Sunday, May 30, 2010

Unlearning what I have learned

I am reminded of a quote from Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back where Yoda says to Luke Skywalker:
You must unlearn what you have learned
In my seven years of genealogy research, I have unfortunately learned to cut a few corners and I have developed a few disorganised research habits!!

My new organisation goals involve starting again from the beginning. This time I hope I might be able be a little more organised and thorough with my source citations and evidence analysis!

Over the next weeks my goals are to:

  • read some basic beginners guides to Genealogy and Family History - online and offline. I will share and discuss on this blog the beginners guides that I find the most helpful and interesting.
  • organise a new Family History folder arrangement on my computer hard drive - and share my ideas!
  • set up template spreadsheets to record all research and correspondence - I will share my template ideas here and discuss some of the places I found the inspiration for them.
  • start my new Legacy file with the basic information about myself and my immediate family. I hope to re-familiarise myself with the features of the software - data entry, reports, charts, searching, sorting, sources and source citation.
My next blog posts will be as follows:

Friday, May 28, 2010

52 Weeks To Better Genealogy - Challenge #21 - State Archives - Public Record Office Victoria

I have decided to take on one of the 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy weekly challenges. (See the GeneaBloggers group on Facebook or We Tree for further information about 52 Weeks to Better Genealogy.)
The challenge this week is:

Week 21: Examine the website of your state or provincial archives. Take some time to push all the buttons and click all the links. What did you find? Bloggers can write about the site’s high points and share the information with their readers.

My state archives is the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) ( Their web site is very useful for genealogists researching their families in the state of Victoria, Australia.

On their homepage (above) the main menu is visible on the left hand side of the page. When you hover your mouse over each main link, relevant sub-menus become visible. About Us leads to pages describing who PROV are, what they hold in their collection and the services they provide. Access the Collection leads to Research Pathways, Research Guides and collection searching and ordering.

Useful Research Pathways, gateways of links to other areas of the PROV web site, include Getting Started and Family and Local History.

There are 56 useful Research Guides, including Guide 51- Family History Research at PROV.

Another great starting place for online research at PROV is Guide 23 - Online Catalogue - PROV's Digitised Records and Online Indexes which includes links to records and indexes related to ships passengers, Wills and probate, education and teachers, Koorie heritage, building plans, prisoners and convicts, divorce, insolvency, court records and mental health records, for example.
Some of the indexes which I find particularly useful are the ships passenger indexes:

Did I mention these are all free to access? Thanks to the wonderful work of the many volunteers who have spent time and effort creating these indexes over the years - thank you all very much!!

Another extremely useful index on the PROV web site is the Index to Wills, Probate and Administration Records 1841-1925. Most entries on this index are linked to digitised copies of Wills, Probate and Administration Files. Through this index I found the Will of Edmond Colbert who died in Richmond, Victoria in 1885. By accessing the digitised copy of his Will, I was able to confirm that he was the uncle of my great great grandmother Bridget Gilmore (nee Colbert) (he gave her a bequest). This enabled me to take my Colbert family tree back another generation in County Cork, Ireland!!

Why not search some of PROV's online indexes and digitised records today. Don't have any family connections in Australia? Are you sure? I recommend you try anyway, searching for several of your more unusual family surnames to begin with. Who knows, maybe some of your distant relatives emigrated down under? Good luck!

Links to other Australian State Archives are available at Cora Num's Web Sites For Genealogists.

Happy researching!

Copyright © 2010 A. O'Brien.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Let's start at the beginning...Why I need to be organised and make research goals

The need for organisation
I admit that I am a disorganised family historian!
Now that I have realised how disorganised I am (actually I have known it for a while), I am making one of my first goals on this blog to become better organised, to make clear research goals and ultimately to become a more professional-like genealogist.

As I have researched my family history during my spare time over the past seven years I have, unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how I look at it), accumulated a huge amount of data - both online and offline. The unfortunate thing is that I have not kept this data well organised, thus it remains basically meaningless data and not meaningful information. Could all this meaningless data become meaningful information? Definitely...but I will have to work hard, and I will have to make plans and keep records.

How did I become so disorganised? 
I first became interested in family history research when my Mum purchased a copy of Personal Ancestral File (PAF) on CD-Rom in about 2001/2002. Mum had been researching for about 15 years at that stage and most of her research was on paper in several surname folders. She also had a couple of books written about several branches of our family by other cousins. Mum asked me if I would help her record her research in a PAF database. I was very interested and most willing to help.

So I started extracting names and dates and recording them in PAF. Unfortunately, as a beginner I completely neglected to record any sources. About that time I also discovered the Internet as a research resource:, and for example.
I saved any possibly useful data to my computer - but I often neglected to analyse the data or carefully record each search, successful or unsuccessful. I didn't keep a detailed research log or correspondence log.

I developed the bad habit of searching online databases without any actual research plan or goals - I just had vague ideas about what I might look for next. I really started to research in my spare time when I started University in 2003. In the seven years since I have unfortunately continued on with vague, unplanned and unrecorded goals for my research.

