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 and they married on 7 August 1860. Her parents were also migrants.
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".

Sunday, 30 October 2016


Country News. (1883, July 7).
Logan Witness (Beenleigh, Qld. : 1878-1893)), p.2
The 1984 work Place Names of the Tweed, Brunswick and Upper Richmond Regions recorded the meaning of the village name Tumbulgum as "small-leafed fig". Twenty years prior, Some Aboriginal Place-Names in the Richmond Tweed Area interpreted it as "large fig". Perhaps both were true, but it is a distinctive name unlikely to be confused with anywhere else. 
(1886, January 16,).
Australian Town and Country Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), p.17.
Ironic then that its earlier nineteenth century European name, The Junction, was preferred by The Logan Witness, a Queensland newspaper which concerned itself with NSW border settlements very closely as postal and transport services developed north of Grafton. Such interest was described as being "queenslandised" by the Australian Town and Country Journal in 1886.

Still a village, the longtime locals call it "Tumble-gum" and in November 2016, they gathered together to acknowledge its 150 years of settlement. Two of the village pioneers have remained there fore more than 100 of those years, resting in the North Tumbulgum Cemetery. There is no headstone to mark their lives, but Eliza Baker (nee Alexander) and her husband William are remembered through the documentary fragments of officialdom. 

William Baker died on 6 June 1901, aged 68. He had married in Grafton 42 years earlier, in 1859, and there were no children from the marriage. His birthplace was given as Bristol, England.
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - death Certificate #6130/1901
William's will left all of his property to his nephew Thomas Baker, with the exception of a place for his wife Eliza to live. Thomas, wife Harriett and their five daughters already enjoyed the generosity of his Uncle William - the family lived at Duranbah on a farm block owned by William. This generous nature extended to the care throughout childhood of his other nephew James Baker.

Eliza Baker died only nine months after her husband, on 22 March 1902, aged 66. Her birthplace was given as London. Eliza's will also granted her full estate to her husband's nephew Thomas. How did this come about?
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - Death Certificate #2226/1902
The Marriage certificate of Eliza Alexander and William Baker furnishes an additional interesting clue: the service was conducted according to the rites of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. 
NSW Registry of Births, Deaths & Marriages - Marriage Certificate #1709/1860 [late reg'n]
GRAFTON. (1858, December 17).
The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p.5
Nineteenth century marriages were usually conducted in the religion of the bride, and in Grafton in 1859, there was already a functioning Presbyterian Church under the stewardship of the Reverend James Collins. So this was not just a convenient location. 

EARLY HISTORY OF GRAFTON. (1904, September 13).
Clarence and Richmond Examiner (Grafton, NSW : 1839 - 1915), p.2
The lack of detail in the three certificates made a search for more information less clear cut. However, there was an approximate year of arrival in Australia, for both Eliza and William. 

Advertising (1882, June 17).
Australian Town and Country Journal
(Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907), p.4

Of course the fact that William had a nephew living not far away from Tumbulgum also made it easier to find his family. The presence of Thomas' father James in Grafton and later on the Tweed River made it easy to find a connection to William's background. After a sale at auction, it was James' land which became The Junction. 

(1985) St Mary's Church, Almondsbury, with
graveyard containing Baker family graves
As young men, James in 1852 and then William in 1857 made the journey to New South Wales from another small village, Almondsbury, in Gloucestershire. The closest port to Almondsbury is Bristol, William's birth registration place.

For his emigration form, William stated that he was 22 years old, had a brother James "in the colony", and like his brother was a (farm) labourer.

List of Emigrants sent to Sydney NSW on board
the Marchioness of Londonderry, Captn. J. Williams
by the Family Colonization Loan Society
[State Records NRS 5323/9_6173]
Eliza's origins, on the other hand, are less certain. Her death certificate implies that she was born in 1836. Her marriage suggests she was Scottish, and indeed, searching the gargantuan family history websites indicates that her name was more likely to be from a Scottish source.

So was it possible, as per many Australian certificates, that London was her point of departure from the UK, rather than her hometown? Emigration records with a reasonably close match to Eliza's age suggest she arrived in December 1854 on the Marchioness of Londonderry, one of 32 single servant women and 101 immigrants on board. [1] 

[State Records NRS 5322/4_5037]
Eliza paid £12 for the journey. As their first stop, the passengers were required to spend several days at Q station because of a smallpox outbreak. The Loan Society must have been alarmed by this outcome. 

