Breamlea, Victoria

Breamlea, Victoria

Friday, 28 August 2015

Ancestors in the Newspaper - digitised newspaper search in Trove

Ancestors in the newspaper

It is amazing to me how often our ancestors appear in the newspaper.  A simple search can give you so many little gems of information.

The greatest trouble with the search for me though is sifting through all the false positives for my ancestor's name.

For example, my ancestor's surname is SALTER.  When you search through Trove's digitised newspaper collection using the word Salter, you get all sorts of hits.  These are the examples I have found for Salter:

  • Other families with the name Salter
  • Salt cellars being listed as wedding gifts
  • Gold mining claims being "salted"
  • A member of the local constabulary named "Salt"
  • Salt mining
  • Government officials misspellings eg. "Sault"
  • The digitisation process misreading words due to the age and deterioration of the newspaper being scanned. 
For the name ARMSTRONG,  there are other issues:
  • The sheer quantity of people whose name is Armstrong
  • Different unrelated groups of families called Armstrong living in the same area.
  • Local Armstrong families using the same first names for their children of similar ages
  • Judges, MP's, JP's, Police and defendants all with the name Armstrong 
Each surname that you search has its own set of challenges.  If you are lucky enough to have a surname that is unusual, you need to be lucky that people have spelled the name correctly in their documentation, and the newspaper is a clear copy so the digitisation process works well, as it mostly does.  If your surname is common, you will need to use filters to narrow your search from the tens of thousands the name search will find for you.  The filters in the digitised newspaper section include:
  • the State the newspaper was printed in
  • the decade and year it was printed in
  • the name of the newspaper
  • the Category of newspaper item you are looking for broken into subheadings:
    • Advertising
    • Articles
    • Detailed Lists, Results and Guides
    • Family Notices
  • whether the item is Illustrated
  • Word count
Using the filters will narrow the search surprisingly quickly down to a manageable size.  Once you have those results, you  can use the Sort function drop down box to sort the results by relevance (the articles considered to be most relevant to your search), or date (earliest to latest or vice versa.)

You can also utilise the Lists and Tags functions to find if other people have collated items for that name already.  Look for the tabs at the top of the Digitised Newspapers section.

As always, the more you know, the better your results. But it's always worth taking a punt.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Eureka Stockade and my family

Historical context of the Eureka Stockade

My family moved from South Australia to Victoria in the period 1851 to 1855.  We know they had definitely arrived and settled in Chewton, Victoria by August 1855.  They seem to have definitely left Adelaide by 1853.  This happens to cover the period of the Eureka Stockade.

Now in case your schoolgirl/schoolboy history is as forgotten as mine, the Eureka Stockade was in Ballarat, Victoria on 3 December 1854.  You will probably remember from Primary school the descriptive visuals of the Eureka flag, burning Gold Licenses and the early morning raid on a disorganised  and comparatively defenceless group of miners. Gold Mining Licences in Victoria were incredibly expensive, and paid on a monthly basis. The local miners were subjected to "Digger Hunts" by the Police which virtually amounted to harassment.  The State government powers that be struggled with the administration of the licences which were too much, too often and implacably administered.  At the Eureka Rebellion, 27 men were killed, mostly rebels.

The other night I couldn't sleep and fluked onto a late night television program showing an historical recreation of the Eureka trials.  It was fascinating.  Basically 13 of the Eureka rebels were brought to trial for high treason. Eventually all cases were dismissed. The Eureka Stockade was Australia's first and only civil rebellion. It was a protest about the rights of miners and mining fees, not any grand political statement against the government.  My family, including two generations of miners, living in another mining town a short distance from where the incident happened, had to be impacted directly.  

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

For an interesting refresher, see Wikipedia:

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Elizabeth gives me a headache

The Trouble with Elizabeth Cumis nee Armstrong

Elizabeth's stays at Castlemaine Hospital for the years 1891 to 1896
highlighted in pink. The circle on 31 May 1896 shows when she died.
My ancestor Elizabeth gives me a headache.

She has so many spellings to her names, I've had to write a list so I remember them all. 

Elizabeth was born in Adelaide in 1842 with the surname ARMSTRONG.  That's all fine. Not many people spell Armstrong wrong.
Then her mother remarried in 1851 so she adopted her step-father's surname SALTER. That's fine as well, but I have found the name spelled SAULTER.

Then in 1864 she got married to Sims CUMIS, an african man. They were both illiterate, so we find as many spellings of their surname as there are bureaucrats that filled out their paperwork.

Since joining the Genealogical Society of Victoria (GSV),  I had searched CUMIS and CUMMIS in their Library.  I had found a couple of entries of Elizabeth being hospitalised at Castlemaine Mt. Alexander Hospital in the early 1890's. 

Yesterday I searched the name "Elizabeth" in conjunction with the place "Chewton", and Bingo! Eight new hospital records popped up under another spelling, COMAS.  I took a punt at another spelling, COMMAS.  Bingo! again another five hospital records. It was great.

So now we know our poor Elizabeth was in hospital for a total of 18 times over a period of six years. The names she was registered under were Elizabeth, Lizzie, Lizzy and Eliza.  Her surnames were the ones I've mentioned plus one under the name Salter.  Not to mention the couple of entries where there has been a transcription error and she is CUMINS and CUMMINS.

These are the trials of every family historian.

Friday, 21 August 2015

Unclaimed letters in Adelaide, South Australia in 1853

Adelaide newspaper article in 1853

Janet Salter's name in a list for Unclaimed Letters
 in Adelaide in 1853.

Just for a change, I searched Trove for an ancestor, this time Janet Salter.

Janet was a Scottish woman who came to Adelaide with her husband, arriving in 1839. South Australia was a fledgling state at that point, and I've read stories of how people had to wade through swampland with their possessions on their backs once they reached Adelaide.  Colonial times sure were a hoot.  Anyway, Janet buried two husbands in Adelaide poor thing, and married a third, called James Salter, in August 1851.  Hope springs eternal.

Around this same time, gold was discovered in the Forest Creek area of Victoria (that is around Castlemaine).  James and Janet Salter must have decided to try their luck in that area, and were settled in Chewton by 1855.  They must have travelled overland as there are no records I can find of them sailing. The journey wouldn't have been much shorter anyway from any Victorian port out to the goldfields.  To sail would have been expensive and I seriously doubt whether they could have afforded to sail. I shudder to think what travelling from Adelaide to Chewton overland would have been like with children in tow. I imagine wooden wagons and bullocks, not many possessions and lots of walking, but I don't know for sure.

So the two definite dates we have for James and Janet are:  August 1851 in Adelaide when they married AND August 1855 in Chewton.  So they travelled some time during that four year period.

Trawling through Trove yesterday, I discovered an unclaimed letter for Mrs. Janet Salter, published in two different South Australian newspapers for a total of 5 times.  Although there are Salters in Adelaide at this time, there are no other Janet Salters, so I know it is her letter. The notices appeared in these newspapers:

  • 7 May 1853 - Adelaide Observer
  • same day - South Australian Register
  • 14 January 1854 - Adelaide Observer
  • 16 January 1854 - South Australian Register
  • 20  February 1854 - South Australian Register

So, with these dates in mind, if Janet did not collect her letter in May 1853, she had likely already left Adelaide by that date.

We have narrowed the date of their leaving Adelaide down to less than 2 years now, between August 1851 when they married in Adelaide and May 1853. Of course, nothing is set in stone with genealogy.

The next question is, who wrote to her and how did they know she was by then Mrs. Salter?

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

If anyone out there knows of a book or any further information as to how people travelled from Adelaide to Victoria in the early 1850s,  please let me know.

Trove Citation:

23 UNCLAIMED LETTERS.—APRIL 30, 1853. South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 - 1900) 3 1853 7 May 1853 Adelaide, SA 22 August 2015 

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Welcome to Bendigo.  I visited
 the Bendigo Library, part of the
 Goldfields Libraries Group.
Part Two - Bendigo Library and Bendigo Family History Group AIGS

On Wednesday last, I travelled to Bendigo to research my great great Uncle James Armstrong. I had a terrific day, spending the morning in the BRAC, which you have already read about in a previous blog post.  In the afternoon, I stayed in the same building but spent time with the local family history group.

The Bendigo Library is one of the Goldfields Library Group, and is a real community centre in my opinion. A lot of thought has obviously gone into the design of the building. It has wonderful spaces for meetings of community groups.  Some spaces were like an open sunken auditorium, some were glassed off rooms with a large round meeting table and some were glass partitioned on three sides.  They also had food and drink available downstairs.  It all seemed very spacious and functional and user friendly to me, and I enjoyed being in their space.

I believe the people helping me were members of  the Australian Institute of Genealogical Studies or AIGS, Bendigo chapter.  They were wonderful, and really asked questions to understand exactly what I wanted.  They also offered local knowledge, which answered questions for me that would only have occurred to me much later on, thus saving me time and research.

They accessed local funeral director's records for me which are not available on-line.  They quickly found out specific things about my ancestor, which was heartening after a morning of fruitless searching in BRAC.

For example, I found out that my ancestor James had his funeral paid by an Insurance firm and a Repatriation fund.  The notes from the undertaker say "Polished coffin, Hearse, 2 Limousines, cemetery fee and press notices."  For his wife Lily, who died two months previous to him and is buried in the same plot: "Polished coffin, Glass Hearse, 1 Limo, Cemetery Fee." From these small details I imagine James consumed with grief as we know he was, following Lily's Glass Hearse to Kangaroo Flat Cemetery, where he would shortly follow.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

AIGS Bendigo volunteers are available at the Bendigo Library to assist researchers on Wednesdays 10am to 4pm and Saturdays 10am to 1 pm.

Research Officer
AIGS Inc. Bendigo Branch
PO Box 145
Bendigo 3552.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Searching in Bendigo - a visit to the Bendigo Regional Archives Centre

The photo I took yesterday morning of
Bendigo Magistrates' Court,
 a short walk away from the
 Bendigo Library in Hargreaves Street.

Yesterday was full of the highs and lows that make up the life of a passionate genealogist.

Off I went to Bendigo, only a couple of hours drive from Melbourne.  I had booked into a course at the Bendigo Regional Archives Centre (BRAC) for a brief run down of their resources.

 BRAC is located on the first floor of the Bendigo Library, located in Hargreaves Street.  It is a regional branch of the Public Records Office, (PROV) which is located in North Melbourne.  If you are a family historian in Victoria,  Australia, you will, or probably already have, visited PROV in North Melbourne.  I went there a few months ago and got some copies of inquests for my family. I was super impressed with PROV's professionalism and wondered how BRAC would compare.

Very well as it happens.  The course was interesting and informative, and we were presented with information packs that would assist us later,  As each available record was described, we got shown an example of that record, which was passed around the table. Some of the volumes were enormous and some of us were unable to lift them at all.

It was so exciting to see these documents, often leather-bound with colourful marbled endpapers.  Some of the handwriting was so fine and meticulous, I don't think I have ever seen its equal.  Books varied in size depending on age and what it contained.  As I said before, the Land Title volumes were so large that they were easily the length of my arm, and three inches thick including the heavy leather bindings.  Some of the Bendigo City Council pay books I went through were only 20cm square, but they contained each employee's signature, information about their occupation, even sometimes the area they worked in during that pay period. Gold for someone with that ancestor! Other pay books contained stamp duty stamps attached to the page and cancelled out.  Others contained handwritten notes such as "Please pay Mrs. X my wages as I am too sick with influenza. Kind and oblige, Mr. X."  Another note gave me pause: "Please pay Mrs. X my wages until such and such a date. (Months in advance).  I imagined the man owed back rent to his landlady.  Or something like that. Just think, I handled those books and papers and they were at least 80 years old.

Others were even older and some were in downright bad condition.  One particular volume from 1877 had very thick linen covered cardboard covers, with two perfect shoe shapes cut out of them.  The shoe lining thief stole them a long long time ago, perhaps during the depression. The front page has dark patches in perfect shoe shapes where the cover is missing.

The BRAC volunteers work hard and are friendly too.  I gleaned lots of local knowledge without which I would have been truly stuck.  Local knowledge is gold, and highly undervalued in this day of "everything's on computer" because that's not true.

You should go to BRAC if your ancestor lived in the area. If you, like me, are from out of town and plan to visit the Bendigo Library and BRAC for longer than an hour, park in the multi-storey carpark directly across the road.  It only costs $7 for the whole day, and saves moving your car periodically. The Bendigo Library also has food and drink available downstairs. More about Bendigo Library tomorrow.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Perches, metres and feet - James Salter's land in Chewton in 1860

I love TROVE so much!

Today I got emailed by them telling me a certain article I was interested in was available.

The article appeared in the Mount Alexander Mail on Friday 3 August 1860. The heading is 'Title Deeds' and  tells a list of people for whom Title Deeds await at the Receipt and Pay Office at Castlemaine.

Included in the list is James Salter, my 4x great grandmother's third husband.  Beside his name is listed where he bought the land, Chewton, and numbers and letters.  In James' case it is 35p.  For half a second I thought it was the price, but then 35 pence was too cheap for land even in those days.  Besides I knew he paid 15 pounds for his land.

So what does 35p mean? Looking at other names on the list, I saw others had numbers with the letter 'r' or a combination of 'r' and 'p'.  Finally I realised it stood for rods and perches, old fashioned units of measurement.

