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Monday, August 31, 2009

The Pace of Genealogy Research

Randy Seaver posed the question: What effects have you noticed from the increased "pace of genealogy research" in your own research? in Genea-Musings: The Pace of Genealogy Research - Post 3.

I've been on-again, off-again with my genealogy. It has been interesting to see the massive increases in resources available online each time I've come "on-again". While I wouldn't want to relinquish the resources that are now available, I sometimes think they diminish the magic of a new discovery.

Once upon a time, to find a birth, death or marriage entry in Victoria, Australia I would:
  • find a spare morning or afternoon to go to the library
  • hunt through countless microfiche for a birth, death or marriage index entry
  • send a form (and my money) away requesting a copy
  • wait by the mailbox for weeks until the certificate arrived
  • pore over every detail, feeling excited about each and every new piece of information whether it was a birth date, father's occupation or even a previously unknown middle name, and enjoy entering the information into whatever method of record keeping I was using at the time.
  • I may go to the library and search the indexes on CD, or if short on time, I will sit at my computer and look at the Victorian registry of Births Deaths and Marriages Historical Indexes.
  • Having found the entry I want, I will then order the certificate online, feeling frustrated at the short delay while my credit card is processed before I can download it! You can certainly spend a lot of money very quickly that way!
As a result, I think I probably take less time but spend more money on genealogy now. I feel like a much greater proportion of my genealogy time is spent processing information or making sure my source citations are correct, rather than on the fun part where I get to feel like a detective, solving a puzzle that's just for me.

Then again, I've also made leaps and bounds in my research that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. While it's very nice to visit your ancestor's birthplaces, I'm sure, it's not really viable for me to take a research trip to another State right now, let alone to the other side of the world! I'd love to do it someday, though.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Still staying focused - a good result!

I would have skipped World Vital Records' recent offer of a few days of free access, had it not been for the Victorian Government and Police Gazettes. I've been meaning to have a look at them some time. They were tempting... so very tempting... I signed up.

After some playing around to get a feel for the site I decided to focus on a few individuals from my COUPER branch. This family came from Scotland and settled in Oakleigh, Victoria in the mid 1850s. I've got good basic information on them, and a bit more.

I found Robert COUPER in several directories as a cooper, which fits with what I know. Only... one year there was a Robert COUPER in Oakleigh with the word "beerhouse" instead. How odd, I thought, and wondered if it was the same person. It took me a few days before the (now obvious) thought came to me that beer would have been stored in barrels. Coopers make barrels. "Beerhouse" might not be so inconsistent after all. That little revelation was enough to make me think that my time was not totally wasted.

There was another possible lead for the family. I found a reference to a Robert COUPER in the Victorian Goverment Gazette (1858). He had been awarded a government contract for the supply of timber for the maintenance of the plank road from Geelong to Ballarat. Could this be my Robert COUPER? A cooper must have a source of timber, mustn't he? I will have to see if the Public Record Office of Victoria has the tender documents and contract in their archives. Some day. I've put it on my to-do list.

I came away feeling glad I'd taken up the offer. I was able to focus on the families I was interested in and now have some leads to follow when I am ready to do some real work on them.

As for the site itself, I probably will take a paid subscription with them some day, when I'm ready. I found the search interface so-so but the databases on offer had potential. I was going to write a post about the search interface but I think it would be more constructive to send my remarks to the website's feedback form. Unless I run short of blog topics, or there is overwhelming reader interest (=any) on the subject, that is!

Staying focused... or not

How do you stay focused on your research?

I struggle with it. It's all the genealogy related stuff available on the internet that gets me. I'm constantly trying out demo versions of this, or checking out new databases of that, or following interesting discussions about the other. I tell myself it will ultimately help me because I'll know exactly the source and tool to use for anything. I'll have the most beautiful and useful charts, maps and timelines. My research will be comprehensively researched and carefully documented. The time I spend playing with these things is time well spent!

I'm kidding myself, and I know it.