SHIPPING INTELLIGENCE. (1854, December 13).
The Maitland Mercury and Hunter River General Advertiser
(NSW : 1843-1893), p.2
There were no other passengers on board with the surname Alexander, suggesting that Eliza had travelled to Australia without family. 

The purpose of the Family Colonization Loan Society was to: "...lend to the emigrant one-half of the cost of the passage, after he has paid to the Society a sum equivalent to the other half, we take from him a note of hand payable on demand for the amount lent, at the same time undertaking to give him two years in which to repay the amount, provided he conforms to certain simple regulations laid down by the Society." [2]

In 1852, the virtues of settling in such faraway places were extolled by Caroline Chisholm during a trip throughout the UK. One of her stops was the city of Glasgow. She had spent more than a decade encouraging emigration and reinforced it by overseeing the funding of several ships. Less than two years later, one Eliza Alexander made the journey.

This sesquicentenary reflects the tenacity of a village to survive, an echo of the hopes of two pioneers who became Tumbulgum locals. That it thrives is a testament to their determination to forge lives in a reimagined Australia.

[1] Kiddle, Margaret Caroline Chisholm, Melbourne at the University Press, 1950
[2] EMIGRATION. (1854, November 28). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842-1954), p.2

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Irish inheritance

The newly released Strategic Plan for the future of the National Library of Ireland is a signal of hope to those with a few Irish genes, especially because of the promise of connection [NLI Strategy 2016-2021 connect, p.9]. It's breathtaking to realise that the NLI has been in existence only since 1877, long after so many of its population left the country with their life stories, going as far as possible around the planet to Australia and other challenges.

Those of us descended from the green and wet still feel a genetic attachment, through a particular way of looking at the world, laconic conversation, a dry sense of humour, and a laid-back approach to the stress arising from hardship. But it has also given us a determination to find out more about those origins, and see the small patch of earth where our families once lived.

Find My Past Ireland
So it was on one such adventure earlier this year that I was in Dublin, traversing historical pathways. Alas the National Library was closed to all-comers over a whole long weekend. 

And Kilmainham Gaol, which had once locked my great-great-grandfather in prior to his journey to New South Wales, now locked his great-great-granddaughter out. I am sure he would have at least noted the irony, although he might have been puzzled by the interest.

Perhaps both lock-outs, due to the one-hundredth anniversary commemorations of the 1916 Uprising, could be justified, but until the digitisation promoted by the NLI is a complete substitute, it remains a compromise

Indeed the only heritage agency to create a different experience was the Cork City and County Archives. Archivist Brian McGee, despite having a heavily scheduled day, went out of his way to share his knowledge not only to satisfy the curiosity of a very small number of the Irish diaspora but also, as he explained, to make up for the transgression of past data destruction, including over four censuses and in the Uprising's final devastating outcomes in 1922.

Access to original holdings such as workhouse registers helped to fill in the as-yet-undigitised gaps, but Brian noted they too would be put online as soon as resources became available. A different kind of hardship not envisaged in the nineteenth century, but nevertheless one which has led to stress. 

Would it lead to less travel? Probably not. Such a professional approach to what in the past has been perceived as superficial requests by many such agencies, including Australian ones, is likely to encourage more.

His colleagues were also only too happy to facilitate further discovery - when asked about a particular surname, the assistant said "just go outside, throw a stick and you'll hit one". Luckily we didn't have to resort to that technique. 

But the Corcaigh approach was infectious, as having sent us on successfully to Dunmanway, the local public library, historical society, and the administrator at the oldest Church there - St Patrick's, which echoed with the surnames of nineteenth century Victoria - provided useful leads for two more of our Irish families.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

How to be beguiled by a library

Sometimes a story lies hidden, just waiting for discovery. How fortunate we are to be able to solve a mystery in real time, when we start chasing such a story of a life lived publicly, albeit more than a century ago. A Terranora pioneer, Frederic John Davey, moved from Cornwall via Auckland to the Tweed River in the 1870s in an attempt to improve his health.

