Visiting speaker to Darwin: Susie Zada. What did I learn?

The Dry Season in Darwin brings interstate visitors with family links to the Territory and one of the bonuses is that some of them are expert family history presenters. Today we had the privilege of once again hearing Susie Zada, a dynamic and experienced family historian and professional researcher.  I first heard Susie speak a couple of years ago, gaining great tips about using, of all things, sewerage records.

You have to admire these  visiting guest speakers to the Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory: the attendees get maximum bang for their buck with back-to-back presentations, and if they’re quick, a slice of Elaine’s delicious fruit cake for morning tea.

Susie’s topics today include a new spin on some old favourites like researching house and land records for our ancestors and the fantastic records and databases of the Geelong and District Historical Society and the Bellarine Historical Society in Victoria.

Susie also spoke about the abundance of records, and indexes, available through the State Records Authority of New South Wales, though with abundant warnings regarding the site’s offer to order a photocopy for $15 per page, rather than pursue the data the old fashioned way, via microfilms, which enable you to scan and/or print the page at minimal cost. Equally important from my point of view is that going to the microfilms lets you peruse the adjacent pages, not just focus on your own specific entry.

Warnings about the $15 tempt-trap for the buy-it-now researcher, could equally well be replaced with caveat emptor or RTBM (read the bloody manual!). Susie strongly recommended that we ALWAYS read what is contained within a database, and how it works/whether wildcards can be used etc.

Another warning was to read, read and read some more about the background history applicable to your ancestors, their place in Australia and where they came from, so that you understand the context.

Over the course of the morning a vast number of resources were mentioned which were new to novice researchers, and well worth investigating to round out your family history. The slides which listed her recommendations were helpful and good guides. However the slides which set out to show particular documents were, in my opinion, close to useless. Even with distance glasses, and having used many similar records I couldn’t make out what on earth was on some. It would be great if the image could be cropped to focus on the particular entry, making it a more useful learning and information tool.

Susie comes into her own when talking about heritage studies and the history of houses, and had a couple of great examples. Her final presentation focused on the value of casting a doubting eye over everything we’re told, and read, and regularly reviewing our past discoveries, certificates etc. She told a couple of hilarious stories about how family stories are tweaked to fit popular sensibilities and I loved the story of one of her convicts in particular, not to mention her mother’s response.

I’m not sure that I agree with her assessment that “family history=the stories” while “genealogy=the science of family history, and where to prove the stories” but the genealogy vs family history debate is one that’s unlikely to be resolved any time soon.

I’ve adopted Susie’s tip about using the ~ symbol in conjunction with a “enclosed set words” to find words within ~20 words of each other. The tilda symbol is one that Shauna Hicks recommends but I hadn’t realised (or had forgotten?) that combined with a set of words in inverted commas, those words would not need to be a phrase rather a combination of words that need to be close to each other. I’ll be using it for my Partridge ancestor in Ipswich to get around all those annoying feathered creatures that come up in a Trove search: So “Partridge Ipswich” ~20.

For me, the discovery of the day was Susie’s recommendation about the “geeky” combined search site for the WWI record finder. It’s so cool to be able to see the entire service record for a relative and pick out which document you want within it.

I also liked the Wraggelabs population browser, which lets you slide the button through the years, producing population data from the Australia Bureau of Statistics. Those so minded can then document the data into a spreadsheet and prepare a graph as Susie did  – a very clear way of seeing the huge gender disparity on the goldfields, for example. You could have a ton of fun with this tool!

When Mr Cassmob gets into his own family history, the online Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works sewerage maps at PROV are bound to be helpful for his Melbourne-based ancestors.

Why not take Susie’s advice and move beyond your comfort zone: it’s the only way to learn more about your ancestry and to expand your knowledge and skills….and you never know, it might not be as scary as you fear. Good advice!

All in all a morning well spent with someone who really knows their stuff.

