Monday, 28 July 2014

A Little Town Called Berrima.

During my recent holiday in Sydney, my Aunt and I drove to Canberra for a couple of days. On the way there, we stopped for lunch at a beautiful historical town called Berrima. Berrima is recognised as the best preserved example of a Georgian village in Australia. The town, founded in 1831, is 125km south-west (80 minutes) of Sydney and 162km north-east (100 minutes) of Canberra. 

Between 1831 and the 1860s, Berrima prospered and had a population of 400. There were hopes that it would continue to grow with the construction of the Southern Railway Line from Sydney in 1867, however, it ended up bypassing the town. As a consequence, the population decreased to less than 80. Since 1867, there has been little development in the town (Source: Historic Berrima Village).

I must say that I was surprised by its quaintness and history, and fell in love with the town instantly. When we first entered the town, I noticed a very old sign that said 'Berrima Cemetery.' The sign was in the shape of an arrow, and looked like one of those wooden signs with the letters carved into it. We did not have time to go to the cemetery on the way to Canberra, but we made it a must on the drive back, and that we did! 

Because Berrima was founded in 1831, I knew there would have to be some very old graves. Here are some of the interesting ones I discovered -

Thomas Westbury died on December 16, 1883
whilst trying to save two drowning men.
John Mulligan died on June 28, 1886.
He was an officer at the Berrima Gaol.
Edward Armfield died on September 15, 1866. According
to his grave, he was a very old colonist and arrived in 1800.
The oldest grave I found!
Mary Hancock died December 28, 1842, aged 25.
William White died in the 1860's. His stone was erected
by his employers.
Berrima Cemetery

I definitely want to go back to Berrima one day and explore more of its history. It's a beautiful little town and I wish we had more time, but alas, we did not. Apparently Berrima is an ideal wedding location too, but somehow, I do not think my boyfriend will allow that. It's worth a shot though right? I can say we're going on a historical/genealogy trip, and secretly scout wedding locations at the same time! 

Until next time genea-friends!

Friday, 25 July 2014

Lives of the First World War Website

The Imperial War Museum (IWM), in partnership with DC Thomson Family History, has launched a new website: Lives of the First World War:

Lives of the First World War home page

The IWM is a British museum founded in 1917 with the aim of recording the civil and military war effort and sacrifice of Britain and its empire during World War I. As part of the museum’s centennial commemoration of the war, the new website was launched.  The objective is to create a permanent digital memorial of the 8 million people who participated in the war effort by crowd-sourcing the data gathering and recording of information about individual soldiers.

The website launched with only soldiers from the United Kingdom, who served in the British Army and was “seeded” with the Medal Index Cards, 1914-1920 dataset. The Army Medal Office created these cards, during the late part of the war in an effort to record every person’s entitlement to campaign and gallantry medals. The cards may include:
  • Individual’s name
  • Service number
  • Rank
  • Unit(s)
  • Date of enlistment
  • Medal(s) received
  • Whether the individual was killed or discharged
  • Remarks
  • Address
  • First theater of war in which they served (usually only provided after 1916)

I think the website has a noble purpose and could become over time a wonderful genealogical source. Like everything in life there are pros and cons:

  • The website is crowd-sourced, but you must enter your source citation first, which can be a personal memory, a website, a document, etc. Bibliographic information is required. After the citation is created then they can begin adding facts to the individual.
  • Even though it's crowd-sourced, other people cannot merely change a fact that has already been entered; they may only dispute the fact by providing alternate information and their source. Exactly how the resolution process works, I've yet to discover.
  • The website allows users to add a multitude a facts about a soldier, including his parents, spouse, children, occupation, residence, religion, etc., which I believe is why this may become a valuable genealogical tool.
  • It is co-sponsored by a well-respected museum so users won’t be doing all the hard work to enter information about their soldier ancestor only to have it disappear later.

  • The website is not intuitive to use, especially the order which users must perform certain steps when adding information. There are good “how to” videos available on the site.
  • It does not seem to be compatible with all browsers and I am still finding little glitches such as drop downs that don’t scroll.
  • The initial record set doesn’t always provide enough information to determine which soldier is your ancestor, especially if they have a common name.
  • No soldiers from countries other than England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland are currently included. Nor can they be added at this time. 
Registering to use the site is free. With free access you have the ability to view the Medal Index Card record set, but to have access to other records, you must be a friend. That costs 6 British pounds a month or 50 pounds per year. This provides access to the information from and other DC Thomson Family History products. You also have access to special "friend-only" features, such as the ability to group your digital memorials together. I have chosen not to be a friend at this time, so that is all I can report about Friend-only content and features.

