Family History Matters 
 The blog of the GSV 

Writers Circle

Writers Circle

Making family history

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

Family history is not all about chasing old birth records and transcripts from past centuries. It can also be capturing more recent history - for future historians.

Recently the GSV Writers challenged themselves to write about a family photo in 350 words. Over twenty stories emerged, ranging from a well-travelled bracelet, an elopement, a tennis player and the boxer Billy Farnan. And this story below - 'Nanna loved babies' by Jackie van Bergen. The nice aspect of these stories is that they include the author's own memories.

Jackie's experience in sharing this story with her mother should encourage us to try this.

'I’m definitely spurred on by the reaction of my mother. She has been losing interest in things as her memory is failing and lockdown took away all her stimulating activities. Dad said he hadn’t seen her so animated. Mum remembered enough to keep asking when the next story was coming. Other relatives have responded with memories of their own - resulting in some stories being amended or added to.'


Nanna loved babies

There weren’t many options open to unmarried country girls in the mid 1920s. Nanna had all the accomplishments you read about in Jane Austen novels, she played the piano, wrote poetry, sewed, embroidered, made doilies, and was a whiz at cards.

Mavis Fanshawe Long (1906-1982) and her sister Frances Jean McVey Long (1901-1988) moved to the city and trained at the Foundling Hospital and Infants’ Home in Berry Street, East Melbourne and Beaconsfield. In November 1932, she was awarded a certificate recognising completion of her probationer training, and in February 1933 received her certificate of competency as a Mothercraft Nurse from the Department of Public Health.

The Berry Street hospital was founded in 1877 by a group of Melbourne women with the help of the wife of the Governor of the time. The aim was to support unwed, isolated or rejected mothers and their children. In 1907 they implemented a formalised mothercraft nurse training program that continued until 1975. Starting in 2006, the Berry Street organisation issued apologies related to their role in the stolen generations, in forced adoptions, and for any abuse or neglect suffered by those in their care.

Nanna obviously loved her time working at East Melbourne and Beaconsfield, as she kept many mementos such as photos of the babies and nurses, and booklets (see photo on the left). It was at Berry Street that Nanna befriended Shirley Constance Garrett (1912-1978), a fellow nurse from St Kilda. It was through Shirley and visiting her family that Nanna met her husband, Shirley’s brother John Raikes Garrett (1908-1992). They married in 1935. Nanna’s first baby was born in 1937, and her second in 1939.

Mum says Nanna couldn’t get enough of us when we were little. I was her first grandchild (see photo on the right), and was thoroughly spoiled, not that she didn’t spoil all of us.

I’m sorry I didn’t have the chance to get to know this lovely gentle lady when I was an adult. It’s a shame so many kids these days live so far away from their grandparents – they are missing out on all those stories, and all that love.

Jackie van Bergen, September 2021


Photo credits

Left. Mavis Long, at Berry Street Home, 1932

Right. 'Nanna' (Mavis) with author, 1960 (photos in possession of author).


Living within 5 km

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

You don't have to go far - living within 5 km

In previous times families didn't move far from their villages for generations. Many or even most people never moved beyond our recent 5 km lockdown over their whole lives.

This has been a useful factor in tracking early family names in a specific geographical location. Tracing my Barnes family, it has been shown that by 1860 a third of all UK 'Barnes' were in Lancashire and in 1861 it was particularly prevalent in Haslington and Accrington, north of Manchester - in the Valley of Rossendale. 'Golding', a recurring name in my family, is also most prevalent in Lancashire in its north England cluster. Both these name locations probably reflect the settlement there of Hiberno-Norse people from about 900 after their expulsion from Dublin in 902.

A great grandfather of mine set foot on Suvarov (or Suwarrow) Island, a very small Pacific atoll, in 1889. Years later the largest islet of this coral reef would be the voluntary home of Tom Neale where he lived for six years. He was inspired by an earlier occupant, Robert Dean Frisbie, who exiled himself and his four children there for a year in 1942. The islet they lived on is only 800 metres long and 200 metres wide - so a perambulation is well below our present 5 km confinement.

