Not the Same Sky

Fiction can tell the stories of our ancestors in a way that a bare recitation of facts cannot. There is no way that we can know how our ancestors felt when they left their homes forever for a new land, but we can look to our master storytellers to give us an idea.

This is a book review of one such book from last year that was previously published in my personal blog. I think it is an important part of our research to read everything we can, and that can include well-research and written fiction.

Not the Same Sky

I’ve just finished the most marvellous book, Not the Same Sky, about some of the Irish Famine Orphan girls shipped out to Sydney in 1849. I bought it from the author, Evelyn Conlon, at the Irish Famine Memorial Anniversary at Hyde Park Barracks a few months ago and was saving it until I had time to read it properly.

The book tells the story of around two hundred girls selected and shipped out on the Thomas Arbuthnot, and the unusually caring Surgeon-Superintendent, Charles Strutt, who looked after their welfare onboard ship and after landing in their new home. He took 120 of them on an overland journey to Yass and Gundagai to find employers of suitable character for them.

This story is told in A Decent Set of Girls, by Richard Reid and Cherly Mongan, which reproduces Dr Strutt’s journal and gives documents, facts and statistics of the journey and the lives of the girls in Australia.

A novel, though, is a different creature entirely. The facts – 194 orphan girls between 14 and 20 years old were rounded up from work houses around Ireland and sent to Sydney – cannot possibly convey the bewilderment and aching loss of these girls in the way that a novel can. And this one does, superbly.

… Matron’s voice sounded muffled until she began to name names.

‘Mary Traynor, Anne Sherry, it’s Australia for you. Honora Raftery, you too I think. And Julia Cuffe, maybe.’

‘What do you mean Australia?’ a small pale girl asked.

‘Not you. It doesn’t apply to you,’ Matron said. ‘No it wouldn’t apply to you. You’re too young.’

‘I’m old enough, ‘ the girl said, but Matron said, ‘No,’ again.

‘And you, Bridget Joyce, it’s Australia now for you.’

‘When?’ a voice dared.

‘Next month, yes, the sooner now the better,’ Matron added.

‘Can I go too?’ another voice asked tentatively.

‘No, Betsy Shannon, you’re too old.’

‘I’m young enough,’ she said. ‘Twenty-four.’

‘Duffy, you’re young enough, you’ll do. What’s your first name again?’

… Matron left the room, the girls looking after her. Honora Raftery sneaked a look at Anne Sherry and Julia Cuffe. Others looked at the ground. It was a lot to take in. Staying alive was the job they were all involved in now.

Matron rubbed her hands down her front, as if wiping off the part she had just played in this scheme. She didn’t know what she thought of it.

The girls knew it must be far because they needed several changes of clothes for the voyage, but they refused to believe the rumours that it was going to take 3 months to get there. That’s just too impossible. 3 months!

Later, on the ship, the doctor has been showing them a map to show them where they are and where they are going, although concerned at how the news of how far away this is will affect them. He is not sure whether they will all understand, but he sees that at least a few of them do when they recognise that the ship has turned east to sail past Africa and on to Australia:

Charles was leaving the deck to go to his quarters when he heard one of the older girls shouting out to the sea. She was hollering so loudly the words could be heard perfectly by all who stood ready to dance. Her voice even carried above the sound of sail and water and wind.

‘The ship has well rounded the corner now. There’s no going back.’

She followed with another wail of a sentence – she seemed to start high and go low. It was hard to know what effect, if any, that she intended to have by making this noise. But hot on its heels followed the slowest, lowest moan, which moved up first one pitch, then swelled into a second, gathering a scream under its echo, and rising further, if that were possible, into the most ferocious howling. Everyone was now involved in these gutturals, weeping for their lost land and their families, immersed in their threnody. Charles stood rooted to the spot, helpless in the face of this terrible sound, the hairs standing up on his neck. It would have to stop. It seemed to him to be the erasure of hope.

The girls found it necessary to forget where they came from, who they were, and the family they had lost, in order to survive in this strange new land where the birds made such an enormous noise and the trees were white and the grass was yellow and the sun was so hot. They didn’t pass their memories on to their children – those memories were too painful, too dangerous to carry lest they overwhelm.

The names of the girls used in the book are fictional. It is impossible to tell the story of 194 women in one book so the author has selected four and followed them through the voyage and in their new lives, showing what they had to do to survive.

To survive. We do not have any idea, really, about what the bare struggle for survival does to a person, where parents and brothers and sisters die in front of you and the routine of living falls away until there is nothing but the roaring in the stomach. The only people who understand this today are refugees, because famines still occur and people are driven from their homes and farms by war and drought and other catastrophes, and they try to find safety in a new home, anywhere that will take them.

Social Media for Family Historians, 2nd edition

Social Media for Family Historians 2nd editionThe second edition of my book, Social Media for Family Historians, is now out. It explains what social media is; what use it is; and introduces you to more than 25 social media sites that can help family historians to communicate, share and collaborate with other family historians and with their own families.

It has been expanded and updated, with some sites removed that I no longer consider useful, and new ones added, such as Google+. The section on getting started with Facebook in particular has been greatly expanded, demonstrating the new privacy settings and layout.

You may discover new ways to communicate using Sykpe and SecondLife; social networking sites such as Facebook and Google+; blogs and microblogs such as Twitter; sites for sharing family trees such as Ancestry and MyHeritage; sites for sharing photos and videos such as Flickr and YouTube; and community information sites such as wikis and social bookmarking.


1. Introduction
– About this book
– My experience
– A warning
2. What is social media?
– The internet
– Self-publishing
– Social media
– Mobile computing
3. Why use social media?
– Advantages
– Disadvantages
4. Communication
– Chat
– Social networking
– Blogs
– Microblogs
– Virtual worlds
5. Sharing
– Family trees
– Photographs
– Videos
– Social cataloguing
6. Collaboration
– Wikis
– Documents
– Questions and answers
7. Dangers
– Risks
– Some simple rules
8. What are you waiting for?
Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
– Sign up for Facebook
– Using Facebook
Appendix 2. How to get started with Blogging
– Find a host
– Create an account
– Name your blog
– Set security
– Create your profile
– Select a design
– Start writing!
– More advanced blogging

You can buy it from Gould Genealogy, and I hope you do!

Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand

My new book Land Research for Family Historians in Australia and New Zealand is out now at Gould Genealogy and History.

In the book I have tried to display the main types of land records available and give a summary of where they can be found in each Australian state and territory, and in New Zealand.

Here’s the blur from the back cover:

Land research can tell us so much about how our ancestors lived and worked. It can help us find out the truth about stories we’ve heard, and can give us a much richer picture of our ancestors’ social and economic position. It they owned a house, business premises or rural property there are records to be found, many of which contain a wealth of information.

We can also break down brick walls using land records that we have been otherwise unable to solve. Buying or selling property may have been the only time our ancestors dealt with government in colonial times, and land records can contain evidence such as birthdates and names of family members; information that is recorded nowhere else.

This book will introduce you to the main types of records you can find, such as deeds and grants, Torrens titles, Crown leases, selections and conditional purchases, closer and solder settlements, title applications, maps, and plans. We will look at what they mean and where to find them in New Zealand and each Australian state and territory.

Whether you are researching the history of your house or tracing the history of an ancestor through the property they owned, this book is for you.

1. Introduction
2. Why land research?
3. Challenges
4. Where to start
5. Where to find land records
6. How to find land records
7. Old System grants and deeds
8. Crown leases and licenses
9. Torrens Title
10. Title Applications
11. Government purchase schemes
12. Maps ad plans
13. Local land records
14. Putting it all together
Further reading


LibraryThing for local and family history societies

LMDHS covers

I’ve been saying for a while now that I think LibraryThing is ideal for allowing small societies and libraries to maintain and display their library catalogues. Not only is the software practically free (US$25 one-off fee for unlimited books) but it is online, allowing members and potential members the ability to search their catalogues for free.

The Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society has been using LibraryThing to show off its catalogue since 2009. I admit that I didn’t know there was such an organisation, and I found it while seeing who else had a book I had just added to my catalogue.

LMDHS profile

If I was ever looking for books relevant to a geographical area the library of the local history society would be the best place to find them. Not every society has the funds or the means to create a library catalogue on their own website. LibraryThing allows them to do so for minimal cost. Accounts are free for up to 200 books. For a one-off fee of US$25 you can catalogue all the books you can  afford to buy, and then the ones that you would like to buy.

Here’s an example from the Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society’s library catalogue:

LMDHS catalog

Books can be catalogued manually by filling in the details yourself, or you can search for the book in any one of over 700 major libraries around the world, such as the US Library of Congress, the National Library of Australia, and the British Library. Bookstores such as Amazon and Amazon UK are also included. All data can then be imported directly into your own catalogue, with a book cover photo if there is one. You can use a barcode reader to read the ISBN from the book into the Add Book screen, making the cataloguing process even quicker and easier.

I’ve been using LibraryThing since 2007, and my ambition is to catalogue all of my books, not just the genealogy- and history-related ones. In the meantime, I can search the catalogues of libraries such as the Lake Macquarie and District Historical Society, and start a new wishlist!

Narrative of the US Exploring Expedition 1845 – Charles Wilkes USN

In 1838 a special squadron of the United States Navy was ordered into the Pacific Ocean to chart hazards and gather scientific knowledge. After an expedition of four years Charles Wilkes, commander of the squadron,  compiled a narrative of the voyage from the journals of his officers and scientists. The narrative was published in five volumes in 1845. In 1985 the Fiji Museum published a reprint of the third volume.

In Volume 3 the Expedition leaves New Zealand and spends the first chapter in Tonga (‘Tongataboo’). The remainder of the book is spent in Fiji (‘Feejee’), from May to August 1840, until the last chapter where it heads for Honalulu. “Drawn not only from the experiences and observations of the Expedition’s officers and scientific corps, but also from those of the beachcombing Fiji whites who served as local pilots, of veteran Yankee beche-de-mer and tortoise-shell trading captains, and of pioneering Methodist missionaries, the book does far more than simply outline the work and adventures of the Expedition in these islands, drawing a vividly detailed, quite unparalleled picture of life in pre-Christian Fiji.” (from the back cover of the 1985 reprint)

The book has a detailed Contents section, as many of these old books do, but no index. Google Books has scanned all five volumes and searching can be done there. It is easy to search for the names of people, although Fijian names are likely to be spelled differently.

David Whippy, an ancestor of mine, is mentioned many times, in descriptions, as the teller of stories and provider of information, and as a participant in the action. Wilkes describes his meeting both Whippy and Tui Levuka on page 47:

Whippy - first meeting p47It is important to read some of the descriptions of Fijian people and customs with some tolerance for the narrow attitudes of these early explorers.

Here is another example, on pages 330 and 331, following a discussion of the diseases and ailments suffered by native Fijians:

Whippy page 330

Whippy page 331

Another example is Paddy Connel, who walked into Wilkes’ tent one day and told him his life story (on page 67):

He was a short, wrinkled old man, but appeared to possess great vigour and activity. He had a beard that reached to his middle, but little hair, of a reddish gray colour, on his head. He gave me no time for inquiry,  but at once addressed me in broad Irish, with a rich Milesian brogue…

The story then continues for nearly two pages so I won’t repeat it here. Even though Wilkes suspected that a lot of it wasn’t true there is probably enough for a descendant to go on to search for Paddy further.

The book is worth reading in its own right, even if specific names cannot be found. Wilkes describes the customs, food, illnesses, and culture of the Fijian people he came across at a time when the Wesleyan missionaries had only just started to have any influence. He also describes his own dealings with the various chiefs and the white settlers he encountered, some of whom he or his officers employed as pilots.

The book also contains sketches and drawings of people and places.

