How To Find The Skeletons In Your Closet

Okay, maybe you’d rather not know what’s hidden behind the closet door. But when I told my dad I was researching our family history, his response shocked me.

I thought he’d be pleased, but he replied “Why do you want to go messing around with that stuff?”.

BINGO!

I figured there must be skeletons in our closet, and I was going to find them.

Well, I’m still searching for the skeletons in Dad’s closet, but I have found a major one in my mum’s closet. The great-grandfather I thought I had wasn’t my great-grandfather at all. But that’s another story.

Our DNA makes us who we are.

I discovered that my fourth-great-grandfather (on my mum’s side) was the fourth teacher in Australia. He was given a one-way ticket to Australia, courtesy of Her (or His) Majesty, in lieu of being swung from a rope in the Village Square.

By the time the ship arrived in Australia, he had miraculously been given an absolute pardon for his (supposed) crime of burglary. Because he was a Watchmaker by trade, and because the new colony was a bit short-on learned gentlemen, the Government figured he must be pretty smart to make watches, so they promoted him to ‘School Teacher’.

Old Thomas Taber became the Master of the school in Sydney, then Parramatta, and then back to Sydney. And he was the first person to receive a Government Pension of Ten Pounds a year when he retired.

Why is this significant?

When I was six years old, I knew I would be a teacher one day. There were no teachers in my family (I thought), so I often wondered what drove me to follow that career path? It became an obsession for me, and I overcame a lot of obstacles to arrive at the destination.

Now of course, I know it is in my DNA!

So what’s in your DNA?

You don’t have to pay for an Ancestry subscription to find your past. The local Library has a membership you can tap into. And until the end of June, you can access Ancestry (Library edition) on your home computer. From July, you’ll have to go to the Library to find your skeletons.

Delving into Ancestry.com is like putting two Tupperware lids in a dark cupboard. You open the cupboard a couple of weeks later and the lids have multiplied and come tumbling out at you.

Just put your name and the names of your parents in Ancestry, and let the database do the rest. Obviously you’ll need to add a few dates to the names, but you will be flabbergasted at how far back Ancestry will take you. You can keep your account private if you want, but if you make it Public, you will find a lot more information from those who are searching the same families.

But don’t worry, you simply mark non-deceased family as ‘Living’ and Ancestry won’t show their details, even if your Tree is Public.

But now for the important bit…

If you have found family members from way back, but want to validate the information Ancestry has provided, there are ways of finding birth and death details that provide more information.

Most of us probably came from UK stock and there is a Government database that I use a lot, that provides the validation I need when cross-referencing details. Birth registrations only start at 1837, but you can nominate a 2-year buffer that might help.

You need to register on the site, but it is free. It can be a little tricky to navigate at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s fairly simple. And I’m only a phone call away to help where needed.

Once you find the birth registration you are looking for, you can order a copy of the certificate if you want more details. The ones I’ve bought have cost roughly $12, depending on exchange rate.

This is a copy of my great-great-grandmother’s birth certificate.

Mary Jane Cadness

Closer To Home

Most states in Australia have Archive or Government sites where details can be found.

I use NSWBDM to find births registered in New South Wales up to 1921. You don’t need to register, and you can be more flexible with dates. I put as wide a span as possible, and less information is often best.

You can order certificates from NSWBDM if you want; they cost around $35. If you only need the information that is on the certificate, consider ordering a transcript that will cost approx. $20 (watch out for $18 Happy Hour on this site). There are other transcript sites, but this is the one I use.

An important note:

Birth and Death Certificates are only as accurate as the person giving the details at the time. You still need to do a bit of digging to make sure everything is correct.

My uncle provided the details for my Grandmother’s Death Certificate and gave no information about family at all, including his only living sister’s name.

My Grandfather provided the details for his mother-in-law’s death certificate and gave very accurate information that had never been talked about by family members. The great-grandfather I thought I had, wasn’t related at all.

So if you are keen to find those skeletons in your family closest, start digging.

But – be prepared for surprises!

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