Robert Frisbie had lived on Pukapuka, another small Pacific atoll and wrote: 'Think of it! A woman living on this island for some seventy years and never visited Frigate Bird Islet, four miles across the lagoon! It reminds me of a pair of darling old maids who lived near our ranch in the foothills of California. They were in their forties, alone on a farm only a few miles from Fresno, the lights of which place they could see, on a clear night, from a hill beyond their house—yet they had never been to Fresno nor to any city! Once I tried to take them, and I remember that one old dear couldn’t go because she had a hen setting and her sister was “no hand at poultries”; the other one couldn’t go because she was afraid to leave her sister alone—“something might happen.” So it is with lots of Puka-Pukans. We have only three islets on this reef, yet many of the neighbors have set foot on only one.' 

And to help us live within our own resources, that classic of Thoreau's two years in a cabin on Walden Pond is worth a re-read. 

Our ancestors didn't move far, until they did - when wars, economic emigration and forced relocation, transportation took them to another county or across the globe.



Tom Neale. An Island to Oneself, Collins, 1966

Robert Dean Frisbie. The Island of Desire: the story of a South Sea trader, Doubleday, 1944 / Benediction Books 2019 / ebook available online.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden or Life in the Woods (1854), JM Dent Everyman's Library 1910. 

[Ed] I thought I would treat you to a picture of this tropical island in memory of all those beach holidays we Melbournians had to cancel this year.



Our Forebears and the Indigenous Population

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Genealogical Society of Victoria currently stands, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, their Elders past and present, and those young people destined to become leaders.


In NAIDOC week this year the GSV Writers were challenged to think more about how we include Aboriginal People in writing our stories. This will involve thinking deeply about the nature of the encounters with our European ancestors and also the possibility of our descent from Aboriginal People. 

There were very few European women among the first free settlers and assigned convicts in the early years of inland NSW. But on his trip in the Wellington District in 1845 Thomas Mitchell was assured by one lonely shepherd 'that there were shepherdesses in the bush'. Mitchell reflected that: 'This startling fact should not be startling, but for the disproportion of sexes, and the squatting system which checks the spread of families...Indeed if it were an object to uncivilise the human race, I know of no method more likely to effect it than to isolate a man from the gentler sex...' Mitchell of course was only seeing European women as 'the gentler sex' - and for that matter, was only seeing women as the gentler of the sexes. 

Investigating our early ancestry in Australia is difficult. In NSW there was no requirement to register marriages and births before 1856 (earlier in some other States) and baptisms were voluntary and difficult in outer regions. In 1839 there was only one clergyman in the seven counties west of the Blue Mountains to conduct baptisms.

So records may not help us and science is also limited. 'Mitochondrial DNA is a reliable source of genetic information about Aboriginal ancestry, but it can’t help at all if your Aboriginal ancestors sit anywhere else in your family tree. It is only useful to track direct from mother to grandmother to great grandmother and so on.' (The Conversation).

From the earliest days of settlement there are many examples of Aboriginal people taking on or being given European names. Neddie Barlow, an aboriginal man on the Bogan River, reputedly received that name from his having saved the life of a stockman. Clendinnen (Dancing with Strangers) tells how Baneelon aka Bennelong bestowed upon Gov. Arthur Phillip his own tribal name and adopted his. 

And the names of most individuals involved in the frontier wars have not been recorded.

Author, Louise Wilson set out this challenge to the GSV Writers and all family historians, 'Our Forebears and the Indigenous Population' 7 July 2021:


'We grew up in an era which largely ignored our First Nations peoples. My photo of the map on display at the Museum of Australia in Canberra, an artistic depiction of our country’s First Nations, contains a clear message to us all.

Almost everyone researching their Australian ancestors will find points of interaction with our indigenous population. I’d like you to think about where and when these interactions might have happened in your own family. A member of our GSV Writers group has told me of his astonishment ten years ago when he first viewed the von Guérard painting from 1854, Aborigines met on the road to the diggings,'...since I'd never given a moment's thought to what sort of encounters my 1840s-1850s lot must have had in the Port Phillip District'.

Many of us have now given much thought to this topic. At the very least we should know the names both of the Aboriginal land where these encounters occurred and the language spoken.

