National Family History Month 2017

First of all many thanks to Coordinator of National Family History Month, Shauna Hicks. She does an amazing job single-handed but with great financial support from the Sponsors. Did you submit your interest in winning one of the excellent prizes? I did and we’ll all know the outcome soon.

The month has seemed quite crazy and reflecting on what’s happened that’s no surprise. What did I get up to?

On a personal note it was very exciting to meet up again with one of McCorkindale 2nd cousins after “only” about 55 years. We had a great chat and are looking forward to meeting again to swap more stories and family information.

Learning Opportunities:

During the month I indulged in quite a few:

  • Two days of the Unlock the Past Roadshow in Brisbane, with the focus on Scottish/Irish records by Chris Paton and German/European research by Dirk Weissleder and local speakers Helen Smith and Rosemary Kopittke. Not only did I learn heaps but got to hang out with genimates and meet new people as well. Thanks to My Heritage for the discount special from the Roadshow, and Rosemary for revealing its benefits.
  • At the Toowoomba and Darling Downs Family History Society, I was able to hear Janice Cooper’s thought-provoking talk about citations and how to assess sources. Lots to think about now the month’s dust has settled. The Society also launched the third volume of their “Our Backyard” books which tell the story of some of the people buried in the Drayton and Toowoomba cemetery. If you have ancestors on the Darling Downs you really need to look at the books they’ve published…they’re excellent.
  • Caloundra Family History Research Inc (CFHRI) had two presentations from members of Genealogy Sunshine Coast: one on DNA and the other on Google Photos and its usefulness. It seems that I’m progressively getting to grips with DNA for genealogy as it sometimes even makes sense! There was lots of potential in Google Photos and I’m going to have a play with it to see how I can use it to my advantage with both my family history and One Place Studies.
  • The Noosa library service hosted a presentation by Judy Webster at Cooroy Library on Court Records in Queensland…a subject that always offers many research opportunities and we benefited from Judy’s extensive archival knowledge. I was sorry that my jaunts to Brisbane and Toowoomba meant I missed the first two presentations this month by genimates Carmel Galvin and Shauna Hicks.

My contributions to NFHM:

  • I presented my talk on “The marriage of family and local history” in Toowoomba. It had a focus on my One Place Study, Murphy’s Creek which was well known to most attendees as it’s just down the range from Toowoomba.
  • Yesterday I was the final speaker in the Noosa library Services NFHM program. My topic was “Writing your family history…things I learned along the way
  • My genimate Alex from Family Tree Frog set us a NFHM weekly Blog Challenge which tested our creativity in telling our families’ stories.
  • Alona from LoneTester blog presented us with a meme: An A to Z of Ancestral Places. It was an interesting one to complete and a good reference point to follow up on research, as well as comparing notes on the overlap of places with our mates.
  • Jaunting around the Darling Downs gave me an opportunity to revisit some of my ancestral places in person. I had a good chat to the historian at the Woolshed at Jondaryan where my ancestor, George Michael Kunkel, worked for a while as a lamber.If you had ancestors who worked or lived there, the historian would like to hear from you at this email.
  • Of course we never go past Murphy’s Creek without visiting my Kunkel ancestors at the cemetery and later on a recce of the Fifteen Mile where they lived.
  • I rejoined the Genealogical Society of Queensland where I started my research in 1986. After my long sojourn in the Northern Territory it was time. I was amused that my new membership number is a scramble of my initial membership but in the thousands, not hundreds.

All in all, August has been a great month for family history…no wonder I feel a bit weary.

Now it’s time to focus on the living family and spend some time with them. Happy days.

 

 

 

 

The Three Rs of Genealogy

Revisit record reviseThis is a re-post of one of my submissions to the Worldwide Genealogy blog nearly three years ago. I thought it might be worth a re-share here for National Family History Month 2017.

As family historians we need the traditional three Rs of reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic, after all how else to locate our families’ records, write their stories and calculate and cross-check their ages, dates of births, deaths and shot-gun marriages.

But today I’m going to propose that another three Rs are also needed for our family history research.

REVISIT

Traditional wisdom suggests we maintain a research register/spreadsheet which documents every record set and document we’ve checked in the course of our research, either online or offline. This practice, or some variation of it, is certainly helpful to ensure we don’t waste valuable research time searching the same records again and again.

However, I’d argue there’s a benefit to visiting at least some of the records more than once. Certainly we should revisit those documents we’ve stored in our files, databases or trees.

Why?

Because I firmly believe that research findings, and our perception and understanding of them, are not static. The documents themselves will not change but the research “glasses” we’re wearing will certainly change how we see the detail on them.

shutterstock_137910917

Shutterstock Image ID: 137910917

What we know of our history changes over time, either incrementally or in large leaps forward. Things we haven’t noticed about a record will suddenly leap out at us as having a new or additional meaning. The significance of names will become clearer as in the interim we’ve learned of family connections. If we only look at the record the first time we find it, and don’t squeeze it for every single drop, we run the risk of missing the key to a brick-wall breakthrough.

