Fixing old photographs

Old family photos are the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for family historians, but often when you find them they have been damaged over the years. I have been practising my photo-editing skills to overcome this problem.

I have used Paintshop Pro for years. I know it’s not the industry standard; when I was deciding between it and the similarly priced Photoshop Elements (the cut-price version of Adobe Photoshop, which is very expensive) I decided that Photoshop Elements was going to take too long to learn and I just didn’t have time.

That was years ago, and Photoshop Elements has come a long way. I have continued to upgrade Paintshop Pro until this last one, and I still like it for some things like lightening up the photos I’ve taken of archival documents. Last year I was persuaded to buy Photoshop Elements for fixing scratches in photos because it does it so well and so easily. They have really tried to make Elements easier for novices to use since my first trial all those years ago.

This is one I worked on the other night for a client using Photoshop Elements.

Unedited photo

Here is the photo after I had a go at it. The brickwork was particularly tricky!

Edited photo

I spent about an hour on this on my laptop while watching TV. When I got to the bottom left corner I just decided that there was too much woodwork anyway and cropped the bottom off. There’s still more I could do. I was a bit nervous about his eye but I think it works.

Photoshop Elements and Paintshop Pro are about $130, depending on where you live; less for an upgrade. Paintshop Pro has most of the same tools as Photoshop Elements but Elements has a very cool brush  that lets you paint along a scratch and it takes the image on either side and fills it in for you. It’s like magic!

Online software

I attended a Dear Myrtle webinar two years ago on free online photo editing software, and was introduced to PicMonkey. It is fully-featured photo editing software that runs online. You can start editing without even signing up, upload (or drag) the photo you want to edit, and the resulting photo is stored on your computer, not on the website. And it’s free! I was very impressed.

Have a look at PicMonkey. Save a copy of your photo, upload the copy, and see what you can do. You can always undo what you’ve done, or rub it out with the eraser, so don’t be afraid to experiment. And you have your original stored safely because you made a copy to edit. Always make a copy before editing.

I highly recommend Myrtle’s webinar for a demonstration of how easy it is if you’ve never played with photo editing before. She recorded it so it should still be available.

This post was originally published on my old blog Genealogy in NSW in September 2012. To update – I no longer use Paintshop Pro, and even though I now have access to the full Photoshop program I still use my old copy of Photoshop Elements 10.

NSW Land and Property Information for online research

The government department responsible for NSW land administration is currently called Land and Property Information. Here is a brief list of links to the most important websites for family and local historians.

Land and Property Information  –  http://www.lpi.nsw.gov.au/

LPI

Find place names

Historical Land Records Viewer (PIXEL)  –  http://images.maps.nsw.gov.au

HLRV Blayney

Current mapping and aerial (SIX)   –  http://maps.six.nsw.gov.au

SIX

Online searches and orders  –  https://shop.lpi.nsw.gov.au

LPI Online Shop

History

Atlas of Australia

Searching Guides – http://www.lpi.nsw.gov.au/publications/search_guides

  • Glossary
  • A Brief History of the Records of the Registrar General
  • First Stop Guide to the Records of the Registrar General
  • Old System Information and Search Guide
  • Searching the Registrar General’s Maps and Plans
  • Torrens Title Information and Search Guide

Revised 15 September 2014

What do you know about the house you grew up in?

My first house

I wonder how many of us lived in the same house all through childhood? I didn’t. I lived in four different houses from when I was born until I finished school and left home. I don’t remember the first one; I was too young and we weren’t there long.

The first house that I remember was in Carss Park, in southern Sydney. It was underneath the flight path and I remember planes flying over and scaring my younger sister. It was close enough to the local school that we could walk, even at that age, and we had to climb up a rocky lane through to the street behind to get there. It had a great backyard for kids to play in, and a patio with crazy paving that we used to roll marbles on.

Looking at it now on Google Maps I can see it has a swimming pool and most of the yard is gone. It seems much bigger, taking up the full width of the block, although I can see the flat roof of the garage so that must still be there in some form. I can also see the lane seems to be a smooth, grassy strip, not at all how I remember it.

