Why do family history?

Family history is one of the fastest growing hobbies in the world. So why do you do family history?

Here are this week’s questions we discussed in the #ANZAncestryTime chat.

  1. What prompted you to start FH research and when? Any exciting, surprising, sad, or shocking discoveries?
  2. Have you researched offline as well as online? What do you treasure most about your research?
  3. Did you inherit any FH research, family stories or photos? Did you take the information as given or verify it? Have cousin connections expanded your research?
  4. Why is it important to you to learn about ancestors and their places? Has having immigrant ancestors been important to your quest? Does FH benefit to your family and/or the community?
Free-Photos / Pixabay

Starting research

  • Tara: I grew up with oral tradition of “tracing” ancestry. My uncle had done some research before on his paternal line. Conversation with friend got me started on all 4 lines. Discoveries, tragedy, royalty, murder, madness, adventure!
  • Pauleen: It’s easy to discount the oral histories people give you but conversely they actually knew these people so often the data would be accurate- just needed checking. LOl re the letters and no one escaping!
  • Karen: A distant cousin who had done extensive research on the family told me about an ancestor who sang in concerts on a ship to Australia. I wanted to find out more about her. Many exciting, surprising, sad and shocking discoveries on both sides of the family.
  • Jennifer: When I first started family history I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I thought I would just do a little research for a couple of weeks and that would be it. Famous last words. As I said I had no idea!  I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without family history to keep me busy
  • Pauleen: LOL! I doubt any of us foresaw how it would come to take over our lives. But how rewarding is it?! I didn’t even consider that 30+ years later I’d still be at – and people ask “Aren’t you finished yet?”
  • Margaret: I found my great aunt was a victim of bigamy in Williamstown, went off the rails and started drinking. Her children were “sentenced” to Industrial School for 7 years. She went to an asylum where she died of pulmonary consumption
  • Sharn: BIGGEST surprise for me was that my mother’s surname was made up by her grandfather. THAT took some research. he deserted a wife and child
  • Soc OPS: After years of saying to Mum that it would be easy to trace her family tree because of her uncommon maiden name (Atcherley), a particularly interesting episode of WDYTYA? in 2007 finally prompted me to find out if my assertion was true.
  • Sandra: The main discovery was finding who was my dad’s father was. Went from a missing branch to quite a tangled tree. Dad was a very quiet man and never really talked about family. You could sense sadness so never pushed it. He said he had a letter and photo but had lost it and once gave a very generic name to put us off. Not sure if mum knew. Have only told siblings.
  • Sue: Started in my teens in the 70s by asking questions to add to a tree for school work
  • Sharn: A most surprising discovery for me was that my g uncle from NZ living in England had an MI5 file on him. I have the thick file and he has proven to be a very interesting character
  • Pauleen: My first genimates were age-contemporaries of my mother’s and both had gone to the same secondary school mum & I had attended. I learned so much from how they documented research, especially narrative format. Didn’t always agree with conclusions though 😉
  • Jennifer: When I first started researching my family history it was only to find out about my fathers parents. He was an orphan and his parents were never discussed in our family. My father said his parents had no family. I found they both had a huge family.
  • Betsey: Great joy at finding some wonderful family links to Robert Burns who was not just a family friend but wrote Banks & Braes of Bonnie Doon and Young Peggy about my 3x Great Grand Aunt Margret ‘Peggy’ Kennedy of Daljarroch. Gavin Hamilton was married to her aunt
  • Sharn: All I started out looking for back in the 90’s was the age my g grandmother was when she came to Australia from Switzerland. Little did I know..
