Charles Johnson, prisoner and father

When the grandmother of one of my clients was born there was no father listed on the birth certificate. When she married she stated her father to be a Charles Johnson, but there was no other evidence of this, or indeed of any link between Charles and and the mother Isabella Staader.

At least there was a name to go on, and the place where the child was born. A search of the digitised newspapers on Trove had given a short account of a trial in which Charles was convicted in January 1887 of assault and sentenced to 12 months hard labour at Tamworth Gaol. The woman he assaulted was Isabella Staader.

SMH 18970201 p5 Johnson and Staader

Further searches revealed more information. The NSW Police Gazettes reported his arrest (without bail), sentence and release. He is the Return of Prisoners, showing his sentence:

Charles is about half way down. He was charged with “Wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm” on Isabella Staader. He was tried at Tamworth Quarter Sessions on 29th January 1897, and sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour at  Tamworth Gaol.

Later in the same year he appears in a list of Prisoners Discharged to Freedom. The printing is even smaller than in the page above so I haven’t posted an image. It describes not only his crime, sentence and date and place of trial, but some additional information – his native place was Tamworth, NSW; year of birth was 1862; height 5 feet 5 inches; fresh complexion; brown hair and eyes; regular nose, mouth and chin; and this was his first conviction.

The Index to Gaol Photographs on the State Records NSW website does not include those taken at Tamworth Gaol, but there is a full index at the Western Sydney Records Centre. There he was: Charles Johnston in Tamworth Gaol. The presence or absence of the T in the name was a minor inconvenience – if they didn’t always spell names the same way there is no reason for us to be pedantic about it.

SRNSW Gaol Photograph 1897 Charles Johnston

The page is wrinkled where the photographs have been stuck on.  We now know quite a lot more about Charles Johnson, including some more accurate information, as I suspect the Description Book is more accurate than the Police Gazette. He had light brown hair and blue eyes, with a cut under his left eye. He weighed 130 pounds. He was Church of England and he could read and write.

We may not know exactly what was going on between Charles and Isabella, but we now have an idea of when it might have come to an end. Perhaps she took him back when he got out of gaol; certainly his child knew that he was her father.

Often the father of an illegitimate child can never be found. Sadly, if there was domestic violence, it may be possible to find out quite a bit about him.

The full citation for the page from the Description Book is :

State Records NSW: Department of Corrective Services, ‘Photograph Description Book, Tamworth Gaol, 1894-1929’, [3/5997]; item 49 for Charles Johnson.

The square brackets seem to interfere with the formatting in the picture caption.

A conditional purchase application

Conditional Purchases were introduced in 1862 as a way of getting small landholders on the land. They selected a portion of land, paid an initial deposit of %10 of the value, and then had to pay it off. The conditions were that they had to reside on the property, and they had to improve it – build a house, fences, etc. They could select land before it was surveyed, so by the time the surveyor came around there was often some improvements already built, which the surveyor often described and marked on the plan.

My ancestor Richard Eason (1829-1922) selected some land near Blayney in 1871. The land is Portion 199: 40 acres in the Parish of Graham, County of Bathurst, which is just north of the town of Blayney in New South Wales.

The Conditional Purchase number and Richard’s name was recorded on an old parish map:

Graham Parish map 1884 detail

Historical parish maps can be viewed on the Parish Map Preservation Project website. The names that appear on the maps are those of the first title holders. Conditional purchasers could take 30-40 years to finish paying the land off, and if there was a mortgage involved then the bank became the first title holder. Later maps of this parish show the City Bank of Sydney on this portion.

With the Conditional Purchase number, CP71.252, it is possible to examine the Conditional Purchase Register for that year at State Records NSW:

Conditional Purchase Register 1871

The register gives a summary of the history of the purchase up until the title was issued by the Registrar General. Transfers of ownership to mortgagees can be seen, as well as the transfers back to Richard when he discharged the mortgage. Each of these transfers required a separate form to be filled in, and these forms are part of the correspondence for the purchase.

You can get quite a bit of information from the register, but if you want the actual documents you have to go further and trace the correspondence through the Correspondence Registers. It sounds easy but it is quite time consuming, and easy to make mistakes and lose your way. You must write down each document number recorded in this register, and then find each one in the relevant Correspondence Register to find out what happened to the document. It was either put away or filed with another document. If you are lucky, all the documents will be filed together and you will eventually find where they are. If not, you have to find and retrieve each one separately. If you are very unlucky, you may lose the trail and be unable to find the document, or the document may have been misplaced.

