Family history travels

I’ve just spent two weeks travelling – doing family history, attending AFFHO‘s 13th Australasian Congress in Adelaide, and playing tourist in outback South Australia and New South Wales. Now that I’m home I have nearly 4000 photos to deal with, as well as all the books and brochures I collected along the way.

To attend the Congress in Adelaide my husband, Keith, and I decided to make a holiday of it. I have family history to investigate in Albury; we both have gold field ancestors; and he has ancestors who immigrated to South Australia and then moved to western Victoria; so we took the long way around, staying in Albury, Ballarat and Warracknabeal (western Victoria).

Albury is a lovely town, with many of its historic buildings remaining. I was disappointed to see that the old Mechanics Institute had been demolished, as my ancestor James Simpson was the caretaker there, but a visit to the library gave me a lot of new information on my Stewarts to follow up.

Albury Pioneer CemeteryWe visited cemeteries, churches and small towns and creeks all along the way. My ancestor Peter Hannah Stewart settled on the Indigo Creek near Barnawatha, Victoria, before moving to Albury where his elder brother had settled, and now I know what it looks like.

Indigo Creek

We then travelled down through Chiltern and Bendigo to Ballarat. I had been to other pioneer villages over the years but I’d never been to Sovereign Hill at Ballarat, and it was a revelation! I have so many wonderful photos that it is difficult to chose one. Sovereign Hill has actors in costume to give visitors a taste of how things were in the old days. As you walk around the place you can follow its history, from the early days when thousands of miners set up tents and panned for gold, to the establishment of shops, houses, churches and banks, to the large scale industrial mining once the surface gold ran out.

Sovereign Hill, Ballarat

I had never been through Western Victoria before, and what I can say about it is that it’s flat. Very flat. We found some cemeteries and churches from my husband’s family history.

Minyip Cemetery

On to Adelaide. I spent most of the four days attending sessions and talking to other genealogists, and making short visits to local repositories such as State Records South Australia, the Supreme Court and Land Services. Keith spent much of the four days researching, with only some of his time attending sessions. He got a lot done in that time! He transcribed over 50 birth, marriage and death registrations at the Genealogy SA library, and obtained copies of wills from the Supreme Court.

Keith made a breakthrough on his early South Australian pioneer ancestor John Jones from Wales by finding he was listed in the Royal Adelaide Hospital Admissions Index 1840-1904 on the computers at State Records. This index states the name, age, residence and ship of arrival and was enough for Keith to make the breakthrough he never expected with such a common name. Had it not been available on the computers there he may never have sought it out to check it, as he had no reason to believe that the Joneses, who lived in the McLaren Vale, would ever have had reason to go to hospital in Adelaide. It just shows, you must always check indexes even if you think there’s no reason to.

Adelaide Congress 2012

If you have never been to a Congress consider the next one, which will be in Canberra in 2015. They are only held every three years and are shared around Australia and New Zealand. Four days of concentrated family history is just too good to pass up.

We then drove north to Lyndhurst, with a detour through Mount Pleasant and Lyndoch for some more cemeteries and churches. Lyndhurst is at the end of the bitumen road towards Lake Eyre, and we had a flight booked over the lake and a room booked at the pub. It was April Fool’s Day when we arrived and they tried to tell us there was no room!

The flight was magnificent. The lakes had water, with algae growing that made them look pink in places. There is no multitude of birds like you see on TV documentaries; they are all at Birdsville, and it isn’t the breeding season. But it was a brilliant sight all the same. It looks like it should have flamingoes in it.

Lake Eyre

It is amazing country up there. Every few kilometres along the road you cross another dry creek bed, and flying over it you can see why. When it rains it really rains, and the countryside is covered by a network of creeks that drain into the lakes. One of the creeks we crossed had water in it, and when we got out of the car to take photos we could see small silver fish trying desperately to swim upstream across the road in an inch or two of water. Keith caught two and helped them to the other side.

Water on road

Broken Hill was next. We spent three nights there so we could have a good look around and go out to the Menindee Lakes, which also has water in them. The road into Kinchega National Park was closed, but we saw quite a bit. We went out to Silverton, and old mining town that is pretty much a tourist village and movie set now, particularly the Silverton Hotel, which has Mad Max vehicles parked outside.

