Living History

Today I would like to comment on how family history is not just about people but it also is about the places we live, our homes and also the area or communities we live in and the contributions we make to them.

For example, my wife and I have just moved into what we hope will be our permanent home for the next few years. We have kind of landed our dream job and home. We are currently the caretakers of a property called “Glenbarr.” It is a small heritage listed property of approximately 35 acres on the outskirts of Strathalbyn, South Australia, Australia. Glenbarr was established by William Rankine, a sheepfarmer from Dalblair, Ayrshire, Scotland, who along with his brother, Dr John Rankine were the founders of Strathalbyn,SA

The main house was started in 1841 by William Rankine, and was built in stages, till it reached it present structure. By the end of 1842 the front 3 rooms of the building were completed, using local sandstone for windows and doors & bluestone for the walls. The kitchen was a separate building at the back at that stage (as was common in those days of wood fires). Later in 1856- 7, after he returned from a trip to Scotland, he rebuilt the kitchen and made it a part of the main building and added some more rooms as well (including a dining room). (image courtesy of the “Glenbarr” historical archives)

"Glenbarr" in the mid 1800's

“Glenbarr” in the mid 1800’s

About 1871-3 an upper storey was added, again using bluestone as a building material. The present farm outbuildings were added about the same time.

While William Rankine was active in the town of Strathalbyn his brother, Dr john Rankine played a more prominent part in the affairs of the town.  Four generations of William’s family either lived here or were owners of the property before it was sold to Richard Giles by John Robert Rankine in 1923.

Later in 1932 Richard Giles and his family moved to Adelaide and leased the property out to a James Dodd. In 1935 Daphne Bowman, (Richard Giles niece), took over the lease. In 1945 Daphne bowman bought “Glenbarr” outright and with her English friend, Kathleen Bateman, made “Glenbarr” available first as a camping spot for girl guides and then, after remodelling and developing the barn and the stables,(as they are today), it became a place for school camps, small group activities and functions and also weddings & receptions.

Glenbarr stable 1945

In 1975 administration of “Glenbarr” was handed over to the Glenbarr Bowman Bateman Fondation who still manage it today. The house has been listed by the National Trust and is also listed on the State heritage register of SA. It is one of the oldest if not the oldest house in Strathalbyn. (Image courtesy of Google image search)

While all who have lived here have played a part in the history of “Glenbarr” it goes with out saying that “Glenbarr” has also played a part in the lives of those who have lived here and in their history and the history of the town of Strathalbyn and all those who have come here over the years. Now it is a part of my and my wifes history and that of our family siply because we are here, and loving being here.

For more information on “Glenbarr” you can go to their website:


Next Step in How To Do Family History

Now that we have looked at the basics of gathering information. And started to organise it in a legible manner. It is time to look at the next steps to take.

Lets take a moment to review what we have done so far.

1. We have gathered the information we have in the house and sorted it into the various types of information we have, e.g. certificates, (birth, death, & marriage), newspaper items, achievement certificates, and lets not forget the photo’s you may have discovered.

2. Entered the information either manually or electronically into Pedigree charts and or Family group Sheets.

3. Organised your photo’s in either an album or scanned them into your computer and either placed them into a Family History file and or attached them to the individual files in your computers family history program.

So now that we have done all the above we need to decide what to do next. If we look at the information that we have compiled we may find that there are holes in the information we have on various members of our family. So how to fill in the missing information then?

A good source of family information is your extended family, Aunts, uncles Grandparents, and on the rare occasions great grand parents. Below is a copy of a guide given to me by Elaine Van Gamert, Director of the Baulkham Hills Family History Centre of the Church of Jesus Christ Of latter Day Saints


How to Interview a Relative.

1. Schedule a time in advance. This gives everyone a chance to prepare.

2. Prepare a list of questions beforehand and either share them with your relative, or give them an idea of what you want to cover.

3. Bring several notepads and pens to the interview. If you plan to make a recording, be sure to have a tape player, microphone, extra tapes and batteries.

4. Take good notes and make sure you record your name, the date, the place the interview is being conducted, and the interviewee.

5. Start with a question or topic that you know will elicit a reply, such as a story you have heard them tell in the past.

6. Ask questions which encourage more than simple “yes” and “no” answers. Try to elicit fact, feelings, stories and descriptions.

7. Show interest. Take an active part in the dialogue without dominating it. Learn to be a creative listener.

8. Use props whenever possible, Old photographs, favourite old songs, and treasured items may bring memories flooding back.

9. Don’t push for answers. Your relative may not wish to speak ill of the dead or others reasons for not wanting to share. Move on to something else.

