This week’s narrative does not involve an ancestor specifically. It is more a story of my relationship with each one of them. It is the history of my entanglement, preoccupation, involvement and fascination with family history and genealogy. Where did this tale begin? In a library of course!
My journey began with a random comment by my ex-mother-in-law in about 1980. We were talking about families and relations in general, one day and she said,
“There’s a street in Sydney named after my family.”
Of course, I asked. She told me it was Beehag Street in Kyeemagh, just off Botany Bay. It was where one branch of her family first settled and had market gardens. This spiked my interest and at my earliest opportunity I took myself of to the Society of Australian Genealogists library to do some research. So, my first foray into family history was into my in-laws, not my own family. From that library, I went to various local historical societies – those of you who are old enough will identify with me – hour upon hour spent crouching over the microfiche machine, hand cranking, eyes focusing on the rolling visuals until suddenly you spy the one little piece of information that you’ve spent at least two hours trying to find. Then you’d spend your hard-earned cash on a printout that, if you were fortunate, was legible. I learnt about Beehags, Stoneys, and various other interesting names including one that at the last count had seven different spellings – Weidemeier being the finally accepted one!
An overseas trip meant spending three days immersed in St Catherine’s House, chasing up the Fiander side of my husband’s family. So many large volumes to peruse and copies duly obtained. It was quite overwhelming as my expertise was severely lacking in those days. All of this was while I was still married to the in-laws and living in Sydney.
When the marriage ended in 1988, I returned to live closer to my familial support system in Burnie, Tasmania. Family history was put on the backburner for a while. But my father kept newspaper cuttings. He had been doing it for many years. Anything and everything – hatches, matches and dispatches, successes and achievements – about his family and my mother’s family was cut out of the newspaper and stored in a box. I asked my father what he was going to do with all of these, and he asked me to help him sort them. This aroused my interest in family history again, so where did I go – off to the library!
The local historical society’s library was a good starting point. I was fortunate as more than 50% of my family history is based in and around Burnie, but it was only a beginning. When I ran out of information, the beautiful old lady who managed the library sent me off to the local municipal library and from that moment on, I was hooked. I haunted that library so often that all the staff knew me, and we were on a first-name basis! These records that I acquired over the next five years were detailed and still remain as the foundation for the family tree I have created. Those microfiche records that I printed out, I then documented and even had them laminated, which was fortunate because it meant they survived a house fire I had eight years’ later.
Now, of course, my research assistant is not a library, but my computer. However, on a recent trip to Hobart from my home on the mid north coast of New South Wales, I took great delight in spending a lovely morning with my cousin and her husband who help run the Tasmanian Family History Society library at Bellerive, and two full days in the Tasmanian Archives – there’s still a certain feeling, actually being in a library!