Friday, 26 September 2014

British Newspaper Archive

You'll have to be quick, but the British Newspaper Archive has a special deal at the moment. If you enter the code "SEPT14" you can get a month's access for only £1. The British Newspaper Archive is a fantastic resource - you can access scanned newspapers from all over Britain dating back over 200 years. I have managed to make some fantastic discoveries about my ancestors, dredging up stories that really help to flesh out their lives. I don't know how long the promotion will last, but going off the code I would expect it to be only available until the end of the month, so you better be quick if you want to take advantage of this.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Rebuilding my tree. Again.

With a family tree containing over 200 people, over 400 sources and nearly 500 images, why would anyone be foolish enough to start over? Well the answer is simple - the 400 sources and 500 images.

While I was much more diligent with my sources in compiling this tree than I was the first time around, I was not always diligent enough. I have at times revisited people in my tree only to discover that I had not always recorded the actual source of some of the documents I had gathered. There have been occasions when I have found myself asking certain questions: Did this scanned image come from Ancestry? Familysearch? Or some other site? What was the URL/URI for this source? Even what query parameters did I use to find the information? As a result I have decided it would be a good time to go back and (re-)confirm my sources and update the information where I can.

Another significant factor in this rebuild is the sheer number of documents I have been collecting. I have nearly 500 images stored with my family tree - documents ranging from birth, death and marriage certificates, parish registers, newspaper articles, scanned historical texts, photos and more. The size of these documents is becoming unweildy - my family tree database is nearly 1.5GB in size. While this size is not an issue on my desktop, it is becoming a problem on my iPhone and iPad.

I use MacFamilyTree on my Mac and MobileFailyTree on my iOS devices. The two apps work together and share the database, so all my work on my desktop is available on my iPhone and iPad. while this works great the size of the images and pdf files is becoming a problem, so I would like to resize the images where possible to provide a more streamlined experience.

Rebuilding my tree will allow me to resize images and documents to a more manageable size, reducing the storage required on my iOS devices and speeding up transfer times when I update the database. I will naturally be keeping the original images in folders on my desktop and only using resized images in the apps. This will also give me an opportunity to find and remove duplicate documents, which will also help reduce the storage space required on my devices.

As part of this process I will be implementing a new (digital) filing system to help aid discovery of documents and reduce file duplication. I have already devised the new filing system and will be writing a post explaining it shortly.

Maybe I am just creating more work for myself, but I am actually looking forward to rebuilding my tree. Who knows, by revisiting each ancestor and reverifying sources I might even break through some of the brick walls that stymied my research efforts in the past?

Monday, 22 September 2014

How I got hooked on researching my family history...

I came to start researching my family history via a rather circuitous route. It wasn't due to an interest in family history, rather it was football that started the ball rolling. But not due to any family ties to football as I'll soon explain.

Around 2011, I was deeply involved in football (real football - Australian Rules Football, aka AFL) and I regularly kept up to date with several fan forums. In one of the forums someone posted a link to an archive of old Football Record magazines dating back to 1912 which had been scanned by the State Library of Victoria. The Football Record is a match-day magazine that contains football news and articles along with team lists for games being played each weekend. As a fan of Australian Rules Football I was interested in seeing what some of these old magazines were like and what stories they may contain. Normally my interest might have petered out here, but I showed my father the archives and he mentioned that Les Lobb, the father of a friend of his, once played for the Collingwood Football Club. My interest reignited, I set out to see if I could find any issues of the Football Record that mentioned Les.

It didn't take me long to discover the games that Les played and the associated Football Records, which I duly copied and gave to my father to show Arthur. The Football Records had very brief mentions of Les (who only played a handful of games in the 1920 season) so I wondered if I might find some more details elsewhere. A short bit of Googling later and I had stumbled onto a veritable treasure trove of scanned newspapers at the appropriately named Trove website run by the National Library of Australia. Here I found old newspapers that had been scanned and I soon discovered issues with match reports for the games Les Lobb played in, all of which Arthur was most grateful to read.

Now having found the newspaper archives, I started to wonder if I could find any mention of my family in the papers. The first search I did was for "Amos Bannister", which is not only my name, but that of my grandfather and great grandfather. Lo and behold, this first search returned an article describing the theft of a pony and cart from Amos Parker Bannister of Burnell Street, West Brunswick - the very house my grandfather and great grandfather lived in. Given the date of the article (1924) this had to be my great grandfather. I was interested to note that three other results listed related to the estate of a George Amos Bannister and were dated 1882. I showed my findings to my father and he told me that George Amos was my great, great grandfather.

This was all it took, I was now hooked. I started doing more searches, trying to find more articles about my ancestors and before long I had a nice collection of newspaper articles that told the story of my family in Melbourne. Around this time I remembered a book my cousin James had compiled containing a family history which he presented to members of the family at a family reunion back in 2004. I dug out my copy of the book and started to go through the names and searching for any references in the newspapers. I had no clear direction with this, I was just bouncing from one relative to the next, plugging random names and places into the Trove search engine to see what I could find.

Over time I started to look at producing my own family tree and started looking into genealogy software and websites. My first attempts at a family tree were somewhat rudimentary and lacking in any real rigour. I was just collecting names and dates and plugging them into some software and it took me a while to realise I had been going about things the wrong way. So I threw away most of what I had done and started to more thoroughly research my family tree by taking care to (attempt to) verify and document my sources as I went the second time around.

After a few false starts I sought out some advice from various genealogy websites and magazines and I think I almost know what I am doing now. I have managed to trace the Bannister line back to the early 18th century and for some bizarre reason have decided to start over again. I won't be throwing away my research to date, but I want to revisit each person in the tree I have built up and re-verify sources to make sure I haven't accidentally cross-linked someone. I will try to document my progress and the reasoning behind some of my decisions in this blog as I go along.

Sunday, 21 September 2014


This blog was lying fallow so I guess it's time for a reboot... I've been working on some software to help my genealogical meanderings, but it is still a long way from being ready for public consumption. Heck, it's a long way from private consumption! In the interim I have decided to start over with my family tree (again!) and have been working on a new file management system to make keeping track of my (digital) files and folders easier. (I will make a blog post about my file structure over the next few days.)

Anywho, I've decided to start fresh with not just my family tree but this blog too. Hopefully this time around I will remember to post on a more regular basis. ;^)