Another New Year – 2016 Has Arrived

This is my recap-the-year blog, perhaps more interesting to myself than to others.  But you never know!  It was a very busy year.

St Peters Anglican

St Peter’s Anglican Church, Hamilton Tasmania taken Sep 2015

Modern family events.

Two family members were lost to us in 2015.

One was my mother-in-law’s uncle who passed away at the age of 99.  He was determined to reach that magic 100, but missed by fifteen weeks.  I had never met him, unfortunately.

The second was a DNA match from England who was aged 97, another man I had never met but he was one of the few DNA matches with whom I had identified a common ancestor. His daughter emailed to inform me of his passing.  I feel privileged to have communicated with him in his exotic homeland of Somerset and of course his match data is still there in my list, as if he were still with us.

In happier news, one of my cousins was married and another cousin has become a mother for the first time.  Wonderful stuff!

My family tree research.

A step forward, a step backward and a whole lot of sidesteps.  Progress? Yes, since I am not at the same point for any direct ancestor.  Some of my research was wrong but at least I know that now. Much was correct. The old mysteries have been replaced by new mysteries. I think this is all we can ever say with regard to family history research.

The size of my family tree a year ago:

Tree Stats

Oh, those old days when I was such a newbie thinking I had a big tree! This is the current figure:

Family tree stat 02Jan2016

Not only is this new statistic of 40,419 people almost double the previous number, but I now realise that I have barely scraped the surface.

My original family tree objectives were

1) Identify every emigrating ancestor and their reason for emigrating.  

2) Track the families of those emigrating ancestors back through the unsettled 1800s to their true towns of origin,  since most families stayed put through the 1700s. 

3) Track those families back to the start of parish registers wherever possible

This seems neverending but all the easy ones have been completed.   When I find a new ancestor the latest plan is to add all the detail I can find, as far back as it takes me.  Even if it takes me back to Rollo the Viking.  Yes, I now have him in my tree, along with William the Conqueror and various Plantagenets.  But interestingly, not Charlemagne so far.

The new objective is to add all the descendants I can find from the tenth generation and closer.  This is what is swelling my tree.  So many of my DNA matches have small trees with limited information.  Initially I thought they would all fill out their trees as I have and we would only need to look for the identical ancestor.

St John the Baptist Ouse graves

Cemetery at St John the Baptist, Ouse Tasmania.  Most if not all of these individuals will likely have a place in my family tree.

Very few people do this, no doubt for good reasons.  I have much more success if I meet them halfway to themselves.  If I take my line back to England for instance to a couple in 1700, then add in all their descendants, eventually I will find some who emigrated to Canada, Australia, Trinidad or the United States.  Following their children for a few generations has netted me some confirmed cousins.   Thus the tree grows and grows.

That said, I’m not into data entry for its own sake.  The fun in finding a new relative is in properly ‘meeting’ them, learning what their childhood was like, how they met their future spouse, what their experience of parenting was, whether their old age was secure or a struggle.  These are the details which turn a statistic into a living person. The only point in bulk-entering families from census and BDM records is to quickly reach those living DNA matches.  I have a lot of tasks building up on my ‘to-do’ list by racing over these lives.

This is another of my objectives for 2016 – become better acquainted with the other descendants of my ancestors.

Rollo the Viking

Hrolf the Viking, apparently my 31st great grandfather.

By Imars: Michael Shea. CC BY-SA 2.5  creativecommons dot org/licenses/by-sa/2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

Genealogical DNA Testing

I have eleven kits to play with now, each showing about 800 matches. There is some overlap. Progress here is slow and very unsteady but I’m learning a lot about colonies and colonists, even if I’m not finding cousins.

For instance, in Australia in the 1850s there was a big melting pot where everyone’s DNA was thrown in together and mixed round till it was scarcely identifiable.  You can’t go by who was married to whom, and if any woman was widowed there, her children will emerge with DNA belonging to no one she was known to associate with.

This melting pot was called Ballarat and it is the biggest thorn in the heel of my DNA research.  If I trace an ancestor and find they spent any time in Ballarat at all, I may as well give up the whole game.

I won’t, of course.  I will one day overcome the Ballarat stumbling block which has now appeared in three completely unrelated kits.

Another  melting pot was Norfolk Island in its first incarnation as a penal colony.  A third was Cork, Ireland in the decades following Cromwell’s invasion.

Another visit to my home state

Those who have followed my blog for a while will know about our mystery relative.  This year I was thrilled to meet our relative and his wife in person.  No longer just a voice on the phone or an email correspondent, but more a part of the family than ever before.  Several of our family members met and it was a very great pleasure to see them all collected in the one room. This is one of the unexpected rewards of family research.

