Family History Societies

So your family has been in the one area for many years or generations. Have you thought to check with the local family history society? They might have more information not found on the normal genealogical databases. They have access to the local papers and stories passed on by inhabitants of the area.

Our questions were:

  1. Have you joined a local society or one where your ancestors lived? What benefits do/did you gain from the membership?
  2. How has a society helped progress your research, family history education, provided access to off-line records or volunteering on special projects?
  3. With aging members and the advance of digital technology are Genealogy Societies irrelevant in today’s world? How do they make sure they are relevant?
  4. What can societies offer to attract members in the 21st century? What traditional offerings should they continue to provide?

Family history societies in the 21st century 

  • We ask on the new member application a big question about helping, skills, previous jobs, etc. with the idea that this data can be useful – Fran
  • We run a competition in the primary school each year in memory of one of the members who also taught in the local school – Carmel
  • We have just established a media committee yesterday to make our FB posts more relevant and regular and to integrate promotion across posts, website and the locally owned papers. Set up a digital calendar so all can contribute ideas – Carmel
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  • Would partnering with us at UTAS Family History be something that appealed to members of family history societies? What sorts of things could we partner on that would be useful/helpful/fun? – Kate
  • The more we can bridge the gap between academic family historians & society family historians the better. Sharing/learning research skills. Access to/identification of academic history journals. I miss the UTAS family history discussion boards – Brooke
  • Work with teachers and students in researching the local area, sports teams, interviewing the older members of the area and writing up what they found out. Add to Facebook or a blog/website or the FHS newsletter – Sue
  • A retired person may be more willing to develop new skills rather than continue doing what they’ve done at work for decades. Also people’s personal obligations and health may limit their volunteering – Pauleen
  • I am working with local society, local council and @SocAustGen to present a program through the local library. Win-win for all three parties – Jill
  • I think the key to staying relevant is social media marketing. Even if the records are dusty, societies’ marketing should be flash. They have to let people know what they have, what they do. – Brooke
  • Being transparent with decision making and allowing members to input on decisions is good. They do not have to input, however, the option should be available. – Fran
  • Societies need to recognise that each speaker brings skills and knowledge to their presentations with a large time commitment that should be recognised financially eg a book voucher, perhaps a credit on membership or similar. – Pauleen
  • Keep in contact with local school and do activities with them, might get some youngsters joining a few years later eg ANZAC day or history of the area – Sue
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  • Societies need to be where their (potential) members are and if that is on social media then so be it. What can we offer? An up to the minute #familyhistory news aggregation service of sorts amongst other things. – Alex
  • Social media is great for providing that news aggregation service! We’ve also just tried our first digest of ‘News from the Twittersphere’ which has had great feedback including an appreciative email from someone who isn’t on Twitter!  – Society for One Place Studies
  • Upgrade services such as the society newsletter/magazine. Eg, New @SocAustGen mag has recently been revised so that its a magazine I want to keep & refer to now. It was a step-change in modernisation. – Brooke
  • Offering other societies’ newsletters electronically makes it easier to build up a library for your areas of interest. More societies are offering e-newsletters. – Pauleen
  • Run some basic one hour sessions during Family History month in your local library and have pamphlets with contact numbers etc and joining info. – Sue
  • Encourage members to take advantage of library facilities not just online resources – Pauleen
  • I think this year has made us realise that we can all do things differently, bringing presentations to people’s homes for example who are unable to physically attend a meeting is a good thing in my opinion – Paul
  • Caloundra FHS welcomes new members in person and in the newsletter as well as running a buddy system – Pauleen
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  • I think societies also need to demonstrate what their resources and records can provide towards research beyond the Internet. Just promoting them by title isn’t enough. – Pauleen
  • Societies could collaborate with other local interest groups on shared events invite non members – Hilary
  • Good response about society inclusivity. This includes offering times when those who aren’t retired can attend events. – Paul
  • Offer more society databases and indexes online via the society’s membership-access website. – Pauleen
  • To remain relevant societies need to find ways to attract volunteers to run them, manage social media, give presentations, edit journals, organise events and other jobs – Sharn
  • Ensuring the website has the right information to showcase what the society can do to help new members – Hilary
  • If 2020 has taught us one thing it’s that there’s a demand, and place, for online learning. Attending society seminars world-wide, otherwise inaccessible, has been great. Societies can also bring in additional income with multi-speaker sessions – Pauleen
  • If we have to compete with the comfort of the home lounge, what we offer away from home has to be pretty special and appealing. Maybe we can only do that by combining forces with other like-minded groups/organisations. – Alex
  • I think online memberships, with online meetings and classes. Getting to and from anywhere takes up valuable time. Genealogy conferences seem to have worked quite well during lockdowns. Virtual research assistance, where you can consult via Zoom. – Seonaid
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  • Societies have to make sure that they are as inclusive as possible, age, sex, ethnicity, we need to encourage as much as we can, a diverse demograph so that everybody feels included not excluded – Paul
  • I would like to see societies have a person to welcome people at all meetings. I’m sure some do this. If these cliques continue, younger people will never attend – Jennifer
  • Societies need to offer more online availability to access records and webinars for people who cannot attend. Lots of traditional talks are always appreciated – Sharn
  • Societies must continue to create and publish local indexes and stories but these need to made accessible outside society hours – Jill
  • This is interesting in local group where locals have worked tirelessly to raise funds for resources and for a building, local govt. library system looking at RecollectCMS to bring resources of all local heritage groups together.  I think it is a great idea! – Carmel
  • Is it dangerous when the same people stay in leadership roles for too long? – ANZ
  • The most successful societies have members who think ahead and ask the membership for their views – Hilary
  • Societies need to make sure they remain relevant by at least putting indexes online. Meetings often not scheduled for times that workers are able to attend, workers also time poor. Online memberships, classes/speakers online. This has taken off during Covid. – Seonaid
  • They need to advertise opening times etc and contact names and numbers especially if people are travelling and want to visit a FHS relating to their ancestors – Sue
  • As long as societies continue to send out newsletters, list of publications and advertise upcoming events online or otherwise, people will remain interested. – Sharn
  • Members expect something for their money but they don’t all want to give anything maybe FHS should have a contract for members – Hilary
  • Societies need digital savvy members especially if they are adding their images and objects to museum type databases. Also if they are creating their own databases from local papers etc – Sue
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  • Some of our members run fantastic Facebook Pages / Groups for their #OnePlaceStudies and (in some cases) associated societies, which are great for engagement. Love the idea of producing a biennial book using the shared stories and photos!
  • Societies will wither and die if they don’t move into the 20th century. They must embrace the Facebook generation with a social media presence and online resources and learning activities that can be accessed anywhere, anytime. – Jill
  • We need to recognise that times change and people’s attitudes change and we need to be cognisant of that on many levels. The word Society/Group can imply exclusivity and I think we need to be more aware of this. – ANZ
  • There exists in some #FamilyHistory societies an idea that resources bought with group funds should only be for members’ use. Let’s share our goodies! They may be the bait that attracts new members. – Jill
  • Genealogy societies don’t always have to meet face-to-face – we’ve seen that this year more than any other. In fact, the necessity of virtual meetings has been of great benefit to members who have impaired mobility or live remotely. – Maggie
  • Societies play an important social role in the community. They need to host casual events that encourage conversation and collaboration. – Jill
  • Family History Societies need to move with the times to recruit younger members too many stuck in the past – Hilary
  • Societies need to think about the audience they are trying to attract and what these people are looking for in a society. They need to review their members skills to see if they have members that can develop “products” can match these needs. – Fran
  • During the Queensland sesquicentenary in 2009 many societies undertook volunteer activities seeking submissions from family members about their pioneers. Many of these databases and stories are underutilised by those who simply don’t know they exist. – Pauleen
  • I think resources need to be shared but there is nothing wrong with Societies charging a research fee or having resources behind a members wall. More importantly they need to tell others what they have. Love online family history society catalogues – Shauna
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Personal highs and lows in membership

