Researching ancestors

We have now had 4 twitter chats for #ANZAncestryTime, but there has been no summary written for the very first one, so with nothing to do this afternoon, decided I would go back and write it up.

pgbsimon / Pixabay

What do you hope to discover when researching an ancestor’s life?

  • Helen: Context of their lives and what was happening
  • Chris: I really want to find out their stories
  • Sue: Dates and places but also stories of their lives
  • Seonaid: I hope to find out more about what makes me, me! Learn who I have come from
  • Shauna: to know more about them as individuals within the community – not just names and dates
  • Kylie: occupation, family, interests, events
  • Fiona: Fill in the gaps in their timeline with interesting stories and information about their lives.
  • Liz: Ideally Good things, evidence of a life well lived. Of course this is not always the case! I also want to find birth, death and marriage information because it is frustrating when you cannot find it – to build the story around
  • Alex: Context yes. And a bit of an answer to the eternal question does nature or nurture determine outcomes?
  • Jennie: Find that new cousin who might have photos
  • Pauleen: I like to explore their family and friends which tells me more about them. They weren’t “flying solo” FANS. But I love my “ordinary” ancestors…they just make you work harder.
  • Ruth: finding supporting evidence to help you appreciate their point of view that then informed their choices (career, marriage, immigration etc) – if they had choices available to them
  • Scottish Indexes: I want to find their stories, that means more to me than how far back I can trace the family.
  • Society for one place studies: Everything about the place, the people, and how they lived, worked, played, travelled and worshipped as a community, and how they were related to each other.
  • Brooke: It’s often easier to find the black sheep…more records for those who ran afoul of the law.
  • Fran: I like to figure out more about how my parents were made also. How my grandparents and earlier ancestors may have influenced them. I hope to discover more about their daily lives. It must have been hard coming to NZ in the 1840s and having to build somewhere to live.
  • Hilary: my DNA recently connected me with an Australian cousin
sasint / Pixabay

What aspects of your ancestor’s community have you explored?

My 2x gr grandfather and his father were paperstainers. I’ve researched and discovered the wallpaper factory they worked at near Chelsea (London) – Seonaid

The neighbours, the main industries, the schools, the health issues – Michelle

I organised my own family’s vital records & all the kids’ school reports & certificates. 11yo does not believe that he will value this one day. I retaliated by making him look at all my 1979 merit certificates – Brooke

This week I have been exploring the working life of a client’s ancestor and found a very cool bankruptcy file that listed the ancestor as being owed wages which confirmed where he was working in 1902. Now to work it back a little bit further – Fiona

My grandfather and great grandfather both were very active in the community. It’s unfortunate that I never met either – Fran

Community industries, geography, illnesses, organisations, religious change, railways coming, changes of occupations over time – Helen

Visited their home towns, read books about the area they lived in, listened to oral histories – Kylie

I really love maps so I like trying to figure out where they all lived in relation to each other. Church reports or country show prizes are good info too – Alex

I think you have to tailor your searches depending on available re odds which differ from place to place. International, national and local events – Pauleen

I have been fortunate to find my Aus country ancestors well reported in their community in local newspapers via @TroveAustralia Members of community gps like Australian Natives Association, Agricultural Show Committees and more – Liz

Neighbours using the census, school records and newspaper help to build a story of community – Jennifer

Industrial, Religious, musical, so far – Chris

Also geography! I’ve learnt more about what’s where from genealogy than I did from geography class 🙂 – Alona

have discovered convicts in family so researched the prisons in England, the convict ships as well as transcribing the records in Tassie – Sue

I have a branch of artists and authors. I have been researching their ‘works’ and the times in which they were created. They lived very “bohemian” lifestyles – Jacqui

have found using maps when looking up census records to see how far the families have moved or not in that 10 year gap or between births or marriages of children – Sue

I had ancestors who made shoes for workhouse inmates – Hilary

Maps also for the market towns and places where a bride might be found. Where the same industry may be eg copper mines in Cornwall, coal mines in wales etc – Helen

Pexels / Pixabay

What resources can you suggest for researching your ancestor’s lives and community?

