Ostrich-ing the GDPR

ostrich-3292655_1280I don’t know about you, but I’ve been something of an ostrich in recent times. Legalese makes my brain fry and my eyes cross so the implications of the GDPR or Global Data Protection Regulation have turned me into a cross-eyed ostrich.

However, the internet’s boundaries are porous and we don’t always know where our blog readership comes from unless we burrow down into our site’s statistics. This means that to be compliant we need to ensure do our best to ensure that our blog meets the relevant privacy regulations and that our readers are aware of how we’re treating their personal data.

Specifically our readers need to know:GDPR

  1. What we do with their names, emails and IP addresses if they comment or subscribe.
  2. Give them the option to unsubscribe if they choose to do so at any point.
  3. Give them an option to have their personal data removed from the blog by contacting the author.
  4. Let them know that cookies will track them if they give permission – and give them the ability to opt out.
  5. Clearly state which programs we’re using.

My blogging approach:

  1. Firstly, my blog exists to share my research discoveries or a story.
  2. I want it to continue to be available as long as possible, thanks to being archived by the National Library of Australia’s Pandora Archive (which I why I haven’t changed my domain name).
  3. Hopefully over time my descendants will read and be interested in what I’ve discovered about their ancestors.
  4. I do not sell products or services via my blog. To this end, I have selected a Premium plan with WordPress.com so my readers are not inundated with advertisements.
  5. Nor am I overly concerned about statistical analysis as that is not my main goal.
  6. I want to share research steps, as well as discoveries, with fellow enthusiasts.
  7. To achieve all of this, and continue to publish my blog, I need to ensure that I am compliant with regulations.

The actions I’ve taken:

  1. I’ve introduced a Privacy Policy page on my blogs (should have done this long ago). In this I’ve explained what programs I use and what my approach is.
  2. Set up a cookies warning bar which means the reader can accept or reject cookies. Once accepted the reader will not need to choose again for a further 180 days.
  3. Readers who’ve subscribed to blog posts can choose to unsubscribe or contact me to remove their personal data.
  4. Be assured I will not share your email with anyone without your permission and only then if it’s relevant to your research comments.

If you have any further questions or concerns about privacy issues in relation to your personal data on my blog, please contact me directly via the “Contact Me” link at the top of the page.

To conference or not to conference

GLOBE wwg MINE_edited-7In the aftermath of #Congress_2018 and as Caloundra Family History Research gears up for the 2019 Queensland Conference, Waves in Time, it seemed appropriate to re-post a story I wrote for the Worldwide Genealogists a few years back in 2015. I’d be interested in your views.

To conference or not to conference?

That is indeed the question!

Over the last few months (of  2015) I have been heavily tied up with family history conferences.

DSC_2893 cropFirst it was RootsTech-FGS in Salt Lake City in February and before I knew it the triennial Australasian Congress of Genealogy and Heraldry (the equivalent of the USA’s FGS conference) had arrived.

At RootsTech-FGS I was just there to learn, hit the family history library, maybe do a blog post or two, have fun, and meet up with genimates. Congress 2015 was a little more pressured with responsibilities as one of the three official bloggers (Jill Ball aka GeniAus, and Shauna Hicks) and also because I was presenting two papers. You can meet the speakers and learn about their topics by looking at this summary by TravelGenee, Fran.

We’ve had post-Congress blog reports from many genimates (you can see a list here – thanks GeniAus) as well as a Congress review hangout by GeniAus this week with its “kiss, kick, kiss” approach.

More recently others have been hanging out at WHYTYA Live! in Birmingham.

PROs and CONs

All of which has made me think in general about the pros and cons of attending genealogy conferences and how we make the choice.

This decision differs in some ways from work-related conferences where we have to convince managers and purse-holders that our attendance will benefit us, but also the organisation, and that we will add value in some way by either presenting or reporting back to colleagues. Even if we pay for it ourselves, it becomes a tax deduction (usually).

So here’s my “five bob’s worth” (Aussie-speak for opinion) on decision-making considerations for a family history conference, whether a local, national or international one.

FINANCIAL

money imagePut simply, dollars will be the first consideration for most people. Is there even enough money in kitty to consider it at all?

The funds may be available, but what are the competing priorities or possibilities for the individual or the family? What other travel opportunities are in the mix? (See the later section, touring).

What will the person gain from attendance? How will it improve their family history research, their skills and knowledge? Will the genea-obsessive be joined by other family members?

KNOWLEDGE: SHARING & LEARNING

No matter how long we’ve been researching, whether we’re internet-driven or like to do on-site visits to libraries, archives and cemeteries etc, we will always have something we can learn from others.

Each of us develops special skills and interests, largely driven by the need-to-know basis of figuring out information relating to our ancestors. Depending on how wily they are at hiding from us, we will utilise, but also develop, brick wall strategies.

