Monday, 22 August 2016

King Philip's War

What began as an effort to contextualise the life of my ancestor George Parker (1612-1656), who emigrated to Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635, has consumed me for weeks as I continued reading the History of Plymouth Plantation 1606-1646 (William Bradford, governor of the colony 1626-1656; William T. Davis, ed, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908, Although the initial foothold on the North American continent ended in disaster (Jamestown, 1608), Bradford's Plymouth Colony has come to be regarded as the seminal event in American history because the principles of democratic government were enshrined by these colonists before they disembarked from the Mayflower in 1620.  Other ships followed the Mayflower, bringing thousands more colonists interested less in religious freedom and good governance than in making money.  They did so at the expense of the native American population, a fact that (at least for my generation of Americans) was glossed over with sentimentalised accounts of pioneer heroism against Indian savagery. In reality, the 1620 colonisation was the start of an insidious pattern:  the invasion of Indian land, followed by a period of trade and friendly exchange, until the Indians came to realise that they were being swindled, objected, and found themselves in a position of having to accept the invaders or fight to preserve their remaining tribal lands - but they were outnumbered by an enemy possessed of superior weapons and technology.  Facing either extermination of acculturation, one of them – Metacom aka King Philip  chose to fight rather than lose his country.
In 1675-76, Metacom led the final effort of the North American Indian tribes to expel the English invaders. It was known as King Philip's War, aka Metacom's Rebellion. It lasted 14 months and destroyed 12 frontier settlements from Massachusetts to Rhode Island. In August 1676, Metacom was captured and beheaded. The colonists regarded their victory as a sign that God favoured their colonial endeavours. The surviving Indians faced cultural disruption and further expropriation of their lands.
Metacom was a sachem (chieftain) of a federation of Indian tribes that included the Wampanoags, Nipmucks, Pokunokets, Narragansetts and Mohegans. A child when Plymouth Colony was established, Metacom was called 'King Philip' by the English in acknowledgement of his revered place in the tribe as the son of the Wampanoag chieftain, Massasoit.   Massasoit offered assistance to Bradford's colonists during that first bitter New England winter of 1620, teaching them where and how to plant and harvest corn, guiding them to plentiful hunting and fishing grounds. Thanks in part to the help of the Indians, the colonists survived and, over the next 55 years, as colonial settlement spread into Indian territory, the invaders prospered while the native American population steadily declined. Indians became increasingly dependent on English food and weapons traded for ever-diminishing tribal lands. Tension mounted. Metacom, proud and determined not to give another inch, declared that he would no longer submit to English sovereignty over the Indian nation. An Indian hunter killed cattle owned by a colonist in what is now Bristol, Rhode Island (livestock trampling Indian corn had for years been a source of friction between colonials and natives); the farmer retaliated by killing an Indian. King Philip's War had begun.
Other tribes joined Metacom's rebellion. The native uprising that ensued threatened to wipe the New England Colonies off the map. Towns from Rhode Island to Massachusetts were attacked and burned by Indian warriors. By December 1675, the desperate colonists launched a pre-emptive strike against the neutral Narragansett tribe of Rhode Island. One thousand soldiers from the Massachusetts, Plymouth, Rhode Island and Connecticut colonies marched into Narragansett territory and mounted an attack that became known as the Great Swamp Massacre, which resulted in the deaths of 500 Narragansett women and children sheltering in a winter camp. The Narragansetts abandoned their neutral stance and joined with Philip in raiding and burning towns and taking prisoners for ransom. With only a few warriors left, Philip made hit-and-run attacks on isolated farms but the Indian alliance, facing superior numbers of well-armed militia, collapsed. Philip was captured and beheaded. His death effectively ended native American resistance in New England. Some of his supporters escaped to Canada; those who surrendered were shipped off to the West Indies as slaves and the few who survived either fled to Canada, or died of disease or starvation... all of it a far cry from the glorioius saga of taming the wilderness that been taught in school.
My ancestor George Parker left Massachusetts for Rhode Island in 1636. Although I cannot prove it yet (notwithstanding the Millenium files and other questionable online 'sources') I believe that one of George's descendants may have fought in King Philip's War.  I have yet to find a death record for George's son John Parker born 1854.  John would have been about 22 and presumably in Rhode Island when the war broke out; his father acquired substantial land holdings in Rhode Island and New Jersey, which raises the uncomfortable question of whether George was in any way involved in acquiring tribal lands to the detriment of native Americans.  I wasn't prepared for this discovery and it brings with it feelings of guilt and shame, even though what happened 450 years ago is beyond my ability to change. 

