52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 44 Conferences

It is Week 44 in the 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy series by Amy Coffin and hosted by Geneabloggers. The topic this week is Genealogy ConferencesWhat was your best genealogy conference experience? Why is it so memorable in your mind? Who hosted the event? What did you learn from this experience? How does it impact your genealogy research today? I couldn’t resist this topic because of the significance of one talk way back in 1994.

The most memorable genealogy conference I’ve attended was the 7th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry hosted by AFFHO at The University of Queensland in Brisbane way back in 1994. I was waiting to take up a new position at UQ so I had some time on my hands and was able to attend, and it was a pivotal conference for my research.

One of the speakers was Jenny Paterson from New South Wales and she was speaking on the employment of German immigrants to eastern Australia in the 1850s[i]. She presented a list of some names with their corresponding places of origin. I nearly fell of my chair when one place recurred against several names, and that place was Dorfprozelten, home of my George Kunkel. Regular readers of this blog will know that George has led me a merry chase trying to find any immigration records (still unsuccessfully).

A street-side shrine in the village of Dorfprozelten: there when the emigrants left and still there today.

Jenny’s talk revealed the significance of the German vinedresser scheme which had been relatively unheralded. For years I’d been told there were no Catholic Germans in Queensland, even though George plainly fitted that bill. Her talk also opened the door to my sideways research into learning as much as I possibly could about this cluster of Dorfprozelten emigrants, their backgrounds and their migration experiences. It really was a pivotal moment in my German research and led to me presenting what I’d discovered about the Dorfprozelten migrants to the Darwin AFFHO Congress in 2006[ii].

Jenny Paterson continues to write on the larger German migration experience through her regular articles in Ances-Tree, the Burwood and District Family History Group’s magazine. They are valuable reading for anyone with German ancestry to Australia and would provide an excellent comparison for north American researchers whose German ancestors migrated around the same time.

It was at the AFFHO congress on Anzac Day 2003, that I was stunned to hear the British keynote speakers talking about my husband’s great uncle, Walter Edmund Cass. I posted about it earlier this year in this post.  Mid-year 2012 Mr Cassmob and I went to see an exhibition about Brig WEH Cass and his wife Helena at the Shrine in Melbourne.

You just never know what you’ll learn or who’ll you’ll meet at a genealogy conference. You may read about the topics and the speakers but every now and then, a total surprise will leap out at you and propel your research in a totally unexpected direction!


[i] Available from the National Library of Australia Blending the cultures : congress papers / 7th Australian Congress on Genealogy and Family History ; 7-10 July 1994, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia.

[ii] They weren’t all Lutherans – A case study of a small group of German Catholics who emigrated to Australia from Dorfprozelten, Bavaria. Cass, P. Published in the Proceedings of the 11th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry, Darwin, 2006.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 42 – Greatest Genie Achievement

It’s ages since I participated in the 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy by Amy Coffin and hosted by Geneabloggers as I’ve been rather preoccupied with my own 52 weeks Beyond the Internet series.

This morning I read that the topic for Week 42 of Abundant Genealogy is Biggest Genealogy Accomplishment. What do you feel is your biggest genealogy accomplishment? What were the steps you took to get there, and what was the end result?

 My first thoughts turned to an earlier Abundant Genealogy post from Week 7 when I wrote about discovering my Bavarian ancestor’s roots. It was only later that I thought, no that’s not my biggest genealogy accomplishment, even though it was certainly a critical point in my family research.

 MY BIGGEST GENEALOGY ACHIEVEMENT?

The thing I’m most proud of, genealogically, is writing the history of my Kunkel family in Queensland: a pioneering family who, although not important as individuals, participated in important events in our country’s and our state’s achievements and progress. It was the family’s everyday ordinariness that gave me the name of the book: Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family.

Thanks to the discovery I mentioned above, and fantastic oral history connections that were uncovered, I was able to include the background story of my Happ-Kunkel families in Bavaria and my O’Brien ancestors from Ballykelly near Broadford in Co Clare, and a little about the other emigrants from Dorfprozelten in Bavaria.

I knew literally nothing about this family when I started out other than the fact Kunkel was plainly a name of German origin, and that my grandfather had several siblings only one or two of whom he had anything to do with. I also knew that he had originally been a Catholic and one of the points of contention had been his marrying a Scots Presbyterian.

