In time and place, local history, family history, social history conference
I attended the Sunday sessions of Queensland’s first local, family, and social history conference. Titled “In Time and Place”, it was about local history, family history and social history. The organisers hit the mark joining together these branches of history in a conference.
As noted in the brochure, “family historians regularly explore the localities and communities of which their ancestors were part. Local historians identify the people who lived in and contributed to the districts in which they are interested.” The conference brought together two different fields of history. It gave us opportunities to grow our research skills. It challenged us to think about our research differently. To learn skills from the successes of other researchers.
The Sunday keynote speaker was Shauna Hicks. More about Shauna below. For Shauna’s presentation, she took up the challenge by Jill Ball in a blog post titled Please, make me think. Jill wants “to be informed, entertained, inspired and challenged” at conferences.
How did Shauna do this?
By the end, Shauna had inter-weaved a tale of love, sex and those dammed lies. Not just the classic genealogy research techniques like collecting the birth certificates. Shauna pulled much more than names and dates from the birth certificates from some families with 8-10 children. They detailed migration paths around Australia before cars and smooth roads. It is hard to comprehend why a family would move from South Australia to Queensland with a heavily pregnant wife or with young babes and numerous other children.
Shauna shared, through examples, why we need to consider the historic situation our ancestors found themselves. To research the local history, social developments and the different religious and moral traditions, practices and customs of that time. To be careful not to bias our research with our own current-day views. Time is key.
Local history fed key facts into the research. There were hydroponic maps, not just land maps. Why would someone want land that was partly covered in water with no road access to plots? Government gazetted facts shed more light. There were twists and turns, name changes, criminal records, newspapers and more that were researched to discover a part of her family history. Place is key.
I assume that Shauna only scraped the surface with the amount of family and local history she shared from investigating this section of her family. Even then we saw discovery after discovery. Much research was required to create clarity.
What was clear is the need to get the grey matter working on dates, people and places. To widen the range of sources you pull data. To look for facts in unexpected places. To check and recheck your dates. Births less than 9 months after weddings. To ask questions. Who really is this persons mother or grandmother? Who is their biological father? Disappearances and surname changes adding complexity to the investigation.
One source is oral history from your family. Remember there are issues of oral history being incorrect or being aware that memories can change.
It is time to stop avoiding the controversial facts like sex before marriage, who are the real parents and perhaps consider a DNA test. Dig deep into local as well as classic family history sources. Take on the research challenge to put your family in time and place.
An “inspiring, challenging and controversial” presentation that Jill Ball would have enjoyed. It was full of laughs and serious stuff, love, sex and damn lies. I am not going to give away the final plot turn. You might be fortunate enough to hear Shauna speak on this topic. Except to say, in Shauna’s words, “You might not be who you think you are!”
Key for me, Shauna Hick’s presentation today at this history conference, like the presentation at Congress 2015 by Pauleen Cass that woke me up to how much work and effort goes into successful research – I need to dig much deeper and wider when doing my family research. Hard work ahead for the lazy genealogist, me.
About: Shauna Hicks frequently speaks on a range of family history topics and is a director at Shauna Hicks History Enterprises, a research and consultancy business. She blogs to record her own family history research and other findings at her blog Diary of an Australian Genealogist. Shauna has a comprehensive background ideally suited for family history consultancy including formal studies, awards, numerous publications and abundant experience.
PS – Thanks to the State Library of Queensland, a key sponsor for the event.