Beyond the Internet: Week 33 Local History adds value to family history

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 33 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is Local History:  Centres, Libraries and Local Histories. This is part of the Archives and Libraries section of the series.

Local History Centres/Heritage Centres

Local History centres aka Heritage Centres can be gold mines for family history research. Of course not all centres are created equal, as much depends on the resources available and the enthusiasm and expertise of the centre teams, often volunteers.  Nevertheless there are nuggets of information to be gleaned. This is where you are likely to find old newspapers (perhaps not a full run) which may not yet have made it on Trove. You may also find that there are old-timers who have personal knowledge relating to the history of the place when your family lived there. The local history group may even have indexed the burials in the local cemetery.

The story relayed by Granny Gavin cannot be accurate given the age difference between the couple but it’s interesting that’s how she told their story.

As an example, back in the late 1980s I visited the Crows Nest Folk Museum on the Darling Downs. Thanks to the hard work of their volunteers I got an obituary from a small newspaper for my 2xgreat grandfather Denis Gavin; saw a war memorial board with his grandsons’ names; and was given an oral history about Denis’s second wife. While his wife’s story of their meeting has been disproved by further research, it was nevertheless an interesting story given to a small boy many decades before. (Remember that D for discernment attribute?)

A 1987 letter from the Crows Nest Historical Society re my 2x great grandfather, Denis Gavin.

Also on the centre’s shelves is likely to be a collection of books on the local history. Especially with older publications these may have had only a small print run and may be difficult to find elsewhere. In the Gatton Historical Centre I found a small book which told of a corroboree at Murphy’s Creek in the railway-building days when my ancestors were there. So far I’ve not located any other reference to it.

Similarly there may be a collection of local photographs which are not available online or in other libraries as local families donate images to the Centre’s collection.

But it’s not just paper documentation that can be helpful with your research. Some centres have old farming implements and kitchenware, that will illuminate your family’s pioneering days, and in some cases bring memories flooding back.

There is a local history section in the adjacent building to the Waltzing Mathilda Centre in Winton.

Driving from Darwin to Brisbane and Canberra through western towns, the mushrooming of these local heritage centres is evident. Whether it’s a reflection of the boom in our interest in Australian history or a strategy to bring life back to the country towns, it’s definitely a boon to our research.  Nor is this kind of heritage centre only available in Australia: there are similar places throughout the world. You can use this link to identify Aussie centres.

Even if there’s no heritage centre for your town of interest, do search for any local histories which may have been published. They are absolutely gold. I learnt so much from the local histories of Dorfprozelten am Main in Bavaria. You can set up a Google alert to let you know when one becomes available or you just search the internet from time to time. I’ve picked up a few local histories this way, as someone clears out their bookshelves of out-of-print books.

Local Studies in Libraries

You can see from all the tags how much info I’ve got from these two books.

While I’ve mainly focused on the local heritage centre or similar, don’t forget that there may be a dedicated local history section in the regional library: definitely worth exploring for different information.  An overseas example is the local history/local studies section of the Limerick Library, Co Limerick or the East Clare Heritage magazine. You just never know where you might find what you’re looking for, or just another family clue or snippet to flesh out your story.  I found a bundle of great photos from Chinchilla Library for the family of one of my Dorfprozelten Germans.

Overseas where would I be without CLASPand the Clare County Library’s local history collections in Ennis or the discoveries we made with the assistance of the librarians in Retford, Notthinghamshire?

Blogging about Local History successes

The world is your family tree oyster with blogging. Edited image from Office Clip Art.

Sharing your discoveries on your blog.

Here are a couple of links to recent blog posts about the discoveries made from local history research. There have been others over the months but these will give you the idea.

Roots’n’Leaves: Joan talks about her family discoveries in Bentley, Alberta, Canada.

My Genealogy Adventure: Tanya talks about the Richmond District Historical Centre.

Family History 4U: Sharn writes about the value of local history and her discoveries about Seventeen Mile Rocks in Brisbane and also Pomona. Her other post about Pomona discoveries is here.

