Blog post

Monday, December 21, 2015

Learning more about Catherine Lucy Darcy–part 2

Catherine Lucy Darcy’s death certificate* gave her father’s name as Edward Flower Darcy. With no other information to go on I had entered the name into my database, but it had lead me no-where.

James Bennett and Catherine’s marriage certificate gave me the correct name for her father, also his occupation, and a name for her mother.

Her parents were:
Richard Darcy, chemist and Lucy Flower.
Having the rights names makes all the difference! I started looking into readily accessible sources for Dublin, Catherine’s place of birth. I found:
  • A marriage licence index entry for Richard Darcy and Lucy Flower in 1822 (the marriage licences themselves no longer exist).
  • A few directory entries for Richard Darcy, chemist or druggist, at 103 Thomas Street in the early 1820s.
  • A baptism transcript for Catherine Lucy Darcy, daughter of Richard and Lucy of Thomas street, in 1823.
  • A baptism transcript for Catherine’s sister, Elisabeth, in 1824.
  • Newspaper articles mentioning Richard Darcy’s insolvency, and sale of his premises at 103 Thomas street in 1826.
The easily accessible sources having dried up, I then started wondering about Catherine. The mention of Liverpool on her daughter’s birth certificate had me wondering. Her husband, James Bennett, was the informant. Surely he would know whether his wife was English or Irish? It occurred to me that perhaps she had been born in Dublin, but spent substantial time in Liverpool before eventually emigrating to Australia.

I searched the 1841 UK census and found an entry for Richard Darcy, chemist, living in Liverpool. In the same household was a new name, Bridget Darcy, and Elizabeth Darcy. No Catherine, but the ages for Richard and Elizabeth matched my expectations. Bridget was too old to be Richard’s daughter and too young to be Elizabeth’s mother. Was she a new wife?

It wasn’t too hard to find a marriage record for Richard Darcy and Bridget Connor in 1833. Richard was a widower. Although I haven’t yet found her in any records, it appears that Catherine had probably moved to England before the age to 10.

I couldn’t find Richard in the 1851 census. I did find a Bridget Darcy of the right age listed as a visitor in Liverpool, with a Catherine Connor also visiting the same household.

My current theory is that Richard died some time between 1841 and 1851. I have ordered the most promising death certificate for a Richard Darcy who died during that period and now I’m waiting for the mail, hoping that the informant will be a name I recognise.

* Details of sources mentioned in this post are available on request.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Goodbye, Windows Live Writer - Hello, Open Live Writer

For most of it’s existence I have written this blog using free blogging software from Microsoft called Windows Live Writer. It provides a simple Word-like, interface with just the features needed for blog posts. Publishing finished content to this blog took only the click of a button.

Sadly, I hit a snag after clicking the publish button this morning.

Blogger returned the following error: NotFound: Not Found

After determining that I wasn’t going to solve the problem quickly, I copied and pasted my work into Blogger’s own interface. Yuck. I got my post up, but it was very fiddly. I didn’t want to have to do that for all my future posts.

A google search revealed that the bad news was that Microsoft had stopped supporting the product, and a change at Google meant that uploading to Blogger (a critical part of the publishing process!) was broken, as of only about a week ago.

The very good new is that Google held off on making the change they wanted until there was an open source fork of the original Windows Live Writer, called Open Live Writer, available. Apparently volunteers within Microsoft got the open source code ready, which Microsoft then donated. Well done to all concerned!

I’m using Open Live Writer to write this post. Installation was quick and easy, and it looks almost exactly the same as the interface I’m used to. A few features are greyed out or missing, for now. Because it was so new, my anti-virus threw up some warnings about lack of a user base, so fingers crossed it’s all OK! So far so good, as far as I can see.

If you are reading this on my blog, then publishing has worked and I’m happy once again.

Learning more about Catherine Lucy Darcy – part 1

After a piece of luck finding James Bennett’s death record (a long missing puzzle piece!) I was inspired to look more closely at his wife, Catherine Lucy Darcy.

This is the information I had about Catherine’s origins:
  • According to Catherine’s death certificate, her father was a man by the name of Edward Flower Darcy.
  • Catherine’s date of birth varied between documents from the late 1820s to the early 1830s.
  • Her place of birth was usually given as Dublin, Ireland but appeared on (at least) one of her children’s birth certificates as Liverpool in England.
  • Catherine seemed to have married James Bennett in 1853. Their place of marriage was either Collingwood, Victoria, or Uxbridge in England. However, no marriage certificate for this couple had been found by myself or any of the researchers I have communicated with.
  • A woman born in Ireland named Catherine Lucy Darcy arrived in Australia on board the Kent in April of 1853, with a number of other young female emigrants who were mostly from England. 
Some of the information above is not correct.

I decided to have another try at finding the marriage certificate. The historical indexes on the Victorian Births Deaths and marriages website have recently become free to search. They have an excellent search interface. Lots of fields available, searches on first name variants, no restriction on how they can be combined, and wildcard options. Wonderful.

After trying various searches, this entry had me interested:
Groom: James Bennett Yes!
Bride: Catherine Davey Davey could be a mistranscription of Darcy
– Maybe?
Year: 1884 Expected c1853. Far too late, surely?

The year was far too late and I didn’t want to waste $24 if it wasn’t the right couple. Before jumping in, I tried to eliminate “James Bennett and Catherine Davey” as being the same people as my ancestors. If they had children, or if there was a death index entry for Catherine Bennett (nee Davey) then they were probably different people and I would save my money. I found no evidence that “James Bennett and Catherine Davey” existed.

