Who are you? Playing with genealogy in the library

In attempt to answer this question or rather who am I, I have been delving into my past using Christchurch City Libraries family history eResources to find out who I am or who my ancestors were. I thought I was a fairly boring Pakeha, with my ancestors coming from Ireland, England and Scotland. While most of my ancestry is from these places, it is not as boring as I thought it was. One of the first things I found was that my great-grandfather was a bookbinder and marbler, so that is possibly where I get my bookish librarian-ness from.

Some of my ancestors arrived in New Zealand in 1842 and one gave birth on the shore straight off the ship, that child was my great-great-grandmother. There seems also a steady stream of my ancestors who came from the incredibly hipster filled Shoreditch, although there may have been lots of beards back then, I don’t think it was very hip in 1800.

Family history display asks "who are you?"
Family history display asks “who are you?” Central Library Peterborough, 12 February 2017. Flickr 2017-01-28-IMG_3895

So where do you start, with the little bit of information I was armed with? I started on My Heritage. This one is available for free from home, and one of the brilliant things is it not only searches records such as births, deaths and marriages, census records, and immigration records, you can search other family trees. The Library Edition of My Heritage doesn’t let you make you own family tree, only search them. Family trees can be very useful although the connections are not always correct, and no two family trees are the same.

If you want to make you own family tree, you will need to head into a library and use Find My Past, create a login and and you can create your own tree. You don’t have the option to make these public, but it a great way of saving your research. Whilst in the library, you can use Ancestry Library Edition which has the greatest amount of records to search and you can also search other people’s family trees – although again, you can’t make your own using the library edition.

One other thing I have learned about researching my family history, is that there was some dodgy spelling even on official records, so if you aren’t finding the information you need, try spelling the names differently.

As I have always had a thing for tartan, I am going back to researching my family connection to Scotland, I wonder if there is a Douglas, Angus or Flora amongst my ancestors and what clan and tartan I might be able to claim.

Family history at the library; unravelling the mysteries

I’ve just completed a six-week course on family history, ably run by colleagues here at Christchurch City Libraries. It’s been fascinating and I recommend it for anyone with an interest in history and/or their family.

Taking a class at the library gives you an insight into just how much family history information is now available. The Internet and digitisation of records have made it so much easier to find out about your family’s history, and every day more and more is added to the store of records online. By using the library’s e-resources, many of these records are free to access. Christchurch City Libraries also has a wealth of resources that are not online, such as registers for Canterbury churches, street directories and electoral rolls.

Church register index cards
Church registers index at Central Library Manchester

Once you start, it may become quite addictive. There will be some surprising finds. Some of the “family stories” that my mother told me have been proved to be quite wrong. Whether she made them up or whether she herself was wrongly informed I don’t know. Her belief that both of my great great-grandmothers (on her side) were Scots is totally untrue. There is a Scotsman, but a long, long way back. There are a large number of very poor East-Enders; perhaps Mum or her family were ashamed of them and sought to create a more romantic provenance for me.

It’s fascinating but also frustrating. My paternal grandfather seems to be a man of mystery entirely – where he came from has so far eluded me. Which one of the three Herbert James born in the same year in London was he? Through the Births, Deaths and Marriages Index I have been able to order his marriage certificate from the General Register Office in the UK, which tells me that he was the son of Richard James, so I can now head off down the correct path.

There have been some interesting discoveries; my favourites so far are Joseph Morgan Melville, who worked as a shipwright in Chatham Naval dockyards in the early Victorian period, and William Douglas, a rope-maker, also employed at Chatham around the same time.  So I chased down the website of Chatham Historic Dockyards and the Victorian Rope-works there.

William’s daughter Ellen had ten children and lived to be eighty-one; census records show her still employed as a laundress at 70. Poor women worked hard.

This is the part I enjoy most about family history, finding the social history behind the names. It takes you to places and subjects you never would have thought about otherwise. Investigating my grandfather’s role as a gunner in the First World War took me to books on field artillery, to see what kind of guns he would have lugged across Northern France. An interest in field artillery is not one I normally possess. All I have to say is no wonder he developed a hernia.

This herniation of my grandfather is also covered in his army service record; one thing about the army is that they kept good records, and these records are often a treasure trove of things you wouldn’t have been able to find out any other way. My great-uncle was dismissed from the army when they found out he had a heart-murmur; my great-great grandfather joined the East Kent Regiment of Foot and spent twelve years in India; he also had a birthmark on his left shoulder.

So if you’re thinking of compiling a family tree, these classes will be on offer again next year. In the meantime, quiz your older relatives about what they know of the family history, and work from what you yourself already know. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to bore my friends and colleagues with new discoveries about my own family.

Start your research online

Lynne, South Library and Learning Centre

Don’t forget your family, yeah

Don’t forget your roots, my friend
The ones who made you
The ones who brought you here
Don’t forget your roots, my friend, yeah

family historySix60 have a great song about family and provides the inspiration for a set of courses being held at Christchurch City Libraries during August. We are running two Family History programmes and you can choose the one that suits you. It’s all about discovering our family stories.

Getting Started: Beginners Guide to Family History

Start your family history research with this six week course that will introduce some key resources available at Christchurch City Libraries and beyond. Key life events such as births, deaths and marriages will be researched, along with sources covering migration, military and electoral information. We will be looking at online and paper-based resources.

Basic computer knowledge is needed.

Where: South Learning Centre & Central Library Manchester
When: Tuesdays, 4 August to 8 September (6 weeks)
Time: 6.00pm – 8.00pm
Cost: $15

Family History Images from Kete Christchurch

Family History Starter Series

A four week course that will introduce online resources to find information on:

  • Key life events – births, deaths and marriages
  • Living in New Zealand
  • Arriving in New Zealand
  • Where to next?

Bring along as much as you know about your family and we will help you fill in some gaps. We have tips and tricks to help you uncover your story and get you on your way.

Basic computer knowledge is needed.

Where: Linwood Library
Dates: Wednesdays 19 Aug, 26 Aug, 2 Sept, 9 Sept (4 weeks)
Time: 6.00pm – 7.30pm
Cost: $10.00
Bookings: Ring 941-7923 to book your place at either course.

If you are keen to know more check out our family history guide.

Find family without leaving your couch with MyHeritage

Exciting news on the family history front. Until now because of licence restrictions customers have always had to come into a library to access online family history eResources like Ancestry and Find My Past.

MyHeritage logoNow from the comfort of your own couch you can surf our newest genealogical eResource – MyHeritage during ad breaks while watching the Bachelor, or Campbell Live. It is a great way to kick-start finding those random relatives and construct that family tree for future generations.

Are you to the ‘manor born’? Or are you like me – ‘bog born’? Was your family “upstairs” or “downstairs”? The answers lie within MyHeritage and other family history resources from Christchurch City Libraries.

Begin the hunt!

St Patrick’s Day without the green beer

Cover for The day of the Jack RussellIt sometimes seems like St Patrick’s Day in New Zealand is yet another excuse to overindulge in beer – and green beer at that. Not a good idea as far as I’m concerned. Do you celebrate St Patrick’s Day? Do you know if you have Irish ancestry?

Before you join the ranks of the green beer drinkers you can find out if you have Irish in your family tree by visiting our great online resources like Find my past Ireland and the British Newspaper Archive.

For a small country, Ireland has had a great influence across the world as the Irish diaspora has spread through many countries. Music and language are the great passions of Ireland and from this has come a great stream of writers, lawyers, politicians and musicians both traditional and popular.

Though I claim no Irish roots, I’ve always loved the traditional music that has been popularized by such great groups as the Chieftains. So perhaps instead of green beer I’ll celebrate St Patrick’s Day by listening to the Chieftains, reading a poem by Yeats and having a laugh with the black humour of Colin Bateman.

More Dead People For Your Pleasure

Christchurch City Council Cemeteries
Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database

One of our special little treats is the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database. This records people who have been buried in the Cemeteries managed by the Council. You know – Addington Cemetery, Avonhead Park Cemetery, Barbadoes Street Cemetery, Belfast Cemetery, Bromley Cemetery, Linwood Cemetery, Memorial Park Cemetery, Ruru Lawn Cemetery, Sydenham Cemetery, Waimairi Cemetery, Woolston Cemetery, Yaldhurst Cemetery.

Oh but not that many from Barbadoes Street.

When Banks Peninsula District amalgamated with the Christchurch City Council in 2006 their interments continued to be managed in a separate system until recently when they were brought together. That data is now available to the public in the Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database.

So now we bring you burials from the cemeteries of  Akaroa Anglican, Akaroa Catholic, Akaroa Dissenters, Diamond Harbour, Duvauchelle, Kaituna, Le Bons Bay, Little River, Lyttelton Anglican, Lyttelton Catholic, Lyttelton Public, Lyttelton RSA, Pigeon Bay, Port Levy and  Wainui.

