Ancestry.com.au Blog » Australia http://blogs.ancestry.com/au A hundred years of naming conventions flushed down the toilet Thu, 03 Jul 2014 15:10:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.5.2 Top Tips for Searching Marriage Recordshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2014/02/04/top-tips-for-searching-marriage-records/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2014/02/04/top-tips-for-searching-marriage-records/#comments Mon, 03 Feb 2014 23:50:17 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=2118 Vital records—records of births, marriage, and death—are the basic building blocks of family history research as they contain lots of information for your family tree. Marriage records can reveal religion and other details like age and place of birth, occupation, residences, and parents’ names. We’ve put together our top search tips to help you make… Read more

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Arge's Wedding

Vital records—records of births, marriage, and death—are the basic building blocks of family history research as they contain lots of information for your family tree.

Marriage records can reveal religion and other details like age and place of birth, occupation, residences, and parents’ names.

We’ve put together our top search tips to help you make the most of our Marriage records.

  • Narrow your search for marriage records by looking at the age and birthplace of the first child. This information can also be found in census records. Start your search a year prior to the child’s birth and gradually widen your search back (and forward) in time until you locate the record. Tracing your ancestor through directories can be helpful as well.
  • Seek out the marriage records for all family members. Information found on the records of siblings may include helpful details that aren’t found on your ancestor’s record.
  • When you find a record in a marriage index, always follow up and request the original record. Click on the database title and the source information and description on the collection page will tell you where the records are held.
  • Keep in mind that when civil registration first began, not everyone complied immediately. When you can’t locate a civil marriage record, look for census records and directories that can place your ancestor in a particular place around the time of the marriage. Then investigate churches in the area where the couple might have been married.
  • Once you find a matching record, save it to your family tree – that way you can provide evidence to back up the info in your family tree, easily share your discover with your family, and quickly find the historical record again later.

What’s your top tip on searching marriage records? Let us know on our Facebook page.

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Share your discoverieshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2014/01/14/share-your-discoveries/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2014/01/14/share-your-discoveries/#comments Tue, 14 Jan 2014 02:45:37 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=2051 Did you know you can share your family history discoveries from Ancestry.com.au with your friends and family on Facebook, Google Plus or by email? When you find a record of your ancestor, simply click on the Facebook, Google Plus or email  icon (shown below). You can include a message for your friends and family to… Read more

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Did you know you can share your family history discoveries from Ancestry.com.au with your friends and family on Facebook, Google Plus or by email?

When you find a record of your ancestor, simply click on the Facebook, Google Plus or email  icon (shown below).

Share screen grab

You can include a message for your friends and family to tell them what you have found:

Your friends and family can then click on the link  from your wall post and have a look at the record themselves.

How do you share your family history finds with others? Leave a comment below or post on our Facebook Wall.

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Surnames in your family treehttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/12/surnames-in-your-family-tree/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/12/surnames-in-your-family-tree/#comments Thu, 12 Sep 2013 00:51:52 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1995 This week we asked our Facebook community what surnames appear in their family tree and here’s what they told us… With 36% of Aussies claiming English ancestry, it is not surprising that the most popular surnames are English, with Smith being no.1, followed by  Williams, White and Jones. Walker, Clark, Brown, Martin and Taylor are also… Read more

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This week we asked our Facebook community what surnames appear in their family tree and here’s what they told us…

Surname wordle

With 36% of Aussies claiming English ancestry, it is not surprising that the most popular surnames are English, with Smith being no.1, followed by  Williams, White and Jones.

Walker, Clark, Brown, Martin and Taylor are also common names in family trees.

Irish names also made an appearance including Kelly, McMahon and Hughes – which is not surprising considering 10% of Australians have Irish ancestry.

What surnames appear in your family tree? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook.

Find out more about the origins of your surname here.

