Starting to research family in Australia?

OpenClipart-Vectors / Pixabay

The following are the questions from the chat.

  1. What key records and resources do you use regularly when researching Australian ancestors?
  2. Have you found immigration records for all your ancestors who came to Australia? Suggest tips for finding immigration records.
  3. Have you found Family History or other Societies helpful with your Australian research? How did they assist with your research?
  4. It’s Census time! How do you overcome the fact that Australia did not keep census records (other than those very early ones)?

If you like keeping records using spreadsheets, Pauleen has a fantastic one listing hundreds of places to find information on family.

My most recommended website to start your search

CoraWeb began by an Australian genealogist prior to Google being about. A website which has links to hundreds of family history resources for both Australia and overseas.

Large Australian repositories:

National Archives of AustraliaGetting started then use their guides to find out more about their collections

State archives – most archives or record offices have instructions on how to search, what collections they have and how to cite any records when using in blog posts etc

Australian National University – includes Pacific Research Archives and Noel Butlin Archive Centre – business and labour records

National Film and Sound Archive – including interviews, songs etc

National Library of Australia – Getting started, applying for a library card to use with e-resources

Magazine article from WDYTYA about researching Aussie heritage

Researching your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage

State Library of Western Australia – has great family history section

Queensland Family History Society has some fantastic links

Overseas repositories with Australian records:

Ancestry – Australian collections online

FindMyPast – blog post listing some Aussie records they have, list of record sets for Australia and New Zealand

Family search – their wiki with Aussie records, list of records they have

Newspapers 

Ryerson Index – death notices from papers and recently digital papers – mainly NSW

Trove – newspapers and gazettes – great for helping fill in gaps and telling stories of your ancestors but also check out other categories in Trove

Other useful websites

Find and Connect – orphanages, children’s homes and institutions

Cyndi’s List – based in USA but has a section on Aussie records

Judy Webster has links to many Australian resources

Andrew wrote about resources in New South Wales

ElasticComputeFarm / Pixabay

Comments from the chat regarding immigration, census and societies:

For German immigration to Australia in 19th century you must look at Jenny Paterson’s articles in Burwood FHS’s journal Ances-Tree. Combined with Kopittke indexes they’re gold.

My top tip is check passenger lists at departure AND arrival ports. I know that it’s often said that only arrival ports kept records, but this is not universal. I’ve find out outgoing passenger lists on FindMyPast & matching incoming lists for Fremantle at NAA

I agree Brooke. Depending on the years, lists for ports stopped at en route back to Oz. I also use the PROV records for inbound & outbound unassisted pax to compare it’s assisted immigration lists. Board Immigrant Lists have more detail than Agent Immigrant Lists which are what’s online.

Good tip Brooke @BrookeWooldy I found immigration records from point of departure for Scotland and with more info than we would have here

I found them on Scotlands People Brooke. They have some for those escaping the highland clearances

Land records in Victoria include a huge amount of information incl letters and personal info

I think land administration records come in useful here too….land was often granted as part of the migration package.

a lot of cemetery records have been indexed by societies, so check out the source when you’re looking at the Big Genies and see where the records came from.

I think not having census records encourages us to move beyond just one record set and learn more ways of discovering information.

I think we all just accepted that we had no census records Pauleen and when we got back to England or Scotland where they do it was a bonus!

What about the information found in Australian Wills? They can give a huge amount of information.

And sometimes property deeds eg those available on the List in Tas. I was thrilled to find a trust deed which listed all the children in birth order including my ggf for whom there is no birth/baptism record

And I was only trying to find out when he had to sell his land!

Some Wills are amazing Jennifer. But others are just plain boring unfortunately. I love the Will writers who wrote pages and pages and listed everything and everyone!

Electoral rolls are Australia’s answer to the Census. Of course its not as good as the census but beggars can’t be choosers. Post Office Directories can be very helpful too.

as frustrating as it is to have very limited availability of early census data, we have the benefit of electoral rolls which occurred more regularly and with women able to vote earlier. Also post office directories can be a help.

When I visit the reading room in Hobart Library to do research, I always ask have they got a file out the back on the family I want. Files contain replies from archivists to questions from their clients often prior to digitization.

naturalisation records can help with learning where your ancestors came from. An important difference from USA is that they only apply to non-British immigrants, so you won’t find Irish there.