 GOING ABOUT IT

My research started in the pre-internet era so I accumulated every snippet of information I could find from as many sources as possible. One day I realised that if I didn’t write up this family story, it would become a major regret.

So what did I do? One of the strange things I did was to decide not to look at other family histories because I didn’t want to pinch their ideas. In retrospect this was fairly silly as there are so many strategies that can be used – you don’t have to recreate the wheel. Instead I launched in, started writing and kept at it, day after day, until the story came together. I was still working full-time so I wrote in the early mornings and late into the evenings.

Sir Cassmob is knighted for services to genealogy.

As I found gaps in the story I chased down more clues, did more research, and phoned more people. I’m proud of all the research, determination and sheer persistence that went into writing up this story, including challenging my reluctance to contact formerly unknown relatives.

Like the Oscars I have to acknowledge that many people helped me along the way with their stories, photos etc, but my greatest debt is to Mr Cassmob, who got a Family Knighthood for Services to Genealogy! I’ve said many times, either the book wouldn’t have been written or I’d have been much thinner.

Sir Cassmob receives his award.

When I first held my “baby” in my hands I was just so thrilled and besotted. Now of course I can see its flaws, mistakes, and things I could have done differently, but even so it was, and remains, an achievement to be proud of.

THE END RESULT

The book was launched by one of my distant O’Brien cousins, who always tells me “oh you’re wonderful” but what she really means is that I’m quite mad to keep doing all this family history. We launched the book in Toowoomba not far from where the family had lived for many years and as far as is known it was the first Kunkel family reunion in close to 100 years.

A mob of Kunkels chatting hammer and tongs.

It was a great day and there was a non-step level of chatter even among people who’d never met before. Many were astonished to discover they had Kunkel ancestry and everyone appreciated learning more of the story. The genealogy chart stretched along the walls and everybody had fun finding their name. Another great thing, retrospectively, is that quite a number of the third generation of Kunkel descendants were able to attend even though in their eighties or nineties Many have now left us so it was a special privilege to have them there. The reunion and all the pleasure people got from it and from the book was definitely the icing on the cake.

My beautiful Alexander Henderson Award was hand-delivered to the GSNT.

The glitter on the cake was winning two awards for the book. I was so proud to be joint-winner of Queensland Family History Society’s annual award with Joyce Philips’s book The Wrights of Tivoli.  And then to my utter astonishment I also won the Alexander Henderson Award from the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies.  I was over the moon with excitement and pride as you might imagine.

It’s very counter-cultural to blow one’s own trumpet, certainly in Australia where there’s an absolute dislike of people who puff themselves up, so it feels very brazen to be telling this story.

There’s something special about knowing you’re leaving a family history for posterity and that you’ve opened up your family’s story to many family members. It’s certainly one of my proudest moments.  So if you’ve been thinking of writing your own family history, give it a go and don’t let the fear stop you. I guarantee you will be so pleased to have provided this inheritance for generations to come.

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 18: Historical Books

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 18: Historical books.  This week we’re going to shine the spotlight on other historical books that benefit the genealogy field. Do you have a favorite book that falls in this category? What makes this book special to you? How can other genealogists benefit from its content?

As usual I find it impossible to restrict myself to just one book because the history books you’ll find useful will differ depending on where your families come from. So here are some of my Irish, migration and Scottish references.

IRISH HISTORY REFERENCES

I’ve written about a couple of these before so I’ll also refer you to my previous posts.

Oceans of Consolation, Personal Accounts of Irish Migration to Australia, Fitzpatrick David

I regard this book as a truly unique insight into the Irish migration experience. Yes, it focuses on Australia but anyone with an interest in Irish migration generally would find it fascinating. Fitzpatrick uses a series of letters to/from Ireland by emigrants and their families. It gives us a unique perspective on these correspondents’ experience of their new life, the loss of family and mediated new loyalties against those of (Irish) home and family. A wide range of counties are represented among the letter-writers: West Clare, Down, Galway, Tipperary, Kerry, Cork, Meath, Kings, Armagh and Fermanagh. Sadly for me, nary a one from East Clare. If you didn’t already wish for a stash of emigrant letters, this book will certainly make you do so, and mourn their absence if they don’t exist. The spelling is often “exotic” but they managed to make their message very clear.

