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New group for Victorian and Tasmanian family history and old maps of South West England

Bill Barlow
15 June 2019
GSV News



The eight discussion circles convened by the GSV include one on South West England (SWERD) and a new one for Victoria and Tasmania. These Discussion Circles are a great way to share your queries and pool your discoveries.


The Victoria and Tasmania Discussion Circle has just been started. It meets monthly on the 4th Friday of the month at 10.30 am to 11.30 am and is convened by Ruthie Wirtz. Their next meetings are on Fri 28 June and then Fri 26 July. All GSV Members can take part at no cost - it is part of your membership benefits. Ruthie can be contacted at ruthie.wirtz@gmail.com.



[ Courtesy of Libraries Tasmania Online Collection Item no. PH30/1/2067 ].


At the May meeting of the South West England Research and Discussion Circle (SWERD) they explored the maps of that region. Stephen Hawke, SWERD convenor, reminds us that:


'Maps are a vital (but sometimes under-used) resource for our family history research. Accessing a series of maps produced over decades or centuries is an important part of understanding your ancestors' 'places'. They can reveal changes over time that would have impacted on your ancestors' lives.  For example, in Somerset, a mere forty year span between two maps (1782 and 1822) held at GSV gives evidence of the draining of the Levels, the rapid development of coal mines and the growth of towns. Other features of maps such as new roads, turnpikes, canals, railroads etc. provide clues as to how your ancestors moved around the county or further afield. Estate and tithe maps may help pinpoint your ancestors' homes and the land they worked. 


Where were the markets, the pubs, and the schools, the cemetery used by your ancestors?  Where were the mills, mines, ports and factories that provided work for your ancestors?  A little delving and study of old maps can answer many questions and open up new ideas for researching your ancestors' lives.' 


In other recent meetings they have discussed the Widows of Cornwall, Devon & Exeter Industrial & Reform Schools, Dorset Machine Breakers, local history resources and the Bristol Hearth Tax.

SWERD next meets on 12 July.

How can GSV extend services to regional members? Report of Member Societies Day 25 May

Member Societies Day 2019 at GSV (photo: S. Hawke)
Bill Barlow
8 June 2019
GSV News
Member Societies

Member Society Report 2019

By Michael Rumpff, GSV Councillor

On Saturday May 25, the Genealogical Society Victoria played host to our Member Societies with our Annual get-together at the GSV in Queen Street, Melbourne.

The GSV has 59 Member Societies, and three Service Groups and it is important that we have this meeting to detail the things that the GSV has achieved in the past year, and just as importantly, to hear what our Member Societies have been up to. Representatives arrive from all over the State, and it is pleasing to see everyone willing to travel long distances to be there.

We had two key areas to discuss this year. At the GSV we have been pleased with the growth of our Discussion Circles. The latest, Victoria and Tasmania, had its inaugural meeting just the day before. So, a select group of convenors were asked to present a snapshot of their Circle, and the challenge was presented to the Member Societies – how might they take advantage of these circles, how might we take the Circles to those Member Societies, or how might they adapt and create their own Discussion Circle? Suggestions ranged from Skypecontact through to bus tours.

The second item was the contentious issue of the changes to the BDM website, and the angst it has caused to us all. The answer to this problem would seem to be Susie Zada, who provided an excellent in-depth solution to our issues. Susie was at the meeting as representative of the Geelong Family History Group, but for this presentation, she wore her other hat as representative of VAFHO, the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations. Very early on, Susie recognised the problem at BDM, and organised a one-on-one meeting with them, which now continue on a regular basis. An excellent presentation of these meetings is to be found on the VAFHO blog at https://vafho.com/This site presents all the identified problems, and their status. Susie deserves a vote of thanks for taking on this project single-handedly and working on behalf of all Victorian genealogists.

Once again, the day proved to be terrific. Social activity, and good information exchange. Next year’s meeting will be on Saturday 23 May.



Bill Barlow
22 May 2019
GSV News


Two interesting presentations are coming up at the GSV. On 13 June there is a video presentation on 'Cold cases: brickwall strategies'and you should book early for an interesting presentation by George Helon on 17 August, Tracing Your Polish and Eastern European Ancestors. More information is given below. 

Bookings are essential for both events and members and non-members are welcome. Click on 'ALL EVENTS' on our web home page for more details about booking.


Cold Cases: brickwall strategies

Thursday 13 June from 12 noon -1 pm.

Video. Speaker: Lisa Louise Cooke.

