Friday, 29 June 2012

Brisbane's History and Genealogy Expo: a Warts-and-All Report

Genealogists for Families team T-shirt
During Unlock the Past's history and genealogy Expo in Brisbane this week, a friend sent me this email: "The propaganda of excitement in some tweets, blogs etc is anything but convincing. Excessive use of words like 'fantastic', 'amazing', 'fabulous' and 'brilliant' really puts me off. Are the writers being paid to rave on like that?! I challenge you to write an honest, warts-and-all report."

OK - here is my report - but first I want to thank Unlock the Past for all their hard work in organising such a big event. (Disclosure: Unlock the Past will pay me for the talk I gave on Tuesday, but that will not influence my comments here.)

I have previously talked about why I like genealogy conferences. During the Expo I heard many people say that they were having a great time and learning a lot. One lady even met two relatives whom she didn't know existed! Everybody enjoyed seeing old friends and meeting new ones. But were all the exhibitors happy? I suspect not, because attendance numbers were disappointing. Could local societies have done more to promote the event? I don't know. If I could turn back the clock, would I personally change what I did at the Expo? Definitely!

A few weeks ago I emailed hundreds of my clients in southeast Queensland and northern NSW to tell them about the Expo. Many replied that they would have come on a weekend, but not Monday to Wednesday because they work full-time. On Monday evening the Expo was open until 9:15 so people could come after work; but as far as I could tell, not many did. Maybe the weather had something to do with that. (Brisbane in June/July is usually gloriously sunny, but unfortunately this week was wet and cold.) Tuesday and Wednesday were busier, but some exhibitors still spent a lot of time trying to keep warm while waiting for people to visit their display.

The venue was better than I expected. The hall was set up with lots of space between the exhibits, and people could move around without bumping into others or knocking books off tables. With a large room and a high roof, noise levels were not a problem, so (thankfully) I did not lose my voice!

I may have been busier than some exhibitors because my table was at one end of the popular Research Help Zone. I thoroughly enjoyed helping people with their research problems, but it was quite challenging at times. My area of expertise is Queensland records, but about 30% of the questions I was asked involved New South Wales or Victoria. Having done some research in those States, I could at least offer a few suggestions and recommend various indexes, Web sites and professional genealogists. Occasionally I could send the enquirer around the corner to Kerry Farmer or Carole Riley, but they had other commitments most of the time.

Being on my own was not easy. Kerin Stinear and Sharn White (bless them) came over occasionally and kept an eye on my table while I dashed out for a bathroom break or a toasted sandwich. When it was time for my own talk, I had to politely abandon a lady who had just arrived with a long list of questions. In the lecture room, after I found my Powerpoint presentation on the computer, figured out how to turn on the projector and asked someone to put batteries in the remote control, I finally got underway. By then I was feeling a bit rattled, and my presentation of 'Black Sheep and Vanishing Relatives' was not up to my usual standard.

I don't know about the other exhibitors, but for me, from a business point of view, the Expo was not a success. With so many stands selling so many interesting items, competition was tough. I barely sold enough books to cover expenses for the three days.

From a personal point of view, I did enjoy the Expo, but I would have enjoyed it a lot more if I had not been an exhibitor. I bought a Gold Ticket because I wanted to attend a few talks, but in the end I only made it to two. I could not bring myself to walk away when people were waiting to ask me questions!

The talks I did hear (both by Audrey Collins) were entertaining and informative. Audrey said that her blog, The Family Recorder, will soon have a page with links to hard-to-find UK newspaper sites. I envy those of you in southern States who can attend Audrey's seminars in the next few days.

It will be interesting to hear what others thought of the Expo. I know I missed some good talks, but it was fun to catch up with friends and colleagues, even if we only managed a quick chat. (Next time I'll do things differently so I have more time with you!)

Last but not least, a message for members of Genealogists for Families: If you meant to buy a team T-shirt but forgot, please email me!

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Mental Asylum Case Books

Family historians may be surprised to find relatives' names in indexes to mental asylum records. Many patients spent only a short time in an asylum, and their descendants would probably not know about that.