I bought the certificate. It was the right couple!

So what did I learn? I’ll get to that next…

Friday, November 20, 2015

A quick mud map of death search resources in Victoria, Australia

Need to knock some relatives from Victoria, Australia off your tree? 
These are the online sources I most frequently use to find deaths in Victoria.

Birth, death and marriage registrations:
Now free to search the indexes! If you find the one you want you can pay to download an image.

Electoral rolls:
Use the electoral rolls to find out the person’s full name, where they lived, and when they disappeared from the roll (could be when they died).

Death notices:

Wills and Probate:

In some cases you will find burial records, in some you will find headstone information. If you can, get both.

I can’t cover every cemetery, but generally speaking…

  • Google “Cemetery near place, Victoria” where ‘place’ is where the person lived.
  • Look for cemeteries on Australian Cemeteries. It has links to online databases, headstone images sites or contact details for each cemetery.

Burial registers

Some of the bigger search sites in metropolitan areas that cover multiple cemeteries are:


Headstone lists (photos available on request) for many cemeteries outside of metropolitan areas can be found on Carol's Headstone Photographs.

BillionGraves has enough coverage of Victoria that it’s worth trying.


Good luck!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

FindMyPast frustration: Metadata madness

I’m trying extract the answer to a simple question from FindMyPast.

In short: I want to know what directories are included in their Victorian Directories record set. In 2012 there was a list on the site. Now there isn’t.

They replied courteously and promptly to my initial message. I’m not sure they actually read the question. They provided me with a link to the Victorian Directories search page.

I can forgive that. I replied and told them that the link did not have the information I asked for. It gave the name of one directory only. I pointed out that there were more directories in the record set than just that one.

I received a courteous and reasonably prompt reply signed by a different name. They explained to me that the link I had been provided could be used for searching Victorian Directories, reiterated that this one directory was included, and provided some additional blurb about the directory.

I realise that my timing may be bad, with the release of a big new data set. But still….

Now I’m trying to work out how to reply. Meanwhile, I shall vent.

My thoughts on not having a list of inclusions:

  • It’s bad form for any data manager. Bad data manager! Really, the data custodians who are entrusting them with the digital presentation of their data should give them a smack and tell them to do better.
  • It’s poor customer service. We want to know what we’re paying for.
  • It demonstrates a lack of understanding of a genealogist’s needs. We need to know what records we have searched. We need to know if the nil result we came up with was because the person wasn’t listed in the directory, or if the record wasn’t there.* The interpretation is very different!
  • Poor data management warns of poor quality control. I’m not convinced that all of the directories that should be there (assuming it hasn’t changed too much since 2012) are on the site.
  • It is not possible for a user to check the data quality – and we need to. See point above. Last year I found that I wasn’t getting the results I expected from the Merchant Seamen collection because two series that were supposed to be in the site were missing entirely. Hundreds of thousands of records from The National Archives were simply not there.
    That one directory they mentioned sounds like a great resource. What a pity it was never among the results returned.

Next steps:

  • Work out what I could realistically achieve by writing back again.
  • Write a reply framed with those goals in mind.

I also wonder what is the best way to provide feedback to FindMyPast about metadata and search issues, in a way that will be heard. I can’t imagine that this sort of feedback actually goes anywhere via the help email given the responses I’ve had to this and other questions I’ve asked.



* We also need to be able to find out if the record didn’t come up in the search results because it was spelled differently, mistranscribed, the page was gone, or it was unreadable. We need to be able to browse our way to the page and take a look! But that’s a search interface issue rather than a metadata issue. Today my vent is about metadata.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Way back in the Wayback

Inspired by Jill Ball’s post on Geniaus “The Wonderful Wayback”, I decided to see if I could find my first family history website in the Internet Archive’s “Wayback Machine”. I couldn’t remember the URL, but I knew it was a free page on Rootsweb. With that information, I was able to quite quickly navigate to the page.

I appear to have created my first family history page in February 2000. It was captured 25 times by the Wayback Machine, from 2000 to 2005.


The front page had a brief welcome message, and a link to the real content of the site.


The real content was an ancestors narrative report generated in HTML format across several pages by my family history software. It didn’t include source information, but did include this statement:

“The information comes from a variety of sources which, if it was correct to begin with, I may have misread, misinterpreted or mistyped. I would be grateful for any corrections or new information.”

I’ve made quite a few corrections and added a lot of new information since then!

I created the site a few years before I was married, accordingly it was in my maiden name.


The page notes that it was generated by EasyTree from SierraOnline. This had me a little puzzled as I didn’t remember “EasyTree”. It seems “Generations” was actually called “Generations EasyTree”.

A few of the pictures were captured by the Wayback Machine, but most had only empty boxes in their place.


It wasn’t very lively, was it?!

I did have a few cousin contacts from the site, so it served its purpose.

I don’t seem to have ever updated it after my first upload in 2000. I recall that I did try but the links didn’t work the same way when I generated the pages again and it all seemed too difficult. I deleted the page in 2005 and didn’t create another space for myself online until I started this blog in mid-2009.

Thanks Jill for the prompt to walk down memory lane!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

New on Ancestry–Victoria, Australia, Rate Books

Now THIS will keep me busy! The Rate Books collection is from the Public Record Office of Victoria, but with the advantages of Ancestry’s search features (which I think are actually pretty good).