Others have suggested that it’s good to attend sessions which aren’t applicable to your own family. This doesn’t work for me simply because I don’t get many chances to attend such events as I live a long way from the hub of such activity. When I am spending significant amounts of family money on a conference I want to get maximum bang for my buck, and focus on presentations which will increase my knowledge and understanding of topics. This is why DNA talks were high on my list at RootsTech.

I also look for depth of content from speakers with a wide knowledge of their topic as well as a passion for it. Yes I’ll learn from every talk I attend, but I also want to be stretched.

Probably my key criterion to assess a presentation is whether the speaker has inspired me as well as imparting knowledge. For these speakers I will have notes which include “think about….”and maybe some mind-maps on how it might come together.

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RootsTech 2015.

In the 21st mind-set of entertainment we expect the speakers to be skilled presenters but the reality is that they may not be professional speakers, just fellow family history obsessives who want to share their passion for a topic.  We also need to cut them a little slack.

Of course all this is difficult to assess in advance, so when making your decision you can only analyse what’s been submitted in the abstracts. If there’s more than one talk per session that really interests you (as there so often is) then you should be able to get knowledge value and the option to be flexible.

There’s other opportunities for learning in the many displays by sponsors and exhibitors. What a great way to learn about new products, check them out on-site and get the advice of other researchers.

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The Expo Hall at RootsTech is quite simply mind-boggling.

SOCIALISING or NETWORKING

While this sounds a little frivolous it can play a huge role in your take-home vibe from a conference.

This is your opportunity to talk about family history for days on end without putting people to sleep or sending them running for the hills.

 Congress 2015 bloggers
Geneabloggers at Congress 2015, Canberra.
Thanks to GeniAus and Mr GeniAus for the photo.

Do you know lots of other genimates from blogging or social media? This is your chance to meet them face-to-face over coffee/lunch or an informal dinner outing. One of the benefits of blogger beads (initiated by Geneablogger guru, Thomas MacEntee and shared at Congress 2015 by GeniAus and in 2018 by GeniAus and Lone Tester) is that you can readily identify fellow bloggers and have an immediate bond.

Are you a newbie who feels they “know no one”? Conferences can be a great way to meet new people with a common interest, perhaps even new cousins. Where there’s an opportunity for research interests to be listed do take advantage of them. GeniAus did a great job with the Genimates at #Congress_2018 facebook page which made the newcomers feel welcome and the ribbons she provided made them readily identifiable. Thanks Jill!

TOURING

 bridge and opera house
Sydney Opera House and Bridge and a large cruise ship
– our immigrant ancestors would be astonished.

Perhaps not the most critical aspect of the decision-making, or is it? The venue of the conference may be a temptation in itself. I’m sure it formed a part of my decision to attend RootsTech/FGS as it meant I could visit the genealogy holy grail, the Family History Library.

Congress 2015 was held in the Australian capital, Canberra, which was certainly a temptation with the National Library, Archives, Australia War Memorial, old and new Parliament house and other wonderful research and touring opportunities. Congress  2015 social events were held at the AWM and Parliament House – what a privilege!

And for those who’ve always wanted to visit Australia, perhaps Congress 2018 is something to put on the bucket list? It’s being held in Sydney, perhaps our most well-known city with its spectacular harbour, Opera House and Bridge. Appropriately the Congress theme is “Bridging the Past and the Future”. Judging on the reactions of the overseas visitors to Sydney, it was a popular choice for Congress 2018.

Informal Survey – HAVE YOUR SAY

During a final-day Congress 2015 panel session led by GeniAus, Josh Taylor mentioned that perhaps the term “society” is out of date for younger potential genealogists. Do you agree? Are you a member of a family history/genealogy/local history society?

Also I wonder if the word “genealogy” continues to fully reflect how we refer to what we do. What is your preferred term when you tell people about your hobby obsession? Is it genealogy or family history?

What other things do you consider when you make a choice about attending a family history conference?

Have you been to conferences locally or nationally? Were they of benefit? Have you changed your views over the years?

It would be great to hear your views and comments! Congress 2021 is still under debate, and who knows, your comments might help inform the future.

Having fun at Congress 2018

Sydney harbour bridge

After all the anticipation and excitement, #Congress_2018 has come and gone in a flash. There was certainly a buzz around Sydney’s International Convention Centre as a record number of genealogists came together to learn, meet new genimates, and have fun.

Amidst the whirl it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate just what you’ve learned until you take time out for reflection. This post will be about the social scene and then I’ll get a bit “meaty and dependable” to quote my geminate GeniAus.

Brenda Wheeler and Jill Ball and bears

Jill Ball aka GeniAus and Brenda Wheeler and the bears at SAG.

We started Congress unofficially on Thursday at the Society of Australian Genealogists where we registered and joined the group of mates already busy chatting and comparing notes. Everyone just about had to be thrown out when “time” was called at 5pm. A gentle stroll to Circular Quay presented us with a view of the gi-mungous Ovation of the Seas. Our ferry ride round to Pyrmont reminded us of the Congress theme “Bridging the Past and the Future” and also gave me an opportunity to take a photo of the replica Endeavour sailing ship that is actually 100 tons bigger than the Florentia on which I believe my ancestor, Mary O’Brien emigrated.

