Breamlea, Victoria

Breamlea, Victoria

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Genealogical Society of Victoria

Ok right now I'm in the train to Flinders Street Station looking forward to my day in the GSV. 
I've only recently become a member and already I am seeing benefits.
The GSV has certainly got an eye on the future and is making progress and plans which is I think pretty exciting for our future. Their current aim is to improve their website which grew like topsy, but they have now employed professional developers who are in the midst of making it a really slick affair.  The fact that all their members are interested in progressing into the future is borne out by their phenominally high participation rate when they sent out a questionnaire about the members' needs in the digital age, and to the Society's very great credit, they are responding proactively.
I find it is very exciting to be part of a team who will help change the unfair perception of the knitted cardigan status quo.
The librarians there helped me enormously and were enthusiastic and friendly.
The best thing about the GSV is that it is a short walk through Flinders Street Station and you can pop up in Degraves Street only metres away from the back entrance of the Emirates building where it is located. No effort at all apart from the stairs.
As part of a new membership you get a free introductory course that tells you basic info and shows how to access the incredible resources it has to offer. There are other free courses for members too. The one I am going to today is called Starting Your Family History and I'll tell you about that tomorrow. For nonmembers the course costs $15, but why wouldn't you become a member when membership costs less than a hundred bucks a year? You'll easily recover that in the free courses they offer and the quality of the information you find.
I've learned a lot by doing it myself with family history, but the GSV has added to my expertise and results wonderfully.
Historically yours
Valerius Copernicus

Monday, 30 March 2015

A chook stealing John Armstrong in Adelaide in 1842

Tell me everyone, how I can identify my 4 X great grandfather John Armstrong?  With such a widespread name as Armstrong and such a common name as John, how do I separate my John Armstrong from any other?

In 1834, South Australia separated from the colony of New South Wales.  Land was being released for the first time.  Commissioners were appointed to control land sales, revenue and the flow of emigrants in 1835.  There were only 546 Europeans in the province of South Australia in 1836.  The colony was small in those days; therefore there is less chance of multiple people with the same exact name.  But with a name like John Armstrong, how can we be sure?

We know for a fact that John Armstrong married my 4 X great grandmother Janet Slone nee Row in 1842 in Adelaide. He was her second husband.  Janet (yes, the same Janet as yesterday's blog!) gave birth to my 3 X great grand mother Elizabeth Armstrong.

We know a John Armstrong was buried in West Terrace cemetery, Adelaide in an unrecorded location on 8 February 1850.  He was aged 50 when he died and lived at 50 Waymouth Street, Adelaide.  His burial was paid for by the state.  

Another search of John Armstrong turns up a newspaper article about criminal proceedings in 1841 for theft. This John Armstrong was indicted with accomplice Charles Hall for stealing four chickens.  There is an amusing account of the policeman following footprints and chook feathers back through the bush to the hut and taking the chook heads and feet back to the farmer to identify.  The policeman also mentions small children in the hut, and this information tallies with what we know of Janet's Slone family. Then again, lots of people have children.  ie. We can neither confirm nor deny.

Another time the same Charles Hall and John Armstrong get done for stealing clothes from a Mrs. Hall although the ineffectual John tried to stop Charlie, who complained bitterly at John's lack of experience and ineptitude.  The interesting thing in this case is that Charles Hall and John Armstrong are both black-skinned Africans. The records mention John lives near the Brown Hill Creek.  

It is certain that the chook stealers and the clothes stealers living in a hut in the bush are the same people.  They are black African men, it says so in the court records.  The interesting thing is that we know Janet's child Elizabeth Armstrong, my 3 X great grandmother later married a black skinned man born in Africa. Like her father?  We don't know. It is only an interesting fact because as all family historians know, patterns occur over generations.  

So we have three John Armstrongs.  Our great great great great grandfather that married Janet Slone in 1842 is definite.  The one that died 1850 buried in West Terrace is a probable because we know Janet was a widow when she remarried in 1851. And lastly, the third John Armstrong that got done for chook theft. How do you prove that he was the only John Armstrong in Adelaide in the days of less than perfect record keeping?

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

PS. I think he is all the same person; I just can't prove it.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Chewton, Victoria, Australia. gold-mining town

Recently I went to Chewton in Victoria to visit the town where a branch of my family lived in the mid 1800's.

Chewton is a gorgeous little gold-mining town located close to the outskirts of Castlemaine. It doesn't take too much imagination to see how it was for my great, great, great, great grandmother Janet in raising her children there.  The tiny white-washed law court. A 20 foot square hot box that is optimistically called a "gaol" which sports narrow louvres near the roof line in lieu of windows. It would have been pitch black and oven like especially during the heat of the day.  A grandiose church complete with flying buttresses.  And in those days, many, many pubs.

This whole area was called  Forest Creek.  Gold was discovered there in the mid 1800's and my family settled there very shortly afterwards, in search of work.   I can't imagine how the Scottish born Janet felt coming over from Adelaide to a place completely unknown to her, but it probably seemed like less of a gamble than the one she had already taken in coming to Australia.  Janet  had already buried two husbands and had just married her third when gold was discovered in the Forest Creek area. Her third husband James was a labourer, not a miner, although Janet's son-in-law tried his hand at mining.

Janet's husband bought property in the first big land release in 1860 in Chewton, and the property was valued at 15 pounds, land and bark hut included. The rates were five pounds a year. Imagine if your annual land rates were calculated on the basis of a third of your property value!

Janet is buried in Chewton cemetery with her daughter and her baby grandson.  They have no headstone, so sadly, we can only conclude our miner never struck it rich.

Family tree research in Africa in 1800's.

My Great Great Great Grandfather was a black African man born in the Cape of Good Hope, Africa in 1835.  His surname was Cumis or Cummis and his first name was Sims or Symns.  He also used the first name William.  He was English illiterate and so there are many different spellings of his name/s, including Comas, Comes, Cummas, Cumas even Cumins,

Can anyone tell me how to research his family in Africa?

 He was a miner in the Bendigo area of Victoria in the 1860's and 1870's.  We know he lived in Maryborough and Chewton, and spent time in the Castlemaine Hospital. Apart from the period of time when he married and fathered children he is a mystery. We can find no records of his entry to Australia.  Nor can we find any death records.

Not sure how to even begin researching his African birth records.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Genealogy makes their eyes glaze over

Don't you hate it when you say something like "My great uncle was in World War One...." and you trail off because you see the other person's eyes lose focus like they're rapidly losing the will to live?

What's so boring about men fighting in Gallipoli, I ask you?  To me, that story is much more interesting than my friend's latest snapchat photo of a meal that somebody else made for them.  Why is my family story more boring than their meal which they won't remember two days from now?

The truth is harsh.  People are more interested in their meal because it involves THEM.  My family story doesn't.  So they are listening to me out of politeness.  That's nice; I thank you.  The trouble is, I don't want their polite reception of my treasured information.  I want excitement, enthusiasm and interest!  I want input and insightful critical thinking and a deep involvement from the other person. Is this too much to ask for?

The answer is yes, depending on the person.
The answer is also no, depending on the person.

Each person is different and everyone has different interests; I get that. So I no longer try to include those people who are politely asking out of duty. Thank you, but no. In this massively important portion of my life, I only want a best effort. And if your best effort is politeness, and your eyes are glazing over, I won't inflict it on you any more, I promise.

So now I seek out those people with whom I share that all consuming passion called genealogy. I want to share with passionately excited people who love what they do and love the stories they find. And I'll share my stories too.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus