A-studying we will go

I like to think of myself as relatively widely read, somewhat intelligent and borderline academic. The reality is I can easily become obsessed by a book/books/journals/articles/other ready-type things, I am probably more smartarse than smart and have delusions of grandeur when it comes to my academic capabilities.

I like writing, but I’m not a prolific or fluid author. My writing is a lot like my thoughts – random, haphazard, often long-winded and sometimes very confusing. Editing is difficult because I always want to move onto the next big thing. I’m definitely more of an orator. If you put me in a room in front of hundreds of people and ask me to read something or talk freely on a subject, I’m in my element. Ask me to write a paper of tens of thousands of words and I’ll attack it with gusto, but will probably lose steam some point around the 35% mark, get frustrated and end up handing in something that probably could have been a lot better.

So, why in the hell am I now a postgraduate student, knowing that I need to write coherently, edit my work and not allow myself to ramble?

I clearly like a challenge.

Studying with cookies and coffee is the only way to go

Some months ago, when I sat and thought about what I want to be when I grow up, I came up with (and quickly dismissed) a few ideas: cake maker (love it, but don’t like sharing); embroiderer (good at it but the eyes are going and I get the weirdest cramp in my butt from sitting for long periods of time); or continue along my current career path and be queen of customer support.


I’m very good at what I do. I can turn a department around from providing shit customer support to providing stellar customer support. I can motivate people and teams and build team spirit. I can speak, with authority and humour, about customer support at conferences. I’m also a star at networking.

But I don’t love it.

Me, not loving it


When I was younger, and first embarking on the genealogist’s journey, I researched my Great-great-uncle Olaf Milford Johanson. I’ve mentioned him here before. He fought in WWI in France, died during the Battle of the Somme and is buried there.

Researching what happened to him took me through many journals and books about WWI history. It also put me in contact with experts on military history and particularly experts on the Battle of the Somme. Through talking with them, reading and piecing everything together I managed to work out pretty much exactly what happened to him, how his body was lost for 14 years, and why he was laid to rest in the Serre Rd cemetery.

Thanks to this research, networking and puzzle completion I was able to visit not only his grave, but the site of the battle in which he was killed. It was such a palpable experience and linked his memory to my inner core so resolutely that from that moment on I not only researched pedigree, but also the lives of the people in my ancestry.

So many people, so much potential

The human touch of history can be found all around us, and is the subject of countless documentaries, papers and books. The human touch of family history is what fascinates me, and understanding how the lives of my ancestors (or the ancestors of people for whom I am conducting research) is interwoven with great (or not so great) historical events is a source of constant fascination (and dare I say, obsession) for me.

By beginning my formal studies in this field, I not only hope to (but know I will manage to) strengthen my knowledge and practical experience of genealogy, palaeography and such. I also hope to one day utilise my other skills (especially the skill of being a chatterbox) to share my knowledge with others and dispel the oft-held notion that genealogists and family historians are elderly men and women wishing to prove they are descended from royalty and who spend their time harassing local archivists and librarians. 

Just as people nowadays wish to document their thoughts and lives through blogs and social media, I wish to document the lives of people in the past. By getting to know the individuals better, so grows our understanding and appreciation of the impact of greater historical events on humanity.

WWI – Olaf Milford Johanson – The Enlistment

One hundred years and ten days ago, my great, great uncle Olaf Milford Johanson enlisted for service abroad with the Australian Imperial Force.


He enlisted at Claremont in the state of Tasmania, which is 26km from the town of Cambridge, where he lived. Both towns are now suburbs of Hobart, the capital of Tasmania.


He was 21 (and 1/2, by his own hand) on the date of enlistment and, thanks to the records I have, I know he was 5’9″/1m75cm tall, weighed 193lbs/86kgs and had brown hair and light brown eyes (like me!).

Under “Distinctive Marks”, the following is written: “Tattoo Heart cross and anchor on right forearm. Anchor & ribbon on front of left forearm. Anchor on back of left wrist.” It comes as no surprise that next to “Profession or Calling” he has written “Sailor”.