I live a long way from most of the major libraries and archives in Victoria, and I don't often get to research at these repositories. Whenever I manage to get there, I collect as much data as I can. But again I neglect to analyse the data when I return home. This style of research is getting me nowhere. I find myself going around in circles, repeating research and blindly chasing references to my ancestors in any new resources that come online.

In 2007 I started studying for a graduate diploma in history. Through this course I learnt about the importance of accurate source citations and the differences between primary and secondary sources. I completed this course last year and since then I have been reading a lot about professional genealogy and research methodologies.

Now it's time to start putting this knowledge into practice. I intend to start again, from the beginning.
This means a new blank database in Legacy (the genealogy software I use mostly - I also have Family Tree Maker 2010, RootsMagic and Family Historian). My main Legacy file at the moment has about 10,000 people in it, many of them without any source citations.

What I need to do

  • Start a new file in Legacy, begin with myself and work backwards methodically, recording all sources, attaching relevant source documents and attaching photographs 
  • Begin and continue to keep a research log
  • Begin and continue to keep a correspondence log
  • Organise all the family history data saved on my computer into relevant folders
  • Create research goals and detailed plans 
  • Organise, tag and label the photographs on my computer (digital photos as well as scanned photos and documents)
  • Organise my Google Bookmarks
  • Organise my Bookshelves on Google Books 
  • Continue learning more about professional Genealogy and Family History through blogs, web sites, books and journals
  • My longer term goals include publishing some of my research on this blog and writing a detailed history book about my Fullerton ancestors
So, let's start at the beginning...

Copyright © 2010 A. O'Brien.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Wordless Wednesday - My new blog banner

The new banner on my Australian Genealogy Journeys blog!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Surname Saturday - Some of my Irish Surnames

Some of the Irish Surnames in my family tree:

O'Brien / Breen









Copyright © 2010 A. O'Brien.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Treasure Chest Thursday - Great Grandfather O'Brien's Violin

Last year I completed an University assignment which included research about a violin that belonged to my O'Brien great grandfather (1867-1937).

Here is some of what I discovered about the violin during my research: 

Manufacturer / Date and Place of Manufacture: 
The date and place of manufacture and the name of the manufacturer of this violin are not known for certain. However, the violin was definitely made before 1883 and possibly before 1875. After some preliminary research, I believe the violin was probably manufactured in Germany in the period 1860-1880.

A printed paper label, written in German, is stuck inside the violin and visible through the lower soundhole. The label reads:

Fried. Aug. Glass verfertigt nach
Antonius Straduarius Fies
Fabrikat in Cremona 1736

Roughly translated this label means:

Friedrick August Glass manufactures after Antonio Stradivari’s make [of violin] in Cremona [Italy] 1736

A violin with a similar label (‘Von Frid. Aug. Glass verfertigt nach / Antonius Stradiuarius Fils, / Cremona 1737’) appears in the collection of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota in the USA. According to the Museum’s web site, the ‘commercial violin with square shoulders, long corners, and very full arching’ was manufactured in the Markneukirchen and/or Schönbach (Luby) areas of Saxony, Germany, some time between 1860 and 1890 (ref. 1). 

According to the Smithsonian Institution, thousands of similar inexpensive violins were made in the nineteenth century and were often sold for less than US $10. The violin makers often labeled the violins to honor ‘the masters’ who ‘inspired’ their work (ref. 2). Today, however, the references on labels to the ‘great masters’ of seventeenth and eighteenth century violin manufacture often confuse people who find old violins and do not know the instruments’ history (ref. 3). 

There were two violin makers in nineteenth century Germany by the name of Friedrick August Glass: Friedrick August Glass I and Friedrick August Glass II. (ref. 4) According to web site of the Smithsonian Institution, both these violin makers worked in Klingenthal, Saxony. Friedrick I worked from 1790 and Friedrick II from 1830 to 1860. Both Friedrick’s made ‘inexpensive trade violins’ that were ‘quite good and somewhat above the “commercial” class.’(ref. 5)  Friedrick II modeled his violins on those of Italian Antonio Stradivari and German Jacob Stainer. (ref. 6) The label example listed by the Smithsonian Institution for Glass violins (‘Fried. Aug. Glass Verfertigte nach Antonius Stradivarius Fies Faciebat in Cremona Anno 1736’) differs slightly from the label that appears in my great grandfather's violin (ref. 7). 

Many violin enthusiasts and experts stress that you cannot rely on a label to confirm the origins of a violin. Labels are often false or misleading (ref. 8). Therefore, without a proper appraisal of authenticity by a violin expert (who would study the design, the wood, the varnish and other aspects of the violin’s manufacture) I cannot be certain whether this violin was made personally by Friedrick August Glass II, whether it was made by an assembly line of people working for Glass, or whether it was made by someone entirely different and labeled as being the work of Glass (ref. 9,10,11).

