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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Australia Day 2014: Climbing the family gum tree

Pauleen at Family history across the seas has issued an Australia Day Challenge with 26 questions to test Aussie bloggers’ true blue status!

I can’t claim “Australian Royalty” but I do have Australian foundations going back over 150 years. Thanks Pauleen for the challenge!


My first ancestor to arrive in Australia was:

Probably John Lee in around about 1846. He seems to have swum here. 

I have Australian Royalty (tell us who, how many and which Fleet they arrived with):

I have no known convict ancestors.

I’m an Aussie mongrel, my ancestors came to Oz from:

England, Ireland and Scotland.

Did any of your ancestors arrive under their own financial steam?

Yes, Robert Couper travelled on his own account with his wife and young son. They arrived on the Dominion in 1852.

How many ancestors came as singles?

About eight.

How many came as couples?

None known at this stage.

How many came as family groups?

About fourteen ancestors altogether.

Did one person lead the way and others follow?

In some cases, yes. Richard Robotham came to Australia about four years ahead of his wife and children. Other families had several (grown) siblings come to Australia at different times.

What’s the longest journey they took to get here?

Hmmm… I haven’t logged this clearly in my database. I might skip this one!

Did anyone make a two-step emigration via another place?

Sort of. One of my ancestors leads a merry dance through the records from Scotland to England to Gibraltar to the Channel Islands then on to Australia – but after all that settled in a different State from his children!

Which state(s)/colony did your ancestors arrive?

Mostly Victoria.

Did they settle and remain in one state/colony?

Generally yes. The ones that arrived in other States travelled to Victoria soon after, and stayed.

Did they stay in one town or move around?

A bit of both. The general picture is that they had a few moves until finally settling in a town.

Do you have any First Australians in your tree?


Were any self-employed?

Yes – Daniel Couper was a butcher.

What occupations or industries did your earliest ancestors work in?

Gold miners, farmers, labourers, a few servants, painter, couper, butcher.

Does anyone in the family still follow that occupation?


Did any of your ancestors leave Australia and go “home”?

None that I know of. I’m still trying to find out what became of James Bennett!


What’s your State of Origin?


Do you still live there?


Where was your favourite Aussie holiday place as a child?

Pambula, New South Wales.

Any special place you like to holiday now?

We mix our holidays up a bit now. There’s no one special place.

Share your favourite spot in Oz:

Don’t make me choose!

Any great Aussie adventure you’ve had?

I think that what makes an adventure great is the people you share it with. My adventures haven’t been all that adventurous, but I have great memories of little adventures with family and friends to beaches, snow, rainforests, big cities, cultural institutions – we are lucky to have such a broad range of experiences available to us in one country.

What’s on your Australian holiday bucket list?

This is hard. I’m at a stage now where I’m thinking about what places I’d like to share with my children – the childhood memories I’d like them to have - so I think more about favourite places I’d like to revisit. These are the places I grew up in, also the Blue Mountains and Tasmania would be at the top of my list.

How do you celebrate Australia Day?

No special celebration. We sometimes go out to whatever festivities or events are happening around the place. We always eat a lamington or two!


I’m so pleased that the Australia Day Challenge has taken on a life of it’s own since I issued it in 2011. I felt sad to have missed it in 2013. It’s great to feel that Australian geneabloggers (and geneabloggers generally!) have such a sense of community.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Beware your undead ancestors!

This is a public health warning.

Please ensure your deceased ancestors are properly disposed of!

Undead ancestors are a danger that every genealogist should be aware of. Long deceased ancestors who have not been properly disposed of can, and do, get up to all sorts of mischief. Whether they start a new career, move to another continent, or even beget several more lines of cousins (the rascals!) – you won’t know when to stop looking over your shoulder until you have them pinned down with a death date.

I thought I had properly disposed of my direct lines, but having set up a nice “at a glance” documentation chart I am now noticing some rather strange things in the outermost regions of my family tree. For example, I see what looks like a firm UK death date after 1837 but no death certificate or any other quality evidence of their death at that time. For all I know, that deceased ancestor could have been walking around not-really-dead-at-all for decades after the date in my tree. Oh the horror!

Now I have three death certificates on order, with at least another four I want to confirm. I’ll put nails in their coffins yet!

