Friday, February 27, 2015

52 Weeks of Genealogy - Week 32 - Asylum Records

Shauna has chosen Asylum Records for her topic in Week 32, and tells us that "there were many kinds of asylums apart from mental asylums including benevolent, children’s, sick, destitute and infirm asylums. Even those in a mental asylum may not have been suffering a mental illness, they may have simply been old, frail or sick with no other place to go."

Having spent over 18 months caring for my father who had developed Alzheimers, I have become more aware of the support and care services we enjoy today which would not have been imagined by our ancestors.  For those 200 years ago with illnesses such as dementia, schizophrenia, epilepsy, alcoholism, even post-natal depression, there was little (or no) support, services or understanding of their condition.

Formal mental health care began in Australia with the opening of the Australian Lunatic Asylum at Castle Hill NSW in 1811.  In those times mental illness was viewed as madness and related to ‘bad blood’ or character flaws rather than illness, and management was custodial and by physical restraint, isolation and control.  There was little emphasis on treatment and early facilities were staffed by untrained care assistants. 

The mid to late 1800s saw medical superintendents in charge of asylums.  The philosophy was increasingly one of humane care, although overcrowding often resulted in custodial management.  A 1867 Act of Parliament sent people with mental illness to asylums rather than prison.  There is still little understanding of mental illness and people with a variety of illnesses/disablities found themselves in asylums – people with Alzheimers, epilepsy, Downs Syndrome, alcoholism, etc.  Nursing homes were very rare – there was often nowhere else for people to go if their families were unable to care for them.  

By 1900 medical superintendents had started training some staff, and the introduction of female staff was being considered.  There was a growing awareness of age-related dementia being different than other mental illnesses and physical disabilities were becoming better understood.  The 1950s saw the commencement of specialization in nursing and an illness approach to mental health problems, with a curative focus.  The major tranqulizers were being developed and pharmaceutical management rather than physical restraint became possible.  We was the beginning of nurses working therapeutically with clients individually and groups, and nursing homes became more common as mental health care as we know it today developed.

I have 2 ancestors (that I currently know of) who have been inmates of an asylum.  Both were elderly when admitted and both died in the asylum, although I have little further information about their conditions and why they were admitted.  This will become a project for me to follow up this year.

Shauna adds that "Asylum records are mostly held by the State Archives and there may be a handy guide to the records held.  Check whatever state you are interested in and read the guide for any hints before starting your research. There is usually a closed access period of 100 years although it varies from State to State."  To read Shauna's full blog entry on asylums, click here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Blogger Beads at the Canberra Congress

Jill's Blogger Beads
The AFFHO Congress in Canberra is fast approaching and I am all booked up and ready to go.  There is a great list of speakers and vendors and Jill Ball from GeniAus has just arrived home from the Rootstech Conference in Salt Lake City bearing some lovely blogger beads so all the bloggers at the conference can identify each other. 

So if you are Geneablogger and would like to let others know by wearing Jill's Geneablogger Beads please let Jill know by emailing her at with Blogger Beads in the subject line and stating your name and the URL of your blog. 

See you at the Congress!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

53 Weeks of Genealogy - Week 31 - Photographs

As part of her 52 Weeks of Genealogy, Shauna has chosen Photographs for her topic for Week 31.  In her blog Shauna asks "Are photographs genealogical records? Do they actually tell us any useful information other than giving us someone’s likeness or an image of where they lived? If someone has written on the back that can be very useful, especially if it tells us who, when and where. Sadly most of my photographs do not have anything written on them making identification difficult, if not impossible."
How well are your photos notated??  Are they in albums with names, dates and places attached?  Or are they like most of my family snaps, tossed in a shoebox and largely unidentified?  Who in your family will look after them in the future?
My parent's wedding day, scanned from a slide.

I have been lucky enough to amass quite a collection of family photographs, combining original photos, copied photos, digital photos and slides (any relatives out there please note - I am always happy to swap and share).  A few years ago I acquired a neat little device that could attach to my computer and scan old negatives and slides, creating nice digital photos and I spent several weekends busily scanning away, hugely expanding my photo cache.  Many I waved in front of my parents, seeking details of when, where, what and who, and have made notes on each of as much information as I have.  Like Shauna, many of the photos I have acquired have little information noted on them to help.
Other photos I have acquired from relatives - some quite distant and whom I have never met in person.  Again, I have noted what I can, but sometimes its pretty sketchy.  Who is in the photo - can each individual be named?  When and where was it taken?  What was the occasion?  I want all these details but rarely have them all.
Then, during the cleaning out of a wardrobe, I can across a box with dozens of old photos inside.  And I could have cried as I sifted through them, turning over print after unidentified print, with not a note or a date on any of them.  Several were easy to identify, but others are still a mystery to me, and I have no clue who is in them, when they were taken and why they were included in that box.  A mystery to solve.
So please, if you have a spare moment consider having a browse through your family photos and see how many are labelled and what information you can add, for yourself and for whoever will be custodian of them in the future.

