Photo Detective: Keepsakes or Clutter?

Preserving and Sharing Family Photographs

Now that winter is here, it’s an ideal time to think about that mysterious shoebox (or pile) of family photographs and documents that you’ve been wondering what to do with. Before you decide to declutter or downsize, please take the time to explore the contents of your shoebox to see what you actually have. There may be family photographs which bring back vivid memories or provide dates and details to enhance your family stories. Photo Detective will help you with ideas and guides for preserving and sharing your most precious photographs, but first you need to investigate what you have and consider what to keep, pass onto someone else, copy or discard. It’s your choice.

Shoebox full of photos and papers

A shoebox overflowing with family photos and documents*

When space is a premium we are forced to make some hard decisions. Best selling books on Decluttering like Nagisa Tatsumi’s The Art Of Discarding: How to Get Rid of Clutter and Find Joy or Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing have sold millions of copies but consider what your collection means to you and your family before you permanently rearrange or remove anything. Marie Kondo does recommend doing something with your old photographs NOW so they can be shared and enjoyed, sooner rather than later (or never). However, I would not follow Kondo’s suggestion to separate photographs from their albums or context, for now, as you may lose some valuable information or the ‘feel’ of an album or collection as the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts. Why not search for clues and consider these questions first.

Step 1: What’s In The Box?

Where did the shoebox come from?

Do the photographs and papers seem to be from the same or different times?

Are there any labels or notes?

Is it the same or different people and places?

Is there any obvious themes, order or dates?

Are there postcards or letters with dates, names and addresses?

Do you know who, when or where any of them are?

Is there any kind of obvious order?

Who else might know something?

Take the time to think about things before you make any irreversible decisions.

When Clutter is Good News

 It’s incredible what people throw away. Unfortunately, photographs are often discarded after a death in the family and are lost forever, but not always. Here is a marvellous newspaper article about an English garbage worker who rescued 5000 World War One photographs  and other paraphernalia from the garbage over 36 years, mostly after the veterans had died. Similarly, a treasure trove of 3000 World War One photographs were found in an old farmhouse in France, in 2010, and these are now part of the Australian War Memorial’s Thuillier’s Collection. Finally, there is the recent exhibition of the ‘Lost Photographs of Marilyn Monroe’ which were found in a forgotten shoebox.

We might not be famous but our photographs and memories are still priceless. If you have any other marvellous stories of unearthing photographic treasures please leave a comment and share your story or pictures with us.

*Also, while the photo above is from the State Library of Western Australia‘s website they are unable to trace any copyright owner. If you recognise the photo or have any knowledge of its copyright, please contact me so any necessary changes can be made.

Posted in Australian War Memorial, declutter, Family History, Military, Photo Detective, Photographs, World War I | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ADB: Australia’s First Three Fleets 1787-1791

While having a quite coffee at the National Library of Australia cafe I came across an article in their June 2016 magazine on the Australian Dictionary of Biography (ADB). My blog on Parramatta Cemetery contained information on first fleeters buried there, some have headstones but most don’t so it was exciting to discover that the ADB is going to ‘trace the fates of all the people -convicts, crew, naval officers -who set off from England in the first three fleets to New South Wales in 1787-1901’. They also intend to include their children and grandchildren who were born or settled here, will map their movements and use Trove for information from Australian newspapers.


The Borrowdale c. 1786, Francis Holman ANMM9033

  • Here are some links to ADB for St John’s list of 17 first fleeters with headstones. Let me know if you find that the others have been updated or have some information on them.
    Augustus Theodore Alt  (1731–1815)
    Frances Hannah Clements (alias Dalton)
    Henry Edward Dodd(?-1791)
    Mary Kelly
    Thomas Eccles
    Edward Ellett
    Thomas Freeman
    Deborah Herbert
    John Herbert
    Hugh Hughes
    David Killpack
    Isaac Knight
    John Martin
    Jane McManus
    Christopher Palmer
    John Palmer (1760–1833)
  • and James Wright

In the meantime do a simple search of the ADB in case they have someone your interested in. In the advanced of faceted search you can search for people with by:

  • birth town, birth state or birth country
  • Death town, state or country
  • ethnicity
  • gender
  • occupations
  • religion

I simply searched for Bowning and found two entries. Check the links if you want more detail but here are the summaries .


