Archives for February 2007

No blog for two weeks

Things have been very hectic lately and I have not been able to manage the blog this week. Next week I will be in the Northern Territory and will be unable to write it there, either. I apologise for any inconvenience or disappointment!

See you in 2 weeks.


Computers in Genealogy

How on earth did we get by before we had computers? It’s hard to remember now how much longer everything took and how much harder we had to work! I’ve been thinking lately about all the ways computers help make genealogy more enjoyable and my list keeps getting longer and longer. Perhaps you can think of other ways as well – let me know!

We have email! Remember what life was like before email? We had to read about other researchers in books or journals and write them letters, and then wait for a reply. Correspondence took days, weeks, even months. With email it can be almost instantaneous, although of course it often isn’t. We can also send family history societies details of our brick walls and get replies back much quicker than we used to.

Family history software has replaced, for many of us, the index cards and files of paper we used to use. It was hard to keep track of what we had and where it had come from. Now, we can see all the facts we have about an ancestor at once, in one place. We can redraw charts in a very few minutes and print them out. We can even include photos on them.

Even if we don’t use a family history program we almost all use a word processing program, and perhaps even spreadsheet and database programs. Word processors allow us to write letters, reports, family histories and all sorts of things by typing and printing rather than hand-writing or using an old typewriter and white-out. We can easily correct our typing mistakes and edit what we’ve written as we go.

We can scan those precious old photographs and documents and distribute them to other family members. We can borrow and quickly scan those of our distant relatives and just as quickly return them.

We can print out reports and photographs quite easily. Most of us have black and white printers, if not colour photo printers, and can arrange them on the page the way we want, and even add text so we can see who is in the photo. We can print out reports from our family history program for family members without computers.

We have CD or DVD burners to back up the data we’ve spent so long acquiring. We can create copies of our family tree for family members.

We can put our family tree up on the web to help others to find us and share information. Storing a copy on the internet also backs it up in case of disaster on our own computer, or a worse catastrophe like a house fire.

We can buy data issued on CD to look at at our leisure. Parish register transcripts, census images, governement gazettes, encyclopedias, all sorts of rare old books are now available to us for the price of a CD.

We now have more indexes to births, deaths, marriages, censuses, wills, ship passenger lists – the list is growing every day. You used to have to find the index, if there was one, perhaps on microfiche, and then find the actual record. If there was no index you might have had to order a microfilm if your local society didn’t have it, then pore through the film, one frame at a time, looking for an entry that may or may not have been there. Not any more! Jump on the computer and have a look on the web!

Once we’ve found the entry we want in a index, we can now very often download an image of the actual record. Digitisation of the actual records has made many of them available on the internet, for free or for a relatively low fee. Then we can print them, store them, back them up (yes, I keep mentioning the backing up part).

To find documents or other resources that are not so easily accessible, we can check the catalogues, directions and opening of the repositories where they can be found before we leave home.

We can shop at home for the books, CDs and software that we need to continue our research.

Many of us now take our computers out with us when we go researching – laptops or even PDAs. PDAs are a topic in themselves, which I might cover another time.

Computers are marvellous resources, and get better all the time. I know there are family historians out there who do not take advantage of all of these wonders, and I guess they are not likely to be reading this!

Five essential websites for NSW genealogy

Today I want to discuss websites that I find to be essential for researching family history in New South Wales. Genealogy has come a very long way in the last few years, with so many government repositories and others putting indexes, and even images of the actual records, online. Here are the websites that I use most often.

1. NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Historical Index Search is a necessary first step for anyone starting on their family history. Starting with the people you know – your parents and their parents, you can then start putting the meat on the bones – the hard evidence of birth, death, and marriage registrations. The index allows searching for births from 1788 to 1906 by name and/or parents’ names; deaths from 1788 to 1976 by name or parents’ names; and marriages from 1788 to 1956 by either or both parties’ names. The upper search limit increases each year by one year. Once an entry is found the certificate can be ordered and paid for online. Current cost for a certificate is $25.00.

2. NSW State Records was previously names the Archives Office of NSW. Their indexes online has many useful indexes including some censuses; Colonial Secretary Correspondence; Convicts; Court, Police and Prison records such as civil and criminal cases, divorces, gaol photographs, police service records, and some early probate records; Deceased Estate files of the Stamp Duties Office; Education and Child Welfare; Immigration and Shipping; Indigenous Australians; Insolvencies; Land records and Naturalization. Additional records and series are added to as indexing progresses. The Convict and Immigration indexes are essential resources for finding out how your ancestor arrived in Australia. Some indexes are held on the websites of other organisations.

3. Society of Australian Genealogists is based in Sydney and is a marvelous resource for Australian research and NSW research in particular. Their research guides are enormously helpful – factual and very informative. Online databases include Convicts’ Tickets of Leave, Electoral districts for Sydney Streets, Soldiers and Marines from 1787 to 1830, and NSW Ships Musters 1816-1825. The catalogue shows what resources are available when you visit the library and is being added to all the time.

4. State Library of NSW has many resources that are also available in other repositories such as State Records NSW. I always check their catalogue to see if it is worthwhile to visit for records on microfilm or microfiche, both Australian and from the UK. They also have some records for other states. Mitchell Library and the William Dixson Library in particular specialise in Australian and New Zealand books and manuscripts. The State Library also has a vast collection of maps and plans, pictures, photographs and newspapers.

5. NSW Department of Lands is not an immediately obvious source for family history, and it does allow some limited property searches here. What I use it for most often is its Historical Parish Maps, which can be viewed in small sections from here. It may be useful before doing a map search to find the correct parish using the search at the Geographical Names Board. All the existing parish maps that have been superceded by more recent versions have been digitised and put online. Towns are included to the street level, and portions of land have the names of the original purchaser. Hours can be spent looking at these maps. CDs of the maps are also available from the Department.

6. I know I said there would be five websites, but I think the State Records NSW website must be mentioned again apart from its online indexes. This is the place to find out whether the records you want actually exist and have been archived. As the progressive indexing of their holding continues more and more records can be found by searching in Archives Investigator, their catalogue search facility. For example, probate files can be found by searching for the name and the word “death” as keywords (and using “All Words” not “Exact Phrase”). Their Archives in Brief series are very useful guides to the records they hold and are available online or in hardcopy in State Records Reading Rooms.

These are the NSW sites that I use most often in my research for myself and others. I would be very interested to hear from others if they disagree with anything on my list, or have others they would like to share.

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