Many societies are help people doing research in Australia especially when you see the records, books, index’s and loads available though I would add that the personal touch of someone that knows the resources, Australian research, etc is a fairy godmother.

societies have helped me with archives that contain other people’s research. It often has to be checked, but it contains clues.

Check for indexes on local societies where ancestors lived, read the newsletters/magazines issued by local societies

I don’t have any First Nations ancestry so all my Australian ancestors had to come from somewhere else, so my no.1 resource is shipping records: free & convict.

Remember the days when we would write to a person who had researched our family and include a self addressed envelope with a stamp? Seems so long ago now

Consider checking the crew list and not just the passenger records when looking for people.

Great tip Fran I’ve found a few on the crew list including an absconder when they arrived in Australia

I’ve had quite a lot of success with Biographical Database of Australia with my pre 1840’s arrivals – a lot more records added in recent years

Some of the early hospital records have all sorts of fascinating info like the ship they came on, who is their “next of kin” etc. Of course Murphy has his say and the one you want might not have survived.

I found a troubling statement in a Children’s Home Index, and followed up on Trove. Horrific abuse was all retold from a courtcase in the newspaper. I haven’t shared the info with many.

Sometimes it is OK to share hardship and horrible events so that we can better understand our ancestors social context and lives. You could leave out names so it is about the history and not the person. Mind you depends on what exactly happened.

Knowing about the event did help understand the person- but leaving out names wouldn’t be an option in explaining it really. I have got the info on file but am so wary of sharing it.

I can understand your reluctance to #Share. Once something is said it’s not possible to ‘unsaid’ it. Alternatively, knowing information about our #ancestors even when extremely difficult to process can help us understand our own place in the world.

I have found Family History Societies to be invaluable. I visit them whenever I am travelling to an ancestral place. Local History Societies are equally valuable resources along with libraries

Fran has mentioned that Trove also has references to people who moved across the Ditch to NZ or back. Worth the NZers looking at Trove as we should with Papers Past.

most of the State libraries have a list of suitable resources for their state such as this one in SA slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/fa…

many indexes were developed by volunteers from societies and archives. In my research I’ve always found interesting things to learn about immigration by attending classes. Listening to and learning from others is a big help. Academic books are helpful too.

military, war service;, churches attended and donations made; hospital, asylum and orphanage records; court & jail records; govt and police gazettes; petitions.

Yes don’t forget our wonderful military records. The Australian War Memorial even has battalion diaries online

MichaelGaida / Pixabay

I have also found local history societies great too. I have paid for some research particularly when newspapers haven’t been digitised on Trove. Local libraries often have great local history rooms too and volunteers to help.

@FamilySearch is one of the main sources I use for passenger records. Although a google search for records groups or individuals have indexed can help find some travellers.

Libraries and especially their Local Studies sections are such an important resource Alex! One I use frequently (when they are not in Lockdown)

I am interested in the answer to Q2 because I am yet to pin down immigration records for some of my husband’s Australian immigrants

Have you checked the immigration records at PROV for entry to Australia? prov.vic.gov.au

Found loads of information on Trove, NSW State Archives, Ancestry.com.au, Archives NZ and more recently the British Newspaper Archive. Also death certificate transcriptions were helpful as they often give the “years in the colony”.

My great aunt died in an asylum. There was a report in the paper. Even stranger, another woman with the same name also died in the same asylum. Difficult working out which one was which.

most of my ancestry is from England, however some distant relatives did move to Australia, after finding B/M/D records the first place I check is @TroveAustralia Trove is just so valuable esp for Family Notices and other unexpected articles

I’ve found that most of my families inquests have been reported in the newspaper so def check Trove

most of the State libraries have a list of suitable resources for their state such as this one in SA slsa.sa.gov.au/collections/fa…

Trove, Ancestry.com.au, NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, local libraries, state libraries of QLD and NSW, NSW State Archives, British Newspaper Archive, NZ Archives, family history certificate transcribers, pers. comm. with family members

Immigration. Inquest files, Land records, Trove, Victoria birth deaths & Marriages, Linc Tasmania, Wills, PROV (Vic archives), Ancestry, FindaGrave, just to start with a few

Worth nothing that for deaths where there was an inquest, the person’s name may not have been registered in the civil death registers.

