Finding Family Secrets

Who are you really?

When we look at research on who we are, we discover there are two major theories to follow. One theory says that we are the sum of what we have learned over the years. So from our earliest years we generally learn to speak a language. If we are born in another country, we will learn a different language. So there is some truth in this theory.

The other theory is that we are what we have inherited from our parents. That most of what we do, and the way we act and think is determined by the combination of genes we get from our parents. The problem is we can’t do much about who we are, if it’s all inherited. So usually psychologists come to the conclusion we are somewhere in between these two positions.

The Criminals of the Past.

Whatever your view of who you are, there may be some interesting people in your family tree from whom you have inherited at least some traits. I found my great grandfather was convicted on larceny charges a long time ago. Nobody in the family ever spoke about that “secret” to me and it became something buried in the darkness of history.  Maybe that explains a lot about me and the work pens I have collected over the years! Unlike others in his lifetime, he wasn’t given a free ticket to Australia and eventually my dad had to pay part of his own fare to get here on a sponsored immigration ticket. All my great grandfather got was a fine and an order for restitution.

Where to Find the Secrets

Many families have secrets like that. So how do you find them? You can join Ancestry.com and start putting your information in there. When you put in a few people’s details you can search and find other details. Then within a few days, Ancestry will find other facts for you (which you need to make sure they are real facts about your relatives) and you can accept or reject them. Ancestry costs a few hundred dollar a year to become a member but you can find information like birth and marriage records from churches in specific places and birth, marriage and death registry records.

You can also do the same with the FamilySearch website owned by the Mormon church. Again, if you enter some details of the people you know, they will help you find other connections and you can fill out your own family tree. Family search is mostly free and can provide you with a lot of family history to fill in your family tree at no cost. But when you try to access some information you will need to pay.

Of course, there’s lots of these sites around – some with computer programs to give you local access as well. Some are better than others and some are restricted to certain areas of the world. But either my family have been very good people (or they got away with a lot of things), or these websites don’t provide much information on criminal convictions.

However, if you have a couple of generations of family in Australia, there is another place you can go. It’s the national library website – Trove.nla.gov.au . This is the best place to find out those secrets that no one told you about and it’s free. Here harry-elmar-portraityou find historical information from journals, books and newspapers in Australia. You can often find death notices, sometimes birth notices or marriage notices and especially notices or articles about actions in criminal or civil courts. You can also find some photos and links to other archived websites that may contain the name you are looking for.

Using Trove.

When you start Trove.nla.gov.au the first page gives you a search bar into which you can enter the names of the people you are looking for. I searched for my wife’s great grandfather “Harry Elmar Johnson” and got thousands of results. They gave me every result in which “Harry” appeared (lots) as well as every one where “Elmar” appeared and “Johnson” (lots). Obviously, most of them weren’t of interest to me or even about the right person. So next I did the same search with the words in quotes “Harry Elmar Johnson” and that returned only 5 Newspaper results – all about the correct person.

Using Advanced Search.

If you are still getting too many wrong results, you can select advanced search. This opens a window with lots of options. If you add the name to the “All of the words” search bar, you will only find articles with all of those words in them. In my case I found lots of notices but when I placed the words in quotes, I found the same five articles as before.

Now I suspect there are more articles for Harry Elmar Johnson but many won’t use his full name. So the second search I did was only for the first and last name. But because, there are a lot of Harry Johnsons, I get back many results – most about some other blokes. Now I need to limit the search date by entering the years he arrived in Australia and the year of his death.

Limiting the search.

Next I can then limit the results to newspapers in Queensland and select the newspapers I actually want to search.  In this case I searched the Morning Bulletin from Rockhampton since he lived most of his life in that area and the Courier Mail in case he appeared in a Brisbane court case. He didn’t but his wife appeared in a case about the licence to slaughter animals on the property.

Ignoring Obviously Wrong Things.

In advanced search you can also select to ignore any article with a particular word – for example there are lots of articles about a Harry Johnson who owned a Hotel (not any relation) so I excluded the articles with “Hotel” in it hoping he never got into a fight in a hotel!

Reading the Story.

When I find a story that looks correct, I click on it and will take you to a window where the text is displayed on the left and the actual article on the right. I can enlarge the article so I can read it better but because the article was scanned by a computer and turned into text “automatically” there are often many mistakes. But you have the chance to correct the text and make it better for everyone.

So begin your search in Trove and enjoy pursuing your long lost relatives. You never know, you may even find your relatives had a criminal past or lots of land or money or something! Maybe you actually own sometime of significance somewhere and they are just waiting for you to claim your inheritance! Well you can always live in hope.

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