You can't just Trove it

The 460+ delegates preparing for the four day family history feast – Photo: Carol RileyOur staff had the pleasure recently of attending the 14th Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry held in Canberra at the end of March, 2015.  Here you will find the first in a series of discussions around the methods of family history research that were explored.

Families are made up of many people, set in the context of many places, and so family histories are made up of many ways of recording and documenting these peoples’ stories.

The Congress succeeded in showing delegates that:

There is not only one family.
There is not only one story.
There is not only one question to be asked.
There is not only one answer to the questions.
There is not only one source for answers.

A triennial event, the Congress was conducted under the auspices of the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations (AFFHO).  It was hosted this year by the Heraldry and Genealogy Society of Canberra (HAGSOC) between 27 and 30 March 2015.

Two Reference Officers from State Records attended the Congress, live-blogging most of the sessions we attended at the State Records Facebook page.  Watch this space over the coming months as we hope to expand on some of the top ideas.

The theme of the Congress was "Generations meeting across time", and the broad topics were:

• Crossing the great divide
• Building the nation
• Finding families
• Making the digital age work

Most participants at the Congress were individual members and active volunteers within local genealogical societies. Some research institutions and service providers were also represented. Speakers hailed from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and the United Kingdom, and included Cora Num (professional researcher), Colleen Fitzpatrick (DNA specialist), Paul Milner (author), Roger Kershaw (The National Archives UK), D. Joshua Taylor (FindMyPast and President of the Federation of Genealogical Societies US), David Rencher (FamilySearch), Dr Mathew Trinca (Director, National Museum of Australia), Richard Reid (author and historian), Grace Karskens (Associate Professor at UNSW) and Michael McKernan (military historian).

The topics covered broad discussions about the social history of Australia, how family histories are an important part of developing those stories, and specific methods in family history research. The presentations were sometimes light-hearted or deeply moving, but were always thought-provoking, practical and inspirational.

The kinds of resources on display in the presentations ranged from newspapers, private diaries, photographs, government records, online databases, transcriptions, DNA analysis, maps, research guides and indexes.

Each of these resources were shown to be available through a variety of media – online databases and portals, physical repositories, printed materials and human interaction!

As archivists from a government archive, the Congress provided us with an opportunity to see the resources and services we offer in a broader context. We were able to appreciate the connections that family historians can and need to make between records from various primary and secondary sources. We were reminded how different search strategies can assist researchers when they hit the ubiquitous brick wall.

It was well-demonstrated throughout the Congress that, while internet resources are a useful part of any family history journey, they are not the only vehicle. A lot of the valuable information is not yet on the internet and may never reach the internet. For a journey to continue, the researcher must look to sources such as archived or active government records, business, private and church records, local history collections, and oral histories. Drawing from these sources also requires seeking assistance from experts such as archivists, librarians, other society members, local historians and peers.

As wonderful as Trove is, you can't just Trove it.


A word about the authors: Kelly and Tamara both work in the Research Centre as Reference Officers and have regular contact with our government agency customers in their off-desk work.  They both also love family history so much that they made their own way to Canberra to join in the fun.

(Image courtesy of  Carole Riley)


I'm also a government archivist who made my own way to the Congress because of my love of family history. Hearing so many speakers from near and far was a great way to learn about what other archives, libraries and societies are doing from the perspective of a user of archives and as an archivist. There is so much expertise out there and so much more to learn!

Hi Janette, thank you for your comment...our colleagues were bursting with excitement on their return. We will have much to digest over the coming months and beyond.

No, but it's a wonderful start!!! As well as a means of finding some tid-bit of information which can lead to finding a record in government archives - and I am currently following up one such item. My husband, tired of long evenings with me at my laptop, suggested that he use his expertise to build a family history Website (unconnected to the commercial Sites, and not-for-profit) so that some 15 years of my researching, going through the family papers with which I have been entrusted as "family archivist" and scanning countless documents, are now able to published on our own Site. He was afraid that all this information about all our combined ancestors on both sides of our families may otherwise never get published as we are both age pensioners. It has kick-started me into actually writing the stories of individuals and we have just had the pleasure of our grandchildren actually asking to help ... they are mid-primary age, so hopefully their interest will grow. I also hope to get to the Unlock the Past seminar in Adelaide in October. The project has also got my husband interested in our family history - it's now a family project!

Thanks for your comments Wendy. Family histories certainly can be all-consuming projects when you get into them. We hope to be at the Unlock the Past event in October as well!
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