Google Maps image

Google Maps

View Larger Map

The 1943 aerial photograph shows that the house was there even then. The houses I remember behind and above ours had not yet been built, nor had the house of the old lady next door. It’s hard to tell  but it doesn’t look like the garage was there either, although the back garden looks to have been laid out in a circle.

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

I also found a real estate advertisement for the property, showing a picture of the front of the house and the backyard, which I’m not going to show you for copyright reasons. The house looks totally different, without that rounded front you can see in the family photo at the top. The back yard looks totally different, too; it looks as though they’ve levelled the terracing to put the pool in. Nowhere for kids to play – it looks like somewhere for adults to ‘entertain’ now.

I’ve recently traced some of the history of the property and now I know that the name Carss Park came from the original owner of the property.

Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903

NSW Land & Property Management Authority: Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903 showing Carss Bush Park

It was subdivided in the 1920s into the blocks and streets that I knew.

My mother has told me some of our history in the house. We moved in after a year in Melbourne that didn’t work out. My little brother was born while we lived there, and then my parents split up and Mum sold the house and we moved to Dubbo.

When I ordered copy of the title I found out some more.

NSW Land Title 4899-26

NSW Land Title Volume 4899 Folio 26, courtesy of NSW Land & Property Management Authority

My mother bought the house in her own name in 1960, before we moved to Melbourne. She immediately took out a mortgage, which most of us do. So the house must have been rented out while we were in Melbourne, and they would have had to get the tenants out when we decided to come back. She sold it after we had moved to Dubbo, which makes sense – she bought a house in Dubbo after we had lived at Gran and Pop’s place for a while.

Unfortunately, titles don’t have sale prices on them. For that I have to look at the individual dealings. One day I will; I would love to know what Mum paid for the house and what she got back when she sold it.

Have a look for the house or houses you grew up in. Not only will you learn something about your family, but it will bring back memories of the houses and your family living in them.

This post was originally published on my old blog Genealogy in NSW in April 2013. I still haven’t purchased copies of the dealings to see how much Mum paid for the house!

A letter from a grieving father

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

The file contains correspondence to and from Douglas’ father, James Simpson Stewart of Holbrook, New South Wales; a small town near Albury. Some of it has to do with the medals that his son was entitled to, and I have written about those in a previous post. Then there is the correspondence about Douglas’ grave.

Douglas was killed in action on 8 August 1918 in France. In October General Pau of the French Army visited Australia, and even visited Albury in southern New South Wales, by train, where he was “accorded a hearty welcome by several hundred representative residents” (Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Oct 1918, p13).

James, who was quite possibly one of those residents, was moved to write to the General:

He wanted a photo of the grave where his son was buried.

The joy to the Mother especially would be great were she to get a Carte of that Grave 12000 Miles away.

James says that he wears a ‘Reject Badge’. I had never heard of such a thing. A quick search in Google tells me that Reject Badges were issued to those who were rejected for military service on medical grounds, and perhaps other grounds as well. James himself was over 50 by this time, and his son was only 17 by the end of the War.

With my minimal knowledge of French I can only guess that this is a translation of James’ letter into French:

The General replied through the AIF Base Office a few days later:

The Base Office replied to James on 10 January 1919:

Photographs were being taken of all graves “as rapidly as the conditions obtaining in the late theatre of war will admit.”

I can only assume that James was sent a photograph eventually. I have no knowledge of such a photograph being in the family, but then the descendants are my distant cousins. I can only try to imagine the feelings of the family when it arrived, showing a hastily-built grave with a cross stuck in the top in what had recently been a field of battle.

I do not know if anyone in this family ever travelled to France to see the grave. I imagine not – it was not easy in the years after the war, and certainly not undertaken lightly, as it is today.

Douglas is now recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being buried in Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres:

Harbonnieres was captured by French troops in the summer of 1916. It was retaken by the Germans on 27 April 1918, and regained by the Australian Corps on 8 August 1918. Heath Cemetery, so called from the wide expanse of open country on which it stands, was made after the Armistice, next to a French Military Cemetery, now removed. Graves were brought into it from the battlefields between Bray and Harbonnieres and from other burial grounds in the area…

- Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres.