At last year’s Not Just Ned exhibition, extracts of these stories were available in the sound booths on iPads and in heavy demand. I could have sat there all day listening to them.

Biddy Burke from County Galway is one of my favourites. She ends one letter Queensland for ever and agus an baile beag go brâth (and the small town forever)[i]….pertinent in relation to Hidden Ireland (see below), and demonstrating her loyalty to both her old and new homes.

The End of Hidden Ireland, Robert James Scally

Unless you have Irish ancestors from the townland of Ballykilcline in Co Roscommon, you’d be wondering why I’m recommending this book. While it focuses on the events and people in this townland, it provides a valuable insight into the life of one townland in the midst of the Famine. What I find fascinating is how it informs us on the nuances of townland life, obligations and familial and social obligations. Scally talks of it as baile, a settlement and landholding together, with community links often with specific family links [ii] while we’re more accustomed to only associating the townland with the geographic space/land. I’m about a third through re-reading this book and finding even more subtleties than on the first reading…you can tell by the annotations and the flags.

Farewell my children: Irish migration to Australia 1848 to 1870, Richard Reid

Sure this book applies to the Irish coming to Australia, but Richard’s approach to understanding more about the process and the immigrants is, in my experience, somewhat unusual as he complements the general history with personalised grassroots examples. I’d be surprised if anyone with Irish ancestry couldn’t gain insights into how their own Irish immigrant fitted into the broader data.

Mapping the Great Irish Famine, Kennedy L, Ell P S,  Crawford, E M, Clarkson L, (eds)

I mentioned this book briefly last year in a post on the impact of the Famine. It is a book I used extensively when researching my East Clare migration data, and it certainly provided some startling comparisons. Most books on the Famine, easily found, focus more on data for all of Ireland or perhaps one county. What I think is so valuable about this book is that it compares the before and after data for baronies or poor law unions, meaning you can drill down and make valid comparisons with your own family’s experience, and to see how typical they were of their place in terms of education, occupation etc. This article tells a little more about the book and the project.

SCOTTISH HISTORY REFERENCE

There are innumerable general histories for Scotland, but I am going to focus on a region-specific history.

Argyll: 1730 -1850, McGeachy, R A A

This book explains the ways in which Argyll changed across the important years 1730 to 1850 and includes such important aspects as Jacobitism, clearances, industrialisation, cultural change, and fragmentation of families and society. He addresses occupational changes and how this affected people at a grassroots level and provides many examples drawn from across Argyll. My own copy is annotated throughout and post-it notes sticking from the edges.

In the introduction, James Hunter (himself a noted Scottish historian) remarks “universal themes can sometimes best be understood by studying their local impact”. This runs contrary to how history was perceived for many years, but is an approach that I personally identify with, and have been inspired by in Richard Reid’s historical writings.

Judging on the prices you will need to shop around if you want this book, and will probably need to buy it used (unless you’re up for $413 for a new book). I paid £25 from a bookshop in Scotland in 2006.

MIGRATION TO AUSTRALIA: HISTORY REFERENCES

Two books which provide valuable insights into the experience of Australia’s immigrants from recruitment to arrival are both by Robin Haines.

Emigration and the Labouring Poor: Australian Recruitment in Britain and Ireland 1831-1860

This book focus on the pre-departure experience of the potential immigrant and the Colonial Land and Emigration Commissioners’ (CLEC) approach to recruitment. If you want to know how your immigrants may have been recruited and how they fit into the broader migration data, this is the book for you.

Life and Death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia, Haines, R

This is a fantastic book for anyone who wants to learn more about the emigrants’ experience at sea. There is a broader overview into how the emigrants were provided for, and the care taken by the emigration commissioners in ensuring the voyage was as safe as possible. The book also discusses the migration experience in different decades, pertinent with the changes to medicine as well as type of shipping. It is interspersed with extracts of letters and individual examples which illustrate the experiences.

SUMMARY

Australian residents should be aware they can borrow these books from The National Library of Australia on inter-library loan to their local reference library, assuming it’s not already on the shelves there.

