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Some handy land records resources

November 2017

I've been putting together a new presentation focusing specifically on land records and while there is a lot of information that is only available at PROV, there are some online resources that can help you out on your land records journey...if you dare take one!

Know your land districts
A lot of land files are arranged by file number and land district. File numbers are found predominantly on parish maps but land districts are not. Some are easy to figure out based on their proximity to the larger towns from which the districts get their names. But others might lay between two towns and are a little trickier to figure out. 

PROV make this easy though - with a handy list of all the parishes in the state with the county, land district and municipality along with it. This is a list I refer to all the time and is a handy tool in my land records toolbox.

Read the Lands Guide
The Lands Guide is the go to place for information on land research. I purchased a copy of this years ago and it has been an indispensable resource as I've dug deeper into land records. Fortunately, you can now read this 400+ page behemoth online, for free! It runs through the basics of reading a parish map all the way to records from obscure sections of various land acts over the past 150 years or so.

Get searching
A lot of land records and correspondence files have been individually catalogued on the PROV website, in most cases providing the name of the selector/occupier, the parish and the allotment details. I you're just starting out, make sure a quick surname or parish search on the PROV website is one of your first tasks. Once you get your search results, filter for the various land records on the left hand side of the results screen.

And, as always, if you get stuck or have any questions - drop me a line!

Google genealogy

October 2017

25 million books and counting - maybe your ancestor got a mention?

A came across a fantastic little research tip on Twitter today - an article by Lisa Louise Cook where she talks about using Google Books. For those who aren't aware, Google Books is a collection of over 25 million books (so far!) that Google has digitised and placed into their ever growing database. 

Using Google Books, you can search the entire database. Some books and articles are available in full, while majority will return only the short snippets of the publication where your search terms are found. Then it might be the case of chasing up a copy at your local library if you want to know more, or even purchasing a copy of the book if you are really keen.

With some clever searching you may be able to find all you need online.

I could write down all the steps here, but Lisa has put them together pretty nicely on her website, pictures and everything - so I encourage you to have a read and perhaps add a new weapon to your research arsenal.

Lisa also hosts the Genealogy Gems Podcast, so if you're like me and enjoy history, genealogy and podcasts...that might be worth a listen too. It covers a wide range of topics and there are over 207 episodes available so far!

With boom, came bust

September 2017

And more importantly, a paper trail...

On a recent trip to PROV I was tasked with chasing down two separate Deeds of Insolvency under the 1871 Insolvency Act. Like a lot of records at PROV, it is the files that document a difficult time in someones life that provides the most paperwork for researchers over a century later.

If you think about the records that provide some of the more interesting information about an ancestor you'll realise they fit a trend - court records, prison records, divorce files, asylum records, inquests and...insolvency records.

Researching a successful business man or woman at PROV is difficult - researching one who fell on hard times is much easier.

The Deeds of Insolvency under the 1871 Insolvency Act cover the period 1871 to 1890 and relate to individuals who were declared insolvent around the Melbourne and metropolitan region. 

What sort of information will you find in these files? 

The records provide details of the legal process of distributing the insolvent's estate among the various creditors who may have submitted claims for unpaid debts. As boring as that sounds - you can actually find some pretty interesting stuff in these files:

  • list of debts, losses and expenses, providing details of goods and services the insolvent used or how they spent their money?
  • particulars of real properties, stock in trade and other personal property.
  • details of debts owed to the insolvent eg. who used their services or purchased their goods?

One of the files I copied on my last visit contained 145 pages, approximately half of this file was written testimony by the insolvent, his family and others involved in the process. Information you would find anywhere else. The insolvent in this case was a storekeeper and the schedule listed debts for unpaid items including boots, patent medicines and 'fancy goods'. 

One good thing about insolvency proceedings is that they were mention in the papers a lot, giving notice to possible creditors at the time and giving clues to genealogical detectives nowadays.

My top three PROV search tips by topic

August 2017

Recently I mentioned the PROV's new website and how searching it has become a lot easier. Having spent a bit of time on it myself recently I have my top three search tips to share for particular types of records.

School Records

The school number is the key here - search for the state school number and select from the following items under the 'Series' filter

  • 'Metric Building Plans' & 'Pre-metric Building Plans' for detailed drawings of the school/residence/renovations etc
  • 'Central Inward Primary Schools Correspondence' for correspondence between the school and the Department. Lots of good stuff in these!
  • 'Building Files: Primary Schools' for files relating the school building. Also contains various interesting information from the school founding (lists of pupils, parents, letters etc)

State Ward Records

State ward records up to 1896 have been indexed and digitised on the PROV catalogue, so you can search by name and filter under 'Series' for 'Ward Registers'.

In addition to searching by name, you can also search these records by the location where the child was committed, or where the child was from. sometimes these were not the same. Searching for 'Wodonga' and filtering for 'Ward Registers' would give me a list of all ward records where the child was originally from Wodonga or where they were made a ward of the state at the Wodonga Courthouse.

Ward records list any other siblings or relations who are in the state system, showing their ward number. If you find a record and relatives are listed - do the above search using the ward number/s.

Soldier Settlers

As part of the centenary of ANZAC celebrations, PROV re-catalogued all their soldier settler records making it much easier to find records relating to individual returned soldiers who leased land. While searches can be done on PROV's Battle to Farm website (and portions of the files downloaded), you can search on the PROV catalogue too.

If you're interested in soldier settlement in a particular area, enter the parish and filter for the various soldier settlement categories under 'Series'. Or, if you are chasing a particular person, enter the name and/or parish and filter for the same.

