Genealogy art

How to Use Do-It-Yourself Genealogy to Grow Your Family Tree

Pillar of the community or bloodthirsty cutthroat? What is hiding under your family tree?

Tracking down a mysterious ancestor once required some detective work. Now you just need a phone and an internet connection.

This means that if you put off a deep dive into your own legacy because it was too much work or time consuming, it might be time to reconsider.

Genealogist Merron Riddiford devotes her time to uncovering the histories of families in the western districts of Victoria.

She said the tools available to the amateur family historian have never been better.

Websites such as Trove are a great source of information, says genealogist Merron Riddiford.(Provided: Colac and District Family History Group)

“I started looking into my own family history at the Ballarat Library,” Ms Riddiford explained.

“I was using microfiche there and it was very slow. Obviously there were no computers then to do things at home. The graphics you had put together were all on paper.

“It’s amazing now. There are amazing websites you can go to now.

Start the search at home

Although technology has made detective work easier, one of the first places to start your investigation is at home, Ms Riddiford said.

“Start with what you know best, which is yourself, and work your way up from there,” she explained.

“From there you go to see your parents and grandparents, and other family members like aunts and uncles.

“If they can remember details about their own grandparents, that can also be a real boost. They can also go on dates.

“I started researching my family history about 30 years ago and it was probably hearing stories from my nanny about her family.

“Once you start, it’s very hard to stop. Eventually, I got down to looking at not only my own family’s history, but other families in the Western District as well.”

Family members can provide the first clues. A practical next step is to prove this information using government documents.

All Australian states have birth, death and marriage registers. All are accessible online, and many have tips on how to research your family history using their many online records.

Victoria’s Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages can be used to find information about Victorians if they were born before 1922, died before 1991, or married before 1962. Fees for actual certificates start at $60, but you can use the index and get basic information for free. .

More than names and dates

A complete family history is more than a collection of names and dates. There’s always more to the story that isn’t necessarily so easy to uncover.

If you know where someone lived, you can start digging into local history. Some of this history is lost, but through the work of volunteers, many communities have recovered and preserved the stories of their towns and the people who lived there.

The Victorian Genealogy website lists nearly 150 historical societies, from the Red Cliffs and District Historical Society in the northwest of the state, to the Mallacoota and District Historical Society — and the Bunker Museum — in the far east.

The Colac and District Family History Group is halfway through a project to digitize its entire documentary collection. When the project is complete, it will have around 400,000 entries.

Merrill O’Donnell, a member of the Colac and District Family History Group, said the group’s collection included hospital records that provided a treasure trove of information for the amateur family historian.

“They may not have the medical history, because it’s often confidential, but they do have the place of birth, and often the person’s age and religion. Sometimes they even have the name of the ship they’re on. are out.

“A person contacted us. They had heard that their great-grandmother lived in a small town near Colac. She hadn’t found any evidence and thought she might have just imagined it.

“We were able to find her name and determine who she married. We went through our records and found out that she was at school in Birregurra.

“We found out when she was there, where she was from, her exact date of birth using the Victorian Death and Marriage Register, the date she left, where she was going, who her father was and what was his profession.

“He’s an example. We can do a lot more than that.”

Two women scanning the Colac & District Family History Group database on a computer.  A woman points to the screen.
Diana McGarvie (left), president of the Colac and District Family History Group, and Robyn Currie, research officer, search the group’s extensive family database.(Provided: Colac and District Family History Group)

Skeletons in the closet

Of course, once you start digging, who knows what you might find.

Some amateur genealogists are happy to discover that they are descended from a civic leader of integrity. Others are shocked to find a darker story.

Merron Riddiford discovered several skeletons in his family closet.

“My great-great-great-grandmother Ellen Gamble, of Colac, died in a house fire in the 1880s,” she said.

“During further research on the Trove website and the Public Records Office of Victoria for court records, I discovered that she had been to Geelong Jail several times for drunkenness. She was a regular there. .

“She was a feisty Irishwoman who came out in the 1840s. She met her husband, they came to Colac as one of the first white settlers in the 1850s. Her husband was a brickmaker but Ellen was obviously quite the character.

“I tend to celebrate these characters rather than hide them.”

Where to dig:

  • bdm.vic.gov.au – Birth Deaths and Marriages Victoria
  • victoriangenealogy.com.au – the Victorian Genealogy website, which also provides a comprehensive list of links to regional historical societies
  • trove.nla.gov.au — Trove is the National Library of Australia’s online research portal. In addition to searchable archives, it also has digitized copies of newspapers from 1803.
  • westerndistrictfamilies.com – Merron Riddiford’s website, focused on families in South West Victoria
  • aiatsis.gov.au — Website of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies on Torres Strait Islanders. It includes a step-by-step method for researching your Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage
  • colacfamilyhistory.org.au – the Colac and District Family History Group website with hospital admission records from the 1880s
  • prov.vic.gov.au – the Public Record Office Victoria website has an extraordinary range of information including details on immigration, prison and legal records