  • I wanted to join a local society. Was told I had to be sponsored by a member. I was new to town and knew nobody. The person at desk could not recommend a member to do it. I didn’t join. This is the kind of attitude that will cause societies to die out – Jennifer
  • It’s why I’ve dropped membership of some societies – too hard to renew! Not being able to pay easily (and automatically) online. – Maggie
  • I really don’t like Facebook groups. Sometimes the anonymity brings out the worst in people. – Brooke
  • My first meeting no one spoke to me even though I had phoned to say I was coming. I didn’t go back until there was an open meeting. Gave up after a few months. – Margaret
  • I belong to a couple long term plus some online forums … particularly focused on supporting at the moment because it has lots of potential … members of all ages there – Jane
  • A society where the general meeting is only held with committee members and no one else welcomed…or maybe that was my perception. Societies should not be closed clubs – Pauleen
  • Our local society usually introduces visitors and new members at the beginning of the monthly meetings. Nice touch, I feel. – Maggie
  • I volunteer Fridays at local library helping with family history and always mention the local FHS where there are more resources than can be found online – Sue
  • The opportunity to mix with like-minded enthusiasts is a big advantage. Tech help and DNA and other Special Interest Groups societies can help expand a member’s confidence with technology and point them in the direction of appropriate research strategies. – Pauleen
  • I’m from a regional area, and have been able to attend many virtual conferences and sessions this year. I’ve loved them – Jennifer
  • When the Sorell group opened a Facebook group, suddenly numbers in the society went up dramatically but they don’t come to meetings, but communicate through the Facebook group. Sharing photos and stories that go into a biennial book. – Sue
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  • It is my humble opinion that #QFHS #ANZAncestryTime has gone above and beyond to support their members during this difficult time. Adapting to new technology quickly, communicating regularly with members and encouraging those less technologically savvy to take up the challenge. – Alex
  • More Zoom meetings including special interest groups so I am doing more than if I had to travel places – Shauna
  • Shoutout to #Hawkesbury #FamilyHistory Group in my ancestors’ area. A collaboration between the local library and FH group that makes resources available during long library opening hours – Jill
  • During COVID able to keep volunteering with local society but not with local library. Opportunities to enhance the group’s collections online in members only website – Carmel
  • Where do I begin? My home society #QFHS let me volunteer in the following areas: bookshop convenor, indexing, transcribing headstones, teaching, library asst, writing journal articles. So many ways. – Alex
  • I love the journals that are published by family history societies. They can be very helpful for research. – Jennifer
  • Our local one does a broad range of things. I like it that many of the talks are about things I would never think to go to and rarely find them uninteresting – Fran
  • Shoutout to #LakeMacquarie Family History Group, My local Society. As a newbie to the area membership has given me an entree to the local community – Jill

How have FHS helped in your ancestor research or your research skills

Sharn: Specialist societies which have information about trades, particular locations and local history have been invaluable in my overseas family history research

Maggie P: Irish special interest group of NZSG- I have been helped in specific ways for my specific research needs. Putting Peggy instead of Margaret in a search turned up my grt-grandmother’s baptism.

Brooke: Not a family history society as such, but there is a historical group in a small town in Suffolk, called Haughley. They have been so helpful, including putting me in touch with cousins.

Willsman/Denman ONS: The local one so I could attend meetings, and several FHS from where my ancestors came from, including @TheSDFHS, @devonfhs, @GlamorganFHS. Local FHS are great – all that local knowledge

Marian: I joined a small #FamilyHistory society in the US state of Indiana and a kind member volunteered to photograph gravestones in the local cemetery. Helped me identify more cousins I couldn’t previously connect to that ancestral line! Very grateful.

Pauleen: Seminars, workshops and Special Interest Groups have offered me great learning opportunities over the decades via the expertise of knowledgeable presenters. However, you also have to do your own wide research and reading to expand your knowledge

Fran: From NZSG does help my research with all the records that they have indexed over time.

Seonaid: Through membership of the NZ Society of Genealogists (NZSG) I’ve been to many awesome genealogy events. Fab speakers. Its really helped with my professional and personal development. I’ve made lots of friends and many professional contacts.

Jane: I am a member of the Guild of ONS as well … don’t have one but have contributed info to some

Sharn: Being a member of a family history society has provided greater access to their records. And the sharing of information between members has increased my own knowledge.

Carmel: SA genealogy has all the BDMs as well as several other databases for members, transcriptions quite cheap for members

Sue: Have found family files at local FHS which you can copy or scan with your camera or ipad

Maggie: Most of the societies I have joined offer either offline research help, useful genealogy publications, virtual and onsite presentations, or a mix of these. Local knowledge is king!