So James' block of land in Chewton is 35 perches. Apparently that is the equivalent of 885 square metres or 9500 square feet. I hope that means something to you because it means nothing to me.  I was born without a measurement gene apparently; never have been able to judge distance or size of things. My husband tells me it's about twice the size of our house, but that won't help you. we went to Chewton earlier this year, we visited James and Janet's block briefly driving past it.  It is close to the town centre, not far from the Post Office. I could easily see the back fence quite close to the road, so it is not a huge block.  They built a bark hut on the property and Janet lived in that hut from 1860 when they bought the land until 1887 when she died.

 I imagine that James promised Janet that she and her children would never have to move again, and they would all put down roots in Chewton.  And he did that for her.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

 Janet Salter and the Ladies' Committee of Chewton

Yesterday I wrote of Mrs. Janet Salter who was a witness to two births in the gold-mining town of Chewton, Victoria, Australia in 1865.  She is my 4x great grandmother.

Today I went onto Trove and stumbled upon some interesting articles about her.

We know that Janet and her husband James moved to Chewton from Adelaide between 1851 and 1854.  In 1860, they bought a small property in the township, just behind the Post Office. valued at 15 pounds.  On it, they built a bark hut.

In 1868, James was admitted to the Castlemaine Benevolent Asylum, and stayed there (with a handful of brief visits home) until he died in May 1887, a period of nearly 20 years.  It was explained to me by the Castlemaine Historical Society that the Asylum meant in those days the traditional meaning of the word, as in shelter or a haven.  People were put in asylums for all sorts of reasons;  for example Alzheimers and Dementia, nervous breakdowns, physical incapacity or just because their loved ones couldn't take care of them for whatever reason.

I always wondered how Janet survived during those years, and today, Trove told me.

I found three articles printed in the Mount Alexander Mail, recording meetings of the Chewton Borough Council.

The first article dated 16 November 1877, notes that Janet applied to the Council to be recommended to the Ladies' Committee for financial relief.  She had been receiving some benefit from them, but it had been stopped.  The Town Clerk was to write to the Ladies' Committee to ask why.

The next article dated 30 November 1877, notes that the Ladies' Committee had answered.  In response to one of James' brief visits home, the ladies had withdrawn the relief. The Town Clerk was told to inform Janet. James was 67 at the time and obviously suffering some incapacity. He had been an inmate of the asylum for nearly ten years.

The next article is dated 26 July 1878, six months later, and again she is asking the Council to recommend her to the Ladies' Committee for weekly support. She was 75 years old.  Cr. O'Donohoe remarks he would like to know why these kinds of requests are being sent to Council instead of direct to the Ladies' Committee.  I bet we can guess why.

Janet herself died ten years later in March 1887, at the age of 85 and James died 8 weeks after her.
Article identifier
Page identifier
APA citation
CHEWTON BOROUGH COUNCIL. (1877, November 30).Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), p. 2. Retrieved August 17, 2015, from
MLA citation
"CHEWTON BOROUGH COUNCIL." Mount Alexander Mail(Vic. : 1854 - 1917) 30 Nov 1877: 2. Web. 17 Aug 2015 <>.
Harvard/Australian citation
1877 'CHEWTON BOROUGH COUNCIL.', Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917), 30 November, p. 2, viewed 17 August, 2015,
Wikipedia citation
{{cite news |url= |title=CHEWTON BOROUGH COUNCIL. |newspaper=[[Mount Alexander Mail |Mount Alexander Mail (Vic. : 1854 - 1917)]] |location=Vic. |date=30 November 1877 |accessdate=17 August 2015 |page=2 |publisher=National Library of Australia}}


Saturday, 15 August 2015

An insight into the gold-mining town of Chewton, Victoria, Australia in 1865

Robert Armstrong Comes

Recently I obtained the birth certificate for Robert Armstrong Comes aka Robert CUMMIS, aka Robert ARMSTRONG.

As usual, Births Deaths and Marriages Victoria sent the whole page from the Chewton records at the time.  So I get five birth registrations for the price of one.

Robert was born on 3 July 1865 at Wattle Flat in Chewton, and was present at the time of his registration in September.  His father was listed as Simes Comes (who our family usually refer to as Sims Cummis) and he was a miner aged 28.  For some reason his birth place is listed as South America but our family knows he was from South Africa.  His birth in South Africa is confirmed as per his own statement on his wedding certificate, as being born at the Cape of Good Hope.