Give it a go

Hopefully these stories will give you the impetus to use local history and heritage centres in your research whether in Australia or overseas. There is just so much you might discover, and don’t forget not to focus entirely on your own family name: the experience of others living in the same place will have many overlaps.

If you have had great discoveries in heritage centres or local history libraries, why not share them in a comment or in your own blog post.

Even though I’m on the downhill slope of this 52 week series, with the remaining topics mapped out (though occasionally re-sequenced), it’s feeling like a long haul. Any cheer squad support from my geneablogger buddies would be much appreciated. I think I can, I think I can. Well I know I will, but some weeks the energy and enthusiasm wane.

Second Gavin Sighting in Dublin….Shocked speechless

There I was Dutifully writing my D is for Dublin post and reflecting on my Gavins and their links to Dublin, Davidstown and Dalby. “Perhaps I should have another look at Irish Genealogy”, I thought to myself, “in case new records have been uploaded”. Well, there hadn’t been, but I put in a search for “Denis Gavin Dublin” anyway and was stunned into silence when a marriage entry came up for a Dionysius Gaven and Elleanora Murphy at St Nicholas in Dublin! Heart beating, afraid to believe it really might be mine, I thought I’d best check that Dionysius was indeed the Latin form of Denis. Google took me to a Flemish (!)-Latin translation and, instinct confirmed, I clicked to see the original entry in the church register. No place of origin, occupation or parents but I have no doubt this is their marriage as Ellen appears as Eleanor in her immigration record[i]…perhaps that’s how the priest certified their application for emigration assistance.

The witnesses to their marriage on 23 February 1851 were Jacob and Maria Hughes (so possibly James and Mary Hughes, or indeed Jacob and Maria). Given their names were written this way I’m working on the assumption that they were a couple. I’ve not come across their names in other family references so perhaps they were friends rather than family…but worth keeping an open mind. I also checked to see if they had witnessed Mary Gavin’s baptism at St Catherine’s Meath St…but no, that was a Rose Moorehouse.

So which church of St Nicholas was this? So far I’ve had a preliminary skirmish through Google etc etc, and have reached the tentative conclusion that it was St Nicholas of Myra rather than St Nicholas Without. However I’ll need to do more thorough research to be confident of having reached this conclusion.

Let’s assume for the moment that it was St Nicholas of Myra in Francis Street. This church is only a few blocks from St Catherine’s Meath St, which was recently gutted by arson, and where Denis and Gavin’s first child, Mary, was baptised 10 months after their marriage. (Another detour, this church was supposedly built in 1852, so was this where she was baptised?) Although there’s nothing to say where the Gavins were living specifically, it’s probably safe to assume it was somewhere close to both these churches. This meant they were living in the Liberties of Dublin, which one site suggests was a locus for those fleeing the Famine…obviously I have some more homework to do.

One thing leading to another, as it does with family history, I discovered that the parish church of Davidstown was erected after Ellen left, and that she would have belonged to the parish of Dunlavin…I’ll grant you these things are ever so much easier to discover on the internet. Dunlavin parish is now part of St Nicholas of Myra so it leads us full circle. More research and more homework and they even have a family history link on their web page. Alleluia!

I confess that I haven’t always put as much effort into this family after my early years of Irish research: my 1992 visit to the Wicklow Heritage Centre and the church at Ballymore Eustace had proved expensive (former) and futile (both).  Tempting leads disintegrated as I explored them, and Dublin was just a challenge too far pre-digitisation and indexation. Foolishly I had thought that Denis and Ellen had moved there not too long before emigrating but how wrong I’ve been proven to be. All of which just confirms that revisiting our paperwork, and sometimes checking our online searches, is well worth doing. Another lead I can follow is that on his second marriage, Denis declares his father to have been a huntsman. This suggests to me that he may have been employed on an estate…again another research lead but one which didn’t leap out at me when I was an inexperienced researcher.

