52 weeks of Genealogical Records: Newspapers

Shauna Hicks has set us all a goal of 52 weeks of Genealogical Records.

Image from Microsoft online.

Image from Microsoft online.

The topic for Week 11 (how did that happen?!) is Newspapers. Now, like most genies I love newspapers and being a bit of an old fogey I’ve used them extensively over the years. Once upon a time it was only possible to check for news of migration, marriages, deaths, obituaries or specific events we discovered our families were involved in. That was pretty much where it ended, short of trawling through one microfilm after the other.

Little did we know that the wonders of Trove were ahead of us! Trove has grown “like Topsy” and it’s astonishing the nuances it’s brought to our families’ stories. Little snippets like exhibiting a selection of colonial timbers or selling mandarins overseas would once have remained perpetually hidden from us.

Shauna has already mentioned the many options there are for newspaper research so I won’t bother going into that here. What I’d like to do is share with you some of the ways in which I use newspapers either online or, infrequently these days, offline.

Finding the women and children

Although the BDM date restrictions have eased significantly in recent years, this strategy can still be helpful to your research. You have a common surname like Ryan….how to work out which Mary Ryan married which man in the long list from the marriage indexes?  One of the ways I use newspapers is to check who is listed in the funeral notice as siblings or children. This will help identify the correct one…unless she married an O’Brien! It’s can be helpful to confirm you’ve already identified the correct marriage by triangulating the names…I used this just last night when working on a Trove Tuesday post for next week. It’s also a clue (but not necessarily conclusive) as to which family members have predeceased them

This method also gives you clues for births beyond those released in the BDMs. You can find the names of adult children, then backtrack through the marriages to identify what their first names are, where they lived, and when they married.

If the death is beyond the dates covered by Trove, you may need to revert to the old-fashioned method of visiting the library and checking the notices in whatever was the local newspaper. You can narrow the margins of your search by using the equally wonderful Ryerson Index to pinpoint a date.

Telling tales

COUNTRY NEWS. (1926, February 4). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16280235

COUNTRY NEWS. (1926, February 4). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 12. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article16280235

Of course we love Trove to reveal those previously hidden stories I mentioned before, but do you check out the same story in different newspapers, or assume they’ll all be the same? It’s an easy trap to fall into, but they can vary in subtle but important ways, with just the addition of a tidbit of additional information. A good example is a story I wrote about Mary Ann Morton, nee Massy, on my East Clare blog last week.

The same strategy applies to comparing news stories of our ancestors’ migration experiences. When looking at the long voyage of the Florentia in 1853, I compared each report on Trove and other online newspapers to see what they added or where there were inconsistencies. For example, early reports of the ship’s departure from Plymouth indicated it was going to Portland Bay, though the authorities in Moreton Bay had been advised it was intended for them.

Trove has also clearly revealed just how widespread some news stories were, even in those distant pre-telegraph, pre-internet days. A story might well be reported in newspapers far away from the source of the action. For example, I first learned of a fire in Ipswich in the valuable pre-Trove days of the online Maitland Mercury. You might imagine that an event like that would be reported in the Brisbane papers, but Trove has shown us that different reporters sometimes emphasised different aspects of the story….not much different from today really.

Filling in gaps

If you find an ancestor or family member has been the subject of a legal case, or sudden death, the newspapers may provide a useful filler. This is particularly the case where the official court documents may no longer exist. When reporting on court cases, journalists have to be particularly attentive to detail so you can generally get an accurate, and user-friendly, synopsis of the day’s court activity. However, where possible, you should also see if the originals exist and compare the two.

Missing a relative in the death indexes? Have you checked the news stories on Trove or in the local paper offline? Sometimes this is the only place where the event is recorded, especially in the early days of in-the-bush inquests. I’ve had a few cases of this in my family history. Mind you, it hasn’t solved the mystery of when John Widdup died in or around Urana.

Emigration and foreign news

Aschaffenburger Zeitung, 26 April 1849

Aschaffenburger Zeitung, 26 April 1849

Much as we love Trove and the other high-profile online newspapers, there are other avenues for searching. In the past I’ve used The Scotsman Digital Archive to good effect… Much depends on what you’re looking for…it’s more likely to be successful with high-profile people or general news information.

Another great, but less easy to use, source is Google Newspapers. Not all newspapers are here though. Some have been consolidated into books and appear under Google Books. I suggest you try searching there for the name of your family’s place and see what newspapers come up. As an example I searched just now for one of the papers of my ancestor’s area in Bavaria, and this is what came up.

I wrote about tracking down emigration and family stories using this source for German research here and here, so I won’t repeat myself in this post. It’s not a simple process, but can be worthwhile, though it requires good eyesight, lots of patience, persistence and lateral thinking.

Beyond the Internet

Beyond the Internet

Offline Newspapers

I wrote about these in my Beyond the Internet series in 2012, and you can find the post here. Sometimes you may have to go offline to find something which is referred to in another story but which doesn’t appear readily in Trove due to OCR issues. Of course what’s offline changes almost daily with digitisation programs.

Using Trove – and thanking the Trove Team

Tagging and listing in Trove.

Tagging and listing in Trove.

Many of us make corrections to the stories we visit, some do masses and I confess to being too caught up sometimes to make corrections as I go. However do you also tag the story for something or someone you’ve found in there? I’ve also recently started using the option to create lists…it’s at the top of the edit panel. This enables me to keep track of all stories relating to my one place studies in Murphys Creek, Queensland and Broadford, Co Clare or East Clare generally. And if you’re like me you’ve just launched into Trove without reading the FAQs, but I see there’s heaps of tips here, including how to search for theses (which Queenslanders can also do for local theses via the .

It’s easy to take Trove for granted as it’s probably one of the Top 5 resources for Australian family historians. It is truly a world-leader and the Trove team should hold their heads high with this wonderful achievement. 

Trove Tuesday: Joseph Francis Kunkel

This evening I learned through my TDDFHS membership emails that the Western Star and Roma Advertiser newspaper (published in Toowoomba, Queensland) is in the throes of being digitised by Trove. With three branches of my Kunkel family living in that area at the time (Paterson, Kunkel, Lee), I immediately hotfooted it to the computer to check it out.

Today’s post tells the back story to the death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, the second son and second child of George Kunkel and his wife Mary, nee O’Brien. Contrary to the newspaper report, only George was German-born while Mary was Irish. He was indeed born in Ipswich though by this time his parents had been residing in Murphys Creek for some time. A cautionary warning to check multiple sources!

The death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 28 August 1897, page 2.

The death of Joseph Francis Kunkel, Western Star and Roma Advertiser, 28 August 1897, page 2.

The previous information I had from the death certificate was that Joseph had died of “acute parenchymatous hepatitis[i], pyaemia and syncope” and had been ill for 10 days. This certainly appears to contradict the news report which says he died of inflammation of the lungs having caught a cold while on duty. The paper calls him a “fine strong man” whose death is attributable to the adverse condition under which the railway gangers worked. Joseph was only 37 when he died leaving his wife and six children to fend for themselves. It’s quite likely that penicillin would have saved his life, if it had been available at this time.

While Joseph was the first of George and Mary’s children to die, only a few years later his older brother would also die of a heart attack due to “valvular and fatty degeneration of the heart”.

Joseph had been very active in the establishment of a school in the small settlement of Poybah (aka Pickenjennie) and had served as the committee secretary. It’s nice to know that despite his early death, he made his mark on the education of the local children.[ii]

Through my offline research I also know that Joseph’s estate included 149 acres of land with a three bedroom weatherboard house and a three-wire fence, valued at £102. He had only £1 cash, five horses valued at £6, and 10 steers and heifers £2/10/-, a dray and harness £8 and household furniture valued at £5. By the time all the debts were cleared his estate had lost more than half its value.

With each release of newspapers digitised through Trove, more snippets at grassroots level, come to light. Even though I assiduously pursued as many research opportunities as I could only 10 years ago when I wrote this family’s story, every day brings new micro-stories that make that history so much richer. I knew that Joseph had died in Roma and been buried there, but this story would have been a fine complement to the other information I had on him.

I’m looking forward to seeing even more of the stories that are close to being finalised for the Western Star, some that I already know about from other sources, and some new ones.


[i] Synchronous with acute massive liver necrosis.

[ii] Queensland State Archives, Pickenjennie State School PRV8807-1-2209 (Z2204)

(iii) Queensland State Arhives, Intestacy JF Kunkel.

Reading The Northern Miner: human tragedy and stories

The other afternoon I was reading The Northern Miner newspaper from Charters Towers, an old mining town in North Queensland where one branch of my family had lived for some decades. I had ordered the microfilm in on an inter-library loan from the National Library of Australia to follow up some information on a friend’s family history.

I was focused on a particular month in 1947 and what struck me afresh was just how full of human misery a newspaper can be. This sometimes seems to be more obvious decades ago when it was reported more graphically.

It also struck me that this is perhaps the one down side to Trove, though I absolutely love it in all other respects. By not sitting in a library and turning page after page on a microfilm, we lose the broader sense of what was happening in that place and at that time. We also lose a sense of perspective on how that particular editor and newspaper handled their news stories, what they focused on, and their general credibility. You also lose the sense of how they structured their paper, and where particular news features are placed. Sure, we could browse any edition on Trove, but do we really do that?

So here’s my abbreviated misery list from one mere month in a country newspaper:

  • A Rockhampton woman jumped off a bridge into a river clutching her 14 month old baby to her chest. The baby’s body was recovered, the mother’s had not been. What tragedies lay behind this story?
  • A child’s arm was caught in a milking machine
  • A railway shunter was severely injured in an shunting accident (one of the most dangerous occupations, believe it or not)
  • A Javanese child stowed away on a plane and was found alive and wrapped around the landing gear when it landed in Darwin –he lived
  • A literally feral 7 year old child was found by the Salvation Army (place unidentified). He had been rejected by his parents because he was believed to have been swapped at birth. He had lived in their shed in the back yard with no clothes, toys or training and minimal human contact. He was responding well to the Salvos treatment. One family history you would not want to find.
  • A “Negro” woman had been enslaved by her employer, a “society woman” for 30 years: “reparation” for having a child to the employer’s husband. The court ordered payment of 30 years wages and a jail sentence which was revoked because the employer had otherwise been a very Christian woman
  • Inter-racial, inter-religious massacres in India

And one for the Darwinites: Darwin had no dentist and a man had to fly to Adelaide for treatment. And yes, we do have dentists now but the need/desire to fly interstate for some significant medical treatment still exists.

And a “good news” item: the wonder drug Streptomycin was to be mass produced.

Most of these stories were found easily on Trove and are reported in newspapers around Australia, demonstrating that you may find the stories you want well beyond the confines of the local newspaper.

So there we have it, what sad and tragic family stories lie behind each and every one of these news items.

JSTOR @ NLA: finding the historical context for family history

It’s likely that most Australian family historians are familiar with the National Library of Australia’s Trove site as a source for family research.  It’s also been well promoted that anyone in Australia can apply for a library card with NLA which then lets you access their eResources remotely. The Times Digital Archives and 19th Century British newspapers have been popular with family historians.

But did you know there’s another invaluable resource you can use for your research? JSTOR is typically used by academics and tertiary students to locate relevant journal articles published in their area of interest. The promo states: With more than a thousand academic journals and over 1 million images, letters, and other primary sources, JSTOR is one of the world’s most trusted sources for academic content.

Sounds a bit heavy-duty? Well some articles may be but there are plenty that will provide you with that valuable framework for your family’s local history, living and social conditions. Silly me, I knew JSTOR was available but somehow it had dropped off my mental radar in recent months.

This morning I had a fun couple of hours looking for information about Irish family life and inheritance patterns. Some of my readings included:

 Marriage and fertility in post-Famine Ireland

The Changing Irish Family

The Potato Famine and the transformation of Irish peasant society.

Whatever the family-history topic you want to know more about, I suggest you’ll find it here with careful searching.

HOW TO FIND IT:

Go to the NLA site

Assuming you’ve already got your library card

Click on the eResources tab at the top right hand side of the web page

Key in your card number and surname

Select “J” from the menu and pick JSTOR

Read and accept their terms and conditions

Start searching using a few keywords eg Scottish illegitimacy, Irish migration etc

Remember you can download the articles

Remember you must cite the article if you use it

Happy hunting!

Brisbane Botanic Gardens Zoo – any memories?

Last week on my rambles through blog-land I read a “new” blog: Adventure before Dementia (a very catchy title for those of a certain age).  One of the posts was about a walk through the Brisbane Botanical Gardens in the City and along the river: a part of Brisbane affected by the January floods.