Robert's mother (and my 3x great grandmother) is listed as Elizabeth Comes, formerly Elizabeth Armstrong, born Adelaide, South Australia, aged 23.  Robert's birth registration also states that  Elizabeth and Sims married in 1864 in Chewton, and we can confirm this from their wedding certificate that they married on 10 October 1864.

The informant was Elizabeth herself, and she dutifully made her mark on the register (see the photo), as she had also done at her wedding.  It is interesting that Elizabeth and Sims were both illiterate, and yet one of their later sons became what amounted to an unofficial journalist, commenting in the newspapers about his experiences at Gallipoli and the Western Front during the First World War.

In the Witnesses column, it states there was 'No Medical attendant', however 'Other Witnesses' names Mrs. Salter.  

Now we know who that witness is.  Mrs. Salter is Elizabeth's mother and my 4x great grandmother, Janet Row who was born in Scotland.  She travelled to Adelaide, South Australia in 1839 with her Scottish husband, who died that same year.  Janet married again, this time to Elizabeth's father, an African man called John Armstrong.  After John Armstrong died, Janet married yet again in Adelaide, South Australia to an Englishman called James Salter.  James brought the whole family to Chewton in Victoria shortly after gold was discovered, a distance of 650 km (over 400 miles).

What is interesting on this birth registration page is that Mrs. Salter is named as witness to two births.
Janet also helped deliver another boy born four days after her grandson Robert. That boy's name was William John Archer, and his father was a 32 year old baker from Liverpool, England. His mother was 22 year old Agnes Longstaff, from Brooklyn, Long Island in America.

Four out of the five births listed on the page state 'no medical attendant'. Two of the other informants have definitely signed in their own hand.  The other two listed as informants seem to be consistent with the handwriting of Registrar Hardy. So Elizabeth was the only one who 'made her mark' on the page.

I like to think Elizabeth's mother Janet helped others as a midwife in their community. Janet lived in Chewton until she died in 1896. If I'd travelled from Scotland to Australia, from Adelaide to Chewton, I would refuse to move any more too.


Friday, 14 August 2015

Ellen Cummis aka Ellen Armstrong

Hello everyone,

Today I have been researching Ellen Cummis, the sister of Louisa Cummis, my great great grandmother. As we all know, for some unknown reason, the entire Cummis family adopted either their mother's birth name, Armstrong, or their mother's stepfather's name, Salter.  My great great grandmother used the name Louisa Salter until she married.

Now about her sister Ellen.  We know Ellen was born on 24 August 1870 in Chewton, Victoria.  That is all I have ever known about Ellen since I started researching. Yet another puzzle with this mysterious family.

Today I searched the family trees on Ancestry for clues and found a tree that I believe is being researched by a distant family member.  In that tree they have the details Ellen Elizabeth Armstrong and a death certificate number, but that is all.

From the Births, Deaths and Marriages website, I got these details for that death certificate.

Ellen Elizabeth Armstrong
Parents names : unknown
No Spouse details filled in.
Age: 84
Birth Place: Victoria
Death Place: Sunbury
Registration Year: 1959

So ok, follow my logic here.

Ellen is the correct name.
Elizabeth was her mother's name.
Armstrong was her mother's maiden name.

If she was 84 when she died in 1959, that means this Ellen was born in 1875 in Victoria.  We know our Ellen was born in 1870, so it doesn't seem a match.  And yet, in all our family's research, we find over and over again that the ages of the Cummis children are out by at least a couple of years, always saying they are younger than they actually are.   So I don't find this five year gap in birth years as much of a deal breaker as I normally would.  This fudging of their birth years is consistent for this family.  And so I continue researching, bearing this in mind.

I went to the Genealogical Society of Victoria website and searched Ellen Armstrong and came up with a match to the one born in 1875.

This record shows an Ellen Armstrong was admitted to the Ballarat Base Hospital in 1898 at 23 years of age. (Again if she is our Ellen, she was actually 28 years old.) She was a dress maker and lived in Victoria Street, Ballarat and was single. Ballarat is pretty close to Chewton where she was born and her mother lived. Not a deal breaker.

There is one more thought I have.  Her death in Sunbury.  I googled Sunbury with 1959 and up came Sunbury Lunatic Asylum on Wikipedia.  That tells me so helpfully that patients were transferred from the Ballarat Asylum to the Sunbury Asylum.  So no proof yet, just some massive leaping to conclusions.

 Next step, I need to go into the GSV on Monday and look up the microfische hospital records to see what else we can find out about this Ellen Armstrong.

And I'd love to know WHY  they all changed their names.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus