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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.


Describing and transcribing - My Dad's diaries

Dad's farm diaries (W.Pfeifer 2015)
Dad's farm diaries (W.Pfeifer 2015)
Bill Barlow
13 July 2020
Treasure Chest
Writers Circle



If only we had time to record the stories behind all those family objects collecting dust on our shelves! Oh, I guess we have now! I re-found a silver 5 franc 1840s coin that had been re-purposed by my great uncle in WW1 as an identity disc. Many men improvised extra identity discs and it was two years into the War, before two discs were ordered to be worn to help with identifying mutilated bodies. So this week I photographed it and wrote a short summary of its origin. If I cannot pass it to a direct descendant, the Australian War Memorial confirmed they would be pleased to accept it. Week 1 of stage 2 lockdown and one object recorded. Many to go!


A few years ago, Wendy Pfeifer, GSV member, wrote a lovely description about transcribing her father's farm diaries.* This is a great inspiration.


My Dad's Diaries

I am slowly transcribing my Dad’s diaries, which he had kept from 1931 until his death in late 2009. He had his first diary given to him for Christmas 1930 by his Aunt Emily when he was nearly fourteen years old. This was the year he finished attending his local primary school. While working on the family farm at Telford, he continued further education by correspondence.


Those early diaries are like reading a history book, as he mentions flights of Kingsford Smith’s planes Southern Cross and Southern Cloud along with the many political affrays. He also paints me a word picture of what life was like then, especially within the family. All the horse farm work is there, in detail, along with his sport and shooting adventures. Dad loved riding his bike and all his times are recorded when he raced at local meets. His poor sisters are only mentioned when they got taken to school or collected the mail. Dad always said that his Dad spoiled the girls because he was made to walk the three miles to school. He forgot to add, he got his first bike when he was six and could ride that to school. His sister gave me this information many years later.


I now know what the weather was like from 1931 to 1981, with a few misses. Each night when he had finished work, out on the farm, the last thing for the day was to sit with his feet in or on the stove and write his diary. I can pick the days when he must have been exhausted because after the weather entry it just states ‘shearing’ Other days there is a long involved series of events, including which paddock he was working in. The information was copied from his ‘Cooper’ books.

Over the war years his diaries do not exist, so I do not know if they were ever written. I have only one for 1943 when he left the RAAF base at Townsville and returned to Melbourne by train. He was a patient at the Repatriation Hospital based at the Ascot Vale Show grounds for many months. Then we are missing some which I know were in my parent’s home, but my mum did not like his frequent comments ‘I will look that up in the diaries’ so I think she moved some to the rubbish bin.

I do have all the ones from 1946 on to the 1980s, when he sold the Soldier Settlement farm in Western Victoria and moved back to the Shepparton area. They have made me smile as I have been transcribing them, because I know how hard life was at times, but he could be so dry and factual. The weather is the first entry, then farm work and at the end of the day’s entry we might find ‘baby born’. 

As a small child I remember being fascinated by how the men in my father’s family seemed to know what had happened 20 years ago, as if it was happening today. I was often allowed to draw in their Cooper’s books. These were small books produced by Cooper’s Dips, which were given to farmers each year. They were small enough for farmers to keep in their top pocket. They would also have this small pencil in the same pocket. These books were used to keep the running numbers, tallies or wages while they were out on the farm. If we, as small children, were good in church we were allowed to draw in my Grandpa’s Cooper’s book.

My Dad kept all his ‘Coopers’ books. Each year’s books contain treasures of animal and fodder prices for me to still research. I doubt that he ever realized the treasure he left for us; his children and grandchildren, to understand what life could be like.


* This article was originally published in FiftyPLUS News, January 2015.

COVID-19 virus and the GSV: update

Bill Barlow
25 March 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle



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: gsv@gsv.org.au 

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 blog@gsv.org.au. [Ed.]




Unsettling family history - new research

Bill Barlow
8 February 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle

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: abarnwell@unimelb.edu.au; 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 https://findanexpert.unimelb.edu.au/profile/708324-ashley-barnwell

Do you have to write your family history?

GIW heading Ancestor Dec 2019
GIW article heading in December 2019 'Ancestor'
Bill Barlow
1 February 2020
GSV News
Writers Circle



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 HEREand 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'.


A Mystery Woman

Queen's Building, Southwark, London
Bill Barlow
12 August 2019
GSV News
Writers Circle


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 (www.freebmd.org.uk) 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 ancestry.co.uk 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 ancestry.co.uk 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 https://www.london-se1.co.uk

8 weeks to go - to enter for the 2019 GSV Writing Prize!

Bill Barlow
7 July 2019
GSV News
Writers Circle

8 weeks to go! Enough time to finish off that family history story for the 2019 GSV Writing Priize.

The closing date for entries is 4 pm on 30 AUGUST 2019. So you still have time to START writing!

Last year Helen Pearce won with her entry exposing the story of a murder in Adam Elphinstone's family history. GSV Members can read past winning entries in back copies of Ancestor in the members area of our website.




But you don't need murder to make for an interesting story. It is a writing prize. So use this year's GSV Writing Prize as a prompt for you to capture the story you have been researching, but never quite written up.