A further clue also leaped out at me as I trawled my Gavin folder: Denis and Ellen had a daughter Rosanna Ellen, born Dalby, who died as an infant. Was she named for Rose Moorehouse who witnessed daughter Mary’s baptism in Dublin? Was Rose Moorehouse a relation after all?

So my participation in the A to Z 2012 challenge has certainly paid off for my family history offering new research paths and giving me a gold-plated “hit”…after 25 years of searching. You can see why I was rendered speechless at least temporarily….I think I needed to wake up and find it was all true…oh happy day! And now I’ve got lots more sleuthing to do as well…bonus!

After a quick dip back into FindMyPast Ireland, was it my Denis Gavin who had a cheque, two watches and wearing apparel stolen in January 1855? Or was this the fellow who was on the Griffith Valuations in the Parish of Chapelizod, Dublin?

SOURCES:

Irish Genealogy baptisms

NSW Immigration records

Queensland birth marriages and death certificates for this family.

On site research of microfilms National Library of Ireland.


[i] The Board Lists on film 2469 (State Records NSW) give more information as to surviving parents and their place of residence.

D visits Ireland, Australia and Bavaria

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).

D is for Dublin, Ireland

Dublin airport reindeer welcome.

The first time I visited Dublin it was the end of November in the late 80s and Prancer, Rudloph and mates had already taken up residence at the airport. The shop windows were alive with animated Christmas displays, with families stopping by to admire them.

As we walked around town (don’t ask me where now), the fug of peat smoke hung densely over the city and Gypsy women sat on the footpaths begging, their children at their laps or also begging. In the few short years to my next visit there was no evidence of the peat smoke and the Gypsies had largely been banished. Over the decades since, I’ve visited Dublin a few times and seen it change enormously. Not at its heart because take away the lighting and modern clothes and somehow it’s easy enough to imagine it centuries ago.

I’ve thought that my family history links to Dublin were transient, believing my Gavin family had only been there a short while before emigrating to Australia, even though Denis and Ellen had said they’d married there. It’s only recently that I’ve had my first genealogical sighting of them in Dublin. Tune in tomorrow for an exciting second sighting!  Next visit I’ll have a specific area to look at, even though St Catherine’s church in Meath St has recently been gutted by arson.

National Library of Ireland.

Dublin is manna for heaven for an Irish family historian. One of my first stops is inevitably the National Archives of Ireland in its unprepossessing building. The National Library is as magnificent in its architecture as the NAI is not. Its treasures are equally magnificent and when parish registers were not digitised, and mostly unavailable through the LDS church, it was a requisite port of call to try to pin down those ancestors. Visits to the BDM Registry brought forth certificates and helped my searches. The Land Registry and Register of Deeds was a goldmine in those pre-digitisation days. I remember visiting the first time as they pulled down old (green?) books off the shelves and wondering who on earth this person was who’d taken over the O’Brien family’s farm…I found out later when it all fell into place. In their newer building, years later, with steep research and copying fees, I was able to explore the GV revisions in more detail and see the original maps.

Today many of these records are online as Ireland tries to tempt us “home”. I’m thrilled by this increased openness, but somehow sad to know this rich experience is probably one newer researchers will miss. Still there’ll be far more time for sightseeing in Dublin’s fair city where the girls are so pretty…those hilariously, and vulgarly, named statues, the exquisite Book of Kells and the serried ranks of antiquarian books, Trinity College itself, the bookshops, the Liffey’s bridges…….

D is for Dalby, Australia

There were no roads cutting a swathe through the country, no X marks the spot in the sky. The early pioneers relied on learning their environment and following cuts in the trees along the way...their lives depended on their success.

