BSO#1 AFFHO Congress 2015 – Day 4 Part 1


The last day of Congress arrived! And it was a short day. Just the morning keynote, three sessions and then the afternoon keynote, followed by the panel discussion. The panel discussion was very interesting and I will make it the subject of its own post. You guessed it! Part Two!

Morning Keynote Address: Fascinating Facts and Figures from Five Centuries – David Holman

David Holman  is the President of the UK Federation of Family History Societies.

David’s presentation was about all the fun facts, figures and names that he has found in his 30 years of research. David actually provided a paper for the Congress Proceedings but it doesn’t repeat what was in the presentation. Instead,  it covers how you can find your own fun and amusing fun facts!

I enjoyed listening to his talk and laughed a lot but didn’t really take any notes. I remember there were things like people marrying with amusing combinations of surnames such as Lottie Large marrying…Francis Butt! David commented that he hoped she hadn’t opted for a hyphenated name. We have one in our own family tree:

Martha CAVE married Joseph ROCK

London Metropolitan Archives, Christchurch Newgate Street, Bishops' transcripts of baptisms, marriages and burials, 1827, DL/A/E/057/MS10115, Item 022; Digital Images. : 2014.

London Metropolitan Archives, Christchurch Newgate Street, Bishops’ transcripts of baptisms, marriages and burials, 1827, DL/A/E/057/MS10115, Item 022; Digital Images. : 2014.

Session 1: Migration to New Zealand including Trans-Tasman travel – Robyn Williams

Robyn covered many of the various immigration schemes. I tried to take notes but I couldn’t get all the details down fast enough. There is a summary in the paper Robyn provided in the Congress Proceedings which can be used as a starting point for further research. Robyn also briefly covered the gold rush in New Zealand as another reason for migration to New Zealand.

The second half of Robyn’s talk covered the various sources to find further information. For example, NZ Bound, a website with transcriptions of passenger lists, and PapersPast, the National Library of NZ digitised newspaper site.

Session 2: Getting the Most Out of – RogerKershaw

Roger is the Head of Military, Maritime, Transport and Family records for the Advice and Records Knowledge department and Acting-Head of Editorial at The National Archives (TNA) UK. Wow. Can you imagine his business card?

Roger gave a really useful talk on TNA and its online presence including changes past, present and future. In particular, Discovery, their online searchable database they launched in 2012 which combined a number of previously separate databases including Access to Archives and The National Register of Archives.

Customer feedback greatly influences the site’s design. Roger encouraged everyone to visit The National Archives Labs section of the website which is a test area to try out new ideas separate from the main website and allows customers to give feedback to help improve the designs. The example Roger gave is Collections on a Map which “is a first stage tool in our plan to provide map-based access to our records”. Try it out!

Reduced government funding means volunteers are incredibly important to TNA and are crucial to them continuing to operate. Sound familiar? It seems to be something that most institutions have to work around these days. Roger emphasised volunteering doesn’t have to be in person. Volunteers located anywhere in the world have many online options available to enable them to contribute.

Reduced funding also means that TNA turns to other commercial enterprises to collaborate on digitising records like the UK Census. Each digitisation project is put out to tender which is why various records end up appearing on different commercial websites.

So, where do you turn when the 1931 UK Census has been destroyed and the 1941 UK Census didn’t take place because of the War?

You turn to the 1939 Register of England and Wales!

The Register became the basis for the National Health Register. While it fills the gap of the missing Census records, it does not cover exactly the same information. For example, it:

  • Doesn’t give an indication of where people were born
  • Only covers England and Wales
  • Doesn’t include members of the armed forces

However, while the UK Census records have a 100 year release rule, this doesn’t apply to the 1939 Register. So the TNA is intending to release the Register within the next year or so via findmypast. Which means you will potentially get access to the Register before the 1921 UK Census is even released! You can register on their website to get updates. Note that records will not be opened for people born on or after 1915 unless you can prove they have died and you may have to pay a small fee.