Victoria, Australia, Rate Books, 1855-1963

Something I would like to see is an easy way to see all the record sets on Ancestry that are sourced from a particular archive. eg a quick way to see what else they have from the Public Record Office of Australia. I know of a few PROV collections on there – I wonder what else I’m missing? Do you know of a way?

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Post Script to the birth notice posts


Post Script

I tested the strategies described in Perfecting Newspaper Searches: Birth Notices–Part 2 as I wrote the post. Although I didn’t find the birth notices I was targeting, I did find plenty of new-to-me information. Among other things, I found:

  • A loving memorial notice for ancestor whose death had eluded me for 25 years.
  • A child’s death notice that mentioned her grandparents.
  • Two insolvencies.
  • An arrest for assault.
  • A public health violation.
  • Request for tender to build a new house and shop.
  • False charges of assault against three teenage boys.

I can’t complain about that!

Perfecting Newspaper Searches: Birth Notices–Part 2

In this post I will turn the series of charts from my post Perfecting Newspaper Searches: Birth Notices - Part 1 into a search strategy. I will tell you why I am suggesting the searches, and I will give some tips on how to create an appropriate search string in Trove.

In each case, it’s a good idea to narrow the date range to a sensible window. You can also do it with the filters on the side after you search but “Refine search” or the advanced search form allows you to choose any range you want, not just a single decade, year, month, or day. “Refine search” becomes available once you’ve run the search:


I like to hold off on narrowing down my searches any further than that for as long as I can. Notices can sometimes turn up in unexpected places, and they are the ones you most want to find!

The series of searches I have come up with based on my previous post, and taking into account Trove search capabilities, is as follows:

  1. Surname only
  2. Surname and place
  3. Surname and father’s name
  4. Surname and mother’s name (after about 1910)
  5. Surname and child’s name (after about 1910)
  6. Surname and parents’ first names (after about 1940)
  7. Address only... or anything else you’ve got! (if all else fails)

Read on for more detail.

1. Surname only

Reason: Every birth notice included the surname at least once.

Search tips:
Depending on the surname, you may wish to expand or restrict the search.

Expand the search by searching for known variations, or by using a wildcard.

couper OR coupar OR cooper OR cowper


Trove adds some fuzziness to your search terms by default. You can restrict the search to exactly the term you want by specifying that only the exact term you entered should be returned.


Adding fulltext gets me from 603,972 results down to 34,878. I can see that it gets rid of news about coups, and advertisements for coupes – but I don’t know what else I might have lost. Still, that’s too many to read through. I have to hope the birth notice I want is on the first page or two, or start using the state and notice type filters to narrow it down!

Assuming you have more results than you can reasonably review, the next searches to try are:

2. Surname and place

Reason: Until the 1950s, the majority of birth notices included place names that a family researcher might know to look for.

Search tips:
The birth notices I reviewed included street and/or suburb names. Look at your information and identify all the places and addresses where the family was known to be during the date range of interest as well as immediately before and after. You may have to do a few different searches if there are a lot! 

Birth notices are rarely as long as 30 words. I found that the surname would usually appear at the beginning of the notice, and often in the middle as well (as part of the father’s full name). This means that the surname and place name you are looking for are likely to be no more than 10 words apart. You can safely restrict your results by specifying that the words you are interested must be near to each other. If Trove is in a good mood, you do that by specifying the amount of “phrase slop” to allow (I didn’t make up that expression, it’s what the Trove help page calls it!)

My Couper family lived in Rugby Road, Oakleigh. I might search for: “couper oakleigh”~10

When I started writing this post, Trove handled searches like the one above with no problem. The previous few days it has struggled – but seemed happier if I snuck up on it by trying smaller numbers first. Today it’s running complicated searches quite happily.

You can use “fulltext” with phrases – put it outside the brackets:
fulltext:“couper oakleigh”~10

Depending on how many surname variations you have, and how many place name parts you need to manage, you might have to mix and match surnames and place names. You can search on each combination one at a time, but I like an all-in-one search if I can manage it. For example:

“couper oakleigh”~10 OR “couper rugby”~10 OR “cowper oakleigh”~10 OR “cowper rugby”~10

I prefer that because separate search strings often bring up duplicated results. By running them all at once I don’t have to look through pages of the same articles to find the ones I want.

If you try a search like this and Trove isn’t co-operative, or it just seems too complicated to set up, here is another approach:

(couper OR cowper) AND (oakleigh OR rugby)

This search tells Trove to find articles that have any of the surname variations AND have any of the place names. Note the use of brackets, to assist Trove’s search engine make sense of the query.

This will bring up all the same results as the search above, but will also bring up more results that are not relevant because it doesn’t limit the distance between the search terms. Theoretically, articles where the words are closer together should appear closer to the top of the search results.  

3. Surname and father’s name

Reason: Over 85% of notices included the father’s name in some form. I suggested searching for places first, even though “searchable places” don’t appear quite so often, because places tend to have fewer name variations to work around.

Search tips:
The father’s name was sometimes shown as the given name, sometimes as initials, sometimes an abbreviation of a name (Chas, for Charles) and sometimes a mixture of these. This means that if I was searching for children of James William French, I would need to try:

  • “J French”      
  • “J W French”
  • “James French”
  • “James W French”
  • “Jas French”
  • “Jas W French”
  • “J William French”
  • “J Will French”

… you get the idea.