Historic Plan Collection

June 2017

If you give the tips mentioned above a go, you will most likely see items from the 'Historical Plan Collection' in your search for records available online. These maps date from 1832 and can contain some of the following information:

  • early descriptions of soils and native vegetation
  • location of huts, fences, gardens and other capital improvements made by squatters
  • location of other buildings
  • tracks used by original settlers
  • reserves set aside for public use
  • early place names
  • location of pastoral runs
  • ship wrecks

The PROV description of this series provides the following disclaimer - "not all of the above features will appear on any one plan. In many cases the cadastral information is central, and all other details are incidental".

But, they are online and easy to download - so what have you got to lose!

Looking for letters

May 2017

I mentioned recently that I was following up on some correspondence created by the Victorian Police in 1908. I found what I was looking for, through a process that can be applied to correspondence from a whole range of Government agencies. The system used to record, track and maintain correspondence the ‘Annual single Number’ system. Once you know how the system works, you can track down a single specific time of correspondence in the thousands upon thousands of files at PROV. 

The system is basic – when an item of correspondence was received it was assigned a consecutive number eg 1234/1908 (being the 1234th letter received in 1908) and entered into an index and then into a register. The index entry would be determined by the subject or person who sent the correspondence eg. PUBLIC WORKS or GREALY. It would also be entered into a separate register – which allowed for any other related correspondence to be recorded with it. Understanding how the index and register work is important when a lengthy file with multiple items of correspondence is created. 

Say for instance, a letter is received regarding the theft of property from the post office in Benalla – filed as 4567/1922. Then, more letters come in relating to that event eg. 6789/1922, 10267/1922 and 1267/1923. All these will be entered in the index as single items when received – but as more correspondence comes in the final location of the letters will change, which will be tracked in the register. 

If we were looking for the original letter (4567/1922) we would look in the register and see that it was filed with 6789/1922. So, we look that up and see that it (along with the first letter) was filed with 10267/1922 and so on. Eventually – we would discover that all the correspondence is filed away under 1267/1923 – so we would order the box containing correspondence from that year within that number range, flick through the pile of papers and eventually find what you’re looking for. 

That is as bad as it gets! Some items will just be registered by themselves, but, you never know so you should check the register anyway to save ordering a box of papers and flick through to find the one you’re after isn’t there. 

Correspondence takes patience…and depending on what you’re chasing, it can take a couple of visits to PROV to get what you’re after.

Land Titles - the old and the new

May 2017

Those who have attended one of my talks would have heard me speak about land titles, how the administration of land ownership change in the 1860s to what we have now, how to access the records and what can be found in them. I thought I’d take the time to right down a bit of an introduction to land titles – something I may not cover in the detail it deserves detail in my talks, or I whizz through it pretty quickly and folks don’t have time to jot it all down. 

There are two types of titles available at PROV for land alienated (no longer owned by) from the Crown – General Law Titles and Torrens Titles. 

General Law titles are those created when land was alienated from the Crown between 1837 when the first grants were given in the Port Phillip District and 2nd October 1862 when the Torrens titles came into being. These title documents consist of multiple files, detailing the transactions from one owner to the next (conveyances, mortgages etc) creating a chain of titles from the point it was first purchased from the Crown to the current owner. 

When the Transfer of Land Act was introduced, it made the Torrens system the process by which all land alienated after 2 October 1862 would be administered. Provision was made for people with General Law Titles to convert their titles over to the Torrens system. 

Which files are at PROV? You can access Torrens titles at PROV on the online system they have in the reading room, to find these you will need to know the volume and folio number of the title you are interested in. Unfortunately, you can’t search by address - I’m waiting for the day that is possible! PROV also has the application files for those general law titles that were converted to Torrens under the Transfer of Land Act. Those files contain the old titles, and the details you need to access the continuance of the chain in the Torrens system. 

PROV doesn’t have all the General Law Titles that haven’t been converted over yet…and there are lots of them! There was an expectation that the Torrens system and the provision for old titles to be converted over would see an end to the General Law Titles, but after 150 years there are large areas of land that still remain under the General Law system. Case in point, the Yackandandah Museum only recently converted over to the Torrens system…after almost 160 years under General Law! 

The General Law Titles that haven’t been converted over can be accessed at the Land Information Centre in Laverton. There is quite a process to find what you’re looking for – and fortunately we can thank Suzie Zada for putting together this great blog post on accessing records at Laverton.

Crown Reserves

April 2017

The title suggests perhaps a nice bottle of red wine - but unless you get the same kick out of land correspondence files as you do from a nice shiraz, you may be left disappointed.

VPRS 242 - Crown Reserve Correspondence contains records relating to the proclamation and management of Crown reserves. Legislation passed in 1860 (Sale of Crown Lands Act) allowed the government to reserve land for public purposes eg. churches, schools, abattoirs, markets, cricket grounds, racecourses and cemeteries. 

This gave the land in question protection in that it could not be sold, leased or used for mining or other purposes. Though, these proclamations were changed over time, with PROV's catalogue entry for this set of records stating 'many of these files are those for reserves whose status has since been revoked by legislation or by Order-in-Council'.

What can be found in these files? The content does vary depending on the site - I have seen some very brief files of only a few pages and some much larger. In general, the files contain correspondence relating to the administration of the reserve, maps or plans of the site and items relating to any changes or revocation of the reserve.

I'll be looking into this series shortly as I've been tasked with researching the history of the recreation reserve in Yackandandah.

The microfiche series VPRS 7312 is required to track down the details of these Crown Reserve files - fortunately I made a copy of this extensive fiche collection a couple of years ago so the task ahead is made much easier (and if you have your own query about this type of record I can get back to you right away with an answer!).

The fiche shows five different files available for the racecourse and recreation reserve and tells me exactly where to look to find the files. 

