Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Our Criminal Ancestors

Our Criminal Ancestors encourages people to explore the criminal past of their own families, communities, towns and regions.  The project not only focuses on those who committed crimes but includes the accused, victims, witnesses, prisoners, police, prison officers, solicitors and magistrates and others who worked in the criminal justice system.  The website aims to provide a useful starting point for anyone looking to explore their criminal ancestry, providing handy tips, advice and insights on the history of crime, policing and punishment as well as case studies and blogs to help in your research.
Our criminal ancestors were often ordinary people - most were minor offenders whose contact with the criminal justice system was a brief moment in their lives, and only a small minority were what we might term today ‘serious offenders’.  The project hopes to share a greater understanding of the sometimes difficult situations and context for understanding how or why individuals, and sometimes groups of people, encountering the criminal justice system.
The website looks for stories and events from between roughly 1700 and 1939 (lots of records are subject to closure of between 75-100 years).  The Our Criminal Ancestors project is led by principal investigator Dr Helen Johnston of the University of Hull and co-investigator Dr Heather Shore of Leeds Beckett University and launched its website in April.  The website organisers are also encouraging members of the public to get involved by sharing stories of their criminal ancestors via Historypin.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Week 17 - Cemeteries - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week 17, focusing on Cemeteries, should have been done the last week in April.  Here I am, almost to the end of May, and again I am playing catch-up.  Where has the time gone?
I have had a fair bit of luck with cemeteries and headstones, especially in finding records and photographs online, although it is still wonderful when I get to visit an ancestor's grave in person.  It is just not always possible, and websites like Find-A-Grave or Australian Cemeteries are sites I visit frequently.
My ancestor David Mulholland was born in 1830 in Ireland and died 8 April 1902 in Eurobin.  His wife Eliza Jane (McCrae) was also born in Ireland and died 28 October 1925 in Eurobin.  Both are buried in Bright Cemetery, and there are photographs of their family plot available on several websites.  The ones below are from the Find-A-Grave website I mentioned earlier.

Mulholland family plot, Bright Cemetery, Victoria
David and Eliza had 14 children together, some of whom died quite young.  Several of the children are also buried in the plot and are commemorated on the main headstone or on the smaller memorials on either side.  Finding a headstone and/or cemetery record is always exciting, as they can contain quite a lot of information and I always check both, as the cemetery record may contain different information.  Below I have included the details of the Mulholland family included in the Bright Cemetery Register, which includes names, birth, death and burial dates, section, block and lot of the graves, religion, cause of death and other information, such as family relationships.  Not all of this is included on the headstones, and it adds so much to my research.

Details of the Mulholland Family buried in Bright Cemetery

Main headstone
One of the smaller headstones in the plot

Wednesday, May 9, 2018


Some of the new records added to FamilySearch during April.  Records from around the world free to search. 

Indexed Records
Quebec, Quebec Federation of Genealogical Societies, Family Origins, 1621-1865
New indexed records collection
Italy, Terni, Narni, Civil Registration (Comune), 1861-1921
New indexed records collection
Germany, Bavaria, Diocese of Augsburg, Catholic Church Records, 1615-1930
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Lesotho, Evangelical Church Records, 1828-2005
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Germany, Prussia, Westphalia, Minden, Miscellaneous Collections from the Municipal Archives, 1574-1912
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Ireland Civil Registration, 1845-1913
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Germany, Baden, Church Book Duplicates, 1804-1877
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Georgia, Fulton County Records from the Atlanta History Center, 1827-1955
New indexed records collection
Texas, Swisher County Records, 1879-2012
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Peru, La Libertad, Civil Registration, 1903-1998
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Germany, Baden, Archdiocese of Freiburg im Breisgau, Catholic Church Records, 1678-1930
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Costa Rica, Civil Registration, 1823-1975
Added indexed records to an existing collection
Oklahoma, School Records, 1895-1936
New indexed records collection
Poland, Lublin Roman Catholic Church Books, 1784-1964
Added indexed records to an existing collection

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Week 16 - Storms - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

Week 16 of #52ancestors focuses on storms, and I can recall a few very memorable ones.

I lived the first few years of my life on a sheep station on the Darling River, roughly half way between Mildura and Broken Hill, and during my time there I witnessed some spectacular dust storms.  Dry, usually hot, with strong winds picking up the dry red earth, dust storms turned the sky a strange orange-brown color and sent us all inside to shelter.  Fine grains of red dust got everywhere, no matter how tightly we sealed up the house.  Carpets and furniture changed color as they were covered with a layer of grit, beds would have to be cleared of the dust before we went to sleep at night.  Sometimes even the food tasted gritty, and I pitied the poor animals outside.  For a short time afterwards we would even have red sheep!

I hadn't started school when my family moved to Moama, on the Murray River directly north of Melbourne.  We still saw the occasional dust storm there, but they were nowhere near as frequent or as spectacular.  Thunderstorms were more frequent, however, and had their own inpression.  My mother hated thunder and lightning, but my father would stand out under our carport (safely under cover) to watch them, and taught my sister and I to count the seconds between lightning and thunder to calculate how far away the storm was.

