Using newspaper notices to check death index entries

It is amazing how much information can be gained from newspaper family notices, and in particular funeral notices.

Here is an example from Trove in the Sydney Morning Herald of Tuesday 27 November 1900, on page 10:

SMH 27 Nov 1900 page 10 Funeral notices


I had been searching for the death of one Mary Nugent. What I can learn about this family from these three notices is that this Mary Nugent was the wife of Mr P. Nugent (perhaps Patrick?). They lived at 57 Balmain Road, Leichhardt, and their (surviving) children were James, Francis, Alfred, William and George. They also had a daughter, Mary, who married William Beardmore.

This is a lot of information about one family, and is especially useful where the surname is relatively common, such that a search in the NSW BDM indexes is inconclusive. It is even more useful if the children had been born after the 100 year cutoff for the NSW Birth Index (currently 1911), where I might otherwise have had to order a copy of the death registration to see who her children were.

Unfortunately this isn’t the Mary Nugent I was looking for, as she was a widow. If she had remarried, and she may have, her surname would be different. At least there is enough evidence in these funeral notices for me to discount this Mary without any further searching. And what a bonus it would have been if she was the Mary I was searching for!

If there’s an index, check it!

My mother had always said that her father didn’t serve in either of the world wars. The stories I remember were that he was too young in the First World War and too old in the Second World War, and that he was a farmer and needed at home to grow food. He was born in late December 1900, and was a farmer and grazier all his life, so I accepted these stories without question.

There was also a story about how he had to go to help search for the Japanese that broke out of the camp at Cowra during World War II. I don’t know if he ever found any; probably not or it would have been more of a story.

Yesterday I was searching the NameSearch at the National Archives of Australia website for others of the same surname and there he was:

NAA NameSearch

My grandfather is the last one. As you can see by the lack of an icon in the “Digitised item” column, it hasn’t been digitised yet. If it had been I would be able to see, and download, the images of each page in the file straight away. I can pay $16.50 to have it digitised early, before its ‘turn’, or $25 to have it digitised and colour photocopies sent to me.

I’ve paid the $16.50, and now I wait. It may take up to 90 days for a file which is “Not yet examined”, but I can’t imagine there will be anything in there that would cause it to be restricted once it has been examined.

If only I’d searched earlier! Why didn’t I? I think because I accepted what my mother told me. I don’t always believe what people tell me, but parents are different. Of course, my mother also told me that the Easons came from Wales and I have proven that they came from County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland. Talking about her own father is different, I guess.

So the lesson for today is – If there’s an index, search it! What have you got to lose?

We have wedding photos, but what about anniversary photos?

ChampagneLast night my husband and I celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary. We are expecting very many more anniversaries after this one.

We try to do something special for our anniversary every year. Some years we go away for the weekend, and I seem to think they are in the majority. They are probably just more memorable. Most years we just go out somewhere and have a good dinner and drink champagne and eat too much, like last night.

What we didn’t do is take a picture of ourselves having dinner. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a series of photos of us celebrating our anniversary through the years? Not just when we spend the weekend in the Blue Mountains or Port Stephens or Palm Beach or the Snowy Mountains, but every year, no matter what we do.

If only we had thought of it sooner.

Even last night I was watching two women at another table. Their fruity cocktails arrived and one of them pulled out a phone to take a photo of themselves with their brightly coloured drinks. Even then it didn’t occur to me to take a photo of us with my phone.

Not any more. I am determined to have photos of us celebrating our wedding anniversary every year, starting with our 25th anniversary next year. I will also go back through the years and collect photos from past anniversaries. I’ll start a digital photo album to record our anniversaries and the continuing happiness and strength of our marriage.

It will be a lovely record for us to look back on, and for our families to reflect on how happy we were after we’ve gone.

A good reason to write a blog

Blog posts are a snapshot in time. Just as a photograph can tell you a lot about someone, so can a blog post, even when they talk about seemingly trivial things. Even memes, those things that seem to go around like a craze in primary school, can be meaningful.