A reasonable starting point would be:

“J French” OR “James French” OR “Jas French”

I have deliberately ignored the W in the middle in this search as the default phrase search is equivalent to a search with ~1. Depending on how common the name you are searching for is, you might need to try more variations.

“J W French”~0 OR “James W French”~0 OR  [continue adding name variations]

That ~0 means that there can be no “slop”, the name must be exactly as written. Of course, the name in the newspaper may be written just like that but you still might not find it due to character recognition difficulties.

If after about 1910:

4. Surname and mother’s name

Reason: Increasingly from about the 1910s, birth notices started to mention the mother’s name.

Search tips: Sometimes the article included the maiden name, sometimes the given name(s) and sometimes both.

We saw the maiden name, if included, was always within a few words of the surname. A search that would find “Couper (nee Mary Allsop)” is:

“Couper Allsop”~2

Given name was sometimes included with the surname, as above, and sometimes in the middle of the text.

“Mary Allsop” is worth a shot. So is “Mary Couper”~10.

The name in a birth notice is often the name the mother went by, rather than as her full name so remember to search for Kate as well as for Catherine.

If after about 1910:  

5. Surname and child’s name

Reason: Increasingly from about the 1910s, birth notices started to mention the child’s name.

Search tips:
When included, the child’s name was written out with both the first and middle name, not nicknames, and was usually at the end of the notice. A search that insists on the first names and surname being close together won’t work.

French AND “James Henry”

If after about 1940:

5. Surname and parents first names

Reason: From about the 1940s birth notices became less formal in tone and often mentioned both parents by their first name, mother first.  

Search tips: Try casual and nickname forms of the names of interest first.

If you still have no luck, leave out the surname:

6. Address – or any other information you have to use!

Reason: Sometimes, the surname simply isn’t picked up accurately by the character recognition process.

Search tips:
Leave off the surname, and use whatever you’ve got! Just the address is good option as many birth notices included an address, and it is quite specific:

“12 rugby road” OR “12 rugby rd”

In this case I left in the word road (and included both “road” and “rd”), to avoid articles about rugby scores. If the street name was not such a common word I would have left “road” and “rd” off.

You could also use anything you know about the family that is a bit unusual. Very few birth notices mention anything other than the information I’ve discussed, but there were exceptions.

If after all that you still can’t find a birth notice… perhaps there wasn’t one, or perhaps the right newspaper just isn’t online yet. It cost money to place a notice, families were large, and for many times were tough.


Did these strategies work for you? Is there a strategy that I’ve missed out? Do you have clever ideas about how to put together a search string using what we know about birth notices? I’ve love to hear about it!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Taking my own advice

I’m in the process of writing my “next” post. In it I will talk about how I am trying to create Trove newspaper searches taking into account what I learned in my post Perfecting newspaper searches: Birth notices–Part 1.

Warning: this post contains two rambles about information I have found. If you find a paragraph going off the rails, you can safely skip to the next para. You’ll still get the gist of the post.

As I’ve been writing my “next” post (or posts, I’m still undecided), I have been trying out various search ideas. Along the way, I found a memorial notice for my 2 x great grandfather, James Bennett (1831-1900). The details of his death had eluded me for the past 26 years! This prompted me to take another look at his family. I took a chance and purchased an unlikely marriage certificate (30 – count them – 30 years after the birth of their first child) and at last I found James’s marriage to my 2 x great grandmother, Catherine Lucy Darcy. Suddenly I had the correct name of her parents AND her father’s occupation so naturally I tried searching some Irish newspapers for her parents along similar lines and… you get the idea.

After that excitement I got my mind back on the task I started out on. A blog post about combining what we know about birth notices with what we know about searching Trove in order to find birth notices in Trove. Right! I needed to do another quick Trove search, to make sure things work as expected. I thought it best to stay away from the Bennett family. How about the Coupers? My next search turned up an article that followed on from the one I described in my post Bad smelling fat and putrid bones. It was titled “Slaughtering in the suburbs”. I couldn’t put that aside while I finished my “next” blog post, now could I?

So, this is a quick post to say that the “next” post is coming, but if it takes a long time it’s only because these searches are working out so well for me!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Perfecting newspaper searches: Birth notices–Part 1

In order to search effectively, you really do have to know what you are looking for! You might know that you are looking for the birth notice for John Doe and the search seems pretty straightforward. Enter the words “John Doe” and narrow down the year range. Unfortunately, that may not be enough to find John Doe’s birth notice (assuming he has one) even one if the entry is transcribed correctly.

What you need to know as you enter your search terms is not the name “John Doe”, but the unique combination of words that are used in John Doe’s birth notice. If you are looking for a historical notice it’s entirely possible, even likely, that the notice will not contain his name at all.

Over the past few days I’ve been compiling information about the information included in birth notices in The Argus (Victoria, Australia on the Trove website), from 1850 to 1955. I selected Family Notices articles spread across the years. I aimed to choose articles with multiple notices in order to process them in batches, and did not reject any batch once I had clicked on it. I stopped searching for additional birth notices within each decade when I had reviewed at least 30.

In total, I reviewed 447 birth notice items from The Argus. I also spot-checked other newspapers and states, and looked more carefully at an extra 162 birth notices for other states in order to test if the results I found are generally applicable for Australian newspapers.