He is still a mystery, but we might have the answer.  A new tested kit, a few new matches and it all looks very promising.  I will be very pleased if DNA comes through for us in this matter.

Family History Photographs

Near Osterley

Old house near Osterley in central Tasmania

The final point of interest was during my visit to Tasmania when I finally revisited those areas which I often blog about – Hamilton, Ouse, Osterley and New Norfolk.  I now have the photographs I so badly wanted and they will appear in future blog posts with their respective ancestor or local history stories.

Next objective for this year – photograph some family history locations closer to home.  There may be some posts coming up about South Australia and the ancestral towns here.

So that was 2015. A heavy study schedule, a flood, a few heatwaves, a bushfire, a lot of data entry and a great deal of new DNA data to make sense of.

It will be interesting to see what revelations come to light in 2016.



A Small Part of the Ongoing Story

This blog has been and will continue to be a blog about local history and my ancestors, but every so often a current event occurs which warrants recording, particularly if it is an event which our ancestors may have also experienced. This entry, therefore, will be about our recent bushfire which has heavily absorbed the time and resources of our whole community for almost a month now.

Some context from the past, an account from the Midnorth district of South Australia (1867):

Stockport Fire 1867

“STOCKPORT.” South Australian Register (Adelaide, SA : 1839 – 1900) 23 Dec 1867: 3. Web. 1 Jan 2016 <>.

I like this update from the Stockport correspondent. He or she generally writes with more preparation and editing.  At the time of writing, the shock and fright come through clearly.

The above report might have been written about the Pinery fire experienced by the Midnorth on 25 November 2015.  Very hot strong winds and dry crops early in the process of being harvested.

People in rural South Australia are very aware of the risk of fire.  I had an appointment out of town on that day which I chose to cancel after seeing the wind. I learned later that several others made the same decision.  It was very clear that if a fire started, it would be difficult to control.  We all stayed glued to the fire service incident website and the RSS page feed. Farm units (farm vehicles fitted with firefighting equipment driven by trained farmers) were geared up just in case.  When the fire did begin it took about fifteen minutes to jump in status from ‘Advice’ to ‘Emergency Warning’ for the town closest to the fire.

Emergency warning

Emergency warning issued a mere fifteen minutes after the Advice message.

This is not common.  Fires are reported firstly as an incident, then upgraded to ‘Advice‘ which our fire service defines as ‘Fires that may pose a threat to property or public safety or events that may generate interest or involve a specific risk’.  This status means we should keep aware.

Next in the process is the ‘Watch And Act‘ which means the fire is proving difficult to contain. Residents need to be aware that they might be in danger.  A ‘Watch and Act’ is no joke.  This is when you need to assess your safety and defence capability.  Many people will evacuate at this point.

Finally comes the ‘Emergency‘ warning.  There are a few versions of this but all of them mean – ‘you are in extreme danger and need to take steps to ensure your survival’.  It’s too late to get out of town. Yes, a strong message.

For a fire to jump directly to this status is quite serious.  Our ancestors had no such warning system.  They might have smelled an occasional whiff of smoke, or maybe seen the fire from a distance, but they could only guess at its strength and speed.  They could only estimate its direction and wonder what would happen if the wind changed.

Fire at 11am

The fire from the main street of my little town at about 2PM

Our family lives in a house which does not provide good defense against fire, in a town which is not deemed a ‘fire safe’ town.  What’s more, our nearest ‘fire safe’ town was in the direction of the fire so probably not a good escape plan if needed.  At this point we had no warning regarding our own town, but obviously we needed to be vigilant.

Fire towards Alma

Fire looking northeast circa 2PM. The strong wind can be detected – sort of – in the branches of the eucalypt.

We packed the car ready for evacuation.  In went the family bible, the clock from my grandparents, our hard drives with all the family records, the wedding album.  It’s an interesting exercise, deciding what needs to go and what should stay.  I had a list prepared but at the last minute I changed a few items.  I’ll shout this one:  ANYONE WITH FAMILY HEIRLOOMS SHOULD KEEP A LIST!  In the event of an emergency the mind tends to go blank.  Things get forgotten.  A list written in a calm, safe moment and kept in an accessible place is extremely useful.  This was my first opportunity to test this piece of advice and for me at least, it works.

There were more emergency warnings but so far the fire was moving around us.

Pinery Fire Update 3

Warning at 1.34pm

Pinery Fire Update 3

Warning at 2.29pm

So there we were, not a breath of smoke in our town because the wind was blowing the fire away from us.  It was big, it was dangerous, the day was hot and a wind change was forecast.  The wind change was what everyone was waiting for.  Until that came it was too easy to run straight into the fire if we left home.