This year we have extended the eligibility criteria, enabling more people to enter, and made some changes to the judging panel. Full entry details and conditions can be read on the GSV website at https://www.gsv.org.au/gsv-writing-prize


Purpose of the Prize

  • to encourage the writing of family history
  • to provide an opportunity for recognition and publication
  • to publish the winner as an example of quality family history writing


The article should:

  • have a family history / genealogy theme
  • be the author’s own original work
  • not have been previously published in any format, or be under consideration or accepted for publication by any other publication
  • be between 1200 and 2400 words (not including title, image captions, endnotes and sources).
  • contain citations of sources


The Prize   

We are very pleased to announce that Ancestry™ is again generously sponsoring the competition with an enhanced first prize of a 12-month subscription to their Worldwide Membership and an Ancestry DNA test kit.



The competition is open to GSV Members and all members of GSV Member Societies.

Members of the Ancestor Editorial Team, the judges, GSV staff and the winner of the previous year’s prize are not eligible to enter.


The winner will be announced at the GSV’s Annual General Meeting in October and the winning article will be published in the December 2019 issue of Ancestor magazine.


Not only will your family read your story but it will be published and hence discoverable in our wonderful State and National libraries by future unknown descendants in years to come.



Photo of Adam and Elizabeth Elphinstone from 'Elphinstones: Pioneer Farmers in Northern Tasmania', Elphinstones Committee, Launceston Tas, 1988? courtesy of Helen Pearce.



Gold in your blood? Researching NSW goldfields for ancestors

Tambaroora Cemetery, near Hill End, NSW
Bill Barlow
3 June 2019
Treasure Chest
Writers Circle

by Martin Playne


Victorian readers will be well aware of Bendigo and Ballarat as rich goldfields, but for most Hill End will ring no bells. But, between 1851 and 1872, Hill End and neighbouring Tambaroora, which is now a ghost town, were among the richest goldfields in NSW.


I came across Hill End almost by accident. While chasing up a distant cousin and her convict husband, I found that on his release from Hobart Gaol in 1856, the two of them and their teenage daughter, Marguerite, travelled to Mudgee to start a new life. Then, I discovered that daughter Marguerite died in Hill End, which is about 70 km south of Mudgee in the ranges of central NSW. Why did she end her days there?


It is a pleasant drive on a winding hilly bitumen road from Mudgee to Hill End these days. Some 5 km short of Hill End, one finds the Tambaroora Cemetery. Searching for her grave, we found that it was the most imposing in the cemetery. So there must have been more to this woman than I knew - why such a big tombstone? This led me to continue the search for more information on Marguerite and husband, Edward. This is what makes family history search so interesting, and it takes you to beautiful places.


I wonder how many readers may have a relative who lived in Hill End. After all, there were some 2500 residents at one time. Hill End has been preserved as an historic town by the state government. Indeed the Hill End Historical Museum is run by the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service in the old hospital building. There they maintain information on early inhabitants, supported by keen volunteers and family historians. The museum is well worth a visit. It has lots of photos of old buildings and their inhabitants, and the equipment they used.


Soon I came across another mine of information - the Hill End and Tambaroora Gathering Group, headed by Lorraine Purcell in Sydney. This group of descendants of Hill Enders aims to preserve and record as much information as they can on the early days. They meet at least annually in Sydney, and also arrange frequent visits to Hill End. An email newsletter is produced regularly, and a number of books and booklets are published. Details can be obtained on their comprehensive website: www.heatgg.org.au   . The website has recently (2019) been greatly improved by the addition of searchable records.

The Mitchell Library holds a wonderful photographic record of early Hill End known as the Holtermann Collection. Some of these photos were published in 1973 in a book by Keast Burke.


So if you think an ancestor went searching for gold in the NSW goldfields, it is likely that they spent some time at Hill End. It’s not too hard to chase them down if you follow up some of these leads. The gathering group is a great place to start - and you can do that from your armchair with an iPad.


By the way, I did find out about Marguerite and Edward. She lost her mind when her little boy died, and became a piano-playing recluse living in her dressing gown with all the windows curtained all day. After her death in 1902, Edward went to Marrackville in Sydney, remarried, and died in 1914. He had however ensured Marguerite’s sad story would not be forgotten, with her monument in the cemetery at Hill End.




This article was first published in Fifty-Plus NEWS, December 2013.


Martin Playne is a long-time member of the GSV Writers Discussion Circle and a member of the Editorial Team of the GSV magazine Ancestor. He has published many articles in Ancestoras well as his 2013 book,'Two Squatters: The lives of George Playne and Daniel Jennings' - a digital copy of which you can find in the GSV Collection. (A Kindle edition is available via Amazon). He is currently writing a new book on the lives and families of the Great Will Forgers of the1840s. This book covers the fen country of England, London, and the west of England, and then moves to Norfolk Island, Tasmania and mainland Australia. 


If you need help and support with your family history writing, come to the GSV Writers Discussion Circle which meets on the first Wednesday of each month (GSV members only). If you are a GSV Member just come along this week - it's all part of your membership.