Here is the original application form:

Conditional Purchase application form

There are many other documents for this purchase, including:

  • 1871 – a letter from the surveyor in which he describes the improvements made by the applicant and the land contained an extra 6 acres and 3 roods, which the applicant had agreed to pay for.
  • 1871 – a list of deposits paid, with £1.13.9 against Richard’s name
  • 1874 – the Declaration of the Conditional Purchaser, where Richard declares that he has been in contonuous residence and made £50 worth of improvements
  • 1897 – Notification of Alienation of the land to Richard Chambers (his older sister’s nephew). I believe this to be the result of a mortgage.
  • 1885 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase returning ownership of the land from Richard Chambers to Richard Eason
  • 1891 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase to the City Bank of Sydney in consideration of the sum of £450
  • 1904 – Transfer of Conditional Purchase back to Richard Eason
  • and so on

The land title was eventually issued in 1916, at which point the entries in the Conditional Purchase Register end, as control was passed from the Conditional Sales Branch to the Registrar General.

On the map you can see many other names of the people that Richard must have known. Robert and William Ewin were his brothers-in-law. A sister-in-law married a Thornberry. The Easons, Ewins and Thornberrys all came from the same couple of parishes in County Tyrone in northern Ireland.

Richard built a house on this land and raised his family in it, even though his wife died not long afterwards. His son John raised his own family there. John’s son Richard, my grandfather, sold the land and took the materials for his own building.

A couple of years ago I visited this land and saw the remains of the house. I have written about this previously. I met the current owner of the property, who gave me a photo of Richard’s son John Eason, my great-grandfather, that I had never seen before.

Fernside

I’ve traced many conditional purchases since then, but none have been as exciting as this first one for my great-great-grandfather!

Further information:
State Records NSW Archives in Brief No 93 – Background to conditional purchase of Crown land

This post is based on a post previously published for Australia Day 2011 on my blog Carole’s Canvas.

Social Media for Family Historians – my first book!

Social Media for Family Historians front coverSocial Media for Family Historians, my first book, was published on Friday 22nd October 2010. It was launched at the Unlock The Past History and Genealogy Expo in Sydney.

It contains 76 pages in full colour to explain what social media is and why it is of use to family historians. It introduces more than 25 websites that can help family historians, and anyone with families, to communicate, share and collaborate with each other.

I think social media could have been designed specifically with family historians in mind. The networking that we do as researchers is made much easier by social media sites, and the interest that we have in distantly related family members is way beyond that of a normal person!

We can share our family trees, documents, photos and videos; use Skype to communicate across the world; and write a blog to share our discoveries with family members, and to allow others to find us.

Here is the Table of Contents:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. What is Social Media?
    • The Internet
    • Self-publishing
    • Social media
  • 3. Why use it?
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • 4. Communication
    • Chat
    • Mailing lists and Forums
    • Social Networking
    • Blogs
    • Microblogging
    • Virtual Worlds
  • 5. Sharing
    • Family Trees
    • Photographs
    • Videos
    • Social Cataloguing
  • 6. Collaboration
    • Wikis
    • Social Bookmarking
    • Documents
    • Questions and Answers
  • 7. Dangers
    • Risks
    • Some simple rules
  • 8. What are you waiting for?
  • Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
    • Sign up for Facebook
    • Using Facebook
  • Appendix 2. How to get started with blogging
    • Find a host
    • Create an account
    • Name your blog
    • Set Security
    • Create your profile
    • Select a design
    • Start writing!
    • More advanced blogging

The book is $19.50 plus postage. It will be available from Gould Genealogy any minute now, or directly from me. Email me if you are interested in purchasing a copy at carole (at) heritagegenealogy.com.au.

Electoral Rolls

nautical_diary 300x200-2Electoral rolls provide useful information about your ancestors’ residence and eligibility to vote. New South Wales electoral rolls are available from 1842 to 2009, although rolls were not updated every year, and some of the early ones have been lost.

Each listing includes name, address, and occupation (up to 1984). It is possible to see which family members were living in the same address, and so can be used instead of the censuses available in other countries to determine whereabouts and household composition.

If you do know that your ancestor moved from one place to another electoral rolls can give you an idea of when he or she moved. A search of the early rolls, when there was a property requirement, can tell you whether your ancestor was a freeholder or leaseholder, or just a resident.

Australian electoral rolls were published in books for distribution. Most of these have been microfilmed (in the 1800s) or on microfiche (1901 onwards) and are available in many libraries. Most libraries do not have all years, or all electorates. From 1990 onwards the microfiche are indexed across Australia.

