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Making family history

Mavis Long, Berry Street Babies Home
Bill Barlow
20 November 2021
Writers Circle

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

suvarov Atoll, Cook Islands
suvarov Atoll, Cook Islands
Bill Barlow
3 October 2021
GSV News
Treasure Chest
Writers Circle

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.



'Ancestor' journal wins Nick Vine Hall Award 2021

Ancestor Edit Team imagining celebratory bubbles!
Bill Barlow
4 August 2021
GSV News
Writers Circle

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

Our Forebears and the Indigenous Population

Wall map, Museum of Australia (photo: L. Wilson)
Wall map Australian Museum, (photo: L. Wilson)
Bill Barlow
23 July 2021
Writers Circle

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. https://www.louisewilson.com.au [Ed.]


NAIDOC - National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. In 1991 'Islanders' was added and the 'Day' became a week. See history https://www.naidoc.org.au/about/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 https://theconversation.com/a-dna-test-says-youve-got-indigenous-australian-ancestry-now-what-95785

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

For a detailed map see AIATSIS 'Map of Indigenous Australia' [website accessed 18/7/2021] https://aiatsis.gov.au/explore/map-indigenous-australia

For the words we use to write about what we find, see also AGPS Style Manual https://www.stylemanual.gov.au/accessible-and-inclusive-content/inclusive-language/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-peoples


Can I publish a family letter?

Bill Barlow
20 June 2021
Writers Circle


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 (www.copyright.org.au) 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 https://www.legalgenealogist.com/2012/12/03/copyright-and-the-lost-letters/


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


Family history without words

Bill Barlow
9 June 2021
Writers Circle

How can you write your family history with the least amount of writing?

Recently the GSV Writers discussed forms of 'text-light' media for telling our stories.


By 'text-light' we meant media in which our family history is mainly told through images, or at least with few words. Remember that oft-quoted aphorism 'a picture is worth a thousand words'.

Such media may include:

  • charts (e.g. descendency record)
  • photo albums or photobooks
  • PowerPoint files
  • videos, podcasts
  • websites
  • blogs
  • posters (for example, an illustrated family tree)
  • Facebook sites
  • annotated timelines, and so on.

or even poetry... (One writer read a poem she has composed to tell a family story).

There is some feeling that with the take-up of social media many people (not only younger) just haven't the time or capacity to read anything longer than a 'tweet'. And watching a film of a book will have more appeal. But how to tell, and capture, history in 'text-light' forms?  

Who has not inherited a drawer full, or even an album, of unlabelled family photos? Who has not watched a historical film and wondered how much of it is 'true'. How can we know? Lincoln, the film or Gore Vidal's Lincoln, a 'novel'. 

We may build a collection (a shoe-box?) of primary source material - originals or reproductions (an archive). Why not just tell, or show, our family history by distributing images of these to the family? There are many software programs enabling us to produce photobooks, PowerPoint presentations and videos. And little or no writing is required. ,

After all, a picture tells the truth? In April, a female dance crew, '101 Doll Squadron', was shown on ABC footage of the launch of HMAS Supply, twerking* in front of RAN brass,including the Governor-General, who it later transpired was not there at that time. Words had to be written later to explain and apologise for the incorrect assembling of the images.

Kenneth Clark's TV documentary Civilisation(BBC 1969), Bronowski's 13-part TV series TheAscent of Man(1973) and Simon Schama's A History of Britain(2000)brilliant though they are as televisionwere all followed by books that provided the sources of illustrations and provided bibliographies. Bronowski wrote in his Foreword that the printed book has the advantage that:

'it is not remorselessly bound to the forward direction of time, as any spoken discourse is. The reader can... pause and reflect, turn the pages back and the argument over, compare one fact with another and ... appreciate the detail of evidence without being distracted by it.'

This almost sounds quaint today. 

In today's world an audiovisual medium has many great advantages in telling a story. 

The key question for us as historians is what qualifies these different media as historical records - ones that have historical value (as opposed to fiction or myth) 

What is the minimum text that must be included to turn our collection of imagesmoving or otherwiseinto a historical document? 


If an unknown viewer in the future finds your photobook, blog site or PowerPoint file, does it include the necessary information to make it history - or will it just become history? 