That’s interesting. For any particular state or the whole country? I was told by NSW that they did not keep the inquest documents so I was unable to research my great grand fathers brothers death in NSW via the inquest. I have the death date from announcements.

Trying to remember but I think that’s correct Fran. Each state archive can have different types of documents preserved, News stories are generally fairly reliable when it comes to legal cases.

thanks for mentioning libraries and personal communication – both very important.

Link to Libraries Tasmania, use the family history portal and also the archives portal. In each of those there are more portals to check libraries.tas.gov.au/Pages/Home.aspx

Link to Tasmanian Names Index from Tassie libraries.tas.gov.au/family-history… Click on right, put in search area name you are looking for

Tasmanian Names Index TNI includes BMD up to 1900, convict records, wills, arrivals, departures, health and welfare, some employment records

most of my immigrants were convicts or free settlers in the 1840s or thereabouts. info found on the TNI online

I was lucky to find my ancestor in an Equity Case in which the defendant referred to him by name, gave his occupation, and said they’d known each other in Bavaria.

ooh immigration records – yes quite a few. Mostly in Queensland through State Archives. My father did very well finding some down in Victoria too. From memory convict records or death certificates might record the ship they came out on. Gravestones too.

I have found all but 1. George Kunkel was a swimmer it seems. Immigration records NSW and Qld, PROV immig for comparison, Immig Deposit Journals (IDJs), Board lists show more detail. Disposal lists, Trove and diaries for the journey.

I discovered a great aunt had died on the Ryerson Index. No one had told me!

Ryerson is fabulous for pinning down those who’ve died in more recent years! And then the notices themselves will give descendants and married names for daughters.

I use electoral rolls, immigration records, directories, church archives, convict records, newspapers, telephone books among others. Some I find online and others are at archives and libraries

Readers: What are some of your favourite Australian sites to use for research?

 

Women and work

So often in family history, it is the women who are hard to trace.

  1. What types of occupations did your female ancestors and relatives have? Did they work in the same jobs before and after marriage?
  2. Were women in your family employed in the same occupation over several generations? What socio/economic factors contributed to this?
  3. Were any of the single/widowed females in your family the sole breadwinners? Did they own or operate a business?
  4. What resources have you found useful for researching women in the workforce? Have you found any women with interesting occupations?

Many of our answers covered more than one question this week, so I am just going to write under one heading

Working women in your family

There were no doubt some @BadBridget among the immigrants/emigrants but equally many worked hard to set themselves up in independence. Also they were often the leaders in Irish migration – unlike other countries!

Margaret: quite a few of mine signed the 1893 Suffrage Petition including my grandma and great grandma

Lots of nuns in our Catholic families most of whom became teachers, was a respectable alternative to marriage, one unmarried sister usually stayed at home to care for elderly parents until death

Nuns had occupations when married women had to stay home. I guess that was the choice.

Dara found ‘Histories’ about the convent that described a Nun’s character and life in great detail. Lovely find

Margaret R said you have just reminded me we have some great Nun’s records in our family. One died basically of working too hard caring for those suffering from influenza in 1918. @iwikiwichick and I found her grave.

Sharn’s great aunt test flew spitfires in Hampshire during WW2

Paula’s great grandmother worked in the jute mills in Dundee. Dundee and particularly Lochee at that time was very much dominated by females. As they could earn more it was sometimes the men who stayed at home.

