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Sunday, December 28, 2014

Something fishy

Tonight I found myself reading about herring fishing in 1830s Scotland.

Herring fishing was the most economically important industry for the people of Latheron, Caithness, Scotland at that time. About a third of the parish population fished or working directly in support of herring fishing. There were the men who undertook the exhausting and dangerous work of catching the fish, and women who would then gut the fish and pack them in barrels of salt, the labourers, carriers and the coopers.

My Couper ancestors were coopers – presumably engaged in supplying the herring fishers with some of the 1000s of barrels they needed each season to pack the fish.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The genealogy fairy delivers

I have started this post a number of times only to get stuck because I was trying to say everything at once. Two and a half months later, I think I have calmed down enough to get words on a page!

I was excited about my visit to the National Library of Australia (NLA) with a researcher cousin who was visiting Canberra. We went there to view photocopies of some manuscripts from Derbyshire, England. They were described in the NLA catalogue as:

“Correspondence between Sir Fitzherbert and John Allsop
(b. 1820) and documents relating to the emigration of the Allsop family to Australia.”

This description sounded so specific to my family, and the timing of finding the item in the catalogue was so fortuitous, it must have been a gift from the genealogy fairy!

The fairy didn’t let us down.

Neither my cousin nor I had visited the manuscripts room at the library before. We found and entered the small room and approached the counter. The staff member on duty was very friendly and helpful. We signed the form promising to do the right things, and checked if we were allowed to take photos of the papers (yes we were). The papers were waiting for us in a box on the shelves at the back of the room. We found them, chose a table, and opened the box.

The correspondence was 17 pages long starting with a four page letter in the hand of my great-great-great grandfather. It was a lot to take in all at once! We decided to photograph the pages before continuing.

Having photographed the papers we started making out way through the documents, page by page. I enjoyed having someone else with me who was just as excited by our find as I was. We read the pages in soft voices – there was only one other person using the room and he didn’t appear to be bothered by us. It was useful to do this with another person. As one of us would tail off over a difficult word, the other would step in and continue reading. Some words puzzled us both for a while, but in context we could work them out and suddenly they seemed obvious. “Omnibus” for example! We managed to work out most of what was written.

Now once again I find myself writing, deleting, rewriting and arranging paragraphs describing the documents and what we learned from them… then deleting them again. Time for a break I think!

This post will have to be marked “To be continued”…

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A visit from a genealogy fairy

Last night I had the great fortune of a visit from a genealogy fairy. You might think you’ve never heard of a genealogy fairy – but you have heard of Serendipity in genealogy, right? Well, that’s the name of one particular genealogy fairy.

The fairy who visited me last night wasn’t Serendipity (although she may have provided a helping hand). It was a far more powerful fairy. A fairy who grants genealogy wishes!

This is what happened…

I was catching up in correspondence with cousins/researchers about various family history matters. One cousin is planning on visiting Canberra this coming weekend. We were planning on having lunch at a venue yet to be decided next week.

My cousin told me about some research she had requested relating to our shared Allsop family in Derbyshire. This reminded me to show her a document I had promised her, relating to the emigration our ancestor John Allsop (b.1820). I checked up on the details before I sent it. The document had been part of a collection of FitzHerbert family papers in Derbyshire Record Office.

All this collaborating and citing sources and seeking archival materials must have pleased the genealogy fairies. They were paying attention when I said:

“I would love to know the role the FitzHerbert family played in getting them to Australia. I’m sure there must be all sorts of relevant material in those archives!!”

All well and good. We might be able to get someone to do the research, and that would be exciting, but it’s not quite the same as finding the material yourself. I clicked send on the email.

Next I replied to another cousin/researcher from a different branch of my tree. She had written to me about some extensive family history books she had tracked down. I found a copy of one of the books on eBay, but the price was a bit steep so I went looking at the National Library of Australia. I didn’t find that publication but I did find some other family histories that looked like they might be connected.

With the Allsop family and family history books jostling for attention in my mind I entered “Allsop family” in the NLA catalogue search box. Just because.

Eight results came up. Result number seven was “Papers of Henry Fitzherbert 1850-1860”. That sounded more than interesting, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I clicked the link. The manuscript was described as a copy of 17 leafs of material, the original held by Derbyshire Record Office.

The item summary read:

“Correspondence between Sir Fitzherbert and John Allsop
(b. 1820) and documents relating to the emigration of the Allsop family to Australia.”