Olaf was assigned the service number 3483 and initially served in the 11th Reinforcements of the 12th Batallion. (The 12th Batallion were originally raised within weeks of war being declared and were the first ashore at Gallipoli on April 25, 1915[1]). 

I have Olaf’s entire personnel records and, as the months go by plan on blogging about his movements and the movements of his batallion(s).


[1] https://www.awm.gov.au/unit/U51452/

DNA – learning to expect the unexpected

This is the first part in a multi-part blog series about DNA testing and genealogy.

After 20+ years of genealogical research, I like to think I know my family history pretty well. As an Aussie, I am a big of a genealogical mongrel, or as my nan used to refer to her dog, Cindy, a “bitsa” as in “bits of this and bits of that”. It’s pretty simple, really:
  • Lots of Scots
  • Lots of Irish
  • Lots of English
  • A smattering of Swedes
  • Four convicts

So I was relatively certain of the results of any genealogical DNA test I would do. I imagined it would look something like this:
Source: Ancestry.com
When I decided to try the Ancestry DNA test, I was a bit put off by the fact that I’d need to gob into a test tube. Someone as classy and sophisticated as me simply does not spit, regardless of the scientific results. But for the sake of science, history, genealogy and my own bloody curiosity I built a bridge and got over this particular wave of discomfort. (This is proof that I am actually on my way to becoming a true professional).

To be quite honest, when the test arrived I was soon quite happily gobbing away into the plastic tube.

The influence of Apple of product packaging and presentation has been clear for a number of years. Clean lines, lots of white. Minimalism is key. I was, however, surprised to see that this influence had extended into the realm of genealogical DNA testing.

Photo: Ancestry.com
It’s quite simply a beautiful product. It’s a shame one has to mar it with saliva, but needs must.

Even the website to register the test is squeaky clean. For my web design friends – is this a matter of clean design, or is it a matter of familiarity (from using Apple products) and therefore an increased sense of trust? Answers on a perfectly and ethically designed website, please.

After spitting in the tube, adding the DNA stabilising solution and giving it all a good shake, I slipped it into a bio-hazard bag and into a lovely little postage-paid box that came with the kit. I then sealed it all up and popped it into the post-box.

The lack of immediate gratification was a wee bit disappointing, and the wait until I got my results felt extremely long.

The website provides tracking information from the moment you register the test. I checked the site every day to see if its status had changed from “Activated” to “Arrived” and more importantly “Processing”.

After around a week, the status changed from “Activated” to “Processing” rather quickly. I was then into the longest wait-phase. 6-8 weeks while the testing is done.

I waited impatiently for the test to confirm all my research and particularly looked forward to seeing if Britain, Ireland or Scandinavia came out on top. I expected it to kind of the way Eurovision does, with Scandinavia winning and Britain and Ireland getting a few points somewhere down the line.

I also joked that I hoped something completely obscure would turn up my results and hit us from out of left field. “OMG I HOPE IT SHOWS I’M JEWISH” I thought, knowing my step-father (who is Jewish) would find it hilarious.

I checked the website daily for an update and was growing more and more disappointed as no results were posted. “Maybe your DNA is so weird they’re having difficulty finding anything human in it,” commented one friend. I started to think he may be right.

No results. No results. No results.

As with the proverbial watched pot, as soon as I stopped thinking about it and obsessively checking I got an email. “Your DNA results are available.”

With a sense of immense excitement (and trepidation, perhaps I *am* alien) I logged into the site to see just who I am.

To say the results surprised me would be an understatement.

I was incredibly surprised to see both Scandinavia and Great Britain so far down the list. I was also overjoyed to actually see European Jewish in the list (my step father merely rolled his eyes when I told him).

Looking into the information on the data further, this is what is noted for the different regions in which my DNA has been.
Location
Primarily Located In
Also Found In
Europe West
Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein
England, Denmark, Italy, Slovenia, Czech Republic
Ireland
Ireland, Wales, Scotland
France, England
European Jewish
Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Israel
Germany, France, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Romania, Bosnia, Serbia, Estona
Iberian Peninsula
Spain, Portugal
France, Morocco, Algeria, Italy
Scandinavia
Sweden, Denmark, Norway
Great Britain, France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, the Baltic States, Finland
Great Britain
England, Scotland, Wales
Ireland, France, Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Italy
Asia South
India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka
Myanmar (Burma)

France seems to be the main connection point between all the regions except for Asia South meaning (in my 100% scientific opinion) my potentially French ancestors got around a bit.