  • Jennifer: One of my earliest finds was that my father’s parents died within 6 weeks of each other. Causes of death not connected There were 12 children. My father was youngest. I wrote about my reaction to this news. There have been many surprises along the way, I found I had 50 first cousins from Dad’s family who were previously unknown to me
  • Pauleen: The absolute saddest story I’ve discovered was the tragic death of my great-grandmother Julia Gavin Kunkel. Her husband died 6 weeks later on Xmas Day.
  • Sharn: possibly the saddest discovery I made in Qld school records was that my g g grandfather was put in an orphanage at 9 after his mother remarried. At 12 he was ‘sentenced’ to 5 years on a hulk in the Brisbane River for being ‘neglected’.
  • Margaret: My mother started before I was born in the 1940s. I grew up with it. Always been interested in history (even though I did science)
christels / Pixabay
  • Sharn: After being told I had Welsh ancestry, a welsh castle in the family and family members who were Welsh Guards I named two of my four children with Welsh names, Surprise – DNA says differently.
  • Carmel: surprise was that I had lived in the house built by my ancestors until I was 9. They built the small farm dwelling in 1858 from local stone and mud from the creek, my father added a bathroom and sleepout
  • Sandra: I become interested in family history in year 5 at school. We had to do our family tree for a project and I only really had half a tree. Became a mission to find the other half
  • Daniel: Simultaneously getting my school set up ready for the day. I started my Family History journey back in 2017 as a way of hopefully getting the answers to questions that we couldn’t answer!
  • Pauleen: I think my main curiosity was about my Kunkel surname. I knew it was Germanic but nothing else. My research obsession started in Sept 1986 when I came across an info stand by @GSQPresident at a Heritage Show in Brisbane. Dad always said if they were Kunkels, then we were related – he wasn’t far wrong. There are more later immigrants now post WWII. Back in those days Qld BDM were very date-limited. Letters to people with the name gave an oral history
  • Jill: I learnt that I had indigenous ancestry. So proud that my connection to this land goes back tens of thousands of years.
  • Hilary: I think the trigger for me was finding some certificates in a case that had belonged to my husband’s grandfather
  • Mairead: I heard early on we had some Italian ancestors- was exciting to find out from a cousin that our ancestor was actually from southern Switzerland but spoke Italian- have been there since
  • Shauna: Watching Roots the television series in 1977.
  • Sue: Surprising was mums paper trail back to 1800s relates perfectly to DNA testing but dad’s paper trail completely incorrect since DNA testing.
  • Carmel: the death of my 101 yr old mother in 2013, finding her story dictated to a grandchild in 1992 and my retirement from paid work
  • Mairead: My parents died young (when I was 8 and 15) so I started some family history in my early 30s just to find out some basics.
  • Sharn: My grandmother was Irish and I grew up with her wonderful stories about her home in Ireland. That sparked my interest but it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I began to ask her questions.
  • Fran: I started earnestly about 10 years ago when I decided it was a hobby that would combine my interest in blogging, technology and history. Plus be great for retirement.
  • Pauleen: Every story I discover about my family -ancestors and kin – is a treasure to me. It reveals them as real people with diverse life experiences. I’ve been hooked since Day 1.
  • Jennifer: I was introduced to family history when a relative asked me to help her organise a reunion for my inlaws’ family and then suggest I start to research my own family
  • Sharn: I was told my great grandparents were Swiss but a strange comment by an elderly great aunt in 1996 made me search online for my family. I discovered my ancestry was Swiss and German. and then I caught a serious genealogy bug
  • Brooke: I think I started doing #FamilyHistory research after my nan died. I’ve learned that starting #FamilyHistory BEFORE the oldies die is a much better idea.
  • Jill: In 1988 – Australia’s Bicentennial Year and the year my grandmother died I started thinking about and recording my personal and #familyhistory. So many exciting discoveries along the way. Finding that some of my ancestors were #convicts transported to #Australia wasn’t a surprise but I was surprised that there were ten of them
MemoryCatcher / Pixabay