I would like to mention that our fire service was wonderful.  This was a fast, reactive and intense event and we received a lot of information.  I say this because after every natural disaster there is always a big enquiry with questions and accusations flying around.   The uncertainty was due to the weather and the unpredictable conditions around a wind change.

So we waited, knowing things were about to get very nasty.  Then suddenly at just a few seconds after 3pm it was there in front of us:

Fire front

The fire front at 3PM

It was truly a monster, a writhing, billowing mountain rushing purposefully towards us. The picture doesn’t really do it justice but it was huge and closing in on three sides.  Now of course, we knew which direction to take to get out.  We joined the stream of traffic fleeing our little town and headed north east.

Leaving home

Evacuating. Visibility poor

They were brave people, our pioneer ancestors.  They faced the firefronts with their lives and livelihoods at risk.  Without insurance or outside assistance, without a motor vehicle capable of travelling at high speeds, they had little choice but to go through with it.

Pinery update 4

After the wind change, a warning for us but we were on the road by now and well away. Note the new direction is ‘north easterly’.

Another report of the 1867 fire from Stockport:

Second account Stockport Fire 1867

“STOCKPORT, DECEMBER 19.” South Australian Weekly Chronicle (Adelaide, SA : 1858 – 1867) 21 Dec 1867: 3 Supplement: Supplement to the South Australian Chronicle and Mail. Web. 1 Jan 2016 <>.

Once again this report described our own fire.  It chased us halfway across the Midnorth.  We went to the evacuation shelter at Riverton which was soon placed under an emergency warning itself, but being a fire safe town we were in a defendable position at last.  As it happened, the anticipated cold change arrived and by 7.30pm the main roads into the fire ground had reopened to allow homeowners to undertake final fire extinguishing activities.  We headed back.

Tree on fire

Returning home

As the above article from 1867 said:

“a thousand lights may still be seen through the darkness upon the land over which the conflagration passed”

We saw this, for sure.  Unfortunately I don’t have a photograph, I had the wrong youngster manning the camera and I was driving. But we saw it! Spots of flame everywhere, flicking away on a black background as night fell.  Without knowing if our house was still standing, we drove deeper and deeper into the fire ground.

CFS Tarlee

Fire station: Scenes of activity after the passing of the fire

By some complete miracle – coupled I suspect with an efficient firefighting service and at least 22 water bombers – our house survived intact. Covered in ash, for sure and the smell of smoke was everywhere inside and out.  That’s nothing! We had a house, a property, our chickens were alive.  We had no power or water but we had a water tank so that was fine.  We had our battery-powered radio and heard about the two fatalities – one a mere eight kilometres from us – and the rising count of destroyed houses.

We went a few days without power and water, long enough to lose everything in the fridges and freezer.  Small fry compared to the losses of others.  We feel very fortunate.

Once the sun came up on the morning after our return an assessment of the region resulted in a new closure of all roads.  As a result we were stuck in our house without power and water and not very much canned food.  We were however not alone and it was one of those events which brings the community closer together.  On that first post-fire day, the smoke and ash was everywhere around us.

Smoke haze

Smoke and dust haze over the town

With spot fires constantly flaring around us, we heard sirens all day and half the night. We patrolled for embers and learned to tell the difference between fresh smoke and stale. We tried to console our neighbours who were spending their days killing their injured sheep, cattle and pigs. We saw a lot of dead sheep in paddocks too on that first day.  An awful sight, quickly removed.

I’m not going to post any photos of burned out houses because the event is still too raw for those who have lost so much.  There are plenty all around us.  Instead, I’ll finish with a few scenes from days after the fire when the roads reopened.

Still smoking

Still smoking days later

Horse float

Along the roadside. All occupants saved.


Burned out graders, harvesters and portable silos are also everwhere.


Ash and fields

Finally, here is another photo from the same position as one of the first photographs above:

After the fire

Showing how close the fire came.  Local firefighters and residents saved the town.

Our ancestors did a marvellous job of picking up the pieces. Despite reading the newspaper reports, the aftermath is hard to conceive at times. The continuing smoke, dust, livestock losses and need to treat injuries, water sources polluted with ash … and after the disaster, they rebuilt and still managed to leave us mementos and heirlooms.

How did the little town of Stockport manage after their fire on 19th December in 1867?  Here’s the report from that same correspondent for Christmas Day:

STockport christmas 1867

Christmas Day 1867, six days after the fire with many residents still homeless. That intrepid pioneer spirit.

“STOCKPORT.” Adelaide Observer (SA : 1843 – 1904) 28 Dec 1867: 3 Supplement: Supplement to the Adelaide Observer.. Web. 1 Jan 2016 <>.