Apply principles used by cold case detectives to your genealogical brick wall 'cold cases' in this vital video session. You’ll learn to track ancestors like a bloodhound, sniffing out holes in your research and getting missing information on the record"


Tracing Your Polish and Eastern European Ancestors

Saturday 17 August from 10 am to 12 noon.

Presented by George Helon

George is an author and a genealogist with an extensive knowledge of Polish family history research. He presentation will address:

· My ancestors were from Poland – “Oh really! From where exactly?”

· All records destroyed: Fact, Fiction, Myth – the Reality!

· Poland – A Short History of Events and Boundaries.

· English: Forget It!

· Language Essentials: Translations, Transliterations, Transcriptions and Variant Forms.

· Your Name: A Key that Can Open Doors.

· Place Names: Gazetteers, Maps and Online Sources and Resources.

· Deportation, Emigration and Immigration. 

· Records, Resources and Archives.

· Are you a Noble Person?

· DNA: It actually Works – Utilise It!

· Knocking Down those Brick Walls.

There will be time for general discussion and questions. Participants will be welcome to take notes and photographs (without flash), but strictly no recording or filming without express permission.

So this is a great opportunity to benefit from a lifetime of interest in this area.

Some background to our presenter:

George Helon is a Life Member of the GSV and on the Board of Trustees of the Polish Nobility Association Foundation (PNAF) based in the USA. His families were expelled at gun-point from the Kresy Region of Poland by the Soviet KNVD and deported to Siberia on 10 February 1940. He is also a Freeman of the City of London, an historian, lecturer, author and genealogist; an etymologist and ethnographer; a theologian; a social commentator and an author of numerous books and articles published in Australia, the USA and in Poland. He has almost 40 years’ experience in genealogy and family history.

George’s most notable works include First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings (with William F. Hoffman, 1998), Aboriginal Australia(short title, 1998), and The English-Gooreng Gooreng-English Dictionary (1994).

For further information visit www.georgehelon.com








You too may have Chinese history

Bill Barlow
25 April 2019
GSV News

This Saturday 13 April 10.30 - 11.30 AM the GSV hosts a talk by Robyn Ansell on Chinese-Australian family history. It is not too late to book for her fascinating presentation. Robyn is a founding member of the Chinese-Australian Family Historians of Victoria.

You can book at the GSV website HERE.


Even if you have a Euro-centric ('white') Australian heritage going back far enough, to pre-Federation Australia, you may well have links with the story of the Chinese in Australia.

Ginger jars (Photo: W. Barlow 2019)

I have long-treasured a couple of ubiquitous glazed ginger jars that were always amongst the vases when I was young. Apparently they were a leftover relic from my grandfather.  My father's chance remark once, that his father had spent his youth running around in the Chinatown of Bendigo, made them special to me. Years later I came across other family ancestors who were at the Mount Alexander (Castlemaine) goldfields in 1855. At that time one writer calculated that there were six Chinese for every five Europeans alluvial miners there. My great-great grandfather left probably to follow the gold to Yass, NSW and this put him there at the time of the infamous Lambing Flat Riots in 1861. You can learn a lot about the times from the history of the Chinese in Australia. 

Today my son and grandchildren are members of the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne and will be performing inside lions at the coming Bendigo Easter Festival. 

Bill Barlow




Highlands Seminar coming soon

Bill Barlow
6 March 2019
GSV News
Scottish Ancestry

Coming up soon the GSV is privileged to host a Seminar on the culture, traditions and ancestry of the Highland Clans of Scotland presented by an international expert, Graeme Mackenzie of 'Highland Roots', Inverness.

Glen Nevis (photo: Pauline Simpson, 'Highland Roots')

Friday 22 March 2019 10.00 am - 12.30 pm at GSV. 

Graeme's seminar will cover:

'The Culture and Traditions of the Highland Clans' - the social customs, political practices and the often colourful traditions of the clans, and
'Tracing your Ancestors in the Highlands of Scotland' - the sources for genealogical research in Scotland, showing how they are used and issues regarding the use of Gaelic names.

Get in quick to book your place here on the GSV website https://www.gsv.org.au/civicrm/event/info?reset=1&id=1100


Clan and Family History in the Highlands

Graeme Mackenzie MA founded 'Highland Roots' (http://www.highlandroots.net/index.html) in Inverness, from where it has been offering personal family history research for over 25 years. Graeme's work as a clan historian and organiser of gatherings - for MacKenzies and MacMillans in particular - has given him a unique insight into the Highland Clans, past and present, about which he has frequently lectured in North America, and also in Australasia.  In recent years he's taken the lead in the creation of the Association of Highland Clans and Societies which brings together over 45 clans and names in the Highlands of Scotland. 