Among the other listing of Crown Reserve files for the area include:

  • Telegraph Office
  • Roman Catholic Church
  • Railways
  • Athenaeum
  • Manure Depot
  • Various Camp Sites

Ward Register Index - Post 1894

March 2017

The Registers of State Wards contain very detailed information relating to children who were made wards of the state between 1864 and 1966. Information including dates of birth, details of where the child was 'licensed out' and various notes on what caused them to become state wards can be found here. Relationships between the child and other children in the system are also recorded, allowing for easy access to the records of siblings or cousins etc.

The microfilm copies of these records from 1864 to 1894 have been digitised and are available on the PROV website (search within series 4527 for the name of the child) - but for children who entered the system after 1894, the original records need to be ordered an viewed in person at PROV.

The difficulty in accessing these records lies with the way they are arranged - by ward number. Without knowing the ward number it is next to impossible to track down the record of a particular child. And with no centralised index - you need to be committed!

Most of the volumes covering the period 1894 to 1915 (the latest records available due to the 100 year closure rule on these records) have an index of children's names in the front. I've begun digitising the indexes of the roughly eighty volumes covering the period 1894 to 1915. This will be an ongoing project for 2016 - but one that has already come in handy, with a number of records already tracked down for some of my customers using these indexes.

I've completed 1911 and 1912 so far, so if you have any names of children who you think might have become wards of the state around that time, I can do a quick check of the index for you.

A Macabre Record

Feb 2017

Within PROV's collection there exists a number of very peculiar records - a vial of poison, a bullet taken from a shooting victim and a register for recording the pudding and cigarettes dished out to prisoners in Melbourne.

One of my favourites is the 'Particulars of Execution' - a register detailing the results of various executions between 1894 and 1967. The last entry in this register concerns the execution of Ronald Ryan, the last person ever to be executed in Victoria.

The register includes a 'Table of Drops' - detailing the formula for a successful hanging, taking 840 and dividing that by the weight of the prisoner in 'his' clothes in pounds. Though, the formula does note that no drop should exceed eight feet and that it only applies to those weighing up to 210 pounds.

Special consideration was to be given where the prisoner was suffering from disease affecting the condition of their neck - in such cases the Governor and Medical Officer are to determine the 'drop'.

A fracture appears to be the goal, and the target was the 2nd cervical vertebrae - photographs of which have been inserted into the register with the fractures marked. In the image below, you'll see a sketch of the vertebrae of James Williams, executed in September of 1904 for the murder of Mary Amelia Veitch.

From the note in the register it seems that after his autopsy, the vertebrae was discarded before it could be photographed. In order to show further evidence of a successful hanging, a sketch was drawn instead. Williams' execution was described as follows:

"Death in this case was absolutely instantaneous. There was not the slightest quiver or tremor of a muscle after hanging".

William's last words were reported in the newspapers, this report from the Clarence and Richmond Examiner, 19 Sep 1904 - 

Speaking in very low tones, but with steady voice "I am very sorry for the deed that I have done." Here he made a brief pause, then added, slowly, ''Very, very sorry." The cap was drawn over his face, and the executioner was adjusting the knot in the rope, when, in almost inaudible tones, he spoke again, saying, "God forgive me."

The Point Henry Coffins

Feb 2017

While reading through some inquest files last week I came across one of the more unusual tales I've read in recent times. The document detailed the proceedings of an inquest held at the house of Mr George Coveney of Point Henry, just East of Geelong in May of 1853.

On Monday the 2nd of May 1853, William Roberts, a labourer, was out shooting duck at Point Henry. As he walked along he beach he came across two coffins lying on a bed of seaweed at the waters edge - one small, which he believed to be that of a child and the other large. On his way home he mentioned his discovery to local farmer Patrick Mahoney, who accompanied him back to the coffins.

Strangely, neither Roberts or Mahoney notified the authorities of their discovery - it wasn't until John Lowther, an employee of George Coveneys was taking a walk on the beach the day after that he came across the same scene. Having ascertained there was a corpse in the larger coffin, Lowther left immediately for Geelong to notify the Coroner.

On examination of the coffins at the inquest a few days later it was determined that due to the type of wood used and the construction of the coffins, they were no doubt made on board a ship. The bodies themselves were too decomposed for any cause of death to be determined, believed to have been in the water for at least two months.

Other than being from a ship, no theory is given as to where the coffins may have originated. Did they fall from a ship as it sailed into Port Phillip or Corio Bay? Were they haphazardly buried at sea?

I went looking for answers in the marine births, deaths and marriages index - but just my luck those records only start in May of 1853!

The origin and identities of the occupants of those coffins looks to remain a mystery - but, I wonder if it is possible to find out where they may have been buried?

Bills of Sale

Jan 2017

This set of records must be a recent addition to PROV, or if it has been in the catalogue for a while it has only been recently catalogued at item level allowing for easy searching by name or location.

This series contains records filed with the Registrar-General when an individual or small business mortgaged an item (or items) to raise finance. These items, or chattels, were listed in schedules included in the paperwork. For example, if an individual wanted to raise a bit of money, they might mortgage their furniture, or in later years, their vehicle. If the bill of sale was against furniture, the inventory could be listed on a room by room basis – painting a picture of how the individuals house/business was set up.

The records date from 1880 to 1972 and you can search through them by name or location using PROV’s ‘Search within a series’ function’. Search within VPRS 8350 for the name or location.

Condemned Properties

Dec 2016

This is another set of records that is easily searched by street and/or town name – street numbers and the type of street (avenue, road etc) are not included very often.

These records came into existence through the Housing Act 1958, which  enabled the Housing Commission to declare any house unfit for human habitation, granting them the power to alter the property or have it demolished. Here is a summary of what may be found in these files:

  • A Report of Inspection of Dwelling
  • Certificate of title (great for land research...)
  • Written reports by the Housing Inspector on particulars of non-compliance
  • A Declaration of the Housing Commission, under seal, proclaiming a house to be unfit for human habitation
  • Declarations proclaiming the demolition/repairs of a house  

I have used these files in the past to develop a history of ownership of certain properties by using the details contained in the certificate of title – allowing me to trace back title to the very first freehold owner of the land.

There is also a set of photographs in this series taken to illustrate some of the sub-standard conditions of the dwellings - something I’m keen to take a look at in the new year.

The records date from around 1954 to 1979 and you can search through them by street or town or both using PROV’s ‘Search within a series’ function. Search within VPRS 1824 for the street or town.

Survey Field Books

Nov 2016

We’ve all seen a parish or township map – detailed and accurate information about crown lands, grantees and land reserves. Before these Record Plans could be created – a surveyor would be sent out to the area in question and take detailed notes, make meticulous calculations and general observations about the location. This information would then be used in the development of a parish or township plan. But – there is a lot of information that doesn’t make it onto those plans…which is where the Survey field Books come in very handy.

Field Books are what the surveyors had with them when they journeyed across the countryside mapping out early Victoria – and the detail in them is phenomenal. They weren’t just out there to survey allotments ready for sale, some also made note of the following information:

  • Details about the physical character of the land; geological, variety/density of timber, grazing/agricultural potential
  • Water supply - rivers, lakes etc
  • Details of ownership - license, lease, or freeholders
  • Position of improvements - buildings, houses, fences, roads, streets, lanes
  • Weather conditions, Astronomical observations
  • Sketches of surrounds 

I’ve seen a number of these books and the details in some is equivalent to 19th Century Google Maps – showing building, out houses, fences and gardens in some instances. The sort of detail you don’t find on the completed town plan.

There are thousands of these books – for all over the state. You can search for a town, parish or surveyor's name using PROV’s ‘Search within a series’ function - searching in either VPRS 16685, VPRS 16686 and VPRS 16687. Or you can do an advanced search for an item including the words ‘bundle’ and the name of the town/parish/surveyor you are interested in.

Why ‘bundle’? Originally, the field books were arranged in bundles, and that naming convention has been maintained in the PROV catalogue – so combining your search term with ‘bundle’ will return all the relevant field from those three series.

Ballarat Petty Session Records

Oct 2016

There are a number of records relating to Ballarat and surrounding area that are not kept at PROV in North Melbourne, instead they are stored at the Ballarat Archives Centre. While having local records kept locally is a fantastic resource for local researchers – it does make it harder for others to access records otherwise available in North Melbourne. The same applies for a variety of records relating to Geelong and surrounds.

But – PROV annoucned on their FaceBook page the other day that the Ballarat Petty Sessions records would be temporarily unavailable at the Ballarat Archives Centre while they are being digitised at PROV.

Reading between the lines, I believe this means that some time in the not too distant future, these records will be available online…

A New Year = New Records

Jan 2016

Some records at PROV are closed to public access for up to 100 years since the record was created and you could be waiting even longer if a certain volume of records covers a long time period - you have to wait for 100 from the last entry in the volume.

As we all go about hanging up our 2016 calendars, PROV go to work and grant access to a whole new set of records - with files from 1940 now outside of the 75 year closure rule. Records relating to children (subject to 100 years closure) are now available up to 1915.

Here is a short selection of what has been opened up as of the 1st of January, or you can view the complete list on the PROV website here:

  • Divorce Case Files Ballarat, Ballarat Courts, 1940
  • Patient Clinical Notes, Kew Mental Hospital, 1939-1940
  • Criminal Record Books, Supreme Court of Victoria, 1929-1940
  • Children’s Court Registers, Wangaratta Courts, 1907-May 1916
  • Children’s Court Registers, Wahgunyah Courts, 1908-1916
  • Trial Leave Registers, Mont Park Mental Hospital, June 1920-Dec 1940

I'll be checking out the Mont Park records in relation to my own research this weekend - been waiting a while for those...

What can be found in an inquest file?

Oct 2015

I've spoken lots about inquests before - the information 
contained in them provides a brilliant insight into the last day (sometimes days) of the deceased's life. A lot of earlier files contain only hand written text, perhaps a sketch here and there - but as the years went on more exhibits used in the inquest hearings make their way into the files.

Photos make up a large portion of these - sometimes showing the deceased, other times just the scene of the crime/accident. Detailed plans of the scenes of car accidents showing a vehicles path and other point of interest also appear.

Below you'll see two detailed sketches of No. 9 Holloway Road, Brunswick West - where Walter White died in 1934.

Walter, aged seventeen, was accidentally shot by friend Francis Morris Neville on the 6th of May 1934. The two lads had been out and about in the afternoon, and after going their separate ways for dinner, met up again at Francis' place. Francis had previously mentioned to Walter that his father owns a pistol, and on arriving at the Neville residence, Walter asked to see it.

After Francis retrieved the Mauser .32 revolver from his Father's bedroom, Walter said "I bet you are not game to fire it". The boys then went out into the backyard and Francis fired a shot at a concrete wall. They went back in side and Francis went to put the gun back in his Father's room.

Francis struggled to remove the magazine from the pistol, and forced the mechanism in an effort to unload it - his eyes fixed on the weapon and not where it was pointed. The pistol went off - Francis looked up to see his friend fall forward onto the floor, the bullet hitting him in the head.
The details of the case outlined above were not how Francis first explained them. No doubt in fear of the consequences of shooting his friend - Francis told detectives that Walter had been handling the pistol when it went off. It wasn't until two days later that Francis gave a true account of the events when Detective McKeogh explained that there were no powder or burn marks on Walter's body, and the trajectory of the entry wound did not align with his original statement.

It is very likely that the above drawings would not have been created had Francis told the truth about the events of the 6th of May - but for whatever reason, the Coroner deemed it necessary to present the two surveys as 'Exhibit B' during the inquest.

Neglected children

Aug 2015

In 1864 the Neglected and Criminal Children Act was brought into force which aimed "to provide for the care and custody of 'neglected' and 'convicted' children". As a result, the registers of state wards were created to keep track of the children as they moved throughout the industrial school system.

PROV has digitised the microfilm copies of these records from 1864 to 1894 - and they are available online by searching within series 4527 for the name of the child you're researching.

There is also another way to search these records - and that is by where they were 'convicted' - a vital piece of information built into the digital record on the PROV website, allowing you to develop a list of children who were convicted at a certain location.

I've read through a number of very bleak stories among the records - where whole families have been taken from their home to Melbourne, split up from their siblings, suffering through diseases that ran rampant through the various industrial schools, at times resulting in death. While some children did return to their home after their term had expired others did not and they seemingly lost all connection to their home town and family - with death certificates showing 'unknown' across a number of fields.

I've searched for children convicted in Wodonga (previously Belvoir) and came across the Southgate family. On reading the entries in the ward records I discovered that I had come across this family in the past - when researching inquests in the Indigo Valley. Coincidentally, the events reported in that inquest from 1866 were the catalyst for the Southgate children becoming wards of the state.

The story starts two years before when Mary Ann Southgate drowned in the Murray River in what the newspapers reported as a 'melancholy case of suicide' - leaving her husband Henry to care for their children, the youngest being one year old. In a cruel twist of fate Henry and his son Richard were out fishing in the Murray River in November of 1866 when their boat overturned and they both drowned. With the River claiming both parents it was not long before the state intervened to ensure the children were cared for - with youngest four children - Eliza, Alfred, Samuel and Louisa being declared 'neglected children' in 1867.

On arrival in Melbourne the children were soon split up and sent to various industrial schools including Point Nepean (a quarantine site), Princes Bridge, Geelong and Ballarat.

Alfred and Samuel spent the least amount of time in institutions - both being released into the care of their older brother Henry in 1870. Eliza was discharged the following year but Louisa remained a ward of the state until she reached the age of sixteen in 1880.

In contrast to a number of cases I've read in the ward registers - the four Southgate children returned to the Murray region and lived out their lives, each of them marrying and having children of their own.

On researching this family I found that no mention of the children being wards of the state in the various family trees I could find online. This is not surprising as there is often not a lot to record for a child between their birth and the marriage in a lot of family trees unless school, newspaper or other records make some mention during their younger years.

I hope the digitised ward registers 1864-1894 are able to fill in some gaps for some researchers - or perhaps help to understand their ancestors a little more.

New mining records at PROV

Jul 2015

PROV has recently received over sixty years of records created by the Mines Department (and its 
successors) between 1925 and 1989.

The records consists of plans and drawings of mines and infrastructure projects - PROV describes the records as containing "information on geology (both at a mine and regional scale), drilling (e.g. bore location plans), geochemistry, geophysics, mining titles, topography, locations of features such as mine shafts, cadastral survey and traverse lines, mineral localities and mineral resource areas".

The series has been indexed very well on the PROV website and finding items of interest by searching for the mine number, mine name, a company name, author of the plan or mine location (by parish name) should yield the best result.

Recent trip to Mt Evelyn

Jul 2015

In mid-May I had the pleasure of conducting a presentation for the Mt Evelyn History Group. The drive down to Mt Evelyn from Wodonga was a nice change from the tedium of the Hume Highway (I swear I could drive that road blindfolded…) – turning off at Benalla and heading through Bonnie Doon, Yea and Yarra Glen, a shortcut to Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs.

The talk was held in the local RSL Club attended by a small but engaged audience – with some great questions throughout.

The Mt Evelyn History Group is very active and has a number of projects underway at the moment, including:
  • commemorating the town’s WWI Avenue of Honour, in partnership with Mt Evelyn RSL. The memorial plaques will be unveiled at a ceremony on Sunday 26 July at the RSL Memorial Garden. 
  • researching the lion/gryphon seats (concrete and wood) that used to stand around the township, and the feasibility of reproducing them.
  • plan to hold a history writing competition for school students in association with the Mt Evelyn Street Party in October (1950s theme).
  • Paula Herlihy’s book Gwen & Bill Hardy, Dynamos of Mt Evelyn Community Life is being edited and will be launched on Saturday 12 September.
  • updating the book Aborigines in the Yarra Valley & Northern Dandenongs.

Their newsletter and lots of other useful info on the group and their activities can be found on their website.

Food for thought

Jul 2015

In my travels through the online world over the past few weeks I came across an interesting article from the UK (from 2012) relating to the cost of copying/digitising and historical research fees. On learning of the fees that some institutions in the UK charge for photographing original documents(sometimes as much as £1 per image!), we should consider ourselves lucky for the services that the Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) provides to the community.

I imagined a similar situation here and quickly realised I’d soon be out of business, or my fees would have to skyrocket in order cover costs! Under a comparable scheme your average soldier settler land file would cost over $100…  

And here is where the article hit home for me – it’s a catch 22, archivists and museum curators need funding to remain open and researchers need (free or reasonably priced) access to records to conduct their work.  

As some of you may know, PROV have three high quality digital SLR cameras set up in their reading room, free to use for any researcher. In fact, if you’re attending PROV yourself it won’t cost you a cent unless you want to request photocopies of original documents. These resources are invaluable to researchers as it saves a lot of time. I can digitise as many as sixty records in one day, reading them at home at my leisure.

Without the cameras (or if charges existed for using my own) I’d been inclined to sit and read and transcribe the record on site at PROV. The result? A huge drop in productivity, fewer research projects and a decrease in the use of the records from the repository. 

Of course, PROV is a government funded organisation – meaning they have it a little easier than smaller local repositories around the state. But, in doing a bit of digging to see what local history groups are charging for lookups/research and supply of copies I found the prices quite reasonable –with a lot falling in between $25 to $45 range. 

If you are interested in having a read of the article, you can find it here.

Felo de se

Jun 2015

Born in the 80's, I didn't have the pleasure (or perhaps pain?) of learning Latin at school - so when I came across an inquest with the cause of death listed as 'Felo de se', I had to ask Google about it.

I quickly found that 'Felo de se' is an archaic term for suicide - meaning literally 'felon of himself'. British common law, which was followed in Victoria's early Colonial days, stated that burials were to be held between the hours of 9pm and 12pm for death as a result of felo de se - no Christian rites could be performed and the internment was to be kept private.

In 1896, these requirements were repealed in Victoria and it became an offense to conduct the burial in this manner.  

There are ten cases of Felo de se recorded in the Inquest Index between 1840 and 1878 - small when compared to the almost two thousand cases recorded as suicides over the same period. 

This is something I'll be doing a bit more reading on - but a few quick things I've picked up in some searches online suggests that coroners and their juries had the choice of delivering a verdict of suicide or Felo de se - often deciding on the former through sympathy for the surviving family.

If anyone has done any reading on this subject I'd be interested to hear from you - it's a small but interesting note in history but worth learning about!

Digitised Vaccination Records

May 2015

has made available the digitised registers of vaccinations for forty-two locations throughout Victoria. The registers cover various time periods and provide some very useful information. This is just another place you go to look for some additional information on an ancestor. 

While vaccination is a hot topic these days – it was more clear cut in 19th and early 20th century Victoria – vaccinate or get in trouble! 

The District Registrar was required to maintain a register of children vaccinated in their jurisdiction. The details reported in the registers provide include the details such as the name of the child and their father, age and sex, the name of the person who administered the vaccination, the residence of and place of birth of the child. The details in the vaccination registers were routinely cross referenced with the district birth registers to determine who and who hadn’t been vaccinated. 

Each quarter, the deputy registrar would forward a list of those children for whom they had not received a certificate of vaccination in the preceding six months to the local police constable. The police would then make enquiries to determine the exact circumstances, and if a parent was found to have neglected to vaccinate their children – they would be sent to the local petty sessions/magistrates court. 

I have seen many of these cases heard in local petty sessions court records over the years. Here is a snippet from the Myrtleford Court conviction index - with Richard Clemens convicted for not vaccinating one or more of his children in 1917.

To see the list of registers and access the digitised copies on the PROV website, click here.

Soldier Settlers and the Unemployed - a closer look.

May 2015

I've mentioned below the ‘Files of Applicants for the Unemployment Land Settlement Scheme 1930-1932’, created through government initiatives offering farming blocks previously reserved for closer and soldier settlement to unemployed persons during the depression of the 1930's.

I ordered a couple of files for viewing on my last trip to PROV - here's what I found in one of them:

Mr E. J Green, Waaia

E. J Green was out of work and living in Waaia - married with four children, the youngest, a daughter, only five years old. He saw a notice in the Weekly Times in 1931 seeking unemployed men to take up land in Gippsland. He wrote to the Lands Department in February of 1931 stating he was "thoroughly experienced in all branches of farm and bush work, especially in Gippsland". 

He was issued a warrant for half price train fair to attend the Land Board in Seymour - but due to a change in his fortunes he returned the warrant to the Lands Department along with the following letter:

"I have to thank you for the chance of block of land under your relief scheme, but am returning herewith the warrant for half fare to Seymour to attend the Land Board, the reason I am going no further with application is that since I applied I have been fortunate enough to get a bit of work, which although not constant still I feel that it is sufficient to debar me from being accepted at a land board, therefore I would be wasting time and money attending same"

Soldier Settlers and the Unemployed

Apr 2015

PROV recently launched their ‘
Battle to Farm’ website – allowing greater access to the records created by the soldier settlement scheme. The website includes an interactive map to allow browsing by location or searching for a soldier settler by name. Details provided on each settler vary, but the location of the land applied for and also digitised extracts from the original application files. If you want the full file...I can still get those for you.

These files can include hand written correspondence and application forms providing researchers with lots of useful information. Links to the digitised parish maps, National archives files as well as the original record in the PROV catalogue are also included in each entry. Well worth a look. 

I was doing some digging into the other records created by the Closer Settlement Board and came across an interesting set of records – of which I’ll be ordering a sample of to view on my trip to PROV on the 11th of May.

The series that piqued my interest was the ‘Files of Applicants for the Unemployment Land Settlement Scheme 1930-1932’. With Australia in the grips of an economic depression in the 1930’s – both federal and state governments attempted to alleviate the effects, with Victoria being no exception. The Unemployment Land Settlement Scheme allowed for unemployed people to apply to settle on land that had already been purchased and reserved for use by the Closer Settlement Board for closer/soldier settlement purposes.

The records I’ve identified can include details of the applicant's family and financial situation and they fall into three categories – successful applicants, unsuccessful applicants and applicants who declined. For cases where the offer of a block of land was declined, the files may also include the reasons why.

As part of the scheme, and by the provisions in the Unemployment Relief Amendment Act 1930, funds would be provided to a successful applicant for "Tickets or passes to enable them to travel to the land; and Shelter, picks, shovels an any other tools for use by hand, stock for domestic use, and anything (but not including implements or machinery) necessary for working the land or for domestic use”.

I’ll let you know what interesting stories I find in these files after my next trip to PROV. 

In the mean time - check out the list I've put together of files available in this series. Who knows - you may recognise a name!

Housing Commission - Demolition files

Apr 2015

Did the Housing Commission demolish any houses in your town or street between 1954 to 1979?

One quick way to find out - use PROV's 'search within a series' and search within VPRS 1824 for the name of your town. Files are available for these demolitions and they can provide the following information:-

  • A Report of Inspection of Dwelling.
  • Certificate of title (ideal for property research)
  • Reports by the Housing Inspector on particulars of non-compliance.
  • A Declaration of the Housing Commission, under seal, proclaiming a house to be unfit for human habitation.
  • Declarations proclaiming the demolition/repairs of a house.

The files also contain correspondence from the Secretary of the Housing Commission to tenants advising them of the date on which the house they were occupying was to be demolished. Some files contain correspondence from tenants appealing the decision of the Housing Commission.

I found one from my grandparents street in Wodonga...

A bonus in your probate

Most of you would be familiar with what information can be found a will or a probate document. Details of bequests, names of executors and relatives, details of inventory and affidavits of witnesses.

Since March of 1992 these documents have been filed together – making it not only easier to order and obtain both records but also to photograph them as they are ‘flat files’ rather than ‘folded files’.

I've been accessing quite a few of the post 1992 records lately and have been delighted to find (in most cases…not all!) that a copy of the individual’s death certificate is included in the file. The death certificate contains some useful information that you may not otherwise find in the probate – including the deceased’s parents names, cause of death and details of their children (if not all were mentioned in the will, this can be very useful). This information would usually cost $20 or more from Victorian Birth Deaths & Marriages – and could only be accessed if you were next of kin, or had the permission of the next of kin.

The inclusion of this document in the post 1992 files represents an important resource for researchers who are perhaps too far removed from the deceased to obtain the information through the official channels.

Will and probates are digitised online up to 1925, and available for viewing (and digitisation by me…) at PROV from 1926 to 2009.

Check out the index here.

More plans and drawings

Apr 2015

I’ve been interested in plans and drawings of late, searching the PROV catalogue for any records that fit the description. I’m especially interested in plans and drawings for buildings that may no longer be standing. 

Below you will find a piece I wrote about public building plans, such as schools and courts, but I've come across plans for another type of building – factories. 

Before a new factory could be built, or addition/alterations made to an existing factory, the Chief Inspector of Factories had to approve the construction to ensure it complied with health and safety requirements, as well as municipal by-laws. Plans were submitted to the Department as part of this process – and the details you’ll find among 11,000+ available plans include:

  • design plans for factory constructions and alterations
  • name of premises
  • location of premises
  • nature of work conducted at premises
  • address of proprietor
  • name of architect
  • date approved by the Department

The requirement to submit the plans to the Department started in 1958, and the earliest plans in this series date from 1965 and go to 1980. The beauty of this series is that it is easily searched on the PROV catalogue, as each individual plan has been labelled.

To search for a plan, go to PROV’s ‘Search within a series’ page and search in VPRS 10150 for the name of an individual,business or town.

Further information on factories can be found in VPRS 1399 - Factory Registration Papers (1886-1973), which I wrote about in a previous issue, but this series has not been labelled like the factory plans.

New Cheltenham book published

Mar 2015

In 2014 I assisted the Friends of Cheltenham and Regional Cemeteries Inc. (FoCRC) with research into their fifth book "The Cheltenham Pioneer Cemetery: Where History Rests”. It has now been published and is a rich source covering not only the history of the Pioneer Cemetery, but snippets of local history featuring persons buried at the cemetery. The publication contains a number of appendices including a summary of the trustee minutes - and the FoCRC has published the books index on their websitewith over 800 names listed.

The books author, Travis Sellers (also former President of the FoCRC) had these kind words to say about my involvement:

"Finding specific records held by PROV is every time-poor researcher’s nightmare! Mark’s knowledge and experience of the PROV catalogue, and his never-give-up attitude enabled the discovery of various records that greatly enhanced the depth research. For example, a file previously held by the Health Department that had been missing for over ten years was located by Mark and extensively used in the publication"

For more information on the Friends’ new book, visit their website.

The plans of Henry Ginn

Feb 2015

There are number of series at PROV that include a glimpse into the past through plans and drawings of colonial architecture. One series I've found in the catalogue recently is the 'Book of Plans' created by Henry Ginn.

Henry Ginn was Clerk of Works in 1846 and was the one in charge of the construction of public buildings in the colony (NSW that is...). In 1851, when Victoria became a Colony in its own right, Ginn was appointed to the position of Colonial Architect.

Henry Ginn's book of plans contains over fifty plans - including some well-known buildings such as the Yarra Bend Asylum and the Cape Otway Lighthouse. The majority of plans relate to buildings in Melbourne and the inner suburbs - but include entries from Geelong, Williamstown, Portland too.

There is a list of the buildings included in the book of plans on the PROV Catalogue, but I've taken the hassle out of searching for you and uploaded the list to the downloads page - you can access it here.

The original record is not open for access to the public, but a copy is available at PROV.

Some info on will & probates

Feb 2015

Will and probates have been extremely popular since the new index was made available on line – and I would say almost a third of the records I digitise now are will and probate files. No surprise there though, they contain such useful information!

In the majority of cases (and I can’t recall the last time this didn't happen!) a copy of the will is included in the corresponding probate file. Folks usually contact me requesting both probate and will, and I usually suggest just getting the probate file as that will provide the same information – and  it means I have more room on my order sheet for other records.

My tip for will and probates? Go for the probate, and you’ll kill two birds with one stone.

Searching the Government Gazette

Jan 2015

Most of you would be familiar with the Victorian Government Gazette, supplied online by the State Library of Victoria (SLV). This website provides a basic search function – with a keyword search providing results where the keyword forms part of a gazette notice heading, major topic or names mentioned. I have had mixed results using this search function and have recently found an alternative to the SLV Online Gazette. 

I have mentioned the website previously, Austlii, which provides (100% free to the public) access to legislation, case law and rulings (both current and historical). The Government Gazettes are also on Austlii, and their search engine is much more powerful than the SLV’s, with every page and word of the entire collection (1843-1998, including NSW 1836-1851 and Port Phillip 1843-1851) fully searchable. This allows you to find even the smallest mention of a name or place – I've even searched using a school number and returned some excellent results. 

I've put together a short tip-sheet on how to search access and save the Government Gazettes available on Austlii. 

Public Building Plans

                                                         Jan 2015

There’s nothing like coming across an old photo of a building you’re researching – getting a glimpse of another time, discovering what has changed or (sadly) what is no longer there. But as we all know, sometimes we aren't that lucky, and we may only be left with a written description of the building, detailing its dimensions and materials used, with our imaginations to do the rest.  

But it if it is a public building you are interested in, the Building Service Agency (BSA) plans at PROV may be just what you are looking for. The plans were originally created by the Public works Department (and in later years the BSA), who were responsible for the design, construction and maintenance of public buildings such as schools, mental hospitals and government offices.

The variety of buildings covered by the BSA plans collection is amazing – including bridges, crematoriums, factories, hospitals, residences, schools and war memorials, dating from 1853 to 1998. Plans for the eagle’s cage and the monkey pool at the Melbourne Zoo are also among the plans! 

I ordered a few plans from this series relating to the Wodonga Primary School No. 37 – picking four plans from a list of over 1200 plans relating to Wodonga.

If you’d like to see what plans are available, take a look at PROV's index of the series.

Did your ancestors go bust?

Oct 2014

Every so often I deal with a set of records that I've never really accessed before –discovering what’s available, what can be found and how it can be accessed. Over the past few weeks, it has been records relating to insolvency that have piqued my interest. When someone is unable to pay their debts, they can be declared insolvent – and as you can imagine this creates a bit of paperwork!


Records relating to insolvency are available at PROV from 1842 to 1928 – after this period the administration of insolvency proceedings became a commonwealth function, with records held at the National Archives.


So how do you find out if someone was declared insolvent? My suggestion is to start with TROVE or the Government Gazette Online – insolvency was often reported on in the local newspapers and covered in a more official capacity in the gazette. Finding mention of it here would give you an approximate date. From here you go to the indexes that can be ordered for viewing at PROV – ordering the one that covers the relevant period. If you didn't find mention of the insolvency in the Gazette or TROVE you may not have a time frame narrowed down, meaning, you may need to look at more than one index.


The index will provide you with the all-important case number – which will allow you to locate the file in one of the following series:

  • Proceedings in Insolvent Estates (1842 - 1871)
  • Deeds under 1871 Insolvency Act (1871 - 1890)
  • Schedules Under the Insolvency Act (1890 - 1915)
  • Deeds Under 1915 Insolvency Act (1915 - 1928)

The sort of information you can find in the file itself includes (but may not!) a petition for insolvency documentation about the estate, list of debts due particulars of property, a balance sheet, insolvent's statement, statement of assets and receipts, statement of disbursements and unrealised estate schedules.


If you’re after details of insolvency cases from Ballarat – unfortunately, I can’t help with those…the records are held at the Ballarat Archives Centre.

Cemetery Records

Oct 2014

I had the pleasure of stopping in at the Benalla & District Historical Society on my way down to PROV a few weeks ago – taking along my digitisation equipment and spending an hour or so digitising some of the local cemetery records.


The record I was asked to photograph was not the burial register, but rather a ‘cash book’, used to record the receipts and expenditures of the cemetery trust.


I know what you’re probably thinking, a cash book? Surely it can’t be that interesting? But, I was surprised to find the entries were quite detailed – listing the name, age and religious affiliation of the individual buried, date of burial and service and even the depth of the grave dug and its location.


It was easy to see from this record that the deeper the hole, the bigger the bill!


It’s good to know that a book seemingly created to keep track of the cemetery trusts accounts can be used in place of a burial register (if one doesn't exist).


If you’re interested in the Benalla record specifically, get in contact with the Benalla & District Historical Society - their rooms are located in the local museum and definitely worth a visit if you're in the area.

Lost in the more!

In my last newsletter I talked about how not every record was linked up the way it should be in the PROV catalogue, with some records not showing up in searches due to their creating 'agency' not existing (or having incorrect spelling!). 


I was glad to receive some useful information via email from Susie Zada on how to get around this little problem. The solution - hit the books, or rather book...the PROV's List of Holdings! This book contains a variety of information regarding agencies and the records created by them that now live at PROV.


I had heard of this publication before, but believed that the PROV's online catalogue was the '21st Century' version...but I was wrong. Susie pointed out that although the Chillingolah Court wasn't listed as an agency on the PROV Catalogue, it was found easily between Chewton and Chiltern in the courts section of the List of Holdings.

I ordered a copy of the List of Holdings, and was happy to see it arrive on Friday...just in time for some weekend reading.


Armed with the knowledge that the online catalogue wasn't the be all and end all of record listings, I went searching for other things that may have gone astray.


I had previously scoured the PROV catalogue for local records (North East Victoria) so I was familiar with what was around - so I was delighted to find mention of court records from Wahgunyah, Woolshed and Indigo. My ancestors spent time at Woolshed and Indigo so I am very eager to get back to PROV and search through these that I know they exist!