Friday was registration day and the first day of Congress lectures. I was kept busy handing out the “First Time Attendees” ribbons (kindly donated by GeniAus) to the newbies at Congress as well my “Kiva Genealogists for Families”, Queenslander and “Blogging Down Under” ribbons. Mr Cassmob waylaid anyone who showed an interest in Genies for Families and provided them with a flyer about this group activity initiated by Queensland genealogist Judy Webster and Lilian provided others. Fran aka the Travel Genee shared some ribbons she’d liberated at Roots Tech as well as promotional ribbons for the Waves in Time Conference on the Sunshine Coast in May 2019 . All that ribbon activity left some people mystified, and others with a severe dose of ribbon envy.

Waves in Time

Will you be coming to our Queensland conference in 2019?

Friday lunch was an informal gathering of random genies in the Harbourside Food Court. Dinner was a birthday celebration with our friend and fellow genimate from Darwin and we enjoyed having a few days to chat instead of an hour or so every six months. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend a couple of other activities, including the Newbies Welcome.

Congress dinner

My genimates Sharn, Maureen, Jill, Chez and Fran were among the “stayers” at the end of the Congress dinner.

Saturday lunch was time out for me after my first presentation, Uncovering your Irish ancestors, and questions after the session. Saturday night was, of course, the Congress dinner at Rydges. We successfully negotiated the Light Rail so were pleased with ourselves. Our dinner table included some genimates, “old” and new and there was no shortage of chatter. Sadly, our construction abilities, and commitment, were lacking despite the efforts of a small team on the table. Once again, “time” had to be called before our group left the hotel.

Darling Harbour

Sydney turned on magnificent weather for Congress, and “cried” on the Tuesday as we all said our farewells.

By Sunday, the energy levels were fading a bit for those of us who aren’t natural extroverts (nothing at all to do with the previous night’s wine intake!). At lunch time I was pleased to have been able to coordinate the meeting of my O’Brien cousin with her Fisher (paternal line) cousin.  Nora has been invaluable in helping me with oral history and photos so it was great to have a chance for a catch-up and connect her to another line.

Queenslanders

Queenslander genealogists – thanks Sharn for the photo.

Monday was photo shoots for various groups and I was sorry to miss the Bloggers photo as I had been chairing the previous session. I managed to get into at least one of the Queensland group.

Bloggers group

Some of the Down Under Geneabloggers – thanks Lilian for the photo.

And then, in the blink of an eye, it was all over. The organisers thanked, friends farewelled, and the group dispersed – until another time. A huge thanks to Martyn, Heather, Danielle, Mel and all the volunteers for their hard work in making this Congress a success: it takes huge commitment to pull off a success like #Congress_2018.

cof

 

Proud of my Irish roots

shamrock angel

Amidst the celebration of St Patrick’s Day, I’ve been reflecting how big a deal this was when I was a child, thanks in part to the religious divide. We would wear green ribbons to school (like the modern charity-fundraisers), little shamrock buttons, and have St Patrick’s Day concerts with all the old Irish songs.

On a  21st century note, I’ve been considering my Irish roots and how accurate I believe my DNA results are for ethnicity.

DNA comparison

As you can see, each of the companies I’ve tested with have come up with different levels of ethnicity. At #Congress_2018 it was mentioned that Ancestry’s ethnicity estimates are based (at least in part) on the trees in their database. Surely this is a good reason to get your trees uploaded to increase accuracy?

Living DNA region stats

Living DNA by region.

None of the companies provide results closely consistent with my own paper trail which is 44% Irish, 31% Scottish, 19% English/Welsh and 6% German.

I’m confident of most of these lines, with the exception of my annoying James Sherry aka James McSharry whose place of origin in Ireland continues to elude me.

My other Irish family names are:

Gavin:                   Ballymore Eustace, Kildare

Murphy:               David’s Town/Dunlavin, Wicklow

O’Brien:               Broadford, Clare

Reddan:               Broadford, Clare

Furlong:               Tullamore and ?, Offaly

Sta(u)nton:         Tullamore and ?, Offaly

Callaghan:           Courtown, Wexford

How Irish are you?

Do your ethnicity projections match your paper trail?

Have you still got Irish brick walls in your research?

Congress 2018: Coming ready or not

Congress stuffIt’s finally here – the event Down Under Genies have been excitedly anticipating – the AFFHO Congress 2018. And it’s going to be huge with 600 attendees – the largest ever held. I guess that reflects the pulling power of Sydney and the growth of our obsession hobby.

This will be my 5th Congress (Brisbane ’94, Melbourne ’03, Darwin ’06, Canberra ’15) and I’m looking forward to seeing my many genimates whom I’ve come to know in the online world and in person. There’s often years between catch-ups but it always feels like old mates meeting again.

