Australian Newspapers Digitisation Project

Sydney Gazette first issue

The Australian Newspapers project coordinated by the National Library of Australia in conjunction with Australian State and Territory libraries was initiated to digitise early out-of-copyright newspapers. To complement this process an online service was planned to provide access to these images free of charge.

At least one newspaper was chosen for each state, including the earliest one for each state. New South Wales newspapers selected are:

The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser 1803-1842

The Sydney Herald 1831-1842 (became The Sydney Morning Herald in 1842)

The Sydney Morning Herald 1842-1954

The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser 1843-1893

Digitising began in July 2007. Scanning has been been completed for these newspapers and the process of putting them online has begun. The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation has donated $1 million to enable the digitisation of the Sydney Morning Herald to 1954.

Last month a beta version of the service was released. For New South Wales the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser is available from the first issue in March 1803 up to the end of 1815 and the Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser for the 1840s, early 1850s and early 1880s. This represents a total of nearly 13,000 pages, or roughly 5% of the total. Click here to see the latest statistics.

The website is terrific. It shows you the whole page and shows a transcript of each article on the side. You can enlarge each article individually and turn the whole page into a PDF file or image to be downloaded. A warning – the transcripts have been created using OCR, or Optical Character Recognition. The quality of the printing is highly variable and quite often the characters are mistaken by this automated process and so you see things like “V oTi.cK” instead of “Notice”. We can see by looking at the text that it is “Notice” but computers are not that smart yet.

Another thing to watch out for is the old use of the letter “f” instead of “s” so the word might say “reforted” instead of “resorted”.

There is advanced searching capability which is necessarily dependent on the OCR.

You can add tags and comments to articles, and you can correct the text that was generated automatically. If every one does this when they find an article it will be a great website very quickly, and much easier to search.

If you sign in you can add your own private comments and tags to articles. This is very useful for your own research – you can add tags for the name of your ancestor and the type of article.

The National Library and everyone involved are to be congratulated for getting this project off to such a great start.

How to start your family tree part 2 – civil registrations of births, deaths and marriages

Collecting evidence

Once you have talked to your parents and other relatives and found out as much as you can from them it’s time for the expensive part of the exercise. There is no getting away from it, you have to start paying for certificates.

What you are trying to do is find documentary evidence for what you have been told. Even your father’s date of birth is just hearsay until you see it in writing on an official document, and the same with the names of your grandparents’ parents. If you don’t do this you may find you are running blindly down the wrong track, and tracing someone elses’ family tree, and there is nothing more frustrating than when you finally discover that you’ve been doing this.

Civil Registration Indexes

We usually begin by collecting birth, death, and marriage certificates for our ancestors. These will usually lead us backwards to the previous generation. In New South Wales you can start with online indexes. The NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages has an excellent online index. The search for births and deaths is here:

http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/Index/IndexingOrder.cgi/search?event=births

and the search for marriages is here:

http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/Index/IndexingOrder.cgi/search?event=marriages

You can get from one to the other by clicking on the button on the right hand side of the screen.

NSW BDM indexes are more useful than those of England and Wales…. Civil registration began in 1856 in NSW, a year after it was introduced in Scotland. It was modelled on the Scottish system, and even though Scotland backed down and reduced the number of questions asked, New South Wales did not. Civil registrations contain a wealth of information…

The indexes, therefore, are also more helpful than those of England and some other Australian States. The given names of both parents are listed and searchable for births and deaths, so that not only can you see that the John Smith you’ve found is more likely to be yours because the parents names are correct, but you can search for other children born to the same parents and find all the siblings of your John Smith. The location of the registration is also very helpful, although it is not necessarily the location of the birth but rather the district where the birth was registered. You can therefore discount the John Smiths born in Sydney and other parts of the State if you know your Smiths lived in Wollongong.

Certificates

 

When you have found the entry in the index that you think is your ancestor you must order the certificate. This is the most expensive part of the exercise and I’m sorry, there is no avoiding it. The extra information that appears on the certificate that is not available on the index might be the only clue you have to the next part of the puzzle.

The NSW Registry currently charges $26 for a certificate, which is certified by the Registry and can be used as proof of ancestry. Usually the certificate contains the actual handwritten columns of information from the original register. An example is given on the right, with thanks to the NSW rEgistry of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

The NSW Registry has accredited Transcription Agents to transcribe birth, death and marriage registrations which are much cheaper than the full certificates. You can order full transcripts or partial transcripts that only contain the details you want. You can see the list at http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/familyHistory/howToSearch.htm#TranscriptionAgent

Before 1856

Before civil registration began in 1856 records of births, deaths and marriages were kept by the churches where the christenings, burials and marriages took place. Most of this information was collected by the Registry after civil registration was introduced and hand-written into large bound volumes. Most of these are included in the NSW Registry indexes, where they are called “Early Church Records”, but the information available on the actual certificate is less.

Baptisms show the dates of birth and baptism and parent’s names, sometimes including the mother’s maiden surname but not always. The occupation of the father and the abode is also recorded. Very early records, from 1787 to 1820 or so, have much less information even than this.

Marriages have the names, marital status and parish of both parties. If either was under age or a convict then the consent of parents or the Governor is recorded. Witnesses are recorded, and may include family members. Very early records may just list the marriage date, names of the parties and location.

Deaths show the name, dates of death and burial, age, and occupation. Children may be recorded as “the son of” or “the daughter of”. Parents names are otherwise never recorded, which makes them much less useful than later death registrations. Early records may show even less information than this.