My tip: if you own a tablet, take it with you to talks like this, as it lets you follow up the links on the spot and see exactly what’s being talked about.

FYI: If you want to read more about my own list of offline resources you can click on this link and work your way through my Beyond the Internet posts from last year.

C is a very busy letter…

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

C is for Clare, Cairndow, Coleford and Charters Towers

It looks like C has been a busy letter of the alphabet in our family, and that’s without going into names!

C is for County Clare, Ireland

County Clare is my 2xgreat grandmother’s home place and her granddaughter remembered her saying always that she was “Mary O’Brien from Co Clare”. I talked a little about Mary in “B for Ballykelly” so I won’t detour here. Because I’ve never managed to locate her immigration records despite years of searching, I started looking at all the migration records for O’Briens from Clare to Australia. One thing led to another, and the next thing I was researching the immigration of anyone from East County Clare, with a focus on the baronies of Tulla Lower and Upper. This has been a pretty interesting voyage including clerical intrigue to ensure young parishioners could come to Australia during the American Civil War era. This research project has been languishing a little, while I decide “where to from here” but I’d love to hear from anyone who comes from the Clare parishes east of Ennis. You can read more about my interest here.

Kilmorich Parish Church at Cairndow. Isabella’s grave on the right side of the path is starred.

C is for Cairndow, Scotland

Cairndow aka Cairndhu is one of my favourite places. It’s a tiny hamlet near the head of Loch Fyne in Argyll, Scotland and close to Ardkinglas, which we’ve already discussed. Although I had done lots of family history homework before I went to Scotland in the late 1980s, Cairndow hadn’t come up, so as we came off the highway we took the left turn and headed further down the loch to Strachur, another ancestral site. Some time after my return, while roaming through my old memorabilia I found a postcard from my paternal grandmother’s belongings. On the front it had an image of the church at Cairndow and on the reverse the notation “Doesn’t it put in mind of puir old Scotland”…you might imagine my frustration.

Pauleen visiting with Isabella. Daffodils planted on her grave, but snow still on the hills

Eventually I found out that the Cairndow church pictured was the final resting place of my paternal grandmother’s grandmother, Isabella Morrison wife of James McCorkindale (love the way Scottish women kept their identity!). The little church at Cairndow is actually the Kilmorich Parish church and is an absolute delight. It rests below a Scottish hill covered in bracken, heather or snow, and is hexagonal in shape with a small tower. Inside it’s simplicity itself, probably typical of Presbyterian churches, but I find it so much more soothing than ostentatious cathedrals of any denomination. Inside the door there’s an ancient baptismal font from the late 15th century. Just outside the door as you leave the church, on your left as you walk down the path, you will see Isabella’s grave. The inscription at the base is beautiful “My star of life is set, I await the morning sun”.  I often wonder if the daffodils we planted on her grave one early spring, burst forth anew each year, echoing her hope of eternal life.

Not much happening in the World on this particular morning in 2008… I spy an NT X-Trail. You can see the different styles of architecture remaining today.

Charters Towers, Australia

Charters Towers, the town they called The World, was a boom mining town of the late 19thcentury and it was there that my great-grandfather and his family repaired to rebuild both his reputation and their fortune after various family disasters in southern Queensland. Stephen Gillespie Melvin established refreshment rooms in Gill Street, with a confectionery factory behind. It was a family business and Stephen was supported by his wife Emily and children. Charters Towers lost its economic oomph when mining ceased to be such a key industry after World War I, and this probably helped preserve the significant number of heritage buildings. Sadly the Melvin’s shop was not one of the current survivors…it was demolished decades ago.

The Melvin grave (2008) makes its own social statement in the Charters Towers cemetery. Easily the largest and most ostentatious of my family history gravestones.

The cemetery is a family heritage site Stephen’s wife, Emily, and his mother, Margaret nee Gilhespy/Gillespie, are both buried there and remembered with a rather ostentatious gravestone.

C is for Coleford, England

Coleford is a market town in the Forest of Deanin the very west of England not far from the Welsh border. Although my 2xgreat grandfather on my maternal side, William Partridge, was born in London, his family subsequently lived in Coleford, Gloucestershire. It seems the family’s roots were not in Coleford specifically but rather the general area. William’s parents John and Eliza Partridge are buried in the cemetery there. While the town doesn’t excite me, or speak to me greatly, the surrounding areas can be quite beautiful and one wonderful place to visit is the Cathedral of the Forest.

The tower in the centre of Coleford is the remains of a C19th church.

This is a fantastic website for anyone with Forest of Dean ancestry: Forest of Dean Family History.

B is for Ballykelly, Broadford and Backrow, Bothkennar

I am participating in the A to Z 2012 blog challenge throughout April. My theme is a genealogical travelogue or a travel genealogue (I’m not sure which).

B is for Ballykelly in Broadford (Co Clare) in the parish of Kilseily

Ballykellytownland is the home of my great-great grandmother, Mary O’Brien from Co Clare. Unfortunately I have no evidence of how long the family had lived in Ballykelly as there are no traces of the family in early records (found so far). Despite Mary’s extremely common name I was able to find her place of origin thanks to oral history linking families in Ireland, the US and Australia, and by tracing her sister’s records in Australia….all of Mary’s said merely “Co Clare”. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Broadford a few times and to visit the actual farmland where the O’Briens lived and worked.

The view from the former O'Brien land at Ballykelly on a typically "soft' Irish day in March.

On the first visit, decades ago, Broadford was shrouded in fog, and the general response to my enquiries was “it’s up there” pointing into the hilly distance. While enquiries at the local shop, owned by O’Briens, directed me to visit elderly parents, that proved to be fool’s gold despite their kindness in trying to help me…they were not my family. It took another visit, and assistance from a missionary priest with whom we’d bonded, to be taken to meet the family who had inherited the farm. Paddy had inherited it after my 2xgreat uncle’s family had died. He and his wife were extremely generous and showed us the property –up a muddy dirt “goat track”, as we call them in Australia. It was a thrill beyond words to stand on their land and look out at the magnificent view Mary had known every day of her young life, until she emigrated with her sister Bridget.

B is for Backrow farmhouse in the parish of Bothkennar in Stirlingshire (Scotland)

Backrow farmhouse Bothkennar in 2010.

The story of my first visit to Bothkennar is the opposite to the Ballykelly one. My young daughter and I dutifully followed the maps to Bothkennar and stopped to enquire at the store/post office if they knew where Backrow was.  I could hardly believe my eyes and ears when they pointed and said “That’s it, over there”. We took the short road ahead and parked on the verge to look at the house where my great-grandmother Annie Sim, had lived as a young woman and where generations of her family had lived, stretching back many, many decades. At the time it was looking a little run-down in parts but had substantial enough outbuildings and large fields.

Staring proud across the road from Backrow were the kirk, school and kirkyard…only a few steps to the venue for all life’s major events…and no escaping the minister’s eye. I took a photo (the old fashioned kind) and would you believe that this was on a roll which did not come out….Murphy’s Law at work. On the next visit I made sure I did a sketch as well as take a photo! I’ve never yet worked up the courage to knock on the door and ask if I can see the property but I’ve promised myself that next time I’ll write in advance and beg admittance.

As always, click on the photos to see them as a larger view.

Irish Famine Orphan: Biddy Gollagher or Gallagher on the Lady Kennaway in 1848

Irish Famine Orphan Memorial in Sydney.

Irish Famine Orphan, Bridget Gollagher or Gallagher, is my husband’s ancestor. She arrived in Port Philip on the barque Lady Kennaway in December 1848. McLaughlin’s book Barefoot and Pregnant indicates that Victorian records show she came from Donegal although the NSW Agent’s lists give her place of origin as Galway. She was hired out to Mr Edward Curr[i] at St Hilliers (actually St Helier’s)[ii] for £14 for six months[iii]. The book also has information, which we believed to be a type-setting problem and related to Ellen Gollagher who appears next on the passenger list. So, how to resolve some of these ambiguities?