Around half of the attendees will be newbies to Congress so we “old-timers” will need to make them welcome, introduce them to mates, and generally help them to enjoy Congress as much as we do. GeniAus has done a fantastic job keeping everyone in the loop with the Facebook group, Genimates @ #Congress_2018. It’s also been helpful for those who are unfamiliar with Sydney.

GeniAus and Alona from Lone Tester blog are providing blogger beads for the Geneabloggers Tribe members. I will have “Blogging Down Under” ribbons as well as “Kiva Genealogists for Families” for those who are members of those groups. I aim to be at the reception desk at the International Convention Centre at opening time to hand out ribbons and chat to people.

Our overseas visitors have been flying in over the past days, and some have been visiting our Aussie wildlife, to the envy of their American mates.

shamrockcutoutfoil_smLike other speakers I have long since submitted handouts (available from 7th March) and my slide presentation. I have my speaking notes prepared as well, so now I’m in full Irish mode: my two talks are Uncovering Your Irish Roots and Parallel Lives: Irish Kin Down Under and Abroad. I am super-excited that I’ll have two sessions to learn from my genea-heroes Richard Reid, Perry McIntyre and Liz Rushen! Other Irish researchers will have the chance to hear Paul Milner on the wonderful Griffith Valuations, but I’ll be hanging out with my genimate Shelley Crawford who’s talking about Visualising DNA Matches. I’m sure DNA is going to be a hot topic at Congress given how keen people are about testing.

I’ve got my Congress kit ready: Whitelines notebook (thanks Shelley for the tip), Genealogists for Families flyers, Opal card, USB memory stick, blogger beads, conference ribbons to share, pencils, multi-coloured pens, my own notes, contact cards, and my promotional bag for the Waves in Time Conference to be held on the Sunshine Coast 24-26 May 2019.

I suppose it’s time to sort out my clothes for the trip and hope the weather doesn’t play havoc with my wardrobe planning.

Look forward to seeing you there! And if you can’t make it, remember there’ll be lots of chatter on Twitter using #Congress_2018.

Kiva’s 10,000 women

international womens day

Tomorrow is International Women’s Day and Kiva has been aiming to lend to 10,000 women around the world. Women help to leverage their families’ security and progress by maintaining their own business, supporting their husbands in theirs, and helping to fun their children’s education.

Our Kiva Genealogists for Families group has a tradition of lending to women, perhaps because the genealogy world has a majority of women researchers. Thanks to these loans, families have gained greater economic security and better health through eco-energy and toilets…things we often take for granted. As our loans are repaid, we can choose to re-lend to others and keep growing our impact.

If you’re part of our team why not boost your loans today. If you haven’t joined yet, you can read more about how the team works here. And if you’re at Congress 2018 in Sydney, feel free to speak to me about it if you want to know more. I’ll have some flyers to share.

GFF lending at Mar 2018

Missing RootsTech 2018?

20170209_213018It’s that time of the year when those who are #NotatRootsTech feel the deprivation of fun, learning and seeing their genimates. This year there are attendees from many (40-50) countries as well as all of the states of the USA. Among them are many of my Facebook friends, blogging friends, and genimates I’ve met in person at RootsTech in 2015 or 2017. So it’s fair to say I’m #MissingRootsTech.

However, it’s not all sad news for those of us still at home. We can take advantage of technology to learn more about topics of interest. How do we do that?

  1. Go to the RootsTech app on either Google Play or Apple App Store. It’s great for those attending, but those at home can also benefit. Check out the talks you’re interested in, and most will provide handouts. You can download these wherever you are and save them to your tablet, laptop, Pocket or Evernote. A great chance for learning!
  2. Some of the sessions are being live-streamed. This means you can watch them in your pyjamas – pretty much what we’ll be doing Down Under given the time zone differences. I’ve put a cheat-sheet with some Aussie time conversions here.
  3. Follow your genimates on social media including Facebook and Twitter where they’ll be using the hashtag #RootsTech. Try not to go green with envy.
  4. If you’re heading off to the AFFHO Congress 2018 in Sydney next week you’ll have the chance to pick the memories of those who have headed home straight from Salt Lake.
  5. Meanwhile read your favourite blogs and see what they’re saying. GeniAus is our local talent and the first Aussie to venture to RootsTech when it started.

    20170210_102305(0)

    Down Under attendees at RootsTech 2017.

  6. Revisit the RootsTech site after the event finishes, as at least some of the presentations are recorded even if they’re not live-streamed. You can see some from earlier years here.
  7. Maybe add RootsTech to your Bucket List and then you’ll get to go to that genealogy mecca, the Family History Library. The registration is very reasonable thanks to the scale and the sponsors. It’s the airfares that can be the stumbling block for many from Down Under.

20170210_114235The sheer scale of RootsTech has to be seen to be believed, especially for those of us from Down Under. The masses of people (25,000!), the variety of exhibitors and the super-deals that are on offer.