Sharn: At Rootstech this year I joined the Hampshire FH Society because I am researching a house and the part it played in WW2. A member’s grandfather had memories of the secret runway AMAZING

Paul: I have benefited greatly over the years from the many different societies that I have joined, you can’t beat that in depth local knowledge. People have kindly carried out look ups, taken photos of graves, houses etc, so kind and helpful

Sharn: I have found an English society called The Mills Archive Trust invaluable in my research into my ancestors who were millers in Lincolnshire. I would not have understood milling and mills had it not been for this society

Sharn: I am a member of the One Place Society and the Surname Society. It’s amazing what you can learn from others’ research

Alex: My favourite is Yass and District Historical society – great for my convict ancestors

Hilary: Membership of the Guild of One Name Studies has been most beneficial for me

Sue: I am a member of the Sorell Historical Society because I taught at the school there for 20 years and would often use their resources when teaching local history. Their facebook group is great

Pauleen: Just recently I was contacted by a cousin whose branch I’d failed to track down – all because the local society knew me and referred her to me. Very happy with that!

Jennifer: I joined Bedfordshire FHS many years ago. A member went to the archives and copied documents then sent them to me. We are still in touch., That was really great

Interesting links

Join us on Sunday to hear from Orkney Family History Society and Borders Family History Society. We start at 6 pm EDT live from #Scotland The full schedule will be added to soon.

Coming up on @SocAustGen in January yours truly on the AJCP via @TroveAustralia – Carmel

Cooray-Noosa website – up-to-date and looks 21st century

My Ancestors website with links to lots of Family History groups

Ancestorian website with links to posts from members of different FHS around UK mainly but starting to include Australian and New Zealand links – Family history social network

National Library Australia has links to FHS groups

Found this list of Facebook groups and other genealogy groups a few years ago, but they are updated. You’ll notice Alona has an Aussie list

Think I might need to join Society of Australian Genealogists for their seminars etc.

New Zealand Society of Genealogists has a great looking website

Lots of information on the front page of the Queensland Family History website

South Australia Genealogy also includes shopping cart

Cora Web has lists of Aussie FHS

Cyndi’s List has many groups mentioned especially for USA

Family History Federation for those groups in the UK

Post by Paul about joining a FHS

Great quotes

We need to remember that genealogy groups are for everyone – they are not senior citizens clubs – Jill

I hope that the personal, face-2-face factor and a welcoming environment make the difference. Online databases are all very well but you need the personal element. Societies need to make sure they are non-threatening & inclusive. – Alex

Readers: Are you a member of a family history society? What are the benefits of being a member? How do they help with your family history research?


Food, wonderful food

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Our questions were:

  1. Food is part of our heritage. What recipes, foods and food traditions have been passed down in your family?
  2. How have meals and foods changed since your parents’ and grandparents’ time?
  3. Have you researched any aspect of FOOD in your ancestors’ lives? What resources have you found useful?
  4. What are some ways we can record and preserve family food, recipes, and food traditions for future generations?

As many of the participants had an Aussie/NZ/English background, many recipes and traditions were similar.

But many memories came back of things forgotten:

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  • Shelling peas with grandma – eating more than went in the bowl
  • Making Christmas foods – finding money in the puddings
  • Coffee fudge at Christmas … roast beef and Yorkshire pudding every Sunday
  • Preserving foods and making jams, chutneys, pickled onions
  • Kids birthday cakes from the Women’s Weekly
  • Trying recipes from grandma’s cookery book
  • Discussion about scones – jam first or cream first
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  • School lunches and sandwich fillings – peanut butter or paste, vegemite or marmite, sugar sandwich
  • School lunches were vegemite, peanut butter, ham or egg sandwiches. A cheese roll from the tuckshop was a treat. Eating a hot lunch with the boarders was a punishment
  • Mr @cassmob would agree that boarders’ lunches were far from a treat. He tells a gruesome tale about being made to eat prunes before chapel. Tuck shop treats were finger buns with pink icing.
  • We lived in an area with Greek migrants. I remember how different their school lunches were from ours. No sandwiches at all
  • Warm milk at school
  • The mulberry pies…the piecrust was all covered with sugar
  • Growing your own veggies, fruit trees
  • Looking after chooks and turkeys – on farm then killing for meals
  • Butter vs margarine – dairy company adverts
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  • Part of baking has to be the entitlement to “lick” the bowl!!
  • Different cookery books – Green and Gold, CWA or WI (UK), Edmonds (NZ)
  • We also used to go foraging in the woods for blackberries, blaeberries (bilberry) wild strawberries and geans (wild cherries). Mum would make jam or fruit crumbles
  • Make a slice for my husband once a month and fruit cake once a year for me
  • Having not long come out of rationing many things were still considered luxuries when I was a child
  • I know we had some rationing but no idea what impact it had on our #familyfood. More impact in the UK.
  • I cook 4 nights and husband does 3 or we eat out, often prefer to eat in the middle of the day now rather than at night. Still prefer fresh home cooked
  • My go-to cakes for the kids are choc mud cake and lemon sour cream cake – making our own traditions. But we still enjoy Mum’s one

