A surprise in the Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her medical practitioner wrote

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

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

Poor woman.

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Original Oak Inn, Headingley, Leeds

Postscript:

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

Researching schools – an Historical Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

1819 – Male Orphan School founded for destitute boys.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1904 – New Syllabus introduced – learning by doing.

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

Researching Schools in NSW

Greghamstown School

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

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

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

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

Here is an example:

Government Schools since 1848 Search for Blayney

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

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

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

School history

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

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

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

SRNSW School search Blayney

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

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

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

SRNSW schools search Greghamstown

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

Births, Deaths and Marriages in Parish Registers

St Paul's Anglican Church Carcoar

Civil registration in NSW

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

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

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

Parish registers

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

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

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

Why look at the parish register?

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

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

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

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

Parish Registers on microfilm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

Government Schools

Over the years since 1848 there have over 30 different kinds of government schools in New South Wales. Here are some of the most commonly-seen schools:

Public Schools

In 1848 a Board of National Education was established by Governor Fitzroy to establish schools based on the Irish system. National Schools were built to provide elementary education for a scattered population not catered for by the four religious denominations already providing education. The schools were called National Schools and in 1867 became Public Schools, when church schools came under the jurisdiction of the new Council of Education. The attendance of 30 children was required for a National School; reduced to 25 for Public  Schools in 1867 and 20 children in 1880.

Until the 1880s there were no publicly-funded secondary schools, and very few until 1910. Some Public Schools became Superior Public Schools, offering some secondary such as higher mathematics and languages.

Existing Public Schools remain today as elementary, or primary, schools.

Provisional Schools

Many country areas did not have enough children to justify the building of a National or Public School and so in 1867 the Provisional School was introduced, requiring a minimum of 15 children. Parents were required to pay for the building and furniture, and the Council of Education (later the Department of Education) provided books and equipment, and paid the teacher. The minimum number of children was reduced to 12 in the 1880s and by 1945 the minimum was 9 children.

Even though the Department made provision to supply all or part of the cost of buildings in 1882, most of the cost was still borne by parents into the 20th Century. Teachers had minimal or no training.

The remaining Provisional Schools became Public Schools in 1957.

Half-Time Schools

Schools with at least 10 children but less than 25 could be visited by itinerant teachers who travelled between a number of schools. These schools, introduced in 1867, were called half-time schools when the number of schools a teacher had to service was reduced to two schools in 1869. The minimum number of 20 children (across the two schools) was reduced to 16 in 1898 and the minimum was removed in 1908.

Intermediate Schools

In 1912 the Intermediate High School was developed to cater to children unable to attend the more academically-focused High Schools, and took the children to Intermediate Certificate level. Many were renamed Central Schools in 1944. Many of these schools became Junior High Schools and eventually full-fledged High Schools.

High Schools

Although provision had been made for secondary schools in 1880 very few were built until after 1910, when the education system was completely reorganised. Secondary schools specialised

  • High Schools catered for children expecting to go on to university
  • Commercial Schools catered to boys expecting to go into business
  • Junior Technical Schools were designed for boys entering the trades and industry
  • Domestic Science Schools were designed for girls becoming homemakers

From the 1920s the role of high schools became increasingly blurred and all secondary schools were called High Schools, although some may still carry their former names and functions such as Technical High Schools. Domestic Science Schools, I’m happy to report, became Girls High Schools and Junior High Schools.

Subsidised Schools

Where a community did not meet even the minimum requirement for any type of government school they could establish a Subsidised School, where the government paid a subsidy for each child and the parents had to provide everything else.

For a more complete listing of the types of schools see the Department’s Glossary.

Sources:

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

New South Wales Department of Education, Sydney and the Bush, A Pictorical History of Education in New South Wales. Published by the New South Wales Department of Education, 1980.

Reuniting Wives and Families of Convicts

The separation of convict husbands from their families was usually a traumatic event for the wives and children left behind. Even in cases where the crime of the husband was such as to justify divorce in modern times, the loss of the breadwinner was a calamity that rendered all other considerations irrelevant. Of course, to the many wives who held genuine affection for their husbands the loss was even more traumatic.

Application of Stephen McCabe for Wife and Family to be given free passage 4 Nov 1849

Over 2000 convicts formally petitioned the colonial government to have their wives and families sent out from Britain. Not all families came, for a variety of reasons. Some of these long-suffering wives had lost patience and made other arrangements for their support; some came on their own; some emigrated elsewhere; some felt too old to travel; some may have died.

In 1817 formal procedures were gazetted for requesting free passage for wives and families to New South Wales. Proof of the marriage was necessary. A magistrate had to give his approval of the application. The request had to come from the husband to the colonial government; petitions by the wife back in Britain were given the “usual answer”.

In 1833 more rules were introduced. The convict had to have served a minimum number of years “with good conduct” before an application could be considered. A convict with a seven year sentence was required to have served four years; fourteen year sentences needed six years, and life sentences needed eight years. These numbers are similar to the years of service required before a ticket of leave could be granted.

Intercession from an influential master was sometimes successful in subverting these rules, but not always.

Stephen McCabe was sentenced to seven years transportation for aggravated assault in Cavan, Ireland and arrived on the Blenheim on the 27th September 1839. He left behind a wife, a son and four daughters. He received his ticket of leave in 1843 and his certificate of freedom in 1846.

In 1845 a petition to the Governor Sir George Gipps was written on his behalf requesting passage for his wife and family. In the letter he mentions that his wife wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland requesting she be sent out. She received the answer “that the Lord Lieutenant had not the power to send them out unless the Governor of the Colony were [sic] the convict was, recommended the indulgence to be granted”.

On the back is written:

“Inform him that I have no longer the means of procuring Passages for the Wives and Families of Convicts to the Colony. GG June 14″

In 1847 he tried again. An application form (pictured above), dated 4th November 1847, was filled out on his behalf, probably by his employer Mrs Lucy Howell whose signature appears at the bottom attesting to his conduct and means of supporting his family. The form gives his occupation, employer and residence; his wife’s maiden name, present residence and county; and the names and ages of his five children – Mary, 26; Catherine, 23; Margaret, 20; James, 17; Bridget, 14. This application was marked “Eligible and recommended” on 29th November 1847. You can see from the photo that there is quite a bit written diagionally across the back.

In the end it was twelve years after Stephen’s transportation before his wife and family joined him in New South Wales. His wife Margaret, by then aged 40, his daughter Margaret, 20, and son James, 15, arrived on the Success on 18th December 1849. These ages appear to have been rounded down. His elder daughter Mary, 24, arrived on the same ship with her husband Peter McEncroe and their five-year-old daughter Mary.

Sources

Although there are indexes to applications for convicts to have their families sent to the Colony they only go up to 1842, and I couldn’t findan application for Stephen in these indexes. Most of the documents I found for Stephen McCabe, other than the standard indents, tickets of leave, and certificate of freedom, were indexed in Joan Reese’s excellent indexes to the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary, namely:

Reese, Joan, Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence Letters Sent re Convicts. 8 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1996.

Reese, Joan, Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. 21 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2005.

If you are looking for more information about your convict than the standard convict records you can find Joan’s indexes in many libraries and family history society collections.

Source documents:

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Printed indents, 1830-42, NRS 12188-90; [X642]. Indent for Blenheim (3) arrived 27 Sep 1839, Reel 908.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, relating to convict vessels from Ireland – the ‘Irish Indents’, 1822-40. NRS 1156. 2 microfilm. Reel 749-750.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Ticket of leave butts, 1827-1875, NRS 12202; Ticket of leave butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 43/2834, [4/4183], Reel 951.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Butts of certificates of freedom, 1827-1867, NRS 12210; Butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 46/842, [4/4405], Reel 1022.

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Letter to Colonial Secretary on behalf of Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 14 June 1845. [4/2706], Ref. 45/4382.

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Application for Wife and Family for Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 19 Nov 1847. [4/2762-1], Ref. 47/8260.

State Records New South Wales; Immigration Board, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle and Moreton Bay 1848-1891 (Board’s Immigrant Lists) [4/4913-15]. “Success” arrived 18th December 1849, SR Reel 2460.

Other sources for this article:

Perry McIntyre, ‘Restoring Family Ties: Convict Family Reunion in New South Wales 1788-1849′. In Jeff Brownrigg, Cheryl Mongan and Richard Reid (editors), Echoes of Irish Australia: Rebellion to Republic, published by the editors, 2007.

State Records New South Wales; Archives in Brief 34 – Convict Families. Web page http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/state-archives/guides-and-finding-aids/archives-in-brief/archives-in-brief-34.

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.

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.