 

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Australian Electoral Rollshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/06/historical-election-facts/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/06/historical-election-facts/#comments Fri, 06 Sep 2013 05:58:55 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1987 With the Election just one day away, we’ve been delving into our Australian Voter Lists and uncovering some historical facts… Did you know… In the 1840s only property owners were eligible to vote. Wealthy landowners were allowed up to 4 votes each. By 1858, most men were eligible to vote but  paupers, prisoners, policemen, and military members,… Read more

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Electoral rolls

With the Election just one day away, we’ve been delving into our Australian Voter Lists and uncovering some historical facts…

Did you know…

  • In the 1840s only property owners were eligible to vote. Wealthy landowners were allowed up to 4 votes each.
  • By 1858, most men were eligible to vote but  paupers, prisoners, policemen, and military members, however, were not allowed to vote.
  • It was almost half a centurElectoral Rollsy later when Australian women who were British subjects gained the right to vote – ranging from 1895 in South Australia to Victoria in 1908.
  • From 1925, voting in Federal elections became compulsory for those over 21, and from 1973, for those over 18.
  • Non-British subjects were not allowed to vote until the 1940s and Aborigines until 1949.

Electoral Rolls are a wonderful resource for family historians. Australian Electoral Rolls, 1903-1980 act as a great “census substitute” and are useful when census records are not available.

Because electoral rolls were published on a fairly consistent basis and are generally country-wide (excluding South Australia), they are useful for tracking individuals over time and place.

Older records can be found in our NSW, Historical Electoral Rolls, 1842-1864.

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Interview with Dr Appleby – Archaeologist who helped find Richard IIIhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/03/interview-with-dr-appleby-archaelogist-who-helped-find-richard-iii/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/03/interview-with-dr-appleby-archaelogist-who-helped-find-richard-iii/#comments Tue, 03 Sep 2013 07:51:19 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1977 The Ancestry.com.au team were honoured to meet the British archaeologist who helped unearth the remains of King Richard III from a Leicester car park. Dr. Appleby’s team recently solved the 500-year-old mystery of King Richard III’s final resting place — they found and identified his remains in the ruins of a Greyfriars church, buried beneath… Read more

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The Ancestry.com.au team were honoured to meet the British archaeologist who helped unearth the remains of King Richard III from a Leicester car park.

Dr. Appleby’s team recently solved the 500-year-old mystery of King Richard III’s final resting place — they found and identified his remains in the ruins of a Greyfriars church, buried beneath a modern-day car park.

Ancestry’s Brad caught up with Jo at the New Zealand Family History Fair in August to hear more about the discovery, her family history and the similarities between genealogy and archeology….

BRAD:    So, before we begin, how do you like to be referred to, is it Doctor Jo Appleby, is it Dr Jo … ?

JO:         You can just call me Jo.

BRAD:    Jo. Thank you very much.  Is this your first family history fair?

JO:         This is my first family history fair, yes.

BRAD:    Thoughts?

JO:         I’ve been incredibly impressed with how much there is that people can see here and how helpful everybody is and just the huge variety of material you can access when doing genealogical research.

BRAD:    You’re an academic so research is something you’re clearly very familiar with?

JO:         Yeah.

BRAD:    When you look at the kind of research that people do in family history or genealogical do you see parallels with academic research and do you see any clear differences?

JO:         I think I see a lot of parallels. It’s that same process that you have to be absolutely reliant on your sources. You have to go back and check, check, check everything. You can’t just accept that somebody hands you a tattered piece of paper with your family tree, that’s not what you need. You have to go back and check the documents and you have to find those records and that’s what I’ve really been getting out of the family history fair, seeing people going back and doing that.

BRAD:    You know when I look at people doing their research and I look at the passion people have, chasing something through the historical records, do you see that on the academic side? Do people get that passionate about it. You know, those in the non-academic world don’t really know this, almost esoteric, stuff that happens behind these wonderful sandstone walls. What’s it really like to do research in an academic environment?