Muthuata Feejee

The version on Google Books appears to have fewer of the excellent drawings than the Fiji Museum version I have at home, but there may have been other versions in Google Books that I missed.

Polynesian Reminiscences – T Pritchard (1866)

Title page of ‘Polynesian Reminiscences’, Pritchard, 1866

William Thomas Pritchard (1829-1907) was the first British Consul to Fiji from 1858 until his dismissal in 1863.

Pritchard took the first offer of cession of the Fiji Islands to Britain in 1858, and has many stories to tell about his work as Consul and the people he dealt with – chiefs, settlers, and the captains of visiting warships.

As with all Google Books the text can be searched when you view the book online but not if you download the PDF. The names of people and places are spelled very imaginatively.


Pritchard’s Reminiscences on Google Books

Wikipedia entry for William Thomas Pritchard

Social Media for Family Historians – my first book!

Social Media for Family Historians front coverSocial Media for Family Historians, my first book, was published on Friday 22nd October 2010. It was launched at the Unlock The Past History and Genealogy Expo in Sydney.

It contains 76 pages in full colour to explain what social media is and why it is of use to family historians. It introduces more than 25 websites that can help family historians, and anyone with families, to communicate, share and collaborate with each other.

I think social media could have been designed specifically with family historians in mind. The networking that we do as researchers is made much easier by social media sites, and the interest that we have in distantly related family members is way beyond that of a normal person!

We can share our family trees, documents, photos and videos; use Skype to communicate across the world; and write a blog to share our discoveries with family members, and to allow others to find us.

Here is the Table of Contents:

  • 1. Introduction
  • 2. What is Social Media?
    • The Internet
    • Self-publishing
    • Social media
  • 3. Why use it?
    • Advantages
    • Disadvantages
  • 4. Communication
    • Chat
    • Mailing lists and Forums
    • Social Networking
    • Blogs
    • Microblogging
    • Virtual Worlds
  • 5. Sharing
    • Family Trees
    • Photographs
    • Videos
    • Social Cataloguing
  • 6. Collaboration
    • Wikis
    • Social Bookmarking
    • Documents
    • Questions and Answers
  • 7. Dangers
    • Risks
    • Some simple rules
  • 8. What are you waiting for?
  • Appendix 1. How to get started with Facebook
    • Sign up for Facebook
    • Using Facebook
  • Appendix 2. How to get started with blogging
    • Find a host
    • Create an account
    • Name your blog
    • Set Security
    • Create your profile
    • Select a design
    • Start writing!
    • More advanced blogging

The book is $19.50 plus postage. It will be available from Gould Genealogy any minute now, or directly from me. Email me if you are interested in purchasing a copy at carole (at)

Voyages to the South Seas, Indian and Pacific Oceans – Edmund Fanning (1838)

Fanning 1838 title page

Title page and frontispiece of ‘Voyages to the South Seas’, Edmund Fanning, 1838

Edmund Fanning (1769-1841) was an American explorer and sea-captain who made a number of voyages to the Pacific Ocean.

This book describes a number of voyages to the South Seas, the Pacific Ocean and China, including two to the Feejee Islands in 1806-1809 in search of sandalwood on the Sandalwood Coast. He describes the method of collecting and processing the sandalwood and his relations with the Fijian people at this early period in the history of European contact.

The book also contains letters to and from Fanning about the ‘National Discovery and Exploring Expedition’ to the Pacific and Southern Oceans that he believed was essential to the continuing properity of the United States. The expedition was eventually led by Commodore Wilkes, whose narrative was published on his return.

As with all Google Books the text can be searched when you view the book online but not if you download the PDF. The names of people and places are spelled very imaginatively.


Fanning’s Voyages on Google Books

Wikipedia entry for Edmund Fanning

Meet the Challenge

This post was originally posted as part of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge in 2010.

The challenge this week is:

Come up with a personal genealogy challenge of your own. Each person has different research goals and experiences. Use this week to come up with your own challenge, and then take the steps to accomplish it.


Haha, I thought. that one’s easy! My biggest challenge is finding the time toget everything done that I need to do. So I’ve decided, for the sake of this challenge, to narrow it down.