Dalby was to become the home of Denis and Ellen Gavin, formerly of Dublin and originally from Ballymore Eustace, Kildare (Denis) and Davidstown, Wicklow (Ellen). In those early pioneering days, Dalby was a small town which Denis would first have known when he was (apparently) a carrier or bullock driver from Binbian Downs Station near the Condamine. We more or less followed his route last year while en route from Darwin to Brisbane, and I wondered how on earth a newcomer to this country could have successful navigated the unmarked bush to get to and from his destination. As a carrier he would have been responsible for working with a team of bullocks bringing the wool clip into Ipswich and returning with stores for the property, a seven week round journey.  They were tough survivors, our pioneer ancestors…not just the men but the women and children who waited for them.

After the term of his Denis’s contract, the family apparently moved to Dalby where they lived for some time. My great-grandmother, Julia Gavin later Kunkel, was baptised there by Father McGinty. The family’s eldest daughter, Mary, married there and, dying young, was buried in the Dalby cemetery as was their infant daughter Rosanna Ellen. It’s many years since I’ve had the opportunity to visit Dalby other than in transit but I look forward to exploring more of Dalby, and the Darling Downs over the coming years.

D is for Davidstown, Co Wicklow, Ireland

Taken nearly 20 years ago, this is the parish church of Davidstown, Parish of Donaghmore (I hope my notes are correct on this point). I've learned today that this church had not been built when my Ellen Murphy lived there.

My 2xgreat-grandmother Ellen Gavin, who I’ve mentioned above, was born in Davidstown, County Wicklow. Her husband’s ability to calculate age seemed to fluctuate wildly, and probably deliberately, but I find it difficult to believe he’d just fabricate this as the townland of her birth. Just the same I’ve been unable to find her in the Irish records or registers (she had the unusual surname of Murphy!). Since I’ve no intention of paying over E300 to Wicklow Family History Centre, and as her baptism doesn’t appear in RootsIreland, I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact I’m unlikely ever to know more about her ancestry. (Or perhaps not, more comments to follow).

And just to cause confusion, there’s another townland of Davidstown across the border in Kildare (her husband’s home county).

D is for Dorfprozelten, Bavaria, Germany

Dorfprozelten is a 1000 year old village in Bavaria on one of Germany’s great rivers, the River Main. It’s the birthplace of my George Kunkel (my 2xgreat grandfather) and also another set of emigrants from the village to Australia. You can see more about my research here and here or by clicking on the categories for my blog posts.

The baptismal font in the Catholic parish church of Dorfprozelten.

I’ve been fortunate to visit Dorfprozelten a number of times and it is truly a privilege to do so. Although there have been changes, including the demolition of the inn owned by my 3x great grandmother’s Happ family for centuries, much remains the same. It’s possible to walk down the streets and have a very good sense of what it looked like when George Kunkel lived there. The church is not the same one, as it was replaced in the C19th, but the baptismal font is the one in which he would have been christened. Old photos and local histories reveal the continuity of the village’s community life and I’ve truly felt that I was able to get an insight into his life there, as much as possible 150+ years later.

All photographs from this post were taken by me and are subject to copyright. No copying or reproduction without permission please.

Guess who’s coming to dinner…my ancestors.

Julie over on Angler’s Rest totally inspired me to write this post in her story for NaBloPoMo on Relatives. Thanks Julie for the inspiration!

I’d love to welcome my earliest Australian ancestors to an early evening dinner party so I could get to meet them as real people. I think it would have to be a typical outdoor event, under the shade of a spreading Banyan tree or a Moreton Bay fig so everyone felt at home. We’d have long tables and folding chairs. I’d buy some brightly-coloured melamine plates and drinking glasses to match pretty place mats and napkins (of course).  Hurricane lamps with lightly scented candles would light the tables so the mood was familiar and cosy, and I’d hang some lamps from the trees.

To welcome everyone we’d have a good malt beer to honour my Kent family who were Hertfordshire publicans…before they became Methodists…and some spring water for those who were traditionally abstemious. Thinking on my maternal 2x great grandfather, William Partridge from Coleford, I think we’d need a good Gloucester cheese to go with the beer.