Who had the vote?

The qualifications to vote in New South Wales elections has changed over time. This means that your ancestor may not have been entitled to vote in the period in which you are searching for him or her. Here is a brief timeline:

1843 Of the 36 members of the Legislative Council 24 were now elected by the colonists, provided they owned freehold property valued at £200 or more, or they leased property at £20 or more.

1851 Property value required reduced to £100 freehold or £10 leasehold.

1856 Responsible government introduced, with a Lower House elected by colonists. Occupiers of houses worth at least £10 per year included.

1858 All adult males could vote if they’d lived in the electorate for 6 months or had been naturalised and lived in the Colony for two years, except for paupers, prisoners, police and the armed forces. A man could vote in all the electorates in which he held property.

1893 The property and length of residence requirements were abolished, so that itinerant workers could vote.

1902 Following the federation of all the Colonies into the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 women were given the vote in Commonwealth and New South Wales elections.

1925 First election in which voting was compulsory.

1934 The Legislative Council was replaced by a body that was indirectly elected by the Lower House.

1974 Voting age lowered to 18 years.

1978 Upper House elected along with Lower House in general elections.

Where can I find my ancestor?

1946 Electoral Roll for North Sydney Division
1946 Electoral Roll for North Sydney, Lane Cove Subdivision

Until 1990 Australian electoral rolls were published by division, so you need to know where the person is living to be able to find them. They are published on microfiche for the 1900s and early 2000s, the last one being 2009.

To find the electoral division you will need the atlas, which has maps of each capital city and each state that show the boundaries as they changed from 1902-

Very few New South Wales rolls have been digitised and indexed, although this situation is slowly changing:

Ancestry have digitised some rolls for New South Wales, for 1930, 1931-32, 1933, 1934-35, 1936-3719431949, and 1953-54. Those in bold text have been indexed.

Archive CD Books Australia, a subsidiary of Gould Genealogy, has started to scan and index New South Wales electoral rolls and publish them on CD. So far they have published the rolls for 1903 and 1913, with many others to follow. Check your library to see if they have the CDs.

See also:

State Records NSW Archives in Brief 5 – Electoral Rolls

State Records NSW Brief Guide No. 1 – Electoral Rolls

State Library NSW Instructions for searching the NSW Electoral Rolls 1903-1989

[Most of this post has been published previously at http://heritagegenealogy.com.au/research/electoral-rolls/]

Image scanned from microfiche.

A World War I service file

The National Archives of Australia holds the service records of Australian defence servicemen and women from 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 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 I 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!

The 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. We will continue to examine this file in the near future.

A surprise in the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence

I found a surprising document when I was researching a convict at State Records New South Wales at Kingswood last week. John Webster arrived in 1830 on the Lord Melville (2), received his certificate of freedom in 1836, married a convict in the same year, and had a number of children over the years. He died in 1896, in Marrickville, in inner Sydney.

All this information is worth finding and the very least you should try to discover about your own convict. Once you have the birth, marriage and deaths of any ancestor, his/her spouse and their children, and the relevant convict records, it’s time to look further afield. The Colonial Secretary received all manner of correspondence from and about convicts and is always worth searching.

The index from 1788 to 1825 is online at the State Records NSW website. After 1826 to 1894 there are indexes prepared by the late Joan Reese on microfiche, and these are worth their weight in gold.  It was these that I searched to find any correspondence for my client’s convict.

I searched each series in turn, 1826-1831, 1832-1837, 1838-1841, 1842-1847, and on until the end. The index is commonly called ‘Convicts and Others’ and it is important to keep searching it even though your convict is no longer a convict. It is equally important to search it even if your ancestor wasn’t a convict.

In the 1878-1888 series I found the entry with his name, no ship name, but the place ‘Enmore’, with the State Records NSW references. Enmore is where one of his daughters was married, and near Newtown where many of the children were born. So I requested to inspect the actual document in the Reading Room at Kingswood.

When it arrived I was surprised to find it to be a Notice of Admission for the second wife Mary to a ‘Licensed House’ for the care of the insane in Tempe, which is down the Princes Highway from Newtown. According to the Superintendent of the Hospital she was

suffering from Melancholia, Chronic. She takes little or no interest in her surroundings. I think she is no longer good for anything.  She is in fair general health, although thin and weak.