Fred March (1891–1977)

March, Frederick Hamilton (Fred) (1891–1977)

Birth: 6 August 1891 Bowning, New South Wales, Australia

Death: 30 October 1977 Khartoum, Sudan

Occupation: adventurer (general), heroic civilian, road contractor, soldier


Oberg, David Olof August (1893–1975)

Birth: 24 September 1893 Coolamon, New South Wales,

Death:15 February 1975 Bowning, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage: Swedish

Occupation: company manager,employers’ organiser, government adviser, timber merchant

Posted in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Australian War Memorial, Australian War Records, Bowning, Parramatta, Parramatta, Research, St John's Parramatta | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Clean Up: Photo Rescue



Welcome to September and the first week of Spring. Where do we start our Spring Clean up? What about your family photos? Are they languishing in a box unloved and unsorted like this? Their prospects look grim unless they are sorted and labelled or passed onto new owners, family, friends, local libraries or family history societies. Someone was cleaning up and found some wonderful old photos of Adelaide in the 1920’s as this ABC article shows. I love to see them scanned and recycled into photo books or slideshows that can be shared with all & sundry.

I’m working on my next series of workshops, consultations and get togethers and would appreciate your input on what you would like or need help with in regard to your family history and photos. If you would like to contact me and share your thoughts that would be great. In the meantime, spring cleaning is a good start!




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Parramatta, NSW. St John’s Cemetery


Have you ever been curious about why people visit cemeteries or headstones? I recently visited St John’s Cemetery for a tour by the Friends of St John’s Cemetery. These dedicated volunteers are passionate about St John’s and are doing their best to improve its appearance and maintenance. It is the oldest existing burial ground in Australia with the oldest headstone still in its original place and dated to 1791, so it is worth looking after. There are gravestones for 17 First Fleeters and many more early settlers and still more that are unmarked. There are different denominations too but as the cemetery is not divided into denominations these are hard to identify from the headstones. One grave I found particularly interesting had a connection to Yass and an interesting epitaph. It was for Sarah Moses who died on April 1st 1841, Aged 47 Years. It reads:

Sarah Moses (c. 1794-1841)It reads:


Died of broken heart from peculiar family trials April 1st 1841 Aged 47 Years

Peace to her ShadeMay the Divine Creator receive her Soul into everlasting rest – and pardon her former unnatural oppressor(s?)

The Sydney Morning Herald for the 5 April 1841 simply says: DEATH.  On Wednesday last, March 31st, at Parramatta, Sarah Moses, formerly of Hobart Town.

Moses Moses died in Yass in 1858. Now what is the story here? Who organised the headstone?

Posted in Cemeteries, Parramatta, St John's Parramatta, Yass NSW | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From Bowning to Elizabeth Farm, Parramatta NSW

William Swann and his family are rather interesting. William Swann was born near Bradford in England and arrived in Sydney in 1864 after spending nearly four years at sea before he explored outback NSW and worked along the Australian coast. William did not find gold and began teaching in 1876 and continued until his retirement as headmaster of Parramatta North School, in 1906. In 1903, William Swann purchased Elizabeth Farm and endeavoured to restore the former home of John & Elizabeth Macarthur which was built in 1793 and is the oldest surviving building in Australia. William’s wife Elizabeth Swann (nee Devlin) was born on the Sofala goldfields in 1854 where her father was a storekeeper and when she died in 1940 was described as ‘a typical pioneer, and had that independence of mind and resourcefulness which characterise the Australian of the outback’.