Part of an entry in a Goodna Asylum case book


Reasons for the onset of mental illness (as stated in case books) include childbirth, epilepsy, head injury, alcohol, syphilis, congenital defect, jealousy, 'domestic troubles', bereavement, and 'deserted by the father of her child'.

Goodna Asylum case books often give the patient's admission date, discharge or death date, age, marital status, number of children (and age of the youngest), occupation, country of birth, residence, religion, mental disorder and its onset, changes in behaviour and general health, and a physical description. Some entries include names of 'insane relatives' (here or overseas), references to time spent in other asylums, or comments such as 'good bowler at cricket'. For some patients there are letters or photographs.

For patients transferred on 10 Jan 1865 from the Lunatic Asylum, Brisbane, to Woogaroo Lunatic Asylum, case books also give the date of first admission. Until Woogaroo Asylum opened in 1865, psychiatric patients were treated at the old convict hospital, and in some cases there are references in prison records.

Information from case books has traditionally been available only to close relatives in special circumstances via Right to Information - but I have details from case books for some patients admitted more than one hundred years ago. To help family historians, I have indexed those names (and many others). I have also created a mini-guide, Researching Queensland Mental Asylum Patients.

Note that case books are completely different from Public Curator insanity files, which are much easier to obtain and potentially even more useful for family history.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Update on History / Genealogy Expo, Queensland, 25-27 Jun 2012

An interesting development in regard to the History and Genealogy Expo in Queensland, 25-27 June 2012, has prompted me to write this update.

The Expo will be held at the Centenary State High School, 1 Moolanda Street, Jindalee, Brisbane. There is free parking nearby, and the school is accessible by bus, and by car from most directions via motorways and main highways. Expo hours (note the Monday evening session) are:

Mon. 25 Jun: 12 noon - 9:15pm
Tues. 26 Jun: 9am - 5pm
Wed. 27 Jun: 9am - 4pm

There will be 39 main talks by 18 presenters from five states and the UK, plus 28 free presentations. The featured visiting presenter is Audrey Collins from the United Kingdom's National Archives. Audrey is always good value, as are Dan Lynch (author of the brilliant book Google Your Family Tree), Shauna Hicks and many other speakers at this event.

My talk on 'Black Sheep and Vanishing Relatives' is at 3:30pm on Tuesday 26th. I will be an exhibitor on all three days - but not all the time, because I am going to the talks by Audrey Collins, Dan Lynch and perhaps one or two others. If you want to ask my advice about Queensland research, please note that my booth will be unattended on Tuesday afternoon, and for up to an hour at various other times.

Admission to the Expo is cheaper if you book online by June 20th. An Expo admission ticket gives you access to:

* Research Help Zone. (If you need help with dead ends in your research, come prepared with copies of your certificates plus family group sheets or charts showing names and, most importantly, dates and places.)

* Free lookups in FindMyPast, GenesReunited, ScotlandsPeople and The British Newspaper Archive.

* At least 55 exhibitors from five States (libraries, archives, museums, family and local history societies, special interest groups, ethnic and cultural organisations, professional researchers, course presenters, antiquarian booksellers, online data services, printers, publishers and resellers of books, magazines, CDs and maps, etc.)

* 28 free presentations (short introductions to research, product demonstrations etc).

In addition to those free talks, the 39 main presentations (in two streams) will run almost continuously. It is now possible to save money by pre-purchasing tickets to those 39 main talks.

If you buy them on the day, tickets to most of the main talks will be $5 each, or $10 each for talks by Audrey Collins from the UK National Archives. Tickets for individual talks can be purchased at the Expo, but you can also buy an 'all you can attend' Gold Ticket. That gives you unlimited admission to the main talks, and costs just $50 if you buy it online by June 20th.

On the Web page where you buy your Expo admission tickets, scroll down to 'Presentations - Gold Ticket' and follow the instructions.

When you are considering the cost of Expo admission plus multiple talks (which, if booked in advance, is just $70 for three days), bear in mind that at the recent Australasian Congress on Genealogy and Heraldry in Adelaide we had to pay $450 to choose from about the same number of talks and interact with only a handful of exhibitors compared to 55+ at the Expo.

It may be a long time before another event on this scale is held in Queensland, so I do hope you can come.
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