  • Famberry’s great grandmother had to work farmland to look after 3 children and 2 adopted children, after her husband died. Survived by selling parts of the land. (An acre for £4).
  • Jane:  Eliza operated the lighthouse with her husband from 1884 to 1886 when he died unexpectedly and then on her own to 1887 when she died age 59. She had had a hard life – grew up in a Buckinghamshire workhouse after effectively being orphaned … Mother died a year after her father was transported to Australia
  • Frances: One of my 3x great-grandmothers has been referred to as a baby farmer! She has taken in an illegitimate child and was paid for her upkeep. But there’s no evidence of baby farming, just the one little girl rebelhand.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/a-c…
  • KLor: my grandmother had such beautiful skin she was hired as a model to sell soap. Pre-TV, this involved sitting on a chair on a conveyor belt as people looked at her through the shop window.
  • Lena: In Germany there was the female teacher celibacy from 1880 to 1919. Teachers were public officials. When they married they lost their entitlement for their pension.
  • Fran: most of the UK census data for my female ancestors have no roles before or after marriage so it is very had to say. For the generation before me, my mother and aunts kept working in sewing factories after marriage. I always had the latest bathers.
  • Sue A: Women’s work is under recorded on UK censuses before and after marriage. Earlier census more likely to record women’s occupation, later ones enumerators were instructed not to. Lots of female ag labs vanished as a result
  • Mr Cassmob’s ancestor was in the news and police gazettes for being drunk and disorderly. She was a Famine Orphan so perhaps a form of PTSD?
  • Sylvia: Textile weavers in 19thC Lancashire cotton mills. My mother was able to break away & became a teacher.
  • Pauleen: I have single cousins who were in the army or similar, but not married women. Mum worked as a volunteer aircraft spotter. cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2020/04/25/vol…
  • Sharn: My g g g grandmother a free Irish woman married to a convict ran a brothel in Phillip Street in Sydney. She was frequently arrested and in the news
  • Paula: In my family tree widows seemed to marry again fairly quickly. In some cases gaining a few extra children to look after in the process.
  • Sue: My great grandfather died in Nov 1914, one month after his son was born. His wife then worked the farm with her chn for many years, then moved between her three girls houses in Longford and Hobart
dghchocolatier / Pixabay

Carmel: a widowed gt gt grandmother migrated with 3 young sons and established a farm, the purchase of the land was in her name.

Karen: My great grandmother’s husband deserted her and left her to look after several children on her own. I don’t know how she survived. Bit of a mystery.

ANZ: Yes so many women had a hard time when their husbands disappeared – one of mine waited 20 years before declaring him dead and taking over the property

Pauleen: My 2xgreat grandmother Bridget McSharry nee Furlong worked as a boarding house keeper after her husband died or disappeared. Financially challenging times. My great grandmother Emily Melvin supported her husband after his bankruptcy and jail.

Helen: Running a ‘house of ill fame’ (a most interesting woman to research!)

Dara: Wow! One of my great-grandfather’s cousins – all the daughters were on the game. very sad, all due to poverty, left me with very many ‘DNA cousins’ who don’t know their paternal line.

  • Sharn: My great grandmother’s husband ran off with a bar maid. She took over their green grocery store in the Valley, Brisbane. She claimed to be the first female fruiterer in Brisbane.
  • Jennifer: I know of one single breadwinner. My gg gfather’s sister was school mistress in Scotland, following the tradition of position being filled by family members. First her grandfather, then her father, followed by 2 brothers. She took over when a brother died
  • Pauleen: My 3xgreat g’mother Catherine Happ inherited her family’s hundreds year old Bavarian inn. Of course her husband then became the official innkeeper.
  • Margaret R: When my grandmother was widowed with 6 children, some still preschool, it seemed mainly they survived by using the bit of land they had for a cow they milked, and growing lots of vegetables
  • Dara: On my Mam’s side, they continued with ‘the shop’ after their husband died. My grandfather, who knew he had a weak heart, reopened a shop with my Granny before he died, so she would have an income afterwards
  • Hilary: my gt grandfather’s brother died before his wife who I believe ran a fruit and vegetable shop looking at the records it was probably her business rather than his
  • Shauna: Sadly a number of my female ancestors were widowed and they usually fell on hard times or remarried quickly. Mostly my families were poor so no businesses to run.
  • Sharn: My 3rd great aunt was widowed when she had a 4 year old son. She worked first as a tailoress and later owned and operated a green grocery store in Ipswich Suffolk. Her sister my ancestor also widowed came to Australia
  • Sharn: My Scottish females all worked in the cotton industry in Glasgow because that was what was near the coal mines their husbands worked in
  • Dara: My great-grandmother was a musician, after her first husband died. She played piano and violin at the silent movies. Initially she probably had to take it up to pay for their keep, but there is certainly less pleasant work. Unusually, there is a census record that she worked outside the home after (2nd) marriage.
  • Famberry: Mainly nursing but one relative worked in a cake/tea shop, which explains my love of cakes.
klimkin / Pixabay

Shauna: My great grandmother was a deaconess in her church but she was only referred to as Mrs Thomas Price in the annual reports

Sue: One of my great great great grandmothers had a boarding lodge in Evandale and there was mention of a murder there in 1861 nla.gov.au/nla.news-artic…

Shauna: When I joined the Queensland Public Service in March 1974 men were still moaning about how women were now getting equal pay. Somehow they thought I should have been in the typing pool.