Another tip for genealogists everywhere is to see if your local university library has these books in its catalogue. You may not be able to borrow them, but you will be able to sit in the library and read them (yes, I know, no coffee or snacks!…I’m reminded of 84 Charing Cross Rd when I say that). You may also find some in your favourite online bookshop or real bookshop, new or used. I can see I also need to go into my blog and add these titles to my Reference Books tab.


[i] Oceans of Consolation, page 155

[ii] The End of Hidden Ireland, Scally, page 12

Abundant Genealogy Week 10: A collage of genie journeys

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy.  Week 10: Genealogy Roadtrips. No two genealogy road trips are the same but they’re always fun and meaningful. Describe a memorable trip in your past. Where did you go? What did you find (or not find)? Did you meet any new cousins? What did the trip mean to you and your family?

A Tagxedo word cloud of genie journeys.

When I saw this topic I ran a mental scan of the genealogy trips I’ve done over the past 26 years. There have been so many that in truth I simply don’t remember each in detail –just the highlights. Many have been genealogical flight trips to places far away, either within Australia or overseas, though usually with a road trip added in. I decided on a collage of memory highlights over the decades from our genealogical journeys at home and away. The memories here focus on my Kunkel/O’Brien ancestry but I could list just as many for other ancestral families of mine, or my husband’s.

Murphys Creek and the Fifteen Mile, Queensland

Murphys Creek cemetery circa 1987/88. The Kunkel grave is on the right nearest the trees.

  • Learning my Kunkel ancestors had lived and died there we visited the cemetery. Set aside in one corner was the grave of my 2xgreat grandparents and their son, my great grandfather. It was a thrill to see it standing proud in what was probably once the Catholic part of the cemetery. It’s telling that theirs is the only gravestone in that area –presumably other Irish Catholics were too poor to manage a stone.  (Have I mentioned that my daughters have adverse memories of Queensland cemeteries with dry crackling grass and high temperatures?)
  • Driving along a gazetted roadway that felt like a private access path to other farms, so that I could see my Kunkel family farm (at a distance). Having heard that the then-resident was rather fond of his shotgun when it came to visitors I was mighty glad to have a long telephoto on my camera and wished that the cows would stop announcing my presence.

    The old property circa 1988.

  • Learning about the place through genie-visits with the Kunkels’ granddaughter in Toowoomba and finding out about their life on the farm and much family history.
  • Taking a steam train ride with a couple of my kids along the very line that my 2xgreat grandfather worked on (we all loved that trip).
  • Many decades later, being invited to see through the old farm property and walk the land.

    The steam train arrives at Murphys Creek station.

In Australia

  • Visiting St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich to see the original registers (in those days) and finding my ancestors’ marriage entry. Being able to see the second register which had more detail and gave me the clue to George Kunkel’s place of birth.
  • Meeting my third cousins in Sydney who shared wonderful family knowledge and photos, enabling me to link the Irish O’Briens.
  • Visiting Drayton &  Toowoomba cemetery and seeing the unmarked grave of my 2x great grandmother and her daughter, my great grandmother. Putting a marker on their grave remains one of my Bucket List items.
  • Holding the first reunion of all the Kunkel relatives in Toowoomba –what an experience for all of us! What a noise we made with our conversations!
  • A second reunion a few years later introduced many family members to family places they hadn’t know about before.

Dorfprozelten, Bavaria

One of the old buildings in Dorfprozelten.

  • A laborious train/walking day trip to visit the Kunkel home village of Dorfprozelten –and being told by the priest to come back another day. Protestations in German that we’d come from Australia fell on deaf ears, as had letters sent before and after the visit.
  • Convoluted conversations in churches and cemeteries in my poor German as I tried to learn more about my family. A similar experience with a later priest who was Polish-born: a multi-lingual challenge for both of us.
  • Some years later being shown the church registers by the then parish priest as he pulled them out of a metal compactus in the sacristy and nodded sagely at the various illegitimate births. We readily found my George Kunkel’s baptism entry.
  • Meeting local historians in Laufach and Dorfprozelten who shared their family and local knowledge with me. The Laufach historian was something like a 5th or 6th cousin!
  • Walking the streets of the village and getting a feel for the historical continuity of many of the buildings.