Most of these records have been microfilmed and are available at some libraries and family history societies, where they can be examined and transcribed but not copied. It is important to realise that what you are seeing on the microfilm has been transcribed – it is very rarely the actual record which your ancestors signed (or made their mark). You will notice that all the handwriting is the same, and if you are lucky it will be easy to read. Not all handwriting is readily decipherable without practice.

Sources:

Vine Hall, N. Tracing Your Family in New South Wales, 5th Edition, Adelaide: Gould Genealogy, 2006.

New South Wales Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. Family History, website at http://www.bdm.nsw.gov.au/familyHistory/, retrieved 25 Feb 2008.

Irish research from home

Irish house in Burrowa NSW, taken by the author

Irish research is a greater challenge than for other countries for many reasons. The lack of indexes, online or otherwise, and the large number of censuses and other resources that were destroyed make Irish research more difficult, but not impossible, from Australia. I have ancestors from Northern Ireland and it is very difficult to find any information about them, and to trace them back further, without going to Ireland. One day I will go to Ireland but until then I have to make do with what I can find online and in books and microfilms.

It is becoming easier, though, with records being indexed and transcriptions being made available on a pay-pre-view basis. I’d like to share some basic principles that are important to Irish research, and a few websites that I have found worthwhile.

Place is important

To find your Irish ancestors you need to know where in Ireland they came from. If you are lucky the parish or townland will be given on the death certificate or immigration list. Convict records may also be helpful here, especially later ones after about 1820. It is practically impossible without a more specific place than just “Ireland” or the name of the county, especially for the many common Irish surnames. Of course, you would no more expect to find your ancestor if you only knew he came from Ireland than if he came from England or Scotland – you need something more specific than that.

If you do have a place and you can’t find a town or a parish by that name then it may be a townland. Try this townland search to narrow it down. The spelling may not be correct, so you may have to experiment a bit, as it was difficult for the early clerks to understand the Irish names they were hearing, and the Irish person concerned may not have been able to read what was written in any case.

What about the Censuses?

Of course, if you only knew that your ancestor came from “England” and had a relatively uncommon surname, and perhaps a middle name, you might find him in the English censuses. For Ireland there is not this option, as almost all of the censuses before the 1901 census were either purposefully destroyed, “recycled” during World War I or lost in the great fire at the Public Record Office in 1922. Both the 1901 and 1911 Censuses have been released and are available on microfilm. For many of us, these censuses are too late to tell us anything about our ancestors who left Ireland many years before.

If you’ve ever asked about Irish research you’ve probably been told about “census substitutes”. These are records that would not be very interesting to family history researchers had the censuses been available, but have taken on great significance in their absence. The two most popular are:

The Tithe Applotment Books 1824-1838 list the occupiers of land for the purposes of calculating the tithes payable to the Established Church, the Church of Ireland. Tithes were not payable on all land and seemed to fall heaviest on the poor, so although not all householders are listed, your ancestor may be.

The Primary Valuation of Ireland, known as Griffith’s Valuation, was made between 1848 and 1864 and lists every householder and occupier of land in all of Ireland. Online indexes are available

These sources only list the head of households and not whole families, so it is more difficult to identify names on the lists as being your ancestors. They show the concentration of surnames in a given area and that can be very useful as a starting point if you only know your ancestor came from “Ireland”.

Online sources

First the bad news – there is very little available online that is free. There may be the occasional kind soul who has transcribed a series of records and put them on the web for everyone to enjoy, but you will be very lucky to find anything relevant to your county, let alone a specific parish. Still, some people are lucky, so do a search on the search engine of your choice and good luck.

For the rest of us there are pay-per-view (PPV) sites. Here are a few of the biggest ones:

AncestryIreland.com is the website of the Ulster Historical Foundation. They are a pay-per-view site where you can search for free and you buy credits to see the details. If you join their guild, the Ulster Genealogical and Historical Guild, then you pay half-price for credits. They specialise in counties Antrim and Down, but they have many records from the other seven Ulster counties, including a large gravestone index. Their History From Headstones site also allows free searching of the index, with payment required to view inscriptions. Their army of volunteers are adding more databases all the time.

Also specialising in Northern Ireland is Emerald Ancestors with birth, death, marriage and census records. They also sell ebooks of rare out-of-prints books, manuscripts and accounts of life in Ireland.

Irish Genealogy has been established by the Irish Genealogical Project to coordinate records from all the Irish Family History Foundation centres over the whole of the island of Ireland. These centres, one for each county or two counties, are responsible for collecting, indexing and computerising church records, civil records, census returns, census substitutes, graveyard inscriptions, and other relevant material. Their Online Record Search contains parish register indexes for many counties.

Their gravestone inscriptions, for example, currently only cover the nine counties of Ulster and seem to include different graveyards than those covered by the Ulster Historical Foundation. Once you have been given the results of your search you can select, and pay for, the record of your choice. They can point you to the relevant county research centre.

Irish Origins is part of the Origins Network which gives unlimited access to their collection for a limited period – 72 hours or monthly. Griffith’s Valuation 1847-1864, Irish Wills Index 1484-1858, the Irish Tithe Defaulters 1831, the 1901 Census for Dublin City and the Griffith’s Survey Maps and Plans are some of the highlights of this collection. Partnered by Eneclann, the Trinity College, Dublin, research and publishing company.

Irish Family Research transcribes old books and documents and makes them available online for subscribers. Directories, graveyard inscriptions, newspapers, landowners lists and Griffiths Valuations are some of the databases you might find. They are adding more all the time. There are some free databases available for registered users, and then different levels of membership allow access to more content, with Premium Members able to request lookups from material not yet transcribed.

The Irish Times newspaper has a large Irish Ancestors site with input from John Grenham, a well-known writer on Irish genealogy (see Sources below). Initial searches are free and then payment is on a credit systemor you can pay for a subscriptionSurname searches give the numbers of times the surname appears in the Griffiths Valuation by county (for free) and parish (for a fee). An ancestor search gives a personalised report of sources to be searched (not the sources themselves) for the ancestor in question, based on the information you enter.

There is a large section of links to Irish genealogy websites, and a Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary (1837) database with detailed information on the town or parish you select and a map of the county. You can also commission research from their research partners at Eneclann, the Trinity College, Dublin, research and publishing company.

National Archives of Ireland are digitising and indexing the Censuses of 1901 and 1911. So far only Dublin has been completed but the intention is toget them all up there, and free too. The Ireland-Australia Transportation Database, also known as the Irish Gift, lists all Irish convicts transported to Australia.

Irish Newspaper Archives has a large database of digitised images of Irish newspapers from all over Ireland including the Irish IndependentThe Freemans’ Journal, the Connacht Tribune, the Meath Chronicle, and the Donegal News.

Ireland’s Historical Mapping Archive has images of Ordnance Survey maps from the first survey in 1829-42 onwards. They can be downloaded or printed and posted out.

LDS Family History Library

Over the years the Family History Library of the LDS Church has microfilmed everything that they have been able to lay their hands on. Unfortunately what they were able to film in Ireland is less than we would hope, but you may be lucky enough to find what you want in their library.

Search in the Family History Library Catalog for the placename in Ireland if you have it. Again, be adventurous with the spelling that you found on the death certificate or other record.

Films can be ordered and viewed through your local Family History Library or some genealogy societies. The 1901 and 1911 Censuses can also be viewed in this way. Some libraries may have these on permanent loan.

The Family History Library has a new project underway to digitise and index a large number of records from all over the world. These will be available in due course on their new Record Search site, which is currently in the pilot stage. There are mostly USA records so far but more are being added as the many volunteers get them indexed. Many of the Irish civil registration indexes are being indexed now (I’ve done a few myself) and so should be available soon – Births 1884-1921; Marriages 1868-1958; Deaths 1864-1921 at this stage. It’s a great way to become familiar with Irish names and districts.

Other sites:

The Irish Famine Memorial at Hyde Park Barracks in Sydney lists names of 400 orphans who were shipped out to Australia from the workhouses in Ireland in 1848-1850 as part of the Earl Grey Scheme.

Irish War Memorials contains photos, text of all inscriptions and a name search of all persons listed on war memorials all over Ireland.

Cora Web’s Ireland links page has many more links for Irish research.

Sources:

John Grenham, Tracing Your Irish Ancestors, 3rd Edition. Genealogical Publishing Co, Baltimore, Maryland; 2006.

Ian Maxwell, Tracing Your Ancestors in Northern Ireland, edited by Grace McGrath. The Stationery Office, Edinburgh, , 1997.

See also the websites cited in the text.

How to start your family tree Part 1

Over the next few posts I will be going back to basics. I will be explaining how to build your family tree from the beginning. My focus will be on New South Wales records but the principles can be applied anywhere.

What is it for?

First, you need to decide what you want to get out of it. What is your goal? There are many reasons for starting research into your family history, such as

  • to find out whether you really are related to Charles Dickens or Mary Queen of Scots
  • to find out whether great-great-grandfather really was a sea-captain
  • to see how far back you can go
  • to build an ancestral chart for your children
  • to find out what your ancestors were like and understand their lives better

What you want to get out of it will determine how you go about it. It will also help you to know when you get there! You may stop when you discover that there is no link between you and Charles Dickens, or you may become inspired to keep going and find out about your own family history – the heroes and villains and interesting characters. The goal may change over time and that’s OK, but it is still important to know what it is.

Start with what you know

Whatever your reasons, and whatever your goals, you must start with what you know. Everyone says this to you, and it sounds very boring, but it’s true. It’s no good tracing the descendants of Charles Dickens hoping that you will eventually find the link to your own family. It never works. You have to start with accurate information and this necessarily means that you must start with your own parents and grandparents and work backwards in time, up the tree.

Talk to your parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and find out what they know, or think they know. Record everything, and make sure you record who told you.

Collect all the documents, photographs and other pieces of paper that you can find from your relatives. Old birth, baptism, marriage and death certificates; newspaper cuttings; school reports; old charts and reports from the previous research of relatives; anything and everything may be useful.

You can then start to look at these bits and pieces more thoroughly and decide for yourself which can be trusted and which may just give ideas for further research. A hand-drawn chart with names, dates and places might be very interesting and even disappointing if you think that it’s all been done already, but unless the chart has sources that can be verified then it is just a starting point and not the end result.

Recording information

You will need some sort of method for recording information and keeping track of it. Most of us these days use some sort of computer software, and if you are reading this you are familiar enough with computers to not be daunted by this.

If you don’t already have a family tree program, try one or more of the free ones first. Here are a couple of examples:

Personal Ancestral File is the most commonly used, and possibly the best, of the free programs. Published by the Mormon church.

Brother’s Keeper is shareware for Windows only. Cyndi’s List has many more examples.

