Sunday, 25 August 2013

Unlocking family stories - journals and diaries

During the early 1930s George Hutton lived on the sheep station, Metavale, out of Cunnamulla in south west Queensland. The property was owned by his daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Arthur Lord. George spent much of his time reading and writing down his reminiscences about his arrival in Australia in 1869 as well as a selection of family stories.
This nondescript black covered notebook contains a mine of information about this branch of the family in Australia in the nineteenth century.
George wrote in great detail about the properties he visited in 1869 and 1870 as well as expeditions with his father in 1871 until the decision to purchase Cooring Yering at Lilydale. George then worked with his father helping to establish the property until the rest of the family came out from England in 1874 when he set out to travel north and at that point stopped recording his story.

George also included notes about adventures that his parents had living in India and a short account of the journey of George Mackillop (George's grandfather) exploring part of eastern Victoria in January 1835, before the official exploration of the new colony. He also wrote about the death of his uncle, John Mackillop at the Siege of Cawnpore in India in 1857. Thanks to George we therefore have not only his account but stories to investigate further in other sources.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Unlocking family stories - photographs

Most of us have collections of family photographs - some with information attached, many without. Photographs can be an extremely useful resource when unlocking family stories.
The above photograph, taken c1935, is of my great grandfather, George Hutton (1850-1936). It was taken on my grandparents' property, Metavale, near Cunnamulla in south-west Queensland.

The photograph is useful not only for providing an image of George - 'an old man with a beard' who spent his time reading or writing (according to my mother who was a young girl at the time).  What is particularly significant is the garden in the back ground. This area of Queensland is known for its  saltbush vegetation suitable for grazing sheep but not growing lush gardens.
By comparison, the above image found online at Queensland State Archives shows what the homestead looked like in 1910.  In the 1980s I interviewed my mother about her memories of growing up in Queensland. She described the garden at Metavale -

Mother had quite a nice garden considering there was only bore water and the climate was terrible. There was a lot of bougainvillea growing on the trellis in the front. One of the things that would grow was a saltbush hedge around the house. There were also oleanders. Mother did have a nice flower garden in winter and spring. Dad grew vegetables.


Using the Images search option in Google is one way of locating images online.

Trove (Pictures, photos, objects section) is a useful site to look for images from Australian websites including the sites of the major collecting institutions in the country.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Unlocking family stories - correspondence

If you have access to family papers you might find correspondence that could be extremely useful for your family history search.

One gem in my collection is the transcription made by my father of a letter found among papers belonging to my grandmother. The letter is dated 23 and 25 October 1855 and is addressed from Grosvenor Place, Bath. The letter was written by Jean Eleaonora Mackillop to her daughter, Eleanora Hutton, in India.

British families living in India often returned children born in India to the UK to be looked after by family members and educated in England or Scotland. The grandparents were looking after three children when the letter was written, George 5, Jean 3 and Eleonora 1. Jean had been born in India while her brother and sister were born in Bath.That morning George had had his first lesson to learn his letters and 'had been very attentive'. His grandmother hoped 'that when he can read he will learn to express himself well and clearly'.

She added, 'He does not know the Lord's Prayer quite perfect but nearly so. I do not think he is quick in learning by heart, at present, but his technical memory will probably improve when he acquires the habit of giving his mind to his occupation.'

The above is only part of a long letter with much more information about the three children including a description of new clothes for the girls for winter as they have grown. The grandparents had just returned from eleven days in Paris. There is also news about mutual friends as well information about family investments in tea in India.

As well as providing information about family members the letter provides a snapshot of life in Bath in 1855.

Also among my grandmother's papers was correspondence from a cousin who had been investigating the Hutton family story and believed that there were connections with royalty. He had a genealogist in England investigating possible links for him but there was no follow up letter in the files confirming or denying this.

With the Internet it is much easier now to research family history from afar and I therefore was able to follow the family back through the lines he suggested and it appears that direct links can be traced back to the Plantagenets, the Normans, some Scottish Kings and even to Alfred the Great. All a bit of fun which I would not have investigated if I had not found the letter written to my grandmother.

I also have a transcription of another letter written in September 1982 by the cartoonist, Syd Miller, to my father. In the letter Syd describes some of the outing he and his wife made with my grandparents in the late 1920s / early 1930s.

At that time I like to remember most a 1927 Buick Roadster. It had a dicky seat. ... This Buick seated three persons, but mostly seated four persons. Mo being wider than any of us sat against the left or passenger door, Agnes (sorry Fairy) sat on his knee, Susie squeezed into the middle, I always drove.... The dicky seat in the back we always reserved for odd bods we cared little for or for whom we cared little. It was mainly used to transport grog safely from place to place.

There is also description of leaving their children at home with relatives or people they paid to look after them. He added, 'later as the years progressed we'd say or think, "They're old enough to look after themselves." In more modern parlance:"She'll be sweet, Mate."...'

This was the first indication of the Bohemian lifestyle my grandparents must have led with their journalist and artist friends, colleagues and acquaintances. I wish that I had known about this when my grandmother and my father were alive. I would have asked them lots of questions.

Unlocking family stories - biographical dictionaries

The Australian Dictionary of Biography has been available online for many years. The ADB is produced by the National Centre of Biography at the Australian National University.
http://adb.anu.edu.au/
The entries provide a useful overview of the life of the person and are written by experts in the field.

A newer resource associated with ADB is  Obituaries Australia.
Women Australia and Labour Australia are other projects of the National Centre of Biography available online.

Another major biographical resource available at major reference libraries such as the State Library of Victoria is Who's Who in Australia. Some years ago I found a useful entry about my grandfather, including an outline of his journalistic career, in a volume of Who's Who Australia published in the early 1930s.

Anyone living in Victoria can apply for a State Library of Victoria reader's card enabling access to online databases from their website.
Similarly any Australian can apply for a National Library of Australia reader's card enabling access to online databases from their website.
Clicking the biography tab in the Browse Category menu provides access to 32 resources, both databases accessible only by using the membership card as well as websites available to anyone online. This is obviously a good place to start.

Unlocking family stories - e-books


Increasingly books that are in the public domain are being digitised and made available online. Two sites for free e-books are:

  Project Gutenberg

  Google Books

Public library websites often provide access to e-book collections for borrowing as well as links to sites providing free e-books for download to add to your collection. 

Whitehorse Manningham Regional Library Corporation website provides access to e-books via the e-resources link.
Typing the title of a book AND e-book in a search engine (especially if the title was published prior to 1955) is one way of discovering the availability of titles.
In 1839 George Mackillop submitted an article to the Scottish publication, Quarterly Journal of Agriculture, describing his views about the possibilities of the new settlement of Port Phillip. I was unable to locate a copy of the article until I found a copy of the volume containing the article digitised by Google.
Often when searching for information about an individual, especially someone who lived during the eighteenth century, references will be found in digitised documents online. 

Unlocking family stories - books

Exploring libraries and bookshops for relevant General Nonfiction,  Biographies and Fiction might provide context and / or facts for unlocking your family story.
The examples above are all books from my collection that provide background information about events experienced by family members. Sometimes they mention specific information about the person as well.
My father was a journalist at The Argus newspaper so The Argus, life and death of a newspaper is an important resource. One of the stories recounted by my father about the Second World War involved the evacuation of Crete, a story covered in Diggers and Greeks. With twelve convicts in the family The Rum Rebellion is an event that would have impacted on all their lives, especially Simeon Lord, a signatory of the petition to depose Governor Bligh. Another of my convicts, Uriah Moses, was Jewish so Australian Genesis  provides information about the lives of this minority group in the Sydney settlement. As my mother was a schoolgirl living at Rose Bay when the Japanese midget submarines entered Sydney Harbour in 1942 so Battle Surface provides interesting reading about these and other sightings of Japanese vessels off the Australian coast. 
When using non-fiction books for family history research always check the index as well as the contents and don't forget to investigate any relevant notes for further clues as well as appendices and the bibliography.
 Two of the books used when researching George Hutton's story about his first few years in Australia were Saltbush Country, a history of the Deniliquin area where George spent a few months in 1869 and Lillydale providing the area where George's father purchased a property and built a home for his family in the 1870s.
With family links going back to the Normans and Plantagenets it has been useful to read biographies about individuals and families. Many novels have also been written based on the lives, or supposed lives of people living during this period. The relationship between John of Gaunt and Katherine Roet has attracted the attention of a number of authors of romance novels - some well written and researched while others are unreadable.
Family milestones and / or reunions may promote the distribution or publication of  family histories while sometimes a family member may write and publish a story about an ancestor.

A word of caution: When using information to add to your family story always check the sources used by the author and, if possible, refer to a number of resources as not everything in print (or online) is necessarily factual.