  • Shauna: I love digitised newspapers for finding stories I might never have discovered without keyword searching of newspapers. Newspapers have led me into court records, prison records and asylums – love my bad boys & girls
  • Helen: Newspapers are wonderful for finding the context and I am a nerd so also like reading Government reports about general population events like Registrar General Reports
  • Maggie: Trove and PapersPast have to be two of my favourite resources!
  • Shauna: And the British Newspaper Archives, the Irish Newspaper Archive and the Welsh newspapers which are free, even better (I have Welsh)
  • Jennifer: If an ancestor can’t be found in the usual place maps are invaluable for checking nearby parishes
  • Pauleen: School admission records can give a sense of community
  • Fran: I use maps however find the details in the NZ electoral rolls is the winner for me when tracking peoples movements as they are updated every year or two. then i move them to a map
  • Anne: TROVE is just GREAT!! I have found a couple of thousand references for one wine family in the Hunter. But even for my difficult Smiths I have found many references.
  • Seonaid: Oral histories are gold! I often encourage people to record the interview when they are at the “ask your relatives” phase of research (any phase)
  • Helen: Parish chest material for CofE which include vestry minutes payments for work, parish apprentices etc, Poor Law Union letterbooks, newspapers of course, context from government reports
  • Pauleen: I love using lists in @TroveAustralia for family names, shipping, or the family’s communities. Keep them private or public. Such a great resource!
  • Lis: I use everything and anything …software, newspapers, google, I try to think way outside of the box.
  • Kylie: Local history centres and libraries
  • Hilary: Local knowledge from Family and Local history societies is invaluable
  • Michelle: Apart from the popular census records and DNA, there historic maps and photos as well as tax and valuation and voting rolls. The Parish Tithe records have been particularly helpful for my Essex families.
  • Fran: The best source for me is Papers Past for finding about my grandfather and great grandfather’s lives and community. Not just BMD notices, load more details.
  • Fiona: Newspapers but not just for names start looking for articles about jobs, houses, groups and if you can’t find something read issues cover to cover.
  • Hilary: Facebook groups for the area can be useful
  • Jennifer: Newspapers, census, oral interviews. Society journals are often under under utilized but can be a great resource
  • Liz: Research the lives and communities of an ancestor via local newspapers, (shout out @TroveAustralia ) school records, records in local history collections via @VictorianCollections for example, local history groups and public libraries of course! Library and archives staff also know about what is yet to be processed in the backroom!
  • Shauna: Local histories can often give you clues that can be followed up in newspapers, directories, electoral rolls or school and church records
  • Alona: Newspapers, directories, religious records, community societies, sports groups, schools records, local town genealogy & historical societies … the list goes on!
  • Liz: I always advocate a serious researcher talk to the librarians and archivist who manage collections who provide another level of knowledge and expertise to any catalogue/database you are looking at
  • One Place Studies: There are 103 #OnePlaceStudy locations in Australia and 28 in New Zealand included in our One Place Studies Directory at
  • Extracting the details from seemingly disparate record sets and cross-linking data to build up an integrated picture is all part of the fun of #OnePlaceStudies!
  • Jane: I found some interesting stuff in Chancery Bills and Answers
  • Sue: talking to the older members of family, local history societies, newspapers, local libraries and record offices, local family history books about family
  • Pauleen: local Council rates can tell you the standard of your ancestor’s house and whether he has more than one. Maybe he and his wife aren’t separated 😉
  • Maggie: For my Irish ancestors, I love Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary and also the census reports at
  • Helen: Remember (Internet Archive) for published histories of places and reports.
  • Jennie: Votes & Proceedings are also good value for searching out ancestors
  • Jennifer: There was so much information about my father’s street in a Slum Report presented to Parliament.
  • Shauna: I have purchased quite a few local histories from where my ancestors lived both in Australia and overseas – great background on events that have happened in those areas
  • Seonaid: Many libraries have local/community newspapers not available anywhere else. Also research files compiled by librarians, and indexes (what used to be card catalogues) Often photographs and diaries of local people donated to the library
  • Helen: Newspaper advertisements are pure gold, What could be bought, what entertainment, what were the concerns of the area as well as community attitudes. What jobs and of course the gossip and crime
  • Hilary: Speaking to people who live or have lived in the area can be very helpful
  • Alex: Trove without a doubt but failing that local histories, local societies, parliamentary papers or enquiries. Family Search wikipedia and genuki.
EME / Pixabay

Who is the most interesting ancestor you have researched?

Melissa: My intriguing 2xgg Antonio Lima, b. 1856 in the Azores, jumped ship in NZ in 1880 from a whaler & faked his death. A Catholic who had 12 kids… then got legally married to their mother 20 yes later!

Brooke: My most interesting ancestor is probably 5th great-grandfather John Grono. Sailor who came to Australia 1799. Became sealer, shipbuilder, farmer on the Hawkesbury R. They say he named Milford Sound, but it already had a name – Piopiotahi.

Kylie: Ellen Mary Chamberlain survived a shipwreck, raised 12 children I think, 2 marriages etc

Jacqui: only found out today a 4xgreat aunt only had one eye. Story was she lost the other one after she looked through a keyhole and someone poked a knitting needle through. Ouch.

