Uncovering The Past

Storybook Secrets

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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:

Google – As per usual, I began with this font of all knowledge which led me to a range of genealogy sites including MyTrees.com, Ancestry.com.au, Rootsweb.com.

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.

FirstFamiliesFORD

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.

DeathRecordVIC

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.

History of Burra SA

• 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.

Related Posts

Bloodlines

Wordless Wednesday – Heritage Road Trip Part 1

Walking in their Footsteps

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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.

I Blog on Tuesdays

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25 thoughts on “Uncovering The Past

  1. Family trees are interesting stuff aren’t they!

    I started doing my family tree a fews years back, it has been a bit stop and start at times as roadblocks come up and I get frustrated.

    The main reason I started doing mine was for my maternal Grandmother. She had just lost her brother at the time and I wanted to help her record her family and memories. I have gotten a fair way on most sides and would like to start looking at my husbands family soon.

    Disappointly, my maternal grandfather doesn’t know who his father is. He was only even told that he died in the war (WWII) but his mother never told anyone who he was. There is an interesting theory though that my great aunt recently told me (his half sister) My great grandmother was actually working as an attendant in one of the Queens homes at the time of becoming pregnant… who knows, maybe I’m from royal lineage 😛

    • That’s a curious story, Amy. You never know. It reminds me of what they discovered in the US about all these mixed children from Thomas Jefferson’s dalliance with his slaves at the time. Sometimes, all you need is just a small clue but if you have no name, date of birth or death, then it’s pretty tricky. I know the feeling about hitting roadblocks. I stopped on my Nanna’s maternal side because of a big one I couldn’t knock down. I really want to get to the bottom of it one day! I want to know how many generations Australian I am from my mother’s side of the family. It goes back on her father’s side further than I thought and might on my mother’s mother’s side too.

  2. Great tips for anyone looking into their family history, I have always liked the idea but don’t really know where to start (or at least I didn’t till I came here) Looking forward to the rest of the series

    • Glad you’ve found some of these useful, Rhi. I hope you do find something interesting. Maybe you’ll be lucky and find a distant relative who’s started the process, like I did.

    • It can be a very eye-opening experience. I don’t have any of those surprises, as far as I know, but other dark, family secrets have come up and sad stories too, as well as some good ones. I guess that’s just life. People are the same inside despite the generational differences.

    • Thanks, Maria. It is interesting for me to know that my Australian heritage goes back more generations than I initially thought. I’m sure the early settlers felt Irish and Cornish, mere transplants to this foreign land, but they became Australian after all. So far it’s 5 or 6 generations on my mother’s side through her father. I’ve got more work to do on my mother’s side through her mother but it’s about the same on that side too. Hit some roadblocks I can’t overcome yet. The Chinese side would be fascinating. I hope to dig up some records one day when I visit Singapore again. Not so hopeful about China although on hubby’s side, he knows where his ancestral village is.

  3. I love family history. I did some research on my mum’s side for my Nanna’s 90th birthday a few years ago – awesome stuff. I’m hoping to start finding out more from both my husband’s and my own side of the family – so important to pass on the heritage and find out what’s in our past. Good luck with the search for your family history.

    • Thanks, Debbie. It is interesting stuff. These trees can get rather large though as you keep digging but I, too, think it’s important to pass this information on. It’s part of how we got here though how we live in the here and now is just as important too, since we are creating history every day. Good luck with your search too.

  4. OMG I can imagine the hours you spend lost in the world of ancestry! I can also imagine it would be really addictive! A little bit more information, a little bit more of a tease!

    • It WAS hours, Daisy! Much like blogging ;-). There is always another carrot dangling out there. I love the thrill of the chase, I suppose. I’ve stopped for now though because I’m going to have to make more of an effort to dig up the next bits; like going to actual archives in Melbourne, Singapore, UK, Ireland to see what I can dig up. Exciting but definitely not as high a priority right now.

  5. I got really addicted to family history research. Before twitter ofcourse when the internet was only around to feed me information from google. Thanks for the links some i havent been to before. Might have to start again 🙂 My mum knows nothing about her dad (she was adopted) he died just before we met her mum. He has a whole other family out there. My mum even has step siblings. I would love to know more. Even if we never meet.

    • I do hope some of the links open up some more doors for you. I think it’s really important to find out these connections for all sorts of reasons – personal, historical, healthwise. You raise an interesting points about the adoption though. I must say searching records can be tricky if adoptions are in the mix, but also when women change their names, as has been the custom. Maiden names are not always listed or are clear. Who knows, you might even be tweeting to some of your distant relatives out there. You never know.

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