10. Use your prepared questions as a guideline, but don’t be afraid to let your relative go off on a tangent. They may have many things to say that you never thought to ask!

11. Don’t interrupt or attempt to correct your relative, this can end an interview in a hurry!

12. When you are done, be sure to thank your relative for their time.


1. Put your relative at ease by telling them that they will have a chance to see and approve of anything that you write before you share it with others.

2. Keep the interview length to no more than 1 to 2 hours at a stretch. It’s tiring for you and for your relative. It is supposed to be fun!

3. Consider preparing a thank you note to your relative for their cooperation.

(In relation to step 3 of the above guide you might want to also consider videoing the interview as well, especially if it is an older relative).

Keep in mind that every person you interview is an individual and your approach in your interview with them is different to any other interview, as are the questions you will ask them.

Okay folks have fun, and let me know how you do.

Networks – An Essential Tool of Family Historians

Networks! What do networks have to do with family history you ask? Well everything! Without networks we would not be able to find out a lot about our ancestors, if we were able to find them in the first place.  So the process of networking is an essential tool in our search for our ancestors.

It goes without saying that you are not the only one researching your family lines. After all, your ancestor had more than one child, so there will be others who are researching the same lines as you are. These others will have more or less information than you may have on the ancestor that you are looking for. As you connect with these others, or network with them, and share information, both sides will benefit.

As we search for our ancestors we will form several different types of networks.  Over the years I have been able to identify at least 3 different types of networks that we will form or use in our search for our ancestors. I would like to discuss them here and share what I feel are the benefits of each one.

The Family Network

The first of the networks you will develop is that of the Family network.  Which is your family, consisting of, parents, siblings, cousins; aunts & uncles, there may also be more distant relatives that you will come in contact with over time.  The benefit of this network is mainly

the availability of information.  And it is a static network so to speak, rarely changing except in the case of death of a family member.

Here you have at your fingertips, so to speak, information sources that are easily accessed.  Also often you will find it easy to organise our family to search various branches of your family tree, so that more information is gathered in a relativity short period of time.  And because it is your family, you will find it a lot easier to share information and learn from each other different methods of finding information.

Family network

Another aspect of the family network that I like is the fact that with your relatives you can not only share information easily but in order to preserve information you can get one or more to keep a backup of your files in case you lose the information that you have on your own hard drive.

The Research Network

This network is an interesting one as it is not a static network, like the family network, but it is a dynamic network, constantly changing, according to your research needs.

Throughout your life as you research your family lines your sources of information will go through a lot of changes. Some sources you will keep and others you will either discard because you no longer need them or they may not have the information you either want or need. Hence it being a dynamic network as it is in a constant state of flux, according to both your needs and available sources of information.

Your research network will contain both physical and logical sources of information, such as libraries, state and federal archives, family history and historical societies and also on the internet.

Examples of a research network would be Family History libraries, local or national libraries, city or local council archives, (both physical repositories and internet sites), state and or federal archives, local historical societies, State & federal government departments, (birth, death & marriage registries, land councils, electoral commission etc).  Also there would be internet websites such as ; ; etc

The Other Network

Unlike the 2 previous networks this one is a combination of both the family network and the research networks.  In that it will contain both static and dynamic elements. By that I mean you will have both people and organisations and or internet sites you may use regularly but infrequently, (may be considered static in nature), and then you will have others that you may use very rarely, (may consider these sources as Dynamic in nature), because they contain information of a specialised nature. E.g. geographic information, information on  obscure or obsolete occupations etc.

In this network also you will have people you come in contact with in the course of your research.  These will be people who may have specific information on the individual or family that you may be researching at the time. You may meet them on the internet, they may have come across your tree or family information on a website you are both using, or you may have met them at a physical repository that you are both using to trace the same family or individual at the time.

So there you have it, 3 different types of networks that we use in our work as family historians.  While I have been working on this article it occurred to me that networks or networking occur in every aspect of our lives.  But it is what we do with those networks or networking opportunities that make all the difference in how well we do our work, or live our lives.

It must be pointed out also that in networks, the transfer of information is not just a one way street, but information moves in both directions.  Sometimes the greater transfer of information may be in one direction, but there is still information going back the other way. Either to confirm the correctness of the information gained and or showing gratitude for the information gained from a source.  In other instances there may be swap of information.  As in the case of one of your sources may have a location or information on where possible information on an ancestor may be found, and a request made as to inform as to whether the information given was of benefit and as to what was gained from that source.

I started this article by saying that Networks or networking are an essential tool for us as family historians, without it we cannot go far in our research.  It is the same with everything we do.  Without these networks we would be just genealogists looking at dates, where as family historians we get to know our ancestors and a bit about their lives, which in turn give us a better understanding of ourselves.  And the why we are the way we are, both as individuals and as a family.