Then there’s blogger beads and promotional ribbons from all sorts. Never mind, at least those who are coming to Congress won’t miss out on blogger beads which are being donated by Alona from Lone Tester and Jill from GeniAus and several of us have had ribbons printed. See me if you’re a Queenslander (or have predominantly Qld research), a member of Genealogists for Families or you’re a Geneablogger Down Under.

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The sheer scale of the exhibition hall is more apparent when it’s empty.

Reflections on Slow Genealogy

DelugeThis blog reached its 8th blogiversary milestone during the past week. It seems appropriate to post on a topic that has been on my mind for many months.

In recent times it seems I’m sometimes enjoying family history less, rather than more. On reflection, I think this is because I feel like I’m caught in a research tsunami or a whirlwind that leaves me tossed and turned and lacking direction. So much information is being released on almost a daily basis, that it’s far too easy to bounce from one record to the other, one site to another and one family to another.

I love being able to do more research, at a distance, at any time, but the ready access to online resources makes it all too easy to be reactive rather than pro-active. Back in the day I was much more likely to focus on particular research problems, not always to do with one family, and brainstorm possible solutions then pursue (and peruse) the relevant records. The pace of research made it easier to be more conscious of the process as well as the information discovered.  These days I feel more like a bee in a bottle randomly smacking against the walls.

It may well be that this problem is peculiar to me and others manage their time and research in a more structured way. No BSO’s (Bright Shiny Objects) for them, no getting lost in Trove. However, I suspect I’m not really alone in this battle of prioritisation.

We’ve heard of Slow Food and Slow Travel and I’m going to try to implement some Slow Genealogy this coming year. What will be my challenges and how might I cope with them?

LEARNING

There’s so many opportunities for learning in this online world and I really need/want to structure my time to review past Legacy Family Tree Webinars and watch new ones. They’re great value especially if you get a subscription when they’re on sale.

Down Under’s triennial Congress 2018 will be held in Sydney in March and I’m looking forward to learning from others, and sharing a little about Irish research. The trick is then to implement what I learn when I get home!

DNA

DNA is a whole whizzbang world of discoveries. There is just so much learning attached to the process of matches and ascertaining where the families link. This seems to be especially difficult with Irish ancestry where the records cause so many problems. I feel I have a mountain still to climb to come to terms with this whole process. Facebook pages like Genetic Genealogy Tips and Techniques are must-read to learn how others are approaching these challenges.

I’ve been lucky that relations have kindly tested: some matches are completely obvious in kinship, others remain a mystery. Nevertheless, I still want to think about who might test to solve my “brick walls” like the origins of my 2xgreat grandfather, James Sherry aka McSharry. He stubbornly refuses to be found.

SOCIAL MEDIA

With the rise and rise of Facebook as a genealogy learning and sharing tool, time has to be allocated to keeping up with new sites, programs and strategies. Then there’s building friendships and networks with genimates far and wide, who I’ve met through my blog, seminars or at Roots Tech.

I’ve progressively disengaged myself from Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+ or my brain will fry.

Feedly remains on my iPad but I find I follow blog posts more through bloggers’ notices on Facebook. I feel guilty that I no longer comment as much as I used to, or that the comments appear on Facebook rather than their blog, which will have a wider readership.

My friend and genimate, The TravelGenee, introduced me to Pocket which has been helpful for articles and posts to be read later or retained for future reference. This has been a double-edged sword as I could lap the world a few times while reading, and still not catch up.

I also need to read through past genealogy emails and add them to my Evernote account so they are preserved and accessible if I have computer crashes. It’s all about creating a habit.

BLOGGING

For the last couple of years my blog posts have been declining in number. It’s not so much that I have nothing to say but that ideas that come into my head don’t always make it into my blog. On the up side, I’ve written a couple of posts that have been on my to-do list for some time, like the story of my father’s life and work. I also made a discovery that one of my mother’s cousins, Hugh Moran, had been in a German POW camp (Stalag 344) and I learned a lot from that discovery, both in particular, and in general terms – I now have a collection of books on Prisoners of War.

RESEARCH

This is where I really feel my lack of strategic planning is letting me down and that I’ve been blowing in the wind. Having recently been contacted by a long-lost second cousin, I’ve realised that my draft of the McCorkindale family story has been languishing for far too long, and I really need to add in discoveries I’ve made.

Similarly, the story of my Melvin ancestors needs further additions especially since I’m getting lots of DNA matches from that tree.

Meanwhile, my One Place Studies on Broadford, Murphy’s Creek and Dorfprozelten, have languished almost entirely. Perhaps I’ve just bitten off more than I can chew.

As an enormous advocate of offline research, I’m ashamed to say I don’t get to the archives or reference libraries very often at all, in fact probably less than when I lived in Darwin.

My general preference for “projects” is to work on one dedicated task at a time and this is probably why all this mental flitting about is getting me down. I like the online responsiveness but I miss the steady focus of offline research.

I also need to get back to maintaining a running “To Do” file for my research which also helps with focus.

WHERE NOW?

