Caroline, you completed the Diploma of Family History at the University of Tasmania. Tell us about your experience studying this course.

I commenced the inaugural unit of the diploma, Introduction to Family History, in 2016. At that time, I had been researching my family history in an ad hoc fashion for about five years, primarily using some of the resources available at the state libraries and by searching Ancestry. I had some knowledge about most of my family lines up until my great-great grandparents, but knew little about the lives of my ancestors, which was something that particularly interested me. I completed the diploma much more informed and with the confidence that I now had the information to really develop my tree. Since I have completed the course, and with the assistance of DNA testing, I have now been able to research back to around year 1600 on many family lines, with the confidence that my tree is accurate, based on well-researched source documents.

Wow, that’s impressive! What skills and knowledge did you acquire through the course? 

The greatest benefit for me from completing the diploma was a greater understanding of the immense resources available to family historians and how to access them. The introduction unit emphasised effective research techniques and sourcing information, which was very valuable. My level of knowledge increased substantially, and it enabled me to really learn about the lives of some of my ancestors. Through units such as Place, Image, Object and The Photo Essay, I have a better understanding and appreciation of historical artefacts in my possession and have learned a variety of ways to present family history information for different audiences. As a Tasmanian with convict ancestors, I particularly appreciated learning how to read and interpret convict records, and this was a great assistance in understanding the lives of my convict ancestors.

In what other ways has the course assisted you with your family history research? 

An outcome that surprised me from the diploma was connecting with previously unknown relatives in order to complete some of the assignments. For the unit Families at War, I elected to study my great uncle’s experience of World War I. I did not know his descendants, but tracked them down through an ancestry tree. They provided me with primary source materials for my assignment and I was able to research their great-grandfather’s story. We now remain in contact, which is wonderful. Likewise, the Oral History unit provided an opportunity to talk to my mother and her cousins about their memories of World War II – something that I had not previously done. 

What was the biggest breakthrough in your research?

I’ve had many breakthroughs with my family tree since completing the course. Probably my most exciting and satisfying was identifying the parents of my great-grandmother, Annie Jones, as they were previously unknown to the family. Annie’s father, Walter Jones, was a successfully absconded convict, a former soldier court-martialled for throwing his cap at his superior officer. Walter never registered the births of Annie or her siblings, possibly to stay under the radar of the authorities. Solid research, DNA testing and a stroke of excellent luck finding a relative who had some documented oral history eventually enabled me to confirm Annie’s parents. It is a truly remarkable story – there might be a book in it one day!

Image: Annie Jones and Edith Shelton (1914), supplied by Caroline Haigh.

This article was originally published in Traces Magazine Edition 6, 2019.

Interested in Family History? Apply now to study a Diploma of Family History.