Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shake your family tree


Last month I attended the National Archives “Shake your family tree” event at the Victorian Archives Centre.  This is an annual event held in major Australian cities each year.
A number of presentations held all around the country are now available as webcasts
These include the Melbourne presentation:   Destination Australia
A practical introduction to the NAA website, Destination: Australia. Discover photographs of your post-war migrant ancestors in the Archives’ collection, and share your stories.
Other wbecasts include:  Record Matching – linking your family with the past
Record Matching, a new technology created by MyHeritage, is designed to automatically find historical records for your family trees from its growing collection of billions of records.
A diverse nation – lives and experiences of post-war migrants:  a panel session chaired by Karen Middleton, SBS journalist, sharing panel members’ experiences of making a new life.
Land of tomorrow: Discover your family’s migration records held by the National Archives

Exhibitors for the Melbourne event included the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies, Koorie Heritage Trust, Immigration Museum, State Library of Victoria Genealogy Centre, Genealogical Society of Victoria, National Archives of Australia, Public Records Office Victoria and Preservation, Imaging services from the NAA and the Find and Connect Project.  Experts were happy to chat and provide advice to family history researchers.
I attended a number of presentations including: “Secret histories; Vandemonians in Victoria” by Professor Janet McCalman who spoke about the “Founders and Survivors project”.  It aims to record and study the founding population of 73,000 men women and children who were transported to Tasmania.  She reminded us that in many families knowledge of a convict in the ancestry is unknown because many went to great efforts to cover up their past and not speak of it, even to their own children.  What happened to the convicts who left the penal system?  Where did they go?  Of a sample of 4803 men transported between 1812 and 1849, 43% of these have been traced to their deaths.  It is believed that more than half of convicts who completed their sentences left Tasmania, with Victoria being the most significant destination.  There are many stories of what happened to these men and women still waiting to be discovered.
Susie Zada’s presentation “I’ll think of something” was a timely reminder to not get caught up so much in the wealth of online databases and records which are so easily accessible, especially for our Victorian research.  It is a good idea to look at your research and evaluate what is missing and make sure you understand the records you are looking at and do not take things for granted.  Susie illustrated her talks with examples from her own experiences and reminded us that every now and then researchers need to stop – think –read – and learn.

The final seminar I attended after lunch “Finding and Connecting – ancestors who were “in care” as children related to the web project findandconnect.gov.au.  This site essentially curates content already in the public domain.  It has become a key resource for “Forgotten Australians” and former child migrants and anyone with an interest in the history of out of home care in Australia.  This site does not provide details on individuals nor is a research service.  A potted history was presented.  The influx of Melbourne’s population during the gold rush era also saw an increase in neglected and criminalised children in the community.  
Plenty’s Selina Sutherland  was referenced as a leader in the community who made an effort to help these children.  The browse by location feature (in each state)  is a good way to find information about organisations.  The site welcomes your feedback and any extra information you can provide. The “Ask a question” link on each page is a good way to learn more if what you are after is not already on the site.
I finished the day with a behind-the-scenes tour of the Victorian Archives Centre, with a small group of people.  We were able to get a feel for the huge storage area for the many paper based records that have been turned over to the State Government Archive over the years,  including viewing the small digitisation studio used to digitisation the more popular records. Learn more about their digitisation program  

Look out for this annual free event early next year.  The Archives Centre is a terrific venue with plenty of free parking.  A free showbag was also on offer and it did not take a lot of time to be served at the onsite cafĂ© for lunch.   I personally thought that the numbers in attendance were fairly low, so please consider putting this event in your diary next year. 

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