Rarely a day goes by that State Library Victoria’s librarians don’t consult Trove. As Alex Gionfriddo outlined in his recent blog post, Trove is an indispensable resource for a wide range of research. You can find digitised newspapers and magazines, discover which libraries hold a copy of a hard to find resource, uncover pictures, maps, artifacts, and so much more.

We put a call out to State Library Victoria staff to share their favourite discoveries on Trove. From articles that revealed previously unknown details of their family history, to a bizarre ad for the film Frankenstein, their discoveries reveal what a rich resource for research Trove can be.

This is the first Trove article I found when I started looking at my dad’s family history. I never met my grandfather Trevor, he died quite young – when my dad was only 12.  

This article is about a baby carnival run by the Herrick Progress Association in Launceston, Tasmania. My granddad Trevor came second in the baby contest (having received 4,107 votes) and won a silver spoon and a pusher.   

Screenshot of a newspaper article with the title Herrick. Describes a baby carnival run by the Herrick Progress Association.
Examiner, 31 October 1923, p 6

This is a very specific example, but it really illustrates how fantastic newspapers can be for that adding that extra dimension, that extra colour, for your family tree. I don’t know all that much about my granddad Trevor, but I now I know that he was a really cute baby – which my dad finds very gratifying, he likes to think he inherited the ‘good-looking’ genes!

Kylie – Senior Librarian, Information Services

I was helping a patron who had recently discovered that her father Jack ‘Wiz’ Hanna started his career as a cartoonist in The Argus (in 1939) and was eager to find some examples of his illustrations. She had tried searching The Argus on Trove but had no luck, so decided to browse through the title on microfilm instead – a long, slow job.

Whilst she was browsing through the films, I tried searching Trove using variations of his name, but I only managed to find articles about him – no art work.

I then tried searching for just his surname Hanna and limited the results to The Argus and illustrations. Bingo – over 100 wonderful cartoons. The library patron was overjoyed to find so much personal information about her father and to see dozens of sketches. As each article and cartoon opened, she would give a squeal of delight, and was clearly so moved to discover an aspect of her dad’s life, which she had known nothing about. It really made my day!

Cartoon titled Pen Pictures of Personalities depicting six football players in a caricature style with large heads.
The Argus, 1 July 1939, p 16

Hanna was first introduced to Argus readers in 1939, with his weekend feature Pen Pictures of Personalities. He was described as ‘a promising young artist with a wandering disposition and a ready pen’ who would tour Melbourne ‘seeking out interesting people and sketching them’. In 1940 he began military training at Mt Martha and shared many sketches of army life. According to the DAAO he worked as a commercial artist in London 1948-61, before returning to Australia in 1962.

Ann – Librarian, Family History

My favourite Trove find was in researching my own neighbourhood, Footscray, when I was very new to the library. I found an article from 1917 in the Footscray Advertiser titled ‘The City’s Wild West’ in which a resident complained to the local council about the lack of paved streets in West Footscray, stating that the neighbourhood was a ‘lake of water’. The Mayor unhelpfully responded that it made the streets ‘A good place to keep ducks!’

Phizz – Senior Library Technician, History of the Book and Arts

Article titled 'The City's "Wild West"' describing a town hall meeting where the Tottenham Progress Association complained about the state of the streets.
Advertiser, 27 October 1917, p 1

I was looking for an article citation for a patron and getting distracted by old film advertisements, including one for Frankenstein promising 1000 pounds to the next of kin of the first person who dies of fright during a screening of the film (not sure if it was ever claimed or honored).

Angus – Senior Library Technician

Advertisement for a film titled Frankenstein depicting a monster in a suit holding his arms in the air.
The Sun, 9 May 1932, p 4

I found an article summarising a letter my great-great-uncle Stan wrote to his parents from the Front in France in April 1916 at age 22, reflecting on his experiences on the Gallipoli Peninsula – ‘he says that he gave up hope several times of coming out alive…but they all made the best of it and were always ready for a joke’. The conditions he describes are horrifying. Stan says he ‘is anxious to see his people again, but wants to see the war through first – he wants to do ‘his bit’’. You can hear his voice in the letter, his fear and fatigue, but also his determination and optimism.

