You too may have Chinese history

This Saturday 13 April 10.30 – 11.30 AM the GSV hosts a talk by Robyn Ansell on Chinese-Australian family history. It is not too late to book for her fascinating presentation. Robyn is a founding member of the Chinese-Australian Family Historians of Victoria.

You can book at the GSV website HERE.


Even if you have a Euro-centric (‘white’) Australian heritage going back far enough, to pre-Federation Australia, you may well have links with the story of the Chinese in Australia.

Ginger jars (Photo: W. Barlow 2019)

I have long-treasured a couple of ubiquitous glazed ginger jars that were always amongst the vases when I was young. Apparently they were a leftover relic from my grandfather.  My father’s chance remark once, that his father had spent his youth running around in the Chinatown of Bendigo, made them special to me. Years later I came across other family ancestors who were at the Mount Alexander (Castlemaine) goldfields in 1855. At that time one writer calculated that there were six Chinese for every five Europeans alluvial miners there. My great-great grandfather left probably to follow the gold to Yass, NSW and this put him there at the time of the infamous Lambing Flat Riots in 1861. You can learn a lot about the times from the history of the Chinese in Australia. 

Today my son and grandchildren are members of the Chinese Youth Society of Melbourne and will be performing inside lions at the coming Bendigo Easter Festival. 

Bill Barlow




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Help transcribe Chinese travel records into Victorian history


Volunteers are invited to help create a searchable index of the presently inaccessible records of Chinese travel to Victoria from 1904-59.

Robyn Ansell of Chinese-Australian Family Historians of Victoria (CAFHOV) describes below how you can help with this CAFHOV project, as part of the Australian History Festival.

Robyn will also be giving will a presentation on Saturday 13 April at GSV on ‘Chinese Australian Family History’. You need to book for this and more details are on our website



Sunday 5 May 2019 10.30 am to 4.00 pm

Details from 1933 for Tommy Hoy, Chin Sing Toy, Ah Yen, Ah Way and Doolah Mahomed.

What was the Certificate of Exemption from the Dictation Test? Between 1904 and 1959, customs officials recorded the details of Chinese and Indian Victorians who travelled overseas under a certificate exempting them from having to sit the notorious dictation test on their return to Australia. They recorded the names, ages, nationalities, occupations, residencies and shipping details of these people. Currently all of these details are locked away, unsearchable, unless you know the date of issue of a particular certificate. We plan to change that by creating a searchable index of these records and we’d like you to help!

Bring your laptop or tablet to the Chinese Museum in Melbourne and help us to transcribe the key details from these three registers using our specially designed online system.

The day will include two specialist talks.

  • Tips for undertaking Chinese Australian family history.
  • The historical significance of these registers.

You’ll also have the opportunity to explore the Chinese Museum’s five floors of displays about the history and heritage of the Chinese in Australia.

What will I do on the day?

You will be assigned some documents to transcribe and transfer to an online database. On the day, you will provided with all the training to help you with this task. We need people who can enter information into a computer and people who can read old style handwriting.

  • If you have both skills, we need you
  • If you are comfortable with computers but have little experience reading old script, we need you.
  • If you can read old script but don’t like computers, we still need you.

We will be helping each other as much as possible.

Where will this be happening?

Chinese Museum
22 Cohen Place,
Melbourne, Victoria

Entry by ticket to the museum ($11 / $9 concession).

For further information contact our Secretary:

Chinese Australian Family Historians of Victoria Inc.


[We are presently having some glitches with the email notifications of this blog to our subscribers, but you can always check via the GSV website for all posts. Our apologies for this, and I know if you are not being notified of new posts you may not see this one! Ed.]

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Talking about Leitrim and Irish orphan girls

Leitrim countryside. Photo: RedHotHeat [CC BY-SA 2.5 (]

Leitrim is a northern county of Ireland and is perhaps the most unspoilt. It is full of lakes and mountains and rugged scenery. After the Great Famine of the 1840s its population fell from 160,000 to 25,000 by 1996. Not surprisingly many exiles to the New World dreamt of returning to their home county.

 “Well I’ve travelled far through these great lands from the east onto the west
But of all the islands I have seen I love my own the best
And if ever I return again there is one place I will go
It will be to lovely Leitrim where the Shannon waters flow.”

(Last verse taken from the song “Lovely Leitrim” composed by Phil Fitzpatrick, a Leitrim exile in New York).

On Saturday 11 May, 1.00 pm, members of the Irish Ancestry Group (IAG) of the GSV will be discussing this county as part of a series working their way around the Irish counties.

And at 2.00 pm Ray Watson will speak about ‘Irish Orphan Girls in Today’s World’.

CORRECTION: The 11 May topics were incorrect in the recent issue of Ancestor journal (March 2019), for which we apologise to the Group, and should have been as above.

The meeting is open to all GSV members and IAG newsletter subscribers, but you can always join by going to the GSV’s website for more information HERE.


Ref: Song and information from Leitrim Genealogy Centre website

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Highlands Seminar coming soon

Coming up soon the GSV is privileged to host a Seminar on the culture, traditions and ancestry of the Highland Clans of Scotland presented by an international expert, Graeme Mackenzie of ‘Highland Roots‘, Inverness.

Glen Nevis (photo: Pauline Simpson, ‘Highland Roots’)

Friday 22 March 2019 10.00 am – 12.30 pm at GSV. 

Graeme’s seminar will cover:

‘The Culture and Traditions of the Highland Clans’ – the social customs, political practices and the often colourful traditions of the clans, and
‘Tracing your Ancestors in the Highlands of Scotland’ – the sources for genealogical research in Scotland, showing how they are used and issues regarding the use of Gaelic names.

Get in quick to book your place here on the GSV website


Clan and Family History in the Highlands

Graeme Mackenzie MA founded ‘Highland Roots’ ( in Inverness, from where it has been offering personal family history research for over 25 years. Graeme’s work as a clan historian and organiser of gatherings – for MacKenzies and MacMillans in particular – has given him a unique insight into the Highland Clans, past and present, about which he has frequently lectured in North America, and also in Australasia.  In recent years he’s taken the lead in the creation of the Association of Highland Clans and Societies which brings together over 45 clans and names in the Highlands of Scotland. 

Graeme’s genealogical journey is rich and varied.

Graeme Mackenzie

He won a scholarship to study history at Cambridge University, and after graduation taught the subject part-time while working in a number of other jobs, including pulling pints at the historic “Eagle” pub – where he created a cricket team and helped organise the Cambridge Pub and Social Clubs Cricket League. In the early 1980s Graeme created local music magazine “Blue Suede News”, and became a part-time presenter on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire. He was also involved for a number of years with the committee that organised the world famous “Cambridge Folk Festival”. In the mid-1980s Graeme’s BBC work moved into the production and presentation of music and current affairs documentaries, and in 1986-87 he conceived, researched, wrote, and presented a major ten part historical series – “A Power in the Land” – which looked at national history from a regional perspective, and was one of the first such series to be networked on local radio. 

It was whilst researching East Anglian families for this series that Graeme began to take an interest in genealogy; and this was eventually to lead him to return to Scotland to investigate his own ancestry, and to learn all the Scottish history he’d missed whilst studying “British History” at an English university. In 1989 Graeme set up as Highland Roots in Inverness with the intention of specialising in the history and genealogy of Highland clans. Though he’s subsequently had spells living elsewhere in Scotland – particularly in Edinburgh, where his father and grandfather were born – his spiritual home remains the “Capital of the Highlands” where he’s an active member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.  

In 1993 Graeme was appointed Curator of the Clan MacMillan International Centre in Renfrewshire, with a particular brief to organise the collection and publication of information on the clan’s history and genealogy (a connection stemming from his grandmother Catherine Macmillan who came from Glen Urquhart on the shores of Loch Ness). This involved building the first Clan MacMillan International website and creating Project MAOL (Macmillan Ancestry On Line). Graeme’s also been instrumental in organising a number of successful clan gatherings, with tours, talks, concerts, pageants, and ceilidhs – including significant fund-raising elements for the major charity that was founded in the early twentieth century by a bard of the clan; i.e. Macmillan Cancer Support

Since 1995 Graeme has acted as Seanachaidh for Clan MacKenzie, compiling material on Mackenzie genealogy from published sources and through research commissioned from him by individual clanspeople; and he served for two years as Chairman of the Clan Mackenzie Society of Scotland & the UK. In the course of his work as a professional genealogist he’s collected a considerable amount of information on other Scottish families and names, and is pursuing a particular interest in the nature of the Scottish clan, and the evolution of the so-called “clan system”. His involvement with clan gatherings has given Graeme considerable experience attracting overseas visitors to the Highlands, which has led to him being invited to join VisitScotland’s “Ancestral Tourism Group”. He’s also a member of the Clans and Families’ Forum set up in 2014 by the Scottish Government. 