Genealogy can lead to some confronting discoveries.

Geraldine Lee 

Monday, 15 August 2016

There is Always Somewhere New to Look

 I am still a relative newcomer to genealogy and family history. I have been tracing my family history in earnest for only 3 years and I have been surprised and often very excited at how much I have discovered in this seemingly short time.

When I first started my research I thought it would merely be a matter of obtaining all the Birth, Death and Marriage Certificates that were available. From these I would discover the names of my ancestors, where they were born, where they were married, where they died, and that would be that. How wrong I was! Of course, this is one way of doing it and that is quite OK if it is just the bare bones of your genealogy that you are looking for. However, I was totally unaware of how easily one can become completely hooked on the whole process and how interesting the search can become when one comes up against brick walls and the unexpected twists and turns of your family's fortunes. New lives opened up before me and eras of history that I knew little about became areas of interest and research.

This widening interest was initially triggered by the many seminars offered by the Genealogical Society of QLD (GSQ). These sessions opened my eyes to the possibility that family research is made much more interesting and alive when one knows the social and political climate of the times. This can include fashion, customs, education, social and working conditions, discoveries and inventions, weather and climate and many more. There is scope for looking at the times in an overall holistic way or burrowing down into a specific area of interest and researching that in great detail.

Once I had discovered how broad my research could be I came to realise how valuable it is to use every available resource and to keep looking out for new avenues. There is always something that you may not have known about and there are always new areas becoming available online and in book form. Also, new topics are being offered at seminars and information sessions, and old topics are being revisited.

As I am a member of GSQ I am always notified of upcoming events and there are many throughout the year. There are also knowledgeable and helpful research volunteers at GSQ who are always able to help you with your research and suggest new possibilities when you feel you have gone as far as you can in one area or with one particular ancestor. However, in the last year or so I have also joined the State Library of Queensland and the Queensland State Archives. As a result, I am now notified of upcoming events at these venues and I can register to attend. Mind you, you have to be quick to get a place at some of these sessions as they are very popular and seating is limited. Earlier this year I missed out on a seminar titled “Shackled: Queensland's First Female Convicts”, at the Queensland State Archives. Apparently, it booked up within a few days. However, a video link to this presentation will soon be available. The State Archives has another useful video link (webinar) for family historians called “Family History Discoveries at the Archives”. There is a link to this from their Home Page.

Last week I attended a session at the State Library of Queensland called “ Finding British Ancestors Using the British 19th Century Newspaper Database”. At this session the library staff demonstrated how to navigate the “British Library Newspapers” collection. This collection contains full runs of 48 newspapers which the British Library considered would best represent nineteenth century Britain. It includes national and regional newspapers as well as some from the manufacturing Midlands and Scotland, Ireland and Wales. This was an extremely informative session and has given me a whole new avenue of research for my English and Irish ancestors.

In the past few months, whenever I attend my local library - which is very regularly I must admit - I have acquired the habit of randomly choosing a couple of genealogy magazines to take home with me. They are the UK Family Tree magazine and the Australian Family Tree Connections. These magazines make for very interesting reading and also contain a lot of articles that can help with solving ongoing problems. Just recently I selected the December 2015 edition of the UK “Family Tree” magazine. When I opened it up and began to read it at home I was very happy to discover that there was a very informative article about UK Censuses titled “Making the most of the Census”. I found this extremely helpful as I had recently been researching some of my ancestors via the UK censuses and had been puzzled as to why I could not find some of them and why there seemed to be contradictions with the names and ages of others. This article explained in detail why this may have happened and what to do in such circumstances. Now I have another avenue to continue along. All is not lost! This same edition also had an article called “ How to get better database results”, which was full of helpful ideas for extending and refining searches on family history databases. Just one edition of one family history magazine has enabled me to search databases more efficiently and to also search UK censuses more knowledgeably. By pure chance, the Australian Family Tree Magazine that I selected at the same time, which is the March 2015 edition, has an article by Gary Dyson titled “When was the UK census taken? Are they a worthwhile resource?” It is a coincidence that I should randomly choose two magazines with topics about censuses at a time when our Census has just been held and is so much in the news this time for various reasons. Gary Dyson's article is also very informative and filled with helpful research suggestions.