My latest distraction (aside from Twitter and blogging, which I still say is to help me focus) is the current offer from World Vital Records for a few days of free access. I always intended to have a look at the site... sometime. It has all those Victorian government and police gazettes. There could be some really interesting, juicy stuff in there that I never knew about before.

The trouble is, I'm not really ready to look at it just yet. All I'll be doing is picking out names from my tree and typing them in to see if anything comes up. Not that there's anything wrong with that, necessarily. It's just that I keep on telling myself that I want to focus on some aspect of my tree and research it properly. That may include getting onto the site, or it may not.

I could just ignore the offer and pretend I never saw it... No, I couldn't... I already signed up a few days ago. Curse you World Vital Records, with your interesting free offer!!

So right now I'm about to start typing names into the website and see what pops out. I'll let you know how it works out in a few days!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Filling in the blanks - Elizabeth TREGONNING's death

I feel a little unsettled if I don't have a death record for each of my ancestors - my deceased ancestors, that is! Who knows what the might have got up to?

One death record that took me quite some time to track down was that for Elizabeth TREGONNING. This story starts in pre-digitisation days... Yes, I have been tracing my tree for that long... No, I am not that old!

Elizabeth was born in Avoca, Victoria, Australia in 1858. The Victorian birth, death and marriage records are pretty good. Even before they were available on CD and online you could look at the well-organised microfiche yourself, and there was enough detail in the index to be confident of having the right person before you sent your money off for a copy of the certificate. Not that I don't have one or two certificates for entirely unrelated people with similar names to my ancestors... But with hours of careful searching, I couldn't find a record for her death.

When CD indexes became available, the search possibilities expanded. I tried again. I tried spelling variations. I tried wildcards. What if she went by Liz, or Beth, or Bessie? I tried both her maiden and married (FRENCH) surnames. I tried leaving off her surname and putting her maiden name in the father's name field, in case she had married again. I tried every search I could think of. Still no luck!

Time went by, this thing called the Internet appeared, and I made connections with other researchers. There seemed to be a consensus that Elizabeth had died in Queensland, Australia in 1930, having moved there with her daughter Bessie and her husband. "Great! Could you point me to your sources?", I asked... Apparently not. The information had been compiled by an individual I never managed to contact (seemed to have a defunct email address) and then picked up by others without verification. The information going around also had one of Elizabeth's sons dying in Queensland in the same year - which I knew to be false - and had my grandfather married to the wrong woman, albeit a woman with a similar name to my grandmother.

With doubt in my mind, I tried the Queensland records. I only had access to the index on microfiche, so I pulled out fiche after fiche, trying all the surname variations. Still no luck. I left it again. Where had Elizabeth gone?

At some point, I determined yet again to find her. Still following the Queensland theory, I asked for help from one of the mailing lists. Someone directed me to a searchable cemetery database for Brisbane, Queensland where I found an Elizabeth FRENCH who had died in 1952 at the age of 95. That fitted nicely with my Elizabeth's birth year, but wait, 95! For a minute there I felt silly. Had I left off looking through those Queensland microfiche too soon, assuming she wouldn't be THAT old? I didn't think I would have... but I had been very tired of hunting fruitlessly through the fiche... it was possible.

My self respect as a researcher was restored when I went back to the fiche to get the index details and saw that when I was looking, the fiche for the year of her death had not yet been released! I couldn't have found it myself! I got the details, ordered the certificate and confirmed that this was indeed the Elizabeth I had been seeking for so long.

S0, that is the story of the long search for Elizabeth's death, which ended in a different State and 20 years later than I expected. Her very long life is an even longer story that has left me with more puzzles, but I will save that for another time.

Monday, August 10, 2009

My 16 Great-Great-Great Grands

I'm taking the easy way out with this post and doing the exercise Randy Seaver suggested last Saturday.