I have been sorting through old drafts that were never published, and I found this one from October 2008:

Ten years ago I was:

  1. Working on the implementation of a new computer system to prepare for Y2K
  2. Sharing our new house with my sister’s family until theirs was ready to move into
  3. Wondering how long my mother’s new marriage would last (not long)
  4. Planting Australian natives in the garden
  5. Spending too much money

Five things on today’s to-do list:

  1. Give the cat his antibiotics (done)
  2. Call my Dad to see how my step-mother is doing (trying)
  3. Go and see my step-mother in hospital
  4. Meet an old friend for lunch (will do)
  5. Do some neglected housework (not done)

Five snacks I enjoy:

  1. My sister’s brownies
  2. Yoghurt
  3. A banana, or some grapes
  4. dry-roasted cashews
  5. Did I mention my sister’s brownies?

Five places I have lived (in no particular order):

  1. Beautiful leafy Hornsby in Sydney’s northern suburbs (for the last 20-odd years)
  2. Dubbo in Central Western New South Wales (where I grew up)
  3. A flat in Rockdale in Sydney’s south (while I was at uni)
  4. A semi-detached house in inner-city Stanmore (when I was finishing uni and starting work)
  5. Suva, Fiji (for about 6 months when I was 12)

Five jobs I have had:

  1. Salesgirl at Woolworths Variety when I was 14 or 15
  2. Sales assistant at Angus and Robertson book store in Dubbo between school and uni
  3. Bar attendant at a couple of southern Sydney pubs while I was at uni
  4. Clerk for the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs for a couple of years when I finished uni
  5. Computer programmer at the gas company

Five places I would like to visit:

  1. Ireland – Northern Ireland and the Republic
  2. The National Archives of Fiji
  3. Namibia (again)

None of this will have any significance for anyone outside of my family, I suspect. For my close family, however, it may mean a great deal. Not only does it say to anyone who is interested some details of my past and present life, but it has some bearing on other events that had great significance.

I suspect that I didn’t finish the post because of what was going on at the time. I did talk to my Dad about how my step-mother was doing, and I went to see her in hospital every day and sat with her while my sister, her daughter, raced home to get things done. We moved her home when the hospital could no longer do anything for her, and after a few days she passed away, in her own bed with her family around her. Only 11 days after I wrote this.

It still hurts that she was taken so soon. 60 is young, these days. Her father lived much, much longer.

I also remember meeting the old friend for lunch. He told me a trick to do with parking near the hospital before the afternoon peak hour.

It was a shock to read through this post after all this time. I thought I would share it with my family, and anyone else who is interested.

Adi, Christmas 2007

Picasa face-recognition scan conclusions

Picasa face recognitionI have posted previously about letting Picasa 3 scan for faces so I can identify them. I had hoped to publish the results at the time but I was caught up with other things and didn’t get a chance.

Unfortunately I don’t have an accurate record of how long it took. I started it on about the 1st October with 14,000 photos to process. On the 4th it was 50% completed after I had added an additional 5000 photos because I added some of the folders under Documents. On the 5th it was saying all day that it had 51% to go. Then that evening it changed to 52%. I thought it was going to take another week, but the next day it was finished.

That’s 5-6 days. For 19,000 photos.

It ran for 24 hours a day, and I only closed it down occasionally when it was slowing down what I was doing. It used an average of 45% of my CPU, so sometimes this was a problem. I don’t remember the processor that my laptop has, but it’s a bit over 2 years old.

Of course, not all of these photos have people in them – there are landscapes, wildlife, and images of documents.

Some things I have noticed:

  • if I sign in to Google it can get the names from my contacts list
  • it runs very slowly at other times and quite quickly at others
  • it picks up faces from the covers of books and photos on the wall behind the real people
  • it can find faces in very fuzzy pictures
  • it is not bothered by hats and sunglasses
  • it quite often suggests the wrong person but that person is closely related, such as a sister, aunt or grandmother
  • it identifies people more accurately the more photos you have identified
  • it can identify people at all ages in their lives
  • it is better at identifying babies than I am
  • it doesn’t recognise cats, dogs or gorillas, although it did identify one front-on picture of a dog
  • I have a lot of duplicate photos, and when I identify one it suggests the same name for the others very quickly
  • I am terrible at remembering names
  • I nearly have more photos of my nieces than I have of my husband or myself

By the time it finished it said it still had about 6500 faces to identify. I am slowly whittling those down. I now have just over 5000. There are also the faces it can’t identify as faces, which I have to do manually if I want it done at all.

It seems to have trouble with faces if they are:

  • at an angle
  • have hair over one side
  • side-on unless they are completely from the side
  • really, really fuzzy

And yet sometimes it sees a face where there isn’t one. I thought this one must be in the background somewhere.

Panda face

He looks like he has a little beard and a receding hairline.

This is the photo it came from:

Picasa panda

Can you see the face, in the top right corner? Not a face at all!

It also picks up the hundreds of faces in the backgrounds of photos and wants to know who they are. You can mark each one as ignored, and you can see these later if you want to. When the Sydney Harbour Bridge was 75 years old they opened it to the public to walk across, and the photos from that day have many people in the background. Fortunately they are mostly wearing lime green hats so I could quickly exclude them when I saw them.

All the people in a wedding photo can be identified if you have already identified them elsewhere. Even if you don’t know their names you can give them a number, like Wedding 12, and group photos of the same person together. You can then more easily identify the person, or a relative can, when you can see a number of photos of the same person together.

I have had a wonderful time with Picasa, and I still am. I am finally learning, through having to identify photos, which of my grandmother’s three sisters is which, and what my mother’s older brothers looked like when they were young.

I have also very much enjoyed seeing pictures of the same person throughout their lives all in the one place. Here are some of my grandmother Amy Eason nee Stewart:

Amy Millicent Eason nee Stewart

You can see her from the earliest photo of her that I have, when she was a baby; as a teenager, a young mother, and so on all through her life. The photos are of varying quality but the only one I had to manually identify was the blurry side-on one in the 3rd row.

A valuable lesson I learned was in trying to identify what it is that makes this person look like that person. What is it in my face that Picasa mistakes for my grandmother’s? Or two of three nieces but not the third?

To be fair, sometimes Picasa is totally wrong. It tried to tell me that this same grandmother was in a shot of my husband posing with the Wests Tigers rugby league team. It wasn’t. When it ‘groups’ unnamed faces it tends to put faces together that are shot at the same angle. Sometimes I think it is suggesting names based on the frequency with which that name appears, or on the previously identified name, but that might just be my cynicism.

All in all I am so glad I went through this exercise. Identifying faces has become my procrastination-of-choice, and it has made me much more likely to name the faces of photos I have just taken rather than leave it for years when I can no longer remember the names. I am also determined to research the names I should know but can’t remember – school classmates, fellow safari tourists, even Wests Tigers. All those unnamed faces bother me!

When is a substandard photo a great photo?

I’ve recently updated my Facebook photo from the Christmas version to my normal one. The normal one is taken from an unusual angle, and it’s a bit fuzzy. I love it, though, because of the photographer and the circumstances in which it was taken.

My niece turned 13 early last year, and for her birthday her parents had approved a mobile phone. This is no ordinary 13-year-old – she looks after her things amid the chaos of living in a small house full of teenage girls. So the day this photo was taken I took her shopping to buy her the Aunty Carole present,  and we looked for her mobile at the same time.

In the end the mobile she wanted was more expensive than her parents had approved, but with my contribution would work out. We called her Dad, he said yes, and we bought the phone and went home with it.

The battery had a bit of charge, and she started playing with the camera. She took this photo of me as I was leaving – the car keys are in my hand.

So every time I see this photo it reminds me of her, and what a good day we had that day. It’s not a great photo as a portrait of me, but I love it. She’s taller than me, as you can see.


So it’s the memories associated with the photo that make it special. I used to find this when I would edit the enormous numbers of prints from an overseas holiday. We used to go to exotic places with wildlife (and we will again one day), and we’d come home with dozens of rolls of film. When the photos were developed I’d sort through them and choose the best to put in an album. [This is like a history lesson, we don’t do this any more!]

Sometimes it was hard to choose the right photo, because the memories attached to the photo outweighed the objective interest of the photo itself. The first lion we spotted in Africa resulted in a photo of a small blob in a large expanse of yellow grass, which could just as easily have been a bush. Anyone looking at the photo would not give it a second glance, but for me it brings back the excitement of the day, with everyone leaning out that side of the truck trying to decide what it was, and realising it was a lion! The first iceberg on the way to the Antarctic peninsula is equally unspectacular. So the photos are in the albums even though they mean nothing, and may be uninterpretable, to anyone else.

Family history

Perhaps this is a by-product of the Camera Age, where we all take way too many photos and keep them all. Or the Tourist Age. I was recently subjected to the digital photos of a nephew’s trip to Egypt, all 1050 of them. Overseas trips are particularly susceptible to this. After I had chosen the photos and put them in the album I would check with my husband to see if I’d left any out that he has particular memories of – a shot re remembers trying to take of a leopard, or whatever, that had no significance for me.

Looking through old family albums, then, may not be the time-consuming process it is for more recent ones, but the same principle applies. Before you flick past to the next page, looking for a face you recognise, think about the photo you are looking at.

Why that building? Or that tree? What could it’s significance have been? Who took it? Is the format different from all the others, an indication that someone else’s camera was involved?  Do the same people, or buildings, or even trees, keep turning up? Is it just a blob in the grass?

Recording Dad’s story for posterity

My Dad’s Story

My Dad has been staying with me lately, and he has decided to write a book about his life. I am very encouraging of this plan, as you can imagine, and I told him I would help him to organise the material for him. He has had an interesting life, in Fiji and Australia, and has mixed with a lot of interesting people in both countries. 

At first I think he thought that he had to sit down and write the whole thing from beginning to end, ready to be published. He got up one morning and said he had been thinking about how to start it. He wanted to start with the funeral of his late wife, my step-mother, which took place last November, and then go back to the beginning, a time-honoured structure which is none the worse for having been used before.

Write first, rearrange later

I suggested to him that he didn’t have to write it from beginning to end in one go, but should just write episodes as he thought of them. If he remembered something that happened when he was a boy he should write that bit down, and so on. I would then help him to put it all together afterwards; we could rearrange the bits into suitable chapters, and so on.

He seemed greatly relieved. Once the decision to write a book has been made many peopple think that the process is to sit down and write it all at once, from beginning to end. Perhaps fiction is written that way, but factual accounts need not be. A lot of editing and rearranging is usually done on the material before it is ready for publication. He went back to Fiji and no more was said.

Talking instead of writing

The other day he rang me and reminded me of our conversation in which he had said he would write a bit each day, every morning. I don’t remember him saying anything so detailed but I was pleased that he still wanted to go ahead and was committed to that extent.

His idea was that he would prefer to talk into a tape recorder. Every morning he could lie in bed and tape his memories, and then label and send me the tapes. I suggested that tape recorders might be rather thin on the ground these days, and he reminded me of his almost-total inability to deal with technology. I said I would look into something for him to record his stories, and send it to him.

Although this will mean more work for me I don’t mind. To have his voice recorded for posterity would be just as valuable as having his stories written down. I’m sure I can get help with the transcribing from other family members. Well, I hope I can.

Recording devices

So I need to find something that he can manage and that I can play back. He was imagining a little tape recorder like you see in old movies, with little cassette tapes.Even if I could find such a thing, I’d need two so I could play them back.

These days most options are digital, and there is no way that I can see him downloading files to his computer and emailing them to me. He only uses a computer to read the news on a couple of websites, and email is beyond him, despite some lessons from me and others. He just doesn’t want to learn, an attitude common to many, and the danger of files being deleted or overwritten is too great for me to seriously consider this option for him. 

So I am deliberating buying two or three MP3 players with recording capability. Whatever I choose will need to be foolproof and let him know when it is full. When he’s finished one he can send it to me, or bring it over next time he’s in the country, and I can give him another one to go on with. Perhaps I can use voice-recognition software to do the transcribing!

If anyone has any recommendations for MP3 players or other such devices I’d be grateful for your comments.

Reuniting Wives and Families of Convicts

The separation of convict husbands from their families was usually a traumatic event for the wives and children left behind. Even in cases where the crime of the husband was such as to justify divorce in modern times, the loss of the breadwinner was a calamity that rendered all other considerations irrelevant. Of course, to the many wives who held genuine affection for their husbands the loss was even more traumatic.

Application of Stephen McCabe for Wife and Family to be given free passage 4 Nov 1849

Over 2000 convicts formally petitioned the colonial government to have their wives and families sent out from Britain. Not all families came, for a variety of reasons. Some of these long-suffering wives had lost patience and made other arrangements for their support; some came on their own; some emigrated elsewhere; some felt too old to travel; some may have died.

In 1817 formal procedures were gazetted for requesting free passage for wives and families to New South Wales. Proof of the marriage was necessary. A magistrate had to give his approval of the application. The request had to come from the husband to the colonial government; petitions by the wife back in Britain were given the “usual answer”.

In 1833 more rules were introduced. The convict had to have served a minimum number of years “with good conduct” before an application could be considered. A convict with a seven year sentence was required to have served four years; fourteen year sentences needed six years, and life sentences needed eight years. These numbers are similar to the years of service required before a ticket of leave could be granted.

Intercession from an influential master was sometimes successful in subverting these rules, but not always.

Stephen McCabe was sentenced to seven years transportation for aggravated assault in Cavan, Ireland and arrived on the Blenheim on the 27th September 1839. He left behind a wife, a son and four daughters. He received his ticket of leave in 1843 and his certificate of freedom in 1846.

In 1845 a petition to the Governor Sir George Gipps was written on his behalf requesting passage for his wife and family. In the letter he mentions that his wife wrote a letter to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland requesting she be sent out. She received the answer “that the Lord Lieutenant had not the power to send them out unless the Governor of the Colony were [sic] the convict was, recommended the indulgence to be granted”.

On the back is written:

“Inform him that I have no longer the means of procuring Passages for the Wives and Families of Convicts to the Colony. GG June 14”

In 1847 he tried again. An application form (pictured above), dated 4th November 1847, was filled out on his behalf, probably by his employer Mrs Lucy Howell whose signature appears at the bottom attesting to his conduct and means of supporting his family. The form gives his occupation, employer and residence; his wife’s maiden name, present residence and county; and the names and ages of his five children – Mary, 26; Catherine, 23; Margaret, 20; James, 17; Bridget, 14. This application was marked “Eligible and recommended” on 29th November 1847. You can see from the photo that there is quite a bit written diagionally across the back.

In the end it was twelve years after Stephen’s transportation before his wife and family joined him in New South Wales. His wife Margaret, by then aged 40, his daughter Margaret, 20, and son James, 15, arrived on the Success on 18th December 1849. These ages appear to have been rounded down. His elder daughter Mary, 24, arrived on the same ship with her husband Peter McEncroe and their five-year-old daughter Mary.


Although there are indexes to applications for convicts to have their families sent to the Colony they only go up to 1842, and I couldn’t findan application for Stephen in these indexes. Most of the documents I found for Stephen McCabe, other than the standard indents, tickets of leave, and certificate of freedom, were indexed in Joan Reese’s excellent indexes to the correspondence of the Colonial Secretary, namely:

Reese, Joan, Colonial Secretary’s Correspondence Letters Sent re Convicts. 8 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1996.

Reese, Joan, Index to Convicts and Others Extracted from the Colonial Secretary’s In Letters at the Archives Office of New South Wales. 21 microfiche. Balgowlah, NSW: W & F Pascoe, 1994-2005.

If you are looking for more information about your convict than the standard convict records you can find Joan’s indexes in many libraries and family history society collections.

Source documents:

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Printed indents, 1830-42, NRS 12188-90; [X642]. Indent for Blenheim (3) arrived 27 Sep 1839, Reel 908.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Warrants of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, relating to convict vessels from Ireland – the ‘Irish Indents’, 1822-40. NRS 1156. 2 microfilm. Reel 749-750.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Ticket of leave butts, 1827-1875, NRS 12202; Ticket of leave butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 43/2834, [4/4183], Reel 951.

State Records NSW: Principal Superintendent of Convicts; Butts of certificates of freedom, 1827-1867, NRS 12210; Butt for Stephen McCabe per Blenheim 46/842, [4/4405], Reel 1022.

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Letter to Colonial Secretary on behalf of Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 14 June 1845. [4/2706], Ref. 45/4382.

State Records New South Wales; Colonial Secretary: Letters Sent re: Convicts. Application for Wife and Family for Stephen McCabe per ship Blenheim, dated 19 Nov 1847. [4/2762-1], Ref. 47/8260.

State Records New South Wales; Immigration Board, Persons on Bounty Ships to Sydney, Newcastle and Moreton Bay 1848-1891 (Board’s Immigrant Lists) [4/4913-15]. “Success” arrived 18th December 1849, SR Reel 2460.

Other sources for this article:

Perry McIntyre, ‘Restoring Family Ties: Convict Family Reunion in New South Wales 1788-1849’. In Jeff Brownrigg, Cheryl Mongan and Richard Reid (editors), Echoes of Irish Australia: Rebellion to Republic, published by the editors, 2007.

State Records New South Wales; Archives in Brief 34 – Convict Families. Web page

State Records New South Wales, Guide to New South Wales State Archives relating to Convicts and Convict Administration. Sydney: State Records Authority of New South Wales, 2006.

Who wants to know about their family history?

A post from about how little Americans in general know about their family history has surprised me. In summary, the results are:

  • Most 18- to 34–years-old Americans (83%) are interested in learning their family history. For older age groups the percentages were increasingly smaller.
  • Half of Americans know the name of only one or none of their great-grandparents.
  • One in five Americans don’t know what either of their grandfathers do or did for a living.
  • One in five Americans don’t know where their family lived before they came to America.
  • Four out of five Americans say they are interested in learning more about their family history, and yet half have never tried.

Source: Survey Reveals Americans’ Surprising Lack of Family Knowledge, 24-7 Family History Circle,, 7 Dec 2007.

I wonder what the results of such a survey would be in Australia? I suspect they would be much the same. I think the biggest surprise for me is the number of young people interested in their family history. That four out of five under-35s are interested in knowing more about their ancestors came as a bit of a shock. After all, these are not the people you see in family history societies and libraries.

How can we share what we know about our family history with the younger members of our own families? How can we make it interesting for them?

I don’t think kids will be interested if we show them the things that we get excited about – certificates and mentions of our ancestors in newspapers and the like. They like stories. I tell my nieces stories about individuals – about their great-great-grandmother Margaret who went from Scotland to New Zealand with her family when she was four years old to settle in the new town of Auckland, and went on to marry a man who had kids already by a first marriage and died when he was only 46, leaving her with her own kids and his too. And I ask them to imagine what it must have been like for her, as a four-year-old, to travel on a sailing ship for months to the other side of the world and live in what must have looked like a wild west town – dirt streets and horses and all.

Kids need to be involved, and all of this age group are much more accepting of new technology. Not just accepting, but expecting! They expect the internet to work like we expect the phone to work. Put it to use!

  • You could get them to create a family tree on Ancestry or FindMyPast or GenesReunited or one of the many other websites available for this purpose.
  • You can show them what is available on the web and how it can help build up a picture of the ancestor in question.
  • You can give them copies of photos of their ancestors and get them to upload them and link them to their family tree.
  • They could then print out a chart of their ancestors, complete with photos. They might be inspired to hunt for missing ones!
  • You could put them in touch with distant cousins and show them how they are related.

The possibilities are endless. Young adults could also be more involved by handling the web side, copying photos and hunting out more information.

And what about you? Do you know what your grandfathers did, or still do, for a living?

Do you know where your family (or families) lived before they came to Australia?

Do you know the names of your great-grandparents? Especially on the female side?

Do you know which of your younger relatives might be interested in the work you are doing in your own family history?

There is so much to learn, and so little time. The younger we start, the more time we will have, and the more we can build and what has been done before. It’s not just a hobby for the retired!