JO:         You have to bear in mind that academics become academics because they are incredibly nosy people and they just want to find stuff out. So we’re absolutely as interested in what we do as those people  that are going off looking at their family trees. They might be doing it as amateurs and we might be getting paid to do it but sometimes I’m not sure why we get paid to do it because we all love what we do and we wouldn’t do it otherwise. So I think we’re very lucky we can do it as a professional job but I do think we do have that same huge enthusiasm and it’s that thrill of discovery really. It’s being able to find out something that nobody’s known before, or that been forgotten or lost. It’s really great.

BRAD:    You mention the thrill of discovery and you might have seen it this weekend that people react emotionally to the kind of things they uncover. When you’re going through it, and perhaps using Richard as an example, was it an emotional experience?

JO:         It depends what you mean by emotional? So, I don’t tend to find that I react to seeing human skeletons by being upset by them because it’s part of my everyday existence and it’s what I do all the time but is does make you very thoughtful about people and you do become very aware of the trials and tribulations that they must have gone through. So there’s always that slight sense of connection when you’re doing this kind of work but it’s maybe not that same sort of sense of emotional linkages you get when researching your own family.

BRAD:    But, you know, I do a lot of research that isn’t related to me but I still get a strong emotional connection, not necessarily with the person or the event, but just a thrill of discovery.

JO:         Oh, absolutely! Yes. It’s really exciting when you find out something or you figure something out and most of what I do is not very like the Richard the Third Society. I don’t spend my time trying to identify individuals. I spend my time trying to use archaeological evidence, specifically human bones, to understand how people lived their lives in the past and that’s on a whole community level and when you figure something out about that and you begin to understand how past societies constructed themselves. it’s really fascinating and it’s absolutely exciting and I’m thrilled to do it.

BRAD:    Do you see parallels between the genealogy process, the research process of genealogy, and anthropology. Do you see, or archaeology, do you see… You know we were talking before and you were talking about peeling back the layers and looking at the strata and where stuff is sitting, to me there seems to be a very strong parallel between archaeology and genealogy in that you’re looking for contextual evidence to relate certain records together, do you see those parallels?

JO:         Yes, I think you’re right and, of course, the thing that everybody thinks about archaeology is that we’re looking for a specific thing and we’re not. It doesn’t matter to us whether we find a bit of a pot shard or a fantastic gold ornament, what we want is the information that enables us to get stuff out of those. So we want to use those to construct stories and I think that’s exactly what people do when they do genealogical research that they go back and they find the records but what they’re interested in is the stories they can then reconstruct from the combination of all those records.

BRAD:    Yeah, I think that’s very true. What do you know about your family history?

JO:         Well, I am one quarter Danish. So, my maternal grandmother’s family are all back in Denmark and my maternal grandmother came over to the UK in 1939 for a year and never got round to going back. On my maternal grandfather’s side we have a lot of relations in Leicestershire so that’s quite nice for me having got a job in Leicester. And then on my dad’s side I know a lot less. I know my great grandfather was on the railways and there was a lot of moving around and my other great grandfather was a teacher and there were several generations of teachers but I can’t go back quite so far on that side of the family.

BRAD:    Okay. Being at the Fair has it perhaps peaked your interest a little bit in that, or are you still a – I wouldn’t say a non-believer – but perhaps a little bit sceptical about the whole pull of family history?

JO:         No! I’m not sceptical at all and I’ve been meaning for ages to go … actually my uncle has very good records from my dad’s side of the family I just need to sit him down and go through it all with me. On my mum’s side of the family we have a lot of stuff going back a minimum of two hundred years and I know that and I know the photographs and I know who they are and what the stories are about them so that’s really fascinating, I love it.

BRAD:    That’s great! Look, I do have one other question that I want to ask you, many of the people who are into family history are big, big fans of Time Team. As a professional archaeologist, how accurate is the portrayal of archaeology on Time Team, given that it’s a very condensed window and that it’s being made for television and not made for academic consumption, how accurate is it?

JO:         Well of course most archaeological excavations don’t take place over three days but actually those Time Time excavations are carried out using the same methodologies as professional archaeologists would use and they are properly researched and they properly written up and published afterwards so in a sense they are very much exactly like every other archaeological dig just that it’s a bit more hectic in the middle.

