Thursday, 15 February 2018

A disconnected Scottish son

The BBC recently interviewed Scottish author Ian Rankin about the commemorative fate of Scottish-born author Italy inhabitant Muriel Spark. He made some interesting observations about Scotland's literary heritage:
Rankin said aficionados loved Spark and during her life she was lauded by some of the greatest literary figures around. So why is she not better known and celebrated? ...Scotland has been bad in the past at recognising writers and artists who leave [emphasis the blogger's]. Many writers have had to leave to find themselves, to get a sense of themselves and to find their true vocation as a writer.
Gesualda Belmonte with her aunt
Gaetana (Nangano) Mastropaolo
and an unidentified relative
in White Plains, New York
How extraordinary then, to find a personal example of this Scotland trait in the same timeframe as the Rankin interview. It shrank the world to a state of  companionship, and was a reminder of the ability of libraries to link their threads of knowledge to satisfy even the most unlikely queries. 

Researching an Italian family in New York led to an unexpected discovery. In the early 1930s, the Gaetano Belmonte - Carolina Nangano household, with eldest daughter Gesualda, took in a boarder named Roderick Robb Black. 

He, like the Belmonte family, was a migrant; a Scot who had arrived in New York on The Astoria in June 1906 as a five year old boy with his family [source: The National Archives, TNA_BT27_0486_00_0019_P_0004F]

Roderick's father John Black died in 1910, nine years after arrival in New York from Scotland. He had left his young family of seven children twice - spending five years on his own in a different country - and at the end of a difficult life. He was 57 years old. 
1920 US Census Image from Find My Past
By the time Roderick and Jessie met, her parents were known as Thomas and Carlotta Belmont, and those of her siblings who were also Italian-born had anglicised their names.
1930 US Census Image from Find My Past
1933 Marriage Certificate of 
Jessie Belmont and
Roderick Robb Black

New York City Municipal Archives
After his brief first time marriage, Jessie became Roderick's second wife. Jessie's sister Mary and Roderick's brother John were witnesses.

Both John Black senior and John Black junior were poets. John junior was also the literary editor of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle and after several years of effort, he was eventually able to publish his father's Collected Poems

The National Library of Scotland did not know of his work, but almost 100 years after its publication, it was possible to find this poetry using a link provided the National Library of Australia in Trove. The Library of Congress had made it available to the Open Library initiative for digitisation. 

This member of John Black's extended family gratefully used the virtual interconnections between libraries globally to track it down.

John Black senior did not see his poetry published - other occupations were necessary during his lifetime to keep his family safe. He may be remembered more for his ownership of the Palace Hotel in his home town of Inverness during the 1890s, but the literary legacy of this disconnected Scottish son lives on in  virtual imprint. 

Thursday, 25 January 2018

From Marian to Michelle

When Michelle Simmons became Australian of the Year on Australia Day eve, I was reminded of an early ground-breaking Web project instigated by the University Librarian at the time of Michelle's appointment to the University of New South Wales.

Marian Bate, UNSW University Librarian from 1995 until 2001, led the Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) project. She earned global recognition for its development and implementation. Marian was a wonderful mentor to many young library staff and passionate about the work of libraries to empower research. She also strongly believed in the value of collaboration and exemplified this by serving on the National Library's Advisory Committee to national union catalogue services for several years. 
Photograph supplied by family
for use in the Libraries Australia newsletter

These "Australian" qualities were echoed in Michelle's  acceptance speech. Marian would have been absolutely thrilled to see her colleague receive this accolade. 

Marian's successor, Andrew Wells, asked me to commemorate Marian's life in March 2011 with a special issue of the Libraries Australia newsletter. Here is some of that text:
ADT was launched in 2000, the brainchild of Marian Bate. Always a staunch advocate for the raising the international profile of Australian academic research, in 1999 Marian identified the enhanced visibility of theses as an important strategy for improving scholarly communication, and to that end, sought funding from the Australian Research Council to develop a new service for capturing a global audience for Australian research.
Marian’s strategy also emphasised the need for digital versions to be provided. Seven universities including her own grasped the opportunity to work with Marian. Using the open source Electronic Theses & Dissertations software developed at Virginia Tech in the US, many university libraries in Australia launched thesis repositories and using simple technologies, access to the content was brought together under the strong ADT brand. In later years, separate thesis services have been merged with institutional repositories.
In 2005, Marian was recognised for her initiative in establishing the ADT program with an Electronic Theses & Dissertations Leadership award. As stated by Andrew Wells, who succeeded Marian as University Librarian in 2001, “This project brought together Marian’s abiding interests in maximising access to information resources, exploiting the potential of new information technologies, innovation in scholarly communication, and the power of collaboration.” 
Michelle receives a mention in the newsletter too. 

The ARROW Project after two years,
Slide 26
ADT was the precursor to another initiative known as the ARROW Project. 

She may not have known it, but for me Michelle was a global use case scenario in the collaborative ARROW Project. The use case involved trying to co-locate the research outputs of academics who moved across institutions. The outputs could take the form of theses, conference papers, book chapters, and monographs and two decades later, more unconventional forms. How could the Project acknowledge the complete intellectual record of an individual researcher?

The optimum pathway may still not be implemented but a combination of research visibility in Trove and its recognition of ORCIDs, have gone a long way to resolving that use case. Michelle's citizenship also helps, for which she deserves our thanks. 

Monday, 6 November 2017

Peace outlasts Withdrawal

In October 1943, an Italian Prisoner of War travelled from Bhopal to Australia courtesy of the British Army. He spent most of the next three years at the Cowra Prisoner of War camp. 
Cowra, NSW. 6 February 1944. Group of Italian prisoners of war (POWs) interned at No. 12 POW Group. Shown here are: 55622 Pietro Gargano (tallest); 56000 Umberto Marangoni; 56376 Goffredi Faielli; 56412 Arturo Tempesti; 56359 Alessandro Rospi; 56504 Mario Ferrugini?; 56256 Luigi Margrini; 55608 Renato Guidotti; 56038 Antonio Panico; 56145 Giovanni De Rosa; 56507 Francesco Telese; 56397 Gabriele Sparago.
In October 1946, Pietro Gargano escaped from the camp and eloped to Sydney with his fiancee. They married on 4 November and several days later he gave himself up, wanting to be seen to observe the laws of his host country.
Italian Escapee Married Here (1947, January 14).
Barrier Daily Truth (Broken Hill, NSW : 1908; 1941 - 1954), p. 1.
It was the opening gambit in a campaign to remain in Australia, and while it did not initially succeed, eventually the outcome was secured.

To make sure that the Italian Prisoners of War were repatriated, the Australian Army assigned the 22nd Garrison Battalion to escort them out of the country. On the Otranto, which sailed from Sydney on 8 January 1947, Corporal Pietro Gargano returned to Italy under the guard of Sargeant John Schuberth.
Sgt John F G Schuberth, 22nd Garrison Battalion, Cowra
Seventy years later, while investigating his grandfather's war service, James Wall researched the ship and discovered some of the "passengers" were repatriated to Europe. Further sleuthing revealed a possible connection. 

Not long after, Pietro's son Peter met John's grandson James for the first time:
Protagonists overcome Warfare
descendants James and Peter
3 November 2017
Dickson, ACT

More on the life of -

Monday, 9 October 2017

the garden of life

One of the most valuable sections of any digitised newspaper are the Births, Deaths and Marriages columns, which also contain Memoriams and Anniversaries. Obituaries tend to be separate, and warrant their own search using that term. However, when exploring Trove, it will help to know how the prosaic was once expressed in more poetic terms. 

The Cradle, the Altar and the Grave or The Sepulchre were used in the early 1890s by one Victorian newspaper, not only using the common thread of human life but also expressing status in flowers chosen to surround the event in question. 

Churchyard Gardens. (1930, December 25). Freeman's Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1850 - 1932)
, p. 10.

