Saturday, 31 August 2013

Geniaus' Blogger Geneameme

Jill over at Geniaus has created a bloggers' geneameme: a questionnaire which bloggers are filling in to share their processes with others and generate discussion. You can find the questions here.
What are the titles and URLs of your genealogy blog/s?
Do you have a wonderful "Cousin Bait" blog story? A link to a previous blog post might answer this question. 
Sadly not yet, but I hope one day that will change! So far my online Ancestry tree has proved far and to be my most successful cousin bait.
Why did you start blogging? Is there someone who inspired you to start blogging?
I'm the only person in my immediate family who is 'into' genealogy, and I don't get to share the excitement of new discoveries with others. I also wanted to document phases of my research, as well as get starters on write-ups for my ancestors. 
How did you decide on your blog/s title/s?
Initially the blog title was a play on my first name, because it was all about my personal genealogy. However, I soon realised that both the way I wrote and the type of things I wanted to include were really shaped by my age group, and I thought that might be something which would make sense as well as allowing me to contribute to a particular kind of discussion in the genealogy world.
Do you ever blog from mobile devices? What are they?
No,  unless you count my laptop.
How do you let others know when you have published a new post?
Via Twitter.
How long have you been blogging?
Only a few months.
What widgets or elements do you consider essential on a genealogy blog? 
An email contact form, so cousins who don't wish to 'comment' can get in touch!
What is the purpose of your blog/s? Who is your intended audience?
Sharing discoveries and processes, plus sharing the younger (haha) person's perspective on genealogy. My audience is people who don't fear profanity and pop culture. ;)
Which of your posts are you particularly proud of?
This one here. It's a cracking story about my discovery that my great-grandfather was not the grand auld Scot we'd all been lead to believe, and I'd like to think I did it justice.
How do you keep up with your blog reading?
With difficulty!! There's so much stuff coming in all the time.
What platform do you use for publishing your blog/s?
What new features would you like to see in your blogging software?
A "follow me on Twitter" widget. There was one, but it now wants a URL link to work, not the HTML coding which Twitter provide.
Which of your posts has been the most popular with readers?
 This one here on Ethical Dilemmas I have faced with heirlooms.
Are you a sole blogger or do you contribute to a shared blog?
It's just me! No-one else is willing to accept responsibility. ;)
How do you compose your blog posts?
I park my arse on the couch, stare at the screen and think "Oh shit! It's the weekend again. I really should blog something!!" Not very inspired as an approach, but I hope to get better.
Do you have any blogs that are not genealogy related? If you wish please share their titles and URLs.
No. I can hardly keep up with this one! 
Have you listed your blog/s at Geneabloggers?
No. I worry my language will scare them.  If  you're thinking "well don't swear then", sorry, I can't do that. I don't swear at work (kids) and I don't swear at home (more kids). I don't swear with family (oldies) and I don't swear with friends (they all have kids). I tried typing this with no swearing, but it appears that was just one no-swearing too far! Blame the sailors in my family!!
Which resources have helped you with your blogging?
None spring to mind. 
What advice would you give to a new Geneablogger?
Just get started! You can always tweak it later if you change direction. As the saying goes, "A year from now you'll wish you had started it today".

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Celebrating National Family History Month like a Belieber: GenYalogy

Welcome to any new readers who have joined me after reading the wonderful article about Stereotyping in Genealogy by the good folks at Gould Genealogy.

As some of you will have picked up, among other things I am a teacher, and each year I teach a four week unit to year 9s (14 year olds) on family history. This year it just happened to coincide with National Family History Month, which was pretty good timing! Although it's slightly off topic in that it's not pertaining to my family, I thought some readers might be interested in hearing about the experience of working with the really young'uns on their genealogy, and how I've come to be probably the only teacher in the southern hemisphere who refers to Elizabeth Shown Mills in class!

Anything to get them to stop talking about this guy!

The kids undertake this as part of a compulsory unit, so there's a whole range of abilities and motivation levels on the go each year.

1) Preparing the kids

Being a persnickity old cow rather particular about things being done properly, I begin the unit by getting kids to fill in both a pedigree chart and a family group sheet, explaining the relevant conventions for how they are to be filled in. This may seem counter-intuitive, but there's a couple of reasons. One is that it gets them talking amongst themselves about what they know about their families, one is that it encourages good habits (how many of us had to go back and redo sections of our early genealogical efforts because they weren't 'done right'?) and finally it is how we approach everything else! That's also when I hand out the assignment sheet as the kids need time to organise visits to grandparents, rummages in the cupboards for their family's archives etc. I supply a load of useful weblinks as well.

2) Now for the 'story'

As people who write about engaging newbies in genealogy always identify, everyone loves to think that their family will have some great stories. It's at this point I show one (or two, time permitting) episodes of WDYTYA, to show the kids how they can use records to discover a story. Sometimes I use the Paul Mercurio episode, sometimes the Shaun Micallef one, depending on my class. If I get a boys' class I'd consider doing Ron Barassi or Michael O'Loughlin. I think one thing that show almost always shows really clearly is the connection between interviewing relatives, finding records, and developing the family narrative, then sharing it with others, which is what I want the kids to do.