BRAD:    When you’re going about what you do I imagine there’s a lot of planning involved before you even stick a spade in the ground. Can you give us some sense of, what’s the time scale for a dig?

JO:         It’s very, very variable. So for the kind of excavations I do are research excavations and we would have to start anything from up to a year in advance putting together grant applications to get funding for those. A lot of archaeological excavations in the UK are actually development led so there’s a principle in the UK that if you’re a developer and you want to build on a bit of land you have to have an archaeological assessment done beforehand and those assessments can often be done at pretty short notice. And the first stage of that is only a desk based exercise where you go and look at the historical records for that area and you work out what’s likely to be there and that might only take you a couple of weeks but then if it’s felt there’s significant archaeological potential then there’ll be potentially an evaluation where a small area is opened up. If that turns out to be interesting then you might have a open air excavation and that depends entirely on the scale of the project. So that might only be one house going up but you might only have someone on site for a few days. It might be that there’s an enormous quarry and that might have a program of excavational programmes that go on over decades. So it’s very variable.

BRAD:    Yeah, I can see that. Dr Jo Appleby Thank you very much for your time.

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Your Family History Journeyhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/02/your-family-history-journey/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/09/02/your-family-history-journey/#comments Mon, 02 Sep 2013 04:48:08 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1965 Last week we asked our Facebook community to “Describe your family history journey in 3 words” and here’s what they said… We got lots of wonderful responses which encapsulate the genealogy journey - An addictive adventure Fascinating, remarkable and life changing Mysterious, revealing, intriguing Addictive, interesting, fun Eye-opening, fascinating, hilarious frustrating, enlightening, rewarding Enlightening, uplifting… Read more

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Last week we asked our Facebook community to “Describe your family history journey in 3 words” and here’s what they said…

Family history in 3 words

We got lots of wonderful responses which encapsulate the genealogy journey -

  • An addictive adventure
  • Fascinating, remarkable and life changing
  • Mysterious, revealing, intriguing
  • Addictive, interesting, fun
  • Eye-opening, fascinating, hilarious
  • frustrating, enlightening, rewarding
  • Enlightening, uplifting and surprising
  • Marvelous, absorbing, delightful
  • What a mess!
  • spiderweb, double-ups, nobility
  • Very time consuming!
  • A little bit of all

How would you describe your family history journey? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.

 

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A Nation of Immigrantshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/08/29/a-nation-of-immigrants/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/08/29/a-nation-of-immigrants/#comments Thu, 29 Aug 2013 05:54:13 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1955 With the immigration debate at the top of the agenda this election, would Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott’s past deem them eligible to live in Australia by current immigration standards? No matter where your affections lie – there are some interesting and thought-provoking tales of origins that could make either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott… Read more

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With the immigration debate at the top of the agenda this election, would Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott’s past deem them eligible to live in Australia by current immigration standards?

No matter where your affections lie – there are some interesting and thought-provoking tales of origins that could make either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott stop and ponder about how their own Australian existence began.

What if we told you Kevin Rudd descended from an illegal immigrant – shrouded by mystery, barely-traceable roots and suspicious name changes? How about Tony Abbott’s father working on the boats that brought the majority of immigrants into Australia?

Tony Abbott’s great-grandfather, John Keir and his mother’s father Anthony Peters were both shipwrights, and could coincidentally have been involved with the vessel’s that brought Rudd’s convict-ancestors to the shores of Australia. Below is John Keir’s marriage certificate which states his occupation as “Shipwright”.

John Keir marriage cert

The tales of arrival are not just limited to our politicians. Aussie rocker, Ronald Bedford ‘Bon’ Scott arrived in Australia during the autumn 1952 with his mum, dad and brother Derek on board the Asturias after a voyage of four weeks (shown below on the UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960). Bon would go on to join other ex-pat Scots Malcolm and Angus Young in AC\DC.

Bon Scott

In a more mellow tone, Glenn Shorrock and family arrived aboard the Orcades in the summer of 1954. Shorrock, after chasing a solo career in the UK, headed back to Australia in 1974 to form the Little River Band – the first Aussie band to achieve the commercial success in the US.