Revisit record revisePerhaps I need to dedicate a month/week per topic/family and see if that works.

I also need to take the advice I offered in my 3Rs of Genealogy post.

A concentrated focus on some Slow Genealogy with more consciousness may help. I wonder if it will work among the competing online demands?

What do you think? Do you have any ideas?

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL MY READERS.

I wish you fun in your research, new discoveries and the sound of brick walls crumbling.

Deck the Halls: 2017 Christmas geneameme

Baby Jesus in mangerBack in 2012 when I was blogging prolifically I created this geneameme. I was delighted that Randy Seaver from Geneamusings used it for this week’s Saturday Night Genealogy Fun. Thanks for reviving it, Randy.

In the intervening years we’ve relocated to my home state, far from some of our family, the grandchildren have grown up a little and we’ve acquired another one. I wondered what might have changed, and found that most of our traditions have continued with only minor tweaking. So here’s my modified response.

THE 2012 2017 CHRISTMAS GENEAMEME

  1. Do you have any special Xmas traditions in your family? We always have a tree with many decorations – hearts and stars feature prominently. The Christmas angel we bought in Galway many years ago, sits right below the red star at the top of the tree. We usually have the tree up for about four weeks – between two family birthdays- but we’ve been a bit late this year.
  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day? We used to be regular church-goers but we had a falling out with the church and haven’t been for decades. Midnight Mass was always our favourite, with the joyous enthusiasm of the youth band revving it up at the end of Mass. Thanks to the late night, the children always slept in. One tradition carried across the generations was my husband telling the kids to “roll over and go back to sleep” followed by “open the gift at the end of the bed” (a book!) I’m curious why the local Anglican church here has a service in German.
  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa? Yes, of course! Like most kids, belief was suspended one year when I snooped and found my major present. I can’t recall when our children stopped believing but must ask if all four of our grandkids are still believers. There’s the universal rule: even if you’re old enough to know the facts, you don’t spoil it for the littlies.
  4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood? I don’t think this is a general tradition in Australia, at least where we’ve lived. Instead, Carols by Candlelight is a celebration in many places. Our local town had one on what might be called the village green this year. We didn’t go…just disorganised.
  5. What’s your favourite Christmas music? A burst of the Messiah is hard to beat!
  6. What’s your favourite Christmas carol? Little Drummer Boy and Mary’s Boy Child remain firm favourites and I have fond memories of enjoying Oh Tannenbaum after I started to learn German. Boney M’s Christmas Carols is one of my favourites (joyous and exhuberant), followed by Christmas Carols from Oxford (serious but gloriously sung).
  7. Do you have a special Xmas movie/book you like to watch/read? Not really.
  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)? The adults do not-so-secret Santa per family, and the little ones get gifts from each of us. We were shocked and rather aghast one year when we saw the massed presents under the tree and resolved to make it more balanced. In the mania of the mall I’ve been pleased to see that books remain popular, and at the garden centre, that plants are another favourite.
  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away? It is usually indoors as it lets us have the table set formally, using family heirlooms. If it’s really hot, we’ll add the aircon. Afterwards, and before, we’re likely to be outdoors for a while.
  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal? Never, ever turkey. Roast pork (cold or hot), ham always, seafood, and whatever fancy salads the collective gourmands put together. Christmas pudding has gone off the menu in recent years, replaced by one daughter’s tiramisu and a special pavlova-like dessert I make. Our meal is a collaboration of chefs even if the kitchen gets a bit crowded!
  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Xmas? Always my Scottish grandmother’s shortbread recipe. The Christmas cake has also gone off the menu recently and after many years I swapped from my mother’s recipe to one I found in the Women’s Weekly: green peppercorn cake -delicious!
  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Xmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited? For decades I used my grandmother’s pudding recipe but see 10, now we have a lighter dessert. I suppose my dietary restriction re dried fruit has influenced both this and the cake, since others aren’t die-hard fans. I’ve been intrigued, reading responses from the US in particular, that pudding seems to be a very British inheritance.
  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they? Sometimes gingerbread. When the grandkids are nearby I like to involve them in the making of small cakes and the shortbread. It’s become a family tradition to find special salads for the day – some stand the test of time and reappear each year.
  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas? Rarely these days though I once used to. One of our Christmas activities is doing craft with the grandchildren so they give something to their parents – teaches them it’s not all about their own presents, and it’s fun!
  15. Do you return to your family for Xmas or vice versa? Over the years this has chopped and changed depending on where we’ve been geographically. Some years we’ve all been together, other times it’s different combinations. This year there will be four generations including two branches of our Cass mob. Now that we live far away from some of our daughters and their families, they are usually here with us so it involves lots of preparation for the influx. When our daughters worked in the hospitality industry, rostered on public holidays, we started celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve, in the European way.
  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ? Yes, primarily around church-going. We also have more people involved.
  17. How do you celebrate Xmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Xmas outings? Drop-ins? Phone calls for those who are far away, and locally it varies depending on mututal availability. This year I enjoyed my first Christmas lunch with other members of the Caloundra Family History society – far more fun than work functions.
  18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot? For a long time, we’ve had some lights around the garden but when we moved here, the strong hint we were given is that this neighbourhood “does” lights, so each year we’ve added a few more. Now some families have moved away and there’s fewer lights…sad.
  19. Is your neighbourhood a “Xmas lights” tour venue? No.
  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where? Not any more, especially if we’re not organised. I guess when we had small children, we made sure we were organised and went.
  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)? Not that I recall.
  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue? “Always” at home or with family though one year we arrived home from overseas days before Christmas, and one year three of us spent Christmas in Lucerne…very pretty with snow, church bells etc – but we missed everyone else.
  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live? I wish – but it would be rather a shock in the sub-tropics.
  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year? Absolutely!
  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation? As a child we had a small gum (eucalyptus) tree or a branch. Since we’ve been married it’s always been an artificial one. We were mesmerised to see real trees being bundled up in their onion-bag wraps when overseas at/near Christmas.
  26. Do you have special Xmas tree decorations? Do we ever! We collect them from our travels so we have all sorts – no themed decorations for us! There are also a few that go back years: kids’ craft, and one from our very first Christmas a couple. More recently there are some that were made by the grandchildren, including a handprint from each.
  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving? Christmas for sure. Aussies don’t do Thanksgiving. I rather like the idea of it but it would have to be mid-year. After all, this is the end of the school year, time for annual holidays and in some businesses, end of financial year. The thought of adding anything else to the mania of the end of the year would send people right round the bend.