I this post I will describe what I found. In my next, I hope you will join me in a discussion of what the results means for constructing birth notice searches in Trove.

The birth notices had three common features:

  • They were quite short, most were 30 words or less (newspapers would charge extra to insert a longer than standard notice).
  • They all included the surname of the person.
  • They all included the words “son” or “daughter”.

You will notice that I have not listed “they included the child’s name” or “they included the mother’s name” as common features. Before the 1950s, these were quite uncommon features!

Person’s surname

Every birth notice included the surname. The surname was usually given in capital letters at the start of each notice, and would also often appear in the middle of the notice when the parents’ names were mentioned. However, early birth notices did not start with the surname. The position of the surname relative to other search terms we might want to use becomes relevant when we consider how we might search Trove.

Child’s name

No birth notices prior to 1910 (in my Argus sample) included the child’s name. Inclusion of the child’s name was above 60% in the 1920s and 1950s. Still, even in those years more than 30% of birth notices did not name the person who had been born!

When the name of the child was given, it was almost always in brackets at the end of the notice.

Chart 1:  Proportion of birth notices that included the child’s name


Mother’s name

In the earlier papers, the mother was almost always referred to as “wife of …” or “Mrs husband’s name”. Almost always. Occasionally she wasn’t referred to at all.

The first instance of including the mother’s maiden name in my sample occurred in the 1900s. This practice had become more popular in the 1920s and by the ‘40s I found that more than 60% of sampled birth notices included the mother’s maiden name.

Where the maiden name was included, it was almost always placed in brackets immediately following the child’s surname at the start of the notice. There were some variations in the detail – use of the word “nee”, or inclusion of the given name.

    • SURNAME (mother’s surname)
    • SURNAME (nee mother’s surname)
    • SURNAME (nee mother’s full name)

Inclusion of the mother’s given name, either with the surname as above or in the text of the notice, also started taking off in the 1920s. In the 1950s over 80% of birth notices would include the mother’s given name.

Although I did not make a tally, it was my impression that in most cases the name the mother went by was included, rather than her full name. That is, “Dot”, rather than “Dorothy Jane”. Her name was often paired with her husband’s name in the text ie “Dot and Wal”.

Chart 2:  Proportion of birth notices that included the mother’s name


Father’s name

The father’s name was almost always included in some form. This would either be his full name or his initials. I did not tally whether “Mr. J. W. Doe” or “Mr. and Mrs. J.W. Doe” were more common - both were frequently used.

In the earlier time periods, the father’s name was more often spelled out in full. In later time periods, when inclusion of the father’s given name again became the norm it was more often included paired with the wife’s name eg “Dot and Wal”.

Chart 3:  Proportion of birth notices that included the father’s name


Other information

While there was very occasional reference to occupations (usually in the earlier notices) or sibling names (only in the later notices) these were quite rare.

I saw quite a lot of notices that included the word “twins” and sadly even more that included the word “stillborn”. In the later years I also saw the word “caesarean” in a few notices. These words might be useful if you already knew a bit about the birth.

The only other information frequently included was place names. Almost every birth notice included a place name, either the residence or place of birth. Not all of these would be useful when construction a search. In tallying inclusion of place names, I made a completely subjective judgement in each case as to whether the place name was one that a researcher would be likely to know was connected to the family, and sufficiently unusual that it wouldn’t bring up too many false positive results.  For example, if the place was a hospital (without mention of a suburb), I did not suppose the researcher would have information that would lead them to search on that term.

While most birth notices through most of the time period included potentially “searchable” places, this dropped of in the 1950s. Two things seemed to be happening:

  • A shift to including information about the immediate family instead of place of residence.
  • Possibly, more births were occurring in hospital. I generally did not include a hospital name without a suburb as a “searchable place”.

Chart 4:  Proportion of birth notices that included a searchable place


Other States

A spot-check of other newspapers and other States suggested that the patterns I saw in the Argus were generally relevant. I was not keen on replicating the whole exercise across every State… but I did want a bit more information to reassure myself on this point. The decade starting 1910 seemed to be a turning point for inclusion of mother and child names in the Argus and that is the decade I chose for comparison.

For each State, I chose items from the newspaper with the most “Family Notice” articles in that State. Apologies to Tasmania and the Northern Territory. You were not forgotten. It was just that the small number of birth notices per article made the data extraction task more onerous. I’m doing this in my spare time, remember!

Results were reasonably consistent. Victoria was perhaps a little ahead in including details of the mother and child.


Of course, I only looked at a few hundred out of potentially millions of birth notices in total (as at the time of writing there are 1,543,548 “Family Notices” articles in Trove, many of which would contain multiple birth notices). Local newspapers especially may have entirely different patterns. It would always be worthwhile to look at some birth notices for the paper and era you are searching, to make sure that the terms you are searching for were used at that time and place.



Copyright 2015 Shelley Crawford

Monday, August 31, 2015

Waiting for the Mail

The Avoca Mail (Avoca, Victoria), that is. I am particularly interested in this newspaper as I hope it will mention the death of James Bennett (1831-?) which has for many years eluded me. Ghost articles have appeared on Trove with tantalising abstracts that I can’t click and read in full because they haven’t passed QA yet. It feels like weeks since I found them and entered my email address to receive a notice when each one becomes available. In reality, it has only been a few days. I may download most of my information these days, but I still get to experience waiting for the Mail!

Edited to add:

Oh my. I think I just found him. A memorial article in the Age newspaper. More when I can confirm, but it looks good!