William Richard ‘Billy’ Thorpe first set foot on Australian soil in the winter of 1955 after stepping off the Strathaird – a P&O ship that wore a groove in the world oceans traversing between Australia and the UK for almost 30 years.  Billy arrived with his mum and dad, eventually settled in Brisbane.  They are shown below in the UK Outward Passenger Lists, 1890-1960. He was a natural performer and eventually made his way to Sydney where he connected with the other members of The Aztecs.

Billy thorpe

The family history of these ‘Aussies’ really highlight that we are in fact a nation of immigrants, each with our own tales of arrival.

Uncover your family’s  immigration story at Ancestry.com.au this weekend with FREE* access to over 200 million immigration records from around the world.

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Ten common research mistakeshttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/08/20/ten-common-research-mistakes/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/08/20/ten-common-research-mistakes/#comments Tue, 20 Aug 2013 04:49:33 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1947 Everyone makes mistakes! And a mistake while you’re researching your family just helps you move up that genealogy learning curve. Here are ten of the most common mistakes we all make in our journey of discovery and how to avoid them. 1. Forgetting to record information on family history forms Organisation is key when researching… Read more

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Everyone makes mistakes! And a mistake while you’re researching your family just helps you move up that genealogy learning curve. Here are ten of the most common mistakes we all make in our journey of discovery and how to avoid them.

1. Forgetting to record information on family history forms

Organisation is key when researching your family. Either get hold of standard forms, or chart your findings using appropriate software and keep it in one place. Not only will this help you, but it will help future generations carry on your work. You can download a range of forms for free right here.

2. Ignoring your ancestors’ siblings

Don’t narrow your search too much. Siblings can be incredibly valuable in unlocking important family clues. When looking at a census, for example, you might find the parents of an ancestor living with one of their other children. Which means you get the names of the parents, and potentially a new location. Researching siblings could lead to a previously unknown relative who is also doing research on the family. Paying attention to the names of all the siblings in a household will also help confirm that you have the right family, especially if one of the members has an unusual first name. If you can see all the names you expect to see in a household as you go back through the census years, it’s likely you are following up the right family. 

3. Overlooking the maiden names of female ancestors

It’s easy to think of our female ancestors by their married names, enter the information, and then ignore their birth names. Birth names can provide a valuable clue for future research since some families use the mother’s maiden name as a middle name for the oldest male child, for instance. This information could help identify the correct male ancestor when there are two or more candidates in the same place and time.
4. Assuming you are related to a famous person

It is tempting for people with a family name such as Jackman to assume they are related to a famous person with the same name. Then, based upon that assumption, they try to work from the famous person to themselves. This is not a good research approach. Always start with yourself and work backwards, proving the connection between each generation. Then, if you prove you’re related to Hugh, you’ll really have something to brag about!

5. Skipping a generation

In lots of families, it’s common to have the same name running through three or more generations of male ancestors. This can easily trip you up if you’re not methodical, leading you to list someone as the father when he is the grandfather. Record as many dates as possible and carefully evaluate things like place names to avoid this happening.

6. Assuming a family name is only spelt one way

Family names can be spelt in a number of different ways as our ancestors (and the people who recorded their events) were very fallible! Smith can be Smyth, Rawlins can be Rawlings and Kitson can be Kidston. Make sure you check all the phonetic variations of your name just in case – although this is time-consuming the results could make it all worthwhile. One thing that could help save time during your searching is using the wildcard search character, an asterisk, in your searching. Enter the surname as ‘Rawlin*’ and you’ll get occurrences of both Rawlins and Rawlings. ‘John*’ will bring back all surnames starting with John, such as Johns, Johnston, Johnstone and Johnathan. Find out more about wildcard searching here.

