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.