I’m sure the genealogy fairy got a kick out of my reaction!

My wish appears to have been granted, and our lunch venue next week is settled. Thank you, genealogy fairy.

Don’t say that you don’t believe in genealogy fairies. Every time someone says that, a researcher gets stuck on a brick wall.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A sibling DNA match

My sister recently agreed to a genealogy DNA test. I had her autosomal DNA tested at FTDNA. That makes three members of my immediate family who have tested – me, my father and my sister.

Siblings have some identical DNA, some half identical DNA and some completely different DNA. The chromosome browser at FTDNA doesn’t distinguish between those identical and half identical regions. The orange parts in the chart below are where we are at least half identical.

Siblings chromosome browser image

That’s a lot of orange!

New cousins to connect with

I expected my sister’s account would have new match names, but wasn’t expecting as many as there were. My sister must have inherited some popular DNA! I went through her, my and my father’s matches and tallied up how many people matched just one of us, each combination of two of us, and all three of us. The results are in the Venn diagram below.

Venn Diagram

That’s 277 more connections on my mother’s side of the family potentially to explore.


I take origins mapping – from FTDNA or anywhere else - with a grain of salt.

As expected the British Isles featured heavily for all three of us. I seem to be more British that my father or my sister. I’ve also picked up bit of Scandinavia, presumably from my father who shows 12% Scandinavian. Neither my sister nor I show his trace of Central/South Asia in our DNA.

Unlike my Dad, my sister and I both have a hint of Southern Europe, presumably from my mother’s side. This seems odd to me as the only part of our tree with a known Southern European ancestor is on my father’s side. Of most interest to me in my sister’s results was the 11% Eastern Europe. She must have got that from my mother’s side. I wonder how much Eastern European DNA my mother had?

“Ethnic Makeup”




British Isles








Central/South Asian




Southern Europe




Eastern Europe




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Filter Ancestry hints by collection

Did you know it is possible to filter Ancestry’s shaky leaf hints by any collection you want? No, there is no link on the website, at least not in the Australian version Ancestry, but it’s not hard to do.

Here’s the recipe for a link to shaky leaf hints from the collection of your choice:

Replace TREE with the number of your Ancestry tree. You’ll find it in the URL when you look at your tree on Ancestry.

Replace DATABASE with the ID number for the collection you want to filter on. You’ll find it in the URL when you navigate to the search page for that collection. For example, to search the 1851 England census you would head to and find the number 8860.

That’s all there is to it! Soon you will have your fill of the low hanging fruit hidden behind those shaky leaves, and even better you will decide for yourself if today you feel like apples or bananas!

Some of my favourite database ID numbers are:

1635 Victoria, Australia, Assisted and Unassisted Passenger Lists, 1839–1923
1904 England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1966

England & Wales, Non-Conformist and Non-Parochial Registers,

8978 England census 1841
8860 England census 1851
8767 England census 1861
7619 England census 1871
7572 England census 1881
6598 England census 1891

If I keep going I’ll soon list their whole catalogue…

But I won’t stop before I say… Pssst! If you want to check BillionGraves this way while the link still works (it did for me today 14/8/2014) the ID number to use is 70734.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

One hundred words a day


I’ve always thought that writing a family history book seemed a daunting task - probably because it is a daunting task. I’ve tried to make a start a few times in the past but always floundered, overwhelmed by the scope of the project.

The trouble with that is, I would really like to write a more substantial family history document that I can share!

It occurred to me that although writing a whole book, even a short one, sounds like hard work… writing 100 words doesn’t sound so bad. One hundred words is hardly anything. You could do it every day without breaking a sweat!

So, that’s what I’m doing. I’m writing (at least) 100 words each day. Sometimes I will write more than that, which is great, but all that I have promised myself is the manageable target of 100 words a day.

Tonight I have written 277 words taking my total to 1,100 words so I am giving myself a pat on the back for overachieving on my 100 word goal!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Twigs of Yore is five years (and a day) old!

Five years and one day ago I nervously hit “publish” on my first blog post. I wasn’t sure how long I’d keep it up for but five years (and a day) later here I am.

Happy blogiversary to me!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Genealogy learning

My transcriptions, abstractions and extractions should be just that little bit better now, having just finished a National Institute of Genealogical Studies course on transcribing, abstracting and, you guessed it, extracting.

To be honest, I wasn’t champing at the bit to start on this course. It was part of a package of the 9 basic level courses in the Australian Records certificate stream, which I had bought after winning a heavy discount for the courses as a door prize. This is my eighth course. The other remaining course is supposed to be done last. See? Not champing.