Roger also gave lots of tips and information:

  • You can export Discovery search results in to .csv file and import them into a spreadsheet for analysis.
  • Check out the podcasts and videos which are there to help people learn about the various records available and how to access them.
  • Did you know that less than 6% of TNA records have been digitised?
  • Or that they have over 9 million records available for download?…Okay…Let me do the maths here…Tap.Tap.Tap…OMG…Over 150,000,000 records in total?!
  • Or that over 130,000 readers personally visit their Kew site every year?

Session 3: Genealogy and the Six Degrees of Separation: How to Find Anyone in the World – Colleen Fitzgerald

I wasn’t going to pass up the final Colleen Fitzgerald talk when I found her previous talks so entertaining and useful.

First Colleen talked about the various studies behind the theory of Six Degrees of Separation which showed that you can find someone else, even if you don’t know them, by asking other people and that, on average, you only need to step through 6 people to find your target person.

So, how exactly do you go about finding anyone in the world? And within six steps? Well, first Colleen covered a few offline and online sources of information including old telephone directories, searchable databases, DNA, and just asking people who used to be their neighbours! Which therefore involves some cold-calling or other form of contact.

Next, Colleen looked at methodology and gave out some pretty common-sense advice. Such as, prepare before calling people, look for gaps in your target’s life to investigate, be flexible and persistent.

Prepare what you are going to say on the phone/write in your letter because you don’t want to come across as a crazed stalker, or, even worse, a telemarketer. Be flexible, because don’t expect people to behave the way you think they should. People do all kinds of crazy things and end up in the unlikeliest places. And I think the last is obvious. In fact, persistence should be every genealogist’s middle name. Who hasn’t heard of someone trying to find Uncle Charlie’s date of death…for the past twenty years!

However, the piece of advice that Colleen gave that resonated with me the most…

Appreciate the value of geography and history.

OK. This is important. Sometimes geography or history can supply you with motivation or a clearer understanding.

Researching my husband’s family, I found his 4 x great grandfather who was born and had died in Topsham, Devon (1761-1851). But I couldn’t find the birth of his 3 x great grandfather who died very young in 1835 in St Leonard’s near Exeter, Devon. Online public trees, those notorious purveyors of misinformation, were suggesting he was born in Ferryland, Newfoundland in 1796! I laughed and scoffed and moved on.

But you know what? He really WAS born in Ferryland, Newfoundland. More research into the family’s source of wealth via wills and so forth, as well as an understanding of the history of the fishing/shipping industry of Devon at the time, made it clear that it was quite common for people from Cornwall and Devon to have business interests in Newfoundland which had a thriving cod industry.

Finally, Colleen ended her talk with a fascinating case study involving her work with helping people who were Holocaust babies and children find out who they are and the families they came from.

Afternoon Keynote Session: Front Page to Back Page Using Online Newspapers – Cora Num

The final session was Cora talking about all the kinds of resources available online to access newspapers, many of which I have not heard about but probably should have!

Cora emphasised that you can often get free access to subscriber sites via e-resources on library websites. Check out both your state and national libraries. For example, I have a library card from the National Library of Australia and often access online newspapers from home. You don’t have to live in Canberra to get a library card. To be eligible for a standard library card you only must live in Australia and supply an Australian residential address.

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy -

Twisted Twigs On Gnarled Branches Genealogy –

Here’s a list of resources that caught my attention from Cora’s talk:

  • Wikipedia list of online newspaper archives: Links to a number of newspaper archives from around the world.
  • good for recent editions as well especially for deaths and obits. Use in tandem with, for e.g., Ryerson Index
  • Trove: Keep an eye on new newspapers being digitised. Note that it was common to find ongoing passengers list for Fremantle, Adelaide and Melbourne so don’t limit your search for ancestors to port of arrival.
  • The Word on the Street: Scottish broadsides (1650-1910) and held in the National Library of Scotland
  • Welsh Newspapers Online (1804-1919): In Beta state at the National Library of Wales so it is an ongoing project

For more information, you can find a number of Quicksheets and links to newspaper resources on Cora’s site, Coraweb.

Do you have some funny coincidences in your family tree? Or perhaps you are really hanging out for that 1939 Register to be issued?

Next Post: The Final Curtain on Congress 2015 – Panel Discussion!

This entry was posted in AFFHO, Congress2015, Genealogy. Bookmark the permalink.

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