7. Jumping to conclusions

Genealogy is all about proof. Start your research with yourself and work backwards, one generation at a time. The key to success is to prove conclusively the link between the generations, and you can only reach a conclusion if you have enough evidence. Reaching a conclusion based upon incomplete evidence can throw your whole tree out. If you’re not sure about a connection, make a note of your theory first, and then try to prove that theory – but don’t assume it as fact! Whenever you find a record that possibly matches a person you are looking for, you can put it in your Shoebox. This feature is available to anyone with a monthly or annual membership.

8. Researching the wrong family

This can happen so easily. If you jump to conclusions (mistake number 7) you can easily set off in completely the wrong direction and end up researching many generations of the wrong family. Do not start working on the next generation of research unless you have concrete proof of a link!

9. Relying on data found in an online family tree

While the internet is a fantastic aid to our research, not least on Ancestry.com.au, it is a big tool to navigate and you should be wary of which sites you rely on. Even the smallest piece of incorrect information posted on a forum could impact a huge number of research projects. Always approach an unfamiliar source cautiously: just because you’ve found the information doesn’t make it accurate.

10. Failing to document your sources

The biggest mistake you can ever make is not documenting where you found your information. Remember that your research is only part of a much larger body of information. We owe it to future generations to be accurate so that we don’t set off a chain of events that could mean someone out there is jumping to conclusion (mistake number 7) or researching the wrong family entirely (mistake number 8). See your research as your heritage, and your story!

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The tragic first Lions tour 1888http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/06/28/the-tragic-first-lions-tour-1888/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/06/28/the-tragic-first-lions-tour-1888/#comments Fri, 28 Jun 2013 02:04:17 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1934 In the spring of 1888, the first Lions tour made its way to Australia, fronted by Robert Lionel Seddon. Born in Salford, Manchester in 1860 to Robert and Ann Seddon (nee Lever), he grew up with four brothers – James, Edwin, Herbert and Arthur, and two sisters – Sarah and Annie. They are shown here… Read more

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In the spring of 1888, the first Lions tour made its way to Australia, fronted by Robert Lionel Seddon. Born in Salford, Manchester in 1860 to Robert and Ann Seddon (nee Lever), he grew up with four brothers – James, Edwin, Herbert and Arthur, and two sisters – Sarah and Annie. They are shown here on the 1881 England Census.

Like many in the Manchester area, Robert and his family worked in the cotton industry, and by the age of 20 Robert had become a Salesman in a warehouse.

An experienced rugby player prior to his voyage to Australia – hence the decision to appoint him as captain – Seddon arrived in Sydney with his teammates on-board the Zealandia at the end of May. Below is a copy of the NSW Passenger List that has the team travelling from New Zealand to Australia.

Standing at over 181 cm tall and weighing in at over 80kg, Robert was somewhat svelte by today’s standards but, on the basis of average heights and weights of the day, he would have been an imposing figure on the field. It’s somewhat difficult to imagine then how a manly man from the north of England could drown boating with friends on the Hunter River at Maitland NSW.

Apparently, Seddon was out on the river with teammates Anderton and Stoddart. Anderton and Stoddart had drifted down the river in an old punt and Seddon had taken off upstream in a row boat.  After a short while his teammates went looking for Seddon and found him dead. The image below is from the NSW, Registers of Coroners’ Inquests, 1796-1942 which shows the Seddon entry. He was just 28 years old.

Seddon was buried at Campbell’s Hill Cemetery in West Maitland, some 10,500 miles from home.

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My Offline Findhttp://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/06/25/1920/ http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/2013/06/25/1920/#comments Tue, 25 Jun 2013 04:37:56 +0000 Ancestry.com.au http://blogs.ancestry.com/au/?p=1920 From Brad Argent, Content Director, Ancestry.com.au The internet is a great way to get started on your family history, and nothing beats digging up the evidence of your ancestors from the comfort of your own home.  However the past is huge and there is much of it that will never grace the pages of the… Read more

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From Brad Argent, Content Director, Ancestry.com.au

The internet is a great way to get started on your family history, and nothing beats digging up the evidence of your ancestors from the comfort of your own home.  However the past is huge and there is much of it that will never grace the pages of the web.