Graeme was Chairman of the Highland Family History Society – an organisation with hundreds of members worldwide – from 2007 until 2013, when he was elected Chairman of the Association of Highland Clans and Societies. For many years he’s been attending Highland Games and Clan Gatherings in Canada and the USA to meet and talk to MacMillans and MacKenzies, and to give presentations and lectures on Scottish history and genealogy at Celtic Events and to Scottish Interest Groups. In 2014 he undertook a month-long lecture tour in New Zealand and Australia, whence he hopes to return in 2019. Graeme has written extensively on Scottish clan and family history.


This Seminar is not to be missed.

Graeme’s bio courtesy of Highland Roots website, accessed 28/02/2019.


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Beat the 16 Feb price rise for UK certificates and a new catalogue at PROV

In this post we pass on some news from our partners -near and far. The UK Federation of Family History Societies reminds us that, if we are quick, we can beat the 16 February Price Rise for UK BDM certificates. And, nearer to home, PROV (Public Records Office Victoria) is launching a new version of their online catalogue. You could assist them by providing feedback.




It’s not long before the cost of UK birth, marriage or death certificates and of the PDF versions will go up. On 16 February 2019 certificates will increase from £9.25 to £11.00. At the same time, the PDF version will rise from £6.00 to £7.00.

Don’t delay!

Work out which PDFs or certificates you need.

Send in your order (  before the last-minute rush.

Federation of Family History Societies UK



‘Hello history lovers, You are receiving this request for feedback because we value your opinion on archival research.

This week we launched a Beta version of our new online catalogue for the collection held at Public Record Office Victoria. We recognise this collection is vital for people seeking information about their family history and accessing public records.

Some of the new features include:

* Searching by several filters at the same time

* Viewing digitised records prior to download

* A cleaner interface to view Agency and Series descriptions

* A simpler interface to browse lists of items and series.

We are seeking feedback over the next few months about the features of this catalogue, which is why we have decided to launch it in Beta first. You can easily access the new online catalogue by starting your keyword search on our website and then switching the toggle at the top of the page to switch to the new catalogue interface. To send us feedback click on the feedback button on the top right hand side of the page.

Please take a look at this video introduction to our new online catalogue and send us your feedback.

Kate Follington, Co-ordinator, Communications and Online Engagement

e: – Phone 03 9348 5478 | 0412328632

Public Record Office Victoria, Victorian Archives Centre | 99 Shiel St North Melbourne VIC 3051


PROV News |


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‘The Married Widows of Cornwall’

‘The Married Widows’ is a term describing the wives ‘left behind’ by their husbands who departed England to seek work and/or new lives overseas.  The men usually intended to return home with an improved financial postion, or looked to establish themselves in new homes and communities and send for their wives and children later on.  This was not always the case, quite often the separations became permanent.

The concept of ‘left behind’ is also interesting.  This tends to imply a passive role for the women, but in many cases they were active participants in the decision, sometimes refusing to go, but more often agreeing to maintain the family at home until the whole family could eventually be reunited in better circumstances.

Dr Lesley Trotter, a historian and genealogist, has conducted extensive research on this phenomenon of family separation in 19th century Cornwall and sets out the findings in her fascinating book, The Married Widows of Cornwall: the story of the wives ‘left behind’ by emigration.  

What skills and resources could the wives and families turn to in the face of long term absences of the key family-breadwinners?  Were destitute wives forced into prostitution, or families bundled off to the workhouse?  Dr Trotter provides new perspectives and many first hand stories on how the wives and families survived at home while husbands worked overseas, some sending home money (and quite a few not), others dying overseas and more again drifting apart and never reuniting.  Dr Trotter uses a broad range of resources in her research and is still keen to hear from family historians with stories to tell of their own married widows.   Although the book is based on Cornish research, the findings resonate for those researching in other counties as well.

