Saturday, 28 September 2013

Stop! Collaborate and Listen!

You know you're GenX if you 'got' that one!
Every so often in genea-circles there are discussions about collaboration. Some people seem to think it is some solo endeavour, of old biddy pitted against the fiendish microfilm in a bid to read every document and visit every archive. Not me! I find it hilarious that as a student at school and uni, and in the workplace, I loathe group work, but when it comes to my genealogy I am a total convert to collaboration.
Firstly, there's all the wonderful collaboration with genealogists via Twitter, blogs and FB groups, to assist each other on the journey of collecting, analysing, recording and sharing our research. Then there's the mailing lists, helping out with specific areas of interest, particularly look-ups. I live very close by a particular cemetery, other people own particular CDs or subscribe to various websites.
The most important collaboration though would definitely be with relatives who are also researchers.
I am fortunate to have quite a few researchers on various lines, and in each instance there's been a different form of collaboration which has evolved.
Type 1: The one-off exchange
I copy all my stuff and send it off, the other person copies all his/her stuff and sends it to me, and then we both have the benefit of our collected research findings. Great for discovering odd, missed tid-bits, acquiring new photos and confirming previous avenues of research.
Type 2: The staged exchange
This has been the most common one I've found. We do the initial swap, then update each other should there be any major new breakthrough. My husband's relatives are good at this one.
Type 3: The round-table discussion
Rather like the above, but in person with biscuits. Far more fun!! My Evans relatives are fond of this approach.
Type 4: Full collaboration
I have a Dorey relative and a Sykes relative who are especially good at this. Not only do we update each other on our findings, but we vet each other's theories, double-check each other's conclusions, and strategically acquire resources so we don't double-up. It's terrific. We get the best possible bang for our buck and our time.
The only alternative is doing it all yourself, and there is just not enough time or money in the world for doing all the things that need to be done in our research!!

I'm hoping one day, when I have more time, to set up a Wiki to help facilitate family research. For example, I have about five Dawson researchers I keep in touch with. It would be so much simpler if we got a group share on the go, especially when it comes to files etc.
Anyone got any interesting experiences to share about how they manage their collaboration?
When I have time... Good one!!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Ethical Dilemmas #2 - Geneabloggers Open Thread Thursday

It's been very busy lately, so I'm going to be using my genealogy time to utilise my new spiffy Findmypast subscription rather than blogging this weekend - I need to relax! However, I had to chip in on the Geneabloggers Open Thread Thursday topic for the week: Ethical Dilemmas. I'm not going to blog about specific ethical dilemmas, as that's something I do regularly in  my blog (eg Mervyn Dawson, THAT family heirloom etc.) However, I'm going to list my key considerations when it comes to disclosing information.

1. I firstly always consider those who are living. If it's going to be deeply distressing or humiliating for a living relative, negative about them or adversely affect them, then there's no question I'd keep it on the down-low.

2. I also consider whether social attitudes have changed on the issue at hand. For example, illegitimacy has no social stigma now, so it doesn't trouble me to find out about that or share it. Nobody who hears it is going to think any the worse of my ancestor/relative now. In fact, often it's quite the opposite: people have more admiration for them for having faced adversity, or they enjoy having a connection to a good scandal or a total scoundrel.

3. If I think it will be a bit upsetting to someone, I may still share if I think there's a greater interest or another angle on things. For example, there are some cousins who might find the lack of genuine Scottish DNA on the part of Samuel McPherson a cause for concern. However, I maintain ongoing interest in all things Scottish is perfectly appropriate to those descended from someone raised by a Scotsman. It was part of how Samuel was brought up and what he was taught. The fact his actual genes came from elsewhere doesn't alter or lessen the impact that has had on our family and their identity. We know he saw John McPherson as his father. Not only that, I think the story of his true biological heritage brings another degree of richness to our family, and has always been part of our family story too (you can't turf his 'real' dad without turfing his 'real' grandma, who it turned out was also part of the heritage we'd been handed on.)

Apart from that, I've got to say I'm from the Publish and be damned club. Nobody wants to read a genealogy which makes the entire family sound like a bunch of sanctimonious fuckers. In addition, I'm not a big fan of cherry-picking in any form of life: you deal with the facts as they are and in their entirety. Then of course there's the fact that I'm generally lacking in gentle/subtle approaches or the ability to give a shit what anyone else thinks: those who know me personally know that for me, every day is Tell It Like It Is Tuesday! (I am, conversely, very hard to offend or upset.)

In answer to the title question, is there a 'right' to do genealogy? I say 'damn straight'!

And just to further get into the Tell It Like It Is Tuesday spirit...
As a totally off-topic addition, today I received a rather exhilarating geneaboost. I have many of my media files on Ancestry, including the marriage certificate of my semi-brick wall great-grandfather, Patrick McDermott, for whom I have never located a living relative aside from my immediate family. Consequently I went temporarily insane with excitement today to discover the following comment added to the file, which has been there unremarked upon for three and a half years: "Found this Certificate of Marriage in with family documents."
Can it be? Has someone found a copy of this certificate in a box they are clearing out, and checked on Ancestry to see what they can find out about the people it belonged to? Could this person turn out to be related to Patrick's brother who was alleged to have moved to Australia? Could his/her ancestors have known my ancestors? Will I find out more about Patrick? I shelled out $10 for a pay-per-record Ancestry subscription* just so I could message the comment's author, so I hope I hear back SOON!
*I have previously had a World Heritage subscription, but have rather exhausted the current records so decided to switch to Findmypast for the financial year and check out their stuff instead.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Geneahulk Coming Through

I've always been prone to being an angry person. My ethnic origin is Celtic (cue bad temper running rampant through the family tree), I work in a school and I have young children so I am chronically in a state of frazzled over-tiredness. However, this has really tipped me over the edge and turned me into the little-known Geneahulk.

A great many people in my family tree are buried in the Cheltenham Cemetery, SA. Half of my great-grandparents are in there, just for starters.

Luckily it's over the road from Bunnings, which is handy when I need more glue to re-attach the lettering!
South Australian readers will know that our metropolitan cemeteries here are without a doubt some of the biggest bastards out when it comes to redeveloping plots about thirty seconds after the ever-decreasing lease period has passed. Consequently it's no surprise that a large number of my family's plots have been redeveloped, or are currently adorned with the genealogical equivalent of the Black Spot, the 'about to be redeveloped' sticker. That hurts me. Not quite as badly as the time I turned up to Alberton to find the entire cemetery had been redeveloped, but nearly.
Even Success Kid likes headstones

I've often been prone to fits of moaning and bitching about the Adelaide Cemeteries Authority, the body charged with looking after the Cheltenham, over one grave in particular. The oldest Sykes to emigrate to Australia, the first Alberton Station Master, John Sykes, is buried in the Cheltenham, after somewhat ironically being disinterred from the Alberton Cemetery by his son-in-law who was worried the graves weren't being properly cared for. By a stroke of good fortune, his great-grandson Mervyn White, son of J E White, is buried in the plot and as such someone in the family extended the lease. That meant was still current when that section of the cemetery was last up for redevelopment. However, this has now expired. The ACA have said they haven't heard from any family members in years and are quite happy to hand over rights for renewal etc. to us provided that:
1) We take on responsibility for all three plots which share a common stone
2) We get the leaseholder's oldest descendant (who we think is still alive, but neither we or the ACA have been able to find out where to contact her) to sign a form giving us permission to take on the lease
3) We pay the thousands of dollars of fees to bring the lease up to date to now and then extend it.
Of all the cemeteries I have ever dealt with, this approach is by so far the most legalistic, profit-driven and painful I have encountered. They would seriously rather dig up our ancestors and bury total strangers in their plot than let us buy the remaining space in it and join our family when the time comes.  
The subject of my usual Cheltenham Cemetery frustrations!

Like most genealogists, and most Gen Xers, I'm no millionaire, so in reality I'm very unlikely ever to be able to afford to extend the lease. I've always consoled myself by thinking that maybe, just maybe, given the ACA know how much we want this (and how little anyone else does) that perhaps, when the awful time comes and the plot is redeveloped, perhaps they might let us take the headstone. After all, what else would they do with it, right?
Yesterday I saw a picture which not only answered the "What else would they do with it, right?" but also sent me into a towering rage. I may have even used the C word a time or seven. I am so, so, very pissed off about this I don't even know where to start!
Photo taken this week at Cheltenham Cemetery by Lee-Ann Hamilton
So, my choice is pay thousands of dollars to the ACA, or face the absolute knowledge that my ancestors will be dug up or moved and their headstones put in the rubbish bin.
I am fucking pissed off.
If you, like me, are keen to see SA's metropolitan cemeteries start treating our ancestors with greater respect, or even cut down on the red-tape so that it's easier for us to help maintain our ancestors' resting places, then check out Saving Graves for the latest news and information. There's a Facebook group too.
Meanwhile, ACA, this one's for you (language warning): 

Friday, 6 September 2013

What Would Your Ancestors Do? #1

How to Vote
With only just over 12 hours before polling booths open for the 2014 federal election, Twitter, FB and all our other social media channels are chock full of politics. Yeah, I know some people are complaining about that, but personally I think it's a good thing. There are too many countries where people are dying for the right to vote, quite literally, for me to be anything but grateful both for voting and the right to bitch and moan about the government/opposition/unicorns without having to be concerned about who will come knocking on the door.
Anyway, it's no national secret that voting often runs in families, and people often vote for the people their parents did (to begin with, at least). I'm a little curious though about the degree to which that extends to other relatives, so I did a quick canvas of the political leanings of people who appear in my family tree whose views can be established with any certainty:
Person #1 - My Grandfather, George McDermott
Grandpa on his last day of work at Holden's Woodville plant
My grandfather ALP through and through. He always told Grandma the whole family should vote Labor, because we were working people and Labor look after the working folk. It's so imprinted on my grandmother's brain that even now she's nearly 100 and can't remember who her own great-grandchildren are, she still repeats that mantra whenever voting time rolls around. Grandpa worked in a factory as a foreman, and although he was offered many promotions to higher management positions, he always turned them down, saying he wanted to stick with the workers. Grandpa was a firebrand, and an agitator.
Person #2, My great-great grandfather, Patrick McDermott
We don't know much about Patrick. He died quite young, and for reasons I'm sure I'll blog about in future, nobody spoke about him much. One thing we do know is that he was from Derry Goolin, Galway, and that he emigrated here after the Land War had been underway for a few years. His neighbourhood was actually one of the key districts in the Land War because it was land owned by the absentee Marquis of Clanricarde, and the primary agitators in the area were young, single, Catholic, male labourers... like Patrick. One of his relations, also Patrick McDermott of Derry Goolin, later became a Nationalist MP. I know that there are conservative nationalists, but as a general rule of thumb, the Irish nationalists who emigrated to Australia have tended to be left of centre.
Person #3, My great-great-great grandfather, George Roebuck

George's Obituary
George served two decades on the Morgan Council and was plainly a man who cared about civic affairs. However, I have never been able to establish exactly what his political leanings were. Perhaps they were the same as his son's?
Person #4, Ellis Roebuck
Ellis was George's eldest son. He spent most of his adult life in the Port Pirie district. He was at one point the Councillor for Solomontown (like father, like son), and was also involved in two other organisations which still survive today:

Well, I think that's fairly conclusive, don't you?

That's it for dad's side of the family. On mum's side, I could only find out about two: my first cousin twice removed, Seymour Gough, who was a member of the Australian Communist Party, and my great-great uncle, Richard Owen Evans, embezzler of note, who was Councillor for Rosewater for several years. He owned a business, but nothing he said, did or wrote that I have clearly indicates his views one way or the other.
In fact, the only person I could find in the tree who I knew batted for the other team, so to speak, was on my husband's side, not mine. That was his grandfather, a bank manager, who stopped voting the the ALP after Chifley nationalised the banks.
So, it shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone that this handsome fellow adorns the dining room wall at our house:

Yeah, I'm getting my blog on on Friday, not Saturday. Saturday I'll be slashing my wrists or crying into a whiskey. I've never been a great one for drinking whiskey, but I think it'll be a good day to start.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels #1: Thomas Skermer

When I research many of my ancestors, I admire them and their achievements. There are quite a few for whom I feel a great deal of empathy as they faced tragedies which I can't even begin to imagine surviving. Most of them are still blanks, and I wonder about them. However, I do have a (mercifully short) list of ancestors who I really would like to punch in the head, because no matter how you package it they are bastard covered bastards with bastard filling. And I don't mean in the sense that their parents were not married when they were born. One of these people was Thomas Skermer. It was actually very hard for me to locate the evidence that Thomas was part of the family*, and sometimes I wonder whether he was worth all the effort!

Thomas was born in about 1826, in Bagworth, Liecestershire. He was the youngest son in a family who would go on to have two more daughters, Harriet and Jane (my great-great grandmother). In 1846 he was working as a book-keeper in Everton, Lancashire, and living at 5 Roscommon Street. It was at this time that he married Margaret Bowes, believed to be the daughter of Valentine Bowes, an Irishman. He gave his age as 24. By the 1851 census they had two children, and lived with Margaret's mother. Thomas had taken on work as a policeman, and his sister Jane had moved to the area where she was working as a housekeeper.

Looks rather nice, really!

From 1857 to 1861 Thomas served in Coventry, Warwickshire as "Chief Constable and Superintendent", only the second person to hold that position. However, he absconded when there was an investigation into the force's accounts in November 1861, causing his predecessor Mr. Prosser to resume control. Perhaps his previous employment as a book-keeper had inspired him to do some creative accounting. We'll never know for sure.

Thomas is sadly not the only embezzler in my family**, however, his poor form didn't stop there. In 1861 he had returned to Liverpool, where he is recorded as a guest of his sister Mrs. Ann Parsons and her husband Charles. His youngest sister, Jane, had moved to Australia before 1853 and married a sea captain, Richard Evans, and in 1858 they had travelled to the UK and brought Harriet back to Australia with them. Thomas may have seen this as a chance to start afresh, and so some time in 1862 Thomas left his wife and three sons, who were in Warwickshire, and emigrated to Australia.

