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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Land records: A lot to take in

I received my DVD of digitised land records yesterday. Between the eight correspondence files I asked for there were over 250 document images. Needless to say, that’s a lot to take in.

I have confirmed that the Bennett records most definitely relate to my family and from skimming the files I have already had some insight into their life.

I wasn’t in the mood tonight for trying to absorb all that material, most of it handwritten. I will come back to that on a less busy day. Instead, I had a long overdue play with Google Earth and marked out the plots owned by my ancestor James Bennett and four of his six children. I must make more use of Google Earth!

Location of Bennett family land near Bung Bong, Victoria


Saturday, March 24, 2012

Land Records: Finding the Bennetts in Bung Bong

In order to order land records for my ancestors, I first need to find out if they actually had any land, and exactly where it was located. In many cases probate and administration papers provide the details. When if came to my Bennett family I didn’t have that information, but I have been able to identify their land with enough confidence that I have ordered copies of the records.

There are gaps in my information about my great-great grandfather James Bennett. I only confirmed his parents to my satisfaction last year, but I still haven’t found a marriage record for him and my great-great grandmother, Catherine Lucy Darcy, nor any record relating to his death. As he was born in 1831, I’m pretty sure he’d be dead by now!

Until recently, the only clue I had that my Bennett family lived at Bung Bong – that this was a place likely to be of interest to me - was a place abbreviation of “BUNG” on the birth index entry for one of James Bennett’s grandchildren. Other places have appeared to be far more closely connected to the family.

The Amherst hospital records I viewed last year confirmed that James Bennett’s parents were who I thought they might be and also showed his family living at Bung Bong through the 1880s.

View Larger Map

The next clue to the land records was found in the Genealogical Society of Victoria’s Genealogical Names Index (GIN). If you are researching people in Victoria I highly recommend signing up to take advantage of the members only index, which in some cases even includes digitised records!

The GIN showed that there were several listings in the Victoria Government Gazette regarding the land holdings in Bung Bong of people named Bennett. The trouble was that although knew that my Bennetts had lived there, I could also see Bennetts who were not part of my family with land at Bung Bong.

It was only when I finally looked at the parish plan that I felt confident I had the right family and could pick out the relevant file references. The Bennetts I thought might be “mine” had plots adjoining one another, the other Bennetts were located elsewhere on the map.

I’m very curious about the contents of these land records and would wait by my letterbox on Monday for the records to arrive (or at least keep an ear out for the postman), if only I didn’t have to go to work!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Land records: Preparing for my first look

I’ve taken another first step. I’ve arranged to have some land records held at the Public Record Office of Victoria (PROV) digitised and sent to me. This is the first time I’ve looked at land records so I can’t wait until they arrive.

Archive envy!

Have I ever mentioned that I have a terrible case of archive envy? Whenever I see posts exhorting genealogists to look beyond the internet I think “I know!!! but I can’t get there!”

The archive most relevant to me, the Public Record Office of Victoria, is 600+km away and with small children the idea of making a research trip is a distant dream. I have used research agents occasionally to collect things for me but it can be hard to know exactly what to ask for when you’ve never explored archival records yourself. I guess I don’t feel entirely comfortable with something unless I’ve had some hands-on experience with it, however minor. Fortunately, the Public Record Office of Victoria has quite a few indexes online and some records (eg probate records) have been digitised and put online for free. I’m also slowly finding my way through their catalogue which provides a fantastic amount of very useful contextual information about each series.

Back to the land records

Between the PROV online guides, their brick of a Lands Guide (which weighs in at 1.2kg. Yes, I weighed it), and various other sources I have been able to find the “fractions” written on the plans that relate to the relevant correspondence files. I also now have some idea of the processes by which they acquired the land.

All this relies on knowing where the land is. In most cases I’ve found that information recorded in probate files. For some reason I have never followed up to see exactly where all these Allotment x Section y’s were before. I think I’ve scrutinised the detail of overseas maps more carefully than Australian ones, perhaps because I have a general idea of Australian locations but not such a good knowledge of Scotland, for example. At any rate, I got a huge kick out of it when I saw “J.W. French” written down on the parish plan right where it was meant to be!

In the case of my Bennett family, the process of discovering that they even had any land was a bit more circuitous, but I’m confident that the records I’ve asked for will be the right ones. I think that finding the Bennett land should be a separate post.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More DNA tests mean more information (part 2)

In my last post, I looked at how I could use the “matches in common” lists on Family Tree DNA to pencil in which branch my DNA matches (probably) belong to.

With the addition of my father’s and two cousins’ match-in-common lists, I was able to label each of my matches as connected to my:

  • maternal side,
  • paternal side, or
  • a specific branch on my paternal side, “French”.