I’d be very interested in your thoughts about the Lives of the First World War website and whether you have started memorializing your soldier ancestors or plan to do so.

You may read my occasional posts about my ancestors who were soldiers and fought in World War I as well as my civilian ancestors whose lives were impacted by the war here.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

On the Brink of War

One hundred years ago today, the 22nd July 1914, could be considered the last day peace remained possible.  Austria-Hungary delivered an ultimatum  to Servia, now called Serbia, the next day.

On the 22nd and 23rd July 1914, Servia only appeared in United States newspapers as references to financial markets reactions to the uncertainty caused by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo on the 28 June.  On the 24th July the ultimatum made the front page of many US newspapers, including the Washington Times.

The Washington times. (Washington [D.C.]), 24 July 1914. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress.

The Sarajevo assassination is very famous, but the reasons for it are less well known.  The Balkan region was squeezed between three world powers, the Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman (also known as Turkish) empires, with substantial parts of the region under foreign control.  In 1909, Austria-Hungary annexed Ottoman territories Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Bulgaria declared independence from the Ottoman Empire (see Bosnian crisis).  In 1912, Servia, Rumania, Bulgaria and Greece all had territorial aspirations beyond their borders.  Servia’s aspirations included Bosnia, the province in which Sarajevo was located.

Report of the International Commission To Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars. 1914. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington D.C., p.38. Internet Archive ( : accessed 22 July 2014)

The Balkan Wars of 1912-1913 re-drew the political map.  The Ottoman Empire fared badly and lost territory, shown in darker shades on this map.

Bartholomew J.G. The Balkan States with New Frontiers according to the Treaties of London, Constantinople & Bukharest. In Report of the International Commission To Inquire into the Causes and Conduct of the Balkan Wars. 1914. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Washington D.C. digital image no 432, Internet Archive ( : accessed 22 July 2014)

By 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire faced rising nationalist sentiment in its ethnically diverse territories.  Servian nationalists were emboldened, leading to the attack in Sarajevo.  Had no other country interfered, Austria-Hungary could have crushed Servia.  Perhaps the Austro-Hungarian government thought war could be limited or they could obtain a diplomatic victory as in 1909.

Austria-Hungary declared war on Servia on 28 July 1914.

Russia supported Servia.  Russia, France and Britain had diplomatic agreements with each other.  Austria-Hungary was allied with Germany.

Germany declared war on Russia on 1 August 1914, in response to Russian military mobilization on its border.  On the 3rd August Germany declared war on France and invaded neutral Belgium.  Britain declared war on Germany and Austria-Hungary on the 4th August.  The Ottoman Empire entered the war on the 29th October, siding with Germany against Russia.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Home is Where Our Story Begins

Bear with my propensity of making a scrabbook page to go with a post. :) 

I was a part of many genealogists who felt that the story of an ancestor was just as important as the vital data.  You need both for the tree to be complete. It has been satisfying to see software, websites, and especially FamilySearch to become so involved in saving the stories.  The reason I specify FamilySearch is that they have promised to keep the stories free and always.  Even so, it is a internet place and things can happen, so print out and save your stories in a safe place or disperse among the family so no one person is the keeper of all the data.  Most genealogy software programs have a feature for creating a story now.

But I digress.  I have been talking to some who are using a FamilySearch Partner Legacy Stories and love the video and oral aspect of saving their stories.  Others prefer to add their stories directly to FamilySearch and I have to say that has some merit is you only want one step in doing so.  I write my stories on my blog, save them in PDF format and add to my tree.  That way the story is on the tree for anyone that goes there, but my blog reaches many more so I have the element of possibly finding a cousin just looking. 

While I was searching for my website URL’s I came across several different articles that weren’t just researcher oriented.  Forbes had an article on “Four Smart Ways toLeave a Legacy”.   One of their ways was to write your stories.  Another website I found warmed my heart. It is called TimeSlips.  They are engaged in documenting stories of those in nursing homes before the stories are gone.  I listen occasionally on BYU Radio to a broadcast "The Apple Seed" 12 MST.  It is great storytelling.  They tell stories from peoples’ lives in the past to person experiences.  It is inspiring and uplifting.

However you go about it, telling the stories of yourself, family, or ancestors is an important thing.  My hero shared his stories orally with his family and in writing his personal history before he died.  I have written several of his stories on my blog for my favorite meme “Sentimental Sunday” Geneabloggers has created a pinterest board for the meme.  Writing his stories has helped greatly in the transition after his death.   I am also writing my memories of my Aunts and Uncles, since I have not been able to get their children to help. If anyone knows of a motivation to use with them, please share.  One of these days I will write my personal history. In the mean time, stories and storytelling has become a way of life. See you on the blog. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Found in an old newspaper - crime and punishment

I’ve been using the British Newspaper Archive a lot for my research recently. (If you haven’t seen it and you’re looking for British or Irish ancestors, there’s a special offer on until Sunday, 20 July – a month’s subscription to the BNA for £1.)