In my opinion there is always a different approach to take, something new to know and somewhere else to look. I hope these few examples have shown this. I will continue to be on the look out for every opportunity to attend seminars and watch webinars and I will look forward to every visit to the library to select another copy of a genealogy magazine. I hope you will feel encouraged to do the same.

Monday, 8 August 2016

From family history research to a family history

What colour is your elephant?
A family history is like an elephant – huge and impossible to digest in one piece. One way of reducing the writing task to a manageable level is to consider it a compilation of smaller parts or chapters rather than as a whole. Also you don’t have to do everything in one sitting – pick one part at a time. It helps to set aside a regular time for writing – no phone calls, social or other activities.

This is how I started a recent presentation to the Redlands Genealogical Society Writing Group. My brief was to discuss and outline strategies for turning family history research into a family history. I suggested that a family history is likely to comprise facts – things you’ve discovered with documentary evidence;  opinions – things you think or believe; assumptions – things you have assumed or concluded based on evidence/lack of evidence; and context – things that happened locally, nationally, globally which may have impacted on your ancestors’ lives. As well as these basic elements, family histories can also include memorabilia, family group sheets/pedigree charts, photos, certificates, letters/diaries, heirlooms, etc., etc. Obviously it may not be possible to include physical objects in a book, so an image may have to suffice.

A family history that only contains facts can be pretty boring, whereas a family history full of opinions, assumptions and context, but no facts, is not really a family history. A family history comprises all these various elements with an appropriate weighting or emphasis given to each – the weighting will depend on what you want to write, the amount of material you have, and your audience.
A useful strategy to help achieve balance is to print out what you have written and use different coloured highlighters to pick out each element. Have you highlighted facts in yellow and as a result your page looks like a field of daffodils? You can then decide whether this is appropriate. If you decide there is an imbalance, you can then take steps to adjust the balance. A page full of densely written text can be difficult to read, so try inserting a photo or a map or other image to illustrate your points.

Little Stanney, Cheshire in
relation to Liverpoo
Following on from an earlier point, you don’t have to start at the beginning and work your way forward nor start at the end and work backwards. You can decide who/what you want to focus on. This enables you to gather together the relevant material, read through it to highlight points of interest and renew your knowledge base. You may identify some gaps you hadn’t noticed previously, which may entail further research either before or during your writing. It’s a good idea to practice writing a short piece and share with others to get feedback.

If you focus on who or what interests you the most, you are more likely to keep going. Producing a good draft gives a sense of achievement and confirmation that ‘you can do it!’ Writing about a person of interest can help set the framework for how you structure the remainder of the work.

Some family historians decide they want to write the story of the whole family – paternal and maternal lines, others focus on one branch, either maternal or paternal. Others become fascinated by an individual ancestor, a family business or home, or the ‘ancestral’ home. Depending on your focus, some of these will be easier to achieve than others and some will require a greater effort and persistence.

Another thing to decide is who is telling the story. Are you the author, or are you going to let each ancestor tell their own story? Or, haven’t you really thought about it? When you decide who is telling the story you have covered two significant issues: firstly the tense - past, present, or future; secondly, the point of view - I, we, he she, they.

I used an example from my own family to illustrate some strategies for turning research into text. One of my great-great-grandmothers was Jane Hesketh. I have collated biographical details of her, as follows, but have little other information, so it is quite difficult to create a narrative of her life:

name – Jane Hesketh
birth + parents – born Little Stanney, Cheshire, May 1843, daughter of William Hesketh and Eliza Duckers 
marriage + name of spouse – married George Hall, Chester, 3 November, 1866 
children – Hannah; Elizabeth; Eliza; Joseph; Mary; Betsey; Sarah Jane; George Edward 
The Hesketh family tree
death – died 18 Oct 1897, Liverpool

A pedigree chart is a good visual aid that helps to keep you on track. Also some people relate better to an image rather than a lot of text.

Another useful tool is a timeline, placing an ancestor’s life in the context of local or national or global events. Meg Carney wrote about timelines in an earlier blog post. Depending upon the family history software you use, these can be generated from the data in your system.
I demonstrated to the group how you could create sentences from facts, e.g.

