Breamlea, Victoria

Breamlea, Victoria

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

I've got my WW1 ancestor's records - what do I do now?

Hi everyone!

Hopefully everybody has found their WW1 ancestor's records by going to the National Archives of Australia.  You can see my previous blog about how to research NAA to get those records.  Now that you have them, what now?

For me, researching the military records was difficult because I don't have a military background.  There are an awful lot of abbreviations and whatnot in those papers that you will become familiar with and your understanding will grow if you continue to research.

I would say the most helpful thing a person can do once they have the records, is research the context of those records.

For example, if you know your ancestor was in the 59th Battalion AIF, then your first step could be to simply Wikipedia the 59th Battalion, and see what comes up.  Wikipedia will probably have the official history of the Battalion, and will include important battles and things of major import that happened to that Battalion.  Their references are useful too, as you can see major books and websites used to gather the information and they may help you later.

Next I would check out the Australian War Memorial.  The search bar there will look for all sorts of things, including your specific ancestor, their battalion, and photographs.  You can narrow your search as long as you have a clear idea of which part of the forces your ancestor was in (which you do because you already have their military records!) If you have used Trove it is quite like that website.

Trove is great too, to see if your ancestor was mentioned perhaps in a nominal roll of volunteers.  You can see my previous blog about how to use Trove.  It is a fantastic resource for all sorts of research

There is also a Victorian Government website called, which has a wonderful list of hyperlinks to relevant external websites to help your search.

On the National Archives of Australia is the "Discovering ANZACs" section, worth a look.

Then there is always good old google images search.  I find I can scan a heap more websites with google images rather than reading each website individually with a regular google search.  If you see an image which you think suits your purpose, hover your arrow on it and it will show the website the image comes from. You can then choose or not to visit the page, and that saves time and pointless downloading and waiting.

After that there are specific websites, according to the experience your ancestor had.
For example, the 59th Battalion fought at Fromelles, so from there you can Wikipedia etc Fromelles and the Western Front.  Go through your list of resources again!

Good luck with your search.
Historically yours
Valerius Copernicus

Monday, 27 April 2015

Boer War Records for Australians

Hi Everybody!

I've just found out that my ancestor James Salter Armstrong is listed in the Kerang nominal roll for the Anglo Boer War (1899 - 1902) in Africa.

I'm looking for his records now and I've found many people with the name Armstrong, but none seem correct for my ancestor.

Anybody got any ideas on this one?

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Friday, 24 April 2015

ANZAC Day silence

Hi everyone,
On this ANZAC day, I would like tell you about my WW1 ancestor who was in Gallipoli and then later at the Western Front.  His service lasted 2 years and 9 months before he was finally gassed near Ypres in Belgium.

He did survive however, and was transferred to England for recovery before arriving back in Australia in 1918.

Men weren't only killed at Gallipoli.  Their lives were changed forever by the experience of it. I have spent all this emotional ANZAC day writing about my ancestor James and his experiences.  And I'm afraid, much like the diggers, I can't talk about it any more today.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

South Australia 1839 - Governor George Gawler

His Excellency Governor George Gawler,
Governor of South Australia in 1839.
State Library of South Australia, SLSA, B14428
Hi everyone,

You know of course from yesterday's blog that my 4x Great Grandmother Janet Slone nee Row and her first husband Robert Slone arrived at Port Adelaide, South Australia in March 1839 on the Katherine Stewart Forbes.

Also on board was Charles Cooper, who was to become the first Chief Justice of the Province.

An article by the South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register newspaper printed on 6 April 1839, just days after their arrival, tells of a welcoming speech given by His Excellency the Governor George Gawler to Charles Cooper.

It is clear from the article that both men have used this opportunity to make statements of their agendas.

Firstly, Gawler welcomes Cooper, stating that he has received the orders from her Majesty, Queen Victoria to make Charles Cooper a permanent Judge of South Australia.  Gawler sees this permanent position with 'satisfaction' and as giving rise to stability within the Colony. This stability is 'of the utmost importance to our prosperity.'  I'm getting the feeling that George has some warring parties on his hands somewhere.

George then says that Charles Cooper shouldn't have too much to do on the criminal side of things, and waxes lyrical about how the working classes of the whole British Empire are all things wonderful but especially law abiding. Er, George, where did the convicts come from in the first place?  One gets the feeling he is trying to make it so by saying so here because his next statement  was that the Gaol was full, but it was only a little Gaol.

Prophetically, Gawler speaks to our family in the next paragraph, and I'll let you read it for yourself.  He says that most prisoners in the Gaol were:

     'runaway sailors or escaped convicts from other colonies; with such as these there will, no doubt, be something to do.  An efficient police must be maintained, and the arm of justice firmly extended to repress their irregularities.'

Well, Janet Slone's next husband, and my 4x great grandfather John Armstrong,  is an African born sailor, who we think gets done for theft of four chickens, and ended up doing hard labour in that Gaol a few years after this speech.

Next, Gawler talks about a propensity for 'frivolous and vexatious litigation' within the colony which he hopes is replaced by conciliation and arbitration.  He hopes that Mr. Cooper will not have to deal with too many of these civil cases.

Cooper himself responds now, thanking the Governor for the cordial reception, and said that 'everything had been done to make him forget that he was a stranger in a strange land.'  I wonder if Granny felt the same way.  Cooper then went to some effort to emphasise that, by necessity, his position required him to be apolitical.

Then he commented on a situation of which I have no knowledge, but Mr. Cooper states that he has read something in the newspapers that is 'so unjust to the Governor' and 'so injurious to the happy progress of the colony.' What is Charles Cooper talking about?

Another mystery to solve. yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Image of Governor Gawler supplied courtesy of State Library of South Australia, SLSA. B14428.
Newspaper articles found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
Citation for Trove article:

Article identifier
Page identifier
APA citation
APPOINTMENT AND INSTALLATION OF HIS HONOR THE JUDGE. (1839, April 6). South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), p. 3. Retrieved April 22, 2015, from
MLA citation
"APPOINTMENT AND INSTALLATION OF HIS HONOR THE JUDGE." South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register(Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839) 6 Apr 1839: 3. Web. 22 Apr 2015 <>.
Harvard/Australian citation
1839 'APPOINTMENT AND INSTALLATION OF HIS HONOR THE JUDGE.', South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register(Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839), 6 April, p. 3, viewed 22 April, 2015,
Wikipedia citation
{{cite news |url= |title=APPOINTMENT AND INSTALLATION OF HIS HONOR THE JUDGE. |newspaper=[[South_Australian_Register|South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register (Adelaide, SA : 1836 - 1839)]] |location=Adelaide, SA |date=6 April 1839 |accessdate=22 April 2015 |page=3 |publisher=National Library of Australia}}


The 'Katherine Stewart Forbes' arrived March 1839 in Port Adelaide, South Australia

Sir Charles Cooper, first Chief Justice of South Australia 
Hi Everyone,

I can't imagine what my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother Janet Slone nee Row thought when she left her home in Scotland and boarded the sailing ship Katherine Stewart Forbes in Plymouth in October 1838.

The Katherine Stewart Forbes was a three mast ship built in 1818.  She was only 117 feet long and not quite 30 ft wide.  (35.6m x 9m)  The ship had previously conveyed settlers to New Zealand,  transported convicts in 1830 and 1832, and had also made a previous trip to Port Adelaide in 1837.

We also know that the ship called at Capetown in Africa, for an extended period of time.

On board this particular journey with my 4x great grandmother was one Charles Cooper Esq., soon to be sworn in as Chief Justice for the Province, the bewhiskered man in the photograph.

The South Australian Gazette and Colonial Register reported that Charles Cooper arrived in excellent health 'notwithstanding a long and rather tempestuous passage.'

Also on board the Katherine Stewart Forbes were many goods including but not limited to 3 wheelbarrows, 4 carts, 16 wheels, 2 pigs' heads, 6 oars, anvil, 6 puncheons bottled beer, 6 bedsteads, and one iron bedstead, 21 barrels pork, 19 tierces beef and a piano.  Does anyone know what a tierce is?

All this amazing information was printed in the newspaper at the time, when the ship arrived in March 1839. It was a long trip even for those days,

I've made a list in TROVE called 'Katherine Stewart Forbes 1839' so you can find the digitised newspaper articles, including the list of goods article, plus articles that mention Charles Cooper.  Should you want to know more about Sir Charles' life, please refer to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.  I have provided the link below.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Newspaper articles found in Trove reproduced courtesy of the National Library of Australia.
Image used courtesy of the State Library of South Australia  - B440

Citation details

'Cooper, Sir Charles (1795–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 21 April 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (MUP), 1966

Sunday, 19 April 2015

How to view your Australian World War 1 ancestor's Service Records

With the ANZAC Centenary rapidly approaching, I thought I would write about how to access your ancestor's war records.

The first thing to know is their full name, place of birth and if possible their Military Number.

Then armed with enough information so you can id him or her out of the thousands, you go to the National Archives of Australia website.:

Find the blue box called 'The Collection'.  You are searching their Collection for War Service Records.  Look in the blue box for the War Service Records hyperlink and click it.  A new page will open.

