Monday, 17 February 2014

Unlock the Past cruise and talks tour now over

As regular readers will know, I’ve been up to my eyes with things on the fourth Unlock the Past genealogy cruise ( over the last couple of weeks. The cruise finished last Thursday morning at Sydney, with some 245 weary but happy genies departing the boat after a great nine days of camaraderie, genealogical expertise, and a few decent bars! Over the final days of the conference I heard some great presentations, including Shauna Hicks on asylum records in Oz, Kerry Farmer on DNA, and a fantastic musical session from Lesley Sylvester and Mike Murray of Perth (WA), who performed folk songs they had written based on a maritime project of WA by Lesley a few years back.

The shore based talks tour with both myself and Thomas MacEntee continued throughout the cruise. On Friday 7th February we visited North Adelaide Football Club, the first time I have visited Adelaide, where the temperature was an incredible 42 degrees C – not something your average Ulsterman usually encounters, but I managed to hide indoors for most of it! It was a great venue, and one which had particular connections to Alan Phillips, organiser of the cruise – his father was previously a player for the club, and was well commemorated by it.

The following is a short video diary entry after the event, where back on the boat I give a wee tour of my cabin, to give an idea of the accommodation on board, and where I also describe how the conference was carried out, and the benefits of a genealogy cruise...

After Adelaide we ventured to Hobart, where the ship was docked overnight on Monday, before heading back to Sydney all day Wednesday. I had an afternoon off (my only shore based free time of the trip), and so I was able to visit both the Maritime Museum in the city, as well as the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, both great venues. On Tuesday 11th we then did our talks session, at the Philip Smith Centre, where I spoke on both British and Irish newspapers, and the history of the Scottish Kirk (with emphasis on how that affects genealogical research). This was my second time in Tasmania, having previously presented to the Tasmanian Family History Society at Burnie in late 2011, and many members from the Hobart branch were in attendance. A great society, you can visit its site at for further details on how to sign up – Hobart branch also has its own site at Whilst departing from Hobart I recorded another video diary:

I had the privilege once again to give the final talk on board the ship, a 40 minute presentation on the British Civilian POWs in Ruhleben camp, though I adapted it to include the Australian involvement also! (A few Australians were interned in Germany alongside other citizens from the former British Empire). The talk went down well, which was nice to see. The following short video shows the crowd gathering at the venue, Cleopatra’s Needle…

In addition to my talk, there were prizes galore dished out, including webinar CDs from Thomas MacEntee, the latest Family Historian software edition, ebooks vouchers for UTP’s ebook site, and one lucky winner receiving an AU$2500 voucher towards a future UTP cruise – effectively a free cruise (you had to be in it to win it!). A great end to the boat based proceedings, and everyone seems to have departed happy bunnies.

No sooner were we off the boat on Thursday 13th than we all headed for the Parramatta RSL club, a return visit to a venue I had previously spoken at in 2010 as part of an Unlock the Past expo. On this occasion I spoke about Irish records online, and the unique attributes of the laws and practices surrounding Scottish marriage over time. Thomas and I both had a couple of minor technical problems during our presentations, easily overcome, but after the event I had a chance to dine at the event with some local genies, some of whom I had only previously known through social media. After an overnight in Sydney we flew to Perth, WA, on Friday, and the following day gave our last talks session at our busiest venue of all, with some 160 attending our presentations at the State Library of Western Australia. This was again somewhere I had been to before, when on a holiday in 2006 I spent a day here doing some family history research, not for WA connections, but for Brisbane, through its microfilmed holdings. There was such a good vibe at this venue that I asked the audience first to say hi to British GENES blog readers…

They were such an obliging crowd that I decided to go a bit further. My wife Claire and I met in 1995 after she had returned from staying in Perth for 9 months – as it was Valentine’s Day on the 14th (the day before), I thanked the audience for sending her over to me(!) and then asked them to give her a special Valentine’s Day message…

As well as Thomas and myself, there were sessions on the Western Australian Genealogical Society (WAGS and the State Library’s offerings, including several digitisation projects on the go for the First World War centenary. Following the day’s event, Liana Fitzpatrick, president of WAGS, invited Thomas and myself, as well as Alan, Anthea and Rosemary from Unlock the Past, to a barbecue, with a few of the society’s members also in attendance. It was a great end to the whole genie journey of the last two weeks.

A huge thanks to all at Unlock the Past for a great trip, and to all those who facilitated the talks sessions, or attended them - until the next time...!


My latest genealogy books are Tracing Your Family History on the Internet (2nd ed), Discover Scottish Civil Registration Records, and Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet. My next Pharos course is Scottish Research Online, which commences Feb 27th 2014, 5 weeks, price £45.99.

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