Saturday, 14 January 2017

The blog is closing... (but not really)

From February 1, 2017, the GSQ Blog hosted on Blogger will be closed down.  Oh no, I hear!

Don't worry, it has already been moved to its new home as part of the GSQ web site revamp.  The Blog even has its own web address at  All of your favourite articles are there, plus all of the wonderful ones still to come.

While you're there, you might also want to check out the rest of the GSQ site, with its new logo and revamped design with more exciting additions being added over the next few months.  There is a very comprehensive family history program planned for 2017 so see what might be of interest on the Events Calendar. The members-only area of MyGSQ is also ready to be relaunched with the addition of the Wheeler Project and the GSQ Shop is adding digital downloads to its inventory.

GSQ looks forward to hearing from you on the new GSQ Blog.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

DNA and those New Year Goals

Welcome to 2017, a New Year with lots of research possibilities.

I don’t like the term “New Year Resolutions” as there are so many negative connotations with those words. This is because so many people make them and they don’t last the distance. 

I do like the idea of setting some goals. One of the problems is to set attainable goals and Amy Johnson Crow has written a great post about SMART goals that explains this very well as the first step once a goal is made to success is to make an achievable goal.

Is one of your goals this year to learn more about DNA testing and what it can do for you? Find out what all those scientific terms mean? Find out what all the ads on TV are about?

If so, did you know GSQ has a DNA Special Interest Group? 

It started in May 2015 and we meet on the third Sunday of each second month at 9.30am and finish around 12.Everybody is welcome regardless of your experience level.

There is usually a presentation and a Q & A session. Next meeting is January 15 and the topic will be “Organising the Results”

Genetic genealogy (DNA testing using the range of tests available) is the newest tool in the genealogist’s toolbox. It is used along with and together with all the other records you have traditionally used in researching your family history such as certificates, wills etc. Just as with any new record type you have to put in some effort learning about the record (tests in DNA) and what they will do for you and also what they won’t!

You would not expect to get an English birth certificate for 1813 but you only know this because you have studied and know that in England and Wales civil registration started 1 July 1837 so that is the earliest date you can get a civil registration certificate.

There will be a number of opportunities for DNA education in 2017 apart from the SIG meetings. There will be an evening presentation in March “An Introduction to Genetic Genealogy” Check out the GSQ website for more details.

The plan is to also hold a number of beginner classes (at least four) during 2017 at separate times to the SIG meeting. 

There will be a more advanced class working its way through Blaine Bettinger and Debbie Parker Wayne’s book “Genetic Genealogy in Practice“. Numbers for this will be strictly limited, it will be an ongoing commitment throughout the year and the class will be held in the evening. More details will be given at the next SIG meeting.

So if learning more about DNA is one of your 2017 goals, there will be plenty of opportunities!

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Wheeler Project - Reflections

Annie Wheeler's index of Central Queenslanders serving in the Australian Imperial Force (A.I.F.) has enabled Genealogical Society of Queensland (GSQ) volunteers to document the lives of more than 2,700 Australian men and women who fought and died and World War I. Their service records, housed in the National Archives of Australia (NAA), show the diseases from which they suffered – scabies and diarrhoea, trench foot, venereal disease, influenza and tuberculosis – as well as the battle injuries that either killed them or left them permanently disabled or disfigured. Examination of these records inevitably raises questions about the circumstances in which many of them died. Some of these questions are explored here.

Graphic descriptions of battle conditions in the main European theatres of war (France, Belgium) suggest that soldiers and nurses served in appalling conditions: rain- or snow-filled trenches, knee-deep mud, constant shelling that wounded both men and animals (horses were extensively used by the A.I.F.). Many died in the mud, in their own blood and excrement; their bodies lay where they fell, sometimes not recovered for years. How, in such conditions, were their remains identified?

In the 1914-1918 war, Australian soldiers were issued two identity discs (progenitor of today's 'dog tags'), one red, one green: red for blood, green for earth. When the remains were recovered, the green disc was intended to accompany the deceased to the burial site; the red disc was to be returned to the grieving family along with the contents of the soldier's 'kit' (personal effects such as badges, diary, belt, canteen,watch, spectacles, knife, sword) with a letter to the family of the 'fallen' indicating the place of burial, often no more than a hastily dug grave on the battlefield, marked by whatever identification was recoverable.

