By Pauleen Cass.
In recent weeks, Ellen from Hound on the Hunt blog asked the question: “Who has helped you most with your family history?”[i] Randy from Genea-Musings picked up the theme for his Saturday Night Genealogy Fun post.[ii]
The topic inspired me to make it my theme for this month’s GSQ blog post. As Ellen said, over the years I’ve had many people help or inspire me with my own research explorations. Let me share some of them with you, but as with the Oscars, more could be added.
Unfortunately, my family and kin were not prone to conversations over the kitchen table. However, I did learn some (very) basics of their background. I only wish I’d been more curious and asked questions of them as I was privileged to know my grandparents until my teens as they could have demolished brick walls before I even knew I had them. Daughters bought certificates home and my husband has become an expert grave-finder <smile>.
Annie Kunkel, granddaughter of my George Kunkel and Mary O’Brien couple, opened up so many doors into the past. Not only could she tell me names and marriages of family members (confirmed with official records), but more importantly she gave me wonderful clues about life on the Kunkel farm. She also gave me a clue about Mary’s immigration. You can read more here: https://cassmobfamilyhistory.com/2013/12/29/have-i-cracked-it-shall-we-dance/
Not only was Annie an excellent and (mostly) reliable witness, she also provided me with a photo of Mary O’Brien Kunkel – the first time I’d seen my great-great grandmother.
Nora’s name was given to me by Annie and during correspondence and visits with her over many years, I’ve gained so many photos and stories or links to the collateral lines of Mary’s siblings, all invaluable. We both wish I’d found her before the previous generation had passed on. Because of her contribution I asked Nora to launch my book, Grassroots Queenslanders, the Kunkel family.
I started my research journey at the Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ). So many early society indexes of records were helpful, but the wall buster was serendipitous. I must have mentioned one day that I’d been to St Mary’s Catholic Church at Ipswich looking for George and Mary’s marriage record, but they had no more detail than the official BDM certificate I’d bought. One of the experienced researchers (and indexers) said something like “did you see both registers”? “What? They have two?” Back I went, and sure enough, the second one included George Kunkel’s birthplace – literally the only place I’ve ever found it, other than in his home village, Dorfprozelten. All the Birth certificates I’d bought had not answered this question. Truly a wall buster!
LEADING BY EXAMPLE
Way back in the days of snail mail and Genealogical Research Directories, I wrote to two women who were researching the same surnames as me: McSherry and Gavin. It transpired that both ladies were my mother’s generation and, coincidentally, both had attended the same school we had in Brisbane.
We shared the cost of certificates etc but importantly they showed me how they wrote up their stories of the families. Their narrative approach appealed to me and has remained my preferred modus operandi ever since. I’m so pleased I got to meet Betty in Sydney and Carmel in Los Angeles, and thankful for their contribution to my research and education.
Continuous learning is a keynote of family history I believe and maintains our enthusiasm for this obsession of ours. I can’t begin to tell you how many classes or conferences I’ve attended over the years, and each has expanded my knowledge or triggered a different way of thinking about something.
However, don’t take everything you’re told as gospel….do your own research reading and follow up. For example, in my early learning I was told no Catholic Germans came to Queensland and none from Bavaria. This was definitely not the case, as further learning established.
STANDING ON SHOULDERS
We never research alone, whatever we may think at times. Others have come before us and contributed to our knowledge. These are among my favourites:
For the mid-19th century “German” immigrants, the late Jenny Paterson did extensive research on the vinedresser immigrants and you can read her articles in Ances-Tree from Burwood and District Family History Group.[iii] I nearly fell off my chair when she mentioned other Dorfprozelten immigrants during her talk at the AFFHO Congress in Brisbane in 1994.
My research into the Dorfprozelten immigrants would have stalled without the assistance of the local historian, Georg Veh and the joint work on the Dorfprozelten Teil II book.
In researching the Irish immigrants, all Dr Richard Reid’s books and articles were invaluable, as was his thesis and subsequent book. You can look under the resources tab on my blog to find them.[iv] My distant cousin, Pat O’Brien from Co Clare, has done extensive research into the village of Broadford where Mary came from and has been very generous with his knowledge.
At times we may feel we’re on our own as we dive down one research path or another, but it’s worth remembering all those who’ve helped us in large or small ways: family, cousins, fellow enthusiasts, the blogging community, society members, volunteers and presenters, archivists, and librarians. Where would be without them?
Who have been key influencers in your family history journey?