Monday, 16 March 2015

Getting prepared for Congress

Well I'm getting very excited in the lead-up to Congress next week, after many many months of waiting. I wrote about it here. I've been to Canberra a few times, but not on my own, so I'll be getting Google Maps out to figure out where I need to be & when. As well as Librarian's Day on the Thursday, I've also scored extra after-hours time at the National Archives of Australia and the National Library of Australia. Also I have a get-together with the Genealogists for Families Kiva project group, and straight on to dinner at Jamie's Italian Restaurant with the UTAS crowd. I have two cousins who live in Queanbeyan with their families, so one night will be spent dining with them, which I'm looking forward to, having only seen the youngest of their children on Facebook so far. So it looks like I only have one night to fend for myself at dinner, and I am quite familiar with the workings of a Maccas drive-thru, so I think I'll have no trouble in that department.

I've ordered business cards, thanks to Judy Webster's tip, & I used this link to Vistaprint so Kiva gets a contribution. The photo in the background is of my great great aunt's wedding in 1915, with my great great grandmother, Elizabeth Lorne CRUCKSHANK (nee BRACKENREG) being the widowed matriarch on the far right. I've got a business in mind, so I made the cards in anticipation of this, although the website is still a work in progress. On the reverse of each card are my research surname interests, which I am yet to complete on the Congress page.

The NSW elections are on Saturday 28th, & I have no intention of leaving Congress to drive out of the ACT to a polling booth, so I've registered for iVote, & I'll lodge my vote (for what it's worth!) when e-polling opens. That's one thing I won't have hanging over my head.

There are quite a few people I hope to catch up with that I have only met online, so I'm printing myself a cheat sheet of names with a photo of them (profile pic from Facebook, for eg) and which group I know them from, so I can be better prepared in a sea of faces.

At these kinds of events there are usually stalls run by magazines such as Inside History, transcription agents, & retailers such as Gould Genealogy. I love looking at all the goodies on display, but invariably forget what books I already have at home, I'm going prepared with a list of my genealogy library so I don't double-up - again.

See you there!!

Sunday, 8 March 2015

How I concluded what Andy's real birthday was, thanks to the University of Tasmania

Late last year the University of Tasmania offered an online subject called Introduction to Family History, as part of a Bachelor of General Studies. Almost 1500 of us enrolled in the course, although not all students finished. The assessments led up to the production of a research report based on a research aim, or answer to a problem that we identified, and we had to source the relevant documents to help us reach a conclusion based on these records.

I chose to find out the real date of birth of my great grandfather, known by various names such as George or Andrew (Andy) COLLINS, but also with the surname BARRETT, and also GIBB. He only went by the COLLINS name, William James BARRETT was his real mother's husband, but his real father was Henry Burgess GIBB. I don't know if he ever knew of his real paternity. The COLLINS family of Wallsend, NSW, fostered him as a baby in 1885 and he listed them as his parents when he married by great grandmother, Rosanna KING, in 1907.

Here is my research report on how I concluded the real date of birth for Andy COLLINS:

HSP105 Introduction to Family History
Assessment Task 3: Research Report

Research Aim
1. What was the exact date of birth for my great grandfather George Andrew Collins, being registered twice, showing dates of birth as 13 Nov 1885 and 14 Nov 1885?

Key Sources
Primary Sources: 
1. NSW Marriage Certificate, District of Waterloo, William Barrett and Ada Morrant 1883/003088
2. NSW Birth Certificate, District of Sydney, George Andrew Barrett 1885/003731
3. NSW Birth Certificate, District of Sydney, Andrew Gibb Barrett 1885/003889
4. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Register of admissions and discharges, December 1882 – December 1886, Register 2, Z D577 CY 1815 (compiled about 21 September 1885)
5. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Register of admissions and discharges, December 1882 – December 1886, Register 4, Z D577 CY 1815 (compiled about 30 November 1885)
6. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Register of admissions and discharges, December 1882 – December 1886, Register 5, Z D577 CY 1815 (compiled about 09 December 1885)
7. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Inmates Journals, October 1883 – December 1886, Journal 2, Z A 7236 CY 1968 (compiled about 21 September 1885)
8. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Inmates Journals, October 1883 – December 1886, Journal 6, Z A 7236 CY 1968 (compiled about 05 December 1885)
9. Sydney Benevolent Asylum, Index to Discharges, October 1883 – December 1886, Journal 6, CY 1804 (compiled about 07 December 1885)