Her medical practitioner wrote

Have attended her on & off for several years and for some time she has become more and more melancholic. She now sits nearly all day in the one place saying she will never get well that she has many sins – that she has a strange feeling, has lost all reason, & does not desire anything[;] she is getting thinner & although she eats well, cannot sleep.

All the above have also been observed by her husband. He also says she mutters and keeps him constantly watching her.

Poor woman.

We now know a lot more about this family than we did before, and have further leads we can follow if the records of this institution still exist.

Sources

Reese, Joan. Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. MicroficheBalgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2009.

State Records New South Wales: Colonial Secretary, ‘Main series of letters received, 1826-1982’. NRS905. [Bundle 1/2632], Item 87/1718, ‘Notice of Admission for Mary Elizabeth Webster 8 Feb, 1887’. 8 pages.

Tim Sheens visits a great-uncle’s pub while on tour in Leeds

Glass of beer close-upTim Sheens, coach of the Australian Rugby League team, recently had a drink in the pub that had been run in the 1890s by his great-great-great-great-uncle in Leeds.

We’ve been researching Tim’s ancestry over the last few months, and he has some very colourful ancestors, with 14 convicts (at last count), and some publicans. We were hoping that, with Tim’s imminent visit to England with the Australian team, we could find an existing pub run by one of his ancestors that he could go and have a drink in while he was there.

His great-grandmother Emily Mann, who married George Sheens in 1902 in Sydney, was born at “The Dover Castle” in Lambeth, Surrey, the pub run by her father Robert Mann. Robert’s father, also named Robert, ran pubs around London, as shown by census records and birth registrations of children.

Unfortunately all of the pubs run by both Roberts, junior and senior, were gone – closed or demolished.

We had a breakthrough with the will of Robert senior, written in 1902. One of the executors of Robert’s will was a licensed victualler, and another was his brother Henry, described in the will as ‘a gentleman’.  Tracing Henry through the censuses found him in 1881 in the Albion Hotel at 142 Briggate in Leeds, and in 1891 in The Oak Inn on Otley Road, Headingley, in Leeds.

A Google search found that the Oak Inn, now known as the Original Oak Inn, is still in business. In fact, it’s one of the most successful pubs in England, with ‘the biggest beer garden in Headingly‘, a centre for the student and sporting venue trade in the area. You can see from the satellite image on Google (below) how big the place is, with the rows and rows of outdoor tables. Tim was told that there used to be a bowling green there that had been used for championships at the time Henry was publican.

Tim was given a copy of a document tracing the history of the Original Oak Inn during his visit, and hopes to get back there on the team’s return visit to Leeds for the final of the Four Nations Championship to find out more about the history of the pub.

Tim was interviewed by the Yorkshire Evening Post during his visit to Leeds – you can see the article here: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/Aussie-rugby-coach-finds-his.5801926.jp

The Original Oak Inn, Headingley, Leeds

Postscript:

The Sydney Morning Herald has picked up the story and expanded on it.

Researching schools – an Historical Timeline

To understand your ancestor it’s important to know what sort of education was available at that time and in that area, if any. We need to find out what schools were available for our ancestors to attend in the area in which they lived. First we need to know something of the educational system in New South Wales.

Here is a brief timeline of some milestones in the history of education in New South Wales.

1788 – no provision for education of the children of convicts or soldiers.

early 1800s – only schools were private “academies” and “public” schools subsidies or fully-funded by government but run by the Anglican Church.

1801 – Female Orphan School founded to prepare destitute girls for domestic service.

1819 – Male Orphan School founded for destitute boys.

1826-1833 – Clergy and Schools Corporation, run by Anglican Church and funded by grant of one seventh of all land in the Colony. Unpopular with other denominations and private landholders. Repealed in 1833.

1844 – Select Committee found only half of all children going to school.

1848 – Board of National Education introduced government education system. Local communities had to contribute one third of building costs, pay school fees and provide committee to run the school. New National Schools were built mostly in country areas where no schools currently existed provided a minimum of 30 pupils were enrolled, and fees paid.

1866 – Public Schools Act – restrictions on denominational schools, inspection of schools. National Schools became Public Schools, with minimum of 25 pupils. Provisional Schools, where the number was reduced even further, and Half-Time Schools, where a single teacher had to cover two schools, also introduced. The number of schools increased dramatically in the country, where they were most needed.

1870s – school available to almost all children but many attended irregularly or for brief periods. Most denominational schools except Catholic had closed or become government schools.