Helen: Australian women in the Commonwealth Public Service had to give up their jobs once they married until 1966! Outrageous!

  • Margaret B: It was my generation! My cousin retired from teaching at 55. Then she went back as a relief teacher. But she had plenty to occupy herself. I retired at 50 and have never been busier. Just don’t get paid for my work.
  • Paula: My ancestors took whatever jobs they could find. Sometimes that might involve leaving home. It’s only recent generations who have had choices I think
  • Shauna: My mother worked at Freer’s Chips (not far from where we lived) Fridays were wonderful when she came home with a mega big bag of chips that somehow never made it into packets
  • Jill: My mother worked in the Post Office in the country as a telephonist. When she moved to Sydney she worked in the GPO.
  • Pauleen: Working as dressmakers was common between female siblings. Occupations were frequently determined by the family’s circumstances eg if they had a farm or a business. With large families extra income was helpful. Education beyond primary school a luxury.
  • Shauna: Coming from a long line of miners, jobs were mostly to do with the mines, tin in Cornwall and coal in the Midlands. It is easy to see why Australia was attractive to emigrants
  • Carmel: Once my grandmother’s husband died in the 1919 flu she had to give up the farm and work in casual jobs to support her 6 children, milking a cow and had the young boys sell the milk, later in life always worked a housekeeper for Catholic priests
  • Daniel: I’d say Farmer’s Wife is all I had seen… I had a few domestic servants, some kept it on after they married but farmer’s wife is primarily what I’d seen.
  • Jane: Mainly ‘unpaid domestic duties’ or equivalent after marriage … otherwise, lace makers, servants …
  • Shauna: I think farmer’s wives probably did everything – worked the farm, looked after the kids, did the housework and everything else – a hard life then as now – my farmer went insolvent after his wife died and the kids were split up
  • Margaret: My cousins worked as nurses, teachers and dental nurses. One served in WWII. Those that had children gave up working, those who didn’t worked until they retired.
  • Dara: A significant number of my mother’s female ancestors had a grocery shop. Of course, they were always labeled the ‘wife of a XX’ in official records

Sue: One of my Irish convict ancestors said she was a nursemaid on her convict records but naturally didn’t follow that once she was here in Tasmania

Pauleen: I’ve seen some early Irish immigrants get jobs as nursemaids, presumably because of being older children in big families – don’t imagine all had been employed in the “big houses” before they left.

Margaret R: Have just remembered a very sad tale about a 2X great-aunt who was ‘licensed out’ from a children’s home when her father deserted, and she was horribly abused. Court case was in Trove. As a child she would have been doing domestic work.

Jennifer: My grandmother worked in a factory until she was 70. They gave her a retirement send off when she reached retirement age. She went back to work next day saying she had no intention of retiring.

pasja1000 / Pixabay
  • ANZ: I’m not sure what my ancestors did in the 18th and 19th centuries. Bur Elizabeth Phipps was a Cotton Spinner in London prior to transportation in 1813.
  • Helen: Unfortunately one of my female ancestors has all sorts of records associated with her that list dressmaker/laundress (police record, industrial school records), so I do know
  • Karen: Domestic servants and later homemakers, mostly. Some farmers’ wives. My great grandmother’s sister was a printmaker/artist’s model. I think their mother had a small shop but still trying to find out about that.
  • Sharn: My great great grandmother gave up nursing to accompany her wayward tenor singing husband on piano. I don’t imagine her parents were pleased
  • Carmel: several were farmers’ wives but would only have been ready for this 365 day a year role if they had grown up on a farm themselves. My mother worked in a small town shop before becoming a farmer’s wife.
  • ANZ: I’ve done a little research on a relative who was a nurse, did private nursing in Italy before the First World War, then came back to work in England. She’s a fascinating character. Involved in London theatre as well
  • Margaret R: My Aunty was a nurse, but I have found her very hard to research. In electoral rolls she is mostly listed as spinster, only occasionally as a nurse!
  • Pauleen: There’s similarity between my women ancestors and relatives: railway gatekeepers , station Mistresses, dressmakers or embroidery/lacemaking, farmer’s daughters and shop assistants in family business
  • Jennifer: Most of my female ancestors were domestic servants. My gg grandmother took in washing, even though I’m sure she had enough of her own. She had 11 children at the time! Her husband described her to his family as a “good hardworking wife”
  • Fran: Servants, factory workers, dressmaker, drapers apprentice, Ag lab. Nothing that exciting except for Mabel Dawson who worked on the stage in shows. Played instruments.
  • Sue: Know mum worked as a clerical assistant sending out Hydro accounts before marriage, then did lots of volunteer work with the Girl Guides
Skitterphoto / Pixabay

