My first experience with family history research was as a Kojonup 6th grade primary school student. Failing to hand in a local history ‘project’ on time, I was severely castigated by my teacher, Mrs Myrtle (Johnson) Benn. “You of all people Neville Jones” she thundered, “the history of this town is your history!”. “Johnnie” Benn, as she was known, had taught my mother at Boscabel in the 1930s as well as my paternal uncles who, being only eight and four years older and one was still at school with me, gave me valuable tactical advice on managing the pupil/teacher relationship! Apart from Mum and Dad, my great uncle WH “Pat” Jones (1892-1978) and particularly his wife Stella (Casey) (1893-1978), gave me a wonderful insight into life in Kojonup in the early days. Another great source of information, and he was the font of all of Kojonup’s oral history, was John Charles “Charlie” Elverd (1899-1979). I always knew I was related to my mate Johnnie Elverd, but it was years before I understood how that relationship worked. Those memories are just that – memories but never written down for posterity (unless Mum still has that grade 6 project!).
1979 was the sesquicentennial of the founding of Western Australia, and a large reunion of the Norrish Family was held up at Warkalup Farm. I lived in Alice Springs at that time and did not attend, but my mother gave me a copy of the booklet published for the event: The Norrish Family 1847 to 1979 compiled by Michael GN Hollier. This remains a valuable resource today. Interest in family history generally was given a significant boost by the 1988 Australian Bicentennial; by this stage, I had long had a copy of First the Spring: A History of the Shire of Kojonup by Merle Bignall (1971) and a stenographers notebook with scribbles, notes and fledgling charts primarily based on talks with Mum. I was very interested in the tale of my great uncle Neville Robert Sexton who had disappeared in the Northern Territory where I had been living since 1970. The research was difficult – the old fashioned way – and I was not very systematic. Nevertheless, my notebook continued to fill, and I began to collect the odd document, certificate and reference book. A bar chat with a workmate produced the stunning revelation that we were both related to the Carroll family of Cooktown, Queensland, and this provided another stimulus.
In 2007 I left my Government job and struck out on my own working out of a home office. Being a subscriber to Ancestry and Find My Past, with more time and the explosive growth in the availability of digital records via the Internet, I began to make rapid advances in my family trees and my interest in history generally accelerated. Contacts with other family history researchers were made, and a couple of these evolved into productive collaboration. Realising one would unlikely ever write the definitive family history, the research never ends, I began to write ‘stories’ for family consumption and as a means of documenting my research. Inspired by an online research collaborator, I have ventured into the ‘Blog World’ as a means to achieve this.
Having married into a Darwin Chinese family, I have long been a member of the Chung Wah Society and a volunteer in the Northern Territory Chinese Museum. Knowing my interest in Family History, the Society prevailed on me to take over as the Museum Coordinator in 2016. Two years later, I took on maintaining and expanding the family trees on display. Accordingly, my interest in Chinese Australian history has accelerated. The Society now describes my role as ‘Museum Director’.
I trust my family, fellow researchers, and followers will enjoy these tentative steps.