What or who is shown, who created it and when, what time and place is depicted.


*twerking(OED 2015). First used in 1820.


Top: An inherited family photo album with captions like 'Father among the roses at no.6' (author's possession); an archive data sheet about a family object; cover of a celebratory family photobook.

Lower: A family-history online blog 'J Scammell Making Ancestors Interesting, viewed 2021.




Bill Barlow
5 April 2021
Writers Circle

     Last month, for the GSV Writers discussion on 'Telling Women's Stories', some members provided lists of thought-provoking references that delve into the complexities of women’s histories in Australia. Following Women’s History Monthand to encourage wider thinking about women's stories,we thought we would share these lists with you, with thanks to the GSV Writers Discussion Circle.


The list can be downloaded HERE https://www.gsv.org.au/sites/default/files/references_womens_stories_.pdf 


Dr Kristy Love*,who has recently joined the GSV Volunteers' Team, edited and added to the reference lists and contributes this overview.





In offering this list of references, we acknowledge that it is by no means a comprehensive source of writing about and of women’s histories, but we hope it gives sufficient breadth to encompass a range of experiences. 


History books tend to focus ontales of derring-do, royalty, the military, enterprise, exploration, and discovery, primarily by men and about men, often to the omission of in-depth portrayals of the lives of women. We hope this list goes some way to covering those gaps. 


The list includes several classics of feminist literature and women’s rights - a must for understanding the changing political and social forces at play in women’s lives. It also encompasses texts on intersectional feminisma termfirst used by the scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, and further developed by other Black feminists. Intersectionality has now come to refer tothe waysthat overlapping identity categories, such as gender,race, religion, ability, sexuality, class, and culture affect people’s opportunities and status in the world. These books are important as they can help us think critically about howwomen’s histories have been told, about the authors of those stories and about what they have chosen to include and omit in histories of women. These references can also help us become more aware of our blindspotsso that we can write more nuanced histories that encompass the complexities of women’s lives.


The list includes books that provoke thinking about the Indigenous Australian women whose families were decimated by colonisation and whose children were forcibly removed under racist acts of Parliament. It includes references about sexual and reproductive rights. About the difficult paths faced by single or unmarried mothers, many of whom also gave up their children under duress.About the lives of women who faced perilous journeys as they immigrated here or fled dire circumstances in their countries of origin. About the pioneering women, both free settlers and convicts, many of whom had to endure multiple births from a young age. Many women suffered harsh conditions living on the goldfields and on isolated back-country farms and stations.


It includes books about those women who lived lives outside of the norms of the time, such as those criminalised by poverty, or those demonised by differing historical ideas about mental health and institutionalisation. 


The list also provides references about the organisations set up by women to support other women, about the collectives of women who fought for equality and changes in legal status - the right to vote, to own property, to work, to education, and for reproductive rights. Otheritems are about individuals, of women’s personal stories of war, as pioneers in their professions, as scholars, as mothers. 


We encourage you to explore the list and welcome suggestions for additions.


Dr Kristy Love



You can add your suggestions as a comment to this post on the blog or on our Facebook site. There is plenty of interesting reading for autumn to fuel your current research and writing.



Dr Kristy Love (formerly Davidson) is a researcher with a passion for family history writing. Her particular interest is the historical criminalisation of impoverished women. She recently joined the GSV Volunteers Team and is now assisting with our GSV Blog Family History Matters. Kristy has a PhD in Creative Writing, an Honours degree in Psychology and has worked in university research management for over two decades. She is a member of the Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria and assists with their social media outreach. She is also currently undertaking the Certificate of Genealogical Studies through the Society of Australian Genealogists. 


Image credits 

In the Darkroom by Susan Faludi (Willam Collins, 2016) - her investigation of her violent father and his new identity as a 'complete woman'.

Margaret Flockton: A Fragrant Memory by Louise Wilson (Wakefield Press, 2016) - the story of Australia's first professional botanical artist.

A Suburban Girl: Australia 1918-1948, by Moira Lambert (MacMillan, 1990) - a memoir of 'the urban, middle-class life of her times'. 

Dear Sun: the Letters of Joy Hester and Sunday Reed, (ed) Janine Burke (Minerva 1997) - a powerful and intimate friendship between two remarkable women in Melbourne's art world of 1940s.