How times have changed

  • Children not talking at the table was fortunately not a rule in our house. Dad said in the 1920s when he was young you did not talk.
  • They did use to boil veg until within an inch of it’s life! Nothing like our crisp veg today
  • My foods have had to change as I’m on a special diet. But the style is much the same as my mother’s. I rarely bake
  • I feel that way about brains, tripe and lambs fry, not to mention peas as hard as marbles
  • Lots of food things were delivered when I was a child. Milk, fish, soft drinks, bread…
  • I love home cooked cakes and biccies but my hips don’t 🙁
  • We always had tea with our meals and there was always bread and butter on the table
  • Mealtimes were more formal with everyone gathering at the same time. This can still happen but is more relaxed nowadays. Some people never use the table, eating from a tray on the lap
  • I had never had restaurant or takeaway food until I was about 19 or 20 always home cooked
  • We thought we were exotic when we went to the Chinese Restaurant for Curried prawns and rice or a Chinese omelet.
  • We concern ourselves more with dietary requirements and providing healthy food for our families, such as low fat or sugar free
  • we now have more Asian style food and use chili and curries which my grandparents never did.
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  • Eating outside the home (except on a picnic) was rare. Occasionally a fish & chips takeaway and very rarely a special visit to a Chinese restaurant to have Aussie-fied meals.
  • My paternal grandmother was Irish so she cooked traditional Irish cuisine. My mother’s family were Swiss/ German and her cooking was heavily influenced by her German heritage. She was very excited when the first Pizza Hut opened though
  • Meals “back in the day” were always served with a cup of tea and a slice of bread. Wine was never seen and beer only for special events.
  • I have memories of heavily boiled vegies. Lightly steamed would have been unthinkable in my grandmothers kitchen
  • So I do have a tradition. Creaming the butter and sugar properly. But if my Mum got it from Nana I will never know. No marg.
  • My grandmother at some point in the 60s saved a “diet plan” from a women’s mag that was 10 days of various ways to serve potatoes… only potatoes (ok and some butter & spices). I love potatoes… but no thanks!
  • Food when I was a child was very much of British origins. Food is much more multi-cultural now. There was no fast food. My favourite memories of food are my grandmother’s home made ice-cream, caramel custard and rosella jam
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  • The variety of veg and fruits has expanded though we always had 1 or 2 bowls of fruit in the house and often had many veg on our plate. I thought it was odd at friends places when you had meat, potato and one other veg
  • Visits to Grandma (Mum’s Mum) always meant Saos, tomato, cheese and lots of butter!
  • My mum used to bake every Saturday – biscuits, slices, cakes. Fruit cake was a good option for lasting through the week
  • I treasure Mum’s recipe book but would never cook her recipes. My grandmother was a wonderful cook but she didn’t have written recipes, they were all in her head.

Some Christmas and birthday recipes

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My mother made ‘snowballs’ at Christmas. Basically a scone mixture made into balls, coated in jam when cooked and rolled in desiccated coconut – Angela

Mum’s “Xmas Balls” are a riff on truffles that make dessert worthwhile. Marshmallows wrapped in crushed wine biscuits in choc, rolled in coconut. Delish! – Melissa

Short bread, White Christmas and Christmas puddings with money inside

The family birthday cake was always the One Egg Chocolate Sponge recipe from the Edmonds Cookery Book. My mum last made it on Sunday for my youngest’s birthday! Still tastes good 🙂 – Maggie

Researching food

Good old Trove has given me excellent stories about my ancestor who was a pastry cook and had refreshment rooms in Charters Towers as well as winning prizes at the Ipswich Ag Show – Pauleen

Show competitions would be a good thing to check out in newspapers. Women’s institutes, church fetes sometimes did recipe books and could also have details of the event – Fran


The local history for my Bavarian ancestor told me what was served in his family’s inn – Pauleen

Something to consider when thinking about the food our ancestors bought—it wasn’t always wholesome! This is from “Adulterations of Food: With Short Processes for Their Detection” by Rowland John Atcherley, published 1874. – One Place Studies


Convict records sometimes described what they ate. It usually wasn’t a great diet – Sharn

A combination of oral history and Trove stories revealed my ancestor’s citrus specialties, sharing fruit with neighbours and making wine – Pauleen

Some of my ancestors were in workhouses and I have used that website to learn about what they ate and what conditions were like – Shauna


One of my relatives who worked as a gardener had a bit written in his obituary in the paper – Hilary

Some of the shipping documents reveal that and also the compulsory levels of food people needed to be allocated. The German ships weren’t always as well managed compared to those from England – Pauleen

Only when it’s recorded that a particular person was ‘noted’ for a dish or cuisine, eg my 3x great grandmother Betsy who apparently made a mean South African Bredie. -Gen X Alogy

Methods of cooking were different too. A big range with no temperature regulator is worlds away from a microwave! – Angela


I have really looked into shipboard diaries to see what they ate on the voyage out. Log of logs is a great resource to find diaries – Shauna

I’m trying to research my gg-gf, Harry Bevin, who was a baker, and I would kill to find a photo of his bakery in Wanganui! My g-gf, his SIL, worked with him too. I think I need to make a trip to the library. – Melissa

Advertisements in newspapers for FOOD imports, from the time and place where ancestors lived can tell us what kinds of foods were available to purchase for those who could afford them – Sharn

I was very fortunate to get a fabulous oral history about my German ancestor’s food traditions and preparation of sausages. Fantastic story – Pauleen

Ingredients have changed over the decades. Even cookery books from the 1970s do not have many spices that are readily available nowadays. – Angela


Recipes were often handwritten or kept in their heads! Early cookery books were for ‘big houses’ I think. Mrs Beetons Cookery Book was an early UK one. Doorstop of a book! – Angela


Recording for future generations

Sharn: Scan and enter family recipes to EVERNOTE to keep them in one folder. You can use TAGS to search easily. Pinning family recipes on a PINTEREST Board enables you to keep them in a ‘folder’ online which can be shared with others

Jill: I have scanned and digitised all my favourite recipes. I tossed out many I had ripped out of magazines.

Hilary: talk to younger family and make recipes to share with the family

Pauleen: Teaching our grandchildren to cook can introduce them to #familyfood traditions as well as teach them cooking skills.

Hilary: We need to share our recipes and memories through video, audio and written records on blogs and websites

Sharn: Print family recipes on tea towels, in frames or a recipe book to give family members as gifts

Shauna: we can write about these food traditions in our blogs or include them in family histories. I’m also keen to learn how to cook some of the old recipes eg Cornish pasties that I know my Cornish miners must have eaten

Pauleen: Photobooks are easy to produce – we could even take photos of the steps as well as tell the background story.

Maggie: Continuing traditions (or starting new ones) with younger family members. My kids and I make a gingerbread house every Christmas.

Pauleen: Back in the day our family members shared their favourite recipes with friends. Over the years we’ve done the same, only more recently it’s been done electronically.

Brooke: after Grandma died we made a photo memory book & included a couple of her Xmas recipes, pate & rum balls. We make those recipes every Xmas time

Online websites about food in general

Blogging about food

Loved these comments

I still bake using recipes from my grandmother – it reminds me of all those wonderful afternoon tea times with her. Plus, the kids love the yummy food!