Wondering if the Old Bailey trial of my 2x great grandfather, James Thomas Richards, had been reported in one of the digitised papers, I searched for his name and 1835, the year he was sentenced to transportation to New South Wales. Could I find him?

The Morning Chronicle, April 15, 1835
Well, yes and no. No report of the trial, but his sentence was recorded. There he was, at the bottom of a long list of others. Looking at the list, and remembering that it represented only a tiny number of the convicts who would be sailing for Australia, got me thinking.

They were all going to be thrown back in prison, or crammed into a hulk (a ship which wasn’t seaworthy, but could be used to relieve the overcrowding in prisons). There they would wait until the next ship was ready to leave on the months-long journey to the other side of the world, where they would be put to work for seven years, or 14, or the rest of their lives.

It’s true that many convicts, like James Thomas Richards, would end up having a good life in their adopted country. And most would have much better lives than they could have hoped for if they hadn’t been caught and sent to Australia. But the men and women waiting for the next ship couldn’t know that. And yes, some people did try to get transported because they believed anything would be better than the poverty and hunger they suffered in city slums or in the countryside.

But what faced them wasn’t just a dangerous sea voyage and hard work. It was exile. It was being on the other side of the world from your family, your friends, your sweetheart, and all but your youngest children. With no way to contact them – remember, it was quite normal not to be able to read or write if your work didn’t call for it and you’d had little or no education.
And yet many would be deeply relieved, because the alternative sentence for their crimes was worse. Although the death penalty had been removed for crimes such as stealing goods worth a shilling (5p), theft of a sheep or a rabbit or damaging Westminster Bridge by the time James was sentenced in 1835, you could be strung up in public for crimes like forgery and coining, arson, burglary, theft from a dwelling house, rape and attempted murder as well as murder and treason.

In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the British penal system wasn’t geared towards imprisonment as a punishment (except for debtors). Prison was mostly the place where you waited for trial and for your sentence to be carried out. And for 220 different crimes, the penalty was death. Many judges and juries weren’t willing to sentence men, women and children to death for stealing a pocket handkerchief (for example) and so they would find them guilty of a lesser, non-capital offence. Or a death sentence would not be carried out and the convicted person might be transported, or even reprieved. But still, that threat hanging over many criminals must have been terrifying.

As the descendant of four convicts myself, I’m very glad that they ended up in Australia.

Further reading:

Old Bailey Online: Punishments at the Old Bailey
Port Cities London: Prison hulks on the River Thames (has a good short history of transportation)
Timeline of Capital Punishment in Britain


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

How’s That Bio? Tell Their Stories

Recently we had a very unexpected death in our family.  I opened my data base and went to this relative’s place and opened the notes and realized there were very few. That entire part of my data base was seriously lacking.

To me family research is more than the simple recording of dates and places.  It is the “notes” the story telling, the photos, videos, documents, multimedia.

Here is a sample of just a few images, the multimedia of my great grandfather, Charles Gratton Trumbo.  His death certficate, a photo of Charles, a photo of the home he raised his children in, his headstone, some receipts dated 1898 (two loads of "bark" and one of "hay") and the home where he was raised.

In the case of this family death, I found I had failed miserably.  I did have over 25 multimedia events attached, photos from birth.  I had marriages and children recorded.  But, there was almost nothing in the “notes” section.  I had written a piece or two about this relative on my personal blog, Reflections From the Fence.  But, the truth is, I had basically failed in my duties of family researcher and family recorder.  Did you hear that long sorrowful sigh?

I have frequently reminded others when they are sharing stories (these kinds of stories show up frequently in the Newsfeed of Facebook), to add them to their data base.  It is easy to forget to do that.  That little story about your relative, maybe the one about gramma eating dog food thinking it was a appetizer??  Or the one about the infamous card game and who skunked who.  Stories about favorite vacations.  Share information about your relative’s occupation.   Have some interesting insight as to why your relative chose his or her occupation, share it in your “notes”.

I have had family members record pages of memories of growing up, schools, holiday celebrations, their thoughts on the death of celebrities, and especially every day minutia.  These memories, these stories become what some researchers call the “color” of their data bases and their family stories.

