A prediction from the past

I’ve been reading old Descents, the journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists. Currently I’m in the early-1980s, where life for genealogists was quite different than it is now.

Still, it is not as different as they thought that it was going to be. There was a prediction in an article by Elizabeth Simpson called ‘Historians and Genealogists’ (Vol 11, Part 3, Sept. 1981) that in twenty years there would be no need for anyone to do any further research because it would have all been done. Every family, presumably, would have done all the research that could be done and later generations would have nothing left to do.

Well, I’m here to say that this optimistic situation hasn’t eventuated. Not only has there not been the widespread interest in genealogy that may have contributed to this result, but there is always more to do!

Some people distinguish between genealogy and family history. Genealogy is the tracing of ancestors and filling in a chart. Names and dates, basically.

Family history is what you do when the names and dates are no longer enough and you want to know about the boxes on the chart as people. You want to know about their lives – where they lived, where they went to school, where they got married, what they did for a living, what they owned, what they looked like and what sort of people they were.

The search for information that can answer these questions can take a lifetime. It can take many years to find a single name or event. Finding information is becoming easier in this era of Ancestry and FindMyPast and other online resources but there is still so much that is only available in libraries and private papers. The difficulty is in finding out that the information is there to be found.

My mother said to me once that there was no point in her getting involved in researching her family because I’d already done it all. If only that were true! Unfortunately I don’t think it ever will be ‘done’.

Irish Education Opportunities

There is a wealth of seminars and other educational opportunities concerning Ireland and the Irish in the next few months. They are not all in Sydney so be prepared for some travel.

From There to Here – Exploring 19th Century Irish migration to Australia

Celtic Club 316-320 Queen Street Melbourne     Saturday 13th September 9:30am to 4pm

This seminar is being hosted by Genealogical Society of Victoria Irish Interest Group. Facilitator is Dr Val Noone and the speakers are:

  • Dr Richard Reid – Why They Came (Keynote address)
  • Dr Keith Pescod – 19th Century migration hostels – care or control?
  • Dr Richard Reid – The Irish in Australia
  • Dr Pauline Rule – Irish Women in 19th Century Colonial Victoria
  • Dr Charles Fahey – The Irish in Northern and Central Victoria

This is a rare opportunity to hear such learned speakers covering a single topic of Irish relevance in such depth. Cost is $45 including lunch and morning and afternoon tea. Bookings through the Genealogical Society of Victoria on (03) 9662 4455.

Far From Famine – a gathering of the descendants of Irish Famine orphans 1848-1850

St Clement’s Monastery, Galong, NSW           Thursday 2nd to Tuesday 7th October

St Clement’s Monastery is host to Shamrock in the Bush every year. This special gathering is to be held in honour of the 4114 female orphans sent to the Australian colonies from Irish workhouses between 1848 and 1850 during the Great Famine, although you don’t need to be descended from one of these orphans to attend.

Keynote speaker will be Irish archaeologist and historian Michael Gibbons. The long list of speakers will include Richard Reid, Cheryl Mongan, Perry McIntyre, Cora Num, Brad Manera, Jeff Brownrigg, and many others on a range of topics related to Irish and Australian history and the immigration of the Irish to Sydney, Moreton Bay, Victoria and South Australia.

Workshops and research assistance will be available from Cora Num and other experienced researchers. Irish Australian music and culture will be on display, with entertainment provided in the evenings. A ecumenical thanksgiving service and commemorative tree-planting have also been organised.

This is a marvellous opportunity to immerse yourself in the history and culture of this period in Australia’s history. The price includes accommodation, all meals, lectures and entertainment, including the official dinner in Galong House on the Saturday night. The price varies according to the accommodation chosen from $570 to $640 for 5 nights with a discount offered for payment before 30th August.

Full details of the programme and further information can be found at the website or by emailing the organisers at famine@shamrockinthebush.org.au.

Convicts! – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Richmond Villa, 120 Kent Street, Sydney Saturday 25th October

Not strictly about the Irish, to be sure, but so many of the 140,000 or so convicts brought to this country were Irish that I thought this day warranted inclusion. Topics include:

  • Getting started with convict research
  • The administration of government-employed convicts
  • Beyond the basics – finding out more about your convict
  • Convicts/transportees and those colonial convictions in the UK and Ireland

A collection of convict items will be on display. Morning and afternoon tea are included in the price of $50 for members of the Society and $60 for non-members.

Irish Day – a day of seminars at the Society of Australian Genealogists

Venue to be confirmed Saturday 29th November

This seminar day is still in the planning stages but promises to be another excellent opportunity for Irish researchers in Sydney. Organised by Perry McIntyre. More details will become available at the Society of Australian Genealogists in the next few weeks.

Tour of Ireland May 2009 with the Society of Australian Genealogists

A regular feature on the calendar of the Society of Australian Genealogists is a genealogical tour of Ireland hosted by Perry McIntyre and Richard Reid. These tours are very popular and focus on repositories of interest to researchers. The exact itinerary can be tailored to the interests of participants.

I hope to see you at one or more of these events – please say hello!

If you know of any other Irish seminars or events please let me know and I will include them here.

Australian Newspapers digitisation project

Sydney Gazette first issue

The first issue of the Sydney Gazette (image courtesy of the National Library of Australia)

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.