Writing family history made very easy

Writing Family History Made Very Easy: A Beginner's Guide Writing Family History Made Very Easy: A Beginner’s Guide by Noeline Kyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Many people who are interested in genealogy and family history begin with genealogy — finding their ancestors and then trying to get back as far as they can. Sooner or later they reach a point when they can get back no further, because the information is not available, or cannot be found.

At that point, if not before, one should start to write a readable account of what one has managed to find. And that is where books like this one come in.

Research and writing are two different skills, and many researchers don’t know how to write, and vice versa. This book has lots of useful advice about both. It is aimed at Australian readers, but most of the advice is fairly general, and is just as useful to people living in other countries.

I’ve read several books on writing, and several on genealogical research, and worked as an editor for several years, so a lot of the material in this one was not new to me. I nevertheless found it useful as a reminder of things that I know I should not overlook, but often do. There is the main text, and the book has summaries with reminders, and they are reminders I still need after 30 years — for example, on page 38, unde the heading Developing notekeeping skills:

Whether you copy notes by hand or photocopy your documents, the source of your information should be noted accurately and ideally include the following details:

  • Author names, including initials
  • Book or journal article
  • Year, publisher and place of publication
  • Page numbers (for articles, newspaper reports, bulletin excerpts etc.)
  • Name of the library or archive or any individual contact/s associated with your research of them
  • File or catalogue number (if archive material)
  • Folio number or record series (if archive material)

Elementary stuff? Of course. But yesterday I was in the archives and found I had handed back files after making notes from them, and then realised I had forgotten to record some of these essential details. I’ve found photocopies of archival documents, and years later realised I had not noted where they came from, and had to look them up all over again.

There are a couple of weak points, or at least I think so. In the section on indexing, there is no mention of using the indexing capabilities of word processing programs, and the author seems to assume that an index will be done by hand just before the book is printed. Since many family histories are self-published, and the final typesetting is done on a word processing program, this is a rather strange omission.

Another rather strange piece of advice is to use endnotes rather than footnotes. Endnotes were a cost saver in the days before computerised typesetting, but I find nothing more annoying than having to keep a finger in the endnotes page and another in the text, and to be constantly hopping backwards and forwards between them. This is history we are writing, and even in family history we sometimes want to know how the author knows something. Again, word processing software makes footnotes as easy and no more expensive than endnotes, so there is no excuse for not having footnotes.

What I found most useful about the book was the ideas it sparked off about things I could include in my own family history writing that might be useful to local and social historians later — like cinemas, music and entertainment and so on.

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Death of Canadian author Mollie Gillen

Mollie Gillen, who died recently at the age of 100, was not a relative, as far as we know, but she made an enormous contribution to our family history research into the Green family.

As her obituary in the Toronto Globe & Mail puts it

Born and educated in Australia, married to a Canadian sergeant in wartime England, Mrs. Gillen lived and worked here for most of her very long life. No more than 5-foot-2, with bespectacled hazel eyes and curly brown hair – which eventually turned into a snowy crown – she was the author of several acclaimed biographies, including an early study of Lucy Maud Montgomery…

She published The Masseys: Founding Family in 1965; The Prince and His Lady, an intrepidly researched study of Queen Victoria’s father, Edward Duke of Kent, and his mistress, Madame de St. Laurent, in 1970; and in 1972, The Assassination of the Prime Minister, a biography of Spencer Perceval, who was shot through the heart in the lobby of the British House of Commons during the Luddite riots of 1812.

Ir was The prince and his lady that put us on the track of the history of the Green family.

Val went to see her great-aunt Gladys Clark, who lived in Ixopo, to ask about the Green family, and she said that her grandfather was “General Green”, who had lived in South West Africa (now Namibia). Reference to history books, such as Vedder’s South West Africa in early times showed that he was Fred Green, an elephant hunter.

A few years later, when we lived in Zululand, we visited Gladys Clark’s daughter, Dion Stewart, who lived in Empangeni, and she told us that Fred Green’s father or grandfather was the Duke of Kent. That sent us back to the library, looking for books on the Duke of Kent, one of which was Mollie Gillen’s The prince and his lady, which refuted the family legend of royal descent, but in the course of doing it showed the actual ancestry of Fred Green’s father, William John Green, alias William Goodall Green, who was the illegitimate son of William Goodall, a London merchant, and Eliza Green, the daughter of a Quebec butcher.

We wrote to Mollie Gillen, and she very kindly sent us copies of her research materials, including the baptism records of William Goodall Green and other members of the Green and related families, and his will, and that of Thomas Esdaile, his stepfather, who later married Eliza Green.