I don’t seem to find time to read any more. To just sit down with a book and read it. I used to do most of my reading on the train into the city, but these days I tend to do stuff on my netbook computer, which I’ve talked about before, or read research notes or minutes and notes for Council and committee meetings.

I used to always carry a book with me. Always. Now I don’t. If I think I’ll need something to read I might take a family history magazine or journal with me, but usually the netbook is enough to keep me occupied.

How do I read the books I need to read to further my research? There is so much I have to read:

  • books on Australian history
  • books on Fijian history
  • books written by early settlers and sailors in Fiji (usually downloaded from Google Books as PDFs)
  • books on how to find records for family history
  • journals and magazine, which are arriving all the time
  • fiction (we all need some down-time)

Kobo e-readerLast weekend, when I was walking past my local Borders bookstore, I saw the answer. The Kobo is Borders’ answer to Amazon’s Kindle. It’s an e-reader that is cheap ($199 Australian), light, easy to read, and small enough to take anywhere. It does nothing except read books, which is what I want. It reads PDFs as well as e-book formats.

Unfortunately I couldn’t buy one on the spot as they had run out, and were taking pre-orders. I said I’d think about it and went home. I thought about it so much that I rang and pre-ordered it from home. They told me it would be in on the 7th June, which is next Monday.

On Thursday (3rd June) I got a call to say they were in, and I could pick mine up! Woohoo!!! I did. I had a workshop to prepare so I didn’t really get to play with it until yesterday.

I’m already reading more than I ever did before. I’ve started on Dickens’ Great Expectations, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never read before, although the story seems strangely familiar. I think that contemporary fiction counts as educational, don’t you? At least I’m not reading Harry Potter!

And I feel much better for it already. Reading is what was missing from my life.

The Kobo is a little slow to change pages, so I’ve already learned to press the button a little ahead so it’s there when I’m ready for the next page. I’m still looking around at what books I can put on there. It came with 100 books already, including Dickens and Jane Austen.

The PDF part is still a bit of a challenge, though. I downloaded two PDF books to experiment. They are:

  • Smythe’s Ten Months in the Fiji Islands, 1864
  • Fanning’s Voyages to the South Seas, 1838

I’ve had success finding ancestors, or potential ancestors, in these sorts of accounts, so I’ve got to keep reading them. Printing and reading takes way too much paper and toner, and I tend not to read them on the laptop, although of course I search them for surnames and places as best I can.

So far reading these PDFs has not been a success. An e-book flows so that no matter what font size you select, the text flows to fit the page. PDFs don’t do this, so there’s a lot of scrolling involved which is too disruptive, even in these old books where the pages are actually quite small. Apparently they are looking at software changes to allow this, but in the meantime scrolling is slow.

So that’s the challenge I need to resolve next, and this is what I’m doing to resolve it:

  • I’m experimenting with zooming in and changing the orientation to landscape, but it’s still slow to get down the page.
  • I’ll experiment with the different page sizes of different documents
  • I’ll look at different formats. Perhaps these books are downloadable as e-books rather than PDFs?
  • I’ll be experimenting with Descent, the journal of the Society of Australian Genealogists, which was published from the beginning of the Society in PDF form. That will save me having to decide before I leave the house which one I’m up to. If I can resolve the PDF issue!

Wish me luck!

Find the book you need on WorldCat

This post was originally posted as part of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy Challenge in 2010.

dreamstimefree_6456266WorldCat is a catalogue of many, many libraries in the world. I’ve used it before and usually it has told me that the book I am looking for is in the State Library of NSW or the National Library of Australia, which is where I would have looked anyway. Unfortunately my genealogy society isn’t part of WorldCat, but one day that will change.

For the sake of this exercise I decided not to look for a book that I know of, but to find books that I didn’t know about. As Amy suggested, I’ve put in one of my unusual surnames – Whippy. David Whippy, born in Nantucket, Massachusetts, arrived in Fiji in about 1822 and stayed there.