And then there’s the one-time search of a particular record set, especially online. I’m sure we’ve all had searches that we’ve rejected as unsuccessful on one occasion, only to revisit the search and see, with those new glasses on, something important that turns it into a relevant record for our research.

And what of looking at adjoining pages to see who’s living nearby? We used to do this automatically when searching offline but the downside of an online search is that it takes us straight to our ancestor’s document and tempts us just to exit to the next search without checking out the broader context.

RECORD

Each of us has our own way of recording our family history. Most will keep at least key information in family history programs or trees, either online or offline. Others have their own family websites. Others again will publish the family’s story in a book. It’s probably a fair bet that the participants of this Worldwide Genealogy blog are also writing their family history online ie writing a genealogy blog. I’ve noticed that when we say “blog” people sometimes conclude we’re just playing around on the internet, telling others what we had for breakfast etc. Some time ago I wrote a post suggesting that we should start reframing how we refer to our blogs, by “telling it how it is” and saying we write our family history online.

Blogging is a great option for recording our family’s history and revealing the grassroots of history by contextualising it within the broader framework of traditional history.

I feel sure that the centenary of World War I will produce many micro-stories of the impact of war on families and communities as well as the contributions made by individuals on both sides of the military fence. This reveals a more nuanced tapestry of history than the big-picture, important-people version that we all learnt at school. It also exposes the sheer scale of war’s impact at the grassroots level. We can do the same for so many aspects of our family history by revealing more about a community, which in turn might lead to a One Place Study.

Blogging also provides a less threatening way of starting to document a family history rather than the daunting prospect of writing a book. From a personal perspective blogging suits my approach to a narrative recording my family’s history and allows me to add new information to the family history I’ve published. Of course to a large extent I’m preaching to the converted on this topic.

REVISE

Having identified and documented your research findings, do you look at what you’ve actually written or recorded? Do you check you’ve not leapt to conclusions and blipped over an assumption you’ve made? You know what they say about assumptions…

I recently wrote a story on my blog about my research into the Callaghan family of Courtown near Gorey in Wexford. In my research I’d looked at the 1901 and 1911 census records from the National Archivesof Ireland online. The family comprised head of house, David Callaghan, son David, daughter Bridget, daughter-in-law Kate and grandson, another David. Even though it was staring me in the face, I made a stupid mistake and jumped to the conclusion that Kate was son David’s wife whereas it was very clear she was a widow. If I hadn’t gone back to revisit the document, and review what I’d written, I’d have left myself following an incorrect research trail and potentially led others astray as well. A really stupid beginner’s error despite years of experience. You might be interested in my post about the success, the surprise and the assumptions stupidity.

I certainly hope I’m not the only one to make such a silly mistake which is why the revisit, record, revise steps are so important. We need to do them in a cool moment not while we’re in the thrill of the hunt for more data and excited by each new discovery.

RECAP

revisit record revise circular_edited-1Of course with so many records coming online it’s tempting to just keep searching for new and fascinating titbits about our families. Still we’d be wise to stop every now and then, and revisit what we’ve written or recorded in our family trees.

Revisit those documents we have stored, look again at that photo we’ve been mystified by, and assess whether there are certificates we need to purchase,  microfilms to be ordered in or another avenue of research to be explored

Record each new discovery and assess what its impact is on the discoveries we’ve made before.

Revise our assumptions and family links. There is a constant flow between revisiting, recording and revision.

How do you approach your research and do you use any of these steps? Have you made silly mistakes that needed revision?

Flooding rains: Ipswich 1887

NFHM AlexThis week’s topic in Family Tree Frog’s NFHM Blog Challenge is All the Rivers Run. Australia alternates between extremes of weather as illustrated by the famous poem by Dorothea Mackellar: My Country[i].

I love a sunburnt country

A land of sweeping plains

Of rugged mountain ranges

And drought and flooding rains.

This is just one story of my ancestors’ experience with the dramas and dangers of flooded rivers. Some resulted in fatalities, others in property losses, but this is the most well-covered in the newspapers, and also a story lost (or hidden?) by the family.

Floodwaters rise in the heart of Ipswich January 1887

Unidentified (1887). Floodwaters rise in the heart of Ipswich, January 1887. John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

On 22 January 1887, the Queensland town of Ipswich was deluged by a severe flood. Some said it was the worst in European memory, others that it was only exceeded by the 1864 flood. The newspapers document that it had also passed the level of the 1841 flood[ii]. It would not be the last time the town was hit, as even in recent years Ipswich has been inundated by enormous flooding.

At the time of the 1887 flood, my ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, had a confectionery store in Ipswich as well as various other business interests. He had worked hard to establish himself after the tragedy which accompanied his arrival in the colony when his first wife, Janet Peterkin Melvin had died in quarantine on arrival. He had won prizes at the local Agricultural Show[iii] and established a surprising portfolio of property…almost certainly to the overall detriment of his balance sheet.