In talking to Dr Trotter, Stephen Hawke, the convenor of the GSV’s South West England  Research and Discussion Circle (SWERD) found that, from her research Dr Trotter knew of his great-great-grandfather’s wife and daughter left behind in Cornwall, but as he never went back she didn’t know the Australian end of the story.  Stephen observes that:

‘Her book has set me rethinking the family story and opened up some new aspects for research.’

The next meeting of the South West England Research & Discussion circle will discuss Dr Trotter’s book and how her findings relate to our own family stories or perceptions of Married Widows, those left behind when our ancestors first ventured to these shores.  It is often difficult to find women’s stories in family histories and Dr Trotter’s research is a valuable resource which helps bring their lives and voices to the fore.  Dr Trotter is keen to have feedback from discussion of the book and hopes that those attending this session can bring their own stories. The SWERD meeting (free for for GSV members) is on Wednesday 13 February, 12:30 – 2:00pm at GSV.


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Free family history software sessions for GSV members

A search of the internet for family history software will give you a multitude of programs to choose from. Do some research before you decide on the best program for you. Make sure that it suits your needs.

We will be adding a short introduction to family history software on the GSV website. One place to start your research is through VICGUM (Victorian Genealogists using Microcomputers) they can be found at VICGUM

VICGUM has arranged for free one-on-one help sessions for GSV members who are Family Tree Maker users. 

Each session will be 45 minutes and it is essential that a booking be made for each session.

Sessions will be held at the VICGUM office, Level 4 – 83 William Street, Melbourne and will take place on the 2nd Tuesday of each month in 2019, commencing on the 12th February, 2019. Numbers will be limited.

Session times will be :

Session 1     –     10:15 –  11:00 AM

Session 2     –     11:00 –  11.45 AM

Session 3     –     12:15 –  1:00 PM

Session 4     –     1:00 –  1:45 PM

Bookings are to be made by email:  Please include your name, preferred time, GSV membership number and your contact phone number.

Note:   If you are not using a family history software program then you can book for a general introductory demonstration.



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The New Poor Laws – post 1834: Talk this Thursday at GSV

Huge new workhouses were built across England and Wales after 1834 to accommodate and control the poor in accordance with the Government’s new poor law regime.  The regime was introduced in Ireland, and on a modified basis in Scotland, from the 1840s.  The workhouses and laws were deliberately harsh – and the impressions left by Charles Dickens and others attest to the living and working conditions of our ancestors who were inmates, workers or officers.

A talk at GSV this coming Thursday 31 January – 12 – 1 PM  – will introduce you to the New Poor Laws and the workhouses. See all details on our website NEW POOR LAW TALK. 

Stephen Hawke will describe the harsh laws, rules and living conditions that broke up families and institutionalised children; the scandals and lax government response; and what it was like to live, work and die in a workhouse. Find out how to use the records and resources at the GSV to discover if your ancestors were involved.

Children at Crumpsall workhouse 1897

The Book of the Bastiles (G Baxter, 1841) provides first hand testimony from inmates and others and records that families suffer the greatest destitution rather than submit to go into the workhouse. Tens of thousands were admitted each year. The Governor of Bath gaol reflected that former workhouse inmates far preferred prison residence, discipline and food to that in the workhouse.  In too many workhouses the gross overcrowding, maltreatment, starvation diets and corrupt practices by some workhouse managers compounded the misery for inmates.  In the 1840s a series of appalling workhouse scandals and deaths in Hampshire, Surrey and Yorkshire embedded a fear of the workhouses which prevailed until they were closed in the 20th century.

The New Poor Laws are important social history and for many of our ancestors the workhouses were a major factor in their departure for the Australian colonies.



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From the Keyboard of the President – January 2019


I am slowly getting into my role as the President and it is quite a learning curve. It makes me appreciate the job done by my predecessor David Down.

Last month I met with the President and the Business Manager of South Australia Genealogy who were visiting Melbourne. We compared notes on how to tackle a range of issues including ways to encourage new members, our numbers, how we digitise our paper resources and make them available to our membership, and how to encourage more members to volunteer. It is always helpful to exchange ideas and we plan to keep in touch.

Council is lucky to have very good support for our developing IT matters with Peter Johnston as a Councillor and Tom O’Dea as volunteer. We have updated servers and replaced computers. Last year we moved our network to a new content-management system. With this move we hope to build better links between our members database and other parts of our systems, so, for example, we can offer members better ‘at-home’ access.