Thunderstorms at night were a different matter.  Dad was profoundly deaf, and once he took out his hearing aids he heard nothing.  A storm could rage all night and he would happily sleep through it.  Our house was located in the same street as the local fire station, on the opposite side of the road and two houses down, (Dad could sleep through the fire siren too) and during one memorable storm it was struck by lightning.  The bolt hit the tall antenna of the fire station and blasted down into the ground and the phone lines that ran at the front.  It happened at about 2am one stormy night, and I have never heard a louder sound.  Mum and I thought our house had been hit, and we were up and out, looking for damage and with our ears still ringing, before we were properly awake.  Dad sat up and said "Did I hear something?" - the sound was so loud it woke him up! 

In the morning we all had a sharp lesson in why you should never use a landline telephone during a thunderstorm - because the lightning had grounded in the phone lines several phones in nearly houses had been blasted across the room.  The phone in the fire station itself was found (badly damaged and melted) in another room - it had actually gone through an internal wall.  The station itself was damaged as well, especially the siren, which for years after would stick on the highest note instead of oscillating up and down.

Friday, May 4, 2018

DNA and Crime Fighting - A New Ethical Dilemma

It has been in the news recently that Californian police used DNA samples from genealogy website GEDmatch to help identify the Golden State Killer, the criminal believed to be behind at least 12 murders, 46 rapes and hundreds of break-ins in California in the 1970s and 1980s.  A distant relative of the suspect had used the genealogy site to learn more about his family history, little knowing it would later be used in a murder investigation.
The fact that DNA in a genealogy database has been used in such a manner has raised many questions about privacy and the ethical use of  such information, and has sent many DNA-testing genealogy companies scrambling to reassure users about their privacy policies.  While many people might be happy for their DNA to be used to catch and convict a killer, there are still questions about informed consent and legal use.  Will people want to upload their DNA to genealogy websites if it could one day incriminate their children—or their children’s children’s children?
DNA tests have gained popularity in Australia over the last few years for people wanting to know the ins and outs of their family history and ethnic make-up.  Family Tree DNA, 23andMe, AncestryDNA and MyHeritage DNA are among the testing services that say they can give you an insight on your origins.  But when you ship off your saliva to get your data, who actually owns your DNA, and what can they do with it?
The commercial DNA testing companies generally have privacy policies designed to protect data from being used for other purposes, but these do not apply to GEDmatch, which is a free public database where users upload the results of DNA tests from other companies.  A spokesperson for 23andMe, for example, stated: "23andMe's policies prohibit the company from voluntarily working with law enforcement."
In their statement, GEDmatch said that it was not approached by law enforcement about the case, but that it had a policy of informing users that the database could be used for other purposes.  "While the database was created for genealogical research, it is important that GEDmatch participants understand the possible uses of their DNA, including identification of relatives that have committed crimes or were victims of crimes," it added.  "If you are concerned about non-genealogical uses of your DNA, you should not upload your DNA to the database and/or you should remove DNA that has already been uploaded."
The ethical use of DNA is a rising issue today that is not easily resolved, and will be the subject of debate and concern for years to come.  While the major genealogy companies do have measures in place to ensure their user's privacy, there will always be questions about privacy, legal use and security.  Bottom line - always read the terms and conditions before you send off your test kit, and be sure you are prepared to accept them.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Week 15 - Taxes - 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

The time has flown and suddenly I am three weeks behind in my #52ancestors posts.  I will try to do better and catch up.
Week 15 focuses on the unavoidable taxes.  Income tax, land tax, rates, death duties - there are so many types of taxes we all have to pay.
I have blogged a few times about the many treasures my sister and I found while cleaning out the family home after our parents had passed.  So many things that our parents had held on to but never brought out and showed us - probably because they believed we were not interested in them, or because our parents forgot they had them at all.  There were so many little treasures and keepsakes that we had no idea of the history of, that were mostly thrown away (there is only so much space for these things, after all).
Among the many things we found were our father's old income tax records, dating from the 1950's to the 1980's.  They were tucked into an envelope at the back of his wardrobe, creased and folded and in many cases badly faded, but I have sorted them out, put them in archive boxes for preservation, and am still in the process of scanning them, along with a box full of other old documents, photographs and letters.  They are a wonderful find and I am so pleased to have them - they help build a clearer picture of my parents' lives.
My father's income for 1955-56
 Another tax-related treasure I have found recently, this time on Ancestry, are old rate books.  I found several ancestors listed in the rate books for the Melbourne suburbs of Brighton, Caulfield and St Kilda, dating back into the 1890's.  Another way of finding out where my ancestors lived, their occupations and other details about their lives.
The 1897 Rate Book for Brighton, listing my Great Grandfather James Nicholas Clark

Sunday, April 29, 2018

WDYTYA Magazine

Inside this month's issue

  • Love your brick walls
    Sarah Williams shares her favourite tips for tackling your research dead-ends
  • Back to school
    Want to improve your family history know-how? Claire Vaughan looks at the wide range of genealogy courses
  • Glasgow gangs
    Historian Andrew Davies on Glasgow's underworld of the 1920s and '30s
  • Reader story
    Colin Ward finds a composer and musician who led a double life
  • Feathering the nest
    Simon Wills explains how the abuse of wild birds in 19th century fashion caused the rise of wildlife conservation
  • Plus...
    The best websites for tracing European ancestors; the lives of ancestors who worked as gardeners; taking your research back to the Tudors; and more...