A numbertaker? Say what?!

It’s funny how when writing about ancestors in the past, it seems easy to be objective and base stories on discovered facts. When writing about more recent people and events, the concern is a lack of objectivity. Having said that, I’ll continue with the story of Dad’s working life which will inevitably be from my perspective more than anything else.

Growing up in a railway home, you are aware of two things: the dominance of shift work and its impact on eating and sleeping habits, and the dangers facing the railway workers from day to day. Having read several railway staff files for family members, the department could be unforgiving with mistakes, fining men for any errors (however minor), and occasionally remunerating them for an innovation.

Numbertaker Railway Daily Mercury 8 May 1935 p8

Fair dinkum…this was honestly a response we heard. 1935 ‘Local and General.’, Daily Mercury (Mackay, Qld. : 1906 – 1954), 8 May, p. 8. , viewed 28 Nov 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article173191490

It’s likely that Dad started as a lad porter in the Queensland Railways, straight after Grade 10 and just before the beginning of World War II. He had brief stints in Landsborough and on the Gold Coast line, however he spent the bulk of his 50 years of railway service in Roma Street. Once he gained appointment as a numbertaker the rest of his working life was in the Roma Street (aka Normanby) shunting yards and he was working there by the mid-1940s. The usual response is “an undertaker??” No, though it could be argued there were times when the railways could have done with that occupation. In fact, a numbertaker is quite different and is also known as a tally clerk in some services.

 

To this day I’m uncertain about the exact responsibilities of a numbertaker but my understanding is that his duties included checking the weight distribution of wagons and the sequence in which they were loaded, so goods could be off-loaded in the correct order. He could add columns of figures up, quick as a wink, in his head and I saw him do this many times. In fact, when I was struggling with mental arithmetic in Grade 3 or 4 it was Dad who managed to make me understand it, rather than the nun who taught me. The next level up in the ranking was a shunter, and Dad never wanted that job given its high risk. Whether something deterred him when he was young I don’t know, but I do know is that even as a young girl I knew when he’d come up devastated because some young bloke had lost his life or his limb during a shunting accident – and the significance of the injured man trying to feel his leg(s). During his life with the railway he saw this type of accident, and worse, more frequently than anyone would like.

Roma St Good s yard 1935

1930. New Goods Yard at Roma Street Railway Station, c 1936, Queensland State Archives

Apart from the hazards of the shunting yard in and of itself (an occupation I’ve read in a journal is more dangerous even than mining underground), there was the lack of what we’d know as Occupational Health and Safety today. The men wore heavy navy blue serge uniforms which of course which made them nigh invisible at night or in bad weather. There were no high visibility jackets available at the time. Similarly, there was no arc lighting over the yards, rather the men carried a special type of kerosene lamp as they went about their duties. Imagine, if you will, these hazards combined with criss-crossing train tracks and the sheer tonnage of trains around them especially as they got further into their shift with associated tiredness. At a minimum they worked an eight-hour shift, walking between Roma Street and the Exhibition grounds. My mind boggles at how many kilometres and steps he’d have notched up on a Fitbit of today. In the 1970s, when he was in his 50s and we lived in Papua New Guinea, I remember there were many times when he worked extended shifts, sometimes as long as 16 hours. It has taken a long time, but I no longer get anxious with late-night phone calls –  when we knew he was on shift it could strike fear in your heart.