Resources to use

  • Wonderful to visit museums and see just how some occupations were carried out and the conditions they worked under.
  • Paula visited the Verdant Works museum and seeing the type of work her great granny would have done in the jute factories and the life she would have lead was really fascinating
  • I have found odd things in the @ArchivesNZ & @PapersPastNZ by just searching a name. Eg teachers, nurses and public servants.
  • When it comes to women and work in our families we have to be very lateral in our searching – there are opportunities out there, but they’re not just the routine paths necessarily.
  • Margaret has a book she won about NZ Colonial Businesswomen. Written by a NZer now elsewhere.
  • Maggie mentioned a fascinating insight into female businessowners is Catherine Bishop’s Women Mean Business: Colonial businesswomen in New Zealand otago.ac.nz/press/books/ot…
  • Sharn has only one book about female ancestors’ occupations and that is Margaret Ward’s book Female Occupations
  • Similar answers to last week: academic articles, published diaries & letters (both personal and to papers) often give an interesting insight into what life was like. Insights into more recent women’s lives from oral history collections. My ancestors were dull!
  • Karen recommends Trove, Ancestry.com, NSW State Archives, Local libraries, State libraries, National Trust properties. Most interesting is probably artist’s model and printmaker.
  • Sharn found this article written by The Social Historian to be interesting thesocialhistorian.com/womens-occupat…
  • Sue mentioned some convict employment records are now available online in the Tasmanian Names Index

  • Carmel mentioned there is an excellent collection of letters by female emigrants to Aust, NZ in the AJCP via Trove where many of them describe their working conditions. Letterbooks of the Female Middle Class Emigration Society, 1862 – 1882 nla.gov.au/nla.obj-77025
  • Tara mentioned one of the general resources I found on life in Dublin – you might have seen it before Dublin 1756-1847 logainm.ie/Eolas/Data/IHT…
  • Fran: Many roles talked about today have women doing jobs that “don’t count”. If you are interested in following this up a place to start is “If Women Counted” by Marilyn Warning. It’s regarded as the “founding document” of the discipline of feminist economics.
  • Another from Carmel: “If women counted” by Marilyn Waring available on Archive.org
  • Tara: the @BadBridget podcast (worth listening to) acknowledges that and the role of women’s remittances in assisting migration of other family members and maintaining/supporting remaining family noted.
  • Pauleen: Electoral rolls after franchise, news stories about their community activities, marriage certificates, parish registers, oral history, heirlooms (sewing machine), Post Office directories, books about type of work and conditions
  • Maggie: Margaret Ward’s book, Female Occupations: Women’s Employment 1850-1950, is a useful resource for understanding various jobs women undertook to earn a living
  • Shauna: government gazettes are a useful resources for tracing female teachers or anyone working in a government position. Each Australian state published their own and digitised copies can be found online
  • Helen: I downloaded a dataset of probate records from @PRO_Vic, extracted subset of records for occupation ‘farmer’, then analysed ratio of female to male (no surprises). I like seeing the big picture. Hence earlier question
  • Fran: Many mothers and grandmothers served in WW2 in both the army and the RAAF – many records can be found at the National Archives of Australia

  • Many people mentioned Visible Farmer website https://www.visiblefarmer.com/
  • Maggie: I’ve come across lots of advertisements in newspapers for women offering services, dressmaking, laundering, etc. Great way to find out how they earned a living
  • Sue: Maybe we need to look more carefully at marriage certificates and census/electoral roll to see if the women are more than spinster or full age or minor age and add to their profiles on Ancestry or our trees
  • Margaret B: When the family were in Scotland there were a few servants both domestic and agricultural according to the Census. Some were very young when they left home. And some were still working when quite old.
  • Helen: On my GGG grandmother’s probate record she is described as a farmer, I think because farm land was owned in her name. Whether she was involved with farming I don’t know. Her death cert said ‘spinster’ but the probate told another story.
  • Fran: I do have a few female head of households in UK & Wales census data however they do not seem to have different roles than before. Might be the husbands are just away.
  • Sue: University of Sydney have a research group about women and work sydney.edu.au/business/our-r…
  • Sue: Information from International Labour Organization about women and work, more what is happening now but looks at all countries ilo.org/infostories/en…
  • Sue: Some interesting reading about history of women and work in the US but would be similar to industrialised nations around the world brookings.edu/essay/the-hist…
  • Helen: For some nurses in the family I’ve found evidence of their having taken nursing exams in @TroveAustralia
Berzin / Pixabay

