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A few of my favourite FREE resources

January 20, 2011

Kate Greenaway's Birthday Book for ChildrenIn the process of my Post A Day adventure, I’ve been working in the background, sorting through all my old research and information – or rather, in the process of sorting through all my old research and information I’ve found myself in the midst of a Post A Day adventure!  Things like my grandmother’s birthday book, that I’ve never really studied in detail before have surfaced and provided opportunities to delve into areas I haven’t thought to explore before.  And what is different about genealogy and family history research this time round for me is the vast array of resources available on the internet from the comfort and convenience of home.

Back when I was obsessed with discovering my family history the first time, from 1986 to the mid 1990s – probably until my university studies took up what little attention was left after being mum to three young children (I started studying at university when my third child was about 6 months old) – the internet as we know it today was in its infancy.  Even now, having ‘arrived’ to find it all waiting for me, I have noticed that new documents and collections are being made available online for the first time, almost every day.  My struggle now (while trying to work full-time and keep up the Post A Day challenge) is keeping up with it all.

So here are a few of my favourites.  I will make this a list, like my ships list, so that I can post a few more as I go along and build a list of resources here.  A links list/blog roll thingy can probably get too long eventually.

Jack Kirwan in his uniform c. 1916

1.  The AIF Project – This is really the resource that got me moving again.  I found it – I can’t remember how it came to my attention – and just plugged a few surnames into it, to see what would happen.  Searching military records was difficult before, and probably required a trip to Canberra, which was totally out of the question back in the day – certainly would have required dedicated library or Genealogical Society time.  So I wasn’t even sure which of my family members/ancestors had served in the military, much less been to war – unless they didn’t come back – in which case that was all I knew.  The first time I searched the AIF Project index I was transfixed for hours – finding names I recognised and learning about their involvement in the first World War.

2.  The AIF project adventure fairly rapidly led to the Australian War Memorial site.  What has the War Memorial got that the AIF doesn’t – everything!  Records from every conflict the Australian military has been involved in, as well as the periods in between, as well as art, photographs…  To begin with, I was searching through the actual records of the people I located via the AIF Project – armed with their service number and Unit, I was able to locate  Red Cross missing person reports and other records.  Then I remembered that my Dad had told me he had a great-uncle who went away to the Boer War in South Africa.  That’s all I knew.  So I plugged a few possible surnames in, searching specifically for the Boer War, and up he came.  Recently, I found an old photo, a very small snap shot.  On scanning it and enlarging it, it became clear that one of the men in the photo was wearing a uniform.  Straight to the War Memorial site I went.  His age put him between the World Wars, and the photo with him in uniform dated to about 1945.  The War Memorial didn’t have much to tell me in this instance, but it suggested via a link, that I visit…

3. The National Archives of Australia.  A name search can turn up records from the whole collection, including military, immigration and even national security files.  Within five minutes I ascertained that my relative was in the RAAF and that the National Archives held a file on him which was not yet digitised.  Some files (his included) have not yet been cleared for the public.  Others have been cleared but not digitised.  Others still have been digitised and if you are lucky enough to be searching and find one of those – BINGO!  But in this particular case, I had to fork out $16.50 for the file to be opened and digitised for public access, or $25 for a colour printed hard copy to be mailed to me in a folder, with the bonus that the digitised file would be made available to the public.  In this instance I went for the digitised file.  Either way, that file will now be available (somewhere within 90 days) for anyone to find in the future.

4. The Western Australian Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages historical index.  For someone like me, this is a treasure trove.  Hours spent fruitlessly searching micro-fiche in the State Library is now but a distant memory.  Many of my recent (and more distant) ancestors have lived in Western Australia.  Some of those, and others have also lived in Victoria.  Victoria’s BDM index is useful, but at 99 cents a view, it can add up if you’re not watching.  The benefit of course is that you can order hard copy certificates online, and uncertified digitised copies are accessible immediately for a reduced fee.  But the  WA index is FREE, baby.  This is very useful.  For example when preparing the post on the old Pensioner Guard’s cottage, I was able to very quickly and easily pull up a list of the children of the couple/s who lived in that cottage.  Because they were early entries the parent’s names were listed, and I was able to cross check against my lovely new copy of The Veterans – which had an additional birth I hadn’t found, listed.  Another quick check of the index turned up that that child’s birth was registered at the time of her death, many years later.  Her birth and death entries bear the same year, decades after her siblings were born.  I work in the same building as the actual Registry, so for me, the ability to search the indexes so easily is made all the more pleasurable, because I know if really want a certificate, it will take me minutes in my lunch break to obtain it.

5. The Western Australian Metropolitan Cemetery Board’s digitised index and search function is blissful.  Often when searching for someone years ago, I would be vexed and frustrated (are they different things) by the fact that the death had occurred at some point after the cut off for the publicly available historical index (or the microfiche for the next ten year period was not available yet).  So many years down the track, and with all the convenience of free online searchability and I’m STILL frustrated.  Or I was until I discovered this site.  Someone famous? Died last week? No worries.  Well, actually I’m not sure it’s THAT current.  But the index covers every burial or cremation that has taken place at any of  the largest metropolitan cemeteries in and around Perth, Western Australia.  It includes the Fremantle, Karrakatta, Midland and Guildford Cemeteries and the Pinnaroo Valley Memorial Park and Rockingham Regional Memorial Park. And interestingly, even people who were born and raised in the Goldfields or somewhere more remote, have often moved towards the city later in their life.    And if so, they are very likely to be buried in a Metropolitan Cemetery Board cemetery.  And if they were, no matter how recently, it’s right there on the index.  I have found people who died (or lived) in Esperance, or Melbourne, recorded on this index.  What the records don’t show is date of the funeral.  What they DO show, is date of death and age at time of death.  It is possible to search for a death entry, find one (showing only the year) and ascertain date of death (and an approximate date of birth) from the cemetery index, or indeed NOT find a death entry, and find the date of death on the cemetery index.  But better than that, you can ascertain if a person is YOUR person (or which of several with the same name), because there are sometimes ‘grantee’ details – usually the parent or spouse, and sometimes they are still current even when the grantee themselves has long passed away. Some people really like to be prepared, I guess.  Similarly if you are looking for a husband and wife, sometimes it is possible to search both names and work out which entries are the correct ones for your couple because the grave location and grant number are the same.

6.  Trove Australia – Digitised newspapers and more.  No more microfilm!!! This is the other of my wondrous early finds, just before I got completely hooked in again.  I started with the Australian National Library’s historical newspaper digitisation project in the same way I started with the AIF project.  Just plugged in a few surnames.  Days later, I surfaced with a notebook filled with details to follow up.  Through the Trove newspaper index I have found out that my great uncle and his wife walked from Perth to Brisbane in 1931 so that he could participate in a Speedway dirt bike race.  I have discovered that my great-great grandfather had a sister living in Victoria, when she posted a death notice after he died in Western Australia many years after leaving Victoria.  While I couldn’t find him in the Irish records, I was able to find her, and subsequently another sister.  I have found out that my family members participated in weird and outlandish country pursuits like tug of war competitions and the 1800s equivalent of a tractor pull – in their spare time, obviously.  And I have found references to South Australian family events that I don’t have access to online, as South Australia haven’t made their BDM indexes available online yet.

I’m looking forward to a time when I have ‘finished’ sorting through my existing records and can start in a disciplined and organised way to answer some of the many questions I already had, and some more that have surfaced in the process of sorting through them with the wonders of the new world I’ve found myself in.

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