Most of the course was devoted to practicing transcribing, abstracting, extracting and quoting. I would have liked to see more examples in the course notes, especially of abstractions. However, since I’m actually feeling quite enthused about the idea of transcribing and abstracting various of the documents I hold I would have say that it surpassed my expectations and rate it positively!

The other courses

So far the course materials have been excellent, particularly the subjects specific to Australia.

I’m not entirely sold on the format of the courses. The weekly assignments submitted online are not too onerous, but you don’t get any individual feedback and I’m not sure if they play any part in the final score you receive. The final exam is multiple choice. That’s… ok. It works better with some topics than with others. It must be hard to put together a good multiple choice exam. Questions tend to range from ridiculously easy, to almost being trick questions.

The final course of the package is the “Analysis and Skills Mentoring Program-Part 1”. This will be quite different from the other courses. Instead of running for about 8 weeks, you have a year to complete the work. The course materials say that “Feedback will be provided during the course”. Having just complained about the lack of feedback in the other courses, my feeling about actually getting feedback is “eeek!” It sounds a bit scary, but I think it will be good. I might take a little break before I get this one started.

Then come some big decisions:

  • Should I cough up the fairly substantial amount to enrol in another package of classes?
  • Do I want to eventually do (and pay for) another 30 classes in order to earn a certificate?
  • If I do want to earn a certificate, is this the one I want to earn and the body I want to earn it with?

For now, I’m pleased with what I’ve done and am looking forward to having a bit more time to do other work on my family tree.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Ever feel like you’re going in circles?

This evening I was searching for a great-great uncle. He has a common name so I didn’t know if the records I found related to him or some other person.

I decided to do a quick search of Ancestry member trees to see if there were any clues. I found only one other tree that included this man. Although the information recorded appeared to be the same, minimal, information that I had, I clicked in to take a closer look.

I noticed a source link on the side – Ancestry Family Trees. Interesting, since there were just the two of us. I’ve never bothered going further with a “Member Trees” source but this evening I was curious. I clicked the link to find this not-particularly-informative page:


There was another link – to view the individual member trees. While I was clicking links I may as well go there too!

My final destination was a side by side comparison of the tree I was looking at and the source tree for that information – my own tree! I had come full circle.

I think there are two things to learn from this:

  1. For genealogy newbies – or not so newbies – this is an example of why you shouldn’t blindly take other trees’ agreement with your information as any sort of verification!
  2. With a bit of patience, it might be possible to make your way through those links and work out who the first person was to enter some nugget of information since copied around all the Ancestry trees. THAT’s the person you need to talk to about the source. You want to talk to them about the source a) to save time and money and b) because it could turn out to be a privately held document that you would never find online or in an archive.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

On the trail of Eunice Sweyne Cramer

I’m on the trail! One of the documents I obtained from the PROV was a probate record for my great-grandmother’s spinster sister, Ethel Black. I could place all of the beneficiaries named in the will, but one.

Eunice Sweyne McPherson
(who I have since learned was born Eunice Sweyne Cramer)

I’m particularly interested to work out how Eunice fits in as her middle name is my maternal line 3 x great grandmother’s surname. Considering all I have on her is the name Kate Sweyne, a possible location in Ireland – and of course my MtDNA! – I’m keen to know if Eunice is perhaps a cousin descended from this line.

Do you know Eunice?

Quicker than you can say “Trove binge”, I’ve put together the beginnings of a pedigree for her. This is very much a work in progress. Please contact me if you would like to see the latest version.


Sources available on request.

The Cramer family lived at 59 Hodgkinson street, Clifton Hill, Victoria. Ethel Black lived at number 50 of the same street. Did they live nearby because they knew each other, or did they know each other because they lived nearby?

So many leads to follow!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Hooked on DNA

It hasn’t helped me break down any brick walls, it hasn’t given me amazing insights...yet… I’m still fascinated by DNA for genealogy.

I’ve tested myself. I’ve tested my Dad. Two of my French family cousins have tested themselves. DNA has led me to two previously unknown distant Bennett family cousins, providing nice support for our paper trails, but that’s pretty much it. So far.

Now FTDNA has a sale on, with the lowest price for autosomal testing that I’ve seen yet. Just $79 for the family finder test! The sale ends tonight.

I succumbed. I bought more tests.

Now for the hard part, trying to find someone to take them!