MELVIN SG location shop

1886 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 27 April, p. 6. , viewed 18 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122553790

The 1887 flood came powering in just days after the 10th anniversary of Stephen’s arrival on 18 January 1877, not exactly an auspicious anniversary. Perhaps he was already feeling down, remembering his young wife’s death, or perhaps he was increasingly aware of his precarious financial position.

 

MELVIN Telegraph 8 July 1887 p3

1887 ‘Royal Humane Society.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 8 July, p. 3. , viewed 18 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201023744

It was through news stories about the Royal Humane Society Awards that I became aware of Stephen’s near-tragedy. Trove documents that “The (Bremer) River was in flood, and Melvin, who had been assisting to remove goods from a store (his?) which was surrounded by water, got into the vortex on the edge of the roaring current. Livermore swam out at great risk, took Melvin by the collar, and brought him back to the building in safety. The current was running very strong. Awarded a bronze medal.”

Stephen’s courageous rescuer was Thomas Shadrach Livermore, a 26 year old blacksmiths’ labourer[iv]. (Following his entries in Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages it appears his correct name was Thomas Shedrick Livermore). The stories place Stephen’s age as 45 years but this overstates his age, as he was born in 1854 in Leith, Scotland.

Naturally I returned to Trove to search newspaper dates closer to the event to see if I could find the rescue mentioned. None seemed to match the award details exactly, however this one stood out for me:

Qld Times 25 Jan 1887 p5 MELVINWe have heard of some acts of recklessness and even foolhardiness-in fact, one was so glaring, on Saturday last (22nd January), in Bremer-street, that many persons who were witnesses of the scene thought the man referred to was trying to commit suicide, and said it was not worthwhile venturing their lives to save his. However, two men went into the river after him, and dragged him out of the water, and thus saved him from drowning, though he almost drowned one of his rescuers in the struggle.[v]

 Perhaps I’m misjudging my ancestor, though while there are anomalies in the report, it fits with other factors affecting him at the time. Perhaps it really was an accident and he got caught in the vortex, which makes sense if he was trying to evacuate his store. In his earlier life he had been a merchant seaman, and it was common for them not to be able to swim.

MELVIN Qld Times April 1887Only a few months later in 1887, Stephen’s estate had gone into liquidation, as detailed in a news story[vi]. He specifically cites the impact of the flood on his business[vii]. I’ve also referred to the Insolvency files at Queensland State Archives, and Stephen’s holdings of property were quite amazing for a relatively recent immigrant. It’s also interesting to see that his father-in-law, William Partridge, was one of his creditors. These events were not to be the end of Stephen’s annus horribilis but those stories will keep for another day.

There was much made about the proposed presentation of the medal to Thomas Livermore including a description of the medal.

MELVIN Qld TImes 3 Sept 1887 p5On the obverse of the medal is depicted a female figure, representing Australasia, in the act of placing a wreath on the head of one deemed worthy of honour, while around is stamped the motto, ” Virtute paratum.” The Southern Cross above fixes the locality as being in the Southern Hemisphere. On the reverse is the name, date, etc., and a wreath supposed to be composed of eucalyptus and laurel leaves. The Police Magistrate is directed to present the medal and certificate to Mr. Livermore in as public a manner as possible; but he has not yet fixed a date for this ceremony…[viii]

Personally, I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Thomas Shedrick Livermore. Had he not saved my great-grandfather from the flooded river, my grandmother, mother and I would not have been here, nor would seven other branches of Emily Partridge and Stephen Gillespie Melvin’s family.

I certainly hope that the medal has been preserved in the Livermore family, along with the story of their ancestor’s bravery. The presentation was held on Tuesday 6 September 1887[ix] and the Police Magistrate Mr Yaldwyn rightly summed up Mr Livermore’s courage when awarding the medal[x].

Telegraph 8 Sept 1887 p3 crop

———————

[i] http://www.dorotheamackellar.com.au/archive/mycountry.htm

[ii] http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122819295

[iii] The Ipswich Show. (1882, December 16). The Queenslander (Brisbane, Qld. : 1866 – 1939), p. 856. Retrieved August 17, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article19788354

[iv] Queensland Births

1862 C385 Thomas Shedrick Livermore George Mary Ann Haydon

 

[v] 1887 ‘Advertising’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 25 January, p. 5. , viewed 17 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122819289

[vi] 1887 ‘Supreme Court.’, The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), 11 July, p. 2. , viewed 18 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201021946

[vii] MEETING OF CREDITORS. (1887, April 30). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 6. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article3468421

[viii] 1887 ‘LOCAL AND GENERAL NEWS.’, Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), 3 September, p. 5. , viewed 18 Aug 2017, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122820644

[ix] LOCAL AND GENERAL NEWS. (1887, September 6). Queensland Times, Ipswich Herald and General Advertiser (Qld. : 1861 – 1908), p. 5. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article122821625

[x] Our Ipswich Letter. (1887, September 8). The Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 – 1947), p. 3. Retrieved August 18, 2017, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201023537