Saturday, January 24, 2015

Congress Presenter Interview - Heather Garnsey

When I think of Heather Garnsey, the Executive Officer at The Society of Australian Genealogists (SAG) the term "Little Dynamo" springs to mind. Anyone who has met Heather at SAG or at events in the geneaworld will know that Heather is a a bundle of energy who, equipped with warm smile, works tirelessly to promote genealogy in Australia.

If you have not met Heather in person then you will have an opportunity at the AFFHO Congress in Canberra. In the interim please enjoy the following interview responses from Heather, a presenter at Congress 2015.

* Are you a genealogist, researcher, historian or representing your organisation?

I’m a bit of each! I’ve been researching my own family history for over 40 years and have been employed full time with the Society of Australian Genealogists in Sydney for more than 30 years.

* I wonder if you could tell us a little about your background?

My fascination with family history fortunately started when I was around 11 years old and I was blessed with parents who encouraged my interest; my mother and I used to enjoy many research trips to the city together where I’d work on dad’s side of the family and she’d do hers as we sat side-by-side at State Archives, the Probate Office etc. I was born in Sydney, educated in Melbourne and then moved back to Sydney in my late teens. My early working life was spent in arts administration (helping tour blockbuster art exhibitions around Australia) before I allowed myself a year off paid employment to do the research required for my Dip FHS. Just as I was beginning to explore getting back into the workforce the SAG asked if I’d like to work for them. I’d knocked them back the first time but decided to see if I could combine a hobby and career – and I’m still there.

My day job doesn’t leave a great deal of time to pursue my own genealogy these days and I’m at the point of trying to draw it all together so I can pass it on to other family members. After I completed the SAG’s Diploma in Family Historical Studies I then did my BA and Masters by external study through the University of New England – the latter allowing me to delve into the intricacies of the Old English Poor Law during the Napoleonic Wars!

* How has genealogy improved or changed your life?

Combining a passion with a career has meant that I tend to live and breathe genealogy. The SAG operates six days a week and there is never a dull moment or much spare time. Aside of the fun I’ve had doing my own research I’ve been able to help others to start their research or climb over a brick wall – the latter especially through the Sydney Benevolent Asylum website I help run in a private capacity (

* What do you love most about genealogy?

You never run out of ancestors to trace! And if life gets in the way and you put your family history down for a few months to concentrate on something else, those ancestors are still patiently waiting for you when you return.

* Have you previously attended Congress?

My first Congress was Canberra in 1986 and I’ve only missed one since, and that was because it clashed with another genealogy commitment.

* What are your key topics for Congress?

I’m giving two papers – one on how to find those ancestors who seem to have signed up for a ‘witness protection program’ and another about the SAG’s work to preserve NSW parish registers and make them available to researchers.

* How do you think your topics will help the family historians at Congress 2015?

We all have someone in our tree we can’t find and just approaching the search a little differently is sometimes all it takes to find them. And church registers are an under-utilised resource which can help so many people.

* What do you think are the benefits of attending a large conference like this for you personally and for others attending?

It’s a great opportunity to network and to have the chance to say hello to people you only see every few years – and for me personally it’s usually a time to catch up with SAG members and to put faces to email addresses.

* Do you have a favourite piece of advice or a tip or trick you can share with conference attendees?

Be adventurous in your choice of conference sessions – make sure you listen to speakers you know little about or those you don’t normally get the opportunity to hear not just the ‘names’. Conferences should be all about extending your knowledge and moving outside your comfort zone.

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Good to put a face to the name :)


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