Chester Union Workhouse
1851 census 30 March 1851, Jane Hesketh, age 8, pauper/scholar, Chester House of Industry
Sample text:
Jane’s early life was difficult.  Within a few years of her birth, the Hesketh family was compelled to enter the Chester House of Industry (Workhouse). Jane was recorded as a pauper-scholar in the 1851 census. William was recorded as a pauper/day labourer.  It seems likely that William had difficulty finding and retaining regular work and sufficient income to raise his family.

I added some context concerning Jane’s husband, George Hall, who is recorded in various censuses as a slaterer, plasterer, bricklayer and builder.
Sample text
George was born in Leicestershire and had progressed through an apprenticeship in the building trade, eventually moving to Liverpool. There he would have been in demand as a slaterer and plasterer, and subsequently bricklayer and builder, in what was a rapidly developing city.

How did I feel about the life that Jane and George lived? I could add some opinions and/or assumptions.
Samples of text

  • It’s likely the family had a more comfortable life, evidenced by progression into ‘better’ parts of the city as shown in the censuses.
  • It’s difficult to say from this distance in time, whether Jane and George had a happy marriage, but it was certainly a productive one.
  • Her (Jane’s) mother did not stay a widow for long, marrying ex-soldier Henry Abraham in Chester on 20 December 1867.
  • George did not remain a widower long, marrying widow Ann Rylands on 28 May 1898.

If you are writing up material at different times, a style sheet will help to ensure that you are consistent in presentation. It also helps with the review and editing process. See my July post if you are looking for ideas on developing a style sheet.  

Few writers come up with the perfect product at the first attempt, so approach the writing task with the aim of reviewing and editing. The more you write, or read family histories by other people, the more likely you may re-think how yours is presented. Carry a small notebook to jot down ideas as they come to you and/or keep a notebook by the side of the bed – ideas often pop into your head as you’re about to fall asleep.

Let your writing sit for a while after it’s finished before starting to edit. The aim of editing is to improve your written work, not to throw the baby out with the bathwater or adopt a slash and burn technique, i.e. start a major rewrite. We are sometimes our own worst critics. If you do one type of editing at a time, you can focus on different things. Your first edit may be to check spelling of places, names, etc., whereas a second edit may be to use your style sheet to ensure consistency throughout. Are all your facts correct – have you included appropriate citations?  

Editing is easier on paper than on a computer. Printing out your material in 1½ or double-line spacing allows space for edits and a ruler is really valuable when proofreading line by line. Make amendments in a distinct colour such as green or purple and indicate when these have been incorporated into your computer version. After amending your text, it’s helpful to number your versions, e.g. Hesketh_Jane_v1_22Jul16; Hesketh_Jane_v1.1_27Jul16 (or you could number as v2). Set up a filing system which mirrors the system on your computer or vice-versa – label these and remember to file your work and remember to back-up. Keep older versions of your written work until you’re really sure they’re no longer required.

Writing needs to flow from sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph and chapter to chapter, so that it makes sense. Try a variety of linking clauses, sentences, or words, e.g. 

  • It was not long after Jane’s marriage that …
  • In the last chapter we focussed on George’s marriage to Jane. We now turn to his marriage to Ann ….
  • Jane’s life took a different turn when she married George, and we will discuss that in a subsequent chapter …

The more you write, the more your own writing style will emerge. Trying to adopt someone else’s style can come across as artificial or forced, rather than genuine. Weaving family myths or stories into the text and explaining how these fared during your research adds authenticity to the finished work. Depending on the audience for your work, you may choose to exclude or limit information of a sensitive nature.

I recommended seeking feedback on your writing, but suggest you choose your reviewers carefully. Your work may ‘disprove’ some strongly-held family myths, beliefs and opinions, which can generate a negative reaction. Sometimes it is better to seek comments from those without a vested interest. You can take the comments of others on board, but at the end of the day it’s your work – you don’t have to change things unless they make sense to you.

The end result?
A few final words. Writing a family history is a major task, not one that will be done over a weekend. If you take your time and enjoy the writing process you will take pride in the end result.

Until next time


Monday, 25 July 2016

Crossing Oceans

Australians, like Americans, have ancestors who came from somewhere else. My ancestors risked life and limb crossing oceans in little wooden boats, in the hope of a better future than the past they had left behind.  Sailing the oceans exposed them to dangers they could hardly have foreseen - incompetent navigation, storms, icebergs, shipwreck, disease and starvation, mutiny and pirate attack - unimaginable perils that might have caused them to rethink the journey had they known how uncertain the outcome could have been.