Graeme's genealogical journey is rich and varied.

Graeme Mackenzie

He won a scholarship to study history at Cambridge University, and after graduation taught the subject part-time while working in a number of other jobs, including pulling pints at the historic “Eagle” pub – where he created a cricket team and helped organise the Cambridge Pub and Social Clubs Cricket League. In the early 1980s Graeme created local music magazine “Blue Suede News”, and became a part-time presenter on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. He was also involved for a number of years with the committee that organised the world famous “Cambridge Folk Festival”. In the mid-1980s Graeme’s BBC work moved into the production and presentation of music and current affairs documentaries, and in 1986-87 he conceived, researched, wrote, and presented a major ten part historical series – “A Power in the Land” – which looked at national history from a regional perspective, and was one of the first such series to be networked on local radio. 

It was whilst researching East Anglian families for this series that Graeme began to take an interest in genealogy; and this was eventually to lead him to return to Scotland to investigate his own ancestry, and to learn all the Scottish history he'd missed whilst studying “British History” at an English university. In 1989 Graeme set up as Highland Roots in Inverness with the intention of specialising in the history and genealogy of Highland clans. Though he’s subsequently had spells living elsewhere in Scotland - particularly in Edinburgh, where his father and grandfather were born - his spiritual home remains the “Capital of the Highlands” where he’s an active member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.  

In 1993 Graeme was appointed Curator of the Clan MacMillan International Centre in Renfrewshire, with a particular brief to organise the collection and publication of information on the clan’s history and genealogy (a connection stemming from his grandmother Catherine Macmillan who came from Glen Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness). This involved building the first Clan MacMillan International website and creating Project MAOL (Macmillan Ancestry On Line). Graeme’s also been instrumental in organising a number of successful clan gatherings, with tours, talks, concerts, pageants, and ceilidhs - including significant fund-raising elements for the major charity that was founded in the early twentieth century by a bard of the clan; i.e. Macmillan Cancer Support

Since 1995 Graeme has acted as Seanachaidh for Clan MacKenzie, compiling material on Mackenzie genealogy from published sources and through research commissioned from him by individual clanspeople; and he served for two years as Chairman of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland & the UK. In the course of his work as a professional genealogist he's collected a considerable amount of information on other Scottish families and names, and is pursuing a particular interest in the nature of the Scottish clan, and the evolution of the so-called “clan system”. His involvement with clan gatherings has given Graeme considerable experience attracting overseas visitors to the Highlands, which has led to him being invited to join VisitScotland's "Ancestral Tourism Group". He's also a member of the Clans and Families' Forum set up in 2014 by the Scottish Government. 

Graeme was Chairman of the Highland Family History Society - an organisation with hundreds of members worldwide - from 2007 until 2013, when he was elected Chairman of the Association of Highland Clans and Societies. For many years he's been attending Highland Games and Clan Gatherings in Canada and the USA to meet and talk to MacMillans and MacKenzies, and to give presentations and lectures on Scottish history and genealogy at Celtic Events and to Scottish Interest Groups. In 2014 he undertook a month-long lecture tour in New Zealand and Australia, whence he hopes to return in 2019. Graeme has written extensively on Scottish clan and family history.


This Seminar is not to be missed.

Graeme's bio courtesy of Highland Roots website, accessed 28/02/2019.


Beat the 16 Feb price rise for UK certificates and a new catalogue at PROV

Bill Barlow
11 February 2019
GSV News

In this post we pass on some news from our partners -near and far. The UK Federation of Family History Societies reminds us that, if we are quick, we can beat the 16 February Price Rise for UK BDM certificates. And, nearer to home, PROV (Public Records Office Victoria) is launching a new version of their online catalogue. You could assist them by providing feedback.




It's not long before the cost of UK birth, marriage or death certificates and of the PDF versions will go up. On 16 February 2019 certificates will increase from £9.25 to £11.00. At the same time, the PDF version will rise from £6.00 to £7.00.

Don't delay!

Work out which PDFs or certificates you need.

Send in your order (https://www.gov.uk/order-copy-birth-death-marriage-certificate)  before the last-minute rush.

Federation of Family History Societies UK



'Hello history lovers, You are receiving this request for feedback because we value your opinion on archival research.

This week we launched a Beta version of our new online catalogue for the collection held at Public Record Office Victoria. We recognise this collection is vital for people seeking information about their family history and accessing public records.