Roma St goods yard 1951 NAA

1951. Cities and towns – Brisbane’s main railway goods yards near Roma Street Station, the main suburban line terminal. National Archives of Australia, out of copyright. The photo was probably taken from the bridge across to the Grammar Schools. The huts on the right hand side are where the men had their smoko breaks.

During the war, the railways were a reserved occupation but before his death Dad told me how he’d had to supervise Italian POWs working near Corinda station. They would start early and work like crazy so they could “chill out” once they’d finished their duties. He always said that had he gone to war he’d have like to have been with the Ambulance Corps…he saw enough accidents that he knew he could cope.

VP Day 1945 Qld Police Museum

Brisbane Victory Celebrations – World War II, VP Day 15 August 1945, Queensland Police Museum.

Somewhere among my notes, he told me once about talking to a policeman about the events of the Battle of Brisbane. When the war finally ended, Mum told me he was pretty peeved to be on duty and unable to go into town to celebrate with the crowds.

Although Dad had learned to drive a car as a young man, we didn’t own a car until the late 1960s. He rode an ungeared pushbike to and from work every day….add that to the Fitbit tally! He would stop at the corner of our street before the hill, and wave goodbye – again part of that “you never know what will happen” concept.

All that fitness probably helped him a great deal aerobically and offset the effects of smoking at the time. However my own view is that his years on oxygen with emphysema had as much to do with coal dust in the yards as smoking. He caught pleurisy when he visited us in PNG in the early 1970s and our friend, the physician, said he had the worst lungs our friend had ever seen – full of coal dust.

On top of that he acquired industrial deafness, unsurprising in that environment, for which he was granted some compensation.

shunting Flickr

This wonderful photo gives a clear idea of why a worker’s lungs might be full of coal dust. Image from Flickr of a PB15 class locomotive shunts the Roma Street railway yards at the Normanby end.photographed late 1960s. Image by Leonard J Matthews, Creative Commons.

I mentioned the shift work which dictated our family activities to some extent. No air-conditioners then to offset a hot summer’s day in Brisbane when sleep was needed, and heaven help anyone who made lots of noise or who hammered on the door. Probably just as well we didn’t have a phone either! Throughout Dad’s working life, at least as I was growing up, his shifts rotated through 6am to 2pm, 2pm to 10pm and 10pm to 6am. He would then do three weeks of 2-10 in sequence, making it difficult, surely, to adjust the sleep patterns. Nor was there a regular weekend for family outings. Of course they also worked hail, rain or shine and he swore blind that he’d seen snow flurries on the night shift in June 1984 when we were in New Zealand, hoping for snow.

Crowds and police in Edward Street infront of the Trades Hall during the Railways Strike Brisbane 1948

“St Hanlon’s Day” march and railway strike was held near Trades Hall on Edward Street, 17 March 1948. Evocative of the scenes of “right to protest” marches, Brisbane, 1966.

Dad was a strong union man though his union was not a large one. He could be vocal about expressing his opinions at the meetings, or so I’m told. It’s hardly a wonder, given the abysmal standards of OH&S. When the contentious 1948 St Patrick’s Day railway strike took place, Dad witnessed what happened, though I believe he was not marching. I wonder if any of his Kunkel cousins were on Police duty that day. He would use this experience to warn me against political marches in the 1960s “if I ever wanted to have children”.

The breaking point for Dad came when they introduced computerised systems. This was all too much for him and he decided it was time for retirement. The men gave him the gift of a recliner, funded from their soft-drink machine purchases…a gift that gave good service as ill-health overtook him.  He also received a Railway service medal.

Numbertaker duties

This is an extract of a submission to get an upgrade to the numbertakers’ pay rates. It gives some idea of the complexities they might be dealing with.  (personal archives)

Eventually the coal dust and cigarettes took their toll and he had repeated bouts in hospital. Each time I returned to Darwin, I thought might be my last farewell so when the final farewell came, the impact was less of a shock. I had managed to catch a flight with minimal time and spent the last nights with him at the hospital along with my other half, and one of our daughters.

Dad on his 80th

Dad on the Kookaburra Queen for his 80th birthday. He’ll probably haunt me for including this photo, but for me it highlights his blue eyes – his DNA bequest to two of his great-grandchildren. Snowy white hair like his mother, but when he was young he had jet black hair and a red beard.

 

On the national stage, those few days were eventful: Kevin Rudd, and the ALP, were elected into federal government ; the Northern Territory government got a new Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, and the long-term asbestosis campaigner, Bernie Banton, also died.

The Normanby goods yard and the men’s mess room are no longer there. The men’s smoko sheds have been overtaken by a bus interchange and Grammar School buildings.  Classy apartments are on the site where dad worked, and the beautiful Roma St Parklands look out over what was once a maze of shunting tracks. Next time you pass by along Countess St, or visit the Parklands, give a thought to my dad and his colleagues who gave their lives to the service of Queensland Rail and successfully delivered freight the length and breadth of Queensland.