And, oh, don't forget to record color for yourself, your parents, your siblings, your children, your grandchildren.  Wouldn't you just love to have stories about your great-great grandparents, their memories, maybe journals or diaries.  I have a very few, I am greedy, I would love to have more.  If you have journals, letters, diaries, have you recorded them in your data base?  Have you transcribed them?  Do you have images of each page?  

Share the color, hopefully you won’t open your data base to find a white, empty page staring back at you.  I failed.  I pray you can learn from my lesson, make your data base colorful.

* Collage courtesy of

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Killing Them Off - It can help knock down those brick walls

What Death Records have you used?

One thing that many genealogists do not pursue, as much as they should, is death records.
Even though as beginners we are advised to kill off the individuals in our trees. 
However, unless the death records available, provide clues to aid the addition of further generations, many of us think it is something that can be left till last.

But is this really such a good idea, and are these records as lacking in information as we believe.

So what records are available that can help us to determine that our family member has died.

In England and Wales here are some of the records I  have used
  • Death Certificates - these were required from 1837. However they are not always available for the early years.
  • Burial Records for church or cemetery.
  • Newspapers - obituaries, death notices and inquest reports.
  • Headstones - although many are illegible.

As I discovered only this week, the amount of information found in any of these records can vary widely.

Death Certificates or Registers

Certificates in England and Wales contain only a limited amount of information, although you can sometimes discover a daughter's married surname if she registered the death. Here is a useful guide to what can be found on these certificates

In Scotland it is very different. The Scotland's People website allows access to images of the registers (for a fee), the details as to what information can be found on these, is explained on this page .
This extra information can be a great help. 
So if you have family who died in Scotland it may be worth your while checking out those death records.

Burial Records or Registers

Burial records may be your first port of call for earlier years, but I would always recommend finding the original record where possible as sometimes additional information is recorded. Even for more recent burials the registers can confirm where the individual was buried and where any memorial may be found. 
Today many individuals are cremated. Although this was less common in the past, a lack of a burial record, cannot be considered to indicate that an individual is or was still alive and searching for a cremation may need to be considered.
If someone was cremated it may be more difficult to find the records but books of remembrance and memorials can be found.


For sudden deaths then newspapers can reveal much about the family as an inquest will look into the circumstances of the death. 

Death notices may contain little more than a death date, but others can be more like an obituary, with details of family members. 
They may give clues to other places to find records or mention the company involved in the burial.

Headstones and Memorials

Headstones can be very susceptible to the ravages of time and weather conditions. Some older memorials can still be read today whilst other newer ones can be illegible. The materials used and the position in the burial ground are all factors affecting the memorial.
Many family history societies will have transcribed headstones in the past and this may be the only way of finding what was written on the memorial.
Find a Grave is worth looking at even for more recent deaths as is Billion Graves .

I have not extended my search beyond England and Wales so I would suggest that if you are looking for records in other parts of the world you check out Cyndi's List  to find out what records may be available or where you may be able to start looking.

Finding out when and how someone died can bring so much to your story and without a record of death how can you be sure that there was not some other reason why that individual has apparently disappeared. 
This does not mean that we record individuals as living well past the usual life expectancy, but a deceased without a death date is always open to questions. 

Divorce was not readily available for our ancestors and if someone was of the right age, they may have another, yet to be discovered, family.

Widows of any age may have remarried. So that death record you found was it your person or another with the same name. 
This has happened to me and I discovered the person had remarried and was living with her new husband on the next census. She finally died some decades after the original date I had found.

If you have found death records to be useful please share what you have found with others in the community. If you have found any unusual sources or particularly useful records then I am sure others would love to know about them.

As I have mentioned before we all benefit from collaboration none of us know everything so please share your thoughts. 
Whilst you may help others it is also possible that others may help you.


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Genealogy CSI Style - Facial Recognition

The 9th of the month has come around quickly again.  It is hard to believe that it is six months since the Worldwide Genealogy - A Genealogical Collaboration started!  I have to say, the daily blogs continue to entertain and inform me.  All of our contributors have shared their expertise in  wide and varied areas of genealogy and family research and I am always learning new tips and approaches to my family tree research.  Thank you everyone.

Today I would like to write about “Facial Recognition” software and how it can assist with family tree research.  I have been thinking about this for a while, noticing through using Facebook and Picasa and Google+ photos that face tagging and the use of facial recognition to identify people in your photo collection is becoming a popular option.   I  have to admit  I am a novice in this area.  So it is time to learn a little more about the possibilities of facial recognition for genealogy and family tree research and the possibility of identifying some of those unknown faces in the photos that I have inherited.

