Did your ancestor follow the gold?

Some knowledge of the gold rushes in the nineteenth century can help us understand aspects of our families’ history that we’d been missing. It is difficult for us now to imagine the enormous pull that a gold rush had on people, the chance that a fortune could be made so quickly, and so we may not consider that our ancestors took part.

This knowledge would have helped me enormously when I was first researching my Stewart family.

The Stewart family

My grandmother was very proud of her father, William Stewart, an architect and inventor who lived in Albury, New South Wales, for most of his life. He married Sarah Louisa Craig Lowe of Auckland, New Zealand, and they had seven children, all born in Albury.

Peter’s farm in Victoria

Peter Hannah Stewart

Peter Hannah Stewart

William’s father was Peter Hannah Stewart, a Scottish immigrant from Oban, Argyllshire, who arrived in Victoria in 1855. He married another Scottish immigrant, Grace Simpson, in Albury in 1863.

At the time I didn’t question why he would have come in to the colony through Melbourne rather than Sydney. I just figured that Albury is closer to Melbourne than it is to Sydney. As I said, I was new to family history research. I found that the Stewarts were the only branch of my family tree that paid their own way to Australia; all the others were assisted immigrants. This fit in with my grandmother’s attitude that she had married beneath her, and I thought no more about it for years.

The eldest child was born in Albury in 1865 but I couldn’t find William until I looked in Victoria. Peter was a farmer in Barnawartha, between Chiltern and the Murray River. There were no farmers in his background: his father was a cooper; his maternal grandfather was a tailor and cloth merchant; and his father-in-law had been a flax dresser. William’s younger siblings were also born in Barnawartha.

Margaret marries a miner

It was when I started looking at Peter’s siblings that the truth started to emerge, if only I’d been able to see it. Peter’s younger sister Margaret Stewart married John Carlyle Irving in 1859 in Beechworth, Victoria. Peter, still unmarried at this time, was one of the witnesses. My knowledge of Victorian towns was not what it is now, and at the time the name ‘Beechworth’ didn’t mean anything to me. I then made the mistake that many new researchers make, and I didn’t look into Margaret any further, as I was only interested in Peter.

VIC Marriage John Caryle Irving and Margaret Stewart

John and Margaret had two sons in Ballarat before migrating to Invercargill, New Zealand, in the early 1860s, where six more children were born. Why Invercargill, at the bottom end of New Zealand? I didn’t know.

Big brother Hugh

Peter had an older brother, Hugh, a cooper like his father. Hugh arrived in Victoria from Scotland in February 1855 aboard the James Baines with his new wife, Elizabeth, months before his younger brother Peter. Hugh and Elizabeth also settled in Albury, New South Wales, becoming a well-respected member of the community. His obituary in the local paper mentions some time in America. America?

Hugh, as I discovered, was the first to arrive in Victoria, I found more information in a book in the local history collection of the Albury Library. Hugh went to New York and was working there as a cooper when the Californian gold rush started. He went to California, and then to Victoria when the gold rush started in 1851. This was news to me! Apparently he went back to Scotland for a year, got married, and brought his wife back to Victoria, although whether he worked as a cooper or as a miner, I’ll never know.

The gold rushes

Australian gold rushes

The waves of gold seekers moved around the continent; into New South Wales and Victoria in the 1850s; across to New Zealand in the 1860s; to Queensland in the 1870s and Far North Queensland in the 1880s; across the Top End into the Northern Territory and the Kimberley in Western Australia in the late 1880s, and down to Kalgoorlie in the 1890s.

The chain of gold discoveries was self-perpetuating. The best chance for individual miners to strike it rich was to get there early and harvest the easy pickings off the ground. As the alluvial gold ran out in one place these miners moved on, and now they knew what to look for. As gold was found elsewhere the miners were lured to the next gold field, and the next, and the next. Others stayed behind to dig the gold out of the ground, and formed partnerships or became employees of newly-formed mining companies.

The largest and richest gold fields were the most attractive, particularly Victoria in the 1850s and Western Australia in the 1890s. The longer the rush continued the more tempting it was to pack up and go. People who had never worked as miners before travelled hundreds of miles to strike it rich. Many had never even worked outdoors before. Others saw opportunities in catering to the miners – stores, equipment, alcohol, entertainment, transport.

Most didn’t stay. They left the mines and became farmers or shopkeepers, settling down with wives and children, on properties of their own.

Gold rush timeline

1840s California

1850s New South Wales

1850s Victoria

1860s New Zealand

1870s Queensland

1880s Far North Queensland

1880s Northern Territory and the Kimberley

1890s Western Australia

Conclusion

I can now see my Stewart family with new eyes. I know about places like Beechworth and Chiltern, and I can guess why Peter Hannah Stewart came to Victoria when he did. Peter was said to have been a carpenter when he was a young man, and he went back to carpentry in Albury when the farming didn’t work out in Victoria. I imagine there was plenty of work for a carpenter in the new gold field settlements, as shops and houses were being built.

If your ancestor went missing, or seemed to move around a bit, or if any of the gold rush placenames ring any bells, then perhaps they were chasing the California Dream of striking it rich on the goldfields, as Hugh Stewart, the cooper from Argyll, Scotland, did.