Researching online and offline

  • Tara: Have researched in local and national archives here and abroad as well as online. I love challenge of problem-solving and the satisfaction of discovery and story-telling with family
  • Karen: Mainly online, but also at libraries (especially State Library of Queensland, and State Library of New South Wales) I treasure gaining a better understanding of history in general and how my ancestors fit into the picture. Things I learnt about at school (e.g. Eureka/Gold Rush) ended up being directly relevant to me. We had no idea of the connection previously. And then all the pieces of the puzzle come together. We start to understand why people behaved the way they did, why they kept secrets.
  • Margaret: I am lucky in that my nephew has caught the bug and will carry on my research when I can’t. He is getting all my papers, books, etc. We consult but work independently to verify what we are doing
  • Jennifer: When I first started there was no online research. It was all done by attending archives, societies etc. I loved in person research and still do on the rare occasion I get to do it.
  • Pauleen: I agree. I’m conflicted because I also like being able to do it from home and online, but my first love is going back to the primary documents and being able to hold them. I just don’t get to do it as often. Can’t believe how rarely I get to the archives now.
  • Fran: Even I like to go to archives, etc. I started doing both when I started. I find that “places” lead you down different paths compared to searching online. How can you not be impressed with seeing the original document?
  • Margaret: No online when I started helping my mother in the 1950s. When I travelled overseas in the 1980s I would drop into registries and buy certificates for her, spend time looking at records. Melbourne was a favourite one. Now it has to be online
  • Sharn: I began researching before the internet and everything was written in notebooks. In about 1996 I started researching online after a long illness. I recall the thrill of receiving certificates in the mail after a long wait
  • Pauleen: My instant reaction is “no”. I doubt they even realise so much of what Ancestry etc have online comes from Archives, societies etc. I’m so grateful to have started offline. As I started back in 1986 all my research was done offline in libraries, archives, books or microfilms. I learnt so much doing it this way. I was lucky to have some paternal family certificates to help me get started.
  • Hilary: going to the Archives has brought up some great records things like settlement examinations which are not digitised yet
  • Brooke: Offline research is increasing now, although I still treasure those early family trees I scribbled down listening to Grandma (maternal). My husband opened an Ancestry account about 15 years ago & I kind of took it over. As I keep learning, from you lovely folks, doing webinars, etc, I find more resources that are offline. Also, I see the gaps in my research can only be filled with offline info (eg, asylum records at State Archives)
kropekk_pl / Pixabay
  • Jennifer: Mostly I treasure my ancestors. I now understand the sacrifices they made many years ago in the hope of having a better life. These sacrifices have given me the great life that I have in Australia
  • Soc OPS: Yes, I’ve visited archives in Northampton, Stafford and Shrewsbury plus The National Archives, and obtained copies of documents from other places. I love the detective work, and the excitement of handling documents that are hundreds of years old!
  • Pauleen: I remember being so excited when I found a ?xgreatgrandfather’s signature back in the 1700s on an LDS microfilm. Offline research made you work harder think more, and appreciate it more IMO.
  • Hilary: whilst researching offline brings rewards I love online community for sharing discussion and discoveries
  • Jennifer: I treasure all the official documents and photos that I’ve come across through research or have been given. It distresses me that I have nobody to pass them on to. But that’s another subject for another week
  • Mairead: Thanks to a cousin, I had the info to go find our village in Ticino, and the old family home in Jersey.
  • Carmel: Have been to local history group in Riverton, SA , SA genealogy, SA State Library. Unfortunately I live in Qld so have to balance my interstate visits to 5 siblings in Sth Aust with offline research time
  • Fran: I treasure the little snippets I find. I am not a big brick wall destroyer. I like seeing the story between birth and death rather than adding another 100 people added to my tree. Another electoral roll record makes me happy
  • Sandra: I have and still research offline. The most interesting time was the first time looking at microfilm. The lower parts of the images were black. They were German church records from Litchefelde.
  • Sue: In the 80s I organized family reunions and wrote the tree out on butchers paper for people to add more info for me to then add to my basic computer program I had at home
  • Fran: Yes both off & online. I think that those new to family history, like me, are lucky that there is so much available. Without the big hunt at the archives I am sure I do not appreciate the material as much as totally offline researchers did
  • Pauleen: The thing I treasure more about my research is bringing the families “back to life” for current descendants and sharing something about their lives. It’s the stories that turn them into real people and Trove has revealed so many unexpected and hidden event
  • Sue: I used Tasmanian archives for years, microfilms and card catalogues including researching convicts for people overseas. Charged them the cost of stamps to send them the paperwork.
  • Shauna: yes so much so that I changed careers and became a librarian and an archivist. I had really good lunch hours
PourquoiPas / Pixabay