You might also like to view Dr Richard Broome’s talk to GSV members last year entitled ‘Frontier encounters: Aboriginal victims and voyagers in Victoria’, now a webcast accessible for members via the GSV catalogue.

How to write about this topic is another matter – or do we ignore it, because we don’t quite know how to approach it? Historical societies often publish lengthy articles about a house or a settler family without any mention of the original owners of the relevant land.  My book Sentenced to Debt: Robert Forrester, First Fleeter devotes about 12% of the story to my forebear’s interactions with the local Aborigines. But were they Dharug or Darkinung? There is often no accepted terminology. 

In Guilty and Lucky Bill Barlow describes the Wiradjuri people of his forebear’s district in western NSW, and again in his essay dated Oct 2016 What did my great-great-grandfather do in the war?

Are our ‘Welcome to Country’ messages meaningful? There are many different approaches  - for example the RHSV says ‘We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which the Royal Historical Society of Victoria currently stands, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation, their Elders past and present, and those young people destined to become leaders.’ The acknowledgments offered by your local Council, the Melbourne City Council, the ABC, SBS, Gardening Australia and the GSV all vary greatly.  

But ownership is a lot more complex than that, as I discovered recently when I attended ‘Pre-European Aboriginal culture in the Camberwell area’, a Zoom presentation by Dr Gary Presland to the Camberwell Historical Society on 25 May. 

How can we present the truth in our own family history stories?'


Louise Wilson is a member of the GSV Writers Circle and the author of nine books of biography and family history. [Ed.]


NAIDOC - National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. In 1991 'Islanders' was added and the 'Day' became a week. See history

Thomas Mitchell, Journal of an Expedition into the Interior of Tropical Australia, Longmans, Brown and Green, Lond. 1848

Bishop of Sydney in 'Religious wants of the Colonies - New South Wales', Sydney Morning Herald, 16 Oct 1840.

'A DNA test says you've got Indigenous Australian ancestry. Now what?' by E. Watt, E. Kowal, and S. Lehmann, The Conversation[online], 3 May 2018, assessed 18/7/2021

Inga Clendinnen, Dancing with Strangers (new ed), Text, 2005. 

For a detailed map see AIATSIS 'Map of Indigenous Australia' [website accessed 18/7/2021]

For the words we use to write about what we find, see also AGPS Style Manual


Do you have to write your family history?

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date



Once you have all the certificates - the names, dates and places - and have these imbedded in proprietary databases, and maybe you have graphically presented these as trees of various designs, is there any need to do more?

Do you need to put all those 'facts' in a written story?

And, a sensitive historian may ask, should you presume to put them in a story? When you look at the 'factoids' it does seem necessary to link them somehow, but once you start there can be a tendency to over-link them in ways not fully supported by the facts.

In her book 'Genealogical Proof Standard' Christine Rose puts forward five steps for genealogical proof: (CR Publications 3rd ed. 2009. GSV 929.1 ROS):

1) Reasonably exhaustive search for information

2) Complete citation of the source,

3) Analyse and correlate to assess the quality of the information

4) Resolve any conflicts AND

5) Arrive at a soundly reasonedwritten conclusion(my emphasis).


So your investigation is not finished until you do step 5. It is not the after-thought following the discovery of facts; it is an essential part of the process. 'Soundly-reasoned' requires writing up (or if you prefer, 'writing down' - strange language English).

This is the focus of the GSV Writers Discussion Circle. Its members help each other as they attempt to turn their carefully assembled facts into a 'soundly reasoned written conclusion'. More than that, the group suggests ways to make the written conclusion attractive to its intended audience.

The GSV Writers group is open to all GSV members as part of membership. It meets monthly on the first Wednesday at which about 20-30 of its over 90 members provide comments and suggestions on submitted draft histories or discuss some aspect of the craft. It also has a closed Facebook group for online discussion. You can see more about the group on the website HERE and their program for 2020 is now available - GSV WRITERS PROGRAM 2020

The group provides the ongoing articles for 'Getting it Write' in Ancestor journal. A list of past articles is available on the GSV website. There are a number of award-winning published authors in the group and many who are just starting to write. All are friendly. Where else could you get twenty editing reviews of your writing free?


Joining this group is a good way to tackle your genealogical objectives for the year.


The GSV also offers a course on Writing Family History presented by Margaret Vines, commencing 7 February - BOOKINGS ESSENTIAL. See HERE.


So no excuses for 2020! This is the year to 'get it down'.


'Ancestor' journal wins Nick Vine Hall Award 2021

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

It has just been announced by AFFHO that the GSV's Ancestor journal has won the 2021 Nick Vine Hall Award for the best family history journal/newsletter in Australia and New Zealand, in category B for societies over 500 members.

The announcement was made at the beginning of the 2021 AAFHO National Family History Month opening session (by Zoom of course). This makes the fifth time the journal has received this award since 2009 - a real endorsement of the continuing value of the GSV's journal to genealogy and family history. 

Jenny Redman, President GSV, congratulated the Ancestor Edit team at its Zoom proofreading meeting this week: 'Once again your excellent work in producing journal has been recognised'.



This Award honours Nick Vine Hall AM. With the Census due next week it is timely to recall that Nick represented AFFHO at a National level in a Save the Census Campaign in the mid-1980s. Nick was a strong voice in the campaign, which resulted in the Federal Government accepting the Saving our Census and Preserving Our History report. This permits citizens across Australia to 'opt in' and allow retention of their Census information, under closed access for 99 years, by the National Archives of Australia, and in so doing, make a valuable contribution to preserving Australia’s history for future generations. Read more about this here Census Time Capsule Consider selecting this option in your census return. 



You have a few weeks to get your entry in for this year's Ancestor Prize - closing 4 pm Friday 27 August. See details here 2021 Ancestor Writing Prize

Can I publish a family letter?

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date


The GSV Ancestor Edit Team was recently asked about the ownership of letters in a deceased person's estate: 'Does anyone know who these belong to?' 


Simple question but it depends how you would like to use the letters.


The letters themselves will have been distributed as part of the personal effects of a deceased estate, perhaps evenly between children. And owning the letters means you can sell them, exhibit them or donate them, but can you publish them?


I have a much-treasured letter that my grandfather, who died in 1953, wrote when he heard about my birth beautiful clear handwriting and a testament to those forgotten skills! Can I scan it and publish it? 


The first point to realise is that owning the physical letter and owning the copyrights in the letter are two different things. Personal letters are 'literary works'. So copyright is protected for a period of 70 years from the death of the writer (the creator). If the writer has died, these copyrights, unless otherwise directed, are normally inherited and shared by next of kin.  


So to publish my grandfather's letter before 2023 - seventy years after his death - it looks like I would need permission from each of his children - my father and his two sisters - and as they and their spouses have also died, from their 5 children apart from me.


I own the manuscript itself. But my siblings, cousins and I jointly own the copyright to reproduce it, to communicate it to the public and to publish it for the first time. These rights include putting any 'substantial part' on my website, photocopying it, copying by hand, or scanning it. I can copy it for my own research or for criticism ('fair dealing'), but I don't have a right to publish it without my co-copyright owners' licence. 


Maybe I could wait for a couple of years and the letter will be in the public domain. But we are a friendly family and most people like personal acknowledgment for their part in preserving our history.



Read more:


The Australian Copyright Council ( has many useful information sheets available online, such as Family Histories & Copyright, Australian Copyright Council Information Sheet G042v13, Oct 2019.


Judy G. Russell 'Copyright and the lost letters', The Legal Genealogist [website], 3 Dec 2012, accessed 20 June 2021 at


Image: A family letter (photo courtesy of W. Barlow, 2021)


A Mystery Woman

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date


First a reminder that you have ONLY 3 WEEKS TO GO TO ENTER THE GSV 2019 WRITING COMPETITION - CLOSING 30 AUGUST - (See details on our website).


And a tip for your research this month...

As part of National Family History Month BDM Vic has reduced the price of uncertified historical certificates to $20 just for this month. Go HERE.

To prompt you to write your stories, in this post we republish a short article by one of our GSV Writers Circle members, Barbara Beaumont. This was originally published in Fifty~Plus News Nov 2013. 


You don’t always find what you’re looking for. . .


by Barbara Beaumont


At a seminar on ‘Brick Walls’ in family history research at the Genealogical Society of Victoria (GSV) we were advised to try to go around brick walls rather than confront them head-on. So when I was unable to locate a member of my family, Grace Martin, on the 1891 UK census, I started to look for her siblings, and then for the daughter of her sister Mary Ann, who was on the 1881 census as Elizabeth Martin, age 17, daughter.


Thinking that Elizabeth might have married a few years later, I looked on freebmd ( for a marriage and easily found it. On freebmd you can look at the names on the page of the register, which after 1852 generally gives you four names, but does not tell you who married whom. One name immediately jumped out at me – James Hewett. I knew that another member of the family, Ellen Davey, had married a man of this name, but I hadn’t paid the Hewetts a lot of attention previously. Was it the same James Hewett? 


I formed the theory that James had married Elizabeth, that she had died, and that he had then married Ellen. I looked with fresh eyes at the 1911 census for the Hewetts. Eight children were listed, but the census indicated that Ellen had only given birth to six children. So presumably the others were Elizabeth’s? 


On I was able to find James and Elizabeth on the 1891 census, which gave me the names of four other children. So Elizabeth and James had had six children, and James had gone on to have another six with Ellen. Again on I found christening records for several of these children, which not only confirmed the parents as James and Elizabeth Hewett, but gave me the address where they lived at the time of each christening. A death entry for Elizabeth Hewett in St Saviour, Southwark in 1900 seemed likely to be the right one.


A missing link in my chain of research was the 1901 census, which I expected to show James as a widower, with his first six children. I was aware that Hewett was sometimes spelt as Hewitt, so tried a Boolean search using Hew?tt (where ? represents one missing letter). This proved unsuccessful, but by using a search for Hew* (where* represents one or more letters), I found them listed as Hewell and yes, indeed, he was a widower.


I must admit that none of this helped me to find Grace, but it has provided me with an interesting addition to the story of my extended family. 


Barbara Beaumont


Barbara went on to find Grace Martin. You could read more about that in her article 'The Mystery Woman' in the latest GSV Ancestor journal 34:6 June 2019. GSV Members can read that issue on the website.


Image credit

Photographer Fred Start Jnr. c.1957. Queen's Building (1841), Southwark, London was an early model housing project for workers. If you have connections to Southwark, London you can see lots of interesting information and images on the website London-SE1

COVID-19 virus and the GSV: update

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date



Update from Jenny Redman, GSV President


On Monday March 23 it was decided that the GSV Centre, both the library and the office, would close from today Wed March 25 until further notice.


All member queries to the GSV are to be directed to the email: 

Staff will continue to work from home.

Subscriptions can be paid by usual methods excepting via telephone


Research Requests including quick lookups will be processed where possible.


We will endeavour to maintain regular contact with our members and provide them with updates and information to help with doing their family history research at home. We are currently working on supplying more online content for members, so keep an eye on the website for updates.


Please keep safe and enjoy the time at home doing your family history


Jenny Redman




Family Historian told to stay home indefinitely and work on family history!


There are such a lot of family history projects that I have on my to-do list that this current edict sounds like an unbelievable opportunity - if it wasn't also tinged with great concern for our community. Many of us did not directly experience life during  WW2 but, from our parents, we knew about the family deaths, hardships, rationing cards and the long recovery that followed. Helping each other was then, and will be now, the only way forward. 


It is amazing how much we have moved online. Today the Ancestor Edit Team has been working collectively on the articles for the next Ancestor journal. This means our copy has to be finalised by the end of March. The members of the GSV Writers Circle have received one of the writing pieces scheduled for review at the now-cancelled April meeting. Our online forum membershelpmembers is available for any queries and members can check our catalogue and databases from home. I am spending too long on my computer with the MyHeritage Library edition, now also made available for GSV Members to use from home. 


So lots to do - STAY HOME!


The logo for the President Updates shows a laptop computer balanced on a Sands & McDougall Directory. For many years this amalgam of old and new-world technology was a feature of the meeting room back in our Collins Street offices.

If you would like to publish a family history story on this blog just email me at [Ed.]




Unsettling family history - new research

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date

Genealogical study is a hot topic. Witness the lengths to which some 'historians' and genealogists are presently going to deny Bruce Pascoe's aboriginal antecedence, possibly to undermine his views about pre-Colonial aboriginal society. This particular instance of genealogical research should remind us of the traps that can result from a simple reading and over-reliance on early records; even for so-called historians, who should know better about the inherent limits of documents in tracing biological ancestry (note 1). Anyone researching their early Australian forebears will have to think about where they were and what they were doing during The Frontier Wars, a period from 1788 to 1928 (note 2). 


The intersection of written records with family memory and oral history can be unsettling and sometimes divisive. If your family stories take you into this period you may like to contribute to a current university research project.


Ashley Barnwell, a Lecturer in Sociology from the University of Melbourne (note 3), is currently undertaking a national study that investigates how inherited family secrets, stories, and memories inform Australian’s understandings of colonial history. Ashley is looking to interview family historians who have found interactions between settlers and Indigenous Australians in their ancestry and who are doing some research into that aspect of the family tree.


Ashley outlines the context of the project 'Family Secrets':


'There has been a lot of research about how museums and schools deal with colonial history but not much acknowledgment that family historians are doing a lot of interesting historical research in this area and often writing up the findings for their families too, Ashley says. In his famous 1968 Boyer lectures After the Dreaming, WH Stanner spoke about 'the great Australian silence' around the treatment of Aboriginal peoples and the impacts of colonisation. Family stories sometimes mirror this silence, but families can also be places where past interactions between settlers and Aboriginal peoples are recorded and discussed, at least by some generations if not others. 


Popular texts based on family history, such as Kate Grenville’s The Secret Riverand Sally Morgan’s My Place, show that unpacking family stories and secrets can stimulate public discussion of Australia’s colonial history. Ashley is very interested in how family relationships add an important layer to how historical research is done. When we read and write about our own families there are often extra layers of emotion that can inform what we choose to write and publish. Family historians sometimes also have to navigate tricky conversations with other relatives who may not be happy with the revelation of family stories or who insist on a different version of events.' 


For this Australian Research Council-funded project, Ashley will do a study of self-published family history books, interviews with family historians, and some research into her own settler ancestors in mid-north coast NSW. 


If you are interested in participating,

please contact Ashley via:

phone: 03 83444559  

email:; or 

mail: Dr Ashley Barnwell, School of Social and Political Sciences, John Medley Building, Level 4, University of Melbourne, VIC, 3010.





1. Dark Emu(2014), Bruce Pascoe. See Keith Windschuttle citing Jan Campbell [Holland?] in QuadrantDecember 2019.

2. The Forgotten War, Henry Reynolds (2013).

3. Ashley Bardwell see

Not too late to enter GSV Writing Prize 2020 - closes 28 August

Bill Barlow
Expiry Date



You have just under two weeks - a week from Friday to enter the GSV Writing Prize 2020.


Last year's winner Louise Wilson painted a vivid picture of the development of the Royal Mail coaches in England unravelling the story of her coachmaster Boulton and Willson families in her article 'Masters of the Road' (Ancestor 34:8 December 2019).


In 2018 Helen Pearce won this prize for 'Daniel Elphingstone: his son's secret exposed' (Ancestor43:4 Dec 2018). Both these winning entries can be read by GSV Members on the website. Go to 'Ancestor Journal / View Ancestor as a PDF' where past issues from 2012 on are available.


But this year it's your turn. I suggest you lock yourself in (oh! done that) and polish up that family history story you have been promising to finish.


Members of the GSV as well as members of GSV Member Societies are eligible to enter. You can read the Judges' Report on 2019 winners on the website and 'Tips for Writing an Article' in the last issue of Ancestor 35:2 June 2020 is a very useful guide on how to 'make it easy for the judge's to say yes' 


Full details of the competition are on the website


Entries close at

4 pm on 28 August 2020.

Now lock yourself away!