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Trove's Treasures: Family History

Trove's Treasures: Family History
Week Five of Trove's 50 Objects project
3 July 2018

Please note: Members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this page and links may contain names and images of deceased people.

Our 10-part blog series is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the National Library of Australia's building with 50 interesting and important records in Trove. This week bring us to our halfway point, exploring items 21 to 25, with the theme "Family History".

Read the other Trove's Treasures blog posts:
Week One: Print to Digital
Week Two: Arts
Week Three: Sports
Week Four: Adventure
Week Six: Politics

An elegant sundress highlights an immigrant success story. A convict letter home serves as an unlikely advertisement of Australia's finer points. And an industry publication gives us a peek over the neighbourhood fences of 1950s-era Mount Isa. We know Trove as a place where Australians go to uncover and add detail to their family histories - here are just a few starting points.

21. Michael Asmar sundress

Michael Asmar sundress
Dress, women's, cotton, Michael Asmar, Australia, 1950-1960. https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/249767057

Michael Asmar was a dress designer and manufacturer who worked out of Brisbane's West End for 25 years. He created this full-skirted sundress, acquired by Sydney's Powerhouse Museum in 1992, between 1950-1960 with fabric printed with seashells, boats and gentle waves that celebrate the beach culture of Queensland.

Piecing together Asmar family history is a rewarding experience in Trove's newspapers - from Mr. Asmar's wish to become a naturalised citizen after arriving in 1925 from Tripoli to frequent mentions of charity fashion events organised by the Asmar family. Mr Asmar's son-in-law, Mohamed, also wrote a beautiful letter about the migrant experience to Brisbane's The Courier-Mail. The Trove team was even lucky enough to have had a great-grandaughter of Mr Asmar's working with us.

22. John Slater writes home

John Slater letter
Slater, John (1819). A description of Sydney, Parramatta, Newcastle, &c., settlements in New South Wales, with some account of the manners and employment of the convicts, in a letter from John Slater to his wife in Nottingham, published for the benefit of his wife and four childrenhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-425398178

A letter from a convict seems an unlikely place to find descriptions of a "pleasant passage" to Australia, and the "salubrious air" of a Sydney climate. However, John Slater's 1818 letter to his wife Catherine paints an optimistic picture of his life after transportation. The letter was published in 1819 by a Nottingham publisher, in an effort to assist Catherine Slater to raise enough money to provide travel for herself and her children to be reunited with John in Sydney. This ultimately successful campaign, an article in the Library's UnBound magazine notes, may make the Slaters the first Australian crowdsourcers.

The letter is a rare document - only four physical copies are known to still exist, and luckily, the Library holds two of these copies.

23. Meet the neighbours

Our Neighbour feature in Mimag
OUR NEIGHBOUR. In Mimag Vol.5 No.3 (March, 1952) pg.20. https://trove.nla.gov.au/version/232655597

Mimag was a popular Mount Isa publication that ran from 1946-1996  - the Trove team recently blogged about its digitisation. Ostensibly an industry publication, Mimag also contained a wealth of community and social news, leading it to be dubbed the "Facebook of its day" by those who read and collected the issues.

A recurring column in the 1950s, Our Neighbour, asked local Mount Isa families for "the run of the house" for a day. It included family photographs, details on interior decoration and home renovations, and the family's thoughts on life in the region. For today's relatives of the Masons, the Pietilas or the Blanchards, it represents a rich portrait of everyday life that would add brilliant detail to any family history. 

24. One veil for 26 brides

Agnes Lockhart wedding photo
Wedding portrait of Agnes ('Nessie') Emily Hackett (née Lockhart) and Norman Alfred Hackett, June 1929, Melbourne, Victoria. http://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-150060449

In 2005, Library volunteer Jenny Hadlow and her sister Rosemary donated a 3.5 metre wedding veil and a collection of photographs to the Library. The Honiton lace veil, bought by Jenny and Rosemary's mother Agnes Lockhart for her wedding in 1929, was accompanied by photographs of 26 brides from the Lockhart family who also wore the veil in their own weddings. Such a thorough record of family weddings - from 1929 to 1995 - is rare indeed. Jenny notes it was likely because of a condition attached to borrowing the veil - that "Mum received a photograph of the bride or the bridal couple". 

The veil is currently stored at the Library in climate-controlled conditions to preserve the fragile lace, only rarely displayed for family viewings - as described in The Sydney Morning Herald. Many of the wedding photographs from the Lockhart family's collection, including the first photo of Agnes' wedding above, are available to view in Trove.

25. A life of family history research

East Brunswick Primary - boy in library
Public Record Office Victoria. Boy working in the library, February 1957 Brunswick East Primary School. Copyright: Some Rights Reserved. https://flic.kr/p/dryrhG

The Public Record Office Victoria (PROV) is an important family history resource, linking Trove to records on Victorians from the beginning of colonial administration in the 1830s. Details can be found on immigration and passenger records, census details, health, justice and even resources for discovering the history of your house.

Records from the PROV come to Trove in two ways. The first is an organisation record in Trove's People zone - this includes information on the history of the organisation itself, links to content PROV has shared with Trove, and links to the website to continue family history research. PROV also shares historical photographs with Trove through the Flickr group Trove: Australia in Pictures, including collections of school photographs as shown above.

What are your favourite objects in Trove?

What are your favourite Trove objects? We are still seeking suggestions for our People's Choice week in August. These can be any objects in Trove -  they just have to be available online, and loved by you! Send your suggestions to trove@nla.gov.au.

Learn more about other activities planned for the Library's 50th Anniversary celebrations.