In some instances, the effects returned to families did not include the identity disc, which suggests that identification had to be established by other means. Some were tentatively identified through letters found with the deceased that included the name of a family member, or through the testimony of fellow soldiers or nurses who witnessed the death and were able to verify the identity of the deceased and circumstances of the death. After positive identification was made, the remains were re-interred in a military cemetery, and the family was informed of the location of the permanent resting place of their loved one (including plot, row and grave number). And when positive identification could not be established? The remains were reverently re-interred, with a marker indicating 'Unknown' and the date of burial. There are thousands of such graves in British, Canadian and Australian military cemeteries in or near French and Belgian towns.

Army records of those killed in action suggest another disturbing aspect of death in war: the need to convey in sensitive language the circumstances surrounding the death. In most cases, the records of soldiers killed in action include the phrase 'died of gunshot wound received in action' or 'succumbed to wounds (or illness)', but in other cases the official record contains only the date and place of death and the phrase 'official investigation conducted'. Many families, determined to learn more about the death of a loved one, plied Army officials with letters requesting details of the investigation. Official responses suggested that the death was attributable to an enemy action the like of which today would be regarded as an atrocity, a war crime.

One such death is that of a 27-year old former school teacher serving near Bapaume in 1917, killed in an explosion when retreating German forces packed dynamite in tunnels under the town hall and triggered the explosion when the area was full of civilians and Australian soldiers. This man's story is told by Geoffrey Robertson QC in his book Dreaming Too Loud (Random House Australia, Vintage Books 1913). The soldier's remains were discovered 14 years after his death, his identity established by means of the name inscribed on a watch given him by his pupils before he went off to war. He was one of 19 Australians and scores of Bapaume residents killed in the explosion. Their deaths were commemorated in 2011 when the town's leaders tracked down the relatives of the 19 Australian soldiers and invited them to the unveiling of a memorial. Robertson notes that those with command responsibility in the German Army would have been prosecuted for the 'scorched earth' tactics they employed as they retreated - poisoning wells, cutting down fruit trees, setting time bombs - had the British, French and Australian demands for justice not been overruled by an American President (Woodrow Wilson) intent upon magnanimity towards the vanquished, in the hope that a post-war league of nations would prevent future conflicts.

NAA files of A.I.F. soldiers include heavily censored letters to and from Australian prisoners of war lamenting inhumane treatment – lack of food and medical treatment, substandard sanitary conditions – which today would be considered war crimes as defined under the Geneva Conventions (1948). The universal values embodied in the Genocide and Geneva Conventions for protecting prisoners of war, together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights "form the great post-war human rights triptych, setting out the basic principles by which state action should be judged...they are universal because their denial in one country, or even in one town, affects and shames us all" (Robertson, p 264).  Australia's Herbert 'Doc' Evatt, President of the U.N. General Assembly in 1948, played a crucial role in formulating and promoting acceptance of these important declarations of human rights.

As Australia Day approaches, it is fitting to remember the sacrifices of the men and women of the A.I.F., to whom Annie Wheeler devoted years of her life, recording their contributions to Australia's war effort in the hope that their lives would have meaning long after their deaths. The Wheeler records will be available on the GSQ website in mid-1917

Seasons greetings,

Geraldine Lee

P.S.  As yet no clues to the identity of the Unknown Soldier published in my November blog Wheeler Redux.  Here he is again, waiting for a relative to name him...

Monday, 19 December 2016


Because it is Christmas time I thought I would write with a Christmas theme this time. Unfortunately, I do not have any stories, letters or photos handed down from previous generations that show how they celebrated their Christmases, so I will tell you about Christmas for me as a child growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in a small town in Northern New South Wales.

There was always a tree, a big one, almost reaching to the ceiling. Dad and his mates would go out into the forest and bring back pine trees for all their friends and workmates. The arrival of the tree a few days before Christmas was always very exciting. It was placed in the corner of our lounge room and then Mum and Dad would decorate it when we had all gone to bed. Next morning, we would wake up to the tree looking magical, festooned with colourful balls and tinsel. Of course, as we got older and entered our teenage years we all had a hand in the decorating.

The presents did not go under the tree until Christmas Eve night when all the children were in bed. When we were very young this was because Santa delivered the presents but as the years went by it was to accommodate those of us who still believed in Santa Claus. There was an age gap of eight and a half years between the eldest child and the youngest so there were quite a few years when the eldest three of us knew the truth about Santa but the youngest two were still firm believers. I can remember when I finally came to the awful realisation that Santa was not true, thanks to a friend at school. I couldn’t believe it at first – hadn’t I seen him a year or two earlier walking down our hallway in the dead of night. To add to my dismay and disappointment I discovered that my younger sister already knew the truth. 