Many other programs have a free trial version that you can use for 30 days to see if you like it before you buy it. Some no longer work after the 30 days without entering your registration code, which you will be sent once you’ve paid, and others allow continued use with reduced features. It’s worth looking around for a program that suits you and your goals – you’ll be spending a lot of time with it!

Test each program by entering a few people and compare how easy they are to use and whether you like the way information is displayed. Consider the features you think you will need – there is no point paying extra for them if you won’t use them, and you won’t use them if they look too complicated. Don’t pay for 27 different types of charts in 101 colours if you will only ever print simple ones in black and white.

Sources

Once you find a program you like enter everything you have, and make sure you enter the sources of your information. Sources are incredibly important and often overlooked by new family tree climbers. Eventually you will get conflicting information and you will need to know where each piece of information came from so that you can determine which piece is more reliable. A date that your Aunty Mabel told you may be less (or more!) reliable than the date on a birth certificate, but you won’t know which one to use if you don’t know where each one came from.

You may think now that you’ll remember who told you what and who gave you each photograph and piece of paper but in a few months or a few years you’ll lose track. We all do. Neither will you be able to tell someone who asks where the information came from. Your research will not be convincing to anyone else unless you can show where your information came from.

This will not be the last time I will be talking about sources – they are crucial!

Backing up

Back up your computer. This is another thing that people neglect until it is too late and then it is a catastrophe. Don’t risk all your hard work being lost when your computer dies (and they all do, eventually). Back up your important files and keep the copies physically separate from your computer. You can use a flash drive, rewritable CDs or DVDs or an external hard drive. Online backup systems are becoming more popular and can be very reassuring if you find a good one. I use Mozy, but there are many others, with differing costs.

You can also upload your family tree to a website such as Ancestry or Rootsweb to make it available to other researchers. This has the added advantage of acting as a backup if something catastrophic happens to your files, your computer, or your house as many of these sites allow you to download the whole file back to your computer.

Filing

You will also need some sort of filing system so that you can find that piece of paper again when you need it. Tossing it all into a box is a sure way to frustration and possible disaster. Use ring-binders and sheet protectors, or a filing cabinet, or scan all the documents and keep them filed on your computer. Make sure that you use acid-free mounts and protectors for original photographs and documents so that they do not deteriorate further, and label everything with as much information as you can – who is involved (especially for photographs), where it came from and who gave it to you.

Documents are harder to back up but not impossible. Scanning them means that a digital copy will hopefully be backed up with your family tree. Distributing copies to interested relatives is a good way of ensuring that the documents are backed up. You could also donate a copy of your research to a genealogical society such as The Society of Australian Genealogists.

What’s next?

Most of what we have covered today is preparation for the real work of research. That’s where the fun really is. We will start talking about research in the next post – what to look for and where to find it.

Beyond the death certificate – probate, deceased estates, and inquests

image_paperworkYou probably already have a copy of your ancestor’s death certificate, which tells you where and how your ancestor died and who was left behind. Probate and deceased estate files can give you much more – what property did he/she have, who was to get what, and who was involved in the distribution process. If there were unusual circumstances surrounding the death an inquest was often held, which will give you details about how they died. This is invaluable information for anyone looking for those details that make up a clearer picture of your ancestor.

Probate is the process of deciding who is authorised to administer a will on behalf of the deceased. In the absence of a will letters of administration are issued for the same purpose. A probate packet is all of the documents submitted to the Supreme Court to enable this decision to be made, and can include the original last will and testament and any codicils; asset inventories; affidavits of death, witnesses, and the executor, and sometimes the death certificate and death notices in the local newspaper.

The reference numbers for probate packets can be found by checking the Probate Index 1800-1985 on microfiche, which is available in the State Records NSW Reading Rooms and many libraries. Probate Packets are progressively being indexed in State Records NSW Archives Investigator, which is their “on-line archives information and access system”, and so it’s worth checking here first, especially for deaths in the 1800s. In Archives Investigator use a Simple Search and enter the first name and surname of the deceased, and the word “death”; eg. “John Smith death”, and change the Using to “All Words”. Once you have the reference number (it will give a Series number and a number up to 6 digits long) you can go out to the Western Sydney Records Centre at Kingswood and order the file to look at. Copies can be made.

The Supreme Court transcribed wills that had been the subject of probate from 1800 to 1977. These books were handwritten until 1924, and then were typed. The books have been microfilmed up to November 1952 by State Records NSW and are available there.

Occasionally the estate was administered by the Public Trustee (previously the Curator of Intestate Estates until 1913). Reasons include missing or non-existent heirs, unwilling executors, delay in administering or applying for probate, or the Curator or Trustee was appointed directly. Case papers after 1913 would be held by the Public Trust Office. Cases prior to 1913 have been transferred to the Western Sydney Records Centre and the index has been microfilmed. An online index is progressively being created by State Records NSW volunteers here.

Deceased estate files were created by the Stamp Duties Office. Death duties were payable from 1880 to 1974. An inventory of all assets of the deceased was compiled for the purposes of calculating the death duty payable on the estate. The file can contain wills; inventories of property, farm equipment or business, household furniture, and clothing; property valuations; statements from relatives, valuers and agents; birth, death and marriage certificates; and other documents – depending on the circumstances of the deceased.

State Records NSW has an index to deceased estate files on microfiche at both Reading Rooms. An online index is progressively being added to, currently covering the period from 1880 to 1923, giving name, locality, date of death and date duty paid. This last date, the date the duty was paid, determined how the records were filed and so is required to access the file at the Western Sydney Records Centre. Deceased estate files are available for inspection up to 1958.