Some great comments and conversations

Helen: Recently did a family history project for a friend and I was DETERMINED to fill in the considerable blanks for the women (and I always search for evidence for babies born and died between censuses in UK research, which so many leave out in Ancestry trees).

Pauleen: Isn’t it interesting how one person’s comments triggers off memories or thoughts of our own families.

Jennifer: Sure is. I’ve been thinking about all my frustrations with bank managers over the years.

Pauleen: You can readily see how women whose husbands weren’t as egalitarian would have potential problems especially if they were divorced or deserted, even today.

Jennifer: I experienced it up until recently as a business owner partnered with my husband. In the end I did all the bank negotiations. Had to convince the bank that, yes I may be female, but yes I do know what I’m talking about. as I’d done all financials for 3 decades

Tara: Very struck by today’s discussion that ANZ women seemed to have greater public knowledge/acknowledgement of their economic role than their European sisters.

Shauna: I’ve done a lot of reading on baby farmers and backyard abortionists – that reveals just how desperate some women were and how other women took advantage/helped them out

Fran: When I think about owning a business many of my male ancestors were watchmakers and lived above the shop. Perhaps the family (wives & daughters) did plenty of unpaid work serving in the shop. So hard to know unless someone wrote a journal or perhaps a letter.

Tara: really difficult to tell in Ireland, often marriage records removed any ref to woman’s occupation (respectability), knowledge after marriage often oral. English ancestors, only one had known occupation after marriage: Inn keeper.

Pauleen: Similar here Tara. I love that my Irish 2xgreat g’mother from Co Clare put “farmer” on the electoral roll here. Fair enough too – she’d helped to clear the land and establish the farm while he worked on the railways.

Tara: Some of the oral histories I collected for my thesis last year recorded the sheer amount of farm work their mother’s did. It would be more accurate to describe these women as farmers in their own right. Often father absent (cattle dealer, champion ploughman)

Sharn: When my great grandmother married Tara they lived on a banana farm. She always called herself a farmer

Tara: I wonder what the difference was Sharn – from the records I’ve seen, those oral histories, and my own family, that attitude wouldn’t have been common in Ireland. Perhaps more liberated from Victorian notions of “respectability”

Karen: One of my late grandfathers was proud that his wife did not have to work. He felt women going to work was a problem. Many women in the 1950s automatically lost their jobs when they became pregnant. Attitudes have changed.

Pauleen: Back in the day men sometimes saw it as a negative reflection on their earning capacity if their wives had to go out to work. Potential study and careers were sacrificed.

Pauleen: Married or single or widowed or deserted, paid employment or not, they were almost always involved in volunteer community or church activities as well as home dressmaking/knitting etc. Their hands were never idle. And the responsibility for large families

Paula: My female ancestors were in poorly paid work. Jute workers , bleachfield workers (I didn’t know what that was), pottery worker, farm labourer, domestic servant. After marriage it was all about having and looking after children. Some big families.

Pauleen: I imagine they’d have suffered some ill health after some of those jobs especially bleachfield workers.

Allie: Based on the Irish linen industry, I -think- a bleachfield worker laid cloth out to bleach in the sun. Some chemicals were involved, particularly later on, but I’m not sure if that was part of the same job. There’s a bleach green in our local folk park nmni.com/our-museums/Ul…

Fran: I think that some times it was the “place” they lived that meant they were employed in the same occupation. They may have moved to places with jobs in the industrial rev. period. Lack of transport meant you worked locations near to where you lived. I assume it depends how poor they are & opportunities available. Have found related families moved over time so having relatives at the new place would help get jobs, contacts for accommodations, etc. Though then the male role is usually dominant.

Readers: How do you find out about the lives of your female ancestors? What occupations have they had?