For some reason this post brought to mind an early childhood memory of seeing monkeys and birds in cages in these Gardens. I assume my mother, and possibly grandmother or great aunt, went for an outing to see the animals. This memory in turn set me to googling to find a timeline for the zoo. The Picture Queensland site says that the zoo was open for the first half of the twentieth century and closed in 1952. Their ancient Galapagos Island tortoise went to Australia Zoo and only died in 2006, aged >170 years (Thanks for picking up my mistake with this, John -I obviously misread the story). This timeline for the zoo’s closure didn’t gel with me, despite the authority of the site, as I’d have only been weeks old when it closed (well yes, that is a fib, LOL).

So back to my good friend Trove and Brisbane’s Courier-Mail newspaper. On 8 October 1953 the paper reported discussions within the Brisbane City Council and one alderman urged that the animals and birds be moved from the Botanic Gardens to a zoo site as soon as possible. It seems incontrovertible that the animals were still being kept in the Gardens at that time (the Gardens were licenced as an authorised zoo[i]). Another article on 9 October did a vox pop and found that the zoo was a “big city lack” and “Brisbane has only those animals down in the Gardens”. And so it seems that the “zoo” and the animals were still in the Gardens at least a year later than the official record suggests.  A copyrighted Brisbane City Council image on Picture Australia dates from 1958 and shows the cages.

I wonder if any other readers can remember the monkeys and birds in cages in the Gardens? I’d certainly be interested to hear their recollections.

Do readers have special memories of these Gardens? Our own family’s is taking our youngest daughter there to her first Christmas Carols when she was a few weeks old – the guns and fireworks to the 1812 overture frightened her no end.


[i] The Courier-Mail 22 July 1949, page 3.

52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History: Week 20: Fame

The topic for Week 20 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is “Fame”: Tell us about any local brushes with fame. Were you ever in the newspaper? Why? You may also describe any press mentions of your family members.

Fame is a fickle food – Upon a shifting plate:  Emily Dickinson.

This topic gave me pause when I first read it –I’ve already posted about my solitary excursion onto the front page of the paper, under the 52 weeks topic of “Disasters”, so that topic was used up. My daughter, who used to be a TV journalist, used to say something to the effect of “if something’s going to happen to you, you may as well wind up on the front page” but overall that’s something I can happily avoid given how often bad news is what makes the front page.

While not quite front page news, a number of my ancestors’ exploits have wound up in the newspapers, especially in the early days of Queensland, so Trove has been absolutely wonderful in fleshing out the personal elements of their history in a way which would have been virtually impossible, or only serendipitous, by the old microfilm-turning method.

But from a personal perspective …what to say on the topic of Fame in Week 20?

Some months ago I posted about missing images from the Australian Women’s Weekly digitised on Trove (Australia’s online newspaper digitisation program).

This brought to mind the “fame” that surrounded our wedding photo in the pages of the (Brisbane edition) of the Australian Women’s Weekly. To this day we have no idea how it came to pass that our photo wound up on the social pages, hardly being social butterflies, though we suspect Mr Cassmob’s maternal grandmother had written in and his vaguely exotic background gave us enough journalistic interest to make the cut.

The missing wedding photo from the Australian Women's Weekly, Brisbane edition.

Not only were we surprised by our feature, but it caused something of a minor sensation in the tiny town of Alotau in Milne Bay where he and his parents lived in Papua New Guinea. Being in the Education Department this in turn generated great gossip among the school children in the local primary and secondary schools, with some having the picture cut out on their lockers…go figure.

Mr Cassmob had been away at university, and his parents not being great chatterboxes, had told the town gossip of our upcoming wedding, and expected the usual flurry of the bush telegraph to kick in (you’d usually know whose car had been parked outside someone else’s house overnight before they had time to breakfast). For some strange reason the gossip circuit dropped out (a lot like the radio telephones we had to use) so our marriage was something of a surprise to many people, as was my arrival in town.

Back in those days an unknown, unexpected wedding meant that people assumed it was a shotgun wedding so my waistline was carefully monitored for some months, tempting me to blow my tummy out or suck it in, just to tangle with their minds. How times change! By the time our first child arrived >12 months later they’d become resoundingly bored by it all.

Hardly great excitement in terms of fame, but amusing enough as a family anecdote.