Mad Max

There is a lot of history in Broken Hill. We tried following the self-guided heritage trail and took lots of pictures of churches and old mines. The Miners’ Memorial, up on the Line of Lode next to the lookout, costs $2.50 to visit but is worth it for a taste of the dark side of the mining industry. The names and causes of death listed are a stark contrast to the self-congratulation found in most other displays around town.

Miners' Memorial

As I said, I have nearly 4000 photos to deal with. I spent some time last night sorting them into folders named by date and place, which makes the whole business of culling and processing much less daunting. Many of them are research-related and will need extra analysis, but even the tourist shots have to be sorted or I will have to buy another hard drive to keep them all.

I will post some more of the highlights on Google+ as soon as I can.

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.


Reese, Joan. Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. Microfiche. Balgowlah, 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.

What’s for dinner?

When I was young my mother served up much the same thing for dinner every single night. Dinner was some form of meat – chops, sausages, (rarely) steak, cooked quite thoroughly; and three vegetables – potatoes (boiled), carrots (boiled), and either green beans or peas (boiled).

Occasionally dinner was a large piece of meat roasted in the oven, such as a leg of lamb, or (very rarely) a chook. I remember chooks being reserved for Christmas dinner; they were a special occasion meal in those days, roasted whole and served with gravy.

I’m not telling you this to criticise my mother. She was just doing what she learned from her mother. I’ve just put an osso bucco in the oven and it made me think about what my ancestors may have had for dinner on a Friday night. The answer came immediately – fried meat and three boiled vegetables. What else was there?

It’s easy to forget how much the food we eat has changed even in my lifetime. When I was young lunch was called dinner and dinner was called tea. There was no pizza, or pasta, or curries. We didn’t eat pork. All meat had to be cooked and cooked and cooked to avoid serious illness, especially pork. Takeaway night was hamburgers or fish and chips. Chinese food was a special night out, once every year or two. Rice was used for dessert in a pudding, as was sago.

Come to think of it, there was much more variety in the desserts than in the main courses. Steamed puddings, apple pies, bread-and-butter puddings, rice custard, caramel tarts, custard tarts, apple crumble; the list goes on. And then there were morning teas: scones, cupcakes, teacakes, rock cakes, coconut slices, biscuits.

The cooking in a family is usually passed down from mother to daughter, and my mother’s mother came from mostly Scottish stock (small joke there!). I don’t think my Gran was especially fond of cooking, but she made an apple pie that I remember to this day. It probably wasn’t anything special but we knew Gran was a better cook than Mum and it was because of this apple pie. It had sugar on the top.

So it is not hard to imagine what sort of food my great-grandmother cooked in the early 1900s, or what her mother cooked in the 1880s.

Were they healthy on this unvaried diet? You’d have to conclude that they were. My mother’s parents lived on the land and they worked hard so I’m sure that contributed to their long lives; they both lived into their nineties, and neither drank or smoked. Many were overweight, though, and these days the lack of variation and the over-abundance of fat and sugar is still apparent for many people.

It all reminds me of the rations that were given to convicts and soldiers in the early days of the Colony. Meat, flour, sugar, tea. Or the rations the great explorers lived on through their great exertions. Not a great diet, certainly there weren’t enough vegetables.

I don’t remember vegetables being a big deal at home. We had to eat them but there wasn’t a great variety, as I said: potatoes, carrots, beans and peas. We didn’t grow anything at home, but I remember those that did grew mostly salad stuff – tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, some beans. And fruit trees. My grandfather had the best plum tree I remember to this day. No lemons or limes (what could you do with lemons but make lemon butter?).

Pumpkins, too; they grew pumpkins. And made pumpkin scones with them, or roasted pieces with lots of dripping with a roast dinner.

They do say that the English diet was, and still is, the worst, and most unvaried, in the world, and that’s what we inherited here in Australia. Baked cakes and pies and fatty stuff. Bread and dripping! Ugh. It changed quicker in the large cities, but the process was much slower in the country towns like Dubbo, where I grew up.

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