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A grumble and a workaround

I want to love FindMyPast, really I do, but sometimes they make it hard.

Don’t get me wrong - I am excited about and grateful for all the material from various archives that is now becoming available online as digital images (and a big shout out to Ancestry here too!).


…as I said last year…

….the Merchant Seaman records are not plain sailing!

FindMyPast has digital images of various series of Merchant Seaman’s records from The National Archives. This time I was interested in Series BT113 – Registers of Seaman’s tickets. Both BT113 and the index to it, BT114, have been scanned, indexed and made available on FindMyPast. Fantastic! So far so good.

The grumble

Here’s where it starts to go wrong.

The series number and the subseries number are included in the transcription display, as they should be, but they are not a lot of use if you want to use them to find records on the website! 

  • You can only filter on the series number if you’re using “Old Search”.
  • You can’t filter on the subseries number at all.
  • You can’t page through the registers.

That’s right. Even if you have the correct archival reference details, you can’t browse your way to a particular entry. As a user of the collection, I’m not happy about that.

This time around, I found the person I wanted in BT114 (the index series) but I couldn’t find the corresponding record in BT113 by searching the database no matter how imaginative the spelling variations and search criteria combinations I came up with.

Although I had the ticket number from the index series, and The National Archives catalogue indicated that ticket number 68599 was in BT113/35 there was no way provided to move to BT113/35 and page through to the item I wanted.

I was left with no idea why I couldn’t find the entry. Mistranscription? Damaged page? Missing page?! No idea.

The workaround

After searching, failing, getting frustrated and trying again with no more success, I left it for a few weeks. Finally it occurred to me to look at the URL and see if the structure that was missing from the search facility might be present in the URL.

To start with, I looked at the URL for a few random transcripts from the right series.

A record in BT113/253:

A record in BT113/27:

The changing part of the link, marked in red, was larger for items with larger subseries numbers. I crossed my fingers and hoped that they had scanned and named everything in a nice, orderly, sequential way!

I guesstimated the number that would put me into BT113/35, entered it into the URL, and after three or four attempts (or maybe half a dozen) found a record in the right subseries. I then continued the same process to reach the ticket number I wanted. That took at little longer as I had to click through to the images each time to see the register number. Before too long the details for ticket number 68599 were in front of me.

Now I know why I couldn’t find the entry I wanted. It was there, readable, and not mistranscribed. It’s just that the register details were filled out for an entirely different person. I was taken aback for a minute. I was sure I had the register number right. Then I realised that next to the entry was written “Cancelled” and “Reissued to Moses Mercer Mack”. Just the man I was looking for! Unfortunately that meant that there were no useful details about Captain Mack (yes I have found records of him later in his career) to add to what I know, but at least I am no longer puzzling over that register entry it and searching for something that’s not there.


By the way, if you’re researching Moses Mercer Mack (c1828-1883), a master mariner from Belfast, please get in touch. I’d love to compare notes with you.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The plugin is plugged in

Well, that got a bit out of hand!

My little proof-of-concept experiment for a flexible CSV import plugin for Family Historian grew into a little project to actually make such a plugin… and then expanded into a project to make one good enough for the Family Historian plugin store… with assorted extra features thrown in along the way!

Getting the plugin to import the information took a little work. Trying to make a useful interface, and to cover the situations that could arise if people don’t use it exactly the same way I do took a lot longer! Aside from a bit of frustration at times playing whack-a-mole with bugs, I enjoyed the process. For each problem (just about), I found a solution. I’m not a programmer. I have no illusion that it is brilliant code – but it does the job.

Last weekend I submitted it to Family Historian. It has now been approved and is in the plugin store. I do hope it will make life easier for some genies out there!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Plugin progress

Here’s the final message from the latest trial run of my ‘Import CSV’ plugin for Family Historian. 35 seconds feels like a long time to wait but it’s certainly a lot faster than entering 10,000+ names by hand.. with source citations, I might add!


Monday, April 20, 2015

Plugging away at a plugin

I had good intentions of writing up a post after Congress 2015. I started, but never quite finished. Somewhere along the way I got distracted by a project that hadn’t even been on my to-do list, but has since because the primary focus of my attention.

Since Congress, in my spare moments, I have been chipping away at writing a Family Historian plugin. It started when I was talking to Jill Ball at Congress. She mentioned that she had looked at the CSV import plugins currently available but they hadn’t quite met her needs. The goal of a “CSV import” plug-in is to move spreadsheet style information into a family history package.

I have a few ideas about how a flexible CSV import tool might work… one you could customise without having to get into the code. Sparked by Jill’s comment, I tried a few proof-of-concept experiments and my little obsession project grew from there.

As at today, I have a plugin that seems to work as intended. I’m thinking about refining it to a point where I could submit it to the Family Historian plugin store so that anyone who has Family Historian can use it.

Right now I’m on the lookout for a few more sample files to try it with. Please leave a comment if you have something that might fit the bill and I’ll get in touch with you.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Ancestry DNA is coming to Australia soon

Today I received an email from that said they will soon be making their DNA tests available in Australia. Tests will initially be available by invitation only. The email gave the option to sign up for an invitation.

I am cautiously optimistic about this development. While I prefer to use Family Tree DNA for my own tests, and of course hope that my relatives near and far will choose to test there, I think that Ancestry will give genetic genealogy in Australia a real boost.