Inquests were held by the Coroner to investigate cause of death. The death certificate should indicate whether an inquest was held. Reasons for conducting an inquest include death by accident, suicide, violence or fire; deaths that took place in public institutions such as hospitals, asylums or police custody; or if the person is unidentified. The inquest may have taken place some time after the death, sometimes years later.

Reports of inquests before 1826 can be found on microfilm at State Records NSW Reading Rooms. The Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence sometimes mentions them, and are indexed here. Inquests from 1826 to 1963 are indexed in the Reading Rooms on microfilm, supplemented by a card index at the Western Sydney Records Centre. The inquest files are also available for inspection at the Western Sydney Records Centre.

All indexes on microfilm and microfiche are available at State Records NSW Reading Rooms. The records themselves can be examined and photocopies made at the Western Sydney Records Centre at Kingswood in Sydney. Probate packets can be pre-ordered in advance of your visit online here and other files here. Please remember that there may not be a file for the person you are researching, and that the file may be dated many years after the date your ancestor died, so that it cannot be found within the date ranges given.

Once you have your copies you will spend many hours examining them and marvelling at the wealth of information they contain, even if your ancestor wasn’t actually wealthy!

Sources:

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 4, 29, 53, 84. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-7.

State Records New South Wales, Archives Investigator. Accessed at http://investigator.records.nsw.gov.au/. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2007.

Immigration Indexes

There are four ways that our ancestors could have arrived in Australia in the early years of the colony before Federation. These are:

  1. Convict transportation
  2. Soldiers assigned to the convict colony
  3. Ships’ crew
  4. Immigrants, whether assisted or unassisted

Today we will be concentrating on immigrants – people who chose to leave their homeland to make a new life in the new Colony. These fall into two categories, depending on whether their passage was subsidised by the government (assisted) or they paid their own way (unassisted). This distinction is important for us looking for their arrival because of the differences in the records that were kept at the time.

sailing_ship 200x300

Assisted immigrants

Immigrants were assisted in order to more quickly populate the new Colony of New South Wales. Of the estimated 1.4 million free immigrants to Australia in the nineteenth century, about half arrived through government assistance. The first assistance scheme was introduced in 1831 in response to the demand for skilled labour and female domestic and farm servants. The schemes were funded initially from the sale of crown land, and later through more direct government funding and contributions from sponsors – usually employers or family members.

Prospective immigrants had to show themselves to be suitable candidates for assistance. They had to be young, healthy, and “useful” in their work experience. The records kept for assisted immigrants contain the answers to many questions asked of them, and these records are invaluable to genealogists today. At best they contain occupation, religion, education (whether they could read, write, or both), parents’ names and residence, and relatives living in the Colony – the Immigration Board’s Lists.

Assisted immigrant online indexes

The first, best, place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. Indexes are available for assisted immigrants to Sydney, Port Phillip (before it became the separate Colony of Victoria), Moreton Bay (before it became Queensland) and Newcastle from 1844 (for Sydney, earlier for other ports) to 1896. Index entries give surname and first name, age, vessel, year, and one or two reel numbers. The reel numbers lead to the Immigration Agents’ Lists and the Immigration Board’s Lists, respectively. The Board’s List has more information but both should be examined if possible in case difficult handwriting or transcript errors give different information.

A new index of some assisted immigrants between 1828 and 1843 has also been made available online. Be aware that this index does not cover all arrivals.

Unassisted immigrants

If we cannot find our ancestor among the assisted immigrants, and we have discounted the possibility of arrival as a convict, soldier or ship’s crew, we must look to unassisted passengers, or free settlers. Very little information was collected for these passengers; they paid their money and got a berth, or a cabin, on a ship. At best there will be a title, first name and surname (eg Mr John Smith); age; occupation; country of origin (eg England, Scotland or Ireland); and family members listed by name and age. Less common names might give a positive identification, especially if family members are also identified.

At worst there will be a name only (eg Mr Smith) “and family”, making a conclusive identification impossible. Before 1854 many passengers were not even listed individually, especially in steerage, but just counted in a total. We will never find records of these in passenger lists but must rely on indirect evidence, such as newspaper reports.

Unassisted immigrant online indexes

Again, the first place to look is the online indexes at State Records NSW. An index of unassisted passengers from 1842-1855 gives Surname and initials, age (not always given), Ship, Status (crew or passenger), date of arrival,  previous port, remarks, and a reel number. Use this reel number to find the record at State Records reading rooms or libraries that have State Records reels. Quite often you will find no more information on the reel than is in the index, making it impossible to determine whether the person is your ancestor.

The next place to look is the indexes available at Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters, an epic undertaking by Mary-Anne Warner and her volunteers to index passenger lists from 1845 to 1892 and eventually 1922. This index is still in progress and more volunteers are always welcome!

Another possibility is the Index of Inward Passenger Lists for British, Foreign and New Zealand Ports, 1852-1923 at the Public Record Office of Victoria website. Ships from the UK often stopped at Melbourne before coming on to Sydney and your passenger may be listed there. You can then look for the film on which the ship arrived in Sydney a few days later to see if your passenger arrived here.

Another possibility, so far only for later arrivals, is to find the departure from Britain. FindMyPast has indexes and digital images of passenger lists for 1890 to 1939 with more to come. The information is sometimes more detailed than the arrival information, including occupation and nationality, and is reproduced in full colour. FindMyPast is pay-per-view or by subscription. In some cases it is possible to find a departure from England, arrival in Melbourne and then in Sydney, and all three can give much more certainty than looking at one passenger list alone that may have the bare minimum of information.

Microfilm indexes

Once you’ve exhausted the online indexes it’s time to look for microfilmed indexes:

The Bounty Index 1828-1842 for assisted immigrants is available on microfilm at State Records NSW reading rooms and many libraries. It has also been produced on CD. It can lead you to the passenger lists for Bounty ships, held on microfilm at State Records NSW and many libraries.

An incomplete index of paying passengers from July 1826 to 1853 is available in State Records NSW reading rooms on Reels 1358-1372.

The Society of Australian Genealogists has produced an Index to Passengers Arriving 1826-37, which is available in the Society library at 379 Kent Street, Sydney, and the State Records NSW reading rooms.

Sources:

Haines, Robin F., Nineteenth Century Government Assisted Immigrants from the United Kingdom to Australia: Schemes, Regulations and Arrivals, 1831-1900, and some vital statistics 1834-1860. Adelaide: Flinders University, 1995.

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 1, 24. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-5.

Websites:

FindMyPast

Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters

Public Record Office of Victoria

Society of Australian Genealogists

State Records NSW

Convict Numbers

ball_and_chain 300x225I’ve been reading a classic book on the transportation of convicts to Australia called Convicts and the Colonies by A.G.L. Shaw (Melbourne University Press, 1977), who was Professor of History at Monash University in Melbourne. I’d like to share some numbers with you.

Numbers of convicts transported

From May 1787 to March 1792 4077 males and 769 females were transported from England, an average total of about 1000 per year. The transportation process was interrupted during the Napoleonic Wars, as convict labour was needed in the dockyards and in the services. Only 5263 males and 1810 females sent between 1793 and 1810, an annual average of only 292 men and 100 women over 18 years.

From 1811 to 1815 tranportation steadily rose but only after the end of the Wars in 1815 did the crime rate increased and the transportation rate likewise was increased. From 1816 to 1825 the annual average was 2600 per year. In 1827 the new Home Secretary, Sir Robert Peel, reformed the penal laws and as a result the annual average rose to 4160 per year due to more police and changes in punishments for different crimes.

Sentences

The most popular transportation sentence was for 7 years, applying to over half of all those transported. “A quarter were sentenced for life, but the proportion of lifers alowly declined as time went on. Nearly all the remainder received fourteen years until 1840; after that ten-year sentences became fairly common.” (p. 149)

Before 1818 only a third of those sentenced or respited from a death sentence to transportation were actually put on a transport ship; the rest got no further than the hulks – old, unseaworthy ships acting as prisons. In the 1820s at least two-thirds were actually transported; about three-quarters declining to two-thirds in the 1830s; and back to three-quarters in the early 1840s. “Lifers” were usually sent, as were most prisoners in their twenties. In general the old and the sick were not, although there were exceptions.

Crimes

So many crimes carried a sentence of death or transportation in those days that once one crime was proven at trial there was no real need to prove any others. So although the convict may have been “known” to local authorities and suspected of a great many crimes, only one, perhaps the easiest to prove, was needed to send him or her away. A bad reputation could result in a harsher punishment. Estimates have been made by Shaw and others that show that approximately two-thirds of convicts had had previous convictions. Before 1840 most first-offenders were sent to New South Wales with the more hardened criminals being sent to Van Diemen’s Land.

Most transported convicts came from the cities – London and Middlesex, and the industrial towns in Lancashire. The most common crime by far was larceny. A disproportionate share of first offenders came from these large cities, as an attempt to discourage this type of crime. Many rural offenders were convicted of poaching – not from threat of starvation, but well-equipped organised poaching for profit. They were often guilty, or suspected, of violence or other types of crimes such as “making free with their neighbours’ property” (p. 158). Only about 300 convicted poachers were transported during the whole period of transportation. A third of transported convicts tried in rural counties were born elsewhere, indicating a high level of wandering.

Fewer than a thousand transported convicts from England were political prisoners, including trade unionists and rioting agricultural labourers.

Women

About one-sixth of transported convicts were women. Predominantly single, from the cities, especially London and in Lancashire, and on average three years older than the men. Two-thirds were found “guilty of larceny or stealing wearing apparel” (p. 164). It is difficult to know how many were actually prostitutes, although it must be remembered that contemporary attitudes branded almost any woman a prostitute who did not conform to the strict moral standards of the day.

The Scots

“Per head of population, the Scottish rate of transportation was less than a quarter that of England between 1810 and 1821, and only about two-fifths after 1830; as a result Scottish criminals were far less common in Australia than English or Irish…” (p. 165). 85 per cent were sentenced for theft of some kind, but were, in general, more serious offenders. The Scots were first sent to the hulks at Portsmouth or Woolwich, and from there were sent together with the English to Australia.

The Irish

The Irish convicts are given a whole chapter in Shaw’s book. I will only give a few details. Nearly 30,000 men and 9000 women were transported directly from Ireland, about a quarter of the total numbers. In general they were two years older than British convicts; more were married; less were juveniles; and far more were from the country rather than the cities. Far more were first offenders except for those from Dublin and Cork. Probably one-fifth were nationalists and social rebels fighting against English domination. In addition about 6000 had settled in England and been convicted of similar crimes to the native English offenders – namely larceny.

That’s enough for today. I highly recommend this book to you if you want to know more about the convict system in NSW.

Don’t forget the relatives – a NSW immigration story

sailing_ship 200x300This is a story from my own family tree, in particular it is about my g-g-grandfather Richard Eason. When I started looking into my family history I got his NSW death certificate from 1922 on which the informant (his son Irwin) stated that he was born in County Tyrone, Ireland; that his residence in Australia had been for 72 years; and that his mother’s name was Sarah Irwin.

A search of the State Records NSW index to Assisted Immigrants arriving in Sydney and Newcastle showed a Richard Eason arriving in NSW on the Orient in 1850, aged 20. I have copies of two passenger lists from this event – the “Agents’ Immigrant Lists” and the “Board’s Immigrant Lists”. The “Board’s” list shows, among other things, parents names and whether they are still living, and relatives in the Colony. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle, Moreton Bay, 1848-1891, (Board’s Immigrants Lists 1848-1891), SR Reel 2461). Richard gave his father’s name as Richard Eason and indicated that he was no longer living; and he gave the name John Clements in Swan River as his relative. What is actually written in the column looked to me at the time like “acq John Clements Swan River” and I decided that “acq” meant “acquaintance” and left it at that.

I also found that a Catherine Clements, also from Tyrone, was on the same ship the Orient and gave as her relative “a brother John Clements Carcoar and a sister Sarah living in Sydney”. I wish I could say that I looked through the whole passenger list to find anyone else that had come from Tyrone, but I actually found her name in the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW on microfiche in my local library.

Eventually, many years later, I did look up the arrival of this John Clements. I rechecked the Hervey Bay Indexers’ The Relations Index of Immigrants to NSW and they stated the relationship of John Clements to Richard Eason was cousin. So I looked for the arrival of John Clements. John wasn’t in the online index for assisted arrivals from 1844 at www.records.nsw.gov.au, but he was in the microfilmed card index of arrivals from 1828-1842 (Index to Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants to New South Wales 1828-1842, Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City). He arrived on the Pearl in 1841. In Assisted (bounty) immigrants 1839-1842 (SR Reel 1335) John’s native place was Clogher, Tyrone, the same as my Richard, he was Presbyterian (Richard was Church of England), and his parents were Joseph and Catherine Clements, both living.

 

The revelation was Sarah Clements, found in the same index and arriving on the same ship, the Pearl, as her brother John – her parents were Joseph Clements and Catherine IRWIN. My Richard’s mother was Sarah IRWIN, so I started to think that they really were cousins, not just acquaintances. Sarah also stated that she was under the protection of her Aunt Mrs Irwin, so I searched the rest of the passenger records for Mrs Irwin, and found William Irwin with his wife Catherine and their 5 children. William, a native of Clogher, Tyrone, was a farm labourer, and his parents were stated to be John Irwin, a farmer, and Sarah Stevenson. (Archives Authority of New South Wales, Assisted (Bounty) Immigrants Arriving Sydney 1828-1842, SR Reel 1335)

To cut a long story short, it is entirely possible, perhaps even probable, that this William Irwin is the brother of my Richard Eason’s mother Sarah Irwin, whose father was John Irwin, a farmer, and whose mother has not been recorded in any document I have been able to find. Having found a possible brother of Sarah’s whose parents were recorded I can deduce the name of Sarah’s mother – Sarah Stevenson. In addition it is likely that the Irwins’ were Presbyterian, another revelation. So by chasing up a relative’s name on a passenger list I have been able to find a likely name for my previously-unknown g-g-g-g-grandmother. Where records in Ireland are so scarce, this is no small thing!

So the lesson is this: Always follow up the names of people that are associated with your ancestors, even if you can’t see any connection. You never know where they might lead you. I thought this cousin John Clements was just an acquaintance from Richard’s old country and ignored him, and in the end he was the only link I have, even now, to Richard’s maternal grandmother. The records in Ireland are notoriously scanty and tracing generations back through baptism and marriage registers, even if they still exist, is impossible from Australia unless you pay a researcher in Ireland or go there yourself, which is my next plan!

A note on sources - all the records I have referred to are microfilmed copies of records held by State Records New South Wales. They are available at the Reading Rooms in The Rocks and Kingswood and in many libraries around New South Wales and other Australian capital cities.

Convicts in NSW – an overview of available records Part 3

ball_and_chain 300x225This is the final part of my brief overview of the available convict records in NSW. It has been necessarily brief and simplified – a whole book could be written on this topic, and State Records already has done so; see Sources below. I highly recommend this book if you are interested in NSW convict research.

Permission to Marry

Marriage was seen as an indulgence for convicts still serving their sentence, and permission had to be sought from the Governor if one or both parties were still serving their sentences. Marriage usually meant better living and working conditions for the convict. Permission was not always granted. If granted and the spouse was free, the convict may then be assigned to the spouse.

The record of the marriage itself can usually be found in parish and civil registers with the statement “married with permission of the Governor”. Records of requests for permission to marry and the granting or refusal of that permission are available in most cases in NSW. Indexes for the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence are available on the State Records New South Wales website; and from 1826 to 1851 on a CD - Convicts Permissions to Marry 1826-1851, Lesley Uebel, published by the author, 2000, which is in some libraries and can be purchased here. The correspondence and registers themselves are available on microfilm to 1825 and at the State Records NSW Western Sydney Records Centre after 1825.

Families

Convicts could apply to have their families brought out at the expense of the government, and had to show that they could support their families. A minimum of a ticket of leave was required to be able to support a family, as a ticket of leave meant that the convict could work for themselves instead of someone else. There is no specific index for these records, but a general search for correspondence to the Colonial Secretary to 1825 on the State Records New South Wales website will turn up any relevant documents. Correspondence after 1825 has been indexed on microfiche by Joan Reese, Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales, W & F Pascoe, Balgowlah NSW, 1994-2001, which is available in the State Records Reading Rooms and some libraries.