Some of the new features include:

* Searching by several filters at the same time

* Viewing digitised records prior to download

* A cleaner interface to view Agency and Series descriptions

* A simpler interface to browse lists of items and series.

We are seeking feedback over the next few months about the features of this catalogue, which is why we have decided to launch it in Beta first. You can easily access the new online catalogue by starting your keyword search on our website and then switching the toggle at the top of the page to switch to the new catalogue interface. To send us feedback click on the feedback button on the top right hand side of the page.

Please take a look at this video introduction to our new online catalogue and send us your feedback.


Kate Follington, Co-ordinator, Communications and Online Engagement

e: kate.follington@prov.vic.gov.au - Phone 03 9348 5478 | 0412328632

Public Record Office Victoria, Victorian Archives Centre | 99 Shiel St North Melbourne VIC 3051



PROV News | https://prov.vic.gov.au/about-us/our-blog


'The Married Widows of Cornwall'

Bill Barlow
9 February 2019
GSV News

'The Married Widows' is a term describing the wives 'left behind' by their husbands who departed England to seek work and/or new lives overseas.  The men usually intended to return home with an improved financial postion, or looked to establish themselves in new homes and communities and send for their wives and children later on.  This was not always the case, quite often the separations became permanent.

The concept of 'left behind' is also interesting.  This tends to imply a passive role for the women, but in many cases they were active participants in the decision, sometimes refusing to go, but more often agreeing to maintain the family at home until the whole family could eventually be reunited in better circumstances.

Dr Lesley Trotter, a historian and genealogist, has conducted extensive research on this phenomenon of family separation in 19th century Cornwall and sets out the findings in her fascinating book, The Married Widows of Cornwall: the story of the wives 'left behind' by emigration.  

What skills and resources could the wives and families turn to in the face of long term absences of the key family-breadwinners?  Were destitute wives forced into prostitution, or families bundled off to the workhouse?  Dr Trotter provides new perspectives and many first hand stories on how the wives and families survived at home while husbands worked overseas, some sending home money (and quite a few not), others dying overseas and more again drifting apart and never reuniting.  Dr Trotter uses a broad range of resources in her research and is still keen to hear from family historians with stories to tell of their own married widows.   Although the book is based on Cornish research, the findings resonate for those researching in other counties as well.

In talking to Dr Trotter, Stephen Hawke, the convenor of the GSV's South West England  Research and Discussion Circle (SWERD) found that, from her research Dr Trotter knew of his great-great-grandfather's wife and daughter left behind in Cornwall, but as he never went back she didn't know the Australian end of the story.  Stephen observes that:

'Her book has set me rethinking the family story and opened up some new aspects for research.'

The next meeting of the South West England Research & Discussion circle will discuss Dr Trotter's book and how her findings relate to our own family stories or perceptions of Married Widows, those left behind when our ancestors first ventured to these shores.  It is often difficult to find women's stories in family histories and Dr Trotter's research is a valuable resource which helps bring their lives and voices to the fore.  Dr Trotter is keen to have feedback from discussion of the book and hopes that those attending this session can bring their own stories. The SWERD meeting (free for for GSV members) is on Wednesday 13 February, 12:30 - 2:00pm at GSV.


Free family history software sessions for GSV members

Bill Barlow
1 February 2019
GSV News

A search of the internet for family history software will give you a multitude of programs to choose from. Do some research before you decide on the best program for you. Make sure that it suits your needs.

We will be adding a short introduction to family history software on the GSV website. One place to start your research is through VICGUM (Victorian Genealogists using Microcomputers) they can be found at VICGUM

VICGUM has arranged for free one-on-one help sessions for GSV members who are Family Tree Maker users. 

Each session will be 45 minutes and it is essential that a booking be made for each session.

Sessions will be held at the VICGUM office, Level 4 – 83 William Street, Melbourne and will take place on the 2nd Tuesday of each month in 2019, commencing on the 12th February, 2019. Numbers will be limited.

Session times will be :

Session 1     -     10:15 –  11:00 AM

Session 2     -     11:00 –  11.45 AM

Session 3     -     12:15 –  1:00 PM

Session 4     -     1:00 –  1:45 PM

Bookings are to be made by email: bookings@vicgum.asn.au  Please include your name, preferred time, GSV membership number and your contact phone number.

Note:   If you are not using a family history software program then you can book for a general introductory demonstration.



The New Poor Laws - post 1834: Talk this Thursday at GSV

Bill Barlow
28 January 2019
GSV News

Huge new workhouses were built across England and Wales after 1834 to accommodate and control the poor in accordance with the Government's new poor law regime.  The regime was introduced in Ireland, and on a modified basis in Scotland, from the 1840s.  The workhouses and laws were deliberately harsh - and the impressions left by Charles Dickens and others attest to the living and working conditions of our ancestors who were inmates, workers or officers.