It looks a peaceful place now. It’s a shame that Douglas’ family couldn’t see what I am seeing now so easily on the internet.

This post was originally published in January 2011 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

World War I medals for an ordinary soldier

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Douglas died on 8th August 1918. In 1920 his father James Simpson Stewart apparently had a question for the Department of Defence:

Memorandum 6 Feb 1920

What medals was Douglas entitled to? A copy of the answer is on the file:

The Victory Medal and the General Service Medal. The Victory Medal, at least was sent a couple of years later, and James signed and returned the acknowledgement of receipt:

James had also been sent the Memorial Plaque six months earlier:

James had a couple of questions after it had arrived:

In the reply he was told that the correct dates of the Great War were 1914-1918, and the plaque’s materials and emblems were described in detail:

The service record shows all of the medals and plaques Douglas was issued:

I wish I knew more about these medals and plaques – what they looked like, what they feel like in the hand. I just can’t imagine how Douglas’ parents felt when they received them in the mail back in Holbrook, NSW. Proud, perhaps.

Of course, four or five years had passed by the time they arrived. The surviving soldiers had returned, and life had gone back to normal, so perhaps each time one of these things arrived the devastation returned.

This post was originally published in December 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

NSW Will Books now on FindMyPast

FindMyPast Australia announced in June last year that they had acquired the rights to digitise and publish the Will Books held by State Records NSW. I don’t usually publish press releases but I was so pleased I just had to do it!

All things come to those who wait, as they say, and the Will Books are finally here.

The Will Books are hand-written copies of the wills made by the office of the Probate Registrar. They contain a summary of the probate process and the value of the estate. They have been on microfilm for some time, and I imagine it was the microfilms that were digitised. The original will is kept in the probate packet, access to which is restricted until the packets are sent to the Archive at State Records NSW. See the entry for this series in Archives Investigator.

The records are easy to find and download. I searched first for all my Easons, because even though I have images of the actual probate packets I had never looked up the wills in the Will Books. Here is the entry for Irwin Eason, who has his will drawn up in November 1914, after the oubreak of World War I, and died on 12 October 1945 having seen both world wars. Irwin died childless and left his estate to his beloved wife Annie.

4-310621 Irwin Eason

And here is the first page of an earlier, handwritten entry for Irwin’s uncle Robert Ewin, who died on 21 October 1921 survived by his second wife and nine of his eleven children.

4-111--2 Robert Ewin

 

These records are well worth searching for, even if you have the probate packet, for the easy-to-understand summary they contain.

It’s also worthwhile checking the transcription of the entry. It doesn’t transcribe the whole entry for you but it picks out the most important names for you. Here is the transcription for Robert Ewin:

4-111002 Robert Ewin transcriptionMake sure you search for absolutely everyone you can think of – the siblings and neighbours of ancestors can be just as informative as the records for your own ancestors, and may have references to them. The names of the heirs and executors listed in the transcription do not seem to be indexed so you can’t search for mentions of people in the wills of others, although perhaps that will come.

A World War I soldier’s girlfriend?

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Most of the documents in the file are fairly self-explanatory. This one has a small mystery. Alongside the correspondence with Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart, which I will cover in a future post, is this letter:

Letter from Miss J.M. Byrne dated 31 Dec 1918

Miss J. M. Byrne lived in Glebe Point in inner Sydney, and on New Year’s Eve in the year that Douglas was killed she sat down with her patriotic notepaper to ask for more information about his death.

She knew to whom to write, she knew Douglas’ rank, serial number and battalion, and she knew the date that he was killed.

Who was she? Douglas had five sisters, that I can find, and none of them had the initials ‘JM’. The correspondent was a ‘Miss’, in any case, and not a ‘Miss Stewart’. Douglas’ mother’s maiden surname was Lawson, and I know little about her or her extended family. Perhaps Miss Byrne was a cousin on his mother’s side.

I must be a romantic though, because I prefer to think of Miss Byrne as a girlfriend or a potential girlfriend. She must have been so upset, imagining all the dreadful ways he could have been killed, to have written to request more information from the Base Records Office. She clearly wasn’t in a position to obtain news directly from the family, who could have been expected to have the earliest notification.