These early voyages to the New World captured my interest because my English ancestor, George Parker, was among some 30,000 immigrants who left England in the first half of the 17th Century in search of a place to worship and raise their families without government interference.  A few months before George Parker sailed on the Elizabeth & Ann, an earlier migration aboard the Angel Gabriel carrying 50 Puritans to the New World ran into a violent storm and foundered on the coast of Maine; there were few survivors.  

The most harrowing account I've read of an ocean crossing is the History of Plymouth Plantation 1606-1646 (by William Bradford, governor of the colony for more than 20 years; William T. Davis, ed, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1908; It covers the voyage of the Mayflower, which set out from Plymouth, England 6 September 1620 and arrived 65 days later, an ill-fated voyage from the beginning. The small congregation of Pilgrims who would eventually form Plymouth colony should have set off in February-March at the latest in order to arrive in the Spring, giving them time to build shelters and plant and harvest crops before the onset of winter. Departure was delayed because they had first to travel from Leiden (where they had taken refuge to avoid persecution in England) to Southampton to board the Mayflower. They chartered the Speedwell for the Channel crossing and hoped to cross the Atlantic in both ships, so that most of the congregation could be accommodated, but the Speedwell began to leak. Not everyone could board the Mayflower; there were difficult decisions about which families would stay behind.

The 102 souls who finally boarded the Mayflower endured a hellish 65-day voyage, during which one of their number accidentally drowned after falling overboard and another, John Howland by name, escaped death when the ship, knocked onto its side by strong winds and high seas, managed to catch hold of a halyard 'and though he was many fathoms underwater, held onto the rope and with a boat hook got back onto the ship'. Living conditions on the ship were foul, cramped and primitive. A crew member, apparently resentful of the scarce rations, threatened to 'cast half of the passengers overboard and make merry with what [was left]', which suggests that there were inadequate provisions all the passengers (and two dogs) on board.  One of the main masts had buckled and cracked, giving rise to fears that the ship could not complete the voyage. The top deck leaked onto the living quarters below decks. One violent storm after another made for a rough crossing and slow progress; Bradford estimated that the ship covered barely 2 miles per day. 

Any joy they may have felt upon arrival in the New World on 11 November, 1623 was blunted by the knowledge that they had made landfall some 200 miles north of the Hudson River, the location of their land grant. The Mayflower captain attempted to steer the ship south to the Hudson but came upon dangerous shoals and turned back towards Cape Cod. A number of passengers threatened to leave the group, but John Carver (elected the first governor of the colony) framed a contract by which they agreed to 'combine together to enact whatever laws proved necessary to preserve the group'. They all signed the contract and the noble experiment in self-government began.

Plymouth colony started off in the wrong place at the wrong time. The New England winter was bitterly cold, the landscape was bleak and inhabited by 'wild men and wild beasts...there were no friends to welcome them, nor inns to refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses much less towns in which to seek succor...half-starved, many of them diseased...'  Their backs were against the sea; they could not return to England because they had contracted to repay, by the fruits of their labour, the agent who had arranged ship's passage. They wanted desperately to get off the ship but had to remain aboard the Mayflower because it would be many months before the task of building shelters was completed by small working parties who had to wade ashore through icy water, carrying tools and rations enough to sustain them a day at a time. Barely a handful who set out from Southampton survived that first winter.

The history of Plymouth colony is part of American folklore, but the details of the voyage and the subsequent hardships of survival in an inhospitable wilderness have been blunted over time, sentimentalised into an account of a feast shared with the Indians.  That first Thanksgiving was unlikely to have been a feast (although Bradford doesn't go into much detail on the subject); more likely these devout people marked the day with prayers of thanks for their survival.

Bradford's eloquent and honest portrayal of these events provides new insights into the founding fathers' vision of democratic government based on the principle that, 'At times of political crisis, the authority of the monarch [could] be suspended, but the consent of the governed could never be'.  
The legacy they left to future generations:  government of the people, by the people, for the people. 

The details of my ancestors are marked on the interactive map below, accessible at

Geraldine Lee

(Additional information about the Mayflower and her passengers can be found at, eg., The Mayflower and her log, Dr Axel Ames, Boston 1901).

Monday, 18 July 2016

A 90th Birthday Celebration

Last week a very exciting event happened in my family. My father had his 90th birthday. We celebrated with a family weekend at his home in a small town in Northern New South Wales. Family members travelled from far and wide. My father is the proud patriarch of 5 children, 19 grandchildren and 15 great grandchildren. Almost everyone was able to attend the celebrations.

My father was born on 10th July 1926 in Lismore, New South Wales. He is the third son in a family of four boys. By all accounts he was a bit of a scallywag from a very early age. He would wander all over the neighbourhood and often his mother did not know where he was. The Catholic Primary School was next door to his house and he would wander in and out of the classrooms. When he was four years old the nuns told his mother that he might as well start school - he was always at the school anyway. So he did. Although he loved it from the beginning, he says that he did not do very well at school because he payed little attention and was always skylarking. He neglected to do his homework or study at home. As soon as school was over each day he would be off playing until dark. However, he was an altar boy and also in the choir and he loved the singing and the ceremonies.

When he was fourteen he was chosen to go to the Marist Brothers Juniorate in Mittagong in the highlands of New South Wales with a view to becoming a Marist Brother. He studied there for two years and says he loved the life because there was lots of swimming in the dam and other sports as well as the choir and the religious ceremonies. It was a rural setting so there were plenty of outdoor activities and farming chores to do. He became good at his schoolwork because there were supervised study times every morning and afternoon. Consequently, he was forced to study. He says that from a position of almost last in the class at school in Lismore he was placed around 7th or 8th at Mittagong. Nevertheless, he was still a “muck up” as Dad calls it. There was a behaviour merit system in place and Dad often came equal last with one other boy. Yet, this did not seem to worry Dad. He enjoyed the experience and always speaks of it fondly. However, as you can probably guess, the day came when the brothers advised him that they did not think he would be suited to the religious life. Dad agreed. At the age of 16, after two years away he returned home to Lismore.

Dad is of Irish and English heritage. On his maternal side his ancestors are all Irish and from farming backgrounds. His great grandparents came from County Cavan and took up land in the 1860's as free settlers near Coraki on the Richmond River. One of their daughters, Dad's grandmother, married a farmer from County Tipperary who had also taken up farming land in Coraki. On his paternal side his great grandfather came to Australia from County Galway as a convict, sentenced to transportation for life for stealing a cow. After his ticket of leave was granted he married an Irish girl from Dublin. The only English link is Dad's paternal grandfather who was born in London and came to Australia in 1878. He joined the New South Wales Police Force and was posted to Northern New South Wales where he married a daughter of the Irish convict. There is only one photo known to me of any of these ancestors. The photo is of Dad's Irish great grandfather, Patrick Smith, taken when he was an elderly man. Dad shows a remarkable resemblance to him, with his white hair, bushy white beard and deep set, thoughtful, intelligent eyes.

Dad shares his birth year with some illustrious company; Queen Elizabeth, Sir David Attenborough, Marilyn Monroe, Dame Joan Sutherland, comedian Jerry Lewis, Chuck Berry and the American poet Allan Ginsberg. Dad is a great fan of jazz music and so it is pleasing for him to know that Miles Davis and John Coltrane were also born in 1926.

Some very interesting events also took place in 1926. “Toastmaster,” the first pop up toaster, was invented in America. The first public demonstration was given of an amazing new invention called television. Aerosol was invented in Norway, the famous Route 66 Highway in America was established, and Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne was first published.

However, there are two occurrences in 1926 that are particularly relevant to Dad's life. The first is the release of K2 or Kiosk 2, the iconic red telephone booth, which was brought into service in the streets of London in that year. The second was the first Trans Atlantic telephone call made between London and New York. Both pertain to Dad's working life as a telephone technician.

Image obtained from The Telegraph News – 21 April 2016 – The Queen at 90: The Key Events of 1926, in Pictures. Telegraph Media Group Limited 2016:

For most of his working life Dad worked for the Post Master General's Department, now known as Telstra. For many years the red telephone booths were dotted all over Australia, in the cities, in the country and even the Outback. One of Dad's many jobs as a Telephone Technician was to repair these distinctive booths and he spent many hours travelling to the towns and villages of the far North Coast of New South Wales repairing them. When the red telephone booths began to be phased out Dad was able to procure one for his own aesthetic and sentimental reasons. For many years it held pride of place in his back courtyard next to the barbecue.

These few recollections barely scrape the surface of Dad's rich life story. Dad, his family, and friends had a wonderful weekend celebrating his milestone birthday. In light of his early history, we are forever grateful to him and the Marist Brothers for realising that life in a religious order was not for him.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Developing a Style Sheet

Membership of GSQs Writing Group has changed over the years, so for the benefit of new members, we have started to revisit some basics, which we originally covered in early meetings. One basic is the creation of a style sheet, which is extremely useful in ensuring your finished work is consistent in terms of spelling, style and many other issues. This is particularly the case if material is incorporated from various sources, especially the internet. Current word processing packages, such as Microsoft Word, apply automatic styles to written work and these may not be how you would prefer your material to be presented*.  If your material has been written over a period of time, and you are now compiling several documents into one longer work, it’s quite likely that inconsistencies in style will emerge. 
A style sheet can specify matters such as the font to be used and the size; format of paragraphs; headings and sub-headings; whether to capitalise or not, etc. It’s helpful to have a basic style for short pieces, and adjust this as necessary for longer works. Some elements may change, others may remain the same. 

It is preferable to develop a system that works for you and the material you are working with – and be consistent throughout your document.  When we read a professionally produced book we don't really notice stylistic issues, unless something is suddenly different. Before choosing a style look through a wide range of books and see which you prefer and/or which is easiest to read. Here are some of my suggestions to help you, the writer, to implement a consistent type and style:

Style element
What to consider
Font – text and headings
Choose a font that is clear and easy to read; preferably the same for text and headings; main heading can be larger font size and bold
Arial or Times New Roman
Paragraph style
Various options are available, ranging from full block justified, to indented first line  
Full block with ragged right margin
Current trend is to limit capitalisation to names or proper nouns
Minimal capitalisation
Determine which language is to be used, which is likely to be mainly English, and the standard for spelling
English, Macquarie dictionary
Languages other than English
Decide whether text in languages other than English should be typed as is, or italics, or bold, or in quotes or some other style. Extensive use of quotes, italics, etc. can be distracting and interrupt the flow of the text
Words and phrases in languages other than English are best accompanied by a translation unless the word or phrase is well-known within genealogy or family history
Which tense to use – past, present – it is easy to jump from one to the other without realising; this can interrupt the flow of the text and cause confusion in the mind of the reader
Choose a tense and be consistent in its use throughout the document
Decide how to write surnames – full capitals, bold, italics, sentence case
Sentence case without emphasis
Years of birth and death
Many families use the same first names many times over the generations. It is therefore useful to include dates of birth and death after an individual’s name for clarification and readability or use a coding system
John Smith (1822-65)
John Smith V
Names of ships, newspapers, hotels, etc
Decide on a style for names, bold, italics, underlined, ensuring that each can be distinguished from the other. Underlined is most difficult to read.
Italics or bold italics
Contractions or abbreviations
Excessive use of contractions or abbreviations can interrupt the flow of the text, unless these are well known in genealogy/family history, e.g. GRO for General Register Office; BDM/BMD for births marriages deaths
It is preferable to minimise the use of contractions or abbreviations unless well known
Dates and times
Lots of options for dates, e.g. 3 February 1900; 3rd February 1900; February 3rd 1900; February 3, 1900; 3/2/1900; 03/02/1900, etc.
Options for times include, 10 a.m., 10pm, 10.00 am; 22.00 hours
Decide on the style you prefer and apply consistently throughout the document. It’s not necessary to change a date which is in a different style if it’s part of a quote. Take care with all numerals since Australian/UK style is day/month/year whereas American style is month/day/year
Arabic numerals throughout or numbers under 10 written out and numbers over 10 in numerals
Numbers under 10 written out and over 10 in numerals; many people find Roman numerals difficult to work out
Use of single or double quotes around unusual or certain words for emphasis can be distracting and is probably not necessary
It is preferable to minimise the use of single and double quotes unless the text is an actual quote
Standards exist for a wide variety of published and unpublished works
Consult relevant reference books

The above is a simple set of style guidelines, which can be adapted to suit your purposes. If you are writing a work which is to be published, then it would be worthwhile to consult the Australian Government Style Guide.

*I mentioned earlier that word processing packages such as Word can apply styles automatically to written work. In my version of Word there is a gallery of styles that can be selected or adapted to suit my preferences. Once I have decided what I want my normal style to be, I can set this as a default, so that all future documents will automatically be in this format. It is worth exploring what your word processing package offers.

Until next time