Happy digging.

Find My Past Ireland: discover your Irish naughtiness!

Find My Past Ireland is an online tool to help you flesh out the Irish branches on your family tree. They have just released the Irish Prison Registers (1790-1924), a register that contains more than 3.5 million entries, covering all types of custodial institutions. logo

Most records include details such as physical description, next of kin, and information about the crime and sentence.  What was once a source of shame is now a clue in your hunt for your past – and the juicy bits at that…  This is an easy way to find out if you have  jailbirds nesting in your family tree!

Don’t forget we also have Find My Past UK and Find My Past  AU  for our family history detectives  and a variety of other family history resources. (Please note that you can only use Find My Past resources inside community libraries.)

Explore at will!

The Silence Beyond

CoverThis wonderful book is a volume of selected writings by the late Michael King.  It shows his wide-ranging skills as a historian, cultural commentator, writer, thinker – someone with real insight into New Zealand culture.

The introduction by his daughter Rachael King, herself a brilliant writer, lets you know you are in for something special. She talks of:

Searching through a box by his desk one night, I came across several photocopies of an essay called ‘The Silence Beyond’. It began: ‘At the age of thirty I found out that my name was not my real name’.

This essay resonated with me. There was a similar revelation in my family when it was realised my grandmother didn’t have Swedish origins as we thought, but had been adopted and her ancestry was East End London Jewish. King shows that genealogy and family knowledge isn’t  a dry thing, it does opens up ‘the silence beyond’.

Amongst the eulogies and wise meditations, there is also a big  pulsing vein of humour. His anecdotes about the New Zealand literati are fantastic:

  • He is in a rowdy group of students who wake up Charles Brasch. He gives them a thimble of sherry.
  • Janet Frame buys a photocopier,  sticks it in the garage, it gets infested with ants and all her photocopied letters and manuscripts are speckled with squashed ants.
  • Janet Frame:  Scrabble Star. She invents the word Silltits – “It’s what all those women in New York get when they spend all day leaning out of tenement windows and watching the action in the street”.
  • Dan Davin – Starsky and Hutch fan.

Find my past Ireland: Find Your Irish roots

Screenshot“Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy” – W. B. Yeats

Many New Zealanders have Irish blood flowing through their veins.  For those who want to find out more about their Irish ancestral roots then we have Find My Past Ireland.This resource includes:

  • The Landed Estates Court records: details of over 500,000 tenants on Irish estates;
  • Griffith’s Valuation: information about households from the Famine and up until the start of the civil registration in 1864;
  • Indexes to Irish wills dating from 1270 – 1858;
  • Over 400,000 gravestones and church memorials;
  • Emigration and military records;
  • Over 250,000 obituaries and other newspaper notices from all over Ireland.

This complements information you will find on Find My Past UK and Find My Past Australia.

Our license with the distributors mean access is only available in libraries and not from home.

There are many other useful  family history resources available within libraries and also from home with your library card number and PIN through the Source!

Quake treasures resurface

coverAugust is family history month and on Saturday 20 August, the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists is holding a public research day at St. Ninian’s Church Hall, Puriri Street, Riccarton.

The day is in fact a celebration. For the first time in six months there will be available old familiar friends: tombstone transcripts (find references to these  on the library catalogue by using the words ‘sepulchral monument‘); local state primary school records; the matching brides-and -grooms and other CDs; and Denys Hampton’s michrofiche which may, via the Appendices to the journals of the House of Representatives, lead one to the indiscreet comments that some ancestor made in front of a long-forgotten royal commission.

Parish registers, cemetery transcripts, School indexes, the CDs, NZ BDM microfiche and NZ cemetery microfiche, and experienced researchers in Australian, European, and British Genealogy will be available . Society members will also show how to use school records and computer networks.

The earthquake of 22 February resulted in centres for historical and genealogical research such as the CentralLibrary and the Anglican and Methodist archives becoming trapped in the CBD’s red zone.
Slowly, access to these things is resuming.

  • Archives New Zealand in Peterborough Street, a magnificent but under-used institution, is now open and offers limited research facilities.
  • On 23 February brave souls from the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists rescued their holdings from the Shirley Community Centre. These include the society’s bound volumes of Christchurch-and-environs church baptismal, marriage and burial registers. Genealogical Society members began transcribing these registers to a card file in 1980. With the card file stuck in the Central Library it is great to have the bound volumes available.

Material is available for use from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Participants are asked to bring their lunch; tea and coffee will be available.

Richard Greenaway