I’m reading as much as possible about DNA testing for genealogy and the impact it can have on research. I shall write a future blog post about how such testing can influence the research one does and the results of research that people not only find but really want to find.

Organisation, shmorganisation

One thing that people who know me well will say about me is that I come across as organised, determined and singular in how I work. I know what I want, I know how I want to do it and I usually have a pretty clear plan of attack in my mind.

What people who know me really, really well will also say about me is that I am a mucky pup.

My desk at home is a total mess. Papers and books everywhere. Pens hidden under all this stuff which, of course, means I have trouble finding one and invariably end up buying another (if only to add to my ever-growing collection).

My desk at home, when tidied.


That said, I tend to know where things are. Kind of. Well, I have a rough idea of in which general physical area they can be found.

What does this mean for my genealogical research, preservation of documents, reports, and (possibly more importantly) my research plans?

Well, I’ll be honest with you, it’s all a bit haphazard at the moment. Having been an amateur genealogist for so long, and having done it purely for pleasure means I’ve had the luxury of being able to tackle it in whatever way I see fit.

This is how it usually goes:

  • I pick a starting person. I decide I’m going to research more about this person, or try to find their parents.
  • During my research, another person catches my eye. Usually because of an interesting name or place of birth/death.
  • I start looking at this person.
  • I research their parents.
  • Another person catches my eye.
  • I start looking at this person.
  • They live in an interesting place, so I start researching that town.
  • I read some of the history of this town.
  • A person of note is mentioned in the history, so I start researching them.
  • Another person catches my eye.
  • etc
In the end, I’ve got a lot of information on a lot of people, places and events, but haven’t really made headway with my initial plan.

Maybe this is why I have over two thousand people currently in my family tree (cousins of cousins of cousins).

A part of my current family tree.


It has to stop.

Forcing myself to be disciplined is something I really need to do, but where to start.

If anyone has any tips, I would greatly appreciate it. I need to get this all in check before I begin my studies in September and actually need to be incredibly disciplined.

A Family Secret Resolved

(This post is a follow-on from this one)

The prospect of phoning someone you are potentially related to and announcing that their grandfather had an illegitimate child is, to say the least, rather daunting.

I sat in my living room, phone in hand, papers strewn around me, rehearsing what I would say. “Hi, so uhmmm, I think we’re related”. No, no. That’s too blunt and too vague. “What do you know about your grandfather’s activities before he married your grandmother?” Ugh, too clinical and cold. “So did you know your grandfather went and got some girl knocked up?” Ugh, no, no no no no no. “I’m really not trying to ruffle feathers, but the evidence I have strongly points to your grandfather having been with a woman called Catherine Robertson before his marriage and, as a result, being the birth father of my grandfather”. Yes, that’s as good as it gets.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford (R) with his (adoptive) parents Henry and Sophie Crawford, and his sister Dulcie.

Time zones are really not my strong point. You’d think that after 18 years of living in France I’d have worked out how to correctly determine the time in Australia, but the number of times I’ve phoned my mother at ungodly hours is too many to count. I was to call New Zealand, and wanted to be sure I didn’t phone too early or too late.

I checked, I double-checked, I tripled-checked the times and decided to call at around 10am NZ time. So, there I was sitting on the sofa, back straight, leg nervously shaking, silently panicking and practicing out loud what I was going to say. It wasn’t quite late enough in the day for me to have a wee nip for bravery, but I certainly felt like having one.

I dialed the number and held my breath while it rang.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Paul? Hi, my name is Erin and I was given your number by Jean via the Ancestry website. I wanted to have a chat with you about something I found while researching my family tree. I also want to underline that I’m not trying to ruffle any feathers at all, but looking through documents and through my research, it seems very likely that your grandfather, Allan Douglas Williamson, was with a young lady called Catherine Robertson and she fell pregnant in 1922, not long before he married your grandmother Eva. Their child, their son, was my grandfather.”