Resources

  • Geoffrey Blainey, The Rush that Never Ended, Melbourne University Press, 1978.
  • Beatrice Brooks and Lorraine Purcell, Golden Journeys, Visits to the Western Goldfields of New South Wales, 1852-1859, Hill End & Tambaroora Gathering Group, 2012.
  • Kerrin Cook and Daniel Garvey, The Glint of Gold, A history and tourist guide of the gold fields of the Central West of New South Wales, Genlin Investments, 1999.
  • Shauna Hicks, Tracing Mining Ancestors, Unlock The Past, 2014.
  • David Hill, The Gold Rush, William Heinemann, 2010.
  • Geoff Hocking, Gold, A Pictorial History of the Australian Goldrush, The Five Mile Press, 2006.
  • Nancy Keesing (editor), History of the Australian Gold Rushes, by those who were there, Angus and Robertson, 1967.
  • Ian MacFarlane, Eureka, from the official records, The story of the Ballarat Riots of 1854, and the Eureka Stockade, from the Official Documents of the Public Record Office of Victoria, Public Record Office of Victoria, 1995.
  • Dorothy Wickham, Family History Research in the Central Goldfields of Victoria, Ballarat Heritage Services, 2004.

Also look for local histories of goldmining districts and contemporary accounts of individual golddiggers.

Using newspaper notices to check death index entries

It is amazing how much information can be gained from newspaper family notices, and in particular funeral notices.

Here is an example from Trove in the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 27 November 1900, on page 10:

SMH 27 Nov 1900 page 10 Funeral notices

 

I had been searching for the death of one Mary Nugent. What I can learn about this family from these three notices is that this Mary Nugent was the wife of Mr P. Nugent (perhaps Patrick?). They lived at 57 Balmain Road, Leichhardt, and their (surviving) children were James, Francis, Alfred, William and George. They also had a daughter, Mary, who married William Beardmore.

This is a lot of information about one family, and is especially useful where the surname is relatively common, such that a search in the NSW BDM indexes is inconclusive. It is even more useful if the children had been born after the 100 year cutoff for the NSW Birth Index (currently 1911), where I might otherwise have had to order a copy of the death registration to see who her children were.

Unfortunately this isn’t the Mary Nugent I was looking for, as she was a widow. If she had remarried, and she may have, her surname would be different. At least there is enough evidence in these funeral notices for me to discount this Mary without any further searching. And what a bonus it would have been if she was the Mary I was searching for!

Why a blog is more attractive than a website

I think you are better off publishing parts of your tree as separate articles in a blog than as a full family tree website as produced by most family tree programs. Allow me to demonstrate by searching for a name, Riley, and a place, Naigani, that I am interested in for my own family history:

Google search

The very first result in this list is a blog post:

Riley blog post

Compare that page with this one:

Riley family tree website

Which one looks more interesting? Which one would be more likely to get the attention of someone who wasn’t all that interested in genealogy?

If I’d put a picture or two in the blog post it would be even more interesting.

So that’s two good reasons:

  1. A blog post about a specific person or family line will be higher in a Google search
  2. A blog post will be more likely to hold the attention of a casual reader

A third reason is this: I have my full family tree as a separate website as produced by Second Site, a program to turn my The Master Genealogist project into a website. Most of the enquiries I get from it are for people on the edges of my tree, people who have married cousins of my ancestors. I have no more information about these people than what is on the tree, but the researchers who find them get excited when they find the name and email me for more. Really it’s a waste of my time and theirs.

Anyone who finds the names in my blog posts is really looking for my family, and we are usually related. Over the years I would say that as many real relatives have found me through my blog posts as through my tree, although of course I can’t count the people who find my tree, grab the information, and leave without contacting me.

Blogs make it easier for them to contact me, as there’s a form for comments at the bottom of the page. When someone leaves a comment I get an email, and I can reply the same day.

So there it is. Write stories about your ancestors in a blog. Don’t just put your tree up and wait for people to find you.

Note: in case you’re wondering about the Google logo in the first image – it was the 46th anniversary of the first Star Trek episode, and Google was celebrating. And why not?

This post was first published in my blog Social Media and Genealogy in March 2013. I’m re-publishing it here because I think sharing your research is just as important as doing it in the first place.

Digital storage for family historians

I recently gave a presentation for the Society of Australian Genealogists at their ‘Lost in All Your Stuff’ weekend 1-2 November 2014 at the State Library of NSW. My topic was ‘Digital Storage, a difficult topic to cover adequately in 45 minutes.

You can see the full slide presentation here:

Free photo editing software

Stitching

Online

Windows

Mac

  • iPhoto

Cloud storage

Dropbox

Mozy and MozySync

CloudHQ

Notes

Evernote

Not the Same Sky

Fiction can tell the stories of our ancestors in a way that a bare recitation of facts cannot. There is no way that we can know how our ancestors felt when they left their homes forever for a new land, but we can look to our master storytellers to give us an idea.

This is a book review of one such book from last year that was previously published in my personal blog. I think it is an important part of our research to read everything we can, and that can include well-research and written fiction.