Our blog has produced over 100 posts in the past 12 months, which we hope you find interesting and informative. We use this to give emailable members updates more frequently than we can by relying only on our quarterly print journal. So if you are changing your email address, please make sure you update it with the GSV. You can do this very easily through your member account online.

As print and mail costs continue to rise, Council will be looking at being able to offer our journal as an electronic version for those members who would accept this option and help us reduce our environmental impost. It is hard to see a time when our high-quality print version is not produced, but just as SLV offer the choice with their flagship The Latrobe Journal, and as many other groups now do, we will be looking seriously at this.

More space has been allotted in Ancestor in ‘Around the Groups and Circles’ to the increased number of Discussion Circles that were formed last year (North England, London, British India). We hope all the groups will use their space to let you know about their coming activities.

And on a personal note I have learned that when looking at the information about my AncestryDNA matches I should not forget to look at their ethnicity report. I was recently able to trace a new family line via a distant cousin on AncestryDNA. The ethnicity report included mostly British Isles origins but several West African locations were also mentioned. I am now exploring 19th Century records from British Honduras at the GSV and on FamilySearch. Fascinating where genealogical research leads you!

Jenny Redman – President GSV


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The War of the Roses is over! … and a preliminary report on what makes family historians tick

The new year is getting underway at GSV. Before you over-commit to all the things you will be doing in 2019, check the GSV Events program. There is plenty coming up of interest. Maybe you have done enough research and writing it up for others to benefit should now be the main focus. The GSV Writers group can help with this. 


It looks like the War of the Roses is settled!

Yorkshire is reconciled to Lancashire joining the GSV’s Counties of Northern England Discussion Group.

At the GSV the ‘Counties of Northern England Discussion Circle‘ is expanding. From our February meeting the Circle will be open to members who have an interest in researching ancestors who were born, lived or died in the county of Lancashire. Our next meeting will be held on Tuesday 12 February commencing at 12.30 pm. Come along and join in the discussions.


And what does make family historians tick?

Last year via this GSV blog we called on family historians to participate in a study of ‘what makes them tick’. This research – Motives and Profiles of Family Historians – is being undertaken by Susan Moore, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Swinburne University and Doreen Rosenthal, Emeritus Professor, University of Melbourne. Since retirement, they have focused on researching aspects of their own life stage (if that can be called retirement).

The researchers extend their thanks to all those who took part and they have prepared a preliminary summary of their analysis.

They are continuing to analyse their research and are intending to write a book, which will follow their previous books New Age Nanas: Being a Grandmother in the 21st Century (2012), Grandparenting: Contemporary Perspectives (2016) and in 2018, Women and Retirement: Challenges of a New Life Stage, and The Psychology of Retirement.

Nearly 800 participated in this study of family historians throughout Australia and a summary of their findings has been provided, from which the following snapshot has been taken.

Who responded?

The 775 who completed surveys were aged between 21 and 93 years, with the average age being about 62 years. The large majority (85%) were women, probably a reasonably accurate reflection of the gender imbalance in this area. Most participants were married or in a long-term relationship (72%) but 12% were single, 11% were divorced or separated and 6% were widowed. Most were born in Australia (92%) and the rest were born overseas. Just over 80% had at least one child, and just over half had at least one grandchild. Interestingly, 22 people in the sample (about 3%) were adopted or conceived via donor egg or sperm.

Interest in family history

The researchers report: ‘Interest in family history was intense among this group. Participants spent on average around 6 to 8 hours a week on their hobby, but some spent many hours longer than this. A few indicated that family history research took up most of their waking hours. More than half (59.5%) assessed family history as more important or much more important than their other leisure pursuits.’

From their initial analysis of the respondents it appears that our main family history activity is working on our family tree (98% – sometimes or often). Whilst 70% of us write about it for the family, only 22% of us convert that writing to magazine articles or blogs.

Almost all of us (95%) talk to the family about our findings and about half of us admit to sometimes, or often, talking about it ‘even if people seem bored’. At least that half recognises this (there could be more that don’t even notice). It is not a money-making business – only 5% of us sometimes or often ‘do paid work’ in family history.

The planned book about us will be interesting. It may even help us think about how we promote the benefits derived from an interest in family history to those who are less represented: younger people, those born outside Australia … and men.


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