What a shame Twitter does not have scents – we would all be swooning over bakery smells.

Readers: What are your favourite memories about food? Who were they with and what were you doing?

What do you do to earn a quid?

We had our regular tweeters but also joined by a few more who had specific information relating to this week’s topic.


Questions were: 

  1. Share the resources and repositories that helped you discover ancestors’ occupations and put their work & life in context?
  2. Tell us about an ancestor with an unusual or dangerous occupation, child labour or a now-uncommon job?
  3. Are there occupations in your family that have passed down to the next generations?
  4. What resources do you review to find out more on businesses & business owners, self employed or financially independent ancestors?

Format for the post will be resources to check out, then occupations relating to our ancestors and finally some questions about unusual occupations and where to find the answers.

Resources to find information relating to occupations and context in life

  • Directories and electoral rolls
  • Census records
  • Newspapers including advertisements, articles and family notices
  • Pre UK census try UK Register of Duties Paid for Apprentices’ Indentures 1710-1811 (National Archives & Ancestry)
  • Public Record Offices for Government occupations
  • Birth, death and marriage records
  • Obituaries but as Sue said they are only as accurate as the informants knowledge – pioneers of the district could have been convicts in reality
  • Title Deeds to property owned list the occupation of owners
  • Apprentice records
  • Military records
  • Wills and probate records
  • 1939 register
  • UK Merchant Navy records: Register of Seamen at TNA or on FMP, Seamen’s tickets, Voyage details for crew lists.
  • Academic journals (JSTOR) through the National Library of Australia
  • Gale newspaper access for occupation background and risks of jobs.
  • Books, books, books and reading
  • Regional Archives
  • Regional and local family history society newsletters
  • Guild records from apprentice to master
  • Immigration passenger lists
  • Council Records
  • Employment lists for businesses
  • Lately bankruptcy records have been adding lots to research on employers.

Specific links

Personal responses

Angela: Census records that revealed I am descended from a ‘Herd’ and a ‘Brush’ . (I kid you not)

Fran: My Cornish miners jobs could be dangerous. The average age of death was 28th years and 4 months. So young.

Pauleen: My dad was a numbertaker – say what, an undertaker? Nope, a numbertaker or tally clerk working with freight distribution in the railway shunting yards. Not quite as dangerous as shunting but still very hazardous.

Sharn: The most dangerous occupation my ancestors had was MINING. I discovered a g g uncle was killed in a mining accident ‘killed by an explosion of fie damp’ on the Scottish Mining Website.

Jane: My ancestors all seem to have fairly standard occupations … Farmers, agricultural labourers, domestic servants, Bricklayers and other tradesmen … Although I do have a rat catcher!

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Hilary: my husband’s grandfather died after a fall working in an Ironstone quarry; my gt uncle was killed whilst working in the docks a cargo fell on him

Allie: I have lots of newspaper compositors and handloom weavers in my family, not unusual at the time but definitely rare today. Not aware of any work accidents, but I’m sure much of the work my ancestors did was dangerous or hazardous to health in the long term.

Sue: My Great great grandmothers sister married RG Winters who was a pianoforte maker. Married in England, migrated to Tasmania, Had a pianoforte factory in Elizabeth Street Hobart

ANZ: And quarry workers and stonemasons often had lung diseases….this asbestosis. Occupations were so hazardous before OH&S awareness but there are still random injuries.

Seonaid: A lot of my ancestors were ag labs, carpenters, navy or army, cab drivers, fruit and veg sales. I do have a female ancestor who took over her husband’s butchery business when he died. Although I expect that’s not unusual.

Pauleen: Generations ago I had miners in Northumberland – another dangerous occupation with the possibility of child labour though I’ve found none

Sue: I have three brothers, one my great grandfather, who survived the 1912 Mt Lyell mining disaster

ANZ: Who remembers when the rat catchers from the council would come round with their fox terriers checking for rats when people still had backyard dunnies?

Fiona: Inspector of Nuisances in a clients family. Image of one here.

Jennifer: My friend’s ancestor worked in a tiny building in the forest in Belgium checking undetonated bombs

OPS: Earlier this year our response to the A-Z Blogging Challenge featured contributions from members on a range of occupations, including Apple Crusher, Dominatrix, Jester, Number Taker, Pig-jobber and Tabernarius!

Dara: My GG-grandfather was a coachman, a servant in a big house. I love the idea of him hitching up the horses and strolling, or racing, through the streets, taking his master to where-ever. Probably my imagination pictures a more romantic version of his job.

addesia / Pixabay

Jill: Husband’s ancestor, Francis Jollie Gowans, was appointed Honorary Surgeon to the King in 1937

Mining the Past: One of the next door neighbours to my miner ancestor was a pit pony driver, aged 13.  My family were miners right up until my maternal grandfather. He suffered from miners lung and had to stop hewing. He was elected pithead weighman on behalf of the miners ie checking the company weighman was weighing the coal accurately so they got paid fairly.

Sue: My great great grandfather had a fairly easy life as head gardener to the Governor of Tasmania in the 1860s and 1870s. Lots of write ups in paper about winning competitions etc

Sue: My other great great grandfather (before he was proved by DNA not to be mine) was a whaling captain and many of his descendants still keep jobs to do with water

Seonaid: Navy & army were pretty regular patterns in my family on both sides. My 3xgr gfather & 2x gr gfather were paper stainers. Found a wallpaper factory near where they lived. I do wonder how 1 ancestor went from a candle & soap worker to planemaker in 10 years.

Angela: have generations of railway workers …porters, station masters. Wonderful that their homes are listed in the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage

Sharn: I have used newspaper advertisements and calls tender to find the buildings, houses and rail carriages a gg grandfather constructed in Sydney NSW

Jennifer: Have found business ads on Trove, Wills, Rate books

Pauleen: Court cases can tell you where someone was and who they knew. My George Kunkel was called as a witness to an equity case revealing he was a pork butcher on the gold fields at Tooloom, NSW, travelling from Ipswich Qld.


Brooke: When reading census records this list of old English occupations may come in handy. Researching the COLLIDGE family, I came across the occupation CLICKER; someone who worked in the shoe trade cutting out the lowers.

