I have been a very bad Blogger in 2019! That does not mean a lack of activity when it comes to family history research because it has been a very busy year indeed. While I am out of practice in using Word Press, here I go with a summary of family history and research events in 2019.
Diploma of Family History
After several years of intent, and usually missing the enrolment dates, I finally enrolled in the Diploma of Family History course at the University of Tasmania and completed the first unit Introduction to Family History. This required the writing of a biography and initially, I was going to rise to the challenge and write about my 2 x great grandfather John Sale in my Muir-Buirchell Tree but opted for the safer course of doing my great grandfather William Thomas “Squatter” Jones in Jones-Sexton.
A few lessons were learned! While I thought my archiving system was okay, it did not stand up to the test including in regard to photographs. The Neville Jones Services office and archive need a thorough clean-up, a task my wife Lorelei is threatening to take on while she is on leave – much to my trepidation. While I understand the importance of research logs, and I do try to maintain them during a research project, I find the task tedious and tend to just race ahead. The biography assignment brought the lesson home, particularly regarding the keeping track of references.
There was a certain lack of organisation associated with the course and removing the unit English Writing: Grammar and Composition from the course syllabus late in the piece meant I was unable to enrol in another unit in 2019. The new Course Coordinator is Dr Kate Bagnall, whom I met in 2015, and whose writings I follow, as she specialises in Australian Chinese history. Convict Ancestors will be my first unit for 2020 and I am hoping to do at least another two units.
Australian Museums and Galleries Association
I became a member of the NT Chapter of AMaGA during the year and attended the 2019 national conference Our people, Our places, Our practices in Alice Springs during May. This was certainly a learning experience and an incredible range of topics were on the program. I was successful in securing a Bursary from an NT Government funded program and this covered a large portion of the costs.
In December we had a Caring for Photographs workshop at the Museum and Art Gallery NT with staff and participants at the Museum of Central Australia also linked by video. I had done a similar workshop at the NT Archives several years ago. It is time to put into practice what was learned! Apart from care and storage techniques, it is the proper cataloguing of photos that is the big challenge.
Genealogical Society of Northern Territory
The GSNT was able to secure the services of several presenters from Unlock My Past to give a seminar in Darwin in May. This sort of event is rare in Darwin. The speakers were engaged as presenters on a family history focussed cruise ship voyage – wouldn’t that be a great holiday! Dr Helen Smith, a Molecular Epidemiologist specialising in Public Health Microbiology, combines her science-based DNA knowledge with family history research. Helen’s presentation was DNA: GEDmatch the genealogist’s friend and also Detect that Photo: getting the most out of your photos. Dr Richard Reid’s presentation There is no person starving here explored the relationship between Ireland and Australia and the impact of the Great Famine. Finally, Rosemary Kopitke’s presentation was Scottish Research – The obvious and the obscure records. The seminar was interesting and challenging.
Chung Wah Society
2019 was a slow year for the money earning side of Neville Jones Services and the available time was rapidly filled with activities associated with the NT Chinese Museum. Apart from being the volunteer coordinator, and doing my shifts showing tourists around, my major responsibility is the Family Tree Update project.
The Society held 11 GEDCOM files which had not been updated since 2007 and the family trees are displayed as hanging scrolls. I gained custody of the GEDCOM files, which had been recorded in the Legacy program, in February 2018 and re-established these in Ancestry. I envisage the project will take three years to complete so I am about two thirds the way. Including three new family trees, 782 people have been added bringing the total database to 6808 people plus 2308 vital and electoral enrollment records where none previously existed. Recently, I have been contacting other family historians, of which there are surprisingly few, to collaborate on the Project.
Along the way, there are visitors to the Museum with connections to the Darwin Chinese community keen to explore their roots. This is inevitably a two-way process involving research fior their benefit but resulting in new information to be recorded. Did I mention photographs? The Society holds several thousand photographs properly catalogued as proofs, negatives and prints and held in archive quality storage albums and boxes. However, this work was done around 1996 when Filemaker Pro was on floppy disc and prior to the advent of accessible scanners. This means there is no digital record of these photographs! Further, even although the storage products are archive quality, there are signs of deterioration. Recently, a family previously associated with the Museum gifted thousands of colour prints covering almost every Chung Wah Society event held over 20 years to about 2015. What to do? The task is immense!
I have previously mentioned my project The Darwin Chinese through newspaper eyes 1874-1884 (working title) and after nearly three years, I finished downloading the newspaper articles. Now for the creative writing side! I also became intrigued by the story of the little known Australian diplomat Charles LEE Fong Que, born and raised in Darwin, and this led me further into the history of Australia-China relations and World War II in China. Frustratingly, Charles Lee’s memorabilia are held as a private collection (and therefore not digitised) in the National Library in Canberra. I have made some progress with a paper intended for publication in the GSNT newsletter Progenitor which is based on Charles’ story and outlining the family research techniques used. While there may few Chinese-Australia family historians around, there is no shortage of academics writing in this field. One of those is Lorelei’s cousin Natalie who stayed with us in September when she presented on her PhD topic Chinese Merchants as active citizens in the Northern Territory, 1880-1950 to an audience at the NT Archives centre.