Seven of William and Elizabeth Swann’s daughters lived at Elizabeth Farm until it was sold in 1968 and many were school teachers or music teachers and social activists. Isabel Longford was the only daughter to marry and was one of the first dentists, who was first registered in 1902. 

I recently visited Elizabeth Farm to see what they had about the Swann family. Unfortunately, most traces of the family were removed after the property was sold but there are photos of them on the Elizabeth Farm website and in an excellent audio visual presentation that you can take around the property as you view each room. It is a living museum so you are encouraged to use the furniture and soak up the atmosphere. Sadly, there weren’t many other photos available online so I include the photos I took on the day.

If you have any photos or other information on the Swann’s that could be used, that would be great. There are a few books on the Swann family but otherwise they are generally overwhelmed by the Macarthurs, although it was the Swann’s who saved Elizabeth Farm for posterity. What a pity they don’t have a replica of Grannie Brown’s quilt.


Posted in Bowning, Newspapers, Places, Swann, Trove Detective, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bowning, NSW. Hidden Gems.

Grannie Brown’s Medallion Quilt.

Women are often missing in action in our histories. Everyday people doing everyday things don’t usually get much attention, especially women. While recently researching Bowning there was plenty to be found on Trove and elsewhere on the activities of men. In the process, I happened upon Grannie Brown’s quilt at the Powerhouse Museum  with the images found here. The Museum provides some very interesting information. The quilt was made by Amelia Brown of Bowning between 1857 & 1900. It came to the Museum through the family of Margaret Swann of Elizabeth Farm in Parramatta which kept it as a precious heirloom. Margaret Swann appears to have been president of the Women’s Suffrage League. However, Margaret Swann was also the wife of William Swann who was the headmaster at Bowning School between 1877 and 1880 and presumably met Amelia at that time. Amazingly, the quilt was featured in last years Labours of Love exhibition in Sutherland and also used ‘on the logo for the bicentennial exhibition Quilt Australia 88’.  It also provides her maiden name, which was Parsons and that she came to Australia with her husband & seven children in 1857.

Back in Trove we find that Amelia’s husband, John Brown, died at Oak Vale Farm at Bowning on 29 September 1884, aged 74, according to the Evening News. A similar quilt on the National Quilt register says Amelia lived from 1817-1905. It is also in the Powerhouse Museum’s collection and is dated 1857 when Amelia first came to Australia. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a death notice for her on Trove but there is an Amelia Brown who died at nearby Boorowa, in 1905, on the NSW Births Deaths & Marriages, perhaps that is her. Neither Amelia nor her husband are listed as buried at Bowning, although it may just mean they don’t have a headstone & more research is required.

Grannie Brown has unknowingly made a place for women in the history of Bowning and Australia. Perhaps there is much more to the story. We have a few clues now but there are sure to be many more stories. Perhaps in time, we’ll learn more or even unearth a photo.

Posted in Bowning, Family History, Family Stories, Trove Detective | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bowning, NSW. Beginnings & Endings

The State Records of New South Wales holds an amazing assortment of archives. While exploring the School archives I came across this wonderful photograph of Bowning Public School  from about 1900 in their Photographic Collection.

SRNSW_Bowning School 1900Bowning Public School, c. 1900. SRNSW 15051-a047-001628

What can we see? It looks like a garden working bee. How many people are there?            How many adults or teachers and how many children? There’s certainly a variety of ages.

How many children were enrolled in the years about 1900? What ages & grades were they? Who was the teacher at this time? Who took the photo? When was this building built? Is it still there?

SRNSW_Bowning School c.1900_32 people

I found 32 people including the photographer.  It appears to be 23 women & 8 boys although No 30 could be a girl & no 17 in the window may be a boy. There is one woman dressed in dark clothing (21) at the back & perhaps 22 & 23 are women too while no 12 seems to be older than school age. Perhaps there are family members too.