If you are related to me and you are interested in doing one of the tests would you please let me know? Yes, I mean you! Close or distant, reading now or at some point in the future. All that is involved is a painless cheek swab. I don’t promise that I’ll send you one of the tests but I’m much more likely to do so if I know you’re interested in doing the test.

If you’re thinking about it, or wondering why you would do such a thing, you might like to see some of my previous posts on the subject.

You can contact me any number of ways, including:

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

My research trip to Melbourne, in numbers

Night view over MelbourneView from my hotel room balcony

I’m home from my first research trip away, which I’m pleased to say was a great success. In fact, I’ve decided to make it an annual event!

I collected a lot of easy-to-find records but also managed to dig out an insolvency (with a little assistance from the PROV staff) despite the lack of a name index, and went further off the beaten track with some government contract registers.

Those insolvency and contract records have given me confidence that I can find items I want in the collections. By my next trip I plan to have a more substantial list of “off the beaten track” to-do items.

So here’s my trip, in numbers.

Nights away: 3
Big family dinners: 1
Family photos scanned: 79
Days in the archive: 2.5
Shopping detours: 1
“New” cousins met: 1

Files viewed:
Probate/admin: 18
Inquests: 6
Insolvency: 1
Contract registers: 2
Tender registers: 2
Title records: 27

Huge thanks go to my Aunt, Uncle and cousins, including my “new” one, for their good company and generosity in hosting me, feeding me, and ferrying me around.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Mapping family locations with Google Maps

While planning my research trip to Melbourne, I noticed that Google Maps will allow you to import a list of addresses to plot. It’s amazing what you find when you take the trouble to click around the options.

A use for this feature immediately sprang to mind! While my time in Melbourne will be very limited and I’m not planning on making any cemetery visits, I would hate to realise later that I was only a few blocks away from one of my ancestors. I’d much rather drop in and say hello!

Creating a map was a quick and simple process.

Here’s the outcome. I haven’t tried to do anything too fancy. All I wanted was a marker at each cemetery in Victoria where any of my ancestors are buried.

Next post, I’ll tell you step by step how I did this with Family Historian and Google Maps.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Planning a research trip

I’ve found a time that works with work… Mr Twigs has agreed to go solo with the twiglets… I’m going on a research trip!!

I’ll be heading back to my ancestral homeland.  Sadly my time and budget don’t allow for a global research research so I’ll have to be satisfied with just a few days in the homeland of my ancestors over the last 150 or so years. Melbourne, here I come!

I’ve been poring over the Public Record Office of Victoria website, which has an excellent collection of indexes (and quite a few digitised records, but I’ve already got them).

To get organised, I need to:

  • Make a list of probate files to view. They will be the “low hanging fruit” of this research trip. I’ve already got the probate files for most of my ancestors so the high priority probate files will be my spinster great-aunts. 
  • Review my database for people who were the subject of an inquest.
  • Review my database for land records I could look up.
  • Look over the other indexes on PROV for other record types.
  • Find out what microfiche are on open access at PROV, and be prepared with details of lookups to do (with a view to ordering the records).

There are also a few “off the beaten track” records I would like to see. Or in this case it’s more of an on the beaten track record. I want to look at tender documents and contracts for timber supplied to maintain the the road from Ballarat to the Goldfields. I believe I’ve found the right file in the catalogue. I hope it will tell me if the person who won the contract is my great-great-great grandfather, as I suspect.

I also wonder if there are any records around the demolition of several houses (including one of my ancestors) due to the putrid public health conditions caused by a lack of drainage. I have a bit more background work to do on that one.

Oh, and I mustn’t forget to book my flights and accommodation!

If you tips on making best use of your time on a research trip, or tips specific to the PROV, I’d love to hear them.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Land records: the titles office

One of my lingering undead ancestors is my great-great-grandfather James Bennett (1831-??). The next step in my research plan for him was to follow up on his land records.

I obtained the records relating to his initial purchase of the land from the Public Record Office of Victoria last year. They were interesting in their own right, but didn’t answer the question “When did he die?”.

The records I obtained didn’t cover his disposal of the land. For that, I would have to move away from archive research and into land title records. This sounded, well, scary. From my preliminary reading and general poking around online, it seemed like I would have to go to Melbourne and visit the titles office in person for such old records.