The violin was bought by my great grandfather O’Brien (1867-1937) from James Shugg the first school teacher at his school in northern Victoria, Australia. Mr Shugg taught at the school from its opening in October 1875. He left the school sometime between September 1881 and September 1883.  It is not known where James Shugg acquired the violin. According to the Victorian Indexes of Births, Deaths and Marriages, James Shugg was born in 1851 at Chilwell near Geelong, Victoria. He was the son of James Shugg and Fanny Yeoman. He married Annie Lang in 1877. He died at Sale, Victoria in 1933. As James Shugg was born in Australia and lived his whole life there, I estimate that he bought the violin in Australia. Possibly the violin was exported from Germany for sale in Australia or James Shugg bought the violin from someone else who had purchased the violin in Europe. What is known is that some time between 1875 and 1883, my great grandfather O'Brien bought the violin from James Shugg. It is known that my great grandfather and his siblings attended Shugg's school. In 1875, my great grandfather would have been seven years old. By 1883, he would have been sixteen years of age.
The violin remained in the possession of my great grandfather until his death in 1937. It is known that he played the violin at local dances on occasions.
After this, the violin passed into the possession of his eldest son. 
He died in 1989. He had written a handwritten note on a piece of paper in the violin case which stated that the violin should go to his nephew, my father.The violin remains in the possession of my family to this day.

Body Length: 355 mm
Scroll, Peg box and Neck Length: 235 mm
Total Length: 590 mm
Width: Upper 160 mm, Middle 109 mm, Lower 203 mm.
Height (at Ribs): 32 mm

Bow: 'Bausch' stamped on the stick above the frog .

Inlaid floral ornamentation on the tailpiece, comprising of three flowers and six leaves (one leaf missing). Green and red colouring added on two flowers and two leaves. Green stems.
A similar mother-of-pearl ornamentation is mentioned in the description of the tailpiece of a late nineteenth century German trade violin (Item: NMM 3510) from the collection of the National Music Museum at the University of South Dakota, USA.
"…Tailpiece: black varnished ebony; inlaid mother-of-pearl flowers (three) and leaves (two) etched with red-and-green-painted detail, with mother-of-pearl rings set in black mastic at the centers of the flowers, and three inlaid nickel-silver stems..." (Ref. 12)

The violin is, unfortunately, not in good condition. There are cracks on the belly of the violin. The soundpost is broken and loose inside the violin. The mother-of-pearl 'eyes' are missing from the pegs. One leaf of the mother-of-peal inlay is missing from the ornamentation on the tailpiece. The hairs on the bow have long ago been eaten by weevils. There have been failed attempts to repair the violin with glue at some stage in the past (for example, someone has placed the bridge the wrong way around!).

While this violin is definitely not in a working condition, it is still a treasure to my family!

1. National Music Museum, ‘Violins Made Between 1850-1874 at the National Music Museum’, 24 October 2007,, accessed 13 May 2009.
2 and 3.  Smithsonian Institution, ‘Encyclopedia Smithsonian: General Information on Obtaining Authentication and Appraisal of Violins’, n.d., , accessed 22 May 2009.
4, 5, 6 and 7. Smithsonian Institution, ‘Encyclopedia Smithsonia: Violin Makers Named Glass’ , n.d.,, accessed 22 May 2009.
8. Alan Coggins, ‘What does the label inside your instrument really mean?’, 2002,, accessed 12 May 2009.
9. Smithsonian Institution, ‘Encyclopedia Smithsonian: General Information on Obtaining Authentication and Appraisal of Violins’, n.d., , accessed 22 May 2009.
10. Alan Coggins, ‘What does the label inside your instrument really mean?’, 2002,, accessed 12 May 2009.
11. Ira Kraemer, ‘eBay Guides - What's in a Name - A Guide to Labels Inside of Violins’, 9 August 2006,   accessed 12 May 2009.
12. National Music Museum, ‘Violins Made Between 1850-1874 at the National Music Museum’, 24 October 2007,, accessed 13 May 2009. 

Copyright © 2010 A. O'Brien

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Surname Saturday - Some of my English surnames

For Surname Saturday I have decided to list some of my English surnames:








Friday, May 7, 2010

Follow Friday - Grow Your Own Family Tree: Alan Stewart's UK and Ireland family history news

I just came across this blog the other day and would like to recommend it for Follow Friday:

Grow Your Own Family Tree: Alan Stewart's UK and Ireland family history news

Most of my ancestral lines go back to the UK and Ireland, so I am always very interested in any new online sources from there!
I am particularly looking forward to the National Wills Index ( and I'm quite excited to see that Oxfordshire will be one of the first counties available! Some of my Oxfordshire ancestors surnames include: POTTER, PRESTON, HEADING, HUTTON, ANDREWS, KERSEY/CASEY, BEST,  MATTHEWS, GASCOIGNE and WALWYN.

I have found Wills to be a most fascinating and useful genealogical source in my past research!
I have used the UK National Archives Documents Online many times to purchase digitised copies of Prerogative Court of Cantebury pre-1858 Wills. (

Hopefully the forthcoming National Wills Index will simplify the search process for other pre-1858 UK Wills from other courts! I'm looking forward to it!
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