Bowning Public School was established in 1849 and celebrated its 125th Anniversary in 1974 & produced a booklet which may shed some more clues. As yet I haven’t found a copy of it but the authors in Trove’s catalogue are worth a look.

If you know anything about Bowning School & this photo or you have others, please let me know so we can add more to their story.

Posted in Bowning, Schools, State Records of NSW | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Cassino, Italy. Contemplating Cassino WWII War Cemetery

Australians at Monte Cassino


Cassino War Cemetery is 139 kilometres south east of Rome and the Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino is nearby on the hill. There are thirteen Australians buried in the cemetery, twelve from the RAAF and a war correspondent from the Sydney Morning Herald among the 4000 or so graves from all over the Commonwealth. There may be family who have wondered about these servicemen, so I have been investigating. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission(CWGC) is very helpful with information about those who died at Cassino War Cemetery, Cassino War Memorial or CWGC cemeteries in Italy. Yesterday, the CWGC released the documents for 600,00 World War II casualties, including those at Cassino. If you are looking for RAAF servicemen the RAAF database is excellent and has many grave photographs including all the Australian graves at Cassino. The War Graves Photographic Project may also have photographs of graves or you can contact them and request one. The six graves in these photos are together near the trees.

Cassino_2519   Cassino_2525

Thanks to the CWGC, we have the following details of the men buried at Cassino War Cemetery. If you have photos of them or know anything else about them please let me know so I can include it in my later blogs. These servicemen can all be searched on the CWGC website and their service numbers are included eg. 415222 with the date of death, age, grave and information about their family.


Commonwealth War Dead (1939-1945)

BILSBY, RALPH TRENHAM. Flight Sergeant, 415222. Royal Australian Air Force. 22 July 1943. Age 21. Son of Ralph Mason Bilsby and Lillian Emelina Bilsby, of Collie, Western Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave XVII. D. 1-10.
CRAWLEY, CHRISTOPHER WILLIAM. Warrant Officer, 412403. Royal Australian Air Force. 14 December 1943. Age 21. Son of Alphonse Hilary Crawley and Ethel Margaret Crawley, of Junee, New South Wales, Australia. Grave Reference: X. K. 2.
CUMMING, DOUGLAS ANDERSON. Flying Officer, 410312. Royal Australian Air Force. 29 May 1944. Age 25. Son of Gerald Dowling Cumming and Mary Daisy Cumming, of Darlington, Victoria, Australia. Grave Reference: X. K. 6.
DOWNING, ARTHUR WILLIAM.Warrant Officer, 403261. Royal Australian Air Force. 18 October 1943. Age 21. Son of Frank Hammersley Downing and Violet Hester Downing, of Balgowlah, New South Wales, Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave III. E. 23.
ELMS, HENRY. Flight Lieutenant, 404895. Royal Australian Air Force. 17 April 1944. Age 28. Son of Cecil Henry and Daisy Elms; husband of Jessie Joyce Elms, of Hillend, Queensland, Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave XII. J. 21-22.
HAWKE, RAYMOND RICHARD LINDSAY. Warrant Officer, 427090. Royal Australian Air Force. 29 December 1944. Age 29. Son of Percival George and Margaret Mary Hawke, of Belmont, Western Australia. Grave Reference: X. K. 5.
LAIRD, THOMAS PATERSON. Flight Sergeant, 415337. Royal Australian Air Force. 22 July 1943. Age 23. Son of Thomas Paterson Laird and Jean Laird, of Albany, Western Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave XVII. D. 1-10.
LUKE, CYRIL SPENCER. Warrant Officer, 412461. Royal Australian Air Force. 5 February 1944. Age 21. Son of Stanley John Henry and Clara Adelaide Luke, of Ourimbah, Queensland, Australia; husband of June Luke, of Merrylands, New South Wales. Grave Reference: X. K. 4.
MACDONALD, RODERICK KENNETH. Reporter, 81. Australian War Correspondent. 18 May 1944. Age 32. Son of Donald Peter Macdonald, M.L.A., and Clarice Ann Macdonald, of Mosman, New South Wales, Australia. B.A. (Sydney); Journalist and Author. Grave Reference: X. K. 1.
MALLICK, THOMAS HENRY ANTHONY. Flight Sergeant, 412989. Royal Australian Air Force. 31 May 1944. Age 24. Son of Thomas and Millicent Geraldine Mallick, of Orange, New South Wales, Australia. Grave Reference: X. K. 3.
POTTS, LINDSAY GORDON. Flight Sergeant, 412701. Royal Australian Air Force. 22 July 1943. Age 21. Son of Clarence Rickard and Rose Potts, of Clovelly, New South Wales, Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave XVII. D. 1-10.
SEYMOUR, LAWRENCE ALFRED. Flying Officer, 402208. D F C. Royal Australian Air Force. 16 May 1944. Age 30. Son of James Monday Seymour and Daisy Isabel Seymour, of Chatswood, New South Wales, Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave III. K. 17-18.
STRATTON, ALFRED ROWLAND. Warrant Officer, 411056. Royal Australian Air Force. 18 October 1943. Age 29. Son of William Henry and Emily Wells Stratton; husband of Dorothy Gladys Stratton, of Hindmarsh. South Australia. Grave Reference: Coll. grave III. E. 23.