Family History Programs

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004

Maggie Gyllenhaal in 2004 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the years we all have become familar with the different versions of the program; ” Who do You think You Are.” and there are a lot of things in it that can be very helpful in doing our own research.  But the other night I came across a program called, “Finding Your Roots“, I found myself pleasently surprized by not only the quality of the program but by also the fact that you get to see where the information came from and also some of the stories of the various ancestors of these people.

In this episode we get to look at the family tree’s of Robert Downey Jr; and Maggie Gyllenhaal, both are well known actors and both share a lot in common in their family tree’s.  Both have Jewish ancestry on one side of their tree and european ancestry on the other side of their tree.

Throughout the program you saw the use of different resources, such as state and federal government records.  Also the use of libraries, Historical & Family history societies and also the use of family information.

English: Actor Robert Downey, Jr. at the 83rd ...

It was interesting to note that Maggie Gyllenhaal’s surname means, “Golden Hall.”  And that one of her ancestors was a puritan minister and quite a well known one. His name was Reverend John Lothrop and who, along with some of his congregation, was banished to the America’s from england at a time of intense persecution of non-conformist religions.  John Lothrop & his parishoners arrived in Boston, Massachusetts  in 1634AD .  John Lothrop was one of the founders of the town of Barnstable, Massachussetts, USA.  And is an ancestor of many notable american figures. One of the homes he built in Barnstable is now a library and is considered one of the oldest libraries in the USA.

Robert Downey Jr can count among his ancestors his 5th great grandfather, Tobias Schucker (1747 – 1813), who fought in the American Revolution. He enlisted in the Berks county Militia, Pennsylvania in 1780 as  a private.  After the war finnished and at the end of his life, his will showed that he owned over 100 acres of land.  Tobias was descended from German emigrants and even though he lived and died in the USA, he never forgot his german heritage.  His will was written in German and he probably spoke german most of his life.

One of the most interesting segments in this program is the use of DNA matching. Both Maggie Gyllenhaal & Robert Downey jr supplied samples of their DNA. These samples were used to determine their genitic origins.  The DNA testing was carried out by a company called .  Despite the fact that both Maggie & Robert have jewish ancestry in their family tree.  The tests showed that Robert Downey Jr has only 20% of his genetic makeup comes from the jewish side of his ancestry.  Whereas Maggie Gyllenhaal’s genetic makeup is 100% jewish.  The tests also showed that Maggie’s  linage is part of the 40% of the american jewish population who are descended from a group of 4 jewish women who lived in the land of Judea over 2000 years ago.

I thoroughly enjoyed watching this program and am looking forward to watching the rest of the series. I do not hesitate in recommending it, not just for its entertainment value but also because it is a good example of how to do family history and shows the resources that are available to us in our search for our ancestors.

Recording your Information (part 1)

Now that you have collected and organised your documents; certificates; photo’s etc. And also sifted through the information that you have into your notebooks, we need to record the information in a fashion that will be easy to see where you are at in tracing your family history. We do this in several ways, either manually on paper or through a computer program.

Today I would like to look at how to do it manually on paper. There are basically 2 forms we use to record our information on.  Initially you may want to use what is termed a pedigree chart.  Your pedigree chart is to put it simply, Your Family Tree, on this chart is displayed your direct line of ancestors.  Starting with yourself, then your parents, grandparents, great grandparents etc

Pedigree Charts

Pedigree charts can take many forms. Displayed below is what is known as  a 4 generation chart,( which means of course that only 4 generations are displayed on the page).

4 Generation Pedigree chart

You will note that on this page only important basic information is included.  Such as birth/ christening dates. And the place or location where the event occoured.  the same for marriage and death information.

When starting out you always place yourself in position 1.  you will notice that there is a position to list the spouse of Number 1 but no details.  This is because the spouse of number 1 will have their own chart, where they will be listed as number 1. Now this chart follows the Paternal, Maternal lines of number 1.  The Father of number 1 is listed in position 2, and the mother is at position 3, and so on you go for each generation.

When you have gone back 4 generations you will need to start a new pedigree chart as you progress back through the generations.  you will notice that after no 8 is filled in there is a little notation at the side that says ” Cont on chart no_”.  And at the top of the page there is another line that says,  ” No 1 on this chart is the same as No_ on chart No_”.  Using this notation will enable you to keep track of whose parents are whose.  For example if this chart was chart no 1 and we had gone back to no 8 on this chart and we had the parents of no 8 we would fill in the notation beside no 8 to read, “Cont on chart 2″  and at the top of chart 2 we would fill in the notation to  read ” No 1 on this chart is the same as No 8 on chart No 1.”  It is through this cross referencing that we  can keep track of whose who in your family tree, and where they fit in.  Also I should mention here the little box at the bottom of the page where the person compiling the information on this sheet can list their details. There is an important reason for this.  That reason is that if you are sharing this information with others they know how they can get in touch with you to confirm or query the information you have on your pedigree chart.