I’ve been doing family history for about 10 years ­- still an apprentice by most standards – and whilst some branches of my tree have been easy to trace online, others (often the more mysterious ones) have proven more difficult. Enter Robert Keene (Junior), my 2 X Great Grandfather.

Robert died about 60 years before I was born and those who knew him when he was alive are all resting peacefully (or otherwise) on the other side of death.  Collectively we know little about Robert; his marriage and death certificates suggest he was born in a place called Comberton Grange (just south of Nowra, NSW) but no birth record can be found. This is not uncommon as he was born at a time prior to the government recording of Birth, Marriage and Death events (1852 -­ civil registration didn’t occur until 1856).

There was some speculation that Robert Keene was of indigenous extraction. Certain idiosyncratic facial characteristics of his daughter (Annie – the old woman pictured in the photo above) seem to support this story. However, I’ve spent enough time around seasoned genealogists to know that speculation and photographic suggestion are not enough ­- you need record based evidence.  And so, I began to look.

Robert’s parents were Sarah Hall and Robert Keene (Senior) – let’s call him ‘Bob’.  I could assume that they were in the Nowra region in the 1850′s as this is where Robert was born, but I could find little evidence (online) to support their existence at all, let alone their existence at that place, at that point in history.

But as luck would have it, my travels found me down Nowra way at the Shoalhaven Family History Society.  The Society is located in the old school house at Pyree and whilst there I asked if they had any info on the Keene family. One of their volunteers Wayne jumped up, dived into a card catalogue and said “Yeah there’s a record here [on the card] of a Robert Keene mentioned in the Bench Books”.

Bench Books are, broadly speaking, magistrates notes. Often written with some speed and little care for legibility, they are a challenging record to review, but I was fortunate enough a few years ago to gain access to the material out at the State Records of NSW (Kingswood).  The bench books made mention of Bob and there were several references to him as “old white headed Bob”.  His son Robert Keene was also mentioned. Tantalising information but not the smoking gun I was looking for and speculation within the family continued unabated.

Fast forward to June 2013. Once again I found myself down in Nowra attending the Shoalhaven History Fair.  I brought up the subject of Bob with the Shoalhaven Family History Society once again and this time they directed me to the Shoalhaven Historical Society, specifically the genius of Alan Clark.  I had a brief conversation with Alan and told him what little I knew of Bob and the Keenes. Alan said the name was familiar and said he’d look into it for me.  About an hour later Alan drops off a few papers and says something like “Robert (Bob) Keene was very well known in the area at the time and something of a troublemaker”. He smiled and then left me to read the contents of the documents.

In the lead up to the first ever royal visit to Australia in 1868, Bob was invited to a meeting at the Pyree Mutual Improvement Society to debate the best way to spend 5000 pounds that had been allocated to the preparation of a reception for the Duke of Edinburgh. Whilst not necessarily important in itself – these meetings were more for entertainment and the joy of debate rather than to have any real impact on policy in the colony – this particular meeting would become every important when Henry James O’Farrell attempted to assassinate the Duke on March 12, 1868, some weeks after the meeting at Pyree.

According to numerous accounts, Bob – also known as “Gabbling Bob” –  told a newspaperman after the assassination attempt that the meeting at Pyree was run by Fenians (an Irish Republican group who O’Farrell claimed connect to – a claim he later withdrew). Bob went on to claim that an individual at the meeting stated a “person could be found to carry out an assassination!”.  As you can imagine these allegations did not sit well with the residents of Shoalhaven – to be implicated in the unpurgeable shame of bringing harm to the royal family turned everyone against Bob, and with good cause. Refutations abounded, Parliamentary committees were convened. Bob was shamed and seems to have faded from history.

So, rather than any link to the indigenous inhabitants of this country, I now find myself connected to a 19th century ‘story teller’ and social pariah. Whilst my 2 X Great Grandfather’s early life is still shrouded in some mystery, the fascinating details of his father’s “Gabbling Bob” infamy helps explain the silence in the family history. It’s amazing what you can find offline.

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