Now you look for which branch of the services your ancestor was in:

1.  Australian Army
2.  Royal Australian Navy  (or RAN)
3.  Royal Australian Air Force (or RAAF)
4.  Other records such as civilian service etc.

Now we can look at Australian Army Records.
Notice the Army records are broken into various eras, and each era is a hyperlink that leads to a new page.  For our purposes, we will go to the World War 1  records.

The heading says Army - World War 1: 1914 - 18 and gives a list of the areas from which the personnel records come from.  They are called Service Dossiers.

Again you see a blue box and you can choose from two hyperlinked options.  For those who served in the army, click the hyperlink First Australian Imperial Forces personnel dossiers (World War 1 service records).  If your ancestor applied for the army but did not get in, click the hyperlink Applications to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force.

For our purposes, we will go to the first hyperlink. You will be taken to the specific RecordSearch area.  The page had a green bar horizontally across it and it has six paler green tabs just above that:
Basic search, Advanced search, Name Search, Photo Search, Passenger arrivals index and help.

Click on the Name Search tab and it becomes the darker green.

There are now two boxes to fill in. One is the Family name.  Just type in the surname of the person you are looking for. Next box is Category of records.  Use the drop down box which is the little black triangle at the right hand end to select the correct category,  Do not select All records; you are wasting your time and theirs, especially when demand is so high.

For our purposes again, go to Australian Defence Forces personnel records, subheading Army personnel records, subheading World War 1  and click on it. Then click on the Search button beneath it.

A new box will show, this time showing how many results are under that surname for World War 1.  Are you starting to understand why the search is happening this way.  We are literally sifting and sifting down until we get the exact right person out of the tens of thousands probably more of all the records.  Don't complain that it is too hard, it's not, but it takes some time to filter our your ancestor from the thousands.

For example, I searched the name Avery which I think is not such a common name, and still got 87 results for World War 1 alone.

Ok we are really close now.  You have a choice to display all the results if you like, but I don't want to go through all 87 Averys.  You might like to search this way if you don't know the particular name, but I will presume you know your ancestor's name.  So now click the button Refine this search result. 

Another 2 new boxes comes up, Given names and/or Service number.  Type in their given names then click the Search button. For example, I typed in 'Thomas' and got 11 results.  Who knew there were 11 Thomas Averys in World War 1?  If you can give more information, go to the Refine this search result button and give the extra information you have to narrow the results.

If that is as much information as you have, I am afraid you are stuck with looking at the 11 matches, so click the Display button.

Now we have listed the 11 Averys with Thomas somewhere in the record.  It may be their first name, it may be their middle name, it may be their father's name, or the town name they were born in.  This is where your information that you had at the start comes in handy.  You can often tell in the list which is the correct person you are looking for as it displays the Place of Enlistment (POE) their Place of Birth (POB) and Next of Kin (NOK).  It also displays their Military number, This is often enough to make a positive id of your ancestor.

Once you have found your ancestor in the list, notice on the right of their details there is an icon that looks like a sheaf of papers with lines on it.  There should be one icon per person for the entire list under the heading Digitised item. Click on the icon for your ancestor.

You've found it! A whole new page opens up with the scans of the actual pages of your ancestor's war records. It is incredibly exciting to see the handwriting of the person who filled in the document and your ancestors signature attesting to the veracity of it.  There is a physical description of your ancestor too.  In both of my grandfathers' World War 2 records, I even found small photographs for ID purposes.

So now you just browse each page of your ancestor's dossier.  It will show at the top right hand corner how many pages there are in total and which page you are on.  For example Page 1 of 22.  Just click on the green next button to turn the page. You can make the screen bigger by making the page fullscreen and you can use twitter, facebook, google+, pinterest and email to share it with the world.  It is truly amazing and we in Australia are so blessed to have this resource.

Enjoy your discovery but remember, we don't celebrate ANZAC day, we COMMEMORATE it.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Saturday, 18 April 2015

the person with the most doesn't win

Hi everyone,

I use myheritage sometimes and so I got an email today saying they had a match for my family tree.

The match was for my great Uncle, who died at 9 years old or so.

When I went to the particular website that listed the match, I found that the person had nearly 23,000 people in their family tree. Is this a bad case of biggest tree wins?  I bet the tree maker would not have a clue who my great Uncle was really.

However, the tree maker was from Victoria, Australia which made me feel a little better for no logical reason.  Also there were details about my family six generations back, while I had only managed to go back three generations.

I saw that he had copied the mistake that I had accidentally put in Ancestry when I first started. And thus the mistake grows over the internet.

I guess I have a different point of view than the one of  'the person with the most wins.'  To me it is much more important to get the recent history down; the stories, the people.  Records will always be available.  In fact, more records will be available later on when the backlog of records are digitised.

What cannot be replaced is the personal memories of the people who are alive today.  Their memories help us make sense of the records we find.  The casual comment, "oh, that's because..." will be lost forever as each person in the family passes on.  Their understanding, their take on things is irreplaceable.  Historians of the future will always be able to couch facts into our historical social setting.  What they can't know and what is our imperative job to preserve, as only we can preserve it, is each individual's place within it.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Thursday, 16 April 2015

World War One Ancestor Writing Workshop - the Story in Historian

Hi Everyone!

Today I am off to do my World War 1 Ancestor writing workshop that is being run by the Genealogical Society of Victoria.

I am so excited to do this course, and it seems like I have been waiting forever to attend.  I was the first on their list to register, I was that keen.

I've also attended the regular GSV Writers Group meeting and found it very interesting and useful.  The last meeting had a record attendance, which I hope reflects a realisation in the community that our history is being lost to us on a daily basis.  The writing workshop was great and defined what made good writing for the purpose of genealogical history.  The group participated in practical and common sense tips on what good writing is.

For me personally, I don't care too much about the quality.  I think that the most important thing a family historian can do is to write the stories down. Just get 'em on paper!  Do the best you can, sure.  Read up on how you can improve, yes.  But too often as writers we are paralysed by other people's judgement of our work.  I say I am too old to worry about that now.  I feel the urgency of time creeping on me.  A couple of years ago a group of students of mine were puzzled when I referred to a  record player, and I mentioned this at the meeting. Besides this general loss of social knowledge, there are stories that I know will die when I die, and that are essential to the story of my family.  I am the only one who can tell my story.

So the truth is, I really don't care how well written something is.  When I find a piece of writing about my family, it doesn't matter to me about the quality.  I just turn cartwheels and thank my lucky stars.  As a younger woman, just after my children were born, I also felt this urgency and asked my grandmother to write the family stories.  How precious they are to me now!  They are worth more than gold to me.  I've asked my mother for stories too and she has written about her younger days and they give me an insight I could never otherwise have.  I also have recordings of our voices as we discuss various photographs of her family.  How amazing will that be for our descendants, perhaps decades from now, to hear us laugh and know exactly what we thought that day.

If a writer wants to get published, then of course, they have to make their manuscript publishable. There are basic criteria you need to fulfil.  If you are too precious about your work, and cannot take any form of criticism, then don't try.

But don't let that stop you writing your family histories!  Have fun with it.  There are thousands of prompts on the internet if you can't think where to start.  Allow your stream of consciousness to flow and get remembering on paper.  Refuse to critique your writing AT ALL until you have completely finished. If you catch yourself evaluating, STOP IT.  Evaluation stops the flow, just keep on writing without judgement. If you are writing for publishing, put it away for a week, then re-read it. Then re-read it again with a red pen in your hand and be prepared to use it. If you are writing for future generations, congratulate yourself.  You have just done what hundreds of people say they are going to do, but never get around to doing. And your descendants will do cartwheels and thank their lucky stars.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Shalderspeak: Wills

Shalderspeak: Wills: Have been checking out some old wills online via the Public Record Office of Victoria website. Pre 1925 wills are all online and can be view...

Searching for the Cumes line outside of Chewton Victoria

Hi everyone,
The Chewton side of the family tree are hard at work trying to find any link to CUMES ancestors.

My great great grandmother Louisa got married under the name SALTER to her husband Patrick CLARKE.

Now Louisa Salter was not her birth name.  Louisa CUMMIS was her birth name.  I have written in another blog about the many many ways their name has been spelt in various documents.

All of Louisa's brothers and sisters changed their birth names from Cummis to either Salter or Armstrong.  Louisa's mother's birth name was Elizabeth ARMSTRONG, but she used her stepfather's surname SALTER until the day she died, even after she married.

Today I searched Cummis again in Ancestry and found something different. I found a death record for one Laura Elizabeth Cumes who died in 1962 in Castlemaine, Casterton.  Chewton is practically a suburb of Castlemaine.  Laura's birth surname was Cahill.

To the marriage records I go.  I found Laura Elizabeth Cahill marrying one Albert Bede CUMES in Marrickville, NSW in 1944.

Off to find Albert's birth records.  Albert B Cumes was born in 1885 to Henry and Mary Ann in Moruya NSW.  Albert B is also listed as the father of Albert R Cumes born 1910 in Moruya NSW.  Mother for Albert R is listed as Helena W.

So back to marriage records for Albert B looking for wedding with Helena W. I find him marrying her in 1909 in Sydney. Her name is listed as Helena Latta, but close enough to keep working I figure.

So to see if I can get this potential ancestor sorted in my head and stop my eyes rolling around counter clockwise.

1. Henry Cumes and Mary Ann gave birth to Albert Bede Cumes in 1885 in Moruya NSW.
2. Albert Bede Cumes married Helena Latta aka Helena W in 1909 in Sydney NSW.
3. Helena gave birth to their son Albert R. Cumes in 1910 in Moruya NSW.
4. Did Helena die?
5. Albert Bede Cumes remarried to Laura Elizabeth Cahill in 1944 in Marrickville NSW.
6. Laura Elizabeth Cumes nee Cahill dies in Castlemaine, Casterton.

Ok so follow my logic.
a. Gotta find Helena's death certificate or a divorce.
b. Where and when did Albert Bede Cumes die?
c. Why did Laura Elizabeth Cumes nee Cahill move from NSW to Castlemaine, VIC?

All this work and we don't even know if the families are related.
Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Ancestry pitfalls

Hello everyone!
Today I was so excited to receive my Legacy 8.0 Deluxe software so I can transfer all my Ancestry gedcom files onto my computer for access offline.

When I started Ancestry I was quite naive about other people's family trees and the information on them.

I thought that everyone would be as honestly diligent as I was trying to be. What I didn't realise was that there were a lot of novices clutching at any record to make a bit of a story.  Some of the things I have seen  are so obviously wrong it would make your hair curl.  But I didn't realise this when I started using Ancestry.

For example, on one Ancestry family tree, I found a photograph of my mother with my uncle at my own wedding, and the title was something like "Jack with his wife?"   I know my Mum gave that photo to her brother Jack, and the photo has obviously been passed down the line and someone has had a wild guess.

But seeing it was taken at my wedding, I think I ought to know.  And despite me telling them, twice now, they still haven't changed it.

Another problem I saw was that a father and son had the same names.  The person doing the tree presumed father and son were the same person and yet amazingly still had the son married to his own grandmother!  This is really not good enough.

Like all things, Ancestry can be a fantastic tool.  You get access to records which can be a wonderful start for establishing your family tree.

One of the features of Ancestry can be very helpful.  Ancestry can be a third party conduit to correspondence between different tree makers.  This is a no risk way of communicating with strangers.  The information they hold could be a great clue in your search.

However a word of warning.  I have seen some dreadful cut and paste jobs where tree makers have accepted all hints from another tree without evaluating each hint individually.  This includes where someone cut and pasted my tree into their family.  Later I discovered I had made a massive mistake.  I felt really dreadful about it.  How do you fix that?  Well I couldn't, except for telling that person about my mistake.  It did teach me a very hard lesson. Now I don't put anything on Ancestry that I am not "sure" is true. Or if I am speculating, I have the tree's privacy settings make it unavailable to the general public.  I treat other people's information with a healthy dose of scepticism now.

So here are some rules I have made for myself for using Ancestry.

1. Use the information from other family trees as CLUES to your research only.
2. Try and establish if the tree maker has RELEVANT PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE.  Are they writing about their aunt who they knew well or purely from the documents they have found?
3. CHECK and CHECK  again.  I bite my tongue when I hear someone say to me "oh yes my nephew did all that" like it was over and finished with.  We are all human and make mistakes.
4. There are many levels of proof in Genealogy.  Something that might satisfy a newbie at Ancestry  wouldn't be enough proof  (by itself) for more experienced genealogists.

If anyone else uses Legacy 8.0, can they please post a comment.  I would love to hear what your experience of the program is.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Family tree sharing

Hi Everyone!

I've just got to tell you today about sharing your family tree.

Last week I visited the Genealogical Society of Victoria and attended a basic "How to Research Your Family Tree" type course.  There I met a lady whose tale made me very sad, but made me realise how very lucky I am.

This lady told me how a cousin of hers had investigated their mutual family tree.  The cousin interviewed all the members of the lady's family and her family availed themselves to the cousin completely. Photographs, documents, interviews, the lot.

Now the lady was finally in a position to start her own research, and contacted the cousin last week to let her know. The cousin told her "Go do it all yourself - I had to."

When I started getting seriously into my family tree I contacted some cousins too.  Both had been researching for over 30 years.  Both have invested a lot of time and money and personal effort in their research.  And both have shared stuff with me without hesitation.  I really feel so blessed in this.

Their experience and knowledge has often stopped me careering off down the wrong track through inexperience and over-enthusiasm.  I have tried to help back with my imperfect knowledge of the internet.

We have had a couple of what we call family meetings now.  But I must tell you, not a heap of family tree research gets done.  We do share a lot of information and as we all agree, we all bring something different to the table. There is a stack of fun and laughter too, and relationships are building anew.  This is the best thing of all.

I consider myself so lucky to be able to talk to my cousins who are really my mentors, and who are constantly encouraging me to keep going.  I honestly don't think that I would have been so passionate about Genealogy if it hadn't been for them.  They treat me as an equal even though I haven't a fraction of the knowledge they have.  They listen to completely unsubstantiated and potentially crackpot theories of mine and don't dismiss them away but reason it out with me.  They treat me with respect, so unlike the cousin of that poor woman.

So to you Sandra, and to you Bob and Helen too, thank you so, so much. I want you to know how much I am learning from you and how appreciative I am.  And I promise you both that one day, if one of the next generation comes to ask me about our family tree, I will act with the same high degree of unselfishness and affection.

Love to you
Valerius Copernicus

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Treasure TROVE Part 2

Hi Everyone!

This blog is a continuation of the previous Treasure TROVE blog.  We are continuing to explore how to access the digitised newspapers portion of the TROVE website, which is the collection of the National Library of Australia. (

Today we will look at what Trove can and can't do to find articles about your ancestor.

Now first note, this is very important.  Not everyone is going to find articles about their particular ancestor. There are many reasons for this.

1.  Obviously, not all newspapers have been digitised yet. At this stage in society's development towards digitisation of documents, we just haven't yet been able to scan or transcribe all the paper in the world into files that we can use on our computer.  Much has been achieved but it is a massive undertaking when you think about it. There is lots yet to be done. That is exciting in a way though, because as volunteers go through the backlog of documents, new documents appear regularly.  I will write more about how we can all assist in getting documents into the public arena in a later blog.

2. Trove does not cover all newspapers.  Trove is a massive resource, but there are still some newspapers that it does not cover.  For example I know that Trove has some of the Geelong Advertiser for early decades, but for more recent years you need to go to the Geelong Heritage Centre.

3.  Trove does not cover all eras.  Sometimes, even if the newspaper is listed in Trove, there are gaps in the years they actually have digitised. With the centenary of  Gallipoli upon us, a lot of organisations have pushed to have those war years readily available to the public. Suffice to say there can be gaps in various eras, and you can check that out.

4. Maybe your ancestor did nothing noteworthy.  No crime, no massive charitable works, no massive society parties, no going to war, no letters to the Editor.   Think about what would make your ancestor newsworthy from the point of view of a newspaper in THEIR era.  Most people would be"un-newsworthy", people living law-abiding lives and raising children quietly in their community.

5. Nothing in the Family Notices section?  Maybe the family was too poor to put notices in the the family notices section when a birth, death or marriage happened.

These are all reasons why your ancestor may NOT be in the newspaper.  I know my great grandmother Nellie Clarke personally really hated the idea of being in the newspaper, as newspaper was used for toilet paper in those days. People would cut the newspaper into squares, thread a large bodkin with string, and pierce the corner of the squares so the paper hung off the string like a huge paper keyring.  Then the whole lot would be hung off a nail in the toilet.  I remember that for myself and I'm only in my early 50's, so it's not that long ago.

Seems really funny now though.

Your search in Trove may come up a blank.  Keep patient, and search again later to see if any documents have been newly digitised.

But if  your search in Trove does find some reference to your ancestor - wow! - it is just like striking gold.  And I guess that is why they call it TROVE.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Weird ancestries unite

I tell my kids they are a great mixture of two types of ancestry.

On my side of the family, we have traced back to First Fleet royalty.  A pair of convicts called NATHANIEL LUCAS and OLIVIA GASCOIGNE, who were the first to marry on Norfolk Island.

On my husband Jon's side of the family, we have Commander WILLIAM MORIARTY who is his great great grandfather.  William Moriarty was Port Officer at Hobart Town, Van Diemen's Land.

According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, (  Jon's great great grandfather was a coroner, grazier, magistrate and public servant. A high ranking official in charge of convict life.

It could only happen in Australia where people with such polar opposite ancestries would get married and have kids. I love Australia for that.

William Moriarty was an Irishman like Jon, well liked by one and all, including all the convicts. He settled in Hobart in 1829 after a long and illustrious career in the Royal Navy.   William's daughter Ellen Moriarty was born in Hobart in 1846, and she is Jon's paternal great grandmother.

When William died in 1850, there was a huge emotional procession around Hobart Town to his burial place, and the Hobart Town Advertiser described everything in detail,  including a map of the position of his pall bearers.   A military band from the 99th Regiment played funeral music and Ellen's brother broke down under the weight of the grief surrounding him and could not continue.

There is a marble monument to William Moriarty erected in St. George's Church at Battery Point. Part of the inscription includes " the discharge of his public duties he obtained the marked approbation of the Government, whilst by the frank and manly generosity of his character he secured the cordial esteem of all ranks of society."

William has passed those qualities down to my husband and kids, that is for sure.

Citation details

Jill T. Hansen, 'Moriarty, William (1792–1850)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 9 April 2015.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (MUP), 1967

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Treasure TROVE

Hi Everyone,

One of my favourite online resources to use in my research is TROVE, a collection of information by the National Library of Australia. (

If you search Trove, you will find an amazing resource, the envy of other countries. Of course you can search for books as you would expect from a library website. But you can also find maps, photographs, journals, archived websites, diaries, letters, music, people and organisations and lists. Access is free.  So if I do a search for my ancestor and type Dixon in the Trove search bar, I get over a million different resources where Dixon is mentioned, broken into 10 broad categories.

One category of Trove that I use mostly for family tree research is the Digitised Newspaper section.

This is where newspapers from all over Australia are scanned into an electronic format  We get to keep a photograph type image thus preserving the document image forever and allowing you and me to access it electronically at any stage. Digitisation of our newspapers is a wonderful thing. I've been told many times by overseas researchers how lucky I am to have Trove as a primary resource.

 For example, if I wish to search for my family of  Dixon in a newspaper, I find a box with a pale grey heading with the category of  "Digitised Newspapers and more".  In this category I got 849,126 results for Dixon. Click on "view all 849,126 results" which is a hyperlink and will take you a new page showing only the Digitised Newspaper results. (Not the music or books or the other results, just the newspapers. -

Now your results will show various newspaper article headings each with a fragment of the article below, showing the word Dixon within it.

The newspaper article headings are also hyperlinks, and if you click on them, they will take you to a new page showing that actual article you are interested in.

But I am not going to search 849,126 Dixons mentioned in the newspapers of Australia. This is where your detective skills come in, by refining your search and all our other tricks.

If you do find an article you are looking for, you can save a photograph like copy of it (called a pdf file) onto your computer or USB.   This is all for free, you  understand. You also have the option of printing a copy from your own printer directly from the website.

Tomorrow I will explain the other part of the newspaper digitisation process, and how it can help our research. I will write in detail about refining results soon too.

Trove is well worth a look.  Have fun and play. You will be astounded by what you find.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Cumis, Cummis, Cumes, Comes, Cumas, Cummas, Symns, Sims, Syans, Sinns

What's in a name?

A hell of a lot if your ancestors are illiterate.

When I first started doing research into my family history, I didn't completely understand that different spellings of the same name could in fact be the same people.

The first time I encountered this genealogical fact was when I started researching my Clarke ancestors.  I found documents varied from CLARKE to CLARK and I was uncomfortable thinking that there was such a "big" discrepancy in the spelling. Whoa, was I wrong!

Spelling variations happen a lot, especially in the days when not everyone was literate.  I often imagine myself as them standing before a petty authority, unable to spell, telling them your name, perhaps being asked to spell it, and being unable to do so.  Imagine the frustration, embarrassment, the shame perhaps in your lack of education. Perhaps in some cases even being ridiculed. Resentment then, and anger.  How valuable would it be to be able to write your own name?

Imagine my ancestor Elizabeth Armstrong (spinster) who was illiterate, marrying a bachelor African man who was English illiterate, a man we call Sims Cummis.

Imagine. Here it is, your wedding day in 1864, and the Reverend is filling out your wedding certificate.  He asks you, "what is your name?"  Elizabeth Armstrong is easy enough a name to spell.  Most people would get a close approximation.

Sims on the other hand, is a different matter.  The Reverend was forced to rely solely on his phonetic translation of the syllables he heard.  What if Sims had a heavy African accent?  What if the Reverend had some hearing loss?  What if someone had a cold? What if the wedding was in a noisy place?  There are lots of reasons for different spellings. It's not as if Elizabeth or Sims could check.

In fact, the Reverend put down the name as SYMNS CUMIS.  I think he must have listened very hard and tried diligently to translate what he heard onto the page. That 'N' in the name is a subtlety overlooked by other petty officials.

We are reassured all these generations down the line that the spelling is a close approximation to the correct sound of his name, because the signed witness on the marriage certificate was William Cadwallader, Elizabeth's brother-in-law and the local Chewton Blacksmith.

If you look at my heading above, all those names I've listed are all the different ways Sims' name has been spelled on various documents filled out by various different officials.  That's not even including a couple of transcription errors I've caught.

Is it any wonder he started using the name William?

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Monday, 6 April 2015

GenealogyWorld: World War One Centenary Writing Workshop

World War One Centenary Writing Workshop

WHAT IS IT?Topics will include:  
        Writing and publishing techniques
        Personalised assistance to develop participant's project
        Research assistance
        Follow up assistance to aid publication
DATE:Friday 17 April, 2015
TIME:10.00 am - 3.00 pm
LOCATION:GSV Meeting Room, Level B1 / 257 Collins Street, Melbourne
COST:All participants $65
BOOKINGS:Bookings with payment will be essential.
Payments will be made through the GSV Online Shop or at the GSV Reception
More Information
CLASS SIZE:Limited to 15 participants
CANCELLATION:Refunds will only be given if cancellation is made five working days
before the start of this event

Hi everyone!
This is the writing workshop I am attending on 17 April 2015 at the Genealogical Society of Victoria, and I am so pumped about doing it!

My chosen ancestor who I will be writing about is the brother of my great great grandmother Louisa Clarke.

I obtained his military records early last year and discovered that he spent time in Gallipoli, the Somme and Ypres in Belgium before finally being mustard gassed out of WW1.

He returned to Australia, got married and lived another 40 years.

He is a hero in the truest sense of the word, and not just for his war effort, which is remarkable enough.  I am so proud to have James as my ancestor.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Use this to find out more about the writing workshop.  Cut and paste this address in your browser.

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Cobram and the man with two names

If you've been following my blog, you will know of my search for my great great grandmother's siblings.

To our knowledge there are five children in the family altogether.  Reading their mother's inquest papers though throws that in doubt - a close friend testifies that she had seven children.  Could we have missed two whole children somehow?

One of the people we are looking for is John, and you will note I recently found a hospital record in Castlemaine when he was a child.  He was using his mother's surname, as all the children of that family did.  They all used their mother's maiden name, Armstrong, or her stepfather's surname that she adopted until the end of her days, Salter.

I was using the Genealogical Index of Names via the GSV website, looking at the Cobram Cemetery Burials when I found a John Armstrong, being buried in Cobram in 1931.  We knew John's death record showed he died in Cobram in 1931.  Then I read the rest -  "Also known as George Saulter".

George Saulter! So John is now also known as George!  Another clue to chase up.
The Cobram Historical Society is the real hero in this research. Volunteers spend time transcribing records just so people like me can discover the information they glean from dusty papers.  Whoever did so; whoever went to the extra trouble of putting the extra detail  of George Salter AND cross referencing it...thank you. Thank you so much.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Sweet success - John Armstrong

Hi everyone,
Today I started using the member's section of the Genealogical Society of Victoria's website.  And Bingo!

We have been looking for my great great grandmother's brother John for a long time, and had only found his birth and death records.

The trouble with researching this family all along has been their multiple use of surnames.  They were born with the surname CUMMIS, but for some reason unknown to us, all the children adopted the use of their mother's birth name, ARMSTRONG or her step-father's surname, SALTER.  She used her step-father's surname of Salter until the day she died.  Even in the newspaper upon her death she is referred to Elizabeth CUMMIS better known as Elizabeth SALTER.

My great great grandmother Louisa was born CUMMIS but married as Louisa SALTER.  Her brother was born James CUMMIS but was known later as James Salter ARMSTRONG.  Another brother Robert was born Robert Armstrong COMES, but later in life dropped the Comes and became Robert Armstrong.  His descendants are all ARMSTRONG.

In looking for brother JOHN, I presumed he would adopt the name Armstrong as his two elder brothers did, and that was correct.  His death records do show up as John Armstrong.  However, it hadn't occurred to me to search under the name SALTER for John, and when I did, there he was.

John SALTER was admitted to Castlemaine Mt. Alexander Hospital on 4 Jan 1886 when he was 10 years old.  He was there for about 10 days and was discharged cured.  We will have to research more to find his diagnosis.  He was recommended to the hospital by a Mr. Carbarns, who, five years later, also recommended John's mother Elizabeth be admitted to the same hospital for Rheumatic fever.  We will have to research who Mr. Carbarns is.

I know it is just a hospital record.  I know it is not a huge event in John's life.  But the thrill of discovery and that electric realization that you've found a piece of that puzzle is one that all family historians live for.

Historically yours,
Valerius Copernicus.