Not the Same Sky

I’ve just finished the most marvellous book, Not the Same Sky, about some of the Irish Famine Orphan girls shipped out to Sydney in 1849. I bought it from the author, Evelyn Conlon, at the Irish Famine Memorial Anniversary at Hyde Park Barracks a few months ago and was saving it until I had time to read it properly.

The book tells the story of around two hundred girls selected and shipped out on the Thomas Arbuthnot, and the unusually caring Surgeon-Superintendent, Charles Strutt, who looked after their welfare onboard ship and after landing in their new home. He took 120 of them on an overland journey to Yass and Gundagai to find employers of suitable character for them.

This story is told in A Decent Set of Girls, by Richard Reid and Cherly Mongan, which reproduces Dr Strutt’s journal and gives documents, facts and statistics of the journey and the lives of the girls in Australia.

A novel, though, is a different creature entirely. The facts – 194 orphan girls between 14 and 20 years old were rounded up from work houses around Ireland and sent to Sydney – cannot possibly convey the bewilderment and aching loss of these girls in the way that a novel can. And this one does, superbly.

… Matron’s voice sounded muffled until she began to name names.

‘Mary Traynor, Anne Sherry, it’s Australia for you. Honora Raftery, you too I think. And Julia Cuffe, maybe.’

‘What do you mean Australia?’ a small pale girl asked.

‘Not you. It doesn’t apply to you,’ Matron said. ‘No it wouldn’t apply to you. You’re too young.’

‘I’m old enough, ‘ the girl said, but Matron said, ‘No,’ again.

‘And you, Bridget Joyce, it’s Australia now for you.’

‘When?’ a voice dared.

‘Next month, yes, the sooner now the better,’ Matron added.

‘Can I go too?’ another voice asked tentatively.

‘No, Betsy Shannon, you’re too old.’

‘I’m young enough,’ she said. ‘Twenty-four.’

‘Duffy, you’re young enough, you’ll do. What’s your first name again?’

… Matron left the room, the girls looking after her. Honora Raftery sneaked a look at Anne Sherry and Julia Cuffe. Others looked at the ground. It was a lot to take in. Staying alive was the job they were all involved in now.

Matron rubbed her hands down her front, as if wiping off the part she had just played in this scheme. She didn’t know what she thought of it.

The girls knew it must be far because they needed several changes of clothes for the voyage, but they refused to believe the rumours that it was going to take 3 months to get there. That’s just too impossible. 3 months!

Later, on the ship, the doctor has been showing them a map to show them where they are and where they are going, although concerned at how the news of how far away this is will affect them. He is not sure whether they will all understand, but he sees that at least a few of them do when they recognise that the ship has turned east to sail past Africa and on to Australia:

Charles was leaving the deck to go to his quarters when he heard one of the older girls shouting out to the sea. She was hollering so loudly the words could be heard perfectly by all who stood ready to dance. Her voice even carried above the sound of sail and water and wind.

‘The ship has well rounded the corner now. There’s no going back.’

She followed with another wail of a sentence – she seemed to start high and go low. It was hard to know what effect, if any, that she intended to have by making this noise. But hot on its heels followed the slowest, lowest moan, which moved up first one pitch, then swelled into a second, gathering a scream under its echo, and rising further, if that were possible, into the most ferocious howling. Everyone was now involved in these gutturals, weeping for their lost land and their families, immersed in their threnody. Charles stood rooted to the spot, helpless in the face of this terrible sound, the hairs standing up on his neck. It would have to stop. It seemed to him to be the erasure of hope.

The girls found it necessary to forget where they came from, who they were, and the family they had lost, in order to survive in this strange new land where the birds made such an enormous noise and the trees were white and the grass was yellow and the sun was so hot. They didn’t pass their memories on to their children – those memories were too painful, too dangerous to carry lest they overwhelm.

The names of the girls used in the book are fictional. It is impossible to tell the story of 194 women in one book so the author has selected four and followed them through the voyage and in their new lives, showing what they had to do to survive.

To survive. We do not have any idea, really, about what the bare struggle for survival does to a person, where parents and brothers and sisters die in front of you and the routine of living falls away until there is nothing but the roaring in the stomach. The only people who understand this today are refugees, because famines still occur and people are driven from their homes and farms by war and drought and other catastrophes, and they try to find safety in a new home, anywhere that will take them.

Fixing old photographs

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

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

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

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

Unedited photo

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

Edited photo

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

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

Online software

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

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

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

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

NSW Land and Property Information for online research

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

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

LPI

Find place names

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

HLRV Blayney

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

SIX

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

LPI Online Shop

History

Atlas of Australia

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

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

Revised 15 September 2014

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

My first house

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

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

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

Google Maps image

Google Maps

View Larger Map

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

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

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

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

Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903

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

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

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

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

NSW Land Title 4899-26

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

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

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

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

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

A letter from a grieving father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Base Office replied to James on 10 January 1919:

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

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

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

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

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

– Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres.

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

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

World War I medals for an ordinary soldier

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

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

Memorandum 6 Feb 1920

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

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

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

James had a couple of questions after it had arrived:

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

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

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

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

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