Before the war Douglas was an 18-year-old telegraph messenger and lived in Holbrook, a country town near Albury. How did Miss Byrne know him? How did they meet? Was she from Holbrook? Why was she in Sydney?

Two weeks later she received the following reply:

She was told that there was no further information regarding ‘his regrettable loss’ than was contained in the ‘brief cable report “Killed in Action, 8/8/18?.’ When further information arrived by mail the next-of-kin would be informed. If she enquired again after this time these particulars would be forwarded to her also.

There is no subsequent correspondence from her.

I’ve searched the NSW Birth Death and Marriage index for the marriage of a J M Byrne, and there were a couple in the 1930s, an inconclusive result. I hope she had a happy life.

This post was originally published in July 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

The last Will and Testament of a WWI soldier

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

Douglas embarked for England on 10 May 1917 after months of training and medical examinations and inoculations. Ten days before he left he made out his last Will and Testament, lodging it with the Officer in Charge Base Records. A certified copy of the will was kept in his file. I imagine the original was removed on his death.

Certified copy of the Last Will and Testament of Douglas James Stewart

He left everything he owned to his mother, Annie Stewart. I don’t imagine that his property and effects amounted to much. He was 18, he lived at home with his parents; he was a telegraph messenger. Perhaps he owned a bicycle.

His will was witnessed by W.M. Dorney and A. J. Cowled. A search of the National Archives of Australia RecordSearch reveals the identity of these two witnesses.

William Michael Dorney from Raymond Terrace was a State School teacher who had passed his 2nd Lieutenant’s exam at Duntroon in 1916, before he enlisted, aged 30, in Raymond Terrace, near Newcastle. He sailed from Sydney on board HMAT Port Melbourne on 16 July 1917 with the 33rd Batallion, and was wounded in action in France in April 1918. After two months in hospital he was sent back to France and was killed 12 days later by a direct hit from an enemy 77 [gun] while leading his platoon at ‘Road Wood’ on 30 August 1918. His effects were returned to his wife.

Agustus John Cowled was a farmer who enlisted at Cootamundra on 29 March 1916. He was 22. He was promoted to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant on 1 May 1917 before leaving Australia on 31 October 1917 aboard HMAT Euripides. He lived through the war, despite being wounded and gassed more than once, and returned to Australia on 20 August 1919.

I can’t see that Douglas served with either of these two lieutenants. Douglas had landed in France after training in England on 20 May 1918.

A ‘Certificate re Will’ is also on file. This appears to be a stub from which the will, filled out by the men on a standard form, had been removed. You can see the pin marks on the left hand side. Other men provided their own wills, especially, I suspect, the married ones.

Certificate re Will - Douglas James Stewart

The certificate is signed by by the Commanding Officer of the battalion. I would welcome a more accurate explanation of this form.

Sources for witnesses:

National Archives of Australia: Base Records Office Australian Imperial Force; B2455, First Australian Imperial Force Personnel Dossiers, 1914-1920.

Cowled Augustus John : SERN LIEUTENANT : POB Junee NSW : POE N/A : NOK F Cowel Albert Clayton

Dorney William Michael : SERN Lieutenant : POB Raymond Terrace NSW : POE N/A : NOK W Dorney Gertrude Margaret

This post was originally published in May 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

Enlistment in the Australian Imperial Force, 1917

I have previously written about the service file Douglas James Stewart (1899-1918), downloaded from the National Archives of Australia’s website. The file is 61 pages long, and I was unable to do it justice in a single post.

The Application to Enlist in the Australia Imperial Force form shows that Douglas enlisted at Victoria Barracks in Sydney on 18 February 1917.

He was a telegraph messenger, residing in Albury Street, Holbrook, NSW. He was 18 years and 2 weeks old, and both his parents signed the form, giving their consent to the enlistment of their under-aged son for active service abroad. He was 5 foot 9 inches, with a chest measurement of 31-36 inches fully expanded. He was declared fit for Active Service.