Register of Applications for Passages to the Colonies for Convicts’ Families 1848-1873 has been microfilmed as part of the Australian Joint Copying Project, where British records pertaining to Australia and New Zealand have been progressively microfilmed and distributed.

State Records NSW Wives and Families of Convicts on Bounty Ships 1849-1855 is available on microfiche and lists the families on the ships they arrived on.

Punishment

A convict who committed a crime in the Colony was punished, and there were many ways of doing this, from revoking a ticket of leave, to transportation to Norfolk Island or Van Dieman’s Land.

Records of the trial in front of a magistrate or Quarter Sessions court can give interesting information on the accused and accuser, and the nature of the offence. The Bench of Magistrates heard civil and lesser criminal charges, as well as issuing publicans licenses, appointing constables, etc. An index to the Bench of Magistrates cases 1788-1820 shows all cases heard and is being progressively updated. The actual records from the various benches around the state have been microfilmed and are available at State Records NSW.

Quarter Sessions cases (for more serious crimes) from 1824-1837 have been indexed and the index is available online at the State Records New South Wales website. indexes for Colonial Secretary’s correspondence mentioned above should also be checked. Some records have been microfilmed, and the others are available at the Western Sydney Records Centre. The depositions of the accused and witnesses are often included in the papers.

Gaol records may also be available. Sydney Gaol was replaced in 1841 by Darlinghurst Gaol, and Parramatta Gaol, destroyed by fire in 1799, was rebuilt in 1802 and rebuilt again by 1842. Records include entrance books, description books, discharge books, daily occurance books, weekly and monthly statements and returns, and contain information such as physical description, crime, sentence, discharge details. These, too, are available at State Records, and the indexes mentioned above should be checked.

And then there are the penal settlements, where misbehaving convicts were sent for most punishment short of execution. Norfolk Island, Newcastle, Port Macquarie, Cockatoo Island were used in turn, as well as Moreton Bay and Van Diemen’s Land. Indexes to Colonial Secretary’s correspondence can give names of convicts moved to penal settlements.

Sources

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

Cora Num, Convict Records in Australia. ACT:Â Cora Num, 2003.

Convicts in NSW – an overview of available records Part 2 – Freedom!

ball_and_chain 300x225Continuing my brief description of the records available for the majority of convicts in NSW. As mentioned last week, most convicts were sentenced for transportation for 7 years, 14 years or for life. I have also come across convicts transported for 10 years, mostly from Ireland. A ticket of leave allowed the convict to be self-supporting but restricted movement. For real freedom, the convict had to finish the original sentence or receive a pardon.

Certificate of freedom was granted to a convict who had served his full sentence. He would make a declaration to the local magistrate who would check the indents, or send to Sydney if he didn’t have a copy of the printed indents, and then issue the certificate. The convict was required to produce the certificate to prove that he wasn’t a runaway.

The indexes to records of surviving certificates of freedom are available on the State Records New South Wales website, and the surviving registers and butts have been microfilmed.

Conditional Pardons were the most usual freedom granted to convicts under a life sentence and were also granted to convicts with a shorter sentence before that sentence had expired. The ‘condition’ was that they remain in the Colony until their full term had been served, and after 1846 that they not return to Great Britain and Ireland or the Colony in which they had been tried for later crimes.

An index to conditional pardons for 1826-1870 is available on State Records New South Wales website. Surviving registers of conditional pardons , copies of conditional pardons and registers of recommendations for conditional pardons have been microfilmed. Some applications for conditional pardons have also survived for years between 1826 and 1845 and have also been microfilmed.

Absolute Pardons represented unconditional freedom, to remain in the Colony, travel elsewhere, or return to Great Britain or Ireland. A small proportion of convicts received and abolute pardon, and most of these chose not to return to their homeland.

Colonial Pardons were granted by the Governor for offences committed in the Colony.

Pardons were more usually granted to convicts with a life sentence. Convicts with a shorter sentence were able to achieve their freedom once their terms had expired, but a life convict was a convict for life unless he earned his freedom. Pardons were usually granted for good behaviour, specialist skills or for fulfilling special responsibilities.

After the “Rum Rebellion” Governor Macquarie assumed control of the Colony in 1809 and required the surrender of all pardons issued during that time. These pardons were then examinied and re-issued if found to have merit.

Correspondence

Most of the freedoms gained by convicts had to be requested, in writing. Letters of application were written by well-educated convicts, or by a clerk at the local court, for which a fee was charged. Reasons for requests included the granting or reinstatement of a ticket of leave or pardon; to live out of the barracks; to have Fridays off to support a family; for information of progress of an earlier application; and for “indulgences” such as to marry, spend bank money or to be assigned elsewhere for family reasons. Many of these letters survive and should be searched in the first instance in the “Colonial Secretary’s Papers”. An index for 1788-1825 is available on the State Records New South Wales website.

Although a convict may have been granted a certificate of freedom or absolute pardon allowing him/her to return to the homeland, most chose not to do so. Life was better here in the Colony than back home, and many sought to bring their families out here. In addition, to return meant paying for the passage, which was expensive.

Next week I will cover records about family and other matters.

Sources

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

State Records New South Wales, Archives in Brief Nos. 2, 34. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2004-5.

Cora Num, Convict Records in Australia. ACT: Cora Num, 2003.

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