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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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 |


Post expires at 4:59pm on Tuesday 11 June 2019

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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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Beyond the web – a research story

At the last meeting for the year of the GSV Writers, we considered topics for next year’s writing exercise. Members are invited to try writing about a particular topic such as a family object, a place or a journey. One suggestion, that we write about a particular research experience or archive, reminded some of us of Kath McKay’s story of visiting the archives of St Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat. Her memory of researching by an open fire warmed our hearts. Though this is a bit unseasonal, it might encourage your research over the holiday period ahead – if you can fit it in between more immediate family festivities.


Beyond the web

Much as I love my computer and the internet, some of my most precious family history knowledge has come from being able to seek out original documents.

In spite of searching for decades, previous family historians had not been able to find the marriage certificate of our great grandparents: an Irish coach maker and a young maidservant from Wiltshire. We knew they had about ten children in the 1860s and 1870s in Ballarat, but didn’t have a clear record of the children’s names, births or even number. Online indexes didn’t help a lot.

Then I had a little brain-wave. I knew that branch of the family were all Catholic so I contacted St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Ballarat to enquire about records. They eventually replied saying they had all their original records but none were digitised or indexed. However, I was most welcome to come and look for myself.

St Patricks Cathedral, Ballarat (Postcard, Ballarat Historical Collections, Gold Museum. Visit

So one freezing July day I took the train from Melbourne to Ballarat. In the cheery Parish office, warmed by a fire in the hearth, I pored over the huge leather bound tomes brought out of the archives by the Parish Secretary. These are daunting books indeed, nearly a metre by half a metre and several inches thick. They record the births, marriages and deaths of the parishioners, documented in careful copperplate with pen and ink on parchment. I had a fair knowledge that the first child was born about 1860 and the last, my long-dead grandmother, in 1877. So I started with 1860 but it revealed nothing, nor 1861, 1862 and on through the whole decade. The Secretary cheerily brought volume after volume and the piles grew around me. She also kindly made me several cups of tea.

By the time I got to the 1870s with nothing, I was beginning to doubt all I had believed about this branch of our extended family.

Then I found them! In the late summer of 1875, two little girls were baptised, one aged two, the other six. At last! I had found something! Then I turned the page and found the death record for the little six-year-old who had just been baptised days before. Most of the rest of the page and many after that, were taken up with deaths of little children – all from measles in an epidemic that must have swept Ballarat in those early days before immunisation.

Another few turns of the giant pages and there were the rest of them! Five children baptised together, boys and girls aged from 1 to 14 in one job lot! Another page turn and there was the death of the first baptised little girl, the two-year-old. This was followed quite quickly by the baptism of a new baby. Our poor great-grandmother was pregnant when she was nursing, then burying, two of her little daughters. Sad times indeed.

But I still had not found the object of my original search, the marriage of my great-grandparents. More volumes, more page turning. And, finally, in January 1877, after they have had ten children and lost three, this pioneer couple marry. We had been looking in the wrong decade!

A few months later, in April 1877, their new, and last, baby was baptised: a daughter, my grandmother.

Kath McKay


This article was first published in ‘Fifty Plus Magazine’.

Post expires at 4:03pm on Monday 24 June 2019

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DNA Discussion Circle meets in January. GSV closed 22 Dec – 1 Jan

Even though lots of things don’t happen in January after our hectic Christmases, life actually keeps on going!  Just like the DNA DISCUSSION CIRCLE  which will have a meeting in January on Wednesday 9 th. at 10.30 am – 12 pm, as shown in our latest Ancestor journal in ‘Around the Circles’ (but unfortunately missed out in the ‘What’s On in January’ section. Our apologies. 

You can find out more about this interesting discussion circle on our website HERE.


Later in January the Early English (the Discussion Circle, that is)  will meet on Wed 23 and London Research on Thurs 24. 

The following week on THURSDAY 31, Stephen Hawke will talk on New Poor Laws – post 1834.

Plan your January and see the website to book and find out what other Classes and focussed research assistance is available (Scotland and Ireland).



Post expires at 10:57am on Wednesday 7 March 2018

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The past year at the GSV

A big welcome to Jenny Redman, who was endorsed as our incoming President at the Genealogical Society of Victoria AGM in October.

Our thanks and congratulations are extended to David Down for all his work for the Society in his term as President. David was also the inaugural contributor of this blog from the ‘President’s Keyboard’.

Jenny started her career as a pharmacist, but later moved into Psychology. She studied for a PhD at La Trobe University then moved to an academic position at Monash University researching the circadian timing system and its effects on sleep and drug effects.