Easier than I thought

It turns out, this is not the case. Looking into title records again, I found that not only does the Victorian Department of Transport, Planning and Local Infrastructure provide an online database of recent title information for sale on their Landata site, they have also scanned in the older folios. For $10, a colour image of the old title information could be mine!

Obtaining the file was fairly simple. Search for the details of the property you want – various search options were available. Select the type of information you want. In my case, the historical title. Pay money. Get title.

In practice there was a little more complexity.

I couldn’t see any obvious way to determine which of the several folios listed against my very specific search was the correct one. I decided to take the plunge and just go ahead and purchase one. I didn’t find the correct folio on the first try, but I did find it before I needed a new mortgage on my own home.

I learned that in 1893 the small plot I was interested in was no longer owned by James Bennett. It had been combined with several others into a larger property under one new title by a new owner. I’m sure there’s some legal word for the process. I could also see a series of later transfers of that title through sale and probate processes.

The file gave several references to earlier folios – one for each of the Bennett family plots but again, there was no obvious way to tell which folio related to which plot. At least this time they were all owned by family members and so of some interest to me. Out came my credit card again.

$20 later, I had the folio I wanted.

It appears that the Bennett family members sold up their land in Bung Bong at the same time. I found that James Bennett, my research target, was still alive in 1892. Before that he was last been seen being discharged (alive and recovered) from Amherst hospital in 1883. While it would have been useful to discover a death date for him, at least I extended his known life span by nine years.

Now that I know how easy the title records from Victoria are to get, I will definitely keep them in mind for other family members I am researching. 

Look out credit card!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Are your messages going to junk?

If you found this blog or my website, sent me a message, but never heard back then please try again! Your message may have fallen foul of my junk filter.

Twice in the last month I have found genealogy messages that I would very much like to read hidden among the junk.

  • A DNA match I haven’t corresponded with before who had a theory about our connection.
  • A quotation for a genealogy service I requested, with an invoice for if I wished to go ahead (I did!).

I have also found more personal messages that I actually wanted to see sitting in my junk mail. I was very glad to have caught these but do wonder what else I may have missed.

Now I have adjusted my junk filtering settings to try to help the genuine mail get through. Because I use web based email address I looked at both the junk filtering applied by the web mail service, and the filtering settings applied by my desktop email client.

There wasn’t all that much I could do, but at least people I send emails to will automatically be added to my safe sender list and any emails sent to the unique addresses I use for FTDNA matches will get through. Clearly I will still have to check my junk folders from time to time.

Have you had a near miss with messages going to junk?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

UK Merchant Seamen records are not plain sailing

Having found a merchant seaman record for John Lee I wanted to find out whatever I could about his service. One thing I’d like to know is: did he stay in Australia by agreement, or did he jump ship?!

From this point my plan was quite straightforward.

  1. Obtain whatever information I can readily find by myself online.
  2. Hire a researcher to make sense of it and follow up on any other records it may lead to.

It seemed that I should be able to find more on John Lee in The National Archives series BT112 (which is indexed in series BT119). According to the TNA website and to the FindMyPast website, both series are digitised and searchable on FindMyPast.

It’s possible to filter the Merchant Seamen collection by TNA series, but I couldn’t find a record from series BT112 or BT119. Not for John Lee, nor anyone else. I couldn’t find any record at all.

I contacted FindMyPast and they got back to me promptly, confirming the issue. If you haven’t been able to find your seafaring relatives from 1835 to 1844 in these records, hold tight. FindMyPast have promised to update me when the data team looks into it.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The “John Lee was a convict” theory disproved

This is a cautionary tale about believing what other researchers, no matter how experienced, may tell you about the family without seeking your own confirmation of the facts. It’s not one of those cautionary tales where someone suffers a gruesome and unusual fate, though. It finishes with me doing the genea-happy dance. If that is considered gruesome, I will have to re-think my dance moves.

When I first started researching my family tree another researcher told me that our common ancestor, John Lee, had come to Australia as a convict.

It was an interesting story. I had not been aware that any convicts were sent to what is now know as Victoria, Australia. However, some were sent as ‘Exiles’ – a group of convicts given useful training while in prison and then pardoned on arrival, on condition that they never return home again. John Lee, he said, was among these.

As well as being interesting, the story was amusingly at odds with the family tale that he had been a ship’s officer. This piece of information was listed on his death certificate – more than 50 years after the time when he was supposed to be on a ship. It was also told to me by my grandfather, who was born six years after his grandfather John Lee died. What a story John Lee must have spun to hide his convict past, I thought!

I wasn’t so naive as to accept the “he was a convict” version of events without any verification at all. I asked the other researcher for more and he directed me to the appropriate passenger list. Sure enough, there was John Lee. The name was right. The year of arrival in Australia was right enough. The age was… rightish. Sort of. However there was little else about the convict’s history or fate to go on.

How did he know this John Lee was OUR John Lee? It bothered me, but I accepted the information and made a note of it in my tree.

I tried from time to time to confirm that this was the same person. Could I find more information about the convict? Not much. Were there other John Lee’s arriving at the same time? Plenty! But none who looked as much like our John Lee as the exile.

Over time, as I filled out more family details, the ships’ officer theory began to look more and more appealing. His father Joseph Lee, it turned out, was a mariner. His brother also named Joseph Lee was a mariner. When I discovered his sister Elizabeth Lee I found that her husband was … you guessed it, a mariner. The family was not short of mariners.

In early 2011 (while writing up an Australia Day post) I made a discovery – John Lee was listed in 1841 census as an apprentice shipwright! It wasn’t proof that he was a mariner in 1847, but it was a step in the right direction.

The mariner theory was looking better and better. Still, I had nothing that proved the mariner theory or that disproved the convict theory. I couldn’t find anything that confirmed he had actually become a mariner. I found his brother in the Masters and Mates collection on, but no John. That collection didn’t cover the when John would have been sailing. I also could not find anything that showed he was actually somewhere else when he was supposed to be in prison.

I had also looked at the Merchant Seamen records on before, with no luck. I guess I just didn’t look hard enough because a few weeks ago I decided to look on FindMyPast again, and there he was. Right name, right birthdate (to the day, not just the year), right birthplace and best of all the records finish in the right year – 1846 – with a notation about Geelong which just happens to be my John Lee’s first known residence in Victoria.

Cue genea-happy dance.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A long time between uploads

At long last I have updated the data in my family tree website at

My cousins, close and distant, may be interested to see what’s changed. As always, the information there is a work in progress. I can’t move from one part of my tree to another without seeing something that needs fixing!

As it has been a long time between uploads I couldn’t remember all the steps I normally take to check the data before it goes live online. Fortunately I left myself notes.

I’m always very happy to take corrections, new information, or just say hello to new-found cousins.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Strange things can happen in cemeteries

This evening I transcribed a few records from Springvale Botanical Cemetery on BillionGraves. My grandparents, and many other family members, are buried there although their markers have not been photographed yet.

Thinking about the lawn where my grandparents are buried, I remembered a strange incident that once occurred there.

It was the 80s – maybe 1985 or so. Although we lived interstate we visited Melbourne regularly and usually stopped by my grandparent's grave site. Springvale Botanical Cemetery is huge – 422 acres according to its website. The grave is in the middle of a wide lawn. All around were other lawns, monumental areas and empty land.

There was no-one else in sight.

There was no building or vehicle nearby.

We were alone.

In this broad, empty space we heard a most unexpected sound...

A phone ringing!

I realise that if you are Gen Y or younger that will not sound remarkable at all. Nowadays if that happened all sorts of plausible explanations would come to mind. Perhaps a visitor to the cemetery had dropped theirs? Maybe someone was accidentally (or otherwise) buried with their mobile phone? Can you get coverage 6 feet under? But remember, this was the 80’s. My quick, unverified internet research suggests that the mobile phone was introduced to Australia in 1987. They were huge, they were expensive. You would not leave one in a cemetery. I don’t think we were aware such things even existed.

I have no idea to this day where that ringing phone could have been.

Perhaps this is not quite the spooky ghost story you imagined when reading the title of this post… but it was strange, and it did happen in a cemetery.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Who was Minchin’s Mum?

Three years ago, I deciphered the name of a witness to my great-great grandparent’s marriage: Minchin Lewis. I suspected he was related to my great-great grandmother as she shares the Lewis name. Then, having found out a little more about him I learned that he had named their first born son James Abbott. My great-great grandmother’s first son also was James Abbott. That seemed like more than a coincidence!

Now I’m trying to find out a bit more about Minchin in the hope that they are related and it will lead me to more information on my great-great grandmother’s origins in Ireland.

Minchin married Martha Peoples in Victoria, Australia in 1890 (almost thirty years after the birth of the first of their nine children together!). I have obtained the marriage certificate.

Both Minchin and Martha were born in Ireland. Can you make out Minchin’s birth place in the top line?