Of course the Cradle, the Dungeon and the Tomb is likely to be tongue-in-cheek. 

Buds, Orange Blossoms, and Cypress. (1895, April 3).
The Daily Northern Argus (Rockhampton, Qld. : 1875 - 1896), p. 2

 Continuing with a floral theme, 
 Buds, Orange Blossoms and 
 Cypresses caught some 
 statisticians waxing lyrical.

In a similar timeframe, international journals recognised Buds, Brides, and Bodies: 

The Ballarat Star (Vic. : 1865 - 1924), p. 3.
By the 20th century, many of these terms were standarised as we still read them today. Trove summarises them as Family Notices in one of its facets to expedite finding - but this variety is worth noting if you use these 20th century keywords for your 19th century family life and uncover nothing. 

Monday, 15 May 2017

Americanization or Anglicisation

Recently I made the trek to New York to research Italian antecedents. Despite huge swathes of content now traversable via genealogical conglomerates in minutes, some information is still only accessible on the ground. 

Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn, 1903

The American convention of giving names to neighbourhoods within suburbs is something not easily discerned from afar. 

For example Red Hook in Brooklyn, which, amongst other influences, became a small Italian enclave when settled in the late 1890s - early 1900s. The name is still used in various locations.

Included in its special collection, the Brooklyn Public Library has a series of atlases and maps which will eventually be digitised. 

To capitalise on the time available, I attended a lecture at the New York Public Library on how to search the 1940 Federal Census. This is a rich online resource, but interchangeable names make discovery a challenge. It is not uncommon to find an Italian name for the first Census in which the family appeared after migration from Palermo, only to appear as 'someone else' by 1940. For example, Gaetana became Anna or Anita, Gesualda became Jessie, Gaetano became Tomaso then Thomas. 

Vicenzo/Vincenzo became, inexplicably, James not Vincent.* Surnames are also afflicted by this - Bellomonte becoming Belmont, Nangano was heard and written as Mangano. Eventually vowels were dropped too. This process was explained as americanisation**, although the presentation did label it otherwise. 
Courtesy Carmen Nigro,
Milstein Division, NYPL, April 2017

The origin of these names is surely not American, and despite the efforts of the Census enumerators to hide migrants in as many ways as possible, a shared appreciation of the English language allows us all to tap into the breadth of information from 1890 Ellis Island arrivals to the decennial censuses.

The key to searching the census successfully is to be aware that while names may be carried down the generations, little variations were and are also common. 

Thinking laterally, including for extended family, does help. 
Image, courtesy of Find My Past, of the family of Thomas Belmont, all given with surname as Thomas (found only by a search on the name of future son-in-law Roderick Black) 
The genealogical discovery process however, is a candidate for dramatisation and there is no better inspiration than American cinema. This is ably demonstrated by the NYPL's Irma & Paul Milstein Division of United States History, Local History and Genealogy which entices us all to delve into family secrets and mysterious name changes...

*  Finding Italian Roots - The complete guide for Americans, John Philip Colletta, PhD
** ironically spelt with an 's', or sometimes interchangeably with a 'z', in both anglicisation and americanization.  

Friday, 2 December 2016

slightly bigger than a tweet

The Trove team recently posed a tweet: what is Trove? 
Like the librarians' curse of knowledge*, where it may be difficult to compress a complex service into a brief explanation for the uninitiated, concepts are sometimes defined in the negative. 

For example, Trove was never an acronym although there have been several published attempts to make it so. 

But to answer the team's question, each letter of Trove can be used to convey its scope, power and indispensability. Its reach almost demands uppercase. TROVE is:

-> a   Time capsule
-> a   Roam around a continent
-> an Organic summation of a nation's status
-> a   View of identity from multiple soapboxes
-> an Embodiment of inheritance

As a time capsule, Trove is unparalleled. Provided government funding allows it to be expanded, it will continue to uncover Australia's history.

In a simple roaming search, anyone can delve into small town life or trace the growth of a metropolis.

