Archive for November 2014

Mystery Monday: Hidden Clues in Discarded Documents

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Family History involves a great deal of detective work which is both enjoyable and frustrating.

One tends to examine documents for the tiniest details and then put them to one side or, if you are really serious about your family research, file them away in the relevant family file.  Every so often they are pulled out to examine again and a real gem that hasn’t been noted previously may emerge.

Auckland Libraries have the most amazing Digital Library which includes library subscriptions to sites that I intend to personally subscribe to just as soon as I win lotto.  The websites that I use most often in the Digital Library are Ancestry and Findmypast but there are many others to be enjoyed.

In my search for Richard George Collins’ immigration to New Zealand circa 1880, several digital databases have provided the evidence I need to back up my hunches.

Long ago I downloaded a passenger list from Findmypast which I thought could possibly be “my” Richard:

Although the age was correct there were a couple of problems. Richard was never known as “Richard Collins” - from babyhood he had used his second name, George, as his given name.

The other problem was that the ship sailed a week after George’s wedding day and no wife was listed on the passenger list although it was clear from other records that she was in New Zealand at the end of that year.

So I filed away the passenger list because there was no conclusive proof that Richard Collins (with no second name recorded) travelling 3rd class from Plymouth England to Sydney Australia on the Chimborazo in January 1880 was my Richard George Collins.  Sigh.

Sometime later I thought it might be a good plan to see if there was anything about my man in Papers Past.  This website has digitised New Zealand newspapers covering the years 1839-1945.

My search turned up an article in the Auckland Star on 5 October 1897 with an interesting title – “Railway Disaster, the inquest”.  To my surprise Richard George Collins was a witness to a fatal accident between a train and a horse drawn bus. But it was the evidence of another witness which made my mind race:

Where had I seen the name “Maples” before?  Ah yes, that document that I had tucked away a few years back; the Chimborazo passenger list of 1880.  Just who was that person just above Richard Collins on the list?  It was Alfred Maples, the father of the bystander in the report above and also the uncle of Richard George Collins.  All of a sudden a document which had been a “maybe” suddenly became a “definite”.

Alfred William Maples senior, George’s companion on the Chimborazo was escaping England and deserting his wife in order to start a new life and a new family in Australia.  Young George was travelling with his uncle.

I was surprised to discover, when I went into another database in our Digital Library that the steamer Chimborazo’s voyage had been shorter than I thought it would be.  The British Newspaper Archive  is another site which is accessible free in the library, containing newspapers from 1603 to the present day.

The Chimborazo had a dreadful trip starting out on 08 February and striking a storm on 10 February.  Many newspapers in England, Australia and even New Zealand reported the tragedy that occurred – this account is from the Staffordshire Sentinel on 11 February:

After undergoing a refit she set off on her journey again on 16 February. One can only imagine how much courage it took for the passengers to re-board.

The following is a clip from the wonderfully named “Newcastle Morning Herald and Miners’ Advocate”:

Regardless of its false start, the steamer arrived in Sydney on 04 April having dropped passengers in Melbourne on the way – a total of just 47 days.  Not bad for 1880!

The Auckland Libraries Digital Library gives you lots of different options for “fleshing out” your ancestors without the need for expensive subscriptions.  Why not have a look?


Treasure Chest Thursday: Chinese Family History

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This morning in the Central Auckland Research Centre I took a telephone call from a customer who, after I had dealt with her enquiry, asked if I knew her story of being the first baby to survive the Fuji Village prisoner of war camp in Bahau, West Malaysia, during WWII. I had to confess that I didn't know her story, but told her I would investigate it as soon as possible.

I began my search and didn’t have to go far because one of the wonderful things about the Auckland Libraries website is the Digital Library.  It was there that I discovered a great website tucked away under “C” – Chinese Digital Community.

This website was jointly created by the New Zealand Chinese Association of Auckland Inc and Auckland Libraries. It contains historical and contemporary information, articles, images, audio, video, documents and web links about New Zealand's Chinese Community. Including a section on Chinese Family History.

Just one click to the Family History section and there was an array of family stories to choose from, which I found made excellent reading. The customer's story was there, and the stories of many others who have told of their experiences in New Zealand and beyond.