Secondary Sources:
10. Personal letter from Ellen Collins to Janelle Collins, c1988
11. NSW Birth Index, District of Waterloo, William James Barrett 1883/9644

Biographical Report of George Andrew Gibb Barrett/Collins

Write a report describing what you have learned from your research. What sources were of significant value to your research? Why?
The primary and secondary sources are all vital documents in me being able to draw conclusions and answer my two research aims. I have been careful to source these documents from the time as close to the event as possible, and from reputable sources. The most significant source was the Sydney Benevolent Asylum Inmates Journal(7), which revealed the father of my great-grandfather to be a man other than the one on his first birth certificate(2).
Research Aim:
What was the exact date of birth for this same great grandfather, being registered twice, showing dates of birth as 13 Nov 1885 and 14 Nov 1885?

To answer this Research Aim I needed proof of my great grandfather’s birth. I searched for a Birth Registration for him, and came away with two certificates (2)&(3), for the same child.  The first of the two registrations was on 18th December 1885 (#0037312) in Sydney, NSW, and the second was 13 days later on 31st December 1885 (#0038893), also in Sydney. Both certificates contain a mixture of facts and fabrications.
Almost every detail on certificate #0037312 contradicts the corresponding detail on certificate #0038893. The first certificate shows a date of birth as 13th November 1885, whereas certificate(3) shows his DOB as 14th November 1885. To clarify this anomaly I contacted the parties who have researched and copied the Sydney Benevolent Asylum records, and purchased primary sources including journal entries, register entries, and indexes for my great-great grandmother’s admission and discharge from the Asylum in 1885, which also recorded Andy’s birth. His DOB is recorded in two documents, a monthly register of admissions and discharges(5), compiled approx. two weeks after the birth, and an index to discharges(10), compiled sometime after June the following year (1886). Both records show Andy (named George Andrew BARRETT) as being born on 13th November.

There are a number of reasons that the dates of birth might have been recorded differently on the two birth certificates. The Benevolent Asylum has initiated the creation of the earlier of the two certificates, which was created only five days after the event. The date of 13th November on this certificate corresponds with the dates they record on their admissions and discharge registers. The later certificate was completed using information given by the mother, rather than the Asylum, and the mother had a number of possible reasons for giving incorrect information. Her circumstances were that this baby was from a pregnancy by a man other than her husband. At around the time the husband would have found out about the pregnancy he assaulted their toddler, almost causing young William’s death. The father was arrested, tried, and gaoled for this offence. When the mother, Ada, was admitted into the Asylum the notes(7) say: "Barrett Ada, 22 years, CE native of England, arrived in the colony when young. Father William Moran, painter, whereabouts unknown. Husband in Goulburn Gaol for 13 months serving a sentence of 5 years for ill treatment of his child. Barrett is now pregnant to Henry Gibb, miner, Newcastle. Confinement expected this month. No means."

Ada must have been under enormous strain. She was only 22, had no idea where her father was (her mother had died when she was 11), she was pregnant with an illegitimate child, her violent husband was in gaol, and she had witnessed an attack on her other child, who had been handed over to the Boarding Out Officer to be placed into foster care on 3rd October, only weeks before Andy’s birth. Ada was admitted to an asylum for the destitute, the same place she had been admitted to for six weeks when she was almost five years old when her mother was in the infirmary and her father was destitute. If Ada had a traumatic time during her first stay here, those anxieties would be in the front of her mind as she is admitted this time. As well as this she was illiterate, so mistakes could easily have been made on the second birth certificate, as she would not have been able to complete the form herself, or verify the accuracy of what was recorded on her behalf. These differences may also have been deliberate. Possibly Ada was trying to disguise the birth of this child so he couldn’t be traced by his step-father once he was released from gaol. She may have thought that providing another name, a move from Sydney to Newcastle, and different DOB for the child would give him a fresh start in his new life with his foster family. Possibly Andy was born very near to midnight and Ada genuinely believed his DOB to be 14th not the 13th. Andy himself believed his DOB to be 13th, as that was the day his birthday was celebrated, as indicated on the letter to me from Ellen Collins(10). Ellen was known to us all as Aunty Barrie as her maiden surname was Barrett - no relation.

All of these sources are of great significant to my research, as they provide direct evidence of what happened at the time. The Sydney Benevolent Asylum records (4-9) would have been compiled by a clerk in their office, who would probably have had no reason to record inaccurate data. The birth certificates (2 & 3) also provide evidence of the facts of the time, although as we have seen they are not 100% accurate.

Conclusion to Research Aim: Based on the evidence shown from these sources I conclude that Andy’s DOB was in fact 13th November 1885, not 14th November 1885.


What can you conclude from your research? What further questions do you now have?
Conclusion to Research Aim: Based on the evidence shown from these sources I conclude that Andy’s DOB was in fact 13th November 1885, not 14th November 1885.
As is usual with family history, answering a set of questions seems to generate many more. This search has highlighted to me some areas of research that I can undertake to gain a further understanding Andy and Ada’s lives in the late 1880’s.

Further questions generated by this research:

1. Did Andy know his father was Henry Gibb, not William Barrett Sr? He told his daughter-in-law, Ellen, that it was Barrett.
2. Was there any connection between Ada’s or Henry Gibb’s families and the Collins family that raised Andy?
3. At the time of Andy’s birth Henry Gibb was a miner in Newcastle. Ada registered Andy’s birth and said she was from Jesmond (a suburb of Newcastle). Was she only there to give her child away, or had she moved there?

I received a Distinction for this report, which I'm happy with. The whole course was a wonderful way to learn how to choose a question to answer, gather around the relevant sources, and analyse them to reach a conclusion that hopefully actually answers the question. I'm sure most of us answered one question, which in turn generated many others, as is the way in family history.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Don't be afraid to ring absolutely anyone!!

When I'm looking for ancestors I'm a bit too much like a terrier in the hunt for information, & I won't stop until I find it. That process might take many years, but so be it.

Today I wanted to plot my ggg-grandfather's grave on Google Earth. John KING was born in O'Callaghans Mills in County Clare, Ireland, in around 1815, arrived here on the Neptune in 1841 for Messers Thos Entere & James, presumably to work for them. He had just married Mary ANGLIM and they brought out their baby daughter Catharine with them. He spent a lot of years working on the large property 'Bontharambo' (just north of Wangaratta, Victoria), where he died in 1889, age 74 or 76, and is buried at the local Boorhaman Cemetery.

All of my Googling today wouldn't reveal where the cemetery actually is, so I thought I'd ring somewhere local and ask them, seeing as I live 700kms away. Boorhaman isn't a very large town, but they do have a pub, so I rang there and prefaced my question with: "I know this sounds weird, but...". The friendly fellow who answered doesn't consider himself as a local, because he's only lived there 15 years, but he did know where the cemetery is, and he directed me to it while I followed along on Google Earth. And there it was!! Next door to the tip, but no matter.

Photo courtesy of

Headstone photos courtesy of Carol Judkins 

Another descendant tells me that John's grave is the oldest in the Boorhaman Cemetery. I find it interesting that his son, my gg-grandfather, William KING, has made his own name more prominent on the stone than his father's name, whose grave it is. William was the youngest of John and Mary's 9 children, the rest stayed in Victoria, but William moved to Newcastle, NSW in about 1900.

The inscription reads: 
Erected by 
William King
Memory of
His Beloved Father
John King
Who died Augst 15 - 1889 aged 76 years
May his soul rest in peace

His age at death is 76 on his headstone, but 74 on his death certificate. His date of birth is still a mystery, which I will hopefully solve one of these days.

So now I have a bright yellow pin on Google Earth, so I'll know where to go when I'm next down that way to pay my respects to John King. Thanks to the random chap at the pub who helped me find it.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Some fiction based on life in early Australia

I'm a huge fan of the website Goodreads for recording everything I've read, or am currently reading, or would like to read. It has an app so I can be in a bookshop or library and see yet another book I'd love to read (so many books, so little time) and all I have to do is scan the book's barcode and Goodreads adds it to my Want To Read list. I can also connect with other readers who like similar things, or with existing friends through a link that uses my Facebook profile to find my friends.

I work in a library as my day job (I know, it's a tough life for some), and see so many books as I'm shelving, as well as getting recommendations from patrons and colleagues. When I'm shelving I have to discipline myself not to read the blurbs on all the books, because there will be too many I'd like to borrow, and I know I don't have enough time to read them all. Maybe if I didn't do any family history I could fit in all the reading, but that's not going to happen!! A month ago I liked the look of a cover I was about to shelve (yes, I know the saying, but if it were true then publishing companies wouldn't need marketing departments) but when I came back from my lunch break it had already been borrowed, & I couldn't for the life of me remember the title or author, just the first line of the blurb. I typed my dilemma into the Goodreads discussion group called What's The Name Of That Book??? and within a few days I had a reply with the exact book I was after. So I found it, read it, and loved it. Result!! Thanks Goodreads community.

The other good thing about Goodreads is the way I can categorise my books into whatever shelving system I like. I created one called Convict/Colonial to gather together everything I've read/want to read/currently reading about my favourite genre, fiction based on Australian convict lives and stories. I find that reading these books helps me envisage my convict/colonial ancestor's lives much better then reading a textbook about the times. My all-time favourite is The Secret River by Kate Grenville, and also the book she wrote about her research process called Searching for the Secret River. When I read the second one I realised how much work it takes to write a good book, not just in the massive amounts of research involved, but the editing process as well. Other favourites are The Burial by Courtney Collins (no relation), and the Convict Girls series by Deborah Challinor. If I read a book I love I try and contact the author to thank them, and ended up corresponding a little with both Courtney Collins and Deborah Challinor. I asked Deborah if she could include a map in the next book so I could refer to it and really know where things were in Sydney in the 1830's as she describes the main characters walking around the fledgling city. She said she'd ask the publisher, and voila! there was a map in the front of Book #3, The Silk Thief. Thanks Deborah!!

If you're looking for some fiction based on convict or early settler's life in Australia here is a list of the books I've read and enjoyed that fall into that category:

  • Surviving Sydney Cove: The Diary of Elizabeth Harvey, Sydney, 1790 - Alexander Goldie
  • An Irresistible Temptation - Carol Baxter
  • Kitty, Amber, then Band of Gold (trilogy) - Deborah Challinor 
  • Behind the Sun, Girl of Shadows, then The Silk Thief (trilogy) - Deborah Challinor
  • For the Term of His Natural Life - Marcus Clarke
  • The Burial - Courtney Collins
  • A Place Called Freedom - Ken Follett (set in Scotland then the USA, but similar vintage)
  • Tom Appleby, Convict Boy - Jackie French
  • The Secret River, Searching for The Secret River, Sarah Thornhill - Kate Grenville
  • The Lieutenant - Kate Grenville (fiction roughly based on the life of Lieutenant William Dawes)
  • To Love Anew, Longings of the Heart, and Enduring Love (trilogy) - Bonnie Leon
  • The Colour of Milk - Nell Leyshon
  • South of Darkness - John Marsden
  • Playing Beattie Bow - Ruth Park
  • The Quietness - Alison Rattle
  • Currency Lass - Margaret Leeson
  • A Woman Transported - Sharon Robards
  • Women on the Rocks: A Tale of Two Convicts - Kristin Williamson
  • The Currency Lads - Peter Yeldham
If anyone has any others to add to the list, please mention them in the Comments below. I'd love to hear of some more!

PS Once I pressed Publish on this post I went to the National Library of Australia's website and searched by subject, coming away with probably 50 new titles to add to my list, some of which I have already read but forgotten to add to Goodreads, like the Potato Factory series by Bryce Courtenay, Sara Dane by Catherine Gaskin, and The Australians series by William/Vivian Stuart Long. My list is 73 books long. Again, so many books, so little time.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Above The Fold

Today I had the honour of meeting Aussie author and screenwriter, Peter Yeldham, at Tuggerah Library as he launched his latest novel 'Above The Fold'. I first discovered his writing when I found his book The Currency Lads, about two boys in 1830's Sydney. Early Australian historical fiction is my favourite genre, and this book is wonderful, as are all of his novels. Each one teaches me about a period in history or historical figures that I didn't know much about previously. He was an engaging speaker, and signed my copy which is next on the very tall "to read" pile.

I'm particularly looking forward to reading this novel as Peter's character is a journalist covering issues such as the British nuclear testing in South Australia, which my grandmother's brother was involved in as a Squadron Leader for the Royal Australian Air Force. Uncle Geoffrey Tuck was ordered by the British to fly through the mushroom clouds and follow their drift. He refused to let his men do this, but followed orders himself, and died only a few years later from a rare form of cancer. I'll be writing more about this war hero in the near future.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Love over time is the same

I just love this picture. It just goes to show that our ancestors weren't all stuffy and serious all the time, even if their photos make it look like they were (well, maybe some actually were, but that's their problem). I wonder what they'd make of the silly faces we pull nowadays for our phone cameras.

Love doesn't change over time, just how we record it.

From the Twisted Twigs on Gnarled Branches Facebook page

Sign here

I've recently discovered a new addition to Ancestry, the New South Wales Land Grants 1788 - 1963. They are provided to Ancestry through the awesome State Records NSW. Much as I love visiting their facility, it's great to not have to trek to Kingswood, and be able to look these records up from my lounge room. I have several ancestors and their partners who received land grants, including Thomas Dixon, Richard Brownlow, Esther Spencer, James Brackenreg, and Joseph Bigge. These records are fantastic for helping me figure out exactly where these parcels of land were, and other little snippets of information. Eg, one of my ancestors (Esther's daughter and my 4x great grandmother) was born Mary Ann Spencer. Spencer was her mother's surname, and even though she had Thomas Stubbs as her partner and father of her child, because they weren't married Mary Ann was christened as a Spencer. Thomas does get a mention on the christening record, though. So Mary Ann grew up and married Charles James Brackenreg, named after his father, James Brackenreg, who was a soldier on the Second Fleet. Charles was almost always known as James, which makes it nice and confusing of course. These land grant records showed me two things that I love: one is that Mary Ann was known as Marian, and secondly, these grants were all signed by the Purchaser, so now I have actual signatures for some of my people!! By comparing the signatures on land grants to Charles James and grants to James, I could tell that the grant was to the same man, the son of the soldier, because the signature was the same on each record. I find it thrilling to see these people's names hand written on the page. It really brings them to life for me. I was happy to see Marian's name as that, to help differentiate her from her daughter-in-law who was also Mary Ann, but also to know that she had a pet name within the family, like a lot of us do.

Esther wasn't literate, as far as I can tell, and/or maybe they didn't ask for the spouse's signature on documents back in the 1830's, so I've never seen anything signed by her. I would love to have faces to put to these names, but sadly they had all died before photography took hold. Having their signatures is the next best thing!

Charles James Brackenreg 1797 - 1878

Thomas Dixon 1801 - 1847

Richard Brownlow 1794 - 1845
Joseph Bigge 1768 - 1833