Later in life she decided to pursue her lifelong interest in history, and became a keen member of the GSV, joining the Council in 2013. 

Jenny has a keen interest in DNA and has played a major role in the planning of the GSV’s series of DNA events. She is the presenter of several of the forthcoming talks and tutorials on that subject.  [Ed.]


From the Keyboard of the President – November 2018

I am looking forward to our coming year at the GSV. In particular I am keen to further develop what the GSV provides digitally, and to reach out to the diverse ethnic communities in our population. There are lots of opportunities for us to help people find and tell their stories.

The GSV’s Annual General Meeting was held in October. For those members who did not happen to read the Report and Financial Statement some extracts are given below. Members can view the full reports on the website.


Under David’s leadership, last financial year was one of consolidation. We concentrated on regular engagement with new members, increasing our education activities with the introduction of new Discussion Circles and a DNA for Family Historians program, and embarking on a program to upgrade our IT infrastructure.


Our long-standing Vice-President, Tony Arthur retired. Tony’s service over many years as both President and Vice-President has been highly valued especially over our move from Collins Street to our current location. Claire Johnson also retired after many years of service and we are very grateful to her as she has continued to stay heavily involved in our Volunteers and IT programs. Leonie Loveday, Margaret McLaren and Michael Rumpff were elected to Council for two-year terms.

Staff and volunteers

The Society has three staff members and now has 182 volunteers, with 12 new volunteers this year. They contribute as library and research assistants, in digitising and scanning family histories, indexing hospital and cemetery records, in administration, producing Ancestor, maintaining the library collection, and in education, IT, digital media and communication and the three special interest groups of International Settlers, Irish and Scottish. The GSV extended its grateful thanks to each one of you for the role you played in this work.

Our library collection

Our core collection of specialised family history assets is held at the Centre. We have continued to add resources such as journals from Family History Societies from around the world and our catalogue now holds over 105,000 indexed entries from these journals.

Cemetery Records: The Society holds a very large collection of transcriptions of headstones of almost 800 cemeteries throughout Victoria. Of these about 75% have been indexed. Our cemeteries database now contains over 840,000 records from 605 cemeteries and 232 of these have the index page attached to the record and are searchable by members from home.

The Genealogical Index of Names (GIN): The database continues to expand and now contains nearly 3.5 million Australian and overseas records.

Approximately 1,300 histories are now available for viewing on the PCs at the Centre.

We completed the indexing and published ‘Occupiers and Owners of Property in Richmond for 1857 to 1902′ with over 360,000 names.

A snapshot of our activities for the past year:

  • We expanded the number of Discussion Circles to seven, adding British India and London. The Northern England Circle now includes Yorkshire.
  • Our ‘DNA for Family Historians’ seminar in November had 100 attendees and many others registered on a waiting list.
  • Our journal Ancestor won the Nick Vine Hall competition for the best family history magazine/newsletter in Category B, societies with over 500 members (having become eligible again after our win in 2015).
  • We are steadily expanding our social media presence to communicate better with our members and the wide public. We updated the website, published 157 posts to our Facebook site (1,890 followers), 50 blogs  (20,183 visitors /50,602 visits in the year), and hosted discussion of family history writing on the Writers Circle’s closed FB site (52 members).

So it was a busy and interesting year at the GSV.

Jenny Redman, President GSV


The GSV Council Members are:

President: Jenny Redman

Vice-Presidents:Penny Wolf and Peter Johnston
Secretary: Vicki Montgomery, CA FGSV
Treasurer: Stephen Hawke


Janne Bonnett
Erna Cameron
Lorna Elms
Robert Gribben
Leonie Loveday
Margaret McLaren
David Down
Michael Rumpff
Simon Foster.

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Old Poor Laws pre 1834 talk tomorrow Thurs 29

There is a great opportunity to get the background to the Old Poor Laws pre 1834 and how they may have impacted your ancestors.

See the details of the talk on our website here

Presenter: Stephen Hawke.

Before Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1536-9, the monasteries took care of the poor in England and Wales. With the monasteries gone, this responsibilty was shifted to each parish. An entire system of laws and documents grew up around caring for the poor. For the researcher, these documents can be invaluable in tracing migration of families, both poor and not poor, in England and Wales. Poor law documents can also reveal family relationships as well as giving insight into living conditions of ancestors. Poor law records are also known as parish chest records. This is because a chest kept in the church or the priest’s house was used to store parish records.


Post expires at 5:00pm on Thursday 29 November 2018

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