University libraries for family historians

University of Sydney clocktowerUniversity libraries can be enormously helpful for your family history research, especially if you have one nearby. They have a lot of books and microfilms on the open shelves that are not available in most other libraries, or must be ordered and retrieved at the state libraries.

You don’t need to be a student or staff-member  to enter the library. The hours are usually extended into the evenings except during university holiday periods, although it might be better to avoid exams. You can stay all day and make cheap photocopies of what you find.

I attended the University of Sydney, which is in the inner city and a short walk or busride from Central Station. Fisher Library is the main library of the university, and there are smaller specialist libraries around the campus. As a graduate of the university I can pay $80 for a yearly membership that allows me to borrow books. Members of the public can also join in this way as well, although at a higher cost. See http://sydney.edu.au/library/borrowing/cards.html for more information. Other universities may have these provisions.

When you search for books, magazines, journals, or whatever on Trove, the National Library of Australia’s master catalogue (it’s not just for digitised newspapers!), you can also find out which library has what you are looking for. Here is part of the listing for the Historical Records of Australia:

HRA on Trove

The full series of the Historical Records of Australia is in 33 libraries in NSW alone, and most of them are university libraries, which are far more numerous than the state libraries. There may be one closer to where you live than you think.

Consider university libraries too when you visit other cities to research there. A couple of years ago I visited Auckland for a conference and stayed an extra week to do some research on my great-grandmother’s family. I found that Margaret Lowe nee Craig signed a petition in 1893 to give women the vote. Two or three of her sisters-in-law signed it as well, and appear on the same page. New Zealand was the first country in the world to give women the vote, and seeing my ancestor’s name on the petition gave me a real sense of pride – a real ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ moment!

I then spent a morning at the library of the University of Auckland, down the road from my apartment in the centre of Auckland, and found historical information and contemporary sources on the women’s suffrage movement. Reading about the history of the suffrage movement in the university library gave me the context in which this event occurred.

Outlines of the Women's Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.

Outlines of the Women’s Franchise Movement in New Zealand, by W. Sidney Smith, 1905.

Consider, too, whether your nearest university library may have microfilms published by the archives authority of your state. The University of Sydney library catalogue lists 80 titles published by the Archives Authority of New South Wales, all microfilms and books that your local library may not have.

The Australian Joint Copying Project was a project to make available to Australians and New Zealanders the the historical sources of Great Britain. Any microlim you see with a PRO prefix has come from this project, and includes Surgeon-Superintendents’ journals, Home Office records about convicts and Colonial Office records about immigrants. The whole set of over 10,000 films is available at the State Library of NSW and the National Library of Australia, but some universities outside Sydney and Canberra have some of the films most relevant to the courses they teach. The University of New England in Armidale, for example, has 18 series of films, of which this list is about half:

UNE Library Catalogue entry for 'Australian Joint Copying Project' microfilms

UNE Library Catalogue entry for ‘Australian Joint Copying Project’ microfilms

So don’t discount university libraries just because you’re not a student there. They may have just what you’re looking for!

What do you know about the house you grew up in?

My first house

I wonder how many of us lived in the same house all through childhood? I didn’t. I lived in four different houses from when I was born until I finished school and left home. I don’t remember one of them; I was too young and we weren’t there long.

The first house that I remember was in Carss Park, in southern Sydney. It was underneath the flight path and I remember planes flying over and scaring my younger sister. It was close enough to the local school that we could walk, even at that age, and we had to climb up a rocky lane through to the street behind to get there. It had a great backyard for kids to play in, and a patio with crazy paving that we used to roll marbles on.

Looking at it now on Google Maps I can see it has a swimming pool and most of the yard is gone. It seems much bigger, taking up the full width of the block, although I can see the flat roof of the garage so that must still be there in some form. I can also see the lane seems to be a smooth, grassy strip, not at all how I remember it.

Google Maps image

Google Maps

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The 1943 aerial photograph shows that the house was there even then. The houses I remember behind and above ours had not yet been built, nor had the house of the old lady next door. It’s hard to tell  but it doesn’t look like the garage was there either, although the back garden looks to have been laid out in a circle.

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

NSW Land & Property Management Authority, 1943 Sydney Aerial Photographs

I also found a real estate advertisement for the property, showing a picture of the front of the house and the backyard, which I’m not going to show you for copyright reasons. The house looks totally different, without that rounded front you can see in the family photo at the top. The back yard looks totally different, too; it looks as though they’ve levelled the terracing to put the pool in. Nowhere for kids to play – it looks like somewhere for adults to ‘entertain’ now.

I’ve recently traced some of the history of the property and now I know that the name Carss Park came from the original owner of the property.

Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903

NSW Land & Property Management Authority: Map of St George Parish Cumberland County 1903 showing Carss Bush Park

It was subdivided in the 1920s into the blocks and streets that I knew.

My mother has told me some of our history in the house. We moved in after a year in Melbourne didn’t work out. My little brother was born while we lived there, and then my parents split up and Mum sold the house and we moved to Dubbo.

When I ordered copy of the title I found out some more.

NSW Land Title 4899-26

NSW Land Title Volume 4899 Folio 26, courtesy of NSW Land & Property Management Authority

My mother bought the house in her own name in 1960, before we moved to Melbourne. She immediately took out a mortgage, which most of us do. So the house must have been rented out while we were in Melbourne, and they would have had to get the tenants out when we decided to come back. She sold it after we had moved to Dubbo, which makes sense – she bought a house in Dubbo after we had lived at Gran and Pop’s place for a while.

Unfortunately, titles don’t have sale prices on them. For that I have to look at the individual dealings. One day I will; I would love to know what Mum paid for the house and what she got back when she sold it.

Have a look for the house or houses you grew up in. Not only will you learn something about your family, but it will bring back memories of the houses and your family living in them.

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.