3) "Sources" is not a dirty word

This is when I introduce the concept of sources. The kids are used to locating sources, evaluating them and referencing them, so there's a base level of understanding in place already. What they aren't used to is the range of things which constitute a source in family history, how to reference such diverse sources, and the importance of doing so even for a personal history. I show them a PowerPoint containing categories of sources, pictures of examples from my own family tree (we have quite a bit of fun with that!), how each is referenced (go EE!) and then we have a discussion about problematic sources, again with some examples from my own tree. It's about this point that we also talk about avoiding common research mistakes.

4) Time to go and apply!

The kids embark on their two week research phase while we do other classwork. When we revisit the topic, they have their sources collected. It's a special moment. Kids come in with scans of gorgeous old photos, photocopied letters and an abundance of stories which are new to them. They are always itching to share what they found with each other. We work on preparing our pedigree charts, timelines, source evaluations and a report on an area of interest which emerged in their research. Sometimes that's one branch of the family, sometimes it's an individual, sometimes it's a couple and sometimes it's a particular family unit. I assist with brick walls if anyone has identified one they are particularly keen to break down.

Like all other History assignments, there are no marks for 'pretty', only conforming to presentation conventions (eg how to structure a report, using capital letters for surnames in a pedigree chart etc.) However, the kids almost all spend hours making elaborate display folders full of their findings, because they all know by this point of the task that this is one assignment which is not going into the bin once it's marked or even at the end of the year. They all report having a great time and being fascinated by some of the stories they discovered existed in their own families. We revisit our research skills in Term Four when we apply them to finding out about a local World War 1 serviceman.

I got into genealogy because of a basic family tree I was asked to complete in year 8. I really hope that in 20 years time, at least a few of those kids are blogging a similar story to mine about how a school assignment lead to a lifelong interest in researching their family history.

No pics today, for obvious reasons, so here's a meme instead!

Saturday, 10 August 2013

My Token Canadian

Since everyone has been talking Canadian research with the release of the 1921 census, I thought I'd post about my token Canadian, Patricia MacKay. She was born in about 1889 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan* and later married to my great great uncle Werner (pronounced 'Verner') Henry McPherson.

The McPhersons were deeply patriotic when it came to WW1. All of the boys in the family enlisted and headed off to the Western Front (and, rather more remarkably, from whence they all returned alive, albeit not safe and sound). Werner had a rather distinguished war service, getting promoted to Lieutenant and winning a Military Cross for 'gallantry in action' when he cut down opposition trench wires with his machine gun while under heavy fire from the enemy. While he was away at the war, he met a young Canadian woman named Patricia M L H MacKay, and the two married in Warminster, Wiltshire in Jun 1918. He was a dashing young Australian-German-African-Scottish Apparently officer with a chestful of medals. It was summer in the northern hemisphere. The war really would be over by Christmas. I can imagine how exciting and romantic it all must have been.

What a man! What a moustache!

After the war Werner sailed to Canada with Patricia before returning to Australia to live. I'm still working on what they did, but the leading theory at the moment is that they settled in Lismore where Werner worked for a sugar refining company and was active in the local RSL.

Mac, ANZAC Day 1929, Sydney

According to Grandma, he worked for a while in Fiji. Grandma also says Werner made quite a bit of money on the Stock Exchange. I guess having your cousin as the President probably helps with that, but we won't go there!

Great-grandpa Francis, his sister Ivy, brothers Roy and Werner (seated)
Yes, they are from the branch of my family who are part African, and yes, Werner had just come back from Fiji so was on his more tanned end of the spectrum.

However, it's true as they say that money can't buy happiness. Werner's wife Patricia left him at some point and he never had a family of his own. When he died at the sadly young age of 63, he was buried with his fellow ANZACs at the Kendrew Oval at West Terrace.

It doesn't seem that things were any better for Patricia. As far as I can tell, she died of breast cancer just days after Christmas in 1967. The informant on her death certificate was one of the hospital staff, who wasn't 100% certain about a great deal of her information and registered the death some time after it took place. It gives the impression of a woman who is living with no family, and that's quite sad.

*Update: Nov 2016.
I have recently obtained Werner and Patricia's marriage certificate. Her full name was Patricia Maureen Liresay Henneker Rick, and she was born in Prince Albert to Francis Liresay Henneker Rick. She has previously been married (thus acquiring the surname MacKay).

The Brick Fortress

 Once upon a time I thought my great-grandfather was going to be my perennial brick wall. We all know about Irish records, right? I love the heroes of the Easter Rising to bits but I'd love to slap each and every one of them silly for burning all those wonderful records in the Four Courts. I'm partially right: I still haven't got any further back than his parents and siblings and working out he almost certainly was a young nationalist fleeing conflict, which had always been my suspicion.

An early photo of Great-Grandfather Patrick McDermott, taken just after his arrival from Galway.