The threats to our natural environment, whether silently accumulating for millenia or newly incubated, have been documented in Trove since 1803 and can be found by following the clues invested in a range of forms: article, book, image and website.

Trove's rich content illustrates the inspirational soapboxes for political, religious, legal or scientific research, and views of identity in notices from "the Cradle, the Altar and the Grave". 

By encapsulating a nation's intellectual capital, Trove is a powerful embodiment of Australia's inheritance, accessible to everyone.


Monday, 7 November 2016

On weary waters gone to sleep

Is there a pre-ordained fate to tragedy within a family, or merely circumstance which congregates to leave survivors mindful of their responsibility to convey stories across generations? 

This story is a tragedy of water, perhaps inevitable around the big rivers of northern New South Wales. William and James Baker migrated separately to Australia in the 1850s, establishing a farm in the Grafton area. James met Mary Ann Webb, whose parents were also migrants, and they married on 7 August 1860. 

NSW Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages, Marriage Certificate 1860/1881A
One week short of nine months from his parents' marriage date, their first son Thomas, named for his paternal grandfather, arrived on 30 April 1861 at Carrs Creek. As a farmer, the lush landscape of the Clarence Valley may have initially appealed to James, but less than two years later Grafton experienced a devastating flood. 

EPITOME OF NEWS. (1863, March 7).
The Armidale Express and
New England General Advertiser
(NSW : 1856 - 1861; 1863 - 1889; 1891 - 1954)
, p. 2.
"The back water increased till Tuesday morning, though the river had been at its highest at an early hour on Monday morning, being about 24 feet above high water mark, and 2 feet higher than the great flood of 1857, reputed then as the greatest that had been known." 

(1876, July 25).
Clarence and Richmond Examiner
and New England Advertiser
(Grafton, NSW : 1859 - 1889)
, p. 3.

So devastating, it still made headlines years after the event.

"Mr James Baker is also a severe sufferer, not only from the damage done to his crops but by the loss of a good wife, consequent on her removal immediately after confinement..." 

Only three days earlier, on 11 February, Mary Ann gave birth to her second son. She did not know him for long. Mary Ann was one of nine people to die in the aftermath of the flood, the inquest considered several factors:

"Several farmers at Carr's Creek were flooded out..." However, Mary Ann was buried at South Grafton cemetery. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1863/3701
The baby was registered as unnamed by his maternal grandfather Samuel Webb. He was handed over to his Uncle William and Aunty Eliza Baker, who, in the absence of their own biological children, would raise the child as their own. The decision was made by both families to make their way to Tumbulgum, then known as The Junction. A private town built on the sugar cane industry, it was established on the banks of the Tweed River. The baby became known as James.  

In 1882, aged only 56 and having retained his status as a widower, James Baker died. He was buried at Murwillumbah General Cemetery. 

NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1882/11895

Although James' will acknowledged his "eldest son" Thomas, there was no inheritance for James. Presumably he was expected to inherit from William and Eliza. It did not happen.
Less than four years later he too lost his life, in the Tweed River. His family's memory is that it happened at Chinderah, where the river is broad. In water cool and deep it is not difficult to imagine such a loss. The article suggests this is plausible - "being towed up" meant south towards Tumbulgum.

His death certificate says his body was not found, and the fortnight between his disappearance and the newspaper article on 30 January lends credence to this. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages Death Certificate #1886/13684

In 1974, the Murwillumbah General Cemetery and historical headstones were washed away in a flood, including that of James Baker. 

A park remains to commemorate the 
existence of more than 2,000 locals. 

The Baker family was decimated by the force of water. But the circumstances of James' disappearance would not have carried across the decades without being wrenched back to the time of their occurrence by a digital process which was not imagined when this family struggled to survive. It is a reassuring closure. 

* The phrase 'On weary waters gone to sleep' was inspired by poet Eva Gore-Booth in her poem Weariness

"My weary soul cries out for peace,
Peace and the quietness of death;
The wash of waters deep and cool,
The wind too faint for any breath
To stir oblivion's silent pool,
When all who swim against the stream".