Connections, stories and cousins

  • Brooke:  Cousin & I were doing @utasfh Convict Ancestors at the same time. We debunked the “ancestor was a bushranger” myth as stated on Jen Willets site. It was almost disappointing.
  • Margaret: I have 32 family tree scrolls from my mother. I had papers, reports, albums, etc but they are gradually being taken to my nephew. He has got the 1805 New Testament in 2 volumes which I got from my aunt who got it from her father, etc. I question everything and try to find more than one source. The scrolls I am gradually checking with other sources as I enter them in my computer tree. One family story has not yet been verified, although DNA says it could be correct.
  • Soc OPS: Not from my immediate family, but early on I made contact with a distant cousin (with Atcherley as her third forename!) who’d been researching for 20 years and shared her gedcom. I used that as a reference but did my own research and shared my findings.
  • Mining the Past: I only have a few photos and the family tree I did with my mum in my teens. I researched just by following the records and have found a few children who died young that my mum clearly didn’t know about. Have found grains of truth in family stories.
  • Sharn: I was the first in my family that I know of to research our family history. I lost family photos in the 74 Brisbane floods so every photo someone sends me is very precious.
  • Hilary: my ONS (one name study) is a work in progress as I started with an Unsourced tree with the aim of verifying the information and building upon it always more to find
  • Sandra: We have a family tree book of my mum’s family but only from when they came to Australia to about 1983. I now have my mum and photos and documents. Over the years I have copied and scanned every old photo I could get my hands on.
  • Pauleen: Early in my research I got a great oral history from an elderly cousin who also put me in touch with other lines. I was able to verify the info via official records. The certificates I inherited certainly helped me get started, as did a very unusual surname. I had few stories even though I knew all my grandparents and two were immigrants – but they didn’t talk about it. I did meet some great-aunts, uncles & 2nd cousins.
  • Shauna: I was the first to be interested in the family history. Sadly hardly any photos on either side of my family. But I have managed to link up with cousins and share research and photos. Blogging is such wonderful cousin bait
  • Sharn: Through cousin connections I have pieced together the other half of family stories. Since 2015 each year I have been visiting a dear third cousin in Chicago who sadly passed away recently. We achieved so much in her ‘genealogy kitchen’
  • Shauna: The internet and digitised records has revolutionized genealogy and it’s wonderful to have friends all over the world #ANZAncestryTime But I think some have forgotten methodology and just use indexes and hunt names.
  • Sharn: I inherited a family history of my husband’s family that went back to William the Conqueror. Need I say more…. I have written a blog post about it
  • Daniel: I inherited quite a lot of dates and photos from my mum who got the info from my nan. I did try and verify because some bits were WAY off! My favourite things to have are old photos and I actually got a photo of my (very young at the time!) Paternal great grandparents. Little did I know it was actually their wedding photo! 😲
  • Jennifer: I’ve met many cousins mainly through my blog who have shared research, family search and photos. These new connections are very precious to me. I have ongoing relationships with many and with their families
jarmoluk / Pixabay
  • Mairead: I know that one of my nieces is interested. But I also know she is of the digital era, so I need to make sure I have as much info scanned as possible
  • Tara: I’m the custodian (by consent) of my uncle’s archive of audio recordings, photos, letters etc Verification is a slow process but ongoing. Cousin connections (e.g. NZ) definitely expanded research! (Photo of GGGF in Africa 1890s!)
  • Sandra: I have found some wonderful 2nd cousins and we have all shared generously. All info is taken as clues. Review, verify and check again with any information that is given to me.
  • Pauleen: Cousins share stories of their branches that I may not know as well as further cousin-links. The oral histories shared have been amazing. They also spot some research things I haven’t. Others are fabulous at the people connections and link us all together.
  • Jill: So much bounty. Cousin connections have added facts, given me photos and artefacts and new friendships have developed. I cannot understand why genies do not publish their basic tree in print or online
  • Jill: I rarely take information as given but use the proffered information a a clue. I like to check more than one source. One exception would be when a mother announces the birth of one of her children
  • Mairead: An oral story was that we had a convict relative. Someone gave me documents. But it was only last year I found a suitable train of evidence to be confident he really was ours.
  • Carmel: inherited a hand drawn Galvin family tree from father-in-law, but only found it in our files after I’d done the research, luckily it confirmed my research
  • Jill: No such inheritance for me. I think earlier generations on my Mother’s side didn’t want to share details of either their convict or indigenous backgrounds. Perhaps my Irish grandmother was interested as she told lost of stories
  • Sue: I inherited photos and some stories while relatives were still alive but a few stories were a bit fanciful and since proved incorrect
  • Mairead: When I started I was given photocopies of family groups by a cousin whose Dad had scribbled it down. Helped as a starting point, and also helped me find a war death. Others had forgotten this man who is buried in Florence.
  • Moderator: There really is an emotional moment when you realise you are looking at the handwriting of your great great grandparents in a government file. And then there is the smell of old documents
  • Jennifer: I have inherited no family history research, however along the way cousins who I’ve met have shared their information with me. I verify everything before adding it to my family tree or files.
shell_ghostcage / Pixabay