There are many intrinsic benefits to my involvement with the Museum and at the Annual General Meeting in November, the Society honoured me with the Bill Wong Meritorius Service Award.
While not at liberty to reveal the client or the actual scope of the project, suffice to say it deals with politics and land rights, work continued intermittently on this assignment during 2019. Doing the research is one thing, and the subject area is vast, but is the creative writing that continues to be the challenge.
One aspect explored in detail this year is the Strehlow Research Centre in Alice Springs. I had a peripheral involvement in the acquisition of the Strehlow Collection, including sacred objects, movies, photographs, diaries, genealogies and research documents held by the late Professor TGH Strehlow, by the Northern Territory Government in the 1980’s. It is pleasing to see what was so controversial 35 years ago, has now become a respected research institution.
November was my mother’s 90th birthday and a family reunion took place in Kojonup, Western Australia. For the first time, her children, grandchildren and great children were all together (yes, I am a grandfather!) and it was a wonderful day. Staying on in WA for two weeks, I was able to catch up with my Uncle, we were brought up almost as brothers, who suffered a debilitating stroke earlier this year, a cousin who was my best mate 50 years ago and another cousin who holds a wealth of Jones family history material.
A few months back, some enterprising Kojonup people set up a FaceBook site Remembering Kojonup which attracted over 1000 followers in just a few days. Posted to this site were many historical photographs including some relating to my Jones and Sexton families and including not-before-seen images of sporting teams showing my father. My Uncle held a photo of his parent’s wedding, that is – my grandparents, which is the first I had ever seen. Cousin Geoff inherited the collection put together by Cousin Michael dealing primarily with the Jones family in Kojonup and their farming activities. The Photomyne scanner app in my iPhone worked overtime! Cousin Sharon held an album that had belonged to my grandmother and in it there were photographs I had never seen of me as a toddler with my grandfather. Also in this album were 1949 ration cards issued to my grandparents and father for petrol, power kerosene and butter!
Cousin Tony set up a FaceBook site Buirchell Family History Thru Photos based on a photograph collection inherited from his (and my mother’s) first cousin Shirley. Intriguingly, Shirley’s collection included photos of some 200 weddings held in Kojonup so a wider group of interested followers emerged. While many were never seen by me before, I was able to identify some of the people in the published photos and to contribute a number of others.
It transpires this photo collection had first been offered to my mother but she requested they be given to other descendants. However, there was a second bundle of photographs and documents belong to Emily (Buirchell) Masters (Shirley’s mother and Mum’s Aunt) still with Mum including a images of early Kojonup football teams. Also coming to light was a very old and damaged photo of a shearing team in operation around 1900.
During the year I had contact with several Solly family descendants in both South Australia and Western Australia. The South Australian contacts are aspiring family history researchers. Several documents came to light including a family tree put together by Sidney Edward Solly in 1983 which I have long searched for. Further documents emerged: an extract from a book by a Reuben Solly descendant that has a chapter on Charles William Walton and Eliza Ann Solly, History of the Solly Family in Australia from 1800 to 2007, a letter written by Sidney Edward Solly in 1983 about his family history research, and recollections recorded by Amy (Wallace) Solly about the move of the Solly and Bamess families from Milparinka in New South Wales to Western Australia in the early 1900’s.
These documents are immensely valuable in that they confirm past research and speculations, add new people to the family tree, and, more importantly, add a human element to the research. In ‘genie speak’, “adding flesh to the bones”.
Looking Ahead to 2020?
The easy answer is more of the same! From this account, there is obviously a number of projects for completion in 2020. My intent was to spend six weeks in England but with the economic downturn here, that hope is fading. As usual, the holy grail is better organisation and more productivity.
Note on the”image “Shearing Time c. 1900:
The original photograph is card mounted, in poor condition, and proved difficult to copy with a flat bed scanner. A reasonable copy was obtained using the iPhone App ‘Photomyne’ and was enhanced. The photograph was captioned “Under a Bow Shed at Angenup” and written on the back of the card were the names of the people in the image – Jimmy the Aboriginal, Reg Lee, Tom Norrish, Tom Buirchell and Alice Buirchell (“rolling wool”). Thomas Malone Norrish (1865-1952) and Thomas Buirchell (1870-1955) married sisters Rosina Rogers (1873-1939) and Alice Agnes Rogers (1876-1952). “Angenup” was the property of Thomas Norrish.