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.

Did your ancestor serve on the local council?

Peter Hannah Stewart

Peter Hannah Stewart

My grandmother was quite proud of her family, and when I started researching them I could see why. Both her grandfathers paid their own way here, and both made something of themselves once they arrived. Peter Hannah Stewart arrived during the Victorian Gold Rush, although that didn’t occur to me when I first found this out, as he had settled and died in Albury, on the New South Wales side of the border with Victoria.

I had found all the usual records that are now becoming more accessible – directories, electoral rolls, the birth registrations of all his children, and so on, and I thought I knew a bit about how he lived and what his life was like.

This obituary in the Albury Banner and Wodonga Express on Friday 17 February 1911 told me little I didn’t already know, except that he represented Indigo Riding in the Yackandandah Shire Council. This was news to me!

Albury Banner and Wodonga Express 19110217 Fri p31 Personal - Peter Hannah Stewart obit

Peter was declared insolvent in May 1881 at the Beechworth Courthouse. He claimed that the causes were ‘bad crops, want of employment for machine, and pressure of creditors’. He appears to have sold up and moved to Albury, New South Wales, around this time.

I suspect that his insolvency and move to Albury put an end to his Council adventures, but he involved himself in public life in other ways, in the local Presbyterian Church and the IOGT – the International Order of Good Templars. The Good Templars was, and still is, a temperance organisation promoting moderation or total abstinence in alcohol consumption. They no longer appear to be active in Australia but I imagine that their influence lived on in their descendants. My grandmother wouldn’t have had a drink to save her life.

The next step is to examine the records of the Yackandandah Shire Council, if they still exist – minutes of meetings, decisions taken, and so on. That will have to wait for another day.

 

Sources:

National Library of Australia, Albury Banner and Wodonga Express, Friday 17 February 1911, p.31, ‘Personal’, obituary of Peter Hannah Stewart, accessed on Trove, 23 July 2013.

National Library of Australia, The Argus, Friday 6 May 1881, p.5, ‘New insolvents’, Peter Hannah Stewart, accessed on Trove, 16 May 2012.

Victoria Government Gazette, 1881, p.1243, ‘Insolvency Notices’, Peter Stewart.

Wikipedia, International Organisation of Good Templars,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Organisation_of_Good_Templars

 

Online Government and Police Gazettes

I’ve discussed Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes before, with their enormous usefulness to family historians. They can be used to find out more detail about your ancestors, and can sometimes solve questions about what happened to them. They can give clues to further research about residence, land and occupations.

The good news is that they are increasingly becoming available online. Here is an updated list:

Government Gazettes

  • New South Wales 1832-1850
  • Queensland 1859-1905
  • South Australia 1841-1870
  • Tasmania 1907-1916, 1919
  • Victoria 1851-1852, 1855-1891, 1893-1901
  • New Zealand 1876-1878, 1880-1883, 1886
  • New South Wales 1832-2001 coming
Government sites

Police Gazettes

FindMyPast

  • New South Wales 1862-1900
  • Queensland 1864-1900
  • South Australia 1862-1900
  • Tasmania 1884-1900
  • Victoria 1855-1900
  • New South Wales 1854-1930
Government sites

When you can’t find the birth, death or marriage in the indexes

 

This post was first published here in March 2008. I think it bears repeating, with some minor updates.

© Phil Date | Dreamstime Stock Photos

The New South Wales Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages has a marvellous online index for searching for these events at http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/Index/IndexingOrder.cgi/search?event=births. It allows searching by surname, given name, year or range of years, and/or district. For births and deaths it also allows searching by parents’ names, and for marriages by spouses’ name. It allows many fields to be left blank. It contains records from before civil registration began in 1856 because the Registry has transcribed the majority of parish registers to include pre-1856 events as well as post-1856 events that were recorded in parish registers but were not reported to the Registrar.

Many Australian States have their own online indexes, and most of these records are available on Ancestry, with much broader search capabilities.

Sometimes, though, no matter how long you search, you simply cannot find the entry you are looking for. Nick Vine Hall’s Tracing Your Family History in Australia – A National Guide to Sources gives an excellent list of possible reasons for not finding your ancestor in the parish registers that I think bears repeating here, as it applies more generally to all index searches.

  1. The index entry is spelled differently than you expect. Phonetic variations were quite common, such as HAWKINS/ORKINS or ANDERSON/HENDERSON, and your ancestor may not have been able to read well enough to detect a spelling mistake.
  2. The index entry was transcribed incorrectly, or the index is not in strict alphabetic sequence. Many handwritten indexes are by the first letter of surnames only.
  3. Handwriting is misinterpreted through inexperience or illegible handwriting.
  4. The index entry was overlooked by the indexer. Marriages may have been indexed under one party’s surname only.
  5. The event took place in a different parish, colony, state or country than the one you are searching.
  6. The event never took place. Not all children were baptised, not all burials were conducted by clergy, and not all parents were married.
  7. The event took place in a different time period than the one you are searching. People lied about their ages at marriage, so you may be looking too late.
  8. The clergyman forgot to write up the event in the register when he returned from his journey around the parish on horseback. Notes were lost or distorted.
  9. The event was never registered. Early Catholic and Methodist burials were not recorded, and in remote districts the mourners could not wait until the parson happened to pass by.
  10. The event was recorded in the church register but was not sent to the government.
  11. The event was unrecorded. Sometimes the deceased could not be identified.
  12. The event was recorded at the time, but the record was lost through fire, flood or insect attack. There are a few cases of deliberate destruction of parish registers, such as pages being torn out, possibly to obliterate evidence of convict ancestry.
  13. The child was born out of wedlock, in which case the baptism will be recorded, and indexed, under the mother’s name.
  14. The child may have subsequently been adopted, and so the birth name will be different.
  15. The person may have changed their name after birth or baptism.
  16. The family was not religious and didn’t attend church.
  17. The family held a different religion to the one you thought they did.
  18. The names are recorded differently than you expect. The father might answer to Harry but his real name, as given to the registrar, was Thomas Harold. If you search using “Harry” you will get no result.

If you have followed up, as best you can, all of these possibilities and still can’t find the event in any of the likely indexes then it is time to consider other sources, such as newspapers and family bibles.

Source: Nick Vine Hall, Tracing Your Family History in Australia – A National Guide to Sources, 3rd Edition. Mount Eliza, Victoria: Nick Vine Hall, 2002.

Photo: © Phil Date | Dreamstime Stock Photos

Tuncurry Afforestation Camp

I’ve been researching the great-uncle of a client. We started off with a notice in the NSW Police Gazette that he had been arrested for stealing money from the Government Savings Bank. A Sydney Morning Herald report of the trial at the Sydney Quarter Sessions showed that he had worked for the bank for 17 years and was sentenced to two years hard labour in Goulburn Gaol ‘to be made an example of’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 Aug 1925, p.12).

For more information I needed a trip out to State Records NSW at Kingswood.

The Goulburn Gaol Entrance Book [7/13506] is an enormous volume requiring three pillows to support it. The Entrance Book gives:

  • Entrance date
  • Entrance number
  • Name
  • Gaol Number
  • When, where and by whom committed
  • Offence
  • Sentence
  • Where born (with date of birth in this case)
  • Ship and Year if born out of the colonies (it’s an old book)
  • Religion
  • Trade
  • Age
  • Height in feet and inches
  • Colour of hair and eyes
  • Education
  • Remarks, which appeared to indicate whether this was a first imprisonment
  • How and when disposed.

Our former bank employee was admitted to the prison on 10 September, along with some other prisoners. He’d been a bank manager, aged 36, with brown hair and blue eyes. He was disposed ‘To Tuncurry’ on 4 November 1925.

Tuncurry? I hadn’t realised there was a gaol at Tuncurry.

It turns out that Tuncurry hosted the first ‘Afforestation Camp’ in New South Wales. Tuncurry Afforestation Camp was a 6,000 acre property where prisoners were provided with ‘a modified form of prison life and the opportunity to acquire skills which could be used on release’. It makes sense – he was never going to be a bank manager again.

There are a number of volumes generated by the camp in its history from 1913 to 1938. The Entrance book shows some of the same information as the Goulburn book, without the physical description or birth date, and the final column shows that he was disposed ‘On license’ on Christmas Eve 1926. I imagine this was an early release for good behaviour, since his two years wasn’t up yet.

Entrance book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1937, [5/1617]
Entrance book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1937, [5/1617]

I had high hopes for the Visitors Book [5/1620] but I guess Tuncurry is a long way for family members to travel. Visitors weren’t as common as they are now. Few of the pages were actually used and the visitors were usually chaplains and surgeons, although there was a visit from the Governor of New South Wales and his entourage during my bank manager’s inprisonment. What a day that must have been!

[5/1620]
Visitors book [Tuncurry Afforestation Camp] 1913-1938 [5/1620]

I would love to know how this ex-bank manager got on after his year of planting trees. I do, however, know what happened to the prison camp:

Sydney Morning Herald Tue 29 March 1938, p.8
Sydney Morning Herald Tue 29 March 1938, p.8

 

University libraries for family historians

University of Sydney clocktowerUniversity libraries can be enormously helpful for your family history research, especially if you have one nearby. They have a lot of books and microfilms on the open shelves that are not available in most other libraries, or must be ordered and retrieved at the state libraries.