Family Group Sheets

In conjunction with the Pedigree chart there is the Family Group sheet.  It is this sheet where you can include more detailed information.

In this Family Group record there is room for more detailed information. Instead of just the brief synopsis of information as we find in the pedigree chart, here we find that each event has its own line. e.g. birth and christening dates are seperate.  At the top of the page we have the parents information, also space is made for the parent’s parents. (again we have cross-referencing taking place).

Then is listed the children of the family and space for their birth and death information, and also the names of their spouses, dates of marriage and places that the event occoured. Even though there is only space for 3 children there is often room for more children,(next page). Some families can be quite large.  Often you will find that as you go back through the generations there will be large families and this was often because of the high infant mortality rate.

One other thing I would like to bring your attention to on this family group sheet is that on the right hand side you will see a little box marked, “See “Other marriages” This can be handy if the individuals in the family were married more than once, which happens often.

Notes, Sources & “Other Marriages

Notes, Sources & “Other Marriages”

Lastly we have a page where you can record any notes you may have on the persons that you have listed in the family group sheet.  these notes may be information on where they lived, their occupation, and anything that you feel gives you more insight makes your ancestor more alive to you and or your descendants. Now the top section of this page is reserved for listing the “Other marriages” of the family members.

Lastly and a very important part of researching your family history is listing the sources of where you obtained the information you have on your family members. For example you obtained burial information from an obituary notice in a newspaper clipping that you found when you were collecting documents, clippings, certificates and other information that you had lieing around your home.  Then in listing the source for this information you would list it as burial info for (family member); obituary notice (newspaper if known) publishing date & page number where the notice was ( if known of course) If the newspaper is not known you may want to list it as a document held by family member. listing who the family member is who has the document. More on listing sources in a later post.

Where To Start With Your Family History

Over the years the most common question I have been asked by people just starting out in researching their family history is; “Where Do I Start”; “Who Do I Start With.”

And my answer is always the same. You start with yourself, simply because you know the most about yourself, then your wife and children, if you have any. And then your parents and siblings.  And then work on back through the generations, going as far back as you can.

Now the first thing to do is to get a piece of paper and sit down and write your date of birth, then the date you were christened, ( if you were christened that is), the date you were married,( again if you are married), and to whom you are married to or were married to.  One thing I almost forgot to mention is that for all these events you need to also include where the event occurred. And you need to identify it so that there is no confusion as to where the event occurred. It is not sufficient to just say I was born in the hospital, approx 56 yrs ago. A better and more informative way of identifying where the event occurred is to say,” I was born in Crown St Women’s Hospital in Surry Hills, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia.”  So that last statement identified where the event occurred very precisely. This is very important when dealing with similar names in your family history as you go back, tracing your family’s history.

I can remember on one occasion I cam across a family where the mother seemed to have had children till a very late age. upon further research I was able to identify that the children belonged to 2 families. A Father and a Son both with the same name who both had wives with the same first name. The clue for this was in the dates or years of the births of their children.

So the next step is to collect and organise your photo’s, certificates, newspaper clippings and other memoribilla. One of the best and easiest ways of sorting out your documents, certificates, newspapr clipping etc.  Is to get a number of small cartons, about 3 or 4, approximately shoe box size.  And into each carton you put your documents, newpaper clippings etc into each of these cartons.  you maybe surprised as to what information you have.  About yourself, your family and maybe even some of your ancestors.

Each of these boxes represent a source of information about you and your family. Now I would like you to add one more box to those you have and in this box you should find and put any letters you may have from relatives or friends that may mention anything about you and or your ancestors.

Now that you have soorted out these sources of information into different catagories or types you need to process each collection and glean what information you can from each collection. A good idea may be to get yourself a number of small cheap notebooks that you can write information into. I would suggest that you have at least one notebook for each of your boxes.  That way you will find it easier to find specific information, instead of having to search through one big notebook for information.

Two things to remember when sorting and compiling the information you have put into your boxes. When you come to news and or  articles from newspapers and or magazines you need to make a note of where you obtained the article and when it was printed.and with photo’s you also need to identify who is in the photo, where it was taken, ( if possible), and the date or year that it was taken. I will explain the reason why in a later post.

Now that you have gathered your information and sorted it out. You will need to record and organise it. so that you can see what further research you need to do.  I will talk about that in my next post