Friday, February 13, 2015

52 Weeks of Genealogy - Week 30 - Postcards

Week 30 of Shauna Hick's 52 Weeks of Genealogy challenge and she has chosen Postcards as her topic.  Shauna tells us that "when we think of postcards these days, we tend to think of exotic places and a few scribbled words from a friend or family member saying they are having a fantastic time. Although these are probably fast being replaced by Facebook snaps and emails!"

I have very few old family postcards, but I do have the images of several old postcards from locations where I know my ancestors lived, and they do help show me what those places look like back in my ancestor's time.  My father's family came from Great Holland in Essex, and I have several postcards - or images of postcards which kind people have sent me - of the village in my Grandfather's and Great-Grandfather's time.  It really helps bring the past to life to see these images, especially when I can see just what the same view looks like today.

One significant postcard I do have, and I have shown it before, is of my father's brother Ernest (called Squib by just about all who knew him) sent to their sister Nancy while Squib was in Egypt during WW2.  The inscription on the back reads simply "To Nan.  Wishing you all the best.  Your brother Squib."  I do love the image of Squib imposed above the pyramids - I didn't realise they had the technology to do such things back then!

So treasure your family postcards, and make sure you scan backup copies and store them carefully!  Thanks again Shauna.  As usual, to read Shauna's full blog post on this topic, clikc here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Prisoners of the First World War

A new website has launched called Prisoners of the First World War from the ICRC Archives. During WWI, some 10 million people were captured and sent to detention camps, including both servicemen and civilians. This website contains such things as cards on prisoners of war and reports of deaths and injuries at detention camps. The records cover several armies, including British (and the Commonwealth), French, Belgian, German, Romanian, Serbian, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Greek, American, Austro-Hungarian, Bulgarian and Turkish. The website will be interesting for anyone who had an ancestor who was a prisoner of war in WWI, and it will be particularly useful if your ancestor came from a country that generally lacks genealogy records, such as Serbia or Bulgaria. The records can be searched by name.
The objective is to put some 5 million records online, and the website has already reached 90% of its target. A YouTube video below gives a good overview of the website. Access is free.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Genealogy Cruising again

That's it!!  I've booked my next Unlock the Past Genealogy Cruise.  Anyone who has glanced at this blog probably realises I had a great time on the 4th Unlock the Past cruise last year, and now I am booked for the 11th Unlock the Past cruise – New Zealand to Australia.  While details are still being posted, the list of speakers and topics looks great, it is another beautiful ship (see below) with lots to do and see, and you will probably hear a lot more about it between now and next year when the cruise finally sails.  If you haven't tried genealogy cruising, have a look at the Unlock the Past website and see what is coming up.

Friday, February 6, 2015

52 Weeks of Genealogy - Week 29 - Military Records

This week Shauna has chosen military records and tells us that "there are lots of records that could fall under this broad heading but I will focus on the dossiers which contains lots of different information. To start there is all the biographical information contained on the enlistment form as well as a photograph in some instances (depending on the war). Then there is information on where they are sent, if they are wounded or ill, and when they come home. Sometimes there are letters from family at home seeking information on their loved one and perhaps letters from the person after their service has ended. Some of the dossiers I have are quite big while others only have a few pages."

I have the military records for several of my ancestors, including my father and two of his brothers, my mother's eldest brother and several great-uncles.  They cover both world wars and my family was extremely lucky, with all the immediate family returning from the wars alive and relatively unharmed.  We did have a second cousin killed in WW1, but everyone else made it home (it seems not even wars kill off my family).  The only exception was my mother's middle brother who was killed after WW2 ended, and he actually wasn't a soldier - he was in the Merchant Navy and drowned in an accident in Argentina in 1947.  He was buried there in a full Catholic funeral - a bit of an error as my mother's family is very much Anglican - and my grandmother was sent a number of photographs of the service and the burial by the kindly priest who officiated.

Having heard many family stories over the years about the various war experiences of these men, and the home experiences of the women in the family (none of my female ancestors were nurses, etc), it surprises me how many of them, including my father, saw the war as a chance to travel, see a bit of the world, give the 'enemy' a black eye and all be home by Christmas.  My father was always rather disappointed he never actually made it out of Australia during his time in the Air Force.  His brother Ernest (known as Squib) sent the postcard below to their sister Nancy from Egypt.
Through the National Archives of Australia I have downloaded several family WW1 records and ordered those from WW2 -  the NAA has indexed and digitised Boer War and World War 1 dossiers, which you can search and view online for free. World War II dossiers have been indexed but will only be digitised if a family member has requested it.  Other websites include Discovering Anzacs Whichallows you to add your stories and images, and the Australian War Memorial, which has databases like the WW1 Embarkation Rolls and WW1 Red Cross files.
Thanks again Shauna for another great topic.  You can read Shauna's full blog post here.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Canberra Congress

Are you booked to attend the AFFHO Congress 2015 in Canberra this March?  Congress is only held every three years and it attracts some of the best speakers in Australasia and overseas and lots of trade exhibitors - it is a huge event. See the program here and have a look at the speakers and the variety of topics they will cover.
Finding out more about the many speakers is easy, as not only is there information included in the program, bloggers Shauna Hicks and Jill Ball have been busy interviewing speakers over the last few months.  So have a look to find out more about the speakers you will be listening to - or what you will be missing out on if you don't make it to Canberra for the Congress.