Minchin’s father was John Lewis and his mother (second line) was Fanny _____? I think I know what the name is but I would like some opinions that are not biased by what I think it may be.


Can you help? Or even better, are you related to this couple?!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Australia Day 2014: Climbing the family gum tree

Pauleen at Family history across the seas has issued an Australia Day Challenge with 26 questions to test Aussie bloggers’ true blue status!

I can’t claim “Australian Royalty” but I do have Australian foundations going back over 150 years. Thanks Pauleen for the challenge!


My first ancestor to arrive in Australia was:

Probably John Lee in around about 1846. He seems to have swum here. 

I have Australian Royalty (tell us who, how many and which Fleet they arrived with):

I have no known convict ancestors.

I’m an Aussie mongrel, my ancestors came to Oz from:

England, Ireland and Scotland.

Did any of your ancestors arrive under their own financial steam?

Yes, Robert Couper travelled on his own account with his wife and young son. They arrived on the Dominion in 1852.

How many ancestors came as singles?

About eight.

How many came as couples?

None known at this stage.

How many came as family groups?

About fourteen ancestors altogether.

Did one person lead the way and others follow?

In some cases, yes. Richard Robotham came to Australia about four years ahead of his wife and children. Other families had several (grown) siblings come to Australia at different times.

What’s the longest journey they took to get here?

Hmmm… I haven’t logged this clearly in my database. I might skip this one!

Did anyone make a two-step emigration via another place?

Sort of. One of my ancestors leads a merry dance through the records from Scotland to England to Gibraltar to the Channel Islands then on to Australia – but after all that settled in a different State from his children!

Which state(s)/colony did your ancestors arrive?

Mostly Victoria.

Did they settle and remain in one state/colony?

Generally yes. The ones that arrived in other States travelled to Victoria soon after, and stayed.

Did they stay in one town or move around?

A bit of both. The general picture is that they had a few moves until finally settling in a town.

Do you have any First Australians in your tree?


Were any self-employed?

Yes – Daniel Couper was a butcher.

What occupations or industries did your earliest ancestors work in?

Gold miners, farmers, labourers, a few servants, painter, couper, butcher.

Does anyone in the family still follow that occupation?


Did any of your ancestors leave Australia and go “home”?

None that I know of. I’m still trying to find out what became of James Bennett!


What’s your State of Origin?


Do you still live there?


Where was your favourite Aussie holiday place as a child?

Pambula, New South Wales.

Any special place you like to holiday now?

We mix our holidays up a bit now. There’s no one special place.

Share your favourite spot in Oz:

Don’t make me choose!

Any great Aussie adventure you’ve had?

I think that what makes an adventure great is the people you share it with. My adventures haven’t been all that adventurous, but I have great memories of little adventures with family and friends to beaches, snow, rainforests, big cities, cultural institutions – we are lucky to have such a broad range of experiences available to us in one country.

What’s on your Australian holiday bucket list?

This is hard. I’m at a stage now where I’m thinking about what places I’d like to share with my children – the childhood memories I’d like them to have - so I think more about favourite places I’d like to revisit. These are the places I grew up in, also the Blue Mountains and Tasmania would be at the top of my list.

How do you celebrate Australia Day?

No special celebration. We sometimes go out to whatever festivities or events are happening around the place. We always eat a lamington or two!


I’m so pleased that the Australia Day Challenge has taken on a life of it’s own since I issued it in 2011. I felt sad to have missed it in 2013. It’s great to feel that Australian geneabloggers (and geneabloggers generally!) have such a sense of community.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Beware your undead ancestors!

This is a public health warning.

Please ensure your deceased ancestors are properly disposed of!

Undead ancestors are a danger that every genealogist should be aware of. Long deceased ancestors who have not been properly disposed of can, and do, get up to all sorts of mischief. Whether they start a new career, move to another continent, or even beget several more lines of cousins (the rascals!) – you won’t know when to stop looking over your shoulder until you have them pinned down with a death date.

I thought I had properly disposed of my direct lines, but having set up a nice “at a glance” documentation chart I am now noticing some rather strange things in the outermost regions of my family tree. For example, I see what looks like a firm UK death date after 1837 but no death certificate or any other quality evidence of their death at that time. For all I know, that deceased ancestor could have been walking around not-really-dead-at-all for decades after the date in my tree. Oh the horror!

Now I have three death certificates on order, with at least another four I want to confirm. I’ll put nails in their coffins yet!

Have you disposed of your undead ancestors?