I have tested with all three of the big genetic genealogy players – Family Tree DNA, Ancestry and 23andMe. I tested with Ancestry when the product became available in the USA. At that stage, they shipped kits to Australia.

My hope is that Ancestry’s advertising will ‘normalise’ genetic genealogy. I think that is already starting to happen, but my perspective may be biased by the company I keep! I hope that by seeing a well known company such as Ancestry advertise their tests, more Australian genealogists (and their family members) will think of DNA testing as something that would be interesting to do and within reach of normal people. More potential matches for me!

The chief problem with testing at Ancestry is the sad lack of tools offered to work with matches. Two words... Chromosome browser. Tests done at Ancestry are not a lost cause, though, if you want to work with the information. It’s possible to download the raw data and upload it to free sites such as Gedmatch, or pay a small ‘transfer’ fee to load it into Family Tree DNA.

I think that it’s probably a larger leap to start DNA testing at all, than to expand your view to the additional services available. I will suggest to my promising Australian future AncestryDNA matches that they look a little wider.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Congress 2015 eve

One more sleep until I go to Congress 2015!

I’ve got a good idea of the sessions I will attend tomorrow. Unfortunately, that won’t include the opening address. I’m going to be a late arrival, as I will be taking my kids to school before I head in.

When I get there, I’ll be sure to look out for the 30(!) people wearing blogger beads. Hopefully I’ll be able to find Jill from Geniaus, collect my beads, and join their ranks. I’m feeling quite nervous about it, actually.

See you in the morning!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Counting down to Congress 2015

My contact cards (tee hee) arrived right on time.

Next time I think I will use slightly larger text, with more contrast to the background. Live and learn. Readability aside, I’m very happy with them.


I’ve downloaded the Congress 2015 app (link leads to the Google play store).

I think I’m all ready for Congress 2015!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Missing Friends–Trove Tuesday

It turns out that I’m not the only one searching for my Ancestor, Catherine Lucy Darcy (married James Bennett). Look what I found in the “Missing Friends” section of The Australasian.


Advertising. (1894, June 9). The Australasian (Melbourne, Vic. : 1864 - 1946), p. 1. Retrieved September 11, 2014, from

Unfortunately, I found this article 120 years too late. We could have helped each other. I could have told them where she was, and they could have told me more about where she came from.

In 1894 Catherine was still living in Avoca. She’d had three more children born after 1858. All six of her children survived to adulthood and had families of their own. By 1894 Catherine had a large number of grandchildren. She died in 1896.

I would love to pinpoint Catherine’s time and place of birth, and find out her mother’s name. Catherine’s mother is the most elusive of my 3 x great grandparents!

I have wondered what the trigger for this “Missing Friends” ad was. Did one of Catherine’s parents fall ill or die? It would have put her parents at a ripe old age, but it’s within possibility. Perhaps a sibling wanting to find her? Or perhaps really just a friend hoping to get in touch again.

I tried searching Trove for the post office box number given and found a few wanted listings, both before and after the date of the “Missing Friends” article. There’s a bit of a theme running through them…


Advertising. (1892, September 3). Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 - 1931), p. 3. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from


Advertising. (1896, March 17). The Sydney Morning Herald(NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 1. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from


Advertising. (1897, November 27). Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners' Advocate (NSW : 1876 - 1954) , p. 3. Retrieved September 12, 2014, from

I get the impression it’s a personal post office box, not a business one. I think that maybe just maybe they might have liked boats. Messing about with pleasure skiffs sounds to me like a pursuit of the wealthy.

There’s a name – A.G.Wood. Is H.A.S. a person’s initials, or some sort of acronym? The dates are too early for the electoral rolls, and I don’t fancy digging through directories searching out all the A.G.Woods at this stage. They could well have posted the “Missing Friends” advertisement on behalf of someone else. Maybe one day I’ll look into it further, when I don’t have dozens of other more promising leads all over my family tree to follow!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Getting ready for Congress 2015

The essentials are under control.

I’ve registered to attend the Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry being held here in Canberra at the end of this month. I’ve arranged for time off work. I’ve reviewed the list of presentations. I’ve warned my family that I won’t be around much!

Now I’m getting my “want” list under control.

I’ve asked Jill Ball (of Geniaus) to put me on her list for “blogger beads”. I’m excited about meeting other geneabloggers – particularly those I have known through their blogs or social media for some time but never actually met. Jill herself, for example! I’ll be looking out for people wearing those beads. I think they’ll be a great icebreaker. I would assume that anyone wearing the beads is happy to talk, and knowing the wearer has a blog provides a topic of conversation to start off with. Reading that Jill has 27 on her list for blogger beads has sent me on a blog reading and subscribing binge. Just as my blogging output reduced over the last few years, so did my exploration of new blogs. I’ve got a lot to catch up on!

I followed Judy Webster’s advice and ordered contact cards which list my blog address, contact details, and (some of the) surnames I’m tracing. I giggled as I clicked my way through the checkout. It seems funny to be ordering business cards for a hobby. I can’t imagine myself actually handing one to someone, but at any rate now I will have the option. The cards are supposed to arrive on 20 March so I have at least a little buffer zone for printing or postal delays before Congress. Going through the checkout process Vistaprint offered up suggestions for other custom items I might like to buy. I was very tempted by the matching custom pens. Perhaps next time I’ll plan to order a few!