I tried to keep my cool but I am absolutely certain that all came out in one breath and that I confused poor Paul at first.

His reaction was exactly what I hoped it would be – interested, open and warm.

We had a lovely chat, I told him about my grandfather and mother and sister, and he told me what he knew about his grandfather and his family.

He said he would send me more information when his wife got home, so we exchanged email addresses, and promised to stay in contact.

My grandfather, Geoffrey Hartley Crawford at home in Sandringham, Victoria, Australia.
I hung up and promptly burst into tears. The relief at the positive reaction of Paul and the happiness and finally getting somewhere with this family secret and mystery that I’d been researching for over ten years was palpable.

I spoke with my mother and told her the good news. She was amazed and rather overwhelmed. I then drafted and sent an email to Paul.
My grandfather, Geoffrey Hartley Crawford found out he was adopted in the 80s when he applied for a passport.

Looking into it further, he found the following information:

His birth name was Edgar Lance, but his adopted parents renamed him Geoffrey Hartley.

Mother’s name: Catherine Robertson, originally from Mornington, Dundein, New Zealand but went to Australia and gave birth to my grandfather in Melbourne.

On the birth certificate, his father is listed as: “Allan Douglas Williamson, telegraph linesman, Waipaki, Southland, N.Z., is said to be married since the mother last saw him.” (Note: I later found out it’s Waipahi)

I’ve included a photograph of the birth certificate which gives this information.

I’ve also included two photographs of my grandfather, one of my mother and one of myself.

Do you see any family resemblance between us and your side of the family at all?

Also, please feel free to send me any information you have about Allan’s parents or anything about the Williamsons. I would love to pick up the research and see what I can find out about our shared ancestors. Also, just so you know, we are first cousins once removed.

I got an email back a few hours later from Paul’s wife Robyn, with so much information and a wonderfully moving welcome to the family. The biggest surprise, and final confirmation for my mum and I, were photos of Allan Douglas that showed a definitely family resemblance.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford, 24th Bn AIF WWII

Allan Douglas Williamson, 4th Res Bn, Otago Regiment, NZEF, WWI
Since then Paul, Robyn, mum and I have been exchanging emails, chat on Facebook and I even had a wonderful almost 2 hour-long Skype call with Paul and Robyn. The best part of all this for me was when my mum told me she finds it all quite emotional. She’s an only child (as is her mum) and her extended family was always quite small. She is so happy to finally have more family members.

This is, of course, just the beginning of researching this branch of the family. There’s Allan Douglas’s efforts during WWI to look into, as well as the activities of his father, Captain George Williamson who was a merchant seaman. There’s the family links to the Shetland Islands which are coming up in my research, as well as the link to Robert the Bruce (yes, the Robert the Bruce).

For some people, researching their family tree is all about how far back they can go and while that is, of course, interesting for me the most important thing is to learn as much about the people who form my family history and, as a result, form part of who I am today.

A Family Secret (or, How I Learned To Tread Carefully When Doing Certain Research)

I have a big family.

If I count my parents, step-parents, half-brother and sister, my step-brothers and sister, their partners (and their children) plus my grandparents then we’re up to twenty-two people. Add cousins, uncles, second cousins and the like (and their children, partners, etc), and we’re inching close to one hundred people.

Most of my large extended family is on my father’s side as my mother is an only child. Born in 1953 to Geoff and Anita Crawford, she didn’t encounter a large family until she married my father. I’ve not asked her how she dealt with that, but knowing my mum, she took it in her stride, rolling her eyes at all the quirks that come with large families.

Her parents also came from small families. My grandmother, Anita, was also an only child and my grandfather, Geoff, had one sister. She has cousins, who I never knew as they lived in Queensland as we in Victoria, but all in all – small family was the way of the Crawfords.

In the 1980s, my grandfather applied for a passport. The rules had changed in Australia, and he needed to provide a full birth certificate (not just an extract) in order for his passport application to be processed.

This is when he found out that he was adopted.