So thanks to Mollie Gillen’s research we were able to trace more of the early history of the Green family. She was a careful researcher who documented every one of the claims she made in her book, as the material she sent us showed.

See here for more on the early history of the Green family.

So we salute Mollie Gillen. She may not have had formal qualifications, but she was a careful and diligent historian, and we owe her a great deal.

Devantier family

A few years ago Deborah Devantier posted this on a message board, and I must have missed it at the time:

I am researching my husband’s family tree and know that his gradfather Otto Wilhelm Devantier arrived with his mother and 6 siblings in Queensland Australia in 1874. Unfortunately his father died on the voyage out and all we know was that he was Carl Wilhelm Friedrich Devantier born 1834 in Schonermark. Other names that are given on marriage and death certificates are Schwedt, Angemunde, Niederlandin and Uckermark. I realise there was a large Devantier family in this area, and have seen the family trees posted on the web. Would very much like to connect Carl Wilhelm Friedrich.

I do have a link to this family, and can give information on ancestors, and hope to get some on descendants. So I hope Deboarh (and other Devantier researchers) will get in touch.

Thwaites, Green families in Australia

I’ve just had some correspondence with Emma Hannah, who was married to Roger Thwaites, son of FJ Thwaites, the Australian novelist, who was the grandson of Margaret Agnes Ann Green and Walter Thwaites. This adds something to what we know of the Thwaites side of the family.

Margaret Agnes Ann Green (known as Agnes) and her younger brother Alfred both lived in Australia. We have been in contact with several of Agnes Green’s descendants, from all three of her husbands, some of whom returned to southern Africa in later generations, and some fought on opposite side in the First and Second World Wars.

There is a possibility that at least two of her husbands committed bigamy by marrying her.

We have not managed to make contact with any of Alfred’s descendants though. One of them William Alfred Goodall Esdaile Green lived in South Africa for several years, and changed his name to William d’Este Stuart-Grey. Another, Frederick, died young. A daughter, Henrietta Caroline married William Henry Browne.

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Green – Wilson – Francis – Thwaites

Jenny Marsh writes:

… found this info amongst Glorias letters. “Agnes Thwaites,
admitted to Adelaide Hospital 2/4/1880 of Gawler, 44 yrs married C/E , born
Nova Scotia. Arrived in the colony aboard the Countess of Harborough.”

Every little bit helps, and that’s quite a few bits. At least it gives the name of a ship to look for. Though it may not be the one she went from the Cape Colony on, but perhaps the Countess of Harborough only took her to Adelaide from Sydney.

In looking for that, I found a reference to Alfred John Dawson Francis (her second husband) going insolvent in 1860 in an NSW archives index. He was described as a miner and storeman at Dwyer’s Creek. But the only Dwyer’s Creek I could find was in South Western Victoria, and presumably quite a long way from Moruya.

Any comments on this?

Just click on the COMMENTS at the bottom of this posting.

Green, Francis, Battye, Cowley

A fat book arrived from Bob Cowley in Australia today — “Addendum 1” to his Soldiers, surveyors and selectors, which he compiled about 10 years ago, to which this was an update.

Quite a lot of it deals with Margaret Agnes Anne Green, and he’s managed to collect a fair bit more on her brother Alfred, who also went to Australia, and on Alfred’s wife Henrietta Goote, including the rather interesting information that she was born in Smyrna, Turkey. He also has death dates for many of Alfred and Henrietta’s children.

Included in the package was a copy of the Canberra Historical Journal for September 2005, which has an article by Bob Cowley himself on Margaret Agnes Anne Green, concentrating on her role as a pioneer educationist in Queanbeyan, “The Queanbeyan teacher who was unlucky in love”. And so she was. Her first husband, William Wilson, drowned in the Tuross River. She next married Alfred John Dawson Francis, who committed suicide. Her third marriage, to Walter William Thwaites, was bigamous, so she married him again a few years later.

Bob Cowley has a theory that Alfred John Dawson Francis was not actually the father of their fourth child, Louisa Francis. She was born eight months after his suicide in Sydney, and for the preceding four months he had lived apart from his family in Moruya. Louisa was adopted at the age of 18 months by Captain E.M. Battye, who had known the Green family in the Cape Colony and Canada, and Bob is investigating to see whether he could have been Louisa’s real father.

In the mean time I’ve been trying to find a record of her marriage to William Wilson in the Cape. No luck so far, at least not in Grahamstown Cathedral in the 1850s, where her brothers Edward and Arthur Green were married. Perhaps she eloped, and married under a different name.

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