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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Australian Federal Electoral Rolls - part 2

I recently described the Australian Electoral Rolls. I have used on them on microfilm, but for the last few years many of the rolls have been available - searchable and with images - on

The greater ease of access to the rolls has expanded the types of things I use them for.  While there are all the usual caveats about people who forgot to enrol, or update their enrollment etc they can be very useful for providing extra, unknown information, and narrowing down unknown dates.
  • Birth date - people were supposed to enrol at 21, so find the earliest date they appear and subtract 21 years to get an indication of their birth date.
  • Death date - when someone disappears from the roll it could indicate their death, especially if other family members remain.
  • Marriage date and spouse - when a young man disappears from his parents house and appears at a new address, with a female of the same surname, there's a good chance he married her.
  • Address - obviously.  
  • Change of address - if the address changes, the person most probably moved to the new address before the date given. I attempted to use the electoral rolls to follow my ancestor Elizabeth French (nee Tregonning) around the country in the early 20th century but unfortunately her enrollment seems to be patchy once she started moving.
  • Occupation - the electoral rolls include the person's occupation.
  • Career progression - you can sometimes see how an individual progresses (or otherwise) in their career by the changes in the way their occupation was described, eg from clerk to accountant.
I recently used the rolls to sort out a collection of birth index entries that I suspected, but wasn't sure, were all children of the same family. I ducked into Ancestry and quickly found the children on the roll about 21 years after the birth index dates, all living at the same address. Since one of my concerns was that birth index locations jumped back and forth between two places, this gave me some confidence in the theory that they were all from the same family. Thinking to look at the electoral rolls was an "aha!" moment for me, and I felt very pleased with myself when it paid off!

Another thing that I have used the rolls for on microfilm, but I am reluctant to so in the digital version, is to flick through the pages of the polling place, looking for anyone else at the same address. Who else was living in my relatives houses, and how did they come to be there? Given the amount of time each page takes for me to download, and that the "Ls" alone in the last batch I looked at covered 10 pages, I think I'll be heading to the library if I get too curious about that.

Have you used the rolls? Can you think of other puzzles they might help solve now that they are more readily available?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Searching Government Gazettes

I've recently been playing with Government Gazettes on the State Library of Victoria (SLV) website, here. The gazettes included are the New South Wales Government Gazette (1836-1851), Port Phillip Government Gazette (1843-1851) and the Victoria Government Gazette (1851-1997).

The State Library website provides and search facility for an index to the gazettes, and the relevant gazette pages can be viewed and downloaded in pdf format. It's all free of charge. However, people's names are not necessarily indexed. The help pages say:
You can find many details about individuals in the Gazette. Sometimes people’s names are listed in the index, but very often they are not. So if you are looking for information about a person it is useful to know something about them first. For example, that they won a government tender, or were appointed to a government position. With this information you can search using keywords related to the tender or position.
It is possible to search these gazettes by name (or any other term you want). To do so, just add the search term to a Google search. It appears that Google have not only picked up the pdf files, they've also run OCR over them which seems to have worked very well, so they are searchable.

For example:
  • A search on the name "Couper" through the site index came up with eleven results. None of these looked like my family.
  • A Google search over the gazettes on the name "Couper" came up with 277 results. Some may have been my family, but I wasn't in the mood for looking through that many results. A further search on the street name my Couper ancestor lived in netted ten results. Two of these related to my great-greataunt who was listed as a registered midwife. I had believed her to be a midwife, anecdotally, but had only ever seen her described as a nurse in other records. This was a nice find.
I'll definately be playing with this some more...

If you give it a try and find something useful, please come back and comment!  

My intention when I started this blog was to write and post up little pieces of the family story. While that's still my intention, the act of trying to write some of the stories up has shown me how much more work there is to be done! As a result this blog contains bits and pieces of whatever I happen upon that I find useful or interesting. I have previously written about Google searches I didn't expect to be able to do here and here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Australian federal electoral rolls - part 1

One of my most used sources at the moment is the Australian federal electoral roll. I have used the electoral rolls in the past on microfiche at the National Library of Australia, but searching in that format was very time consuming. In the last few years, a selection of the rolls have become available to search or browse on Ancestry. It has changed the way I search in and use the electoral rolls, but I'll come to that in a future post.

I found the description of the rolls on the Ancestry website to be lacking, so I did a little digging.

Australian voting history, in brief 
The various colonies (now States and Territories) became what is now known as Australia at Federation in 1901. From 1902, both men and women aged from 21 were eligible to vote in federal elections. Enrollment to vote became compulsory in 1911, and actually casting a vote became compulsory in 1924. The voting age was reduced to 18 in 1973. Voting is still compulsory.

The history of the vote for indigenous Australians (and some other groups) is more complex than I feel able to cut down to a few lines. There's a lot of information linked from the Australian Electoral Commission's Australian Electoral History page (which is also my source for the above facts and figures).