A talk at GSV this coming Thursday 31 January - 12 - 1 PM  - will introduce you to the New Poor Laws and the workhouses. See all details on our website NEW POOR LAW TALK. 

Stephen Hawke will describe the harsh laws, rules and living conditions that broke up families and institutionalised children; the scandals and lax government response; and what it was like to live, work and die in a workhouse. Find out how to use the records and resources at the GSV to discover if your ancestors were involved.

Children at Crumpsall workhouse 1897


The Book of the Bastiles (G Baxter, 1841) provides first hand testimony from inmates and others and records that families suffer the greatest destitution rather than submit to go into the workhouse. Tens of thousands were admitted each year. The Governor of Bath gaol reflected that former workhouse inmates far preferred prison residence, discipline and food to that in the workhouse.  In too many workhouses the gross overcrowding, maltreatment, starvation diets and corrupt practices by some workhouse managers compounded the misery for inmates.  In the 1840s a series of appalling workhouse scandals and deaths in Hampshire, Surrey and Yorkshire embedded a fear of the workhouses which prevailed until they were closed in the 20th century.

The New Poor Laws are important social history and for many of our ancestors the workhouses were a major factor in their departure for the Australian colonies.



Beyond the web - a research story

Bill Barlow
24 December 2018
GSV News

At the last meeting for the year of the GSV Writers, we considered topics for next year's writing exercise. Members are invited to try writing about a particular topic such as a family object, a place or a journey. One suggestion, that we write about a particular research experience or archive, reminded some of us of Kath McKay's story of visiting the archives of St Patrick's Cathedral in Ballarat. Her memory of researching by an open fire warmed our hearts. Though this is a bit unseasonal, it might encourage your research over the holiday period ahead - if you can fit it in between more immediate family festivities.


Beyond the web


Much as I love my computer and the internet, some of my most precious family history knowledge has come from being able to seek out original documents.

In spite of searching for decades, previous family historians had not been able to find the marriage certificate of our great grandparents: an Irish coach maker and a young maidservant from Wiltshire. We knew they had about ten children in the 1860s and 1870s in Ballarat, but didn’t have a clear record of the children’s names, births or even number. Online indexes didn’t help a lot.

Then I had a little brain-wave. I knew that branch of the family were all Catholic so I contacted St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat to enquire about records. They eventually replied saying they had all their original records but none were digitised or indexed. However, I was most welcome to come and look for myself.

St Patricks Cathedral, Ballarat (Postcard, Ballarat Historical Collections, Gold Museum. Visit www.goldmuseum.com.au

So one freezing July day I took the train from Melbourne to Ballarat. In the cheery Parish office, warmed by a fire in the hearth, I pored over the huge leather bound tomes brought out of the archives by the Parish Secretary. These are daunting books indeed, nearly a metre by half a metre and several inches thick. They record the births, marriages and deaths of the parishioners, documented in careful copperplate with pen and ink on parchment. I had a fair knowledge that the first child was born about 1860 and the last, my long-dead grandmother, in 1877. So I started with 1860 but it revealed nothing, nor 1861, 1862 and on through the whole decade. The Secretary cheerily brought volume after volume and the piles grew around me. She also kindly made me several cups of tea.

By the time I got to the 1870s with nothing, I was beginning to doubt all I had believed about this branch of our extended family.

Then I found them! In the late summer of 1875, two little girls were baptised, one aged two, the other six. At last! I had found something! Then I turned the page and found the death record for the little six-year-old who had just been baptised days before. Most of the rest of the page and many after that, were taken up with deaths of little children – all from measles in an epidemic that must have swept Ballarat in those early days before immunisation.

Another few turns of the giant pages and there were the rest of them! Five children baptised together, boys and girls aged from 1 to 14 in one job lot! Another page turn and there was the death of the first baptised little girl, the two-year-old. This was followed quite quickly by the baptism of a new baby. Our poor great-grandmother was pregnant when she was nursing, then burying, two of her little daughters. Sad times indeed.

But I still had not found the object of my original search, the marriage of my great-grandparents. More volumes, more page turning. And, finally, in January 1877, after they have had ten children and lost three, this pioneer couple marry. We had been looking in the wrong decade!

A few months later, in April 1877, their new, and last, baby was baptised: a daughter, my grandmother.

Kath McKay


This article was first published in 'Fifty Plus Magazine'.