So I put “Whippy” in the WorldCat search, and waited. 70 results, including a dissertation about job satisfaction in Guam University. I narrowed it down by adding ‘Fiji’, and came up with 5 results, 2 of which were the same.

The most relevant item I found was a microfilm of a play written by Isobel Whippy:

The play concerns the first British Consul in Fiji, William Thomas Pritchard, who arrived in Levuka in September 1858 and was dismissed from his post in January 1863. It is based on a theory that the Consul lost his job because of a love affair with a young woman – possibly a part-European – who gave birth to two children by Pritchard, before he married her in the British Consulate in Levuka a few days afte his dismissal. The play is in two acts – the first covering the period from September 1858 to June 1859; the second from November 1859 to July 1862. There is an epilogue concerning the year 1864.

The microfilm was published by the Pacific Manuscripts Bureau in Canberra, which I happen to know is part of the Australian National University and who microfilm manuscripts related to Pacific history. The films are available in the State Library NSW, and I have accessed them there in the past.

WorldCat, however, told me that my nearest copy was at Yale University Library, New Haven, CT 06520 United States, at a distance of 10000 miles. If I selected the other, identical title, I could find it at the State Library of NSW, the National Library of Australia, and the State Library of Victoria.

There is however, a link to Related Identities, one of which was the Australian National University Pacific Manuscripts Bureau. There’s a timeline for the Bureau that goes back to 1830, which was rather startling until I realised that most of the works listed are about American whalers in the Pacific and such, and filmed by the PMB.

So the end result of my investigation is that I can almost always find what I need in the State Library of NSW, in Sydney where I live. Anything that this library doesn’t have will probably be in Canberra and probably available on inter-library loan, although I haven’t hit this situation yet.

David Whippy didn’t arrive on a whaler but the principle is the same, so I now have a list of resources I can check to find out more about the way of life and the history of Americans in the Pacific, if not about David Whippy directly. Most, if not all, available at the State Library of NSW.

Libraries Australia has  a combined catalogue of many libraries in Australia. I don’t know if all the same libraries are in both catalogues. The free version of this catalogue is within Trove.


I put Whippy in the Search field and got a whole heap of results:

Trove - Whippy search

As you can see, there’s a vast array of stuff which will take me some time to work through. Not all of it is relevant, but some of it is. For example, the third entry under Australian newspapers (1803-1954) is a page from the Sydney Morning Herald in January 1856 containing transcripts of correspondence about American activities in Fiji. In one of the letters, written by James Calvert, the Wesleyan missionary, Mr Whippy, my David Whippy, is mentioned a number of times as arbitrating with Mr. Calvert in a dispute between the natives and an American ship’s captain. I was then able to correct the transcription of the notoriously difficult newspaper print, and download a PDF of the page or the whole newspaper.

Further down the screen there are sections for Maps, Diaries and Letters, and Archived Websites. All sections can be opened and closed on this summary screen, or clicked on to give the full list of results.

Trove is relatively new, and having now played with it I can see it is vastly superior to WorldCat for my purposes. Australian catalogues are more likely to be useful to me in general to find a book I can borrow in an Australian library. Trove gives so much more than any library catalog that I would be unlikely to go anywhere else.

It also gave me more books than WorldCat did. On its list of 96 books, journals and magazines, etc, it gives the title Gone Native in Polynesia by Ian Christopher Campbell, a book I’ve been trying to get hold of for some time. This book has a whole chapter on David Whippy in Fiji. There are tabs for each State, and under NSW I can see that it’s available at the State Library of NSW and the University of Wollongong Library. There is also a link to show where I can buy a copy – in this case from Blackwell Online for 70 pounds or Amazon from US$79.00 to US$235.00. I won’t be buying a copy for my library, but I have a search in eBay just in case.

Isobel’s play is there, with the same results – State Library of NSW, and the reference number is given.

Really, I can’t see why I would use WorldCat on a day-to-day basis. Contributers to Trove include Project Gutenberg, so I might be able to download the book I want then and there.