As mentioned in my post last Tuesday (Part 1. Bloodlines), everyone has a story that, one could say, reaches back into the annals of time.
I started to think about mine not long after I got married 5 years ago. Hubby and I were planning to start a family. My last living grandparent had passed on shortly before we were married. Hubby’s father had passed not long after we were married. The stories of their lives, which were weaved into the history of ours, were gone with them. I wanted to capture what was fast disappearing in case, one day, my children wanted to know about their heritage.
I was also curious for myself, my fascination piqued by the BBC production, Who do you Think You Are?, a show where a celebrity uncovers branches of their family tree each episode using the genealogists tools of the trade. The BBC version was released in 2004 and since then there have been 11 adaptations around the world, including an Australian version. I’m a fan of a good mystery story so I decided it was time to become my own detective.
Firstly, I had to decide which line to research; my mother’s or my father’s. The answer came quite quickly. There are few leads on my father’s side. It appears no one kept much in the way of written records. I could only track the very basics to my grandparents. I know my grandmother was originally from China but being a woman, it wasn’t going to be easy locating records. Most are only kept for the male lineage. I did discover my grandfather was probably first or second generation Singaporean. In order to discover more, I will have to return to Singapore and hope for the best with their bureaucracy. One day……
Closing that book for the time being, I turned to my mother’s lineage. I started with word-of-mouth stories, but only got so far. My next port of call was the internet. Armed with only the surnames of a few of my ancestors (which is not always enough, especially if they are common names like Smith or Jones), I wanted to find out when they might have migrated to Australia and also if there were any clues that might lead me to where they originally came from. The main resources I used included:
• First Families 2001 – One of the most useful databases I found from googling was this one. Once you come to the home page, you need to select “Search”. Once the next page opens, you can start a search using your ancestor’s surname by alphabet (Note: The search box does not work). I was fortunate because a distant relative had already posted a family tree here and I was able to make contact with her via email for further searches later on. Through her work on this site, I was able to collect more clues to refine future searches, such as dates of birth and additional immediate relatives.
• Australian Births, Deaths & Marriages Registries – Most of these offices only release information about people who are deceased. Most also charge a fee to search the electronic data and purchase either online or hard copy certificates so be sure you have the right person. It can become quite costly otherwise! The wonderful thing about a correct certificate is that is usually provides more clues for your search that could help you track back further into the past such as birth places, other relatives that could then be tracked back to your lineage, etc.
• Australian cemeteries and municipal councils – Some provide information online, otherwise you may need to visit in-person to find out more.
• National and State libraries – They may have the relevant records that can only be accessed in-person.
• Local Historical or Heritage Societies – I found some of my relevant information via a historical society in the town my ancestors migrated to (Burra, SA). Try Australian Heritage or Federation of Australian Historical Societies.
• Following the breadcrumbs – As you can see from the above, if you find a clue, that piece of online information, often leads to another. Also, through contact with previously unknown relatives who had done prior research, I was able to learn more than I could have on my own as a novice detective.
Many of the above sites, and much more, can be found at the National Library of Australia’s page Australian Family History and Genealogy Selected Websites.
Obviously, as you dig further, you will almost certainly find your research going beyond Australian shores. Some countries have a wide range of genealogical resources, but others will not. I have managed to trace a few leads back to Ireland and the United Kingdom on my mother’s side of the family to the early 1700s, but nothing yet in Singapore, let alone China on my father’s side of the family. And I’ve barely begun work on hubby’s side which will need to be sourced from both Singapore and China.
In some ways, I have found researching my family tree similar to blogging. Once you start, it can be quite addictive! Each discovery lures you to keep searching for more.
I’m by no means an expert, nor is my journey done, but after all the online research, I did eventually take my detective work a few (literal) steps further and will share more about that in my post next Tuesday – Part 4. Walking in their Footsteps.
This is the second of five written and pictorial posts I’ll share about this journey to trace my ancestors. The first post last Tuesday was titled Bloodlines. Tomorrow’s post will be Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 1.
I’m linking with Jess from Diary of a SAHM for IBOT.