Where will you be for Christmas?

Christmas is a time for getting together with family and eating and drinking and sharing presents. Sometimes I dread the big family Christmas because family members don’t always get on, and perhaps you do too.

It can also be a good time to find out more about your family and getting them interested in the research you are doing. Don’t waste such an opportunity!

Look around

This year we will be gathering in Orange at my mother’s house for a few days. My mother grew up in Blayney, which is not far from Orange, and so we are planning a bit of a family history tour. The teenagers of the family will be able to see where their Gran lived and went to school, and may get their first experience at cemetery searching if they are lucky. The Millthorpe Museum is known to contain portraits of my g-g-grandparents William and Elizabeth Grace Goode, so I hope it’s open!

My cousin Peter has knowledge passed down from our uncles about where our g-g-grandfather Richard Eason’s first mud house was built. Richard arrived in the Colony of New South Wales as a 20-year-old in 1850 and settled in this area after first spending some time with an uncle in Maitalnd. I have found this first 40 acres of land on the NSW Lands Department parish maps and Google Maps and I’m hoping that it agrees with Peter’s information. We can then go on to find the land that he subsequently purchased and passed on to his sons.

Even if we can’t find the exact pieces of land it is important to get a feel for the place where your ancestors live. I live in Sydney and I grew up in Dubbo, so I am not familiar with Blayney, the place where my mother, and two generations before her, were born and grew up. Towns get bigger over time but the countryside doesn’t change much and some of the old buildings are still there.

Share stories

I am hoping to get my mother and her brother talking about their childhoods and what they remember of their grandparents and aunts and uncles. Do they have any stories that their parents or grandparents told them? My mother usually “can’t remember” when I ask her on her own, so I am hoping that with her older brother and sister-in-law there they may spur each other on. My sister and cousin also were told stories by our grandmother which I am hoping they will share with all of us. I may have to take a recorder, since I don’t take shorthand!

Sarah, Margaret and baby Amy, circa 1898, probably in Wagga or Albury, NSW

Sarah, Margaret and baby Amy, circa 1898, probably in Wagga or Albury, NSW

I will also tell them what I know from what I’ve discovered through the records. My direct g-g-grandmother through the female line, Margaret, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand as a four-year-old with her family, including a new step-mother, from Scotland. Auckland was just a village next to the water in 1842 and she grew up with the town. I have a photo taken of her with her daughter Sarah and Sarah’s first daughter Amy, my grandmother. For such a photo to have been possible either Margaret had to travel to Australia or Sarah had to have taken the baby back to New Zealand. What a life she must have had!

Show pictures

I have collected a lot of photos of some of my ancestors over the years. I will take my laptop with me, which contains all my research and the photos and documents that I have scanned over the years. The laptop can be plugged in to a reasonably recent TV to show photos that everyone can see at once. I will also take my scanner with me in case anyone has photos or documents that I don’t have.

I have also started searching for old photos of places where my ancestors lived. Do a search on Picture Australia, the website of the National Library of Australia devoted to images of Australia’s past, which includes photographs, objects, maps, and works of art. Typing “Blayney” into the search screen gives 140 results showing photos past and present from many different sources including the State Library of NSW, National Archives of Australia, Flickr, and others. I’ve found the cafe in Melbourne where my parents lived when I was a baby using this site, and I found it that it burned down. Try it out!

When you get together with your family this year try to make it a more meaningful experience for everyone by including your ancestors!

NSW Research Guides

Many repositories that are essential in the search for detailed information about your ancestors have research guides to help you find what you are looking for. Research guides contain general information about what to look for and how to find it. Here are the guides of three Sydney repositories to get you started.

State Library of New South Wales

The website of the State Library of NSW has a Family History Research Guide. This gives a brief overview of the parts of their massive collection relevant to family history and some significant examples; links to their fact sheets on Cemetery Records, Church Records, Electoral Rolls, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists and other topics; descriptions of their catalogues, including the Pictures and Manuscripts and Scanned Cards catalogues; links to Family History databases and websites; links to the highlights of the collections related to family history; and links to relevant exhibition.

State Records NSW

State Records New South Wales are the repository for a great many documents that are invaluable for family history research. Their online research guide For Family Historians is an excellent introduction to the records they hold. The Research Tips section has links to comprehensive :

State Records NSW also has a large number of fact sheets called Archives in Brief on specific topics, which are well worth printing out and keeping. You can also collect them from the reading rooms in the City and Kingswood.

Society of Australian Genealogists

The Society has a wealth of knowledge and experience in Australian family history research in their staff and volunteers, and this is reflected in their research guides on their website.

Here is their list of topics to get you started:

Other repositories have similar guides. Have a look!