My first port of call was the Victorian historical indexes to check three things:

  1. Confirm the marriage listed in Barefoot and Pregnant and on the Famine Orphan website relates to Ellen Gollagher not to Bridget or Biddy as she appears on the list.
  2. Confirm Bridget/Biddy’s marriage based on earlier family research.
  3. Determine Bridget’s county of origin and hopefully a townland[iv].
  1.      Gallagher/Gollagher marriage to McCahery

I checked this by obtaining an 1867 birth certificate for one of the children, hoping to get more details on the parents that way. It confirmed that it was Ellen Gallagher/Gollagher who married John McCahery, and according to their daughter’s birth certificate they married in Melbourne in November 1851. On this document Ellen states her age as 33, so a YOB of 1834, and born in Donegal. This fits with her being the orphan on the Lady Kennaway apart from the age difference. A YOB of 1834 would make her barely 14 on arrival in Melbourne in 1848 as opposed to the stated 18 (YOB 1830). Both ages fit within the preferred range for the orphans.  Ellen and her husband lived in the Kilmore area and she is reported to have died in 1872. Is she Bridget’s sister or relation or just someone with the same surname? As yet this is unknown, and may remain so.

2.      Marriage Gollagher/Gallagher and McKenna

Biddy Gallagher married William McKenna at St Francis’s RC church in Melbourne on 5 May 1850. Unfortunately the record is a basic one providing no supplementary details on the couple.[v] The witnesses were Mary Boyle and James McKenna. It’s quite possible (likely?) that this Mary Boyle was the Famine Orphan who had also travelled on the Lady Kennaway, aged 17 and from Donegal. Various attempts to obtain more information on the Gallagher-McKenna marriage have as yet been unsuccessful. At the time of Bridget’s marriage, Melbourne was again in a flurry of condemnation or defence of these poor Irish girls. Those who’d arrived on the Lady Kennaway seemed to have taken a particular verbal battering in the press.  They must have felt more than a little persecuted with a threatened sense of their self-worth.

My concern in relation to this marriage was whether the correct couple had been “chosen” since some of this research had been “inherited”. However working backwards from the known to the unknown via BDM documents we were able to confirm that this was the correct couple.

Next question: Was this the same Biddy/Bridget Gollagher/Gallagher who was the Famine Orphan?

3.      Children’s certificates

Foolishly I obtained James’ and Elvia’s (Elizabeth) from 1851 and 1853 respectively. These were church baptisms and had no supplementary parent information but did give witnesses: Robert Hogan and Sarah McKenna for James, and Patrick McGrath and Mary McKenna for Elizabeth. Did Bridget no longer have any friends to sponsor her children or did William’s relations take precedence?  On James’s registration, Bridget’s maiden name is still shown as Gollagher. Afterwards it becomes the more common Gallagher. Interestingly the baptisms were a month or more after the births, which while within church regulations suggests they either didn’t have the fee to pay, or were not so compliant in their observances.

A further certificate, for daughter Bridget in 1862, had the informant as a friend, Charlotte Harward of Emerald Hill. While some of the information was accurate, a new place of origin was introduced for Bridget as she was stated to come from Fermanagh, and William from Monaghan. At the time the family was living in Sutton Lane, off Little Burke Street and William was a storeman.

So now as options for Bridget’s place of birth we had Galway, Donegal and Fermanagh, but wait, there’s more to come!

Next certificate was that for son Patrick b 1865. This time Bridget was the informant and she mercifully gave her place of birth as Donegal and William’s as Fermanagh. They were still living in Sutton Lane and her age is fairly consistent throughout to give a YOB of 1833/1834.