Ancestors and place

  • Margaret: I love the detective part of the search. Trying to find all the different people in my family and bringing them to life. Finding cousins all over the world has been great.
  • Tara: Much of my reading is to try and understand their lives and times, it provide clues to further research. Migration, internal and external features heavily so understanding (a) is essential. FH benefits family (entertainment) & community (collaboration/help)
  • Karen: Partly as the 1 ancestor who did write up some family history was not completely accurate/truthful (aware?). My in-press article discusses this. I also wanted to know why my ancestors came to Australia. I think only 2 were convicts. Others arrived later.
  • Fran: Having migrants in my family has become more important to me after starting #familyhistory research. I find it amazing how they came to NZ in sailing boats with little chance of returning, risk of death on the way and no shelter when they arrived.
  • Daniel: It’s important to know your family history because as the saying goes – “History is doomed to repeat itself if you don’t know about it”. It’s important as well as it adds a sense of life to those who left us long before us. When it comes to immigrant ancestors, I don’t have any but however there were siblings of direct ancestors that had emigrated and it’s nice knowing what happened to them as well. I had said to myself that I wouldn’t find many connections to America, little did I know that I found many more connections than I thought. Family History benefits everyone, as it tells their story and their ancestors story. If it’s put on things like @WikiTreers or @FamilySearch. it’s free for anyone to access and see, which helps a lot.
  • Jill: I hope that my endeavours will benefit my descendants now and in the future. They are already interested in the stories I post and several have willingly taken a #DNA test. I’m more interested in the people than a label
  • Jennifer: My family history research doesn’t really benefit my family as there is nobody in my family who has ever shown an interest. But family history led me to starting my One Place Study which will benefit my community. Through family history I’ve learnt much about the countries where my ancestors originated. Researching family history gives the opportunity to learn about the world
  • Mairead: The more I learn about my Irish ancestors the more I realise how the Famine led directly to so many of them leaving. My Burkes and Flynns and related families all ended up near Perth from Co Mayo. Five of my Arbuckle sisters came to Australia- three of them on a famine ship from the Workhouse. In my grandmother’s line, 3 came to NZ. I have been in contact with a 2nd cousin who had no idea we were such close relatives. The details of those who emigrated was largely lost.
  • Shauna: I have found siblings who came out to different states and there is no indication that they ever connected up – they just seem to have lost touch
  • Soc OPS: I feel that I have become the teller of my ancestors’ lost stories, and I love that role! Expanding my research into the places where they lived is giving me an even broader insight into the lives they led, as members of their local communities.
Capri23auto / Pixabay
  • Brooke: All my ancestors were immigrants: convicts, sailors who stayed, assisted/unassisted immigrants, child migrants. Researching when they arrived in Australia & where they came from is what I target. Why? I love the stories particularly of child migrants
  • Fran: it is good that a group people are saving our history. In particular the history of many females is not seen to be important so lost. Family Historians save history. I just think learning about people widens your own experiences. Gives you more empathic skills and this helps you through life.
  • Pauleen: Absolutely! Learning our ancestors’ stories reveal how they overcame challenges in their daily lives. Exploring their lives & that of their communities at a micro level reveals the nuances of settlement that is hidden by “big picture” history. It all goes back to learning more about them as individual people. As I’ve learned more, I’ve come to appreciate their hard work and the challenges they’ve faced. Visiting their places here or overseas has been an amazing privilege.
  • Sandra C: I’ve always wanted to know where my families came from. Immigration is a large part of the story. Who they were, what they looked like, their story. World history and geography has become more interesting and I love having a mystery to research.
  • Shauna: it is a personal search to know where I have come from and what those people experienced. My writing it up and leaving copies it adds to the collective history of Australia.
  • Hilary: discovering more about who your family were and what they did helps you to see how you fit in
  • Pauleen: I have no Indigenous ancestors so, of necessity, immigration is part of my own ancestral journey. Learning about their migration journeys has been important so I could understand their experience. They were courageous to make this massive leap of faith
  • Jill: I am just plain curious. I want to know who I am and where I came from, it’s my story. I feel such a connection when I visit ancestral towns and sites. It’s spinetingling stuff.
  • Sharn: Understanding my ancestors lives within context as well as the places where they lived helps me to understand my own identity. It is a very important part of researching family history for me

Posts 

Jennifer writes her responses to these questions tonight

Sharn writes about telling your immigrant’s stories

Quotes of the night:

Regardless of all I find out about my family it is the friendships you make along the way that make researching family history a most wonderful interest. Thanks all who joined me tonight. I enjoyed your tweets and look forward to next week.

Carmel: Family history makes me: Recognise the efforts of those who came before especially my migrant ancestors; challenges me to research and find new resources; learn new ways of searching and it challenges the ageing brain.

Pauleen: Offline research gave you the opportunity to do what I call “slow genealogy” and absorb your discoveries and plot your way forward. As fun as online research is, it can be a bit overwhelming at times.

Shauna: I love the fact that so many genealogical societies have been established and led to great friendships as well as the thrill of ancestor hunting

Readers: When did you begin your journey into family history? What have you found that interested you the most?

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