Monday, January 14, 2013

By Jove, Love that Trove

The digitization of newspapers and old books by the world’s reference libraries has proved an absolute godsend for family history researchers such as myself. I now spend hours of time searching relevant websites, trying every possible combination of words and spelling variations, a research technique vastly improved even in the short time since I wrote my books Robert Forrester, First Fleeter in 2009 and Paul Bushell, Second Fleeter in 2010. 
For example, on the National Library of Australia’s Trove website, I’ve been able to track the life of Robert Forrester's grandson George Forrester as a pioneer in the outback of New South Wales and Queensland from the late 1840s.
Trove's 'Advanced Search' option for Australian newpapers provides four search techniques. I generally use only the first two – the top line option (All of these words) with each key word in lower case separated by AND, and the second line option (The phrase). In exploring George Forrester’s life, countless combinations of search terms were tried, in a month of full-time work, with the following search terms yielding very useful information:
·         Forrester AND Barwon [or Barwin or Barwen]
·         Forrester AND Narran [or Narren]
·         Forrester AND Louisa [his wife]
·         Forrester AND ….. (Forrester’s various property names, as I became aware of them – and it seemed like there were dozens of spelling variations)
·         G Forrester (as a phrase)
·         Geo Forrester (as a phrase)
·         George Forrester (as a phrase)
·         Forrester Esq (as a phrase)
·         Forrester (top line) + Liverpool Plains (second line – as a phrase)
·         Forrester (top line) + received instructions (second line – as a phrase) to pick up his sales of properties and cattle
Sometimes I restricted the date range, and I restricted the search to NSW and QLD newspapers. The basic principle of ‘less is more’ applied, as to all searches of data bases.
All results were sorted into date order, starting with the earliest, and I clicked on every one to see whether it was relevant or not – a very time-consuming process. Patience is a mandatory attribute of the researcher. I noted each new discovery in chronological order, in a Word file, for later use in George Forrester’s biography.
By using Trove plus my other research material, I was able to disinter a very interesting man, much different from what I expected. His story will hopefully see the light of day in 2014. But first you need to read all about his pioneering grandfather, Robert.

(This article formed part of a talk by Louise Wilson of South Melbourne to the Hawkesbury Family History Group on 12 October 2011 and subsequently reproduced (by request) in that Group's newsletter. For details of her work, see her website)

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