The second presenter of Family History Feast was Diana Hookham, with her talk
‘Lost in translation: anecdotes of family history research in Africa, Turkey and Sicily’.

Diana’s husband comes from a truly multicultural family. He was born in Sudan, his parents were born in Cairo and the family is of Armenian descent. She has spent many years researching his family tree and her talk focused on her and her husband’s family history journey. Their quest has so far taken them to Cairo, Italy and Turkey. They have experienced good and bad luck and have found an incredible amount on some lines and very little on others. Despite the varied results, the quest for information was an incredible experience in itself and well worth pursuing.

The journey was not always easy. Roadblocks included issues with security and trust. They were treated with suspicion by many priests and officials and in a lot of cases needed an introduction to obtain records. This they didn’t always have. Language was also a problem and they were required to organise translators.

There were also incredible moments. One small village in Italy, who rarely receive tourists, were incredibly accommodating. The local police officer, the mayor and the town’s librarian all got involved with their quest to find information.

Diana’s husband also visited the Cairo house that his grandparents had lived in. With a little hesitation, he knocked on the door and found a distant relative living there! He received a tour of the house, met a new relative and was able to hear stories about his grandparents.

Street in Cairo

[Street in Cairo]
Creator: T. P. Bennett photographer
Date: 1915
Accession no: H83.103/

With her vast experience Diana also has some great tips for those researching overseas ancestors.

First of all, talk to relatives! Diana acquired a great deal of information from documents held by her in-laws. This included copies of certificates which gave vital clues like the place and date of birth of her husband’s grandparents.

Her next tip was to obtain Australian records before pursuing overseas collections. One of the tricky things about overseas research is often you need to know more than just the country or region that a person was born in. In a lot cases you will need to know what village they came from. Documents in Australia may give you this information (for example, immigration and citizenship records from the National Archives of Australia). These records are often full of rich information which can help you trace the person back to their country of origin.

Another great piece of advice was to write up your research before you forget! Diana used the plane trip on her journey home to get a start on this.

As with all family history research, the quest is ongoing. Who knows what Diana and her husband will find in the future.

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