Nov 082015

The Hangout on line last week was about "Reconstructing A Community". Kirsty Gray talked about not so much putting the flesh on the bones, but joining the bones together! By reconstructing the family links between the people that lived in your study place, using the parish records, poor law records and other records, it also helps to bring the past to life and puts people into context. Family reconstruction can help resolve a number of questions about the community, solve major research problems and may reveal some fascinating findings.

One question posed was - is it reasonable to reconstruct an entire community? And if not, what level would reap the most rewards? Reference was made to Andrew Todd's book, Nuts and Bolts: Family History Problem Solving through Family Reconstruction Techniques [Allen & Todd, 2003] - which lists 10 levels of complexity. There are limiting factors - surnames (especially where common or common to your area); family occupations (so the same names may have the same occupation over many generations); the survival of records; population density (frequency of marriages, etc.); land tenure (may affect migration).

The session then went on to talk about ways to record the information - databases, spreadsheets, FH packages, Word or even hand-written. A useful discussion followed with others on the Hangout giving examples of issues they had encountered and whether they had started any family reconstruction. The recording of the Hangout may be seen here

Steve Pickthall

Sep 192015

This week Kirsty Gray ran our Hangout on starting a one-place study from scratch. Although she has a fair bit of experience with one-place studying, she's embarking on a brand-new study and so is faced with many of the initial challenges that you, dear newbie, might be. We know that many of you out there are flirting with starting your one-place study and today is an excellent day to watch and pick up some tips how to do that.

Go to the video on our YouTube channel and learn more about Porcupine (yes, that's a place - anyone else out there have a place that's also an animal?), see the initial questions Kirsty asked herself, and where she went to answer some of those questions.

Joining her was an international panel of seven discussing connections to your place, size of places (with both extremes represented!), deciding on priorities, the perils of Googling, getting to know your families, and presenting your study.

Members, remember you can then head to our forums and ask whatever questions you like, and other members will chip in to help answer them.

Alex Coles

Sep 062015


This week we took our stand to the Cambridgeshire Family History Society Fair. This was a new area for us and it was a good opportunity to spread the one-place word. We made contact with several people who were considering embarking on one-place projects and others who will be on the look out for existing one-placers with whom they can exchange information.

As our conference this year is in the same region as Cambridge, we were also able to advertise the day amongst fair-goers and stall holders. We already have several members in this region. Take a look at the studies for:-

Old Fletton, Cambridgeshire

Brampton, Huntingdonshire

Holywell-cum-Needingworth, Huntingdonshire

Great Hallingbury, Essex

Oxborough, Norfolk

Aspall, Suffolk

Debenham, Suffolk

Kenton, Suffolk

Mickfield, Suffolk

Parham, Suffolk

Winston, Suffolk


Aug 192015

While those with a local history bent may come to a One Place Study quite deliberately from an interest in their birthplace or place of residence, many of us arrive there through researching our family history. We probably all agree that any decent family history needs to account for the circumstances of time and place in which our ancestors lived. One day we look up and realise that perhaps our focus on the place has grown like Topsy and there we are, members of the Society of One Place Studies.

This has certainly been the case for me – a serendipitous arrival at a particular place, or indeed, three places. My three places are East Clare, Ireland (especially the town and townlands of Broadford, parishes of Kilseily and Killokennedy); Dorfprozelten, Bavaria; and the sleepy township of Murphy’s Creek at the Great Dividing Range near Toowoomba in Queensland. Three very different places which generate different approaches.

Murphys Creek cemetery with Kunkel family graves in the foreground. P Cass 2012.

Murphys Creek cemetery with Kunkel family graves in the foreground. P Cass 2012.

Australian researchers are so very fortunate in the availability of records. Starting late in the 18th century with all those convicts, the British government was intent on keeping good documentation. As assisted immigration picked up pace the colonial governments were equally keen to know where their money was being spent and whether it was effective. The colonials themselves were equally keen to express their opinion of government spending (not much has changed there), feeling free to criticise successive waves of immigrants, especially the Irish Catholics such as the Irish Famine Orphans.