Judy is also the mastermind behind the Genealogists for Families “Kiva” group. Kiva is a platform for making small loans to people around the world, particularly in countries with lower incomes. I’ve put my hand up to join in a get-together of group members after Congress closes.

I have not yet added any entries to the Congress Register of Interests. I will have to think about what to list.

I’m looking forward to Congress and am enjoying the sense of anticipation building around the aussiegeneablogosphere!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015: The year in preview

This post was meant to come a few days after my review of 2014. Clearly it didn’t, so I will start with a review of the year so far and a preview of the rest.

January this year was much smoother sailing than January last year. While last year started with a very sick little daughter, this year kicked off with a family cruise to New Caledonia and Vanuatu. I’d put a genealogy spin on it by comparing and contrasting it with the voyages of my ancestors but to be quite honest, I really didn’t think about that at all while on board! The ocean really was as calm as in the picture below, and it really was that blue. No cooking, no cleaning, relaxing days at sea interspersed with tropical island adventures. I could get used to that.

Calm ocean view

Getting back on topic….

2015 will see me making my way through more courses with the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. I signed up for my first intermediate level course, Australian Newspapers, at the start of February. I have been able to whizz through that course already as I have been using newspapers as a resource for a long time, even before the Trove binge existed! I’ve only the exam left to do. I’m not sure I will manage a course per month all year, but I do expect to complete more of the courses this year and would like to mix in a few overseas topics with the Australian topics.

March brings the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations Congress 2015. This year it’s in Canberra. I’ve bought tickets for three of the four days and am thinking about taking a day off work to go on the Monday as well. I’m looking forward to hearing the speakers and also looking forward to meeting in real life some of the people I have “met” online. Do say hello to me if you are there!

I would like to follow up on John Lee’s Merchant Seaman’s records by engaging a researcher with expertise in and access to mariners records.

I have two Family Tree DNA kits ready and waiting for whoever I can talk into taking them!

I’m still keen on the idea of an annual research trip to Melbourne. I haven’t made plans for my 2015 trip yet, but I will. I really must sort out the papers I obtained from my 2014 trip first! I want to write up more posts about those, and about the Allsop family papers I found at the National Library.

With work and family commitments that is all I can commit myself to for the coming year. I am sure more opportunities will present themselves during the year – they usually do!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

2014: Quality over quantity!

The start of the new year is a time to look back and look forward. Jill Ball of GeniAus has encouraged bloggers to look back with an eye for the positive. Although I haven’t followed her prompts, and I’m late joining the party, I hope she will include me in her annual ‘Accentuate the Positive' roundup!

2014 started with the immediate concerns of my family demanding precedence over hatches, matches and dispatches in the past. I’m not sure how I managed to write five blog posts that month!

In the space of a day my five year old daughter went from being a lively child with a mild case of the sniffles, to child very ill with pneumonia lying in a high care hospital bed. I’m glad to say that after a week in hospital on oxygen, nebulisers and antibiotics she had recovered well enough to attend her very first day of school at the same time as the other children.

This came only a few months after my son’s case of scarlet fever! His temperature hit 40 degrees and he was clearly a very unwell boy, but he quickly recovered with antibiotics. It was not a big deal.

This left me feeling reflective. Many of my ancestor’s children had similar illnesses at similar ages, with much less happy results. I felt very grateful to live in the time and the place that I do.

My first notable genealogy achievement of the year was finding merchant seaman records for my ancestor, John Lee. This supported the family story that he was a crew member who left the ship in Australia, and disproved the theory that he was an “exile” – a convict sent to Port Phillip (now Victoria) and pardoned on arrival. I still need to follow up on engaging a researching to dig further into the records for me!

The highlight of the year was my research trip to Melbourne. I got such a kick out of seeing the documents for myself. Those big old registers really are big! I made some great discoveries, boosting my confidence that I really could track down and find information that I wanted in the archives, and I met my cousin Shirley for the first time. I also spent time with my aunt, uncle and cousins who I haven’t seen in years which was worth a trip in itself. I said that I would like to make the research trip an annual event – I’ll have to get planning!

Finding copies of my ancestor’s letters at the National Library of Australia came a very close second in terms of genealogy excitement. As it happened, Shirley was in Canberra and we had planned to meet again. It was great to have someone else to ooh and ahh over the papers with.

I have made progress on a number of other fronts:

  • I have all but finished the Basic level Australian courses at the National Institute for Genealogical Studies.
  • I started putting words on the page, writing up what I know about my Couper family.
  • DNA research has begun picking up steam as more people test. It has now moved on from being something that I thought of as fun, but only likely to be useful long term (if ever) to a potential source of breakthroughs. I “met” a Couper/Allsop descendant, and a Bennett/Darcy descendant through DNA testing – it’s nice to have support for the paper trails. I also “met “ a predicted 2-4th cousin. Such a close match! We think that our respective Halliday ancestors may have been siblings (making us 3rd cousins twice removed, if I’ve worked the relationship out correctly) but don’t have any information to confirm this. What we do have is a hypothesis to follow up on which we would not have had without the DNA tests.
  • I upgraded to version six of Family Historian and have spent quite some time playing with the new features. Version six has added ‘witness’ support (which I’m very happy with) and place support (which is a step in the right direction) but it’s the new minor features that I would look straight past in the product description that I’m most taken with. This deserves a post of it’s own, which I may or may not find time to write!

Overall I think it was a year of quality, rather than quantity, and I’m very happy with that!