Broadford, Clare

A work colleague and friend had bought me these green socks to celebrate the ancestral trip to Ireland.

  • I visited Broadford first with my mother and daughter in the late 1980s. We drove in constant fog from our B&B wondering whether this was all we’d see after travelling half way round the world. A visit in the church and a prayer to my 2x great grandmother to plead our case – as we walked out the church door, the fog lifted like a blind rising. It remains one of my strangest family history experiences. My daughter celebrated her birthday that day, receiving her presents near the Broadford Catholic cemetery and then touring another one at Tuamgraney in the half dark with the owls hooting. A birthday she hasn’t forgotten! On this trip the attempt to pin down the right O’Brien family was unsuccessful.
  • On a subsequent visit we were taken by the visiting missionary priest to meet my relatives. Strictly speaking they weren’t blood relations but they had inherited the various properties and were so incredibly generous and hospitable to us with Paddy taking us to see the original farm at Ballykelly. Returning all muddy and damp Nancy, his wife, helped us clean up and then fed us. The memories of this trip and subsequent meetings with them are treasured ones.
  • Meeting third cousins in Broadford, over a pint and a whisky in the local pub. Great craic.

These memories are the tip of the iceberg of our genealogical road/air trips. We’ve had such great times, seen wonderful places and met hospitable people off the beaten track. Some places immediately give a sense of homecoming, others are special but don’t tug at my heart strings. It’s been worth every dollar and every moment that we’ve spent on these adventures. I’m rearing for more adventures as time and money permit.

Abundant Genealogy: Week 8: Fanfare and tribute for my genealogy libraries

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy . The topic for Week 8 is Genealogy Libraries: Genealogy libraries (and dedicated departments in regular libraries) are true treasures in the family history community.  Tell us about your favorite genealogy library. What or who makes it special? 

The more I reflected, the more unfair it seemed to single out just one library, so here’s my tribute, with fanfare, to the family history libraries in my life.  Like choosing between your children, picking your favourites seems unjust but I’d like to give my trio of Genie Awards  to the following: GSQ, LDS Family History Centre(s), and County Clare Library, for their contribution to my family history. Read all about my credits below.

Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ)

My family history would probably have languished in the “I wonder where my name originated” basket, had I not happened upon a Colonial Street Fair in William St, Brisbane in 1986. GSQ had a “get ’em interested stall” and over 25 years later, the rest, as they say, is history. Not only did GSQ launch my family history search, but it fed and fuelled it for a very long time until I moved to Darwin. In those pre-digitisation days, I used to visit the library to search their hard copy documents but also their rolls of microfilm and especially their wonderful and vast set of indexes prepared by family history centres around the country. They also had special interest groups and when possible I attended their sessions. The GSQ seminars were goldmines of information to new genies like me, and I made sure I mined them to the full. GSQ also established a Pioneer muster register to celebrate the Bicentenary in 1988 and I submitted my own family trees, such as it was after 12-18 months of research (info was much slower to find in those days). The register was updated for Q150 in 2009. So GSQ Library is my first and biggest trumpet fanfare of thanks!

Darwin’s LDS family history centre 

Darwin's Family History Centre and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

 

If I was pinned down to one library I really couldn’t do without right now in 2012, it would be the Darwin LDS family history centre. Not at all like the flash Salt Lake City facilities, it nevertheless provides me with access to all the diverse records microfilmed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The films may take their time venturing across the seas but when those films arrive they provide the gateway into so much of my family story, especially when it takes my stories back across the seas to England, Scotland and Ireland (sadly my German village records are not filmed).  I continue to harp on about how wonderful they are, so I’ll let you read someone else’s story about why they’re genealogical gold. It bemuses me that researchers just don’t seem to “get” how much they can learn through the Mormon library: it’s just not instantaneous and perhaps that’s the problem in our impatient world.

Clare County Library

You could search my blog and find many references to this wonderful library. An innovator over many years I can’t sing their praises highly enough. If you have Irish ancestry, you want them to come from Clare so you, too, can benefit from the riches on their website: this is a virtual library you want to visit, trust me. Even if your Irish family comes from elsewhere have a look on the site to see just what may lie hidden in your family’s county of origin. And if you’re lucky enough to visit Ennis, as I have been, calculate the time you think you’ll need then multiply it: they have riches galore.

My other drum-rolls are for these libraries that have served me so well over the years. Each has wonderful research opportunities that have contributed to my own family histories and can do the same for yours. To each I say “Thank You!”.

State Library of Queensland (SLQ)

In my early research days, SLQ was then housed in William Street (and if my memory serves, staffed with Shauna Hicks among others) and became another home-away-from-home. Here I again used BDM microfiche, microfilmed newspapers, and that wonderfully old-fashioned thing, reference books. In those early days I don’t believe I had ventured into John Oxley Library but when time permits on Brisbane visits there are always things to follow up.

Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society (TDDFHS)

With family in the Darling Downs, as I soon discovered, TDDFHS had an impact on my research long before I joined the society or visited their library. GSQ held their index to BDM events in the Darling Downs Gazette and this was the key to learning more about the lives of my ancestors. TDDFHS have continued to hold a place in my genie heart with their local indexes especially their published books of newspaper extracts (especially great for “my” Germans). Because I live so far away I rarely get into the physical library but through membership emails etc I’m kept up to speed with what they’re doing.

Queensland Family History Society (QFHS)

I must mention QFHS even though I visited them infrequently because they were on the other side of town when I lived in Brisbane. These days my Brisbane visits are so time-constrained that I rarely make it to the actual library but I’ve gained so much from the resources they produce. Their Hamburg shipping indexes, school admission lists, electoral rolls, and so many other indexes and services are fantastic resources. Some of the information you’re finding on Findmypast, for example, comes from their indexing work. Hidden heroes! They also awarded me a prize in 2004 for my family history – a huge buzz for me! QFHS had a great Q150 project, Queensland Founding Families, for 2009 and if you have Qld family it’s a must-read.

Northern Territory Library (NTL)

With the encroachment of Trove and online subscriptions, NTL hasn’t seen me as much as they used to.  Their wide range of newspapers has often been a godsend to me in following up leads and where they don’t have them in house, NTL is efficient in ordering them in on inter-library loans from The National Library of Australia and similarly books that I need or want to suss out, are dispatched from Canberra to far-away Darwin for researchers like me.  Thanks Ken for your wonderful service with these loans! Always very much appreciated. NTL also hosts or co-hosts family history seminars throughout the year and includes family history, and history, journals and magazines for reference. They also have a great facility for people to tell their Territory Stories via online submission so if you have a family member who lived in the Territory in the past, you might want to put your entry there.

Genealogical Society of the Northern Territory (GSNT)

I’ve spent many hours at GSNT scrolling through Board Immigrant Lists searching for east County Clare immigrants. There were some wags who thought I was going to grow cobwebs! Tucked among the bookshelves are a wide variety of reference books to assist with family history and the microfiche and CDs provide further opportunities to round out what’s known about our ancestors. GSNT also holds an extensive pioneer register which hasn’t been of interest to me previously but I’ve now learnt that one of my family connections was in the Territory so I’ll need to see what they may have on them.

Thank you to each and every one of these libraries, without which my family stories would be just a litany of names and dates!

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 7 – Historical documents

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 7 – Historical Documents: Which historical document in your possession are you happy to have? How did you acquire this item? What does it reveal about your ancestors?

I have few actual historical documents though my family archive holds many copies of historic documents from archives or registry offices. My grandmother’s Scotch (sic) education book and my grandfather’s original, oversized and much stuck-together, birth certificate are valued originals but they are not the pivotal historic documents on which my family history turns.

There are two historic documents (of which I hold copies only), which broke through “brick walls” and enabled me to pinpoint my ancestors’ home place. Without them I’d never have been able to trace “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” or George Kunkel from Bavaria.

Their marriage occurred at St Mary’s Catholic Church in Ipswich, Queensland in 1857. The church’s marriage register is the only place where I’ve ever found George Kunkel’s place of birth documented: the details are not on the official civil registration. Without that church document I’d never have known where George was born and never been involved in researching his fellow emigrants from Dorfprozelten. I wrote about this document discovery in the 2011 Australia Day meme hosted by Shelley from Twigs of Yore.

You might imagine that finding “Mary O’Brien from County Clare” would have been nigh on impossible without some substantive clue. She doesn’t appear in any shipping record I’ve searched (and believe me I’ve searched a lot, the old-fashioned way as well as the new). Oral history gave me her sister’s name and married surname. I then ordered Bridget Widdup’s death certificate which gave me her place of birth and confirmed Mary and Bridget as siblings. It was then possible to search the Kilseily parish registers, Broadford, Co Clare, in person and on microfilm. This confirmed the links by virtue of the rich oral history I’d been given. I wrote more about finding Mary O’Brien here.

So these two documents, one a church register entry and the other a civil death registration, have been documents critical to my overseas family history. It really doesn’t matter at all that what I hold are copies, not originals, as I’ve personally sighted both.

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy: the heirloom that got away

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 6’s topic is Family Heirlooms. For which family heirloom are you most thankful? How did you acquire this treasure and what does it mean to you and your family? 

As a child I lived next door to my paternal grandparents so it was rather like having two homes. I knew where “everything” was and largely had free rein. Through all those years my grandmother kept one drawer in her kitchen dresser for her family news clippings. Into it went all the notices for births, deaths and marriages that occurred in her family, and probably her friendship circle, though I must admit I never knew her to have a friend other than family. Of course she was quite elderly when I was growing up (hmm thinking on it, when I was a child she was probably a similar age to me right now). She’d also emigrated with her mother and siblings when she was in her twenties so I guess that made them even more tight-knit.

I’ve spoken to different members of my grandmother’s family over the years and we all hold the memory of her BDM drawer. As a teenager I could so easily have talked to my grandmother about the family stories represented in that drawer and built a family tree from them, but I was a typically self-obsessed teenager, focused on school and uni. My love then was science not history so this great opportunity for family knowledge was wasted on me.

So what happened to this family heirloom collection?

My grandmother died near Christmas one year when I was down from Papua New Guinea on holidays but her effects weren’t sorted for some time. My best guess is that in the cleaning-up process this “scrap” paper went into the bin. A couple were salvaged, including those relating to her brother’s violent death in a road accident, but most have long gone. It would be nice to think that if I’d been around I might have boxed all those clippings up, but if I’m honest I may well have taken no interest – in those days I was preoccupied with our young baby. I’d also have lost the opportunity to understand their significance as my father was never big on family stories. I do have other heirlooms that have family significance though none has any financial value. I also have furniture from my grandparents’ house. I treasure them and will hand them down to my children and grandchildren but somehow the “one that got away” is the one that haunts my “might-have-beens”.

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

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has a new series of weekly blogging prompts for 2012 and the theme is 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 5’s topic is Life Experiences: Sometimes the challenges in life provide the best learning experiences. Can you find an example of this in your own family tree? Which brick wall ancestor are you most thankful for, and how did that person shape your family history experience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mary’s own life experience and stamina

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

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

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

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy Week 4: my kitbag of offline tools

Amy Coffin of the We Tree blog, in conjunction with Geneabloggers, has kicked off 2012 with a new series of weekly blogging prompts themed as 52 Weeks of Abundant GenealogyWeek 4’s topic is Free Offline Genealogy Tools: For which free offline genealogy tool are you most grateful? How did you find this tool and how has it benefitted your genealogy? Describe to others how to access this tool and spread the genealogy love.

The (mostly) Irish migration corner of my library.

I confess that this topic confused me a little as I wavered between its meaning being a techno-tool which helped with my genealogy vs a source or repository, an equally valid interpretation. I opted to go with taking the term “tool” more literally as I’ll be addressing my offline sources and archive favourites in my Beyond the Internet series. So here is my priority offline kitbag (as you know I have trouble selecting just one):

  1.  My camera plus pen(cil) and paper.

This has been true for all the years of my research, long before digital cameras, or computers for that matter. I use my cameras (now digital) to photograph old family properties, streets where my families lived, their home towns, the cemeteries and the family’s graves, etc. In the various archives I can now mostly use my camera to photograph documents quickly and easily so I can skim-read them in situ,then transcribe and digest them at home at my leisure. I also use it to photograph images from microfilm, having been given permission to do this at the library. I truly would feel almost as bereft if I lost my camera as if I lost my computer. As to the pencil and paper, sometimes I find it easier to document information by hand – yes, regressive I know, but I do also use the laptop for specific projects.

