Family history connections

Family history connections
Finding stories in Trove
1 August 2016

Earlier this year we shared the story of the Coles hand, where two men, Ivan Owen and Richard van As put their heads together and, using an old, prosthetic hand found in Trove for inspiration, designed a prosthetic that can be 3D printed very cheaply for children around the world.

This story gained some momentum with news stories and social media sharing and as a result, we made contact with Haydon Coles. Haydon is the great-grandson of Corporal John Coles, who was the recipient of the prosthetic in 1845. Haydon had been researching his family history in the journals of explorers Sir George Grey and Edward John Eyre, where there were many mentions of Corporal Coles. This research turned into a book, Out of Grey’s Shadow, detailing the life of John Coles. His book includes the story of the Coles hand.

Image of book

Haydon Coles book, Out of Grey's Shadow

To celebrate the book being published, Haydon arranged a book launch with the 3D printed hand the Trove team built an honoured guest. Unfortunately the original prosthetic hand was deemed too priceless to leave the Health Museum of South Australia, so an image of the hand was in attendance instead. Another honoured guest was Michael Smith, a direct descendant of Robert Norman, the inventor who designed and handcrafted the prosthetic hand for John Coles. Also in attendance were descendants of John Coles and Helen Hardy, whose efforts ensured that the prosthetic hand would be preserved for future generations instead of tucked away in a cupboard where it had rested for well over a hundred years.

Below is an image from the book launch, where we can see Helen holding an image of the prosthetic hand. Michael is holding the 3D printed hand and Haydon is next to him on the right, with other John Coles descendants. 

Image of people at a book launch

Some of the guests at the book launch. Image supplied by Haydon Coles

When Robert Norman embarked on his mission to create a substitute hand for John Coles, he declared ‘that the wearer will be able to help himself in every sense of the word, deal a pack of cards, hand a plate, lift a glass of wine…’. Now while we can’t say whether the hand was indeed able to hold a glass of wine, at the book launch a friend of Haydon’s demonstrated that the 3D printed hand could indeed lift a wine glass.

Image of someone holding a wine glass with prosthetic hand

Demonstrating that the hand could lift a wine glass. Image supplied by Haydon Coles

The Trove team were so pleased to hear that the book launch went well, and were delighted at the connections that were made between descendants of the two men whose story about a prosthetic hand inspired Ivan and Richard. Ideas can certainly cross centuries and change lives, and we’re certain there are more such stories and ideas in Trove waiting to be found.

August is Family History Month, so if Haydon’s research into his family history has inspired you to delve into your own family history, then what better place to start looking than in Trove! Just type in a name and see what you get back, you’ll never know what you might find. If you need some assistance, you can check the Trove Help pages for some tips on searching, or if you need some more in depth help, you can always Ask A Librarian.

Conveniently, the reference librarians at the National Library are holding a Family History Hour on the National Library’s Facebook page on 16 August at 4pm and Trove will be there helping to answer family history questions. We hope to see you there! 

Featured image: Corporal Coles prosthetic hand, Health Museum of South Australia