I don’t remember any of the presents that were under the tree except for one particular year. This was a magical Christmas because under the tree we found beautiful hand built wooden furniture such as kitchen cupboards and benches for our cubbyhouse that Dad had built for us in our back yard. I was only 5 or 6 at the time and a year or two later I came to know that it was Dad who had built the furniture and not Santa Claus. It seems amazing to think I was once so young and innocent.
Ours was a Catholic family so Christmas always involved Mass on Christmas Day. When we were all young we would attend mass early on Christmas morning and it was very difficult to sit through the service knowing that there were presents waiting for us at home under the tree. As we got older we would attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve. This added to the excitement of Christmas. We would go to bed early on Christmas Eve and then get up about 11pm and drive through the streets of the sleepy town to the Church, lit up for the ceremony. My family always got there early and sat in the front pews. The Church would gradually fill up until it was absolutely packed and there would be standing room only by the time the service began. Many of the congregation were Christmas revellers doing their Catholic obligation before going home to sleep in on Christmas morning. Attending Midnight Mass always caused a major dilemma in our family. When would we open our Christmas presents? Should we open them while we were having a cup of tea and a piece of Christmas cake when we arrived home from Mass or should we wait until the morning. “Wait until morning” usually won because the younger children had often fallen asleep on the way home.

My father worked for the Post Master General’s Department and every year there was a Postal Institute Children’s Christmas Party.  For me, this was usually the first event that heralded the start of the Christmas season and so, once it was announced by my parents I knew the countdown was on to Christmas and the summer holidays. 

The Christmas party was held in the showgrounds and commenced with Santa arriving in the back of an old “ute” which drove around the oval several times with Santa calling out and ringing a bell and all the children squealing and shouting with excitement. Then Santa would give out presents to all the children. It was very exciting to anticipate what present you would receive. Sometimes you got a wonderful present, other times you would be very disappointed. The presents were precisely organised according to gender and age and each gender age group received the same present. I can remember when I was 7 all the 7-year-old girls received a fantastic present. It was a colouring book “Colour by Numbers” and a box of 24 Derwent Lake Coloured Pencils. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened that present. I didn’t think I had ever seen anything as beautiful as those pencils and their gorgeous range of colours lying in their box sharpened and ready for me to use. The present giving was followed by a party. The children all sat at long trestle tables and were served cakes and biscuits and lollies and little bottles of soft drinks, all that exciting party food that was only seen at parties and Christmastime in those days. I am sure there would have been sandwiches and other substantial food but of course I don’t remember that. I just remember the delicious sweet food and fizzy drinks.

Many years later when my own children were small my father played the part of Santa Claus at these functions. He was perfect for the part as he sported a big bushy grey beard. He still does. It is very white now and around Christmas time, occasionally, a little child will point and say “there’s Santa”.    
Another annual event in my childhood that marked the Christmas season was the Christmas carnival organized by the Lismore Catholic community. This was a huge event in the Christmas calendar in Lismore. As small children, we always just called it "The Christmas Tree" because a predominant feature of the carnival was a huge tree in the park that was decorated every year for the carnival. To us as small children it was so impressive that it overtook everything else at the carnival. However, as I grew older this carnival took on another focus. As students of Catholic schools, we participated in the grand Nativity Pageant that was staged at the carnival each night. The primary schools and high schools would alternate nightly with their performances. A huge stage was erected and large choir stands placed at an angle on either side. Practising for these events went on for weeks and the discipline and precision required was absolute. Most of the students performed in the choir that accompanied the pageants but a sizeable number were selected to play the important characters of the Nativity story. These were coveted and sought after roles. One year I was delighted to be chosen as an angel. I had a long white dress tied with a silver cord around my waist and huge white wings. I felt very honoured and “angelic”. I had to kneel on a ledge with arms folded and gaze adoringly at the newborn baby in the manger. One night, much to my dismay, very early in the performance a Christmas beetle flew under my long gown and buzzed around for the entirety of my time on stage. Luckily, I was not afraid of beetles but the experience was very unsettling and as it buzzed and tickled my legs I got the giggles and thought I would fall off the stage. Needless, to say my less than angelic performance was noticed and I was severely reprimanded and I was not offered the role of an angel in following years.

I searched Trove for some information about the Lismore Christmas Carnival and discovered an article reporting on the decision to hold the carnival for the first time in 1954. Here is the article that appeared in The Northern Star on Wednesday 24th Nov 1954.

The Carnival appears to have been a roaring success as reported in the Northern Star on Friday 3rd December 1954.

Those days are so far off now and Christmas does not seem to have the excitement that it did for me as a child. I am sure that this is part of growing up and getting older and discovering how the world really works. I do hope that there are many children out there who still feel the magic and excitement of Christmas. I suspect that my 5-year-old grandson does. He was overheard telling his 9-year-old sister that Santa Claus can see everything you do and hear everything that you say.

Happy Christmas to you all and best wishes for a safe and fulfilling New Year.

Meg Carney 

Monday, 12 December 2016


As the year draws to a close, we often reflect on the events during the year and start to think of what lies ahead. Like me, many of you have probably experienced the highs and lows that life can throw at us. The worst low was the death of a very close friend after a short but painful battle with cancer. The best high, and an ongoing joy, has been getting to know my new grandson who turned one in October. In between, I had the pleasure of buying a new red car – everyone told me that red cars always go faster. Unfortunately this red car was crawling along in heavy traffic on Kessels Road at Mt Gravatt and ended up being sandwiched by three trucks! Farewell red car number 1, aka Juno; welcome red car number 2, aka Trixie!!

Family history research and related activities have been fairly sporadic during the year. After a blogpost earlier in the year which mentioned my 3 x great grandfather, I received confirmation that my theory about his origins was most likely correct, from a researcher who had completed an in-depth study of the surname and its origins. He has provided me with detailed pedigree charts which I have started to analyse. Hopefully I’ll find some time over Christmas to continue with this. Another highlight included working with one of our members to develop a case study for a presentation on evidence and proof given at a GSQ mini-seminar in August. I also gave a presentation to the Redlands Genealogical Society Writing Group on strategies to start writing a family history.

I enjoy GSQs Writing Group and it continues to flourish. This is a collaborative group where members are able to share what they have written and feedback is welcomed. At each meeting we do a short writing exercise. At our last meeting in October 2016 we focussed on the 2017 topic for the Joan Reese Memorial Short Story competition “The ancestor I’d most like to meet and why.”   I think I’m correct in saying that all winners of the competition, except one, have been members of the Writing Group, which is a great outcome. The competition closes in May 2017 and I encourage all members to enter. Non-members are also welcome to enter on payment of a small fee. Details can be found in the December issue of Generation and will be available on the website.

2016 has been a busy year for GSQ: it unveiled its new premises at 25 Stackpole Street in Wishart at the beginning of the year. The relocation sadly resulted in the loss of some long-time members who found it difficult to get to Wishart. On the other hand, the change in location has resulted in new members who appreciate especially the availability of on-site parking. We have held Open Days, a Family History Fair, continued with the variety of special interest groups, and offered a range of education sessions, seminars and mini-seminars, either at Stackpole Street or at Queen Alexandra Centre at Coorparoo. Members visiting Stackpole Street for research or some other activity have appreciated the purchase of more comfortable seating.  2017 offers the prospect of a brand-new website as well as other initiatives. Do come and visit us and see how we can help you with your research.

Has 2016 been a good year for you? In the hustle and bustle of getting ready for Christmas it would be worthwhile taking a few moments to reflect on what the year has brought you – both the positive and the negative. This is not the appropriate place to talk politics, but 2016 has been an interesting year, hasn’t it, and I wonder what 2017 will bring. On a personal level, what are you looking forward to in 2017 – New Year aspirations sounds much more positive than New Year resolutions.

I wish you all a Happy Christmas and hope the New Year brings you joy and perhaps a break in a persistent brickwall.

Until next time

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Wheeler Redux - Australia, Forever Changed

One-sixth of Australia's total pre-World War I population of 5 million was killed in action or wounded in the Middle East battles at Egypt or Gallipoli, in France or Belgium at Messines, Polygon Wood, Passchendaele. Survivors of these battles were discharged, repatriated to Australia, expected to take up their lives after what is today acknowledged as the most brutal war in living memory. Some managed to resume their pre-war lives, despite old wounds, amputations, painful memories of loss and sacrifice; some prospered, a testament to their strength of character and to the love and support they received from family and friends; perhaps simply a testament to luck. Their pain and sacrifice is commemorated every Armistice Day, 11th November. The red poppies of Flanders.  Australia, forever changed...more than one-sixth of the young adult population dead, or wounded in body and spirit.