Firing by Ninette Dutton (Editions Tom Thompson, 2011) - an autobiography 'for her granddaughter...who is part of the story'.

Trude's Story: A journey from Vienna via Shanghai to Melbourne, by Gertude Speiser (Makor Jewish Community Library, 2008) - memoir of escape from Nazi Austria and emigration to start a new life.

White Beech: The Rainforest Years by Germaine Greer (Bloomsbury, 2014) - memoir of 'an old dog, who succeeded in learning a load of new tricks' restoring sixty hectares of Qld rainforest.

Brian's wife, Jenny's mum, by Judy [et al]: presented by Gwen Wesson (Dove, 1975) - writing of 'ordinary housewives'.



Add file here


Telling women's stories

Three sisters whose stories have not been told.
Three sisters whose stories have not been told.
Bill Barlow
16 March 2021
Writers Circle

By Claire Dunlop


At this month's GSV WRITERS discussion 'grid' on Wed 3 March we shared our thoughts around 'Telling Women's Stories'. About 25 of us fitted in the Zoom grid and our discussion covered many of the challenges in researching and writing women's stories.


The following observations give a useful overview for us as historians as we choose to challenge ourselves in 2021 to tell women's stories. 


Common challenges to finding women's history


Changing name to married name particularly if married a couple of times. 


Women who were not married but changed their name to that of a man with whom they were then living. Often in records and newspapers a woman will have been referred to as, for example, 'Mrs L Adams' when her name was 'Jane'.


No public profile - most history books and historical society websites barely mention women.


Invisible undocumented employment. Women earned money in activities but that information rarely appears on the census or electoral roles, such as some farm activities, agricultural labourers in England or egg money from chickens, also taking in laundry and dressmaking, housekeeping and domestic service.


Some married women continued carrying on the piecework that they had done before marriage. 


Some businesses were really run by women, but their husbands got the credit. Look for clues for this.


Documents and sources that can prove helpful


Birth, baptism, marriage, death, burial certificates and information– not just hers, but those around her because she may well have helped deliver a baby, witnessed a wedding or reported a death. As well as establishing facts, this information shows the people in the woman's life at that time. Look at all the names and interrogate what they were there for and what they were doing. Use your imagination.


Reports relating to community groups and organisations- such as churches, Country Women's Association (CWA), etc. 


Relevant to women in Victoria in 1891- Did she sign the petition to get the vote? https://prov.vic.gov.au/explore-collection/explore-topic/women-archive


Relevant to women in Australia- Trove. It can be easy to track teachers in country towns as the newspapers that covered those towns would have a small article on the new teacher. 


Relevant to women in the UK -'British Newspapers on line'.


Inquestsinto own death, children's deaths, husband's death or death of other near relatives.


Government gazettes- After 1883 women passed an exam to enter the public service in Victoria as clerks, telegraphists and later on as telephonists and their name was published.  Also in the late 1880s women who worked as nurses and warders in asylums had their appointments documented in the Government Gazette.


Lists of licensees of hotels- Very common for women to manage hotels


Family stories- best if person left a diary or letters but also common where the woman lived to be very old and shared her stories with offspring. Can usually be fact checked.


Women's health

Information on voyage to Australia - ref. Health, medicine and the sea - Australian Voyages c.1815-1860, by Katherine Foxhall, Manchester University Press 2012. 

Hospital and asylum registers - see Public Record of Victoria collections

Sometimes women were committed to asylums by male relatives against their will, so asylum records could be misleading.

Sometimes death certificates were unspecific about a woman's cause of death i.e. a 19th century English certificate shows a 44-year-old woman dying of 'decay of nature'. Many times this reflects the toll taken by almost constant pregnancy or lactation.


Information relating to husbands and male relatives

Women usually had to follow her husband to different locations irrespective of whether they wanted to go. Literate women of slightly higher social positions could obtain work via the patronage of powerful male relatives - matrons of charitable institutions, post mistresses, school mistresses.


The group also shared many anecdotes of researching 'our' women, such as ancestors who followed the hereditary role of ladies-in-waiting to the queen and of another's ancestor who had her husband change his name to hers as a requirement of a Marriage Settlement to preserve her assets. 