So if you have an interest in Chinese family history or if you would just like to read some interesting tales, I recommend that you find a moment to explore this website.


Amanuensis Monday:- Digitisation of UK's birth, death & marriage certificates?

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When researching in UK, we have several websites to choose from to collect numerous different records to support our online research.

The documents that are at the cornerstone of our research of course, are civil registration documents otherwise known as birth, death and marriage records (BDM), and census records.

We have extensive census record images already digitised from 1841 to 1911, that provide real insights into our ancestors lives.

However, they need to be backed up by the proof derived from civil registration documents. Civil registration started in 1837 in England and Wales, and from 1855 in Scotland. Prior to that we must look in parish registers for baptismal, marriage or funeral/burial records.

Birth certificates prove that the person existed, what their name was at birth, their date of birth, and the mothers' name; often also the fathers. Other information given, would be the area that the family lived in at time of birth. From 1911 mothers' maiden names are included.

George William BOOTHER (b1851)
m 1874
Margaret SULLIVAN (b1857)
Marriage certificates prove that the marriage happened, when and provide the spouse's name. Also provides occupation and addresses at time of event. Fathers are listed also along with their occupation. Scotland also provides mothers details.

The age at time of marriage must be taken with a pinch of salt, unless you have the birth certificate of the person to back it up.
No proof of identity was required and a person may lie about their age if they are not old enough to marry, or they may have another reason for not telling the truth - or they may not even be sure when they were born.

Sometimes names on marriage certificates can differ from that on a birth certificate. Changes of first and surnames since birth are common.

Names of witnesses on certificates are handy - often they are family members.

Death certificates prove that someone died, when and gives a reason why they died. It may tell you where they were living, and it will tell you who the "informant" was (who registered the death). The informant is often, but not always a family member. Sometimes it is a friend, or someone like a doctor or lawyer. The other details such as names, date of birth, occupation, marital status etc may be incorrect as the informant is providing details that they think might be correct - but not necessarily so. And of course, the deceased is unable to correct the info.

When searching for BDM events online for England and Wales, we get only the indexes to the civil registration documents.

These indexes are available on FindMyPast, Ancestry, The Genealogist and FreeBMD. They help narrow down our search but mustn't be used instead of the actual certificates themselves.

The indexes provide name, year, which "quarter", and which volume and page number to find the registration on and what registration district the event was registered in. This is to help you order the certificate you require.
George William BOOTHER
registered 2nd quarter (April-June) 1851
Shoreditch, Vol II, p453
Note - although registered in the 2nd quarter,
George was actually born on 8 March

An index is missing quite a lot of valuable information. Sometimes that actual event occurred in the quarter or even year previous, but was registered later. Sometimes there are multiple people with the same or similar names registered for that event around the same time.

You can't be sure without a copy of the registration that you have the correct person.

So if we have a civil registration event that we want a copy of, we currently need to take the information from indexes and order your English or Welsh certificate through the UK's General Register Office. It currently costs £9.25 per certificate and the site suggests approximately two or three weeks between ordering and receipt (although I've known it to take much longer).

Its fairly expensive, especially as genealogists and family historians only want the historic research value that the registration, rather than proving a legal identity by having a legally certified registration that is a certificate.

Scotland has a much better set-up for researchers by having their indexes and document images available for you to view and download online at their ScotlandsPeople website. Cost for viewing an index and an image is approximately £1.50, although you have to have purchased a minimum of £7 worth of credits first to get started.

It has its downsides, in that it is very easy to run out of credits very quickly if you aren't careful. But you do get instant gratification if you find what you want, and for a much cheaper £1.50 than England's £9.25.

Of course England and Wales have far more registrations to digitise than Scotland. But it seems that there is a move a-foot to do so with a call to sign a petition. Gould Genealogy blogged about this recently.

So, if like me, you would like the UK to digitise English and Welsh registrations, join me in signing the petition. Note you do have to be a British citizen (which includes ex-pats) and/or a UK resident.

And how awesome would it be if the New Zealand Government also decide to digitise its civil registrations too!

Happy hunting