Without buying every possible certificate this reassured me (1) that she was almost certainly the Famine Orphan and (2) her home place was Donegal.

On the 1865 certificate Bridget lists four children who had died. The online indexes do not show all of the named surviving children as stated on certificates, even using the broadest search parameters and wildcards.

Two generations on: Katie McKenna, Biddy Gallagher’s grand-daughter.

4.      Death of Bridget McKenna nee Gallagher

We had inherited this certificate from my husband’s father and it tells a sad story. Bridget died in the Immigrants’ Home in Melbourne on 12 December 1882, almost to the day 34 years earlier when she had been admitted to the immigrants’ depot. The cause of death was alcoholism and while she was stated to be married, there were no details available. She had been 31 years in Victoria (an error of three years) and came from Limerick! So now we have Limerick, Galway, Fermanagh and Donegal as potential places of origin!

At this point I became concerned that we also had the wrong death. A search of the indexes from 1870 to 1930, using Bri* not Bridget, gave only two possible options. I checked the alternate death and that was of a young woman born in Victoria so the 1882 death appears to be the correct one. . From the scarcity of the data on her death certificate it appears she had been alienated from, or ostracised by, her family. Another small anomaly is the age on her certificate: she is shown as 51 so YOB of 1831.

Does her alcoholism explain her children’s deaths or was it the other way round? Were the infant deaths attributable to her poor health from the Famine years: it’s possible as two of them were within a few years of her arrival, but likely? I’m not sure.

As Bridget had died of alcoholism it seemed likely she had been in trouble with the law so I searched the PROV online index to female prisoners. There are two entries for her, from which in due course we will need to obtain copies. With a little (lot?) of luck it may even give us a description of her. I also did a search of Trove hoping to find her in the court records for drunkenness, but could find only one reference in 1863 when she was fined 5 shillings. As yet she appears not to have fallen into the category of habitual drunkard, as those received a gaol sentence of three months. At this point she was still bearing children.

Bridget’s husband, William Peter McKenna, died in Melbourne in 1910. He is confirmed as the husband of Bridget Gallagher but this time his place of birth is Monaghan. Other family trees on Ancestry give a different date and place of death for Bridget’s husband but I think the official record is unambiguous.

This is a brief summary of the rather sad life of a Famine Orphan. There are still avenues to explore which may bring forward more evidence. It’s likely we’ll only know the shadows of her life – perhaps the light is the existence of many descendants.


[i] Reportedly known as the “Father of Separation” for his role in gaining Victoria’s separation from NSW. He was a staunch Catholic and had been a member of the first Legislative Council of Tasmania. He was also a member of the committee responsible for the welfare of the emigrant orphans on arrival in Melbourne.

[ii] Crown allotments 77 and 64 on the Yarra River at Abbotsford…In the late 1850s, Curr’s house was shown on a map of the Collingwood. The St Helier house garden featured a geometric layout, with pathways leading south to what was possibly an orchard on the river frontage. When Curr died in 1850, his trustees had leased the St Helier property in two parts. The house and house garden comprised one part, while the lower garden and riverbank paddock formed the other. In 1865, Curr’s widow, Elizabeth, sold the estate to the Right Rev. James A Goold for £4,000

Images of the house are at http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/yarra_melbourne/Collingwood/9464.html

http://www.picturevictoria.vic.gov.au/site/yarra_melbourne/Collingwood/9379.html

[iii] Biddy was one of only three young women to receive such a high wage. One assumes that if Curr employed her, and paid her such a generous sum, he thought she was competent not inexperienced.

[iv] While in Donegal in 2006 we tried without success to find any records for these workhouse orphans and Board of Guardian registers.  Perhaps another attempt is merited, even from afar.

[v] My Queensland research has shown me that sometimes there’s another set of information which reveals far more detail. Approaches to the diocesan archives a few years ago have been unsuccessful so it’s time to revisit that.