Up to this point, all that I have used is the lists of names. My next step is to start looking at the chromosome browser results. This is where you can see what segment(s) of DNA you have in common with each of your matches.

What I intend to do is much like the logic I have discussed before, only this time I want to take it a few steps further.

Matches-not-in-common with a known cousin

The key point to remember here is that for each stretch of DNA, half is from my mother’s side, half is from my father’s. If I match person “A” and person “B” at a particular location, but they don’t match each other, then I know that one is from my maternal and one is from my paternal side. Without additional information, I don’t know which! I now have that additional information for my own DNA matches, as I can see if my father (who happens to have contributed half of my DNA) matches.

For my father’s matches, I can look at his matches not-in-common with our “French” cousins to do something similar. If my father matches a “French” cousin at a particular location then anyone who matches him at the same location, but is NOT a match in common with my “French” cousins (who are on my father’s paternal side), must somehow connect to his maternal side, the “Bennett” branch.

Then it gets weird

So far so good. I started working away at my file on this basis and quickly found a match to my father at the same location on his DNA as my “French” cousin matches, who didn’t show as a match to them. Great! This person must match my “Bennett” family! Then I noticed that I had another match with the same surname and same contact email address on the same segment of DNA, who also did not match my French cousins.

No problem there? Well actually, there was a little problem. When I said “I” had a match I really meant “I” and not my father. My father’s matches not-in-common with my “French” cousins must connect to his “Bennett” branch. My matches not-in-common with my “French” cousins must connect to my mother’s side. Any yet – the two matches had the same surname and contact email address.

I wanted to find out more about these odd matches, so I sent off an email and asked. It turned out that one of our matches was the uncle of the other. My father matched the nephew, I matched the paternal side uncle. So, by using the same sort of logic, my father connects to the maternal side of one match, and I connect to the father’s maternal side of the other. Like a mirror image of how they connect to me. All on the one segment of DNA.

At least, I think that’s how it goes. It took a bit of getting my head around this. Another way of looking at it is this:


But what a funny coincidence that it’s all at exactly the same location on our DNA. It’s even possible that our relationship looks like this:


Ouch! My head hurts!

I think that the moral of this story is that when you pencil in a branch, you really need to pencil it in and keep your mind open to other possibilities.

I think I’ll have to leave it there for tonight…

Saturday, March 3, 2012

More DNA tests means more information

I love the puzzling-it-out aspect of genealogy DNA investigation. I’ve now had two known cousins (both on my father’s side) and more recently my father contribute DNA tests. We are using Family Tree DNA. With each additional test comes a big increase in possibilities for narrowing down which part of my family tree is relevant to each of my matches.

I thought it might be of interest to see what I am learning from these tests, despite not yet finding the paper trail to any of my previously unknown matches! I’m very pleased to say though that the results confirm the paper trails to my father and known cousins. A big Phew! there – those relationships are close enough that surprising DNA results would most definitely not be welcome.

When I had only myself tested, this was the extent of my knowledge about my 103 matches:image

Note: I’m using all my current matches which include my father and cousins throughout this post for illustration purposes.

Not very helpful.

Then, two known cousins tested. I discussed the results of one of those cousin’s tests here. With Family Tree DNA, once a known relationship is confirmed by both parties you are able to see which of your matches you have in common with that person. As I am not controlling their accounts, I don’t have access to my cousins’ match lists, just to who we have in common. Both of my known cousins are connected to my French branch but their “matches in common” with me didn’t overlap with each other. In total, I was able to pencil in ten of my matches as somehow connected to my French branch. My cousins are actually half-cousins, so it narrowed down the possibilities to just one eighth of my tree for those ten people.  

This is the state of my knowledge after my cousins tested:image

At new year my Dad agreed to testing. That was very much to my surprise as he had previously turned up his nose at all attempts to discuss it. His test results came back just a few days ago, and what a lot of extra information they provide!

  • by comparing his results with my cousins I see that 10 matches are connected to my French family (no change here yet, but this number may increase when both my cousins have confirmed their relationships with my Dad)
  • as well as those ten, 28 more of my matches are somewhere on my father’s side of the tree
  • my remaining 65 matches must be from my mother’s side of the tree
  • PLUS I have names for 48 new matches on my father’s side of the tree.

This is what the state of my knowledge looks like now:


So far I have only looked at name lists, but even that gives a great starting point for when I compare notes with my matches. I am thinking through the steps to run this sort of analysis in an automated way so I can update it easily as new results come in.

I think it really shows that it’s the more the merrier, so far as DNA testing is concerned! I wonder who else would be willing to part with a bit of spit…

This is just step one. There is a whole lot more narrowing down that will be possible once I start looking at the data on the matches themselves (ie, the location of the match on my DNA) but this post is quite long enough for one night.