I found another published letter from November the same year, saying that Stan had been missing since August 5, and that his watch had been found in the pocket of a deceased German soldier. His luck and optimism had run out. The letter was written by a friend of Stan’s, and describes him as someone he had ‘…never had a sign of an argument…never known him to loose his temper, always laughing and obliging. It is a big thing to say that amongst this hard swearing crowd, he was never known to swear, but by no means a ‘Wozer”. Without Trove I would likely never have found these insights into who my great-great-uncle was, that add such richness to the brief records and formal correspondence that can be found in his service record.

Kate – Senior Librarian, Information Services

A group of library staff are currently cataloguing a collection of photographic portraits taken by Vincent Kelly in Bendigo – the Rosenberg Collection. Trove digitised content, particularly the newspapers, has been invaluable in the research we are undertaking to identify the subjects of these portraits. The papers sometimes featured photographs, even better when they are Kelly photographs! The newspapers give us the ability to place a person in Bendigo at a specific time – through involvement in sporting, religious and community groups, graduations and more.

Photograph of soldier in a military hat and jacket. Text reads 'Killed in action, Sgt. E.J. Boyd, M.M.'
The Bendigo Independent, 23 September 1918, p 3

Photographs of soldiers were a regular feature during World War 1, and in researching a photograph of the Boyd family, I was able to find a corroborating image of Sergeant Edward Boyd, killed in action in August 1918. Queen competitions were a popular vehicle for community fundraising – the identity of the person in our photograph labelled Stritch, could be confirmed by this mention in The Advocate. Reports of weddings, graduations, musical performances – along with news and advertisements – all contribute to give us a rich sense of the community the subjects of the portraits dwelled in.

Jane – Librarian, Digital Access and Family History

When I joined SLV I started looking into my own family history as practice. I found a cute letter that my grandmother had written to ‘Aunt Connie’ in the Weekly Times in 1919. Aunt Connie had a regular section in the Weekly Times where she encouraged children to write in. My Grandmother, Ena, wrote Aunt Connie a letter about all her pets.

Jodi – Librarian, History of the Book and Arts

Newspaper article titled 'Ena's pets'. The text describes the various pets owned by a child named Ena.
Weekly Times, 14 June 1919, p 50

It’s not every day you find out you’re related to a film star, so when I discovered that my great great uncle was Australian silent film actor, Godfrey Cass, I went straight to Trove to find out more!

As usual, it did not disappoint. I found articles, obituaries, family notices, and even an account of fisticuffs between Godfrey and the doorman at the Sydney Opera House!

One of my favourite finds was a newspaper article titled: ‘Born in Gaol: And a Villain by Profession’, which draws a connection between Godfrey’s birth at Beechworth Gaol (where his father, J.B.Castieau, was governor) and his penchant as an actor for ‘playing the villain’.

The Sun, 4 August 1912, p 15

Some would say that Godfrey went on to play the ultimate villain when he was cast as Ned Kelly in the ‘The Kelly Gang’ film in 1920! Godfrey played Ned Kelly three times during his acting career, and family legend has it that he met Ned as a boy.

Sarah – Librarian, Information Services

Tell us about your favourite Trove discoveries

Do you have a favourite find from your searching of Trove? We would love to hear some examples of the treasures our users have found in the wonderful Trove database. We encourage you to share your discoveries in the comments below.

This article has 3 comments

  1. I discovered articles about my grandfather in Trove from before my grandmother met him. Had she read them, I might not exist. It’s a pretty grim story, but it made me realise how much information people could access just by simple searches in Trove.

    So I started a podcast called ‘In Those Days’ where I research an aspect of a guest’s personal history in Trove, and then read the article to the guest. The guest tells me about what they know from ‘real life’. I host the podcast with my funny friend Christina Adams.

    Our first episode was with my dad and it was similar to Jodi’s ‘Dear Connie’ letter. My great aunt wrote to Aunt Patsy in the Advocate.

    We also record at SLV – so thanks very much for the podcast studio!

  2. I discovered through Trove (just in time for the 100th anniversary!) that one of my favourite local walks was actually a privately built timber tramway from Gunn’s sawmill in Crossover. Our road terminated at the cutting for many years.

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