You don’t need to be a student or staff-member  to enter the library. The hours are usually extended into the evenings except during university holiday periods, although it might be better to avoid exams. You can stay all day and make cheap photocopies of what you find.

I attended the University of Sydney, which is in the inner city and a short walk or busride from Central Station. Fisher Library is the main library of the university, and there are smaller specialist libraries around the campus. As a graduate of the university I can pay $80 for a yearly membership that allows me to borrow books. Members of the public can also join in this way as well, although at a higher cost. See http://sydney.edu.au/library/borrowing/cards.html for more information. Other universities may have these provisions.

When you search for books, magazines, journals, or whatever on Trove, the National Library of Australia’s master catalogue (it’s not just for digitised newspapers!), you can also find out which library has what you are looking for. Here is part of the listing for the Historical Records of Australia:

HRA on Trove

The full series of the Historical Records of Australia is in 33 libraries in NSW alone, and most of them are university libraries, which are far more numerous than the state libraries. There may be one closer to where you live than you think.

Consider university libraries too when you visit other cities to research there. A couple of years ago I visited Auckland for a conference and stayed an extra week to do some research on my great-grandmother’s family. I found that Margaret Lowe nee Craig signed a petition in 1893 to give women the vote. Two or three of her sisters-in-law signed it as well, and appear on the same page. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and seeing my ancestor’s name on the petition gave me a real sense of pride – a real ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ moment!

I then spent a morning at the library of the University of Auckland, down the road from my apartment in the centre of Auckland, and found historical information and contemporary sources on the women’s suffrage movement. Reading about the history of the suffrage movement in the university library gave me the context in which this event occurred.

Outlines of the Women's Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.
Outlines of the Women’s Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.

Consider, too, whether your nearest university library may have microfilms published by the archives authority of your state. The University of Sydney library catalogue lists 80 titles published by the Archives Authority of New South Wales, all microfilms and books that your local library may not have.

The Australian Joint Copying Project was a project to make available to Australians and New Zealanders the the historical sources of Great Britain. Any microlim you see with a PRO prefix has come from this project, and includes Surgeon-Superintendents’ journals, Home Office records about convicts and Colonial Office records about immigrants. The whole set of over 10,000 films is available at the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia, but some universities outside Sydney and Canberra have some of the films most relevant to the courses they teach. The University of New England in Armidale, for example, has 18 series of films, of which this list is about half:

UNE Library Catalogue entry for 'Australian Joint Copying Project' microfilms
UNE Library Catalogue entry for ‘Australian Joint Copying Project’ microfilms

So don’t discount university libraries just because you’re not a student there. They may have just what you’re looking for!

Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes

Government Gazettes and Police Gazettes are an enormously rich source of information for family historians. They can be useful for filling in some of the detail about the lives of our ancestors, and in many cases can solve mysteries.

NSW Government Gazettes

Government gazettes contained all the administrative detail that affected the lives of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives – such as laws and regulations, licenses, land auctions and sales, unclaimed mail, and much, much more. Records of convict assignments and absconding may appear nowhere else but here. Sailors who deserted their ships are listed, as are government employees. Court notices of probate and bankruptcies, livestock brands, and petitions.

Your ancestor should be in a government gazette if he or she:

  • leased, purchased, forfeited land
  • worked for the government
  • tendered for public works
  • died
  • went bankrupt or insolvent
  • had unclaimed mail
  • was a convict
  • was assigned a convict
  • had a livestock brand
  • had a license to run a pub, sell liquor, cut timber
  • signed a petition

Notices of this type were published in the local colonial newspaper until a regular government publication was established:

  • New South Wales – 1832
  • Tasmania – 1825
  • Victoria – 1843 (Port Phillip)
  • Queensland – 1859
  • South Australia – 1839
  • Western Australia – 1836
  • Northern Territory – 1927
  • Commonwealth – 1901

All are still published today, although mostly online rather than printed, and with much less of interest to family historians.

Police gazettes are where the juicy stuff was going on. They were published weekly and distributed to police stations for the information of the local constabulary in order to help them with their work – describing offenders, listing licensees, and so on. Later gazettes in the early-to-mid twentieth century contain lists of known offenders with photographs, for the information of police who may come across them.

In many States publication ceased in the 1980s, as methods of electronic distribution of information became available. Some States publish them to this day, but access is still restricted.

