Friday, January 20, 2012

52 Weeks of Abundant Genealogy – Free Online Genealogy Tools

Week 3 – Free Online Genealogy Tools: Free online genealogy tools are like gifts from above. Which one are you most thankful for? How has it helped your family history experience?

I am stepping up once more to take up the challenge posed by by Amy Coffin on Geneabloggers.

There's no such thing as a free lunch! When applied to online genealogy tools this is not true. Due to the generosity of individuals and institutions we have a number of online tools that enhance our genealogy research.

We often whinge about governments and ask where are our taxes going to so I am going to nominate some resources hosted and developed by government agencies. That governments at all levels are taking steps to preserve our history and heritage and make it available freely is commendable.

The National Archives of Australia has a search facilty that provides access to digitised and hardcopy resources. Many service records from the First World War have been digitised and are freely available here. I have found handwritten letters from my grandmother to the authorities, photos of great-uncles, details of family members going AWOL and medical reports. These records are pure gold. Some immigration records of later arrivals have also been documented. Here I have also found letters and photographs that add richness to the cold facts in my database.

Trove, the online collection hosted by The National Library of Australia is our nation's treasure. Just last week I put in a recently deceased relative's name and was rewarded with two photographs of him.  Trove  is best known for its newspaper digitisation project that is just amazing.

In New South Wales, the state in which I live, the State Records site hosts a number of online indexes that cover immigration, convicts, divorces, deceased estates adn other subjects. The best item I got from these records was a gaol photograph of my great-grandfather from the 1890's taken when he was arrested for a minor offence. This  very clear head and shoulders picture is the only photo I have of him. Trips to the archives after using this search facility has netted copies of land transfers, convict indents, vital records and details of juicy divorce cases. 

An advanced search of Hansard, the record of the New South Wales Parliament, is available online from 1973. Entering one of my unusual family surnames brought back two results. Searching Hansard for people and places mentioned in parliament may yield some surprising results.

On a local government level The City of Sydney Archives has a number of interesting collections. The Newtown Project provides historical information about the Municipality of Newtown. ArchivePix is The City of Sydney's Archives digital photograph bank. 

Other Local Authorities in New South Wales have similar local  projects that are of use to genealogists. Pictorial Canterbury is a photo collection from The City of Canterbury. The Historical Council Minutes Index from Woollahra Council provides information on properties and people in the area. The St George and Sutherland Shire Leader has been selectively indexed by the staff at Sutherland Library. The index can be used to search for articles in the Leader about topics of local interest.

When searching for ancestors we mustn't neglect the  free databases hosted by governments and government agencies. They may not have been designed with the genealogist in mind but they may yield some surprising results.

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