While researchers in other countries place a heavy focus on decennial census records, Australia is largely lacking in that regard. However what we miss there, we gain in other areas. In my opinion we have five invaluable record sets:


  • Immigration records which list place of origin, family names, and sometimes sponsors. Unfortunately the information diminished over time so it can be the luck of the draw. Sponsorship of family migration is another related track of information through the Immigration Deposit Journals, which may even tell you why a relative chose not to take up the offer.
  • Detailed and comprehensive civil registration which is enough to make other countries weep (except perhaps the Scots). The potential negative is that with the starting generation in Australia, there may have been little knowledge of family overseas.
  • Electoral rolls which are available both online and offline. Coming early to equal suffrage (though after our New Zealand cousins), these include women from the start of the 20th century.
  • Early church records: clergy covered vast areas of the country on horseback so there may be a concentration of information in one parish – though not necessarily the one you might expect.
  • Trove. For those who haven’t heard of it, this is our fantastic digitised newspaper, photographs, etc collection maintained by the National Library of Australia. It truly leads the way internationally – and amazingly it’s entirely free. Researchers from overseas may even find reference to their only family’s emigrants through Trove.

My focus on Broadford and Dorfprozelten may have started serendipitously, but my continued interest has been strategic. It was the lack of immigration data for my Broadford and Dorfprozelten ancestors that led me to widen my search to others from the area. Sometimes those brick walls become strategic opportunities.

You learn so much more about your families when you understand their place of origin and understand the experience of others from the same place, both emigrants and those left behind. You can also make family linkages that might not otherwise be apparent.

View over Dorfprozelten, Bavaria. P Cass 2003

View over Dorfprozelten, Bavaria. P Cass 2003

Then there’s the issue of stepping on toes and respect for others’ work. For example, Dorfprozelten, Bavaria has an active local historian, Georg Veh, with a community of researchers behind him. I can build on their work and contribute by filling in the gaps of what happened to their emigrant families. Because I’ve studied each family who left the village for Australia in the 1850s, I can also draw together the experiences of all the emigrants to try to pick out their similarities and differences. So my Dorfprozelten research is a limited One Place Study focused primarily on the emigrants to Australia.


View from Ballykelly townland over East Clare. P Cass 2006

View from Ballykelly townland over East Clare. P Cass 2006



Broadford, County Clare turned out, quite serendipitously, to be a locus of emigration. It was through trawling the Immigration Deposit Journals and the immigration records that I found so many from the east Clare region, especially Broadford where the parish priest was “working” the emigration system in the 1860s, especially during the American Civil War period. This contrasted with a statement from a local man, some thirty years ago when I first started, that “no one from here went to Australia”. In such ways are local memories lost. Again, there’s a local researcher with an interest in Broadford, especially its 19th century crime, but we have met and are happy to work collaboratively because, once again, my focus is on migration.

A heritage steam train arrives at Murphys Creek c1988. Photo P Cass.

A heritage steam train arrives at Murphys Creek c1988. Photo P Cass.

My Murphy’s Creek interest is more general. The township commenced with the construction of Queensland’s first railway to Toowoomba. It thrived for quite a while contributing to the Queensland economy with its sandstone and agriculture but then languished becoming a sleepy hollow. I was curious about the transitions it’s undergone and wanted to learn more about it. In this respect, too, I’ve been fortunate that a long-time researcher, Cameron McKee, who is now not well enough to continue, has shared his knowledge and old cassette tapes of interviews.

Of course the main thing you need with a One Place Study, apart from good records, is determination and a lot of time. You may find yourself exploring a place entirely serendipitously, or you may decide to focus on it strategically to resolve brick wall problems. Either way, your family history research will be all the richer for the knowledge you gain.

Questions that recur in my mind quite regularly are:

  • Do I have the right to research a place far away, especially overseas and in a different culture?
  • Can I speak to a knowledge of a place which I have visited, but where I’ve never lived or been part of the community?
  • Or does that external perspective actually add value?

It would be interesting to hear the views of readers on these questions.

Pauleen Cass

Aug 162015

It seems that as soon as we hang up our headphones after one Hangout-on-air, another one is on the horizon. Next Friday, 21 August, at 8.00pm BST we will be talking about our migration shared endeavour again. This hangout will be a chance for those who have been looking at migration since January (or earlier!), as well as those who have started more recently, to share our findings.  It is only when we begin to compare our places to those of others that we can start to understand how our own discoveries fit into the general picture. If you are puzzling over the reasons for some of the migration patterns that you have identified, maybe another member of the panel can come up with some suggestions.

Captain James

Captain James Braund - the Braund family remained in Bucks Mills, Devon for 200 years

To start us off, Kim will comment on the short-distance migration that she has identified in her research. Many of our residents moved but others stayed put and Janet will briefly look at some of her ‘stayers’. Then it is over to you to tell us what you have found and to exchange ideas about how to develop your research. The final inspirations sheet for this project will soon be available and we are all looking forward to our conference in November, which will be another excellent opportunity to share our findings and to learn more.

Details of the hangout can be found on our Google+ page.

Kim Baldacchino and Janet Few