Monday, January 20, 2014

Back to basics–keeping track of key sources

I started out in genealogy when I was still in high school. We were lucky enough to have a computer at home but there was very little genealogy software available. Birth, death and marriage certificates were expensive and I ordered them with much care and thought about what information they might provide.

To keep track of what I had, and what I was missing, I would hand draw a pedigree chart and note after each name “B”, “D” and “M” to indicate if I held the relevant certificates for a particular ancestor. It was a useful way to check that my family tree was held up by strong branches, before I started getting too enthusiastic about decorating it with interesting leaves!

Time went by and now there is plenty of genealogy software to choose from. A feature I like is the ability to display additional information of my choice on a chart. My current software, Family Historian, can do this. It’s taken me a while, but I’ve finally set up a key source completeness chart and I’m very happy with it.

Here’s an excerpt from my pedigree, starting from my great-great-great grandmother, Isabella Miller, who was born in Caithness, Scotland.


I quickly realised that the chart needed a date of immigration to Australia, to explain at a glance why some ancestors seemed to drop of the census. I decided to added that information as text in blue, to stand out a little from the other text.

Looking over my pedigree with the new chart settings I’ve noticed quite a few minor fixes that need attending to.

I’ve also noticed a few cases that could lead to more information. For example, the glaring omission in this chart is an 1841 census entry for Elizabeth Sinclair. I found her in ‘51 and ‘61. Where was she in ‘41? Was her husband Donald still alive then? My next research task on this line is set.

How do you keep track of your key sources?

Monday, January 13, 2014

How to make a simple chromosome browser chart

Below is a small section of the master spreadsheet I have been using to analyse my DNA match data. You will see I have added a column with a visual representation of the start and end points of the matching segments.  


I find the bars much easier to understand at a glance than the raw numbers.

It is surprisingly easy to create bars like these. You don’t need to do tricky things with charts or have the latest and greatest version of any particular software package. The key to creating a simple chromosome browser like the one above is the text function REPT.

REPT takes two inputs, a text string and the number of times the string is to be repeated.

= REPT(text, number_times)

If you were to enter =REPT(“a”,5) the cell would display “aaaaa”. If you repeat a block character like this █ 5 times you get a bar 5 characters long.

REPT(“█”, 5) = █████

If you want to do the same sort of thing, these instructions should get you started.

First, create a column for the formula. Highlight the new column and change the font to a fixed width font. I used Courier New because it is a standard font and I could go down to a font size of 8 without losing the fixed width property we need.

The formula you will enter has two parts – the empty space and the bar.

To make the empty space, simply repeat the space “ ” character by an amount proportional to the value in the start column.

I say “proportional to”, because if you use the start column as it is in this FTDNA file you could end up with a bar over 100 million characters long! I have found that dividing the start number by 3 million works nicely. You may need to experiment to suit your screen real estate and personal preferences.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)

Note: swap in the appropriate cell reference instead of “Start”

Add an ampersand “&” to the end of the formula to join on the next part.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&

The final part of the formula is the bar. You can use whatever character you like for this. I have used a solid block █. You can find the same character on a PC by either copying and pasting using the character map or by entering Alt +2588. If that sounds too complicated any symbol you like the look of will work, so long as you are using a fixed width font.

The length of each bar is proportional to the ‘End’ column value minus the ‘Start’ column value. Divide the length you calculate by the same number as before.

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&REPT(“█”, (End – Start)/3,000,000)

Finally a fix because occasionally a shorter segment won’t show up.  I modified the second part of the formula to always show at least one block, like so:

= REPT(“ ”, Start/3,000,000)&REPT(“█”, MAX(1,(End – Start)/3,000,000))

There you have it – a simple chromosome browser. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pottering with my websites

One of the thing I hope to do early this year is give this blog and my family tree site a more integrated appearance. I would like to get to a position where a visitor doesn't perceive it as a blog site with a link to a family tree site, and vice versa. I'd like it to be simply a website that includes a blog and a tree.

I've taken a few small steps in this direction.

• The new heading 'My Tree' (above) links to my family tree website. I've been having a play with the TNG colouring book (see here. TNG is the software that drives my tree website).

• I've started doing a bit of reading on various Web development topics, just enough so that I understand a little of what I'm looking at in the page code.

• I've installed WAMPserver on my PC, so that I can run a test site offline as I try to apply my new-found knowledge. This was more difficult that I had anticipated, but I think I'm up and running with it now.