We would have to serve roast pork in honour of my Bavarian 2 x great grandfather, George Kunkel, who was a pork butcher. Instead of slaving over a hot oven in the kitchen we’d cook the pork in our Weber Q – would that seem familiar to them or somewhat wondrous? George also made his own wine and so we’d drink a white wine similar to that traditional in his birthplace…and again that spring water.

The pork would be accompanied by crispy roast tatties for my Irish ancestors, Mary O’Brien Kunkel and the Gavin and (Mc)Sherry families, and, come to that, my Highlanders, the McCorkindales. We might even introduce them to multi-cultural 21st century Australia with an Asian-inspired salad as an accompaniment.

While we ate we’d play some Scottish reels and Irish fiddle music to cross the cultural borders of my ancestry. How much nicer it would be to have a real fiddler play rather than a 21st century i-touch and if our feet wouldn’t stop tapping, we’d dance a quick reel in the twilight. There are so many questions I’d love to ask my ancestral visitors about their lives…another reason to keep that wine and beer flowing. I think they’ll be glad to escape by the end of the night!

McCorkindale brothers informal jam session. Gift of a family member c1988.

Dessert would certainly have to be spectacular to impress my pastry chef ancestor, Stephen Gillespie Melvin, with perhaps a real Aussie pavlova (great pic) decorated with King Island cream and superb fruits like passionfruit, mango, kiwi fruit and fresh summer berries. Maybe we could even buy some delicious Haig’s hand-made chocolates to see if they match SGM’s standards…I’m realistic here, I couldn’t make them myself.

As this wonderful inter-temporal gathering came to a close, I would ask one of my McCorkindale great-uncles to play Auld Lang Syne on the pipes, and with a wee dram, toast the courage of these ancestors who came to Australia. I’ve nary a doubt I’d share more than a few tears as I farewelled my guests who’d visited all too briefly.

I raise my glass to all my Aussie immigrants: George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien, Denis and Ellen Gavin, Annie Sim McCorkindale and her adult daughter Catherine, Peter and Mary McSherry/Sherry and their son James Joseph, Stephen Melvin and later his mother Margaret Gillespie Melvin/Ward/Wheaton, James and Bridget McSharry/Sherry, Richard and Mary Kent and their adult daughter Hannah and her future husband William Partridge.

First sighting of my elusive Gavin family in Dublin, Ireland…alleluia!

For years I’ve been trying to locate something, anything about one of my families while they were still in Ireland. Despite evidence on their shipping records, their death certificates, obituaries etc, the Irish lives of Denis Gavin and his wife Ellen nee Murphy have remained elusive. The daughter who arrived with them on the Fortune in December 1855, was Mary, aged 2, born in Dublin. The parents were said to have married in Dublin, and Denis was supposedly born in Ballymore, Co Kildare and Ellen in Davidstown, Co Wicklow. Research into these has so far been unproductive despite visiting both places.

In October 2011 the Irish Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht released new Dublin church records on its wonderful site, Irish Genealogy. Ever optimistic I gave the new records a chance with my Gavin-Murphy search. It’s a little fiddly compared with many of the sites we typically use, but well worth persevering….and it’s FREE!

Imagine my astonishment and delight to find a baptism of a daughter, Mary, to this couple at St Catherine’s Church in Dublin on 5 December 1851. This is the first sighting of this family in Ireland so a cause for great celebration. It’s clear this child cannot be the one who arrived with them in 1855 despite having the same name as it would be difficult to claim a four year old as a two year old. So it’s likely this child was one of their children who died young.

Extract from the St Catherine's registers which show Mary Gavin's baptism from the IrishGenealogy site.

Research indicates that the church in which Mary was baptised is the Roman Catholic church of St Catherine of Alexandria in Meath St, Dublin. This blogtalks a little about its architecture and provides some images. This Irish Ancestors link also provides some information on the parish in general.

This may be a small step in my search to trace the Gavin-Murphy family back to their Irish roots but as we all know, each little chink in the armour leads us on. The progressive digitisation of records is invaluable in the search for missing ancestors in a city as large as Dublin.