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’.

NSW Will Books now on FindMyPast

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

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

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

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

4-310621 Irwin Eason

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

4-111--2 Robert Ewin

 

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

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

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

A World War I soldier’s girlfriend?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two weeks later she received the following reply:

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

There is no subsequent correspondence from her.

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

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