Reinforcements” for best success but be aware there may be time delays. If you’re near Brisbane it’s probably best to just check the card index in John Oxley library.

Reinforcements: The Queenslander 24 November 1917, page 27.

The Australian War Memorial is also a good option for finding photos of people or places. For example I was able to obtain a photo of the crossing the line ceremony held on my grandfather’s voyage en route to France in 1917.


Yes this is one of those cross-over moments, and I guess we’ve all searched e-bay and the internet for images of people and places we’re hunting.

I wanted to share another site with you though, perhaps a little more obscure. Have you ever looked at the George Washington Wilson Photographic Archives at the University of Aberdeen? You might be astonished to find, as I was some time ago, that this archive holds photos not only of places around the UK, but also early Australian photos.

There is a photograph of my old school which is labelled only as a convent school – I was able to give them the additional details, and also let the school know of this early image. There are all sorts of other intriguing photos too, so do have a browse and see if it’s helpful. Don’t be too specific in your search parameters to ensure you pick up as many as possible. For example there are 629 images under a search for “Victoria” and 242 for Queensland.

I’ve also found great photos in the Francis Frith collection including one which shows the house where Mr Cassmob’s family lived in Bath before emigrating to Australia. In all cases, don’t forget to check out the copyright and reproduction conditions. Catherine, my fellow blogger and friend, tracked down a photo of her ancestor’s band and her post on Mysterious Musicians and Mariners very clearly illustrates how broadening your search can turn up great relevant images, whether your person is in the image or not.

These diverse sources show just how many strategies you can use to find images which will bring your family story to life.

Have you had any successes in tracking down family images or places in any of these ways? Or have you got your own innovative way of finding them? Why not share them in the comments or on your own blog.

Family History Alphabet: R is for………R-E-S-P-E-C-T

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. This week we’re on the letter R and all of a sudden I hear music.

R is for R-E-S-P-E-C-T:  We owe it to other researchers to acknowledge their work. Citations and  acknowledgements are courteous, and professional, attributes of serious researchers. We also need to show respect for the privacy of living family members in the publication of our research and a mindfulness that our ancestors were a product of the times, and did the best they could. We can be honest in our research reports without disrepecting their lives..

R is for Resilience: We have to be resilient when one trail after the other turns cold, when that brick wall looms in front of us. We Routinely pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and start all over again! If Ginger Rogers can dance backwards in high heels surely we can keep pursuing our goals despite the occasional obstacles.

R is for Resourceful: Family historians are tricky souls. We have all sorts of sneaky strategies for approaching those brick walls, for linking with other genealogists or cousins, or for pushing our information back through the decades. Do you have a particularly resourceful strategy?

Resourcefulness is one of our lateral attributes.

R is for Rituals and Routine:  There have been a number of blogs that talk about how we deal with our day as family historians: when we research, look at emails, blog, tweet, facebook or approach our ancestral searches. What’s your daily genealogy ritual?

We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Albert Einstein i]


What type of genealogist am I?

A short while ago Lorine from Olive Tree Genealogy posed the question “What type of genealogist are you?” Randy Seaver then picked it up on Genea-musings as part of the Saturday Night Genealogy Fun theme.  So belatedly here is my response.

After some reflection, and a rather arbitrary division of my research attributes, this is the breakdown I came up with. 


I can happily trace anyone’s family history….I love the thrill of the chase and the sleuthing out of clues. Over the years I’ve stuck my nose in a number of family history pies, and written up stories for various of my friends who are interested to know the back story without the hunting for clues.


My definition of this is probably slightly differently from Lorine’s. It’s not just about the citations though they’re important. It’s also about the historical context in which our ancestors lived so I’m forever referring to books, journals, etc etc. I’m not too fond of the dreaded red pen of editing, but I’m not afraid of it either.


Again, a slightly different interpretation –I may not confine myself to one piece of information progressively but I will squeeze it to get the maximum output from it, and revisit from time to time to see it with fresh eyes.


Hang my head in shame, but I have a small streak of hoarder. I’ll happily share until I feel ripped off by someone – you know, no thanks, no acknowledgement, all take and no give, poor research practices.  Then I’ll withdraw and go into hoarder mode.


Another dollar-each-way bet. On some things I can be very methodical with lots of checklists and strategies. At other times I can be much less so.

Given the computing debacle of the past week I’m thinking I should reassess this component but then like the girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme, sometimes I’m good and sometimes I’m horrid.

Junkyard collector

I’m pleased to report I don’t even have one tiny bit of junkyard collector in me. It doesn’t faze me at all that my family tree doesn’t include thousands of names. I’m going for depth and quality – not mutually exclusive but not uncommon in those online family trees.