Cassino_2522   Cassino_2517 Cassino_2520   Cassino_2521

Posted in Cassino, Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Italy, War Graves Photographic Project, World War II | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Trove Detective: A Real Turner Bonanza

Good news!

Jonathon Turner WW1 PhotoTop row – Frank, Jack, George & Len Turner
Front row – William (father), Syd, Roy & Bill Turner

Thanks to George’s grandson, Jonathon Turner we now have this photograph of the Turner Family (about 1919-1920) which was mentioned in a previous blog. All seven sons returned from World War I and are probably wearing a discharged returned soldier’s badge like the one below. Thanks to  the Australian War Memorial who knew this badge but not the father’s one. No idea about the father’s badge so if you know, please let us know too. 

AWM_WW1 discharged returned soldier's badgeAWM REL28911


Posted in Australian War Memorial, Photographs, Trove Detective, Turner, World War I | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WW1 War Records: Alfred Pendleton & the AIF Project

Alfred Pendleton (1891-1951) AIF Service Number 313

SLVicThemistocles_1917_10381:173935Troopship ‘Thermistocles’ 1917 (SLVic Image H21105)

START HERE at the AIF PROJECT and save a lot of time & effort looking for WW1 servicemen. This database uses the records from the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia and although they don’t identify the source it’s not too hard to find most of it. Another bonus is that ADFA understand war records better than most of us civilians. Here is some of the personal information it told me about Alfred Pendleton and his family. Perhaps you know of them and can add to their story. Unfortunately, I was unable to find a photo of Alfred online and I do not know of any photos of his two sisters and brother who came to Australia either.

The AIF Project tells us that Alfred Pendleton served in the AIF at Gallipoli, Egypt and the Western Front. He left Australia on the ‘Themistocles’ on 12 May, 1915 and returned on the ‘Konigen Luise’ in February 1920.

Alfred was a bookbinder when he enlisted in February, 1915 and worked at Shorrocks & Davies, Manchester in 1919. He was born in Manchester, England about 1890-1891 and died on 13 January, 1951 in Sydney.

Alfred’s sisters were Mrs Wood of Bondi and Florence Pendleton of Cowra. Alfred married Ethel Davies aged 29, at St John’s Anglican Church, Lancaster on  11 February 1918 (& are known to have had at least 3 children in Australia). I wish I had a picture of Alfred Pendleton and his family. Can anyone help?

Posted in Australian War Memorial, Australian War Records, Pendleton | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment