Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

I'm celebrating with my in-laws in Muscat, Oman where they have recreated a traditional English Christmas with turkey and ALL the trimmings. I won't be able to move for days after we partake of the feast being prepared as I type this post.

A traditional Christmas in the middle of a desert is quite poignant, especially considering one of the wise men (magi) who brought gifts to Jesus was quite possibly an Omani (the one who bought the frankincense). In fact, we bought frankincense from the souq (market) yesterday. Such wonderful smells were coming from the stalls, wafting over everything.

This Christmas, I have been sharing the research I have done on my in-laws ancestors as part of my presents. Has anyone else done this? Given their family history research as a gift? How did you present it? What worked and what didn't? Share below so we can all find better ways of giving the gift of genealogy to people who haven't yet caught the bug!

Monday, 19 December 2011

Dead Person #3 - Elizabeth John (nee Parsons)

Continuing my series on the interesting deaths of my Dead People, today I thought I would share with you the tragic loss of a young wife and mother, my third-great-grandmother, Elizabeth Parsons.

Elizabeth John (nee Parsons), a young wife and mother, arrived in Sydney on 23 January 1887 with her two daughters, Gwilymia and Emily, aboard the steamship Port Victor. They were travelling to join their husband and father, William John, and had departed as steerage passengers from Plymouth on 3 December 1886.

According to the passenger list of the Port Victor, their second daughter, Emily, was born in America in about 1885, but I am yet to confirm this with any certaintity. According to the same list Elizabeth could neither read nor write.


Only ten months after her arrival in New South Wales, Elizabeth died tragically at the age of 26, the cause of death: "Anaemia, Parturition" - she is one of countless women who have died in the endeavour to bring forth life. There is no record of the child she died giving birth too, so we must assume that this child died too. According to her death certificate, the length of her illness was two weeks. Oh, how she must have suffered.

William John and Elizabeth Parsons had married on 11 December 1879 at the Carmel Baptist Chapel in Pontypridd, Glamorgan. Their first daughter, Gwilymia was born on 1 May 1880 in Llantrisant, Glamorgan. Eleven months later, they are listed in the 1881 Welsh Census as living in Brynsadler, Llantrisant. William's occupation is "General Labourer".


Elizabeth Parsons was born in Wiltshire, the daughter of Reuben Parsons and his wife Susannah Wright, both of whom outlived their daughter. I have found them in the 1901 Census, aged 71 and 61, caring for two of their grandchildren - Mary A Parsons (aged 11) and Thomas J Davies (aged 9).


A note on the names mentioned above:
- I have used the spelling "Gwilymia", as found on her birth certificate.
- I have used "William", although he was also known as "Gwilym"

Friday, 16 December 2011

IHGS Correspondence Course - Lecture 1

So, as I mentioned in my first post, I have enrolled in the Correspondence Course with the Institute of Heraldic and Genealogical Studies (IHGS). Despite being enrolled for a few months, I still haven't handed in my first assignments for Lecture 1.

My reason - I am a perfectionist. The assignments are fairly straightforward, or so it seemed at first. We need to do two things:

  • Firstly, write our autobiography. I figured that would easy for me, right? I am only in my twenties, I haven't done all that much, it won't even be very long. How wrong I was. Anyway, I think I finally have it to hand-in-able stage and will let it rest for a week before I read over it once more as a final proof read and sanity check.
  • Secondly, we need to lay out by hand our Seize Quartiers (basically, our own family tree back to our second-great-grandparents). Also something I thought would be easy for me, because I already knew all of mine, in fact my great-great-grandmother, Amy Alma Wardley (1901-1997), was still alive until I was 11 years old. Well, with this assignment I discovered that whilst I knew all of their names, and most of the pertinent dates, I didn't necessarily have the proof to back up my information (whilst I didn't actually needed to provide the evidence for the assignment, I did need to explain briefly how I came across the information in my Seize Quartiers).
And so began my quest to finalise all of the exact dates of the births, marriages and deaths of my sixteen great-great-grandparents, and everybody between them and me. So that is 31 births, 14 marriages (I am not yet married), and 26 deaths (still alive is me, 2 parents, 1 grandfather and 1 great-grandmother).

A quick audit of what I did have already in my files left a shortfall of 7 births, 3 marriages, and 10 deaths. At full price ($30 each) from the NSW BDM Register, it would have been a $600 investment. That is why I decided to order transcriptions instead, which at $14.40 each saved me more than 50% on the NSW BDM price of certificates.

Out of the 20 certificates I needed, there were two death certificates I ordered from Scotland (not yet available on Scotland's People), and two birth certificates that are still unavailable from NSW (and will remain so for another five years).

So, in the end, my perfectionism paid off, and I am now able to prove every person on my Seize Quartiers.

I will let you know how I go once I have my marks back, and I'll keep you posted occasionally as I traverse this two or three years course!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A List - Some of my Favourite FREE Websites

This post is just a little one showcasing some of my favourite FREE websites. They are of particular interest to Australian researchers, and some are relevant to New South Wales in particular. 


The owners and other contributors have compiled this index over a number of years. It is a very easily searchable database covering headstones from various cemeteries in rural and regional NSW, and now rapidly expanding Australia wide. There are photos with most records, they are usually excellent quality, and are free for individual genealogists to use in their research. Some of the cemeteries this database covers are on private property, and in remote locations, so this website is an invaluable resource for genealogists who had family in regional NSW. 


The National Archives obviously hold many records of interest to genealogists, especially if you have ancestors who served in the Australian Defence Forces or immigrated to Australia in the 20th century. I have also found some amazing naturalisation files on my ancestors who were considered possible enemy aliens during the World Wars. 


The State Records obviously hold even more records of interest to genealogists, and as New South Wales is Australia's oldest colony, there are many records of interest to Australian's elsewhere if their families arrived in the first 80-odd years of settlement. Personally, I think their best online resource is the "Online" Microfilm of Shipping Lists. I have found nearly ALL of my ancestors’ arrivals in these pages.


They have millions upon millions of pages of newspapers (amongst other very interesting things). Very good search function, that then allows you to narrow down your search by a whole range of refining titles, decades, years, months, type of article, etc. Excellent resource that is very easy to get lost in, reading about days gone by. I always love having a look through old editions of the Australian Women’s Weekly (available from the first edition in 1933 until 1982). Trove has really helped me add "colour" to my family tree. It isn’t just about finding Family Notices (although these are extremely helpful), but about adding to the story of our ancestor’s lives by using all of the sources available to us. 


The Registry now holds well over 18 million records of events registered in NSW, including the earliest records from 1788, right up until the present day. The Online Historical Indexes are all of the unrestricted records, and include births (>100 years ago), deaths (>30 years ago), and marriages (>50 years ago). January is just around the corner, and then we'll have access to 1911 births, 1981 deaths, and 1961 marriages.

So, those are some of my favourite free websites. What are yours?

Friday, 9 December 2011

Dead Person #2 - William Buchanan, Foreman Shunter

Continuing my series on the interesting deaths of my Dead People, today I'm going to tell you what I know about the death of my third-great-grandfather, William Buchanan.

William Buchanan was born on 5 May 1870 in Wallsend, NSW to Hugh Buchanan (then aged 24) and his wife Miriam Williams (aged 21). He was the first child of their union to survive beyond infancy (two sons, John and Edward W had died before William's birth). William's father, Hugh Buchanan, a miner who emigrated from Scotland, had married Miriam Williams on 13 March 1866. They were married by Presbyterian Minister William Bain at the bride's father's house in Wallsend.

William Buchanan was already employed by the railways when he married Eather Ellen Culla (known as Ellen) on 31 December 1891 at the home Edward Williams (his maternal grandfather, the same house his parents had married in almost 26 years earlier). Baptist Minister Seth Jones officiated, and Andrew Read and Ada Culla (the bride's sister), were witnesses.

William and Ellen had four children - Margaret (aka Maggie - b. 1893), Marion (aka Miriam - b. 1894), William (b. 1901) and Hugh (b. 1908), and William's work in the railways continued, with him rising to the position of Foreman Shunter.

Image from: Ancestry.com. New South Wales, Australia, Registers of Coroners' Inquests, 1796-1942 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc. Source: State Archives NSW: 2764, X2089, Roll 343.

William Buchanan died tragically at the age of 42, when his youngest son was just four years old. He died on 28 July 1912 in Newcastle Hospital from severe injuries caused by an accident at work, when he was run over by a locomotive engine during shunting activity in Newcastle.

William was buried in the Baptist section of Sandgate Cemetery, by Baptist Minister G.M. Bull, the day after the accident on 29 July 1912.

When William died, he left a grieving widow and four fatherless children. Ellen did not remarry, dying a widow in 1954, and despite living in Sydney by this time, she was buried with her husband in Sandgate Cemetery, who had predeceased her 42 years earlier.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Dead Person #1 - Dennis Culla, Farm Labourer

Beginning my series on the interesting deaths of my Dead People, today I'm going to tell you what my Mum and I have found out about one of our earliest Australian immigrant ancestors - my fifth-great-grandfather, Dennis Culla.

Dennis Culla was born about 1819, and baptised in the Roman Catholic Parish of Ballycahill & Holy-Cross in County Tipperary, Ireland.

His parents, Dennis and Catherine, were still alive when he left Ireland as a Bounty Immigrant to Australia with his new wife Mary Maloney (b. c. 1817). Mary's parents, John and Johanna, were also left behind in Ireland when their daughter and son-in-law left to start a new life on the other side of the world.

Dennis and his wife Mary arrived at Botany Bay on 8 March 1842 aboard the 'Woodbridge' and were soon on their way up the Hawkesbury River to work as farm labourers for Mr William Twibble on his farm on the Macdonald River.

Tragically, less than eight months after arriving in Australia, Dennis Culla died, leaving his wife Mary alone with their newborn baby boy, also named Dennis.

Dennis Culla's Headstone in the grounds of the ruined Our Lady of Loretto Chapel at Upper Macdonald. Source: Australian Cemetery Index.

Dennis Culla was buried in the Roman Catholic cemetery next to the Our Lady of Loretto Chapel at Upper Macdonald by the Reverend Thomas Slattery on 28 October 1842. The Burial register does not give the date of his death, nor the cause, and I am afraid it will probably remain a mystery.

Was it an accident on the farm? Did he drown in the river? Did he get bitten by a snake?

If you know more about Dennis Culla and his death, please leave a comment below or contact me privately, as we would love to find out how this young husband and father died so soon after arriving in the colony.


Also, a note on the photo: the Australian Cemetery Index is a great FREE resource, their database has more than 430,000 entries (and there are images attached to most of these). Thanks to the owners of the website, and all of the contributors!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Transcriptions Galore! And a new found interest in the deaths of my dead people...

I recently ordered 50-odd transcriptions of information in the NSW BDM Registers that I have had on a wish list for years! My intention was always to get the certificates, but at $30 a pop, and with an ever growing wish list, that was a bit of a pipe dream (unless I miraculously became a millionaire).

So, I decided to go with a transcription agent instead, which is a much more economical path to the same information. Luckily, I decided to do it during Marilyn Rowan's Transcriptions Christmas sale and saved even more! Mum and I got together, expanded the wish list, and halved the cost of the transcriptions. Two-thirds of our order has arrived, and we have so much more information about our family!

Many of the items on my wish list were deaths, because earlier in my research that was the information I was least interested in. Now, my ancestor's deaths have me intrigued. Over the next few weeks I am going to showcase some of the interesting deaths I've discovered, hopefully you will find them just as interesting and the stories will inspire you to seek out some of those unknown deaths in your own family tree!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Putting my House in Order

One of the first rules I made when I started Branches Leaves & Pollen was:
Put your own house in order before you try to help someone else with theirs.
Meaning that before I could help other people with their genealogical puzzles, I had to get my own house in order, I had to verify and publish my own research in such a way that showed the integrity of the information.

And when I started to do this, I realised my "working" tree was a mess - I had over 18,000 names in the tree, and very little of my research was referenced even if I "knew" where I had found the information. Of course, with that many names, there were bound to be mistakes and leaps of faith.

After researching for almost 15 years, alongside my Mum, between us we had literally piles of information. Some of it was in notebooks, various paper filing systems, on the computer, on external hard drives, on usb sticks, and even all over TWO of my computer desktops, as well as online trees at Ancestry and GenesReunited, and in Family Tree Maker (both of us had different versions installed on different computers in different houses and had only merged the GEDCOMs very occasionally).
    One of my genealogy piles pre folders!
    (But I think I can see a Tupperware receipt in there too)!
    The first thing I did was to devise a paper filing system that would work for me. Everything I had tried before had failed, so I turned to my trusty friend Google and started researching. In the end I created a hybrid system from all sorts of ideas I found in genealogical books, and online on blogs, organisation websites, and genealogical websites. I just tried to find the website I found the most helpful... and I can't! A perfect example of why bookmarking websites you like or have information you need is a vital part of organising your genealogical research! (If someone recognises my system, please let me know so I can give the right person credit.)

    In the meantime, I have found an e-book that looks great! Another blogger, Sassy Jane Genealogy, is an archivist, and she has an e-book available called Organizing Your Genealogical Research Using Archival Principles. I've just ordered it, so I will let you know how useful I find it.

    My own paper filing system works like this:
    1. I have a lever arch file (as well as a computer folder and an archive box) for each of the surnames of my parents and my boyfriend's parents, and I have allocated each surname a colour so it is easy for me to identify. So in my case that means Houston (Blue), Riebe (Yellow), Lehmann (Green), and Taker (Red).
    2. I then bought pocket dividers with 10 tabs, coloured sheet protectors to match my folders, and a selection of labels (I use Avery's 8mm multi coloured dots, 24mm circles, and 24x49mm white rectangles).
    3. Each folder starts with a five generation pedigree chart inserted into the first pocket divider with the label (Surname)0001 (for example, my Houston folder starts with a pedigree chart with my father as the first person, and the label H0001 in the tab of the divider).
    4. Each person (even if you don't know who they are yet) on this pedigree chart gets a number, starting at 01 for the first person, and ending with 15 for their great-grandmother. Each person in the fifth generation begins a new divider (i.e. H0002 starts with the first great-great-grandfather on H0001). So, effectively, each person gets an individual reference number made up of two components, the first is the chart number (e.g. H0001) and the second is their position on the chart (e.g. 03), so my father's mother is H0001-03. My father's great-great-grandfather is H0002-01.
    5. I then print out a family group sheet for every couple on the chart (H0001-01, H0001-02+03, H0001-04+05 etc.) and put them in sheet protectors behind the divider.
    6. Then I put in photocopies or print outs of each piece of evidence I have for those people in chronological order (e.g. behind H0001-01 I have copies of my father's birth certificate and marriage certificate). I use a small rectangle label on the top right hand corner of each sheet protector to label what the evidence is (birth, census, electoral roll, etc.) and whom it is for (H0001-01). That way I can see at glance what it is without having to read the document (very helpful when you start looking at images of old parish registers), and I can put it away easily if I take it out of the folder.
    My surname folders within easy reach of my desk and computer.
    Now, I find this an easy way to store and see the evidence I have for my direct ancestors. But there are limitations. What do I do with siblings? They can go in behind each family group sheet as well, but they don't have a reference number, making it hard to keep track of their evidence.

    Also, originals, especially old originals (the earliest birth certificate I have is from 1894), need to be stored separately in archival quality conditions. They should NEVER be stored in a "working" folder that is handled frequently.

    Much to my surprise, I filled the Houston folder to overflowing on the first day of reorganising, and have now started another folder (I simply called it Houston 2 and continued the numbering). The benefit of using the lever arch files and dividers is that they are instantly and easily expandable. My last divider is H3699 (I do have dividers "missing" in between), which contains information about a marriage in 1684.

    Once I had done this, it was time to fill in the gaps! Not necessarily actual gaps in the tree, I had very few of those, but I had a lot of evidence "missing" - some of it was available and already paid for on Ancestry or Scotland's People, some of it was saved somewhere electronically, and some of it I needed to order! And I decided to sensibly start with the evidence closest to me, ordering my grandparents' marriage certificate from 1955, and working backwards from there.