And how to write our stories of 19th century women in the context of the times? By our standards her 'hard life' makes her a strong woman 'because she survived what would probably kill us'.

We reminded ourselves that as historians we need to 'choose to challenge' truisms to better understand and empathise with our ancestors.


The challenge to get their stories out there

Penny also challenged us to look for places to publish and preserve women’s stories, such as municipal street naming, local historical societies, or contributing entries to the Australian Dictionary of Biographyor the Australian Women’s Register. The RHSV this week launched their 'RHSV Women’s Biographical Dictionary’ recognising the role of many women in that Society. See https://www.historyvictoria.org.au/search-collection/rhsv-womens-biographical-dictionary/



The photo

Three sisters whose stories have not been told: Norma Holland, Stella Wilson and Vida Marguerite Winifred Ebbott.

One remained single; one a mother of one; and the other a 'Soldier Settler' orchardist's wife and mother of five, whose eldest son died in a Lancaster bomber over Germany. One of their brothers was Nellie Melba's piano accompanist.

(Photo: Courtesy W. Barlow)


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

The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne (1848) by James Pollard (1792-1867)
The Last of the Mail Coaches at Newcastle upon Tyne (1848) by James Pollard (1792-1867)
Bill Barlow
17 August 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle



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 www.gsv.org.au/gsv-writing-prize


Entries close at

4 pm on 28 August 2020.

Now lock yourself away!



GSV Writers: Shut up and write

Bill Barlow
18 July 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle


A number of the GSV Discussion Circles have now run their first get-togethers on Zoom. This month the GSV Writers conducted a writing exercise - 'Shut up and Write'- that culminated in a Zoom session to discuss their experiences. 

Penny Mercer, the convener describes the session and this technique, aimed to get us writing and actually producing something.


To ensure we were organised to write, we all had to choose a topic that would, achievable, similar to the short pieces we normally share for review.

First we were asked to prepare by organising our relevant research notes and information and creating a bibliography of our sources. The goal was to have everything we might want to consult ready to hand when writing. 

We read about the Pomodoro technique: https://thesiswhisperer.com/2011/06/02/another-way-to-write-1000-words-a-day/then applied this to break up our topics into smaller chunks.

We were counselled to remove distractions; turning off our phones, closing all other windows on our computers, clearing our desk, advising anyone else in the house that we needed some concentrating time. 

On the day, everyone had to follow these instructions:

  1. Remove the distractions identified previously.
  2. Set timers for 25 minutes and write, trying not to stop until 25 minutes have passed. Then do a word count at the end of the 25 minutes.
  3. After 25 minutes, have a break for 5-10 minutes - coffee, chocolate biscuits, stretch, pat the cat, do whatever creates a mental break and a reward for your hard work.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3.

5. Optional repeat again. And again, if it’s going well.

   We had some ground rules:

  • Don't listen to your inner critic. Just keep writing.
  • You are not aiming for perfect words and sentences. Editing can be done later.
  • Focus on getting a first draft done of an achievable chunk.


All those who too part wrote something that we might not have written without this exercise. Having a deadline helped. It also helped to have committed to write something.

We all also agreed that assembling all your information beforehand makes it much easier. We agreed that a timer going off in the middle of a paragraph was annoying, and that it was better to finish that section rather than interrupt the flow.

Some of us found it helped with finding our ‘voice’ and with writer’s block. It was easy to just move on to another section to keep the writing flowing. Missing information was just noted for adding afterwards. 

One of us discovered freedom in removing the need to write perfect grammar, punctuation and spelling: “… the words rolled out in the second allocated time. Sitting there saying “I’m here now, tidy me up later, thanks very much!”

Everyone knew that whatever they wrote was just for their benefit. No-one else would see it unless they choose to share it. Since then, most of us have polished up our stories and shared them. 

Most of us were very satisfied with what we had achieved and are keen to repeat the exercise. 

Of course it’s important to remember that it’s not really finished until it is published or disseminated!


More events are scheduled to be available by Zoom and the GSV is working at offering other talks and presentations online. Check the Events list on the GSV website home page and also look at a previous blog 4 July about using Zoom HERE.

It is not hard - even writers can do it - and it is fun to see people again.