He was well-known on the Tweed as an architect, a photographer, a farmer, a Justice of the Peace, woodcarver hobbyist and a family man. Trove shares many digitised newspaper articles detailing his life, providing a rich context for research. It should have been no surprise then that one of his obituaries mentioned a previously unknown skill - writer, of both short stories and poetry.

Davey's architectural, photographic, and woodcarving activities were documented by the Tweed Heads Historical Society. Finding his writing proved more difficult, because his obituary* suggested that he wrote for English journals. The intriguing title of the series "Tales from the Wimbriatta" should have made the stories conspicuous in a full-text search, but Trove only revealed a duplicated obituary** (replicated from two other newspapers, now missing***). 

There was no mention of this place name elsewhere in Trove, which leaves an enticing mystery still to be solved. However, the journal title,Good Words, is mentioned. Was it necessary then to search with these two very common words? Trove arranges access to a large number of online journals in its Journals, articles, and datasets zone, and this journal is listed in both microform and digitised form. However, there is no way to search across the journal articles all at once. But an alternate pathway is at hand - a service established before Trove, also online, which can be activated with a little device available to all Australians - an individual National Library card.

Each Australian can arrange to have three - their local library card, their state or territory library card (SL), and their National Library (NL) card. They are needed to access fully digitised resources, known as eresources to encompass different databases hosted by separate publishers. Australian libraries arrange subscriptions to a subset of these databases for their communities, so while there may be some overlap in content, often there isn't. Through its access arrangements, the National Library links to many English journal offerings.

Davey home drawn by F J Davey, 1882
Once you have your NL or SL card, you can sign in and search using the word British to retrieve the British periodicals collection I and II. (Note that the first search will also list the nineteenth century digitised British newspapers collections.) Accept the licence conditions, and then follow the trail to a semi-autobiographical life as described in a home country journal, complete with posed photographs, by searching on the author's name: F J Davey. The photographs themselves are beguiling too - do they show Terranora Lakes where Davey was known to have built his home?

The actions which led to the availability of this journal online in real time reflect a true partnership of minds oriented towards community service, where the owner of the copy, the digitiser, and the reader sit on different continents. It's gratifying to know that decisions made many years ago by forward-thinking librarians in Australia and elsewhere allow us to assuage our curiosity now. 

* This obituary appeared in The Richmond River Herald & Northern Districts Advertiser.
** This obituary appeared in The Northern Star.
*** The Tweed Herald; The Tweed Times. Having complementary copies of such informative obituaries is a small miracle in its own right. F J Davey was such a high achiever that the obituaries appear in newspapers outside the area of his home town and surrounds. Trove illustrated its value yet again. 

Thursday, 7 July 2016

tozza tozza

'tozza tozza' is an apt Neapolitan phrase to describe the experience of driving in the cities of Napoli and Palermo. It reflects the spurting flow of traffic in the city centres, moving bumper to bumper, or side by side like dodgem cars. Palermo adds an level of difficulty: cars moving four across, switching from one imaginary lane to another by swerving without indicators. 

Driving in a Fiat Bambino is a compounding frisson of excitement - while it's a piccolo car which can fit into any space, it can also be overwhelmed by trucks and buses and even electric scooters. You will recognise your own form of demise before it hits you. 

This is often followed by the frantic search for a car park, where a concierge will wait in the street and run ahead of your car to show you an available parking space which they then want to be paid for, even if they don't own the real estate. They are ready to throttle you if you don't pay them for something which is not theirs to sell. 

In the city and the suburbs with narrow streets, cars are parked nose to nose or nose to the kerb, and sometimes with half the car on the footpath or three deep on a pedestrian crossing. (OK, the latter only happens in Roma.) It is a creative and effective use of limited space, unless you want to drive away.

It's important to take a deep breath, because sometimes 'tozza tozza' reflects the research experience too. In the chronically under-funded archives, museums and galleries everyone is very willing to provide advice, is usually interested in speaking to someone whose first language is not English and is occasionally willing to listen to the story you have to tell. But often there is only a referral, and as you move on to the next less-likely repository in increasing circles of frustration, no result.

The research conundrum being pursued, by car and on foot, was the exact location of a street in Palermo, Via Cavallacci. It was the home of many families which lived in SetteCannoli / Brancaccio for generations. It no longer exists but neither is there a map from the 1940s which shows where it might have been. Where is the concierge when you need him?

['tozza tozza' is from the verb scontarsi.]


Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Whatever happened to Highfields?

Tweed Heads, Murwillumbah, Cudgen, and many other country towns had one - a Progress Association. But it wasn’t until last year’s discovery of a “recipe book” that the existence of the Highfields District Progress Association was rediscovered.

Highfields District Progress Association
Minute book
A simple school exercise book originally used to record the Association’s meeting minutes was turned into a scrapbook for recipes cut from newspapers and magazines, but thankfully, not all of them were glued in completely and enough of a record remains to confirm the Association’s activity.

Excerpts from the Minutes book are included in this article. They extend frm the years November 1937 to July 1940, although it is not known whether this was when the Association wound up. However, the national web service Trove provides some of the earliest information about this Association, as shown in the newspaper articles included here. [i] 

The Highfield Progress Association was initially established in 1918.[ii] There were immediate issues to contend with which, in fact, had inspired the group to form. The first problem, the road to the Bilambil-Cobaki ferry, was described in the Tweed Daily on 8 January 1918.[iii] This article also explains the intended operation of the group: residents were to meet at a private home, a membership fee of two shillings per year is to be imposed, and issues affecting all residents were to be discussed, but always with the big picture in mind: “The opening up of closer settlement is certain on these coastal slopes. There is a big piece of country – scrub and lantana jungle – within easy reach of Tweed Heads that would make good homes with an assured income, and the Highfield Progress Association is out in the interest of all to assist in the development of their own and kindred areas.”

Before the Second World War, a new advertisement appeared in the Daily News on Tuesday 12 October 1937. 

The name Highfields was well established before the second Progress Association was convened. It was the recipient of spasmodic postal services in the 1920s [iv]. It appeared in NSW Electoral Rolls from 1930 onwards. It was provided as the address for representatives on the Banana Marketing Board [v]; Highfield women formed a sewing and knitting circle during the Second World War [vi], and even the local Council used the name well beyond the 1940s [vii]...

The full article is included in Issue 114 of The Log Book, the journal of the Tweed Heads Historical Society, and is available for purchase. The Society provided unstinting support in the publishing of this article.

[i] Trove is at It contains digitised historical newspapers including The Tweed Daily,
[ii] 1918 'ROUND THE RIVERS.', Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876      - 1954), 12 January, p. 2,
[iii] HIGHFIELD. (1918, January 8). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 - 1949), p.2, 
[iv] LOWER TWEED POSTAL SERVICES. (1920, April 17). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 -     
[v] BANANA MARKETING Board. (1935, July 18). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 - 1949),  p.5,
[vi] DONATIONS BY TWEED HEADS RED CROSS BRANCH. (1940, September 18). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah, NSW : 1914 - 1949), p.5. 
[vii] TWEED SHIRE COUNCIL'S WORKS PROGRAMME. (1948, April 15). Tweed Daily (Murwillumbah,  NSW : 1914 - 1949), p. 3.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Joined-up spending

In a previous post, The agency that will never forget you, I discussed the dilemma of closed or partially closed identity services. A year later in October 2015 one of those services, the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, launched an open interface.

The new interface is seductive for two reasons. Firstly, unlike the old clunky website, the design is fresh, simple to use, expansive in its search options, and free. The latter then leads to the second point of seduction - it is easy to buy a B, D or M certificate and see it within minutes, sometimes seconds. That's joined-up spending - the ability to part with personal funds in a more streamlined and efficient end-to-end inquiry. 

However, this interface doesn't stick purchasing obstacles in the way either. Paying for small numbers of credits, requesting credentials before a decision to buy is made, paying for a restricted number of pageviews - all of these are evidence of mean interfaces which discourage joined-up spending. 

Although this new development has been delivered in the context of government initiatives to make doing business with government easier, it is an exemplar for genealogical services which think that throwing an overflowing content bucket over the hapless searcher is enough**.

"Joined-up" is a term that emerged early in the 21st century and spread across academic and library service delivery circles. It was and is the goal of government initiatives to make doing business with government easier. The words 'efficient and effective' have been bandied about for so long that they no longer mean much. It's exceedingly satisfying, even at the detriment of my wallet, to see a government department deliver on them regardless. 

** with the possible exception of the Free___ services FreeBMD, FreeCEN, and FreeReg currently being compiled and deployed with generous interfaces.