Annie Wheeler's index of Queenslanders serving in the A.I.F. 1914-1918 opens for us the lives of the men and women who volunteered to defend an ideal. Wheeler's index gives us enough information to trace, through archival collections (National Archives of Australia, Queensland Justice Department) the pre- and post-war lives of these soldiers and nurses – their families, their military units, the actions in which they participated, individual acts of bravery or cowardice (those adjudged to be cowards were executed) and, perhaps most distressing, the injuries they suffered. Shell shock. Gassed.  Gunshot wounds (GSW - abbreviation litters these files). Shrapnel wounds. Disease. Captured and confined in enemy prison camps but not out of danger:  hungry, cold, alone.

For those killed on the battlefield, a file insert leaps out at the reader: a half-size caramel-coloured card with precise details of the date and place of the death, the location of the grave, correspondence to and from the next-of-kin.  Here are two of them, brothers, born near Rockhampton nine years apart, the sons of Patrick and Ellen Greevy:

Greevy, Thomas Fitzpatrick, Gunner 14th Field Artillery Brigade, died 9 March 1917 of wounds received in the battle for Bullecourt, buried in Flers Dressing Station Cemetery, 1/2 mile south of Flers, 2-1/2 miles north-west of Combles, France.  [For further information on the battle for Bullecourt, see]

Greevy, Robert Herbert, Private 42nd Battalion, died of wounds received in action 6 September 1918 France...

It is likely that Robert knows of his elder brother Thomas' death the previous year but not how he died, whether instantly or mortally wounded and in pain. Likely too that some of Robert's mates in the 42nd are wounded or dead. He thinks about the 'boys' own' adventure he anticipated, contrasts it with the bloodbath that confronts him. He thinks about his own mortality, wonders whether he is brave enough, strong enough to fight to the death as his brother Thomas did; self-doubt intrudes. Feelings of fear, anger, helplessness over his own inability to choose where he fights or when, powerless over his own destiny.  Possibly he despairs about the futility of war, plagued by vengeful thoughts, determined to seek retribution on the enemy. Robert thinks of his parents, his eldest brother John and sister Catherine grieving the loss of one brother and fearing for the life of another. Loving can be dangerous in time of war.  Like dots on a pointillist painting these thoughts take a toll on Robert. They change him forever in ways that can only be imagined. He dies in battle the following September.

Ordinary men and women who don't stand out in a pre-war crowd are changed by the uniform and taking the oath to serve their country.  The sacrifices they and their families make to honour that oath  upon them an indefinable quality:  resolute determination, a sense of destiny, captured by the camera. Here are some of them:

William Marshall Gerard, 1895-1952
Arthur Thomas Gibson, 1895-1962

2nd Lieut. Percy Ussher Gooch, 1887-1962

Lieut. Hereward Roderick Gower, 1893-1954

Driver Jack Graham, 1895-1971

2nd Air Mechanic Ronald Edwin Macaree, 1897-1973

Pte Gilbert Roland Shaw, 1895-1975

 PteWilliam Ernest Shaw, 1889-1917

and Gilbert's young brother William, enlisted 1914, fought at Gallipoli, wounded in France 1915, killed in Belgium  4 October 1917 -

Pte Alfred James Sidey, 1888-1979

 Pte Archer William Skewes, 1886-1964

Nursing Staff 13th Aus'n Hosp Enoggera -
Gertrude May Skyring 1880-1981

Pte George Roderick Skinner, 41st Battalion, killed in action 29 September 1918

Here is Edmund Atherton, whose story is told in Jane Bardsley's Outback Letterbook Across the Years 1896-1936 (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1987, reprinted in Australian Voices: Glimpses of our pioneering past through diaries, letters and recollections from the First Fleet to the Great War, Pier 9, Murdoch Books Pty Ltd, 2010).
 Pte Edmund Atherton, 1898-1977

Jane's letter, entitled "On no account let Edmund see me sad" recalls travelling to Brisbane to see her son Edmund off to war. Jane had another son in the A.I.F. whose whereabouts at the time were unknown, hence she was concerned not to let Edmund see her sorrow. Edmund, so young when he enlisted that he had to obtain his parents' consent, was granted permission to travel north to visit his family before leaving Australia for further training in the Middle East.  Not yet ready to take leave of her son, Jane took the reverse journey to see Edmund's ship leave the dock in Brisbane

Here is an unknown soldier, his image on file at the National Library of Victoria. He may be a Queenslander.  Someone reading this blog might know who he is. Please forward the link to anyone you know whose Australian ancestor served in World War I.  His story has yet to be told.

Geraldine Lee