Maps and War and a bit of Queensland

2.            My research reference library

Ever since I started family history I’ve been accumulating relevant research books (combines my love of FH + books). Since we’ve moved to Darwin this accumulation has accelerated and I now have a fairly substantial reference library of books, maps, CDs and DVDs to aid my research, not to mention my family-specific information in folders. I would be lost without having this library readily to hand when I need background to something I’m researching…but there’d be more space in my study :-)

3.                Inter-library loans

I do try to curb my enthusiasm for book-purchasing to references which I know I’ll use repeatedly or which are not available through the National Library of Australia on inter-library loan.  This is a great service and it means I can have resources sent up to Darwin from Canberra. These resources might be books but equally might be rural newspapers on microfilm which have yet to make it into Trove. Ken at the Northern Territory Library does a great job coordinating these loans at the Darwin end. (Don’t forget that if you live in Australia you can also get an NLA cardto access online resources).

Not to forget the Scots!

4.                My library and archive cards

I have a stash of these for libraries and archives from all over. Even if they have to be renewed from time to time they make for quick access when you arrive for a time-limited research trip.

5.                 Microfilms

I can’t say often enough how important microfilms from the local Family History Centre are to my research (see one post here, or search my blog). It’s not all online, so being able to research at least some parish records, shipping records, occupation documents etc is invaluable. Look at the FamilySearch catalogue for your ancestor’s home town, county or country to see which films might help your research. Order them online here, then when they arrive you’re in for tons of fun at your local family history centre, however big or small it may be.

6.                Scanners

My scanner is a vital part of my offline world. My old photos, slides, negatives and documents churn through the scanner and go into my digital records. I love the Flip-Pal for quick scanning of photos for my blog or similar. It’s the interface tool between my online and offline world. I talked about both scanners last year here.

So there you have it, some of my “can’t do without” tools.

Which tools do you use in your research and which is your favourite?

52 weeks of Abundant Genealogy: Week 3: Celebrate the generosity of free websites

This week’s questions are gifts in themselves. I have two sites that I routinely sing the praises of, one international and one for regional Australia, and one that I think deserves to be better known.

Ennis has delightful narrow streets. This image is from Wikipedia. Unfortunately I've now discovered my Ennis photos have gone AWOL.

Clare County Library is my all time favourite resource for free family history and Clare history, aided and abetted by CLASP (Clare Local Studies Project). In the real world you will find them in Ennis, County Clare where the Local Studies Centre is a treasure trove. The good people there have been leaders in the field of promoting the county’s history at a personal, regional and international level for many years. While the rest of Ireland languished in a “what can we get from you” mindset, Clare Library was generously sharing its information and harnessing the enthusiastic energies of volunteers around the world. Careful scrutiny of transcriptions have ensured their indexes are reliable. The townland and parish indexes are particularly helpful.  The value of the site is really only fully appreciated when you go to look up something in another county only to find blank walls or minimal information. I can’t thank them enough or praise them highly enough! If you have Clare ancestry you just don’t know how lucky you will be with this site.

Drayton & Toowoomba Cemetery

Closer to home, my much-used Drayton and Toowoomba Cemetery grave search, hosted by Toowoomba Regional Council, is my top contender. I couldn’t have done without it when writing my Kunkel family history or in researching “my” Dorfprozelten emigrants or other Darling Downs ancestors. It not only tells you who is buried there with their grave location, but also gives you a death date and tells you how old they were as well as who is buried in the same grave revealing further, sometimes unanticipated, links (like the stray Gavin buried with my female Gavin ancestors). Other councils have followed suit and offer similar services, but like the Clare County Library they get the honours for being truly innovative as well as tremendously useful.

Another site I use less regularly but which deserves to be better known is one which is dedicated to photographing gravestones in cemeteries in South-East Queensland. This is a personal rather than an organisational website and again was among the leaders in this type of activity. If you have ancestry in South East Queensland, do have a look at what they have to offer.

The abundance of free sites available to us as family historians is quite remarkable and is truly something to be grateful for.