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford

Geoffrey Hartley Crawford was actually born Edgar Lance Robertson/Williamson. His mother, a woman named Catherine Robertson was originally from New Zealand and came to Australia to live with an aunt and give birth. His birth father was a man named Allan Douglas Williamson, from Waipahi, New Zealand and, according to the birth certificate, had married another woman since Catherine had last seen him.

Geoffrey Hartley’s birth certificate, showing his birth name as Edgar Lance


I began the search for Allan and Catherine in the early 2000s, when genealogical records were just starting be digitised and readily accessible. Over the years I found evidence of Allan Douglas living in Gore, New Zealand (in the 1940s and 1950s, thanks to census records), but never found any evidence of his parentage. Of Catherine, there was no trace.

I have been using Ancestry for a number of years, and would regularly run a check on both Catherine and Allan, hoping for some hints or results in the records search. In March of this year, I started getting results on Allan.

His name was showing hints, his parents were showing up in the records, along with his wife and their sons.

I reached out to all the people who either owned this information, contributed to the information or had the information on their trees. The goal was to get in touch with any living descendants of Allan Douglas.

Geoffrey Hartley with his adoptive parents Henry Francis and Sophie Grace Crawford.

After many responses denying knowing the family or even having the people I mentioned in their trees (really people, just have a look, they’re there), I received a reply from a woman who said that not only was she related, but she had spoken with one of Allan Douglas’ descendants. She gave me his name and phone number and told me that he wanted to speak with me.

(to be continued)


Concerning Convicts

A much-loved go-to pseudo insult of Australians by the English is “convict” or, if they’re feeling particularly nasty, “crim”. I am here to declare once and for all – calling us “convict” is not insulting. In fact, we love it.

No, really, we absolutely loooooooooove our collective convict heritage and, as a genealogist, there is nothing better than finding a convict in my family tree or the tree of someone for whom I am doing research.

The BBC series Banished has rekindled an interest in the plight of convicts sent to Australia, a place which is often referred to in the series as a “godforsaken corner of the world”. This is just unfair. Sure, they landed at Botany Bay (original name Stingray Harbour, but changed out of respect to Steve Irwin[1]) but it’s not the fault of Captain Arthur Phillip that he chose to land in what would become Sydney. Had he simply persevered further south, he would have been able to land in what would become Melbourne, and they all would have had a much nicer time.

If Banished is to be believed, they actually had an alright time of it. Hanging out on the beach, getting married, enjoying good weather every day, being able to ignore the Paleo fad and living on a high-carb diet, hanging out with that bloke from Game of Thrones, and creating what would become one of the most amazing, friendly, inclusive and non-racist societies on the planet.

Really clean and pretty convict people who are probably not 100% historically accurate representations of the convict population in the 1700s.


Researching ones convict ancestry can be tricky. Not only because every second person was called John Smith or Mary Jones, but also because the accuracy of their convictions, sentencing and subsequent duration of transportation can be a bit hard to ascertain.

Take the story of Patrick Glennon, one of my ancestors and the first convict feather in my genealogical cap (I have four, total, which actually makes the the equivalent of a Duke in convictdom). 

Patrick was a native of Clontarf, Dublin, Ireland when, in 1849 he was arrested, tried and convicted of the stealing of one bullock. His sentence – 10 years transportation to Australia.

Well, that’s one version.

Another version has Patrick arrested, tried and convicted of the stealing of one bullock and one heifer (an enterprising young lad, Patrick understood that boy cow + girl cow = baby cows = money). His sentence was 7 years transportation to Australia.

Yet another version has his sentence as life.

Not so pretty convict people.



What we do know is that young Paddy travelled with just 8 other convicts on the transport ship the Hyderabad. They left Dublin on 23 May, 1849 and arrived in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) on 26 August, 1849. Patrick is listed as being the only convict on the ship with a life sentence, the others having an average sentence of 7 years.

Patrick was pardoned in 1854-55 and went on to marry, have lots of babies and start one of the branches that led to me.

So, yeah I’m proud of him. Did he break the law? Probably. But what we need to keep in mind is the high levels of poverty in Ireland at the time. This was smack-bang in the middle of the Great Famine. People were hungry, people were desperate.

I won’t go into a discussion about the merits of transportation vs imprisonment – so many what ifs there it will just make my head hurt.

What I will say is this – men, women and children who broke the law (or broke the law) were transported to Australia. They were ripped from their homes, their families and friends, and taken to the other side of the world with no realistic chance of ever returning. They endured a horrendous journey, hard labour in a quite hostile land and, when they were released, often had to fend for themselves.

Patrick Glennon’s pardon. I guess he finally learned how to behave himself.



They formed the backbone of the country and embody the tough spirit of Australians. Aussies are tough, but we find humour in a lot of things. I believe this need for humour has been passed down the generations by the sheer necessity to see the positive in a situation in order to survive. Should we overlook the soap-opera feel of shows like Banished and take the history of convicts more seriously and should we more closely investigate the hardship and horrors endured by these people? 

Absolutely. 

The story of every single convict is an important part of Australian and British history and sweeping it aside as the go-to joke when talking with Aussies could be considered inconsiderate. But, in true Aussie nature our go-to reaction is to see the humour in it and brush such comments aside as funny.

Because they are funny. While the well-behaved (or badly-behaved but imprisoned) British subjects didn’t have to endure a horrific journey to the other side of the world, never see their families again or do years of hard labour building a colony, they did have to continue enduring the British weather.

So next time you’re calling an Aussie a convict, keep in mind that behind the smile and the laugh there swells an immense pride, a silent nod and a raising of a glass to the men and women who helped shape our country and our culture to be what it is today.


[1] This is lies.

Genea-what-ogy?

Oh look another genealogy blog. What’s different about this one? For the moment, not much, it’s quite empty. Unlike my family tree. A couple of thousand people (including extended family) and counting.

In October I will begin postgraduate studies with the University of Strathclyde in Genealogy, Palaeography and Heraldry. As I move from being an amateur genealogist to (hopefully) a professional genealogist, I would like to document my experience. While I feel I have a lot of experience in researching family history, as my studies progress I am certain that my methodology and understanding of documents and processes will change.

Hopefully, it will make for interesting reading.

So, why does a customer support manager with 15+ years professional experience decide to change career so extremely?

Well, as with all (good) stories – Once upon a time…

When I was 14 years old, I snuck into my grandmother’s bedroom, rooted around under her bed, and withdrew an old tattered suitcase that contained a stack of papers and a magnifying glass. This suitcase held the entirety of her research into my grandfather’s family history. I recall looking through the barely legible photocopied pages in wonder, marvelling at the old handwriting, and trying to understand the Swedish in which they were written.
I was, of course, caught by my grandmother and told not to go through other people’s belongings, but I was hooked. I asked her to show me how she found all the documents, how she read them and also asked her to teach me Swedish!
From that moment I helped my grandmother with the research, and began learning about genealogy and how to trace my family history.
Fast forward to 1998 and I am now living in France. I’m studying part time with the Open University for a BSc and I am still fascinated by genealogy. I knew my grandfather’s uncle had fought in WWI in France, and I decided to find out more. This was the early stages of online genealogical research, and through message boards, local historical research associations and the Imperial War Graves Commission, I was able to discover not only where my great, great uncle Olaf was buried, but also exactly which battle he was in when he died, and what likely happened between 1916 when he was reported MIA and 1930 when his body was discovered.

Private (Pte) Olaf Milford Johanson, 11th Reinforcements, 12th Battalion, AIF.

I was the first family member to visit his grave in the Somme region of France, a very moving moment for myself and my entire family.
Since I have begun researching I have also managed to find living relatives in Sweden, have visited the home built by my Swedish ancestor and have gotten in touch with distant relatives back in Australia, as well as in the United States and Scotland.
I have helped friends get started with genealogy, coaching them on the best research methods, basic tips and do’s and don’ts. Helping other people discover information about their families is what drives me to continue my own research, and is what makes me want to share this passion with others.

Following my degree completion I moved into working in the computer game industry, and managed to create a successful career for myself. In recent years, however, I have been wanting a change and after much reflection (and encouragement from those close to me), have decided I wish to make my lifelong passion a professional reality.