Anne: All are pretty interesting. BUT I would love to find out more about Darby McGrath’s origins. Two Darby’s arrived as convicts. One ended up in Qld, successful grazier who hid his origins. The other settled outside Queanbeyan – where did my Darby come from?

Scottish Indexes: For me it was a client’s ancestor, Mary Third. She was in and out of prison. I was in tears in the @natlibscot reading a newspaper entry. I found this description of her tattoos MT+RW in the @NatRecordsScot An ordinary person with a life that could be a movie!

Alona: Then there’s the convicts of course! The two brothers who were sentenced to hang for rioting (labourers fighting for their rights). But the townsfolk saved their lives & they were sent to Tasmania instead.

Michelle: Lots of them are interesting, so I would have to toss up between William Jones and his taxidermied monkey (Parramatta 1844) and Reuben Uther – the founder of the first hat manufactory in NSW 3 July 1811.

Sue: great great grandmother Rebecca Jackson, convict from Donegal county, even visited the area she lived and the court where she, her younger brother, her father and another relative were all tried for stealing wearing apparel. Written about my research on blog.

Liz: A criminal ancestor (unfortunately) has been interesting to research and as he had a common name, these other clues helped me pin him down. I was also delighted to discover that his wife ran the pub they ‘owned’ while he was “away’

Alona: it’s a toss up between Otto Rafael Winter. Finnish seaman who sailed the world for 7 yrs on cargo ships, before jumping ship in Aus. OR Charlotte Phillips, housewife of a miner in Cornwall, who became a famous confectioner in New Jersey, USA.

Shauna: I love them all but will go with my great grandmother Dorcas Trevaskis – her name can be traced back generations in the Trevaskis family in Cornwall

Jennie: still researching him but Henry Bolton Edenborough – friend of artist Whistler, fought with Garibaldi & was prisoned at Castle Thunder during the US Civil War

Jennifer: I don’t have any ancestors that have done anything really remarkable. But I find it interesting to research the lives of the ordinary people and how their lives changed by making the decision to start a new life in Australia.

Lis: so many but my 2xggmother who came out from London on her own at 19…set up a sewing / haberdashery business in Adelaide and married about a year later. Brave?? Til I realised she was the eldest (and a girl) of 12 living children… get out now!

Chris: So far the most interesting has been my great Grandfather who was a seaman bringing Polynesians from the South Sea Islands to Queensland to work in the canefields. But, it’s sad too

Pauleen: my favourite ancestor is usually the one I’m tracking down right now, especially when that wall starts crumbling! I can’t truly pick one out though I do admire my Melvin ancestor’s effort to get out of poverty…with a few missteps.

Maggie: At the moment it’s my gg grandfather, Michael McGonnell, some tall tales (some true) from that fellow. One day I might even finish a little presentation on him

Hilary: My maternal grandmother had so many tragedies to face that researching her life made me realise her strength

Helen: George Howard Busby ran away to South Africa Boer War new Guinea Police, Fireman , Ambulance, Gallipoli Veteran, Military recruiter after discharge radio licence, Photographer and gave photo to Prince of Wales . He was maybe not the man to invite to dinner but …

Fran: My favourite is my maternal grandfathers sister – Mabel Kate Dawson born in 1881. In her early years she was on the “stage”, play the sax, and married a man with an interesting name of Roman Victor Jose Byron-Barhydt – Good name for researching.

jarmoluk / Pixabay

What topics would you like to discuss in future sessions?

  • I’m fascinated by food – what resources are there to find out what they ate, recipes or even how they did the cooking
  • I enjoy just seeing what people have been researching in the last week, seeing any new blog posts. Freeform. I didn’t realise you were going to do questions like #GenChat, but I liked it. 3 or 4 questions is about right for an hour.
  • I’d like to hear from people who have met up with distant cousins due to their research, social media or blogs
  • DNA, power searches of the WWW, German genealogy resources and how to access them, finding Catholic ancestors in Scotland and Ireland in the 1700s and 1800s, Catholic records in NSW
  • maybe unusual sources, occupations, specific religions, people’s research problems, research into specific countries
  • I just need to know what else I can look at to confirm what happened to those who went to Australia & New Zealand
  • Ways we can share our family history – Opportunity to ask a specific question in case others can provide advice #crowdsourcing
  • Religions and religious records would be interesting . . .
  • Organisation, DNA, or what resources (books, websites, webinars) they have found useful.
  • perhaps great books we’ve read recently. And what’s the next big thing or future direction for family history/genealogy.

Readers: Who was your most interesting ancestor you have researched? What sources did you use to get your information?

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