BSO#1 AFFHO Congress 2015 – Day 3 Part 2

NSW_PoliceGazette

And here is Part 2 of my notes for Day 3 of AFFHO Congress 2015…

Keynote PM: Men, women, sex and desire: family history on Australia’s first frontier – Grace Karskens (Associate Professor, historian, UNSW)

Grace took us through a case study involving a large number of inter-related families in the Nepean region in NSW in the early 1800’s. In early colonial life, family and place were at the heart of community life. Whenever meeting new people, it was important to know who you were and where you came from. Later on, as mores changed, people didn’t ask these questions, afraid of what they might find. Convicts in the family? Oh no!

In England, health and food was poor and the land was all tied up. Australia was an opportunity to start a new life and found new dynasties – often within a generation. It became part of the local legend of the Nepean area in New South Wales that this new land contained miracles. A lot of women had babies who had never been able to have children before and children grew healthy and strong which no doubt had much to do with improved diets and a healthier environment.

Each generation spread further out, girls married young (about 14/15 yrs of age) and with a shortage of women in the colony there were many opportunities for these girls to start lives and families that they never would have had in England. The general attitude in the early settlement years of the colony was optimistic and forward looking.

Grace talked through her research to reveal how all these various relationships created an incredibly complex and very involved family history across an entire community. From all the goings-on that Grace described, I swear you could make a pretty salacious drama out of the stories and we were all highly entertained!

In any case, this is such a different approach to a typical genealogist who tracks a family back down a line through time. Different dimensions of in depth research – a broad study of family through place and community versus a defined study of a family line through time.

If you are interested in reading some of Grace Karskens’ papers, I found this website listing a number of them available online and they make fascinating reading of early Colonial life.

Session 4: Harness the power of blogging – Pauleen Cass

Pauleen has two major projects on the go – Dorfprozelten emigrants to Australia and East Clare emigrants. Pauleen discussed how creating blog sites for these two projects made it easier to link with other descendants and so expand her own research allowing her to “time travel backwards across the generations”. In the process, she inadvertently spawned a kind of matchmaker role by connecting people and families together.

By focusing on ordinary people and how they lived their lives, we get a clearer understanding of the community as a whole. Pauline found that blogging was a mechanism that made this kind of research and understanding possible and refers to it as a “grassroots research revolution”.

There seems to be a lot of sympathy between Pauleen’s talk and Grace Karskens lunchtime keynote speech where the research focussed not on individuals or their families, but rather on revealing the character of the community as a whole through the ties. relationships and daily lives of its members.

Session 5: Bring your ancestors to life – using Court of Petty Session Records – Shauna Hicks

Shauna is a professional genealogist with many years of experience and is a well known speaker. I’ve wanted to see her talk for a while now so I was really pleased to see that Shauna was presenting at Congress 2015 – and on a topic I really needed to know more about.

Let’s face it. It is often the black sheep in the family that can be the most interesting – and leave the best paperwork trail. We certainly have a few in our family so I was looking for a better understanding of the court system in Australia as well as a few leads from Shauna’s talk.

And Shauna didn’t let us down, giving an amazing talk using various case studies from her own family to illustrate how to find all kinds of terrific details and information about what people can get up to. Shauna very generously makes her presentations available on her website including Bring your ancestors to life – using Court of Petty Session Records and there are lots of other resources as well as her blogs to check out.

I learnt so many new things. Did you know there was a depression in Australia in the 1890s? A lot of people went bankrupt or insolvent which started them on a slippery slope ending up in court. I don’t remember them mentioning that in history class in primary school.

Or that all kinds of information can be found in court records unrelated to actual crimes? Such as liquor licenses, entertainment permits, worker’s compensation files, exemption from military service, and the list goes on

The points from Shauna’s talk that stood out for me the most were:

  • While local court records often cover minor crimes such as breaking and entering, swearing, wife/child desertion and so on, you should also check other court records since, for example, actions can go up to the Supreme Court or back down again. Remember, even if they were acquitted, there could still be court records to pursue.
  • Most court records are not indexed so you need to refer back to newspapers to track down more identifying information and dates. Shauna shows lots of examples in her presentation.
  • Sometimes more information appear in the newspapers than appear in the actual court records. There was no television in those days so newspapers reported all kinds of extra details that a court may not need to record. Also, some court records just didn’t survive.
  • Police Gazettes are another great source of details including descriptions of people for which a warrant has been issued.
  • Each state has their own terminology, procedures and processes and there can be lots of quirks to the system. You need to become familiar with the relevant jurisdiction you are interested in by reading the FAQs and research guides available on state archives/library websites.

The best advice Shauna had to give was to remember that the past is a different place and whatever your ancestors may have done, place it within the context of the times in which they lived.

Do have some black sheep in your family? Or family stories worthy of a mini-series?

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