The contents of police gazettes vary slightly by state, but they contain most of the following:

  • Warrants for arrest and details of crimes
  • Arrests, convictions, discharged prisoners
  • Property stolen and recovered
  • Stolen cattle and horses, including brands
  • Escaped prisoners, ship’s deserters
  • Missing friends
  • Deaths reported to police
  • Police appointments, instructions, lists
  • Magistrates, Justices of the Peace
  • Licensed sellers of liquor, wine and tobacco
Police Gazettes were published in the following years:
  • New South Wales – 1862-1982
  • Tasmania – 1861-1933
  • Victoria – 1853-1994
  • Queensland – 1864-1982
  • South Australia – 1862-present
  • Western Australia – 1876-present (restricted)
  • Northern Territory – 1900-present (restricted)
  • Commonwealth – 1 January 1901-present?

It is important to look for your ancestor in other colonies/states, as people travelled over the borders as easily as we do today, particularly if they didn’t want to be found.

Photo of NSW Government Gazettes from the 1850s taken by the author at the Society of Australian Genealogists headquarters in Kent Street, Sydney.

Restoring 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. The brickwork was particularly tricky!

Unedited photo

 

Here is the photo after I had a go at it:

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 $100, 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

Today I attended a Dear Myrtle webinar 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 become available soon.

Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

My new book Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand is out now at Gould Genealogy and History.

In the book I have tried to display the main types of land records available and give a summary of where they can be found in each Australian state and territory, and in New Zealand.

Here’s the blur from the back cover:

Land research can tell us so much about how our ancestors lived and worked. It can help us find out the truth about stories we’ve heard, and can give us a much richer picture of our ancestors’ social and economic position. It they owned a house, business premises or rural property there are records to be found, many of which contain a wealth of information.

We can also break down brick walls using land records that we have been otherwise unable to solve. Buying or selling property may have been the only time our ancestors dealt with government in colonial times, and land records can contain evidence such as birthdates and names of family members; information that is recorded nowhere else.

This book will introduce you to the main types of records you can find, such as deeds and grants, Torrens titles, Crown leases, selections and conditional purchases, closer and solder settlements, title applications, maps, and plans. We will look at what they mean and where to find them in New Zealand and each Australian state and territory.

Whether you are researching the history of your house or tracing the history of an ancestor through the property they owned, this book is for you.

Contents:
Abbreviations
Preface
1. Introduction
2. Why land research?
3. Challenges
4. Where to start
5. Where to find land records
6. How to find land records
7. Old System grants and deeds
8. Crown leases and licenses
9. Torrens Title
10. Title Applications
11. Government purchase schemes
12. Maps ad plans
13. Local land records
14. Putting it all together
Addresses
Further reading
Glossary
Index

 

Council rates assessment books for the City of Sydney and Newtown

Rates assessments can tell you a lot about the owners and renters of land. The content varies between councils and over time but at the very least you can see who is living in the property, the type of building, and the value of the land and improvements. You can check subsequent books to trace changes in ownership and tenancy over time.

This information is particularly useful for the early 1800s if your ancestors were not eligible to be enrolled to vote, either for property or gender requirements, or the early electoral rolls have been lost. They can also help in tracing land ownership for pre-Torrens Title land where Old System deeds have to be found one at a time.

CSA027377 p56 1848 Sydney Place
Sydney City Council Archives, CSA027377 p56, 1848 Sydney Place

The image above has been taken from the City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948. These books have been transcribed and indexed, so that you can search for a surname or street name, and bring up a list of results. When you click on a result you get a transcription of the page, and if you scroll further down the page you can see an image of the original page. The little square in the middle of the page is the magnifying glass that hadn’t yet opened.

SCCA CSA027377 p56 1848 Sydney Place transcription

Even back then in 1848 we could see the name of the resident and the name of the owner. In those days the occupier was responsible for paying council rates, and so both are listed. We can see the type of building; what it was made of; what the roof was made of; and the number of floors and the number of rooms.

City of Sydney Council Rates Assessment books 1845-1948 transcriptions and images are here –> http://www3.photosau.com/CosRates/scripts/home.asp

Newtown Rates and Assessments 1863-1892 (transcriptions only) are here –> http://www.sydneyarchives.info/rate-books

For the Newtown books you need to know which Ward your street was in. There are maps to help you identify the Ward. You can then select the book for the Ward and the year you want and search the PDF yourself.

Some tricks to be aware of:

  • House numbers Most properties did not have house numbers in the 1800s. The house number column in the assessment books refers to the number of the house in the book, not in the street.
  • Street names may have changed since the books were compiled, particularly in the inner cities.
  • Surnames may be spelled differently from one year to the next, and given names may not always be shown. Tenants’ names may be less than informative, with names such as ‘Bob the Jew’.

Most local councils have kept their rates assessment books, although they probably don’t go back as far as this. They may have been microfilmed and made available at your local library, or they may have been deposited with State Records NSW. If State Records or the local library doesn’t have them check with the council.

Image: Sydney City Council Archives, CSA027377-056, 1848 Sydney Place.