Sophie: One of the things I’ve been struck by in preparing the Occupations tweet series is what a range of dreadful health hazards were associated with so many jobs in yesteryear – hand planking one example

Dara: I struggle to find much information concerning many ancestors’ occupations, that is specific to their own job, other than on BMDs. Trade directories help for some tradesmen.

Pauleen: I found references to my carpenter ancestor in Ipswich burial registers. Fires, flood and disasters can bring up news stories of how my self-employed ancestors were impacted

Fran: Thinking you need to verify the occupations. On the first property we purchased the bank wrote “wife” for me and Stephen made them change it to “Product Manager” so like all sources – CHECK

Carmel: The back of directories for business advertisers

Jennifer: I do have a few ancestors who stated their occupation as ‘gentleman’. Wishful thinking I’m sure

Fran: On passenger lists I have found a number of ancestors occupations. It’s good for people that travelled often as you can see changes in roles, promotions, etc

Dara: Funnily enough, when my GGG-grandfather, who left Ireland a plasterer, became a successful building contractor in Australia, he claimed he was a Gentleman on some records.

Mining the Past: I have an ancestor in Gateshead who worked at the ‘railway staithes’. From maps identified as Dunston Staithes, the largest existing wooden structure in Europe and a visitor attraction!! Guess where I’ll be visiting next UK trip 🙂

TryJimmy / Pixabay

Society of OPS: The Gazette is another great source of business / company info for the UK

Fiona: Check @ArchivesNZ for files on the stations. Have been looking at these in the last week and have found house plans for the houses being rented and sold at the end of their use by railways.

Allie: Mostly censuses and vital records. Otherwise I’ve found a few newspaper reports and adverts that have mentioned employers or business locations, and I’ve also used street and business directories. FindMyPast is good for trade union records

Occupations often passed down through the generations included:

shoemakers, gardeners, coachmen, schoolmasters, coal miners, ag labs, merchant marines, weavers, lacemakers, railway workers, butchers, blacksmithing, tailor, pipers, compositors, watchmakers

Things to follow up on: videos, other twitter chats, competition

  • Today will be of interest to @OnePlaceStudies members engaged in our 2020 Shared Endeavour of Employment and Occupations in our #OnePlaceStudies!
  • Videos to check out from OPS , the twitter chat from the OPS Conference 2020 including occupations
  • Dr Sophie Kay has an Occupation of the day twitter hashtag. Follow it here and learn more about unusual occupations.
  • Also from Dr Sophie Kay: just a little heads-up for those of you who enjoy competitions: keep an eye out for a Twitter/blog announcement from me next month, as I’ll be running a little Xmas Quiz competition themed around the #OccupationOfTheDay strand!

Readers: Check out the OccupationOfTheDay hashtag to find out the answers to these unusual occupations.

Jacker off, Keel Fleeter, Equilibrist or Knife shaver

Ancestors in the military

With Remembrance Day being 11th November here in Australia and New Zealand, tonight the chat was totally about military  – records, websites, resources, blog posts

The four questions were:

  1. What records, repositories, books, diaries or military histories have you used to research your military ancestors?
  2. Have you researched ancestors in other wars eg Vietnam, Korea, Boer war, Crimea or even Napoleonic war.
  3. What non-military service did your family members give during war time?
  4. Have you inherited any special memorabilia or discovered an unusual story about your service people?

So today’s post is going to be a lot of links to websites and resources for researching your ancestors in the military. Then we will look at some personal memories and finally blog posts and books to read and videos to watch.

AD_Images / Pixabay

Websites and resources

Australian military

Australian War Memorial records including:

National Archives of Australia records including:

Canadian Military

War grave registers on Ancestry

Military Heritage at Libraries and archives

New Zealand military

Members of the New Zealand Tunnelling Company in their bunks below the ground at La Fosse Farm

Other countries and general resources about war

Commonwealth War Graves including:

Red Cross

British Military Forces

Wounded World War I soldier being cared for at a field hospital

Great websites about WWI in general

Holocaust searching

Personal memories

Hilary: I found the best resource was looking at who got the effects of those who lost their lives

Pauleen: remember to check Facebook groups for POW camps and POWs

Merron: I have found the names of around 500 men & women connected to Hamilton, Vic who enlisted and written bios of around 150. My usual starting point is The AIF Project. Easy to search, can search by town and results give lots of info. I also use Monument Australia for honour boards, @UkNatArchives as some enlisted with the British forces including a number of nurses I have researched.

Hilary: we have a photocopy of a letter sent to my grandmother from her brother before he died, original with orphanage where she was living

Brooke: I was reading a unit diary. I very quickly formed an attachment to the writer. Suddenly it stopped. I was heartbroken.

Pauleen: My father’s cousin was MIA then KIA in Korea. I have researched his service history and the documents around it, and the unit diaries. When I blogged about him I received comments from people who knew of him.

Sewing room at Government House, Melbourne

Sue: I have one ancestor in the militia rolls in Bedfordshire in the 1700s I think. Was found for me by another person in Bedfordshire while I found out about her convict in Tassie

Maggie: I’ve researched the first husband of my gg grandmother who died during the First Anglo/Boer war. I found a book online that detailed how he died

Margaret: I’ve not found anyone in those wars but have in the American Wars. One possibly in the Crimea. I’m looking at the Napoleonic Wars next for some of my family.

Jill: Just remembered I found lots about an Australian soldier in local newspapers at The British Library as his mother lived in a small town in England and they reported on him.

Pauleen: I had forgotten that a Kent relative had served in the Maori wars. Any Kiwis with relatives they’ve traced to these?

Maggie: A ggg grandfather was in the Taranaki Militia that fought at the Battle of Waireka in 1860. Want to research more, even if I won’t like what I find

Brooke: I also have a very Jane Austen scenario. In 1793 the Staffordshire militia marched to Devonshire and was finally quartered at Plymouth. Edward Holmes of the militia married a local girl Charlotte Masters. My 5th great-grandparents.

Fran: My mother and her 2 sisters worked on the land north of where they lived in Wellington, NZ. There was a big USA camp nearby. This lead to my mother marrying a US soldier.

Brooke: An Anzac I’ve written about was a prolific letter writer and appeared to have a buddy at the local paper. So many of his letters were published, providing a first-hand account of his experiences.

