From 28 to 31 March I was fortunate to be able to join almost 400 keen genealogists and staff working in the field at the 13th Australasian Congress on Genealogy & Heraldry hosted by the South Australian Genealogy & Heraldry Society and held at the Adelaide Convention Centre overlooking the River Torrens. Congress theme was ‘Your ancestors in their social context’. More than thirty librarians and archivists were present so the Congress presented a great opportunity to network and discuss common issues.
Victorian library contingent at the Congress, 30 March 2012. From left Kathy Smalley (Eastern Regional Library), Liz Pigeon (Yarra Plenty Public Library), Anne Burrows (State Library of Victoria), Elaine Craig (Whitehorse Manningham Regional Library) and Gail White (Eastern Regional Library). Photograph courtesy Elaine Craig.
With eight plenary and 61 general sessions over the four days there was much to choose from covering a vast range of family history related topics. Lunch and tea breaks could be well spent perusing the 24 stands in the Exhibition area. The National Library of Australia’s Trove stand proved a major hit with attendees. Their ‘I love Trove ‘ badge a coveted souvenir!
Some highlights :
Day 1 began with an enthralling presentation by American speaker Colleen Fitzpatrick, author of the well-known publication Forensic genealogy. Perfectly timed with the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic approaching, Colleen outlined the long process of identifying the unknown child whose body was salvaged from the ship in late April 1912. The child was a boy about 2 years of age, probably a third class passenger. Using a mixture of DNA and traditional genealogy techniques, they were able to finally solve the mystery after some 90 years. The child’s name was confirmed as Sidney Leslie Goodwin. A major clue proved to be the small pair of shoes worn on the voyage by Sidney and preserved at the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Canada.
Day 2 began with an excellent overview by Jenny Higgins Family History Reference Librarian at the National Library of Australia on ‘Using the resources of the National Library and Trove to understand your ancestors in their social context’. Jenny emphasised the importance of researching the social context of our families then went on to show how the wonderful National Library collections can assist with this research.
On Thursday afternoon 29 March academic historian and author Dr Noeline Kyle in a topic of great personal interest to me spoke of finding Australian women in the records and writing more creatively about them, especially convict, immigrant and Indigenous women. She summarised at the end of her paper
“… it is important to try and as family historians we are in a position to research, record, and write about our women ancestors who were brave enough to live the most extraordinary lives…”
The last day saw a focus on another major collection The National Archives UK given by Roger Kershaw, their Head of Military, Maritime, Transport and Family records. In April 2011 The National Archives launched the Discovery service which enables you to filter search results by subject, date, and series origin, as well as introducing map-based searching. The popular DocumentsOnline has been integrated.
In summary, the Congress was well organised, the Adelaide Convention Centre was a very good and modern venue, the South Australian Society were excellent hosts and given the number of papers hopefully there was something to interest everyone. For those unable to attend the 590 page Congress proceedings provides a detailed record of almost all papers. It was also good to return to my home town and catch up with former colleagues at the State Library of South Australia.
I look forward to the next Congress which is going to be held in Canberra in 2015 from 26 – 30 March and organised by the Heraldry & Genealogy Society of Canberra. If you can’t wait that long and are looking for a Victorian focussed family history conference watch out for Under the Southern Cross : a goldfields experience , Ballarat, 4-5 May 2013 under the auspices of the Victorian Association of Family History Organisations.
I’ll give the last words to Jenny Higgins from the National Library of Australia who perhaps best captures the theme of this year’s Congress
“… Social and historical context provides the material from which the family historian can construct a meaningful written family history…”