The instructions on the back give us an idea of the enlistment process:

The form, filled in and signed by the applicant and additionally signed, in this case, by his parents, was given to the Recruitment Officer. Provided the applicant fulfilled all other requirements the form was given directly to the Medical Practitioner, who examined the applicant for medical fitness. The form was then returned to the Recruitment Officer, who then sent it to the Officer in Charge of the Central Recruiting Depot to which the recruit had been instructed to report.

Douglas was examined at Victoria Barracks on the same day:

He weighed in at 146 lbs; his chest was measured at 36 inches when fully expanded, a range of 5 inches; his pulse rate was 78 [beats per minute, presumably] and his physical development good. He had two vaccination marks on his left arm, given in 1913. His vision, was measured as 6/6 on both sides, which I assume was good. He apparently had no marks indicating congenital peculiarities or previous diseases.

Most of the remaining pages of the Medical History are blank. He was re-examined at Liverpool Field Hospital on 9 May 1918 but not admitted.

At his initial examination he was asked a few questions about fits, insanity, consumption:

Medical History, page 4

He was vaccinated on the same day, on 20 March, 2 April and again on 21 April 1917.

Douglas was then examined at the Sydney Showground Military Camp on 26 March 1917. His teeth were intact, with 13 on each side (feel inside your mouth and count yours).

So he was good to go. This telegraph messenger from a small town in southern New South Wales was ready for the biggest, and worst, adventure of his life.

This post was previously published in May 2010 in my old blog ‘Genealogy in New South Wales’.

A soldier goes to war

This post was first published in May 2010 as ‘A World War I Service File’. This month (August 2014) is the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of The Great War, and interest in these files will only grow, so we need to understand what is in them.

The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from Federation in 1901. Records are closed for thirty years. If your ancestor served in the Boer War, World War I, World War II or in between, the records you need will be in Canberra.

Many of these records have been digitised, and are available to view and download online.

Some of the first to be digitised were the World War I service records.

World War I service records usually contain, at the very least, the following documents:

  • attestation paper – the attestation paper was completed by the person on enlistment and normally gives next-of-kin, employment details, marital status, age, place of birth and physical description
  • service and casualty form – this form, known as ‘Form B103’, shows movements and transfers between units, promotions, when and how the soldier was injured and where treatment was received
  • military correspondence – correspondence between the Department of Defence and the soldier’s next-of-kin may include notification of wounds or death, awards and medals and questions about the whereabouts of the serviceman or woman [NAA]

Here is the first page of the Attestation Paper of my grandmother’s cousin Douglas James Stewart, downloaded from the website. Douglas, a telegraph messenger, had barely turned 18 when he enlisted in Sydney on Sunday, 18th February 1917.

His next of kin was his father, James Simpson Stewart, of Albury Street, Holbrook NSW. The next page is a bit more instructive:

We can see that he was a Presbyterian; 5 foot 9 inches tall, 146 lbs in weight, with a scar on his left knee and a lump on his left thumb. By looking at a copy of the Attestation Paper in the file we can see the headings for the information that has been pasted over: his chest measurement was 31-36 inches, and he had a medium complexion, with brown hair and brown eyes. I presume that the numbers in red next to his eye colour refer to eyesight testing.

He was pronounce fit for service and was appointed to A Company, 1st Infantry D Battalion.

The pages that were taped inside tells what happened to his afterwards:

And on the other side of the paper:

This appears to be much the same thing only typed:

I am not knowledgeable about the codes and abbreviations used, but it looks to me like he embarked on His Majesty’s Australian Transport Marathon at Sydney on 10th May, 1917, for a journey of a little over two months to Devonport, England. After some months of training in England he was shipped to France, arriving in Havre 20th March, 1918.

He survived the fighting in France for nearly five months, and was killed in action on the 8th August 1918.

The big blue stamp on the last page of the Attestation Form says it all:

Other documents in the file include the original Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force and a certified copy. The form was signed by both his parents, since he was under 21 years and needed their permission. How difficult that must have been!

This file is 61 pages, and much of it is made up of correspondence between the Office and Douglas’ father James Simpson Stewart after his death. Further examinations of the file will be posted in the coming days.