Individual States of Australia passed the equivalent laws in respect to State elections at different times, some before Federation, some after. At various points in time there were people - women and indigenous people being the two most obvious groups - eligible to vote in some State elections but not Commonwealth elections, or vica versa.

Reading the rolls 
The rolls are arranged by electorate, then by polling place, then by surname. For each person on the roll the surname, first names, address, occupation and sex are shown. I'll talk more about how I have used the rolls and the information they contain in a future post.

One of the things I discovered while poking around the Electoral Commission site, is that people who were listed on the Commonwealth electoral roll because they were on a State roll, but were not eligible to vote in Commonwealth elections, were marked on the Commonwealth rolls with an "o". This sounded familiar to me, I was sure I had seen some of those "o"s, so I started hunting through my downloaded pages. The first instance I came across was this:

Australian federal electoral roll for Ferntree Gully, Flinders, Victoria, 1924

She's not a relative of mine, just on the same page as one. I checked at the end of the roll to see why Amy Augusta Robertson was not enrolled as a Commonwealth elector, but the way browsing works on Ancestry I couldn't find the right page.

Moving on, I came across a page with many "o"s, including my great-granduncle, Edwin Ernest Baker Lee:

Australian federal electoral roll for Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria, 1924

This time I did find the explanatory page.

Particulars regarding Electors enrolled on this Roll in virtue of a property qualification as Electors for the State Assembly.
Australian federal electoral roll for Flagstaff Gardens, Melbourne, Victoria, 1924

I thought that he must have been enrolled for the federal election at his home address, as he should have been eligible. He didn't come up at any other address in the search results, so I navigated to Caulfield myself. There I found his wife, but not him.

Australian federal electoral roll for Caulfield, Balaclava, Victoria, 1924

He was listed in the roll in each of the previous and subsequent years searchable on Ancestry so I suppose he must have failed to re-enrol in time at his new address when he moved sometime between 1919 and 1924.

Did this post help you? Can you add anything that would aid in understanding the rolls? 
If so, please leave a comment! If not, leave a comment and say Hi! anyway!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The last will and testament of a married woman

Christine McGiffin (nee Couper) was married on the 15 March 1911 at the age of around 47 and died in December 1912, a "married woman" with property in her own name. She also had a son born prior to the marriage.

She bequeathed:
  • To her sister, Barbara Couper, her sewing machine, chest of drawers, clothing linen, jewellery and also all her shares in the Standard Mutual Building Society.
  • To her husband Robert McGiffin, property at No 71 Epsom Road, Ascot Vale, Victoria.
  • To her brother, Daniel Couper, and brother-in-law John Bennie properties 379 and 381 Ascot Vale Road, Moonee Ponds, Victoria in trust for the use and benefit of her son Charles Henry Couper (known as Charles Henry McGiffin) with rents and profits to be paid to him until he reached the age of 25, when the two properties were to be transferred to him.

So far so good. Here's where it gets complicated.

If her son did not attain the age of 25 the two properties were to be sold and the proceeds were to be distributed as follows:

  • If a wife and their lawful issue survived him the wife was to received half and the other half to be divided equally among the children.
  • If no wife survived him, but he had lawful issue, the proceeds were to be shared equally among the children.
  • If he had a wife, but no children, the wife should receive half and Christina's sisters, Jessie Bennie and Barbara Couper were to have equal shares of the other half.
  • If he had no wife or children her sisters Jessie Bennie and Barbara Couper would have equal shares.

Christina's other property, a block of freehold land on Lennox Street, Moonee Ponds, Victoria, was to be sold and the proceeds used to pay for probate duty, funeral and administration expenses, and any charges or debts against her real estate. The residual was to go to her husband.

Got all that? Good.

The combined value of her real estated was 631 pounds. You many wonder how she managed to accumulate such wealth. It appears that those responsible for granting probate did, as her probate file contains a sworn oath by Daniel Couper and John Bennie that she was indeed married, and describing the source of her funds. She had purchased the properties with money received as a legacy from her father, Robert Couper, savings from her occupation in service before the marriage, and profits from the raising and sale of poultry.

Christina is not my direct ancestor, her brother Daniel Couper is. There's plenty of names, dates and places in the probate file. Lots of leads for me to follow when I get around to it, and new questions raised.

Images of her probate files can be viewed online for free here at the Public Record Office of Victoria website.

As always, if you have a family connection to the people I mention in the post, please get in touch with me!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Making myself accountable

I tend to accumulate genealogy data more quickly than I enter it in my database. I was going to say "than I can enter it" but I know that isn't true! I want to keep a check on myself that I am at least entering new information as I gather it, and preferably catching up on some of the long overdue data entry! There's a folder on my hard drive that contains various digital bits and pieces that I haven't yet entered into my database.

Right now, there are 190 files in the folder, sorted into 25 sub-folders.

This doesn't include all the email correspondence that I have yet to act on, or the many photocopied pages (not relating to my direct line) kindly sent to me by other researchers.

I will post my progress from time to time. It may not make for interesting reading, but perhaps it will keep me motivated to sort out my information!