1880 – Public Instruction Act made attendance at school compulsory for 6-14 year olds. Secondary education introduced to prepare for university, with high fees. Funding was withdrawn from denominational schools resulting in the closure or absorption of many of them. New types of schools were introduced. Superior Public Schools combined primary and secondary education. High Schools were purely secondary schools, with high fees and low enrolments, intended to prepare students for university. Evening Public Schools were intended to cater for young people who had missed out on an education before it became compulsory, and ran at night. replaced the Council of Education with the Department of Public Instruction.

1890s – economic depression reduced spending on school buildings and many teachers retrenched, resulting in large class sizes in poor classrooms.

1904 – New Syllabus introduced – learning by doing.

1911 – High School fees abolished. Intermediate Certificate after two years of High School, and Leaving Certificate after a further two years.

1920s – more pre-vocational and academic courses introduced in High Schools

1914-1945 – World Wars and Great Depression reduce funding for schools and teachers

1961 - Wyndham Scheme introduced – Four years of High School for School Certificate, further two years for Higher School Certificate.

Sources:

Burnswood, J. and Fletcher, J. Sydney and the Bush, A pictorial history of education in New South Wales. [Sydney]: New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.

NSW Department of Education and Training. Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm.

State Records NSW. State Records Archives Investigator: Activity Detail, School Education http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Activity\25.

State Records NSW, Index to Schools and Related Records, 1876-1979. Website at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-to-education-and-child-welfare-records/index-to-schools-and-related-records.

Researching Schools in NSW

Greghamstown School

Where did your ancestors go to school? Did they go to school at all? How long did they go to school, and what was being taught at the time?

To understand your ancestor it’s important to know what sort of education was available at that time and in that area, if any. We need to find out what schools were available for our ancestors to attend in the area in which they lived.

My grandfather grew up near Greghamstown, near Blayney, and I want to know where he might have gone to school.

The NSW Department of Education and Training has an online index to Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. A search of the database will give a list of schools containing the search-term, ie a place name, and the type of school, years of operation, alternative names, and the county in which it is situated.

Here is an example:

Government Schools since 1848 Search for Blayney

We can see that the dates for the different schools in Blayney are consecutive, so they all likely refer to the same school, with name changes reflecting the different stages of the public education system in NSW.

Keep in mind how far the children may have had to travel to get to school, and that they may have walked, or rode, many miles to attend school each day, especially in country areas.

Clicking on the type of school takes you to the Glossary of Schools. The Glossary of Schools explains the different types of schools, and makes interesting reading in its own right.

School history

Once you have found likely schools for the area you can trace their history. If you are lucky there will be a published account of the school, often published to coincide with the centenary or other anniversary of the school’s foundation.

State Records New South Wales holds the files that relate to the establishment, maintenance, and staffing of most schools. The files may contain plans of the site and drawings of buildings, so that you can see what the school may have looked like even if it no longer exists. They are available for inspection at the Western Sydney Reading Room at Kingswood.

To find out what records are available for your school search the Schools index. Here are the search results for Blayney:

SRNSW School search Blayney

You can see that the files are all administrative files, and that there are none before 1876.

To take another example, the school in the photograph is in Greghamstown, near Blayney. The Government Schools of New South Wales from 1848 search shows me that there was a Provisional School from August 1871. It closed in December 1872. A Public School opened in May 1875 and closed in Dec 1947. There are no further entries, accounting for the emptiness of the building in the photo.

A search of State Records NSW Schools Index has hit the jackpot!

SRNSW schools search Greghamstown

There is usually very little in these files relating to individual pupils, although there may occasionally be lists of parents requesting establishment of a school, or who haven’t paid their fees. For this school, however, there is an admissions register  for 1914 to 1926. If your ancestor lived in this area and was of school age within this period you could be lucky!

More information about the school records held by State Records NSW can be found here, and about records of pupils here.

School has a lasting influence on all of us as we develop into adults and make our way in the world. Discovering the school your ancestors attended and the type of school that it was can tell you a lot about your ancestor.

Sources:

Burnswood, J. and Fletcher, J. Sydney and the Bush, A pictorial history of education in New South Wales. [Sydney]: New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.

NSW Department of Education and Training. Government schools of New South Wales from 1848. http://www.governmentschools.det.nsw.edu.au/cli/govt_schools/index.shtm.

State Records NSW. State Records Archives Investigator: Activity Detail, School Education http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/Entity.aspx?Path=\Activity\25.

State Records NSW, Index to Schools and Related Records, 1876-1979. Website at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/indexes-online/indexes-to-education-and-child-welfare-records/index-to-schools-and-related-records.