One of the main reasons for my interest is that recently I have been able to access through a number of sources some pictures on the McGregor Sisters (my great Grandmother Catherine McGregor and her family).  There are some questions marks as to the identification of some of the people in these photos and it would be nice to clarify who is who. Maybe a Facial Recognition Program will be able to assist me?

What is Facial Recognition ? 

Facial Recognition could be described as facial arithmetic, providing facial analytics  to facilitate the detection and recognition of people from photos or videos.  This scientific tool has been developed to assist with security, law enforcement, commercial security and social media. It seems logical that there is a niche for this tool in the world of genealogy in assisting with the identification of unidentified family members by the comparison of family photos. 

My questions are:
  • Who supplies “Facial Recognition” programs that would be appropriate for family tree research?
  • How successful are these programs?  
  • How do I use them?
  • Are there any Security Issues?
  • Are these programs sophisticated enough to identify different siblings in the one family?
  • How do they work on older photos?  
  • Do these programs recognise people  as they age?

I spent a couple of days searching the Internet for information on the links between genealogy and facial recognition programs.  A brief summary of my finds are:

1. EclipseIR –  created  by and has introduced a new initiative that uses facial recognition technology to looking at old family photos.  However, it seems  at this stage if you want to have your photos analysed you need to send them to the program developers your photos for analysis. 

2. Picasa - users of Google+ and Blogger will be familiar with the features of Picasa.  This program also has a facial recognition and facial tagging option. Instructions how to use this option can be found here:

3.   My Heritage - One of the better known online genealogy sites also offers a facial recognition option with its membership. Details of this can be found here:

4. Finally, after reading comparisons and feed back from other users I decided to experiment with Fotobounce. Fotobounce can be down loaded quickly and allows you to organise your photos quickly with its facial recognition technology. 

Program identifies the faces producing thumbnails for identification.

After downloading the free version of the program and watching the how to tag clip on YouTube I proceeded to download my McGregor photo file.  The program quickly identified all the faces within the file, and down loaded thumbnails of each face, grouping similar faces together.  As I tagged the thumbnails the program identified other photos of that person and gave me the option to accept or reject tagging with the same name. By using a previously identified photo of Jessie McGregor I was able to confirm that two other pictures were also of her.

Program identifies and groups photos of the one person
I am still learning how to use all the options of this program, and as more photos are added and more of the thumbnails identified the more accurate the program will be. 

Some of the options I am yet to explore are:
  • sharing photos with interested family members
  • filtering by surname
  • Viewing my photos remotely from my Ipad by using the Fotobounce View app
  • Sorting photos into different libraries 

I have a long way to go before I will qualify for a position with CSI! however, this has been a very valuable learning process and I plan to continue to refine my skills in the use of facial recognition programs.  It would be very interesting to hear from others who have used a similar program to enhance their family tree research? Are there better programs? It would be great to hear your feed back!

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Transported - Edinburgh's Political Martyrs

To the Memory of
Thomas Muir
Thomas Fyshe Palmer
William Skirving
Maurice Margarot 
Joseph Gerrald 

Erected by the Friends of Parliamentary Reform in England and Scotland 1844.  

A view (left)  from, the burial ground up to the  turreted Governor's House - the only remains of the notorious Old Calton Jail.  It   received its first prisoners in 1817 and was closed in 1925.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Did your ancestors play a sport?

As I am watching the quarter finals of the World Cup Soccer, where the Netherlands is fighting to stay in the competition, I am wondering if sports played a part in the life of my ancestors. For most of them, sports would have been a luxury that they could not afford.

ADO-Telstar, 1965. Image credits: Nationaal Archief
However, I think a lot of our ancestors were involved in activities like archery, skating and clay pigeon shooting. Those activities were like sports in the sense that they exercised the body and had a competition element. But unlike sports, the goal wasn't simply recreation, but to develop skills necessary to work well and protect yourself.

Where to find evidence of your ancestors sports

Most of our ancestors' athletic achievements, if any, would have gone unreported. Towards the end of the 19th century, sports become organized, especially in the higher levels of society. You may be able to find archives of organizations like soccer clubs, archery societies and tennis clubs. Newspaper begin to report about matches in the 19th century as well.

For earlier periods, you may be lucky and find evidence in court records. Like today, competitions can lead to tension among the competitors and their fans, which may lead to injuries and court cases.
The closest thing I've found was an ancestor who testified about a quarrel between German and Dutch farmers after a friendly clay pigeon shooting match turned less friendly. They got into a fight. In the end, the Dutch had to promise to bring a keg of beer next year and that was the end of the story.

Your own ancestors

Do you have ancestors that played sports? Where did you find that evidence?