Jennifer: There are a few WW1 and WW2 nurses in our family. An aunt was in the land army in WW2

Jill: I find reading fiction set in the war years give a good insight into life during those periods


Merron: For Victorians, check @PRO_Vic for probate files of soldiers who died. I have found amazing letters between a soldier and a woman who gave birth to his baby after his departure in his probate file. They were used to prove her right to be a benefactor.

Hilary: not sure what my grandfather did during WW2 but he worked at the docks and was probably busy helping to load and unload ships

M. Smith: My English grandfather was in St John’s in his home town in WW1 and in the Heavy Rescue Unit in WW2 and went to Coventry when it was bombed.

Margaret: What counts as non-military service? My parents sent food parcels to the UK. When I was born, I was sent a soft toy as a gift. They used the wood boiler for hot water, saving electricity.

Sue: I had a few who were given exemptions during WWI as they had to look after elderly parents or was only son to work the farm.

Pauleen: My dad, and both grandfathers worked for the railway and so were essential services. Dad told me how he supervised some Italian POWs doing labour for the railway in WWII

ANZ: I think all contributions and sacrifices counted. Some families got heavily involved with fund raising or making walking sticks while their sons (usually) were away.

Brooke: So glad you asked this question. In WW2 my grandfather, a carpenter/joiner for Australasian United Steam Navigation Company (AUSNC) in Sydney, was required to adapt ships to be troop carriers.

Pauleen: My mother was a volunteer with the Women’s Air Training Corps and the Volunteer Air Training Corps doing plane spotting at Brisbane during WWII. My grandfather enlisted in WWI when they called for experienced railwaymen to work on the lines to the Western Front.

Jennifer: I just had a memory of the letters I wrote to a soldier in Vietnam War when I was 13. I was given his name by a minister because he had no family to send him mail

Gunner Ernie Widders writes a letter from Vietnam

Jill: My Mother was a social butterfly who worked in the GPO and from her photo albums I can see that she and her 4 sisters spent a lot of time entertaining the troops through the ANZAC House younger set

Sue: My mum remembers her father digging a bomb shelter for them in Sandy Bay and helping to dig the trenches at Albuera Street School. Also have some ration cards from WWII belonging to my grandmother.

Margaret: My father was away some of the time as he was at Featherston POW camp. He features in the book that was written about the incident!

Brooke: I want to do more research on reserved occupations. The lists changed as the war went on depending on need. There was badge issued to show they weren’t cowards. Does anyone have a reserved occupation badge from their ancestor?

Paul: one branch of my family served as Auxiliary Fireman and including my Great Aunt who sadly lost her life in the largest ever loss of life in one incident for the London Fire Brigade


Pauleen: I have inherited WWI medals from my grandfather Denis Joseph Kunkel. They will be passed on to my grandchildren

Carmel: we have my husband’s father’s pilot log book WW2

Jill: I have Dad’s kit bag, a pair of his khaki shorts, his medals and some photos. I have quite a collection of photos from Dad’s time in the army. The pictures from Tarakan are particularly interesting. In contrast I have a collection of a distant ancestor’s memorabilia including honours medals and the invitation to his investiture at Buckingham Palace.

Brooke: When I received my grandfather’s WW2 records I discovered he was AWOL… a lot! His excuse was priceless…he had to sing on the radio to earn money to pay off a debt. (I don’t know how to determine the truth of this. Old recordings from radio station?)

Jennifer: My father never applied for his medals. He arrived in Japan at the end and was there for peacekeeping and felt he didn’t deserve them. I was able to get them for him but he was still not interested. Said he felt like a fraud accepting them

Jill: I just wish my father would have talked about his war experiences. Like many returned men he just didn’t open up

M. Smith: One of my most favourite books is Helene Hanff’s book “84 Charing Cross Road” set in WW2. It gives a great insight into life in England from a US point of view. Great humour too.

Jennifer: The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff is the last one I read. Another recent release war novel set in Paris The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

WAAAFs in action

Blog posts and books to read and videos to watch and photos to see

Carmel’s book recommendations for WWII background

Jill’s book recommendations with war as a tag

Monash 100 Stories video collection – Sue’s blog posts relating to the Future Learn Course WWI – 100 stories videos

Digital New Zealand – search for camps eg Trentham

Different Flickr accounts for images: The Commons, National Archives Australia, Great War Archive,

Readers: You might like to answer one of the questions we were asked in last night’s twitter chat.

Using newspapers in genealogy

Welcome to the fifth ANZAncestryTime twitterchat summary. As you can see by the title, this week we looked at newspapers and how they can help and have helped in researching our family history. We had the normal 4 questions but I am writing the summary up in a slightly different format.

shotput / Pixabay


  1. Which newspaper sites have you found helpful in your family history research and what do you like about these sites?
  2. What tips and tricks do you find useful for newspaper searches?
  3. What information have you found in newspapers that you would not have found in other records?
  4. What online archives, libraries and other e-resources do you use to access newspapers?

As we are mainly an Australian and New Zealand group of genealogists, the answer to the first question was usually Trove and PapersPast.

Trove is run by the National Library of Australia

Trove contains the Australian digitized newspapers and gazettes but also many other resources such as music, diaries, magazines etc mentioned in the following categories.  This video on the main Explore page shows how to use information in Trove to tell a story.  Checking out the Help page gives clues to searching, navigating and the categories. It also includes links to a How To video about Trove as well as a video and notes about searching the newspapers. These are well worth the time watching to get the most out of your use of Trove.

PapersPast is the New Zealand equivalent, also run by their National Library.

Looking at the about page explains how things are divided on the website and includes a list of Maori newspapers and magazines. Looking at their Help page gives lots of tips and hints on how to get the best out of your searching on the website. Many of these hints will work for any newspaper or even Google search. On the lead newspaper page you will also find a list of the most recent papers uploaded to PapersPast website.

Tips and tricks for getting the most out of researching a newspaper

Jill: When searching for a married female do a search with maiden name and Nee. This may find marriage & engagement announcements and births of children.

Fran: I start a search with newspapers in my ancestors location and extend to cover all NZ newspapers as many places reported the same stories. Print might be better on others or additional news

Jennifer: When researching married female ancestors, search for Christian name and also ‘Mrs’

Jill: Read the info on how to search each database. They are not all the same

Maggie: Wild cards are your friends! Plus, search by place name, related surnames, events, not just by an ancestor’s name. Cast your net wide.

Sue: use Boolean logic with + and – signs when searching

Pauleen: It’s useful to search widely by place (unless it’s a big city) and topic (eg petty sessions) rather than name because sometimes the OCR just doesn’t work well.

Alona: use a surname but add in a place, or occupation as it can help narrow it down

Fiona: Remembering that not all newspapers are online and checking the library for other local newspapers

Sharn: When I search for a person with a common name I use the name and identifying information ie place or occupation i.e. John Morrison “Builder” or John Morrison “Strathfield” and then I search with initial J Morrison “Builder” etc

Jill: Throwing the word Pioneer in often helps a name plus place search

Hilary: I always narrow down my search if I can and get familiar with the local papers as others publish the same story but often shorter version

Carmel: have a list of variety of spelling for each name to be searched, substitute letters, sometimes just search the place and timeframe

Alona: don’t expect to find full names (well occasionally you might, but it is rare) – often Mr, or Mr with initials, or Mrs with husbands initials

Sue: If going to use the newspaper in a blog article, know how to use the snipping tool and to move the article under the paper name etc, Also know the direct link for the article

Angela: keep search terms simple. Simply a name or a place name. Put in my mother’s maiden name and got her music exam results for a number of years!

Fiona: Get to know your newspaper by reading a few editions to see the type of articles they were including in the paper and where different “columns” were in the newspaper to make it quicker to check for articles not OCR’d correctly

Alona: look in newspapers beyond your area of searching, as news was often reported interstate & sometimes in different countries

Sue: When searching for convicts include the name of the ship they came over on, as this is how they are referred to in government reports etc

Pauleen: Try splitting up a name or place name because sometimes they become hyphenated to fit the column. eg I use “Prozelten” instead of “Dorfprozelten” Of course guessing the column break is the trick! AND always use the spelling in the right language.

Jill: Keep a record of the long search strings you build so that you can reuse them in a few months time when more papers come online

Irish News Archives: create offline keyword list associated with person, event or topic of interest. Use Boolean search forms for combination searching. Narrow date range into manageable groups. Test and test again…

Pauleen: Have also used the universal Elephind to find any stray mentions in other papers from around the world

Carmel: Work out where the funeral notices are in relation to the death notices in various newspapers – often these do not appear in a Trove search

Jill: Start broad then filter

Michelle: don’t just search in the country where the event happened, eg: for those with British ancestry check out other British Empire newspapers, I found a list of attendees to an 1840s Royal celebration in Sydney in an Indian newspaper

Sharn: There is a tremendous amount of LOCAL HISTORY about places our ancestors lived in newspapers. Things that happened where they lived paint a detailed picture of their lives

Information found in newspapers other than birth, death, marriages

  • Too many things to list! Newspapers have proved facts that I thought were just myth information handed down through the generations – Jill
  • Information on departures of Bavarian emigrants from Dorfprozelten to Australia in mid19th century. – Pauleen
  • The good stuff! Gossip, memories, stories, obits. Details that flesh out the vital records to really show a life – Melissa
  • Newspapers have provided details of inquests and prosecutions – Hilary
  • The actual words used by my relative in a court case after mining accident, after a robbery – Sue
  • I’ve found my ancestors being quoted, so “hearing” their voices is a gift not found in many other records – Maggie
  • Absolute tons of material. Too much to list. My GF’s lifetime involvement with sport, rugby, athletics, empire games, so many committees, debates, wedding gifts, functions attended, speeches and even some controversies – Fran
  • Wedding reports with names of guests, description of what they are wearing and a list of wedding gifts received – Jennifer
  • I have found amazing stories about ancestors in newspapers. I solved a family dispute about whether my g grandfather was accidentally killed by my grandfather’s punch or by a falling branch. The culprit, witnessed and reported, was the branch much to my relief – Sharn
  • Online newspapers provide so much information for posts to my personal and Family history group blogs. I post the family history group ones to a local Facebook page where they get lots of hits – Jill
  • So many spinetingling moments – being able to read a conversation my 3xGGrandfather had with Caroline Chisholm was one of the best. (I found it the hard way – on microfilm pre @troveaustralia – Jill
  • I discovered my ancestors body was exhumed. I hadn’t previously found any information alluding to that – Jennifer
  • an obit for a friend’s reli, which gave the full details of ship they arrived, when, where, how they travelled by bullock team from one state to another, what they farmed etc, etc. 100% gold!! – Alona
  • found my gt uncle had been born prematurely and not lived long – Hilary
  • Newspapers often announced the arrival of our immigrant ancestors in a place where they settled. I found an item that told me which house in Kaimkillenbun my Irish g grandparents first lived in – Sharn
  • birth info for a lost registration (1886) detailed descriptions of wedding guests and gifts and bride’s wedding gown going away outfit which, identified and dated a photograph (1902) – Michelle
  • Details of family events. They paint such a great picture – Sandra
  • found husband’s unknown grandmother when she claimed estate after gfather died having had no contact with family for more than 30 yrs! – Carmel
  • adverts for my 4x ggrandma’s candy store in the US – that was awesome to find – Alona
  • Details of inquests – who said what! Accident reports. Property disputes – Angela
  • found married names for women from wedding or funeral articles – Hilary
  • My mum told me a story about gold coins being stolen from the family house. Found a newspaper article that mentioned it. Was a lot earlier than I thought it was – Sandra
  • I check the old weather reports when writing up family events. Can add context to stories – Jill
  • Name Changes were often announced in Newspapers and often the only way to find people. I found my g uncle changed his name from Rex Morley Hoyes to Rex Morley – Morley to Viscompt Fessenden Charles Rex de Borenden – Sharn
  • I discovered my GGgmother remarried and had a triple wedding with the groom’s two daughters – Jennifer
Mary’s evidence

What newspapers are online, where to find them and others you might need?

Always check your local library and national library. They often have others digitized but not on Trove. Usually only need your library card to use them for free.

Have an unidentified newspaper clip you have inherited? Try this tip from Jill

I find that you can often identify where undated old clippings come from by entering a sentence into Google or Trove

Post from Pauleen about searching German newspapers

Post from Legacy News about navigating newspaper research – read comments as well for more links

Readers: How have newspapers helped flesh out the stories of your ancestors?