At the time the family were quite comfortable, even having a servant, but this wasn't to last without Thomas about. By 1871 they were lodgers in another family's home, Margaret was working as a needlewoman and the youngest two boys were working, one as an errand boy. By 1891, Thomas' boys were living in London in Aldgate, the suburb adjoining Whitechapel.

It was a very classy neighbourhood at the time known for its friendly and safe streets. Of course there was that thing with all the slums, poverty, gin-houses, prostitutes and Jack the Ripper, but apart from that...

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Thomas joined the SA police force on 02 Dec 1862. He was recorded as being born in 1831 in England, and a former Inspector in the Liverpool Constabulary. Much of his service was in the mid-north of the state including time in Melrose and a posting in Lake Hope in 1867. This would have included experiencing the difficulties caused in the area by the drought of 1865 when a number of outposts had to be closed due to lack of fodder for the horses.

A typical case, reported in The Register, 02 Apr 1863

At the time, the area was still a rather wild frontier. There were conflicts with the traditional Aboriginal owners of the land the pastoralists wanted to take, and the troopers were often left in highly dangerous situations trying to keep tension to a minimum and "quell disturbances from the blacks". I don't even want to know what THAT'S a euphemism for.

Thomas was no doubt very relieved to be moved to the considerably more staid neighbourhood of Woodside, where he met Johanna Johns nee Ferk, the local publican's daughter. In somewhat unorthodox fashion the couple had a daughter, Martha, in 1865, and then married in 1868. It is possible that Johanna's first husband was still alive until then. Thomas' wife certainly was, but then she was alive for at least three years afterwards too... Thomas resigned his position as a Trooper on 28 Feb 1869 and went into the Ferk family business of inn-keeping.

By 1871 Thomas was an innkeeper at the Talunga Hotel in Mount Pleasant. It was during this time that Martha sadly passed away from Typhoid fever. I wonder if losing her reminded him of the three sons he had abandoned back in England, and how that made him feel. Bad, I hope. He was very highly regarded by the locals who gave him effusive praise in newspaper reports. Thomas later switched to a premises on Carrington Street (quite possibly the General Havelock). This was quite profitable and enabled him to buy the legendary German Arms Hotel at Hahndorf, although he never took on the license or ran it himself.

In 1877, Thomas also worked as a District Constable for the Mitcham area, and in 1878 he and Johanna separated. At the time he was involved in St. Mary's Church at Sturt where he volunteered as a Churchwarden. He continued to run the hotel on Carrington Street. In 1889 he placed death notices when his wife died, and organised her a grave very near the entrance to West Terrace, with an elaborate headstone. He joined her in that plot, under the very fancy stone, two years later when he passed away, leaving a sizeable estate including three houses, vehicles and horses. His beneficiaries were my great-great grandmother Jane, and her two sons, Richard and William (my great-grandfather). The boys continued to own the German Arms for several years afterwards.

No mention of embezzlement, bigamy or being a deadbeat dad, then? How 'bout that!
William named the next son he had after his uncle, and I can understand why he memorialised him in this way: his uncle was probably always very good to him, they had lived with him in the hills for a while after his father had passed away, and he had been left enough money that both he and his brother were able to set themselves up in business. He was a child when Thomas began living with Johanna, and he probably never knew about what had happened in Warwickshire, or who had been left behind. However, Jane would have known it all, and yet she still was so attached to her brother that when she died, nine years later, she was buried in the plot next to him! It's good for family to stick together and all, but how could she be so accepting of someone who abandoned her young nephews!
Since then, someone has vandalised his super fancy-schmancy headstone. I promise it wasn't me! That's what happens when you are that close to the entrance of an inner-city cemetery.

A year or two ago when I did some DNA testing with ftdna I got contacted by a Skermer relative. Of course with such an uncommon surname it took us all of three seconds to work out that was the point of connection. When she asked where I was and I replied Australia, I got the oddest response. She emailed "Oh, you're part of that branch", or words to that effect. I could almost hear the dismissive sniff at the end. I never heard from her again. I suspect I have Thomas to thank for that.

*Of course, once Trove got going I found items which would have proved the whole thing in three seconds flat. Always the bloody way!! I'd been piecing together Bagworth Skermers, trying to work out if there was a connection between the ones who had emigrated to SA, and how Liverpool fitted in, and meanwhile there was an obituary stating it's where he lived and an advertisement out there saying that my great-uncle Richard was the executor for Thomas' estate.

** The other embezzler of note was Thomas' nephew, Richard, who took his uncle's lead in a big way! A post for another time!