Births, Deaths and Marriages in Parish Registers

St Paul's Anglican Church Carcoar

Civil registration in NSW

Here in New South Wales we are fortunate in the detail to be found in our birth, marriage and death certificates. and in the indexes available online. Births include parents full names, with the  maiden name of the mother, the date they were married, and previous children born. Marriages usually show the names of both sets of parents. Deaths are best of all, showing parents, spouses and children.

Civil registration began in New South Wales on 1st March 1856, with District Registrars appointed to record all births, marriages and deaths in their districts. The responsibility for notifying the District Registrar fell to a parent, for a birth; the minister, for a marriage; or the owner of the house, for a death when one of these events took place.

In the early years it was often difficult for people to get in to town to register a birth or death. There was also some distrust of the government and unwillingness to provide information.

Parish registers

Before that time the only record of births, deaths and marriages in the Colony was in the parish registers of the churches. Initially only the Anglican Church was recognised, so Catholics and others had to be baptised, married and buried by the Anglicans or not at all.

The Registry has collected information from churches for the pre-registration period on a number of occasions to complete their records but this process is still incomplete, with missing information on many records, especially marriages, and missing records. Most of these early registers have been microfilmed and are available in many libraries – these are the Early Church Records, identifiable by the V in the reference when you search on the NSW BDM website. Photocopies are not allowed, but you can write down the information you find. Make sure you record where you found it!

Of course children were still baptised, couples were married in church, and burials were performed according to the rites of the religious denomination of the deceased, after civil registration began and so the parish registers continued.

Why look at the parish register?

The Registry has attempted to collect information that may be present in a parish register and not in the Registry. After the initial introduction of civil registration in 1856 two further attempts were made, in 1879 and 1912, to collect baptisms and marriage information not recorded in the Registry, but the process of reconciling the two was never finalised.

This means that there are entries in some parish registers, and in rare cases whole registers, that do not appear in the Registry. Marriages in the Registry may lack information that the parish register contains. It’s worth looking at the parish register, then, even if you have the certificate from the Registry.

Even the remote possibility that there is some new information somewhere makes it worthwhile to seek these registers out.

The parish register will also contain the original signatures of the parties concerned, whereas the copy sent to the Registry has been written out by the minister or a clerk and does not contain original signatures. This is especially valuable for marriages, where the bride and groom, and any witnesses, had to sign.

Parish Registers on microfilm

The Joint Copying Project of the Society of Australian Genealogists, the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia has been working for more than 25 years to microfilm parish registers. Many Anglican registers have been filmed, with the Diocese of Bathurst added earlier this year. Many Catholic and Presbyterian registers have also been filmed.

Microfilms are available in the Society of Australian Genealogists and the Mitchell Library in Sydney, and the National Library of Australia in Canberra. Check their online catalogues for details of what is available; more are being added all the time. A search by the name of the place and the words “parish register” should give you what you need. You can usually make individual copies of single entries for research purposes.

In the Mitchell Library the card catalogue is available in the Special Collections area – ask the librarian behind the desk. The films are on open access on the shelves.

In the Society of Australian Genealogists the online catalogue includes the filmed parish registers. You may also find books of transcribed entries for specific churches.  There is a also a book that lists all the microfilms in the Society’s collection, but keep in mind that this book will not contain any parish registers that were filmed after 1990.

What if the parish register hasn’t been filmed or transcribed?

Parish registers that have not been filmed will be found either in the central archives of the church concerned, or remain in the parish.  Some parish records have undoubtedly been lost or destroyed, especially small churches where the minister had to travel long distances to administer to his flock.

Most parish priests and ministers are very helpful to family historians and will usually provide what you need for a small donation to cover their time and expenses.

Sources

Nick Vine HallParish Registers in Australia, published by the author, 1989.

Nick Vine Hall, Tracing Your Family History in New South Wales, 5th edition. CD. Adelaide: Archive CD Books, 2006.

NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, History of the Registry’s Records. Website. http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/familyHistory/historyRecords.htm.

Richards, J. A., Garnsey, H.E., and Phippen, A., Index to the Microform Collection of the Society of Australian Genealogists. Sydney: Society of Australian Genealogists, 1990.

Society of Australian Genealogists, Bascis on church records (Australia). Website. http://www.sag.org.au/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=48.

State Library of New South Wales, Getting started: Church Records. Downloadable PDF document. http://www.sl.nsw.gov.au/research_guides/docs/church_records.pdf.