On who I am: the story of my genes

The other night as I lay in bed, unable to sleep, I was reflecting on how much our name defines us. One thought led to another as my mind followed the genetic path of my ancestry: each family, their names, occupations and religious affiliations. Their successes and failures, what made each generation unique.

I may have carried the Cass name for many decades, since I was a young adult, but I am not a Cass in my bones and nor will I ever be. My own inheritance is different and is not to be denied.  I’ve tried to capture that essence here.

Generations of Kunkels
Bavarian and Queenslander
From Laufach and Dorfprozelten
To Ipswich and the Fifteen Mile
Innkeepers and pork butchers
Railway workers and farmers
Multi-cultural marriage
Queensland pioneer.

O’Briens from eastern County Clare
Townlands of Ballykelly and Killaderry
Famine survivors and emigrants to the
Faraway land Down Under
Ipswich and Murphys Creek
Farmer, wife and mother
Strong women
Keepers of the Faith.

Elusive Gavins
From Ballymore, Kildare and Dublin’s slums
Bullock driver in Queensland’s west to
Dalby, Toowoomba and Crows Nest
Gardener in Queensland’s garden town
Grandparents to war heroes
Garrulous yet obscure
Catholic to the core.

Centuries of Kents
Through the villages of Hertfordshire
Publicans, farmers, and labourers
Anglican workers in Sandon
Methodist despite the pubs
Emigration as a family
To Pre-Separation Queensland
Their Ipswich lives hidden by time.

One solitary Partridge
Founder of a large Aussie family
Born London but from the Forest of Dean
Groomsman, carpenter and builder
Worker of colonial timbers
Occasional undertaker or publican
But regularly insolvent
Pre-Separation pioneer of Ipswich.

Hibernian Sherrys of unknown counties
Sherry, McSharry or McSherry
To Tullamore, Wicklow and Wexford
Builders of railways in Ireland and in Queensland
Tracks follow their family lines
Through the furthest reaches of their new home
Yet ever loyal to an independent Ireland
Queensland Hibernians.

Melvins from the docks of Leith
Generations of seamen
Dollops of confectioners
Entrepreneurs and businessmen
International travellers
Proud Scots, Presbyterian and Methodist
Ipswich, ChartersTowers, and Sydney
Back in the soil of England.

McCorquodale or McCorkindale
Embedded in Argyll but displaced to Glasgow
Emigration of the family to Brisbane Queensland
One son a builder of Canberra
Pipers and highland dancers
Caledonian festivals
Judging or scooping the prizes
Proud Scots through and through.

The female line through my genes
The Sims at Backrow, Bothkennar
Fishermen Callaghans in Wexford
Murphys from Davidstown, Wicklow
A railway line of Sherrys
Farmer Furlongs from Tullamore
North Shields merchant seaman Gilhespy
The Reeds, miners in Northumberland and Durham.

Each and every one of these genetic lines has contributed to who I am. As I look at these photos it’s easy to see why I am tall: George Kunkel, the McSherrys, Mary Callaghan McSherry and William Partridge.

Beyond the Internet: Week 35 Published Family Histories

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 35 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Published Family Histories.

In the course of this series we’ve mainly been talking about primary records, those original documents created contemporaneously with the event. Published family histories are of course secondary documents and like all such documents need to be assessed for the accuracy and merit of their research, which is why source citations are so important.

Nevertheless it’s well worthwhile to check out the indexes to these books to see if your family name appears, however peripherally (mine usually remain elusive!). You may gain a lot or you may gain a little. You may even find someone has already done “all” the work on your family.  For example there are about 1500 individuals listed in the index to my family history Grassroots Queenslanders, the Kunkel Family. Many of those whose surname wasn’t Kunkel had no awareness of their descendancy from this family until I contacted them for the book.

So where do you look for these published family histories?

Well if they are formal publications, legal deposit requirements mean that there should be a copy in the National Library of Australia and the reference library state where the book was published, so that’s your first port of call. Only infrequently will you find them through booksellers as most aren’t going to be big money-spinners. Other places where you stand a good chance of finding them are regional family history societies or the Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG), or the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies (AIGS).  Australian family historians are also fortunate that there’s a publication called Australian Family Histories by Ralph Reid, which provides a bibliography and index of family histories known to be published in Australia.

So to summarise, you can look for published family histories in these places:

  1. your national library (legal deposit)
  2. your state reference library (legal deposit)
  3. your local/state family history library
  4. the family history library where your ancestors lived
  5. a national family history society eg SAG or AIGS.
  6. a publication which may summarise all family histories published.

 Have you had any success with discoveries in a published family history? If so, why not share with all of us either in the comments or on your blog.