The instructions were:
1) List your 16 great-great-grandparents in pedigree chart order. List their birth and death years and places.
2) Figure out the dominant ethnicity or nationality of each of them.
3) Calculate your ancestral ethnicity or nationality by adding them up for the 16 - 6.25% for each (obviously, this is approximate).
4) If you don't know all 16 of your great-great-grandparents, then do it for the last full generation you have.
5) Write your own blog post, or make a comment on Facebook or in this post.

As others have pointed out, if there are 16 they must be GGG Grands, so that's what I'm looking at. If I had to pick a favourite generation of ancestors, it would be my GGG grands. They were the generation (except one) who left their birthplaces and made the long journey to Australia, either as adults or children.

Before I did this exercise, I would have said that I had about the same Scottish ancestry as I have Irish. In fact I have allocated nine to England (56%), five to Ireland (31%) and just one to Scotland (6%)!

I think it’s probably because the Scottish records are so rich, and they are readily available online. It has been very easy to “grow” that part of my tree with little real effort on my part. As a result, I have much more information on my Scottish ancestry than I do for my sadly neglected Irish lines, despite having fewer of them.

To add in a little more mythbusting, there is not one proven convict among them. Yes, Australia had convicts, but we also had many, many free settlers over many waves of immigration. That said, I have no squeamishness about finding a convict ancestor. I'll be a little disappointed if my one current "maybe" is a "no"!

So, without further ado, here they are:
  1. James William FRENCH was born in 1824 in England and died at age 72 in 1896 in Victoria, Australia.
  2. Ann SPENCE was born perhaps in 1825, at Gibraltar and died at age 76 in 1901 in Victoria, Australia.
    I will count this as England as she was there due to her father’s military movements.
  3. William TREGONNING was born between 1824 and 1826 in Cornwall, England and died at age 63 in 1887 in Victoria, Australia.
  4. Elizabeth MARTIN was born about 1827 in Cornwall, England and died at age 33 in 1860 in Victoria, Australia.
  5. James BENNETT was born in 1831 in England and probably died in Victoria, Australia.
    I still have to pin down a death certificate for this one to make a complete set for this generation!
  6. Catherine Lucy DARCY was born in 1830 in England or Ireland and died at age 70 in 1896 in Victoria, Australia.
    Hmmm, obviously need to follow up on pinning down her birth. We'll call her English for now.
  7. Francis MCMAHON was born in 1842 in Ireland and died at age 83 in 1918 in Victoria, Australia.
  8. Ellen KEOGH was born in 1835 in Ireland and died at age 75 in 1908 in Victoria, Australia.
  9. John LEE was born in 1822 in London, England and died at age 82 in 1905 in Victoria, Australia.
    One of my fellow researchers has him as a convict. I'm not convinced, the name is too common and the years don't quite fit.
  10. Susanna BAKER was born in 1840 in Surrey, England and died at age 58 in 1899 in Victoria, Australia.
  11. Daniel Miller COUPER was born in 1850 in Caithness, Scotland and died at age 84 in 1935 in Victoria, Australia.
    Came to Australia as a child and went on to become quite the wealthy gentleman!
  12. Mary ALLSOP was born in 1856 in Victoria, Australia and died at age 82 in 1938 in Victoria, Australia.
    She was the first of my ancestors to be born in Australia. Her parents were born in England, so I will count her as English for this exercise.
  13. William STANNUS was born in 1849 in Antrim, Ireland and died at age 75 in 1925 in Victoria, Australia.
  14. Isabella Kate ROBOTHAM was born in 1858 in Derby, England and died at age 78 in 1937 in Victoria, Australia.
  15. James BLACK was born between 1835 and 1837 in Ireland and died at age 59 in 1895 in Victoria, Australia.
  16. Frances Gertrude LEWIS was born in 1846 in Ireland and died at age 63 in 1899 in Victoria, Australia.
Disclaimer: I haven't double checked any of the facts above before posting. If you are relying on this information, well, that's up to you I guess... but wouldn't you rather get in touch and find out what else I might know?