However, it turns out since I married and begun delving into the in-laws' family, that in fact, my biggest brick wall is actually hubby's mum's family. They have presented so many obstacles that I have dubbed that line the Brick Fortress and all but given up on ever finding a solution. In fact, I have even started assembling questions to put to the Genealogy Psychic, I'm that desperate for a lead! I know, right?

So, here in no particular order are the problem people:

1) Her mother, Sheila May Smith.
Yep, Smith.
Daughter of Nellie Smith and... who? Nope, we don't know.

Column 4... Thanks a fucking bunch

Nellie Smith has proven elusive, connections to any Stanleys have been untraceable. I do know that Sheila changed her name in 1940 and that the paperwork was witnessed by her future brother-in-law, William Taylor. MIL has not shed any light on any of it and seems to have been happy to live in ignorance about her grandparents (which, frankly, I find hard to believe given she is Mrs. Nosy Questions!)

But Smith, that's something to go on with... right?

2) Her father, Kenneth Taylor.
His mother was Elsie May James. According to the records, she was born in Blinman, or Hay, in 1883, 1887 or 1890. There are no SA or NSW records even close to being her. You get where I am headed here... Elsie's unreliability with her personal information has made her very difficult to trace. One record says her father's name was Samuel, so that's the main thing I've been working on.

There are some records relating to an Elsie James, daughter of Samuel, but these are for Elsie Alice James in 1886 in Fitzroy, Victoria, daughter of Samuel Arthur James and Alice Cleak. There is an article in the paper in 1900 where Samuel A James of Warragul refers to his daughter's recent awards in music (West Gippsland Gazette, Warragul Guardian). Warragul is an hour and a half from Heyfield/Sale, the significance of which will become apparent later in this post. The general correlation of facts (father's name, approximate year, recurrence of the name "Alice" in our family) leave this at the leading possibility for our Elsie's birth, which of course leaves us with the question about why she just didn't provide that information?

Then of course there's the issue of Kenneth's father and step-father.

The step-father first: at her second marriage in 1927, Elsie gave her name as James, but the wedding was performed at Mrs. Taylor's residence. She married Walter Herbert Russell, who I believe was probably the one born at Anna Creek in 1888. The couple had one child, Colin. She then apparently moved to Broken Hill, became widowed and later returned to Blinman before following her children to Adelaide. What happened to Walter Herbert Russell? Who knows! No, I'm serious - who knows? I'd like to find out! However, what happened to him is nowhere near as mysterious as the issue of Kenneth's father.

Scandals and Suicide in the Scrub 
When I first heard anything about Mr. Taylor, it was from one of my mother-in-law's cousins. She said his name was William, and she believed he killed himself. I subsequently discovered that according to his children's birth records, he was born around 1877 in either Sale or Heyfield, worked in the Blinman area, had 6 children in 1916 and had died by Jan 1922 when Kenneth was born in Adelaide. Prior to his death he had been a station manager.
Those of you who know your SA geography will know I'm talking about a very remote part of the state which is fairly sparsely inhabited, so when I struggled to find William in Victorian records and couldn't find likely deaths in 1921, I did the sensible thing and searched Trove for likely matches - 'Taylor AND Blinman', that sort of thing. And what did I find? A whole pile of articles about this incident here: 

Holy Toledo!

This sounded quite a likely match up for our William, so I set about finding out as much as I could about the case and the William Taylor involved to see if he was our guy.

William Thomas Taylor was born in Sale around 1877. Tick. He started an affair with Mildred Maud (Milly) Roberts who had been born in 1896 in Blinman. She was the governess at Angorichina Station (in the Blinman/Beltana area) where he worked as a station manager. Tick. This was highly scandalous as he was married, and had six children. Tick. The couple caught the train south, got off at Whyte-Yarcowie, walked to the edge of the scrub about three miles from town and committed suicide by swallowing strychnine on the property "Greens", owned by John Hale, who knew Taylor from previous station work. The police buried the bodies in an undisclosed location on free ground in the Terowie Cemetery. The family were not recorded on his death certificate but are alluded to in several articles, and the fact they refused to claim his estate would seem to suggest they no longer wished to be associated with him in any way.

Case closed, right? This is Kenneth's dad fer shure!

You've all worked out the problem though, I know. Kenneth Taylor was born in 1922. This happened in 1916. Either that's the world's longest gestation or Elsie James told a BIG FAT LIE when she said William Taylor was Kenneth's father. I'm afraid that I'm going with the latter as the most likely, applying the Sherlock Holmes principle that "when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth". I know Elsie was unreliable with personal details. I know there was a huge gap before Kenneth was born. I know that she gave birth in a city 100s of kilometres from her normal place of residence. I know that the exact location of his birth was a hospital which primarily served single mothers. I know that William Taylor, husband of Elsie, bears far too striking a resemblance to William Taylor, lover of Milly Roberts.

So who is Kenneth's dad? Well, she didn't marry Walter for another five years, so I'm guessing it's not him. Who else could it be? (And how long is a piece of string?)

Who knows, maybe one day hubby's DNA test will shed some light on the whole situation! In the meantime, it's back to the fortress!

 Kenneth Taylor: International DNA Man of Mystery