Have you disposed of your undead ancestors?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back to basics–keeping track of key sources

I started out in genealogy when I was still in high school. We were lucky enough to have a computer at home but there was very little genealogy software available. Birth, death and marriage certificates were expensive and I ordered them with much care and thought about what information they might provide.

To keep track of what I had, and what I was missing, I would hand draw a pedigree chart and note after each name “B”, “D” and “M” to indicate if I held the relevant certificates for a particular ancestor. It was a useful way to check that my family tree was held up by strong branches, before I started getting too enthusiastic about decorating it with interesting leaves!

Time went by and now there is plenty of genealogy software to choose from. A feature I like is the ability to display additional information of my choice on a chart. My current software, Family Historian, can do this. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally set up a key source completeness chart and I’m very happy with it.

Here’s an excerpt from my pedigree, starting from my great-great-great grandmother, Isabella Miller, who was born in Caithness, Scotland.


I quickly realised that the chart needed a date of immigration to Australia, to explain at a glance why some ancestors seemed to drop of the census. I decided to added that information as text in blue, to stand out a little from the other text.

Looking over my pedigree with the new chart settings I’ve noticed quite a few minor fixes that need attending to.

I’ve also noticed a few cases that could lead to more information. For example, the glaring omission in this chart is an 1841 census entry for Elizabeth Sinclair. I found her in ‘51 and ‘61. Where was she in ‘41? Was her husband Donald still alive then? My next research task on this line is set.

How do you keep track of your key sources?

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to make a simple chromosome browser chart

Below is a small section of the master spreadsheet I have been using to analyse my DNA match data. You will see I have added a column with a visual representation of the start and end points of the matching segments.  


I find the bars much easier to understand at a glance than the raw numbers.

It is surprisingly easy to create bars like these. You don’t need to do tricky things with charts or have the latest and greatest version of any particular software package. The key to creating a simple chromosome browser like the one above is the text function REPT.

REPT takes two inputs, a text string and the number of times the string is to be repeated.

= REPT(text, number_times)

If you were to enter =REPT(“a”,5) the cell would display “aaaaa”. If you repeat a block character like this █ 5 times you get a bar 5 characters long.

REPT(“█”, 5) = █████

If you want to do the same sort of thing, these instructions should get you started.

First, create a column for the formula. Highlight the new column and change the font to a fixed width font. I used Courier New because it is a standard font and I could go down to a font size of 8 without losing the fixed width property we need.

The formula you will enter has two parts – the empty space and the bar.

To make the empty space, simply repeat the space “ ” character by an amount proportional to the value in the start column.

I say “proportional to”, because if you use the start column as it is in this FTDNA file you could end up with a bar over 100 million characters long! I have found that dividing the start number by 3 million works nicely. You may need to experiment to suit your screen real estate and personal preferences.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)

Note: swap in the appropriate cell reference instead of “Start”

Add an ampersand “&” to the end of the formula to join on the next part.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&

The final part of the formula is the bar. You can use whatever character you like for this. I have used a solid block █. You can find the same character on a PC by either copying and pasting using the character map or by entering Alt +2588. If that sounds too complicated any symbol you like the look of will work, so long as you are using a fixed width font.

The length of each bar is proportional to the ‘End’ column value minus the ‘Start’ column value. Divide the length you calculate by the same number as before.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&REPT(“█”, (End – Start)/3,000,000)

Finally a fix because occasionally a shorter segment won’t show up.  I modified the second part of the formula to always show at least one block, like so:

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&REPT(“█”, MAX(1,(End – Start)/3,000,000))

There you have it – a simple chromosome browser. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pottering with my websites

One of the thing I hope to do early this year is give this blog and my family tree site a more integrated appearance. I would like to get to a position where a visitor doesn't perceive it as a blog site with a link to a family tree site, and vice versa. I'd like it to be simply a website that includes a blog and a tree.

I've taken a few small steps in this direction.

• The new heading 'My Tree' (above) links to my family tree website. I've been having a play with the TNG colouring book (see here. TNG is the software that drives my tree website).

• I've started doing a bit of reading on various Web development topics, just enough so that I understand a little of what I'm looking at in the page code.

• I've installed WAMPserver on my PC, so that I can run a test site offline as I try to apply my new-found knowledge. This was more difficult that I had anticipated, but I think I'm up and running with it now.