Grey nomads learn about genealogy

Charlie and Libby (aka Chaslib), both 64, from Alstonville, NSW, have been on the road to their family’s past.

What do you travel in?
Currently in a 2006 Coromol Silhouette Camper which we have had since retirement in 2012 – our tug is a 2011 Ford Territory. We also travel with a fishing kayak (Charlies) and a real kayak for me as I hate fishing.

How long do your trips generally last?
I guess you would still call us ‘newbies’ as last year we were away for about four months in total but not all at once.  We come and go as the mood and situation dictates. I learnt very quickly not to spend too much effort in planning routes, stops and other things because life does not follow a set route – just go with the flow!

Where do you like to camp?
Free camps suit our intended lifestyle with the occasional stop at a caravan park when we feel the call of luxury items such as showers, toilets and washing machines – not to mention unlimited power!!!! Our first trip was a shake-down event and was a mix of free camps,  caravan parks and low cost sites with only toilets. We enjoyed the serenity and peace that can be found when you are not head to tail with other campers. Our choice is to camp on rivers, lakes or dams where we can enjoy kayaking or there is nobody around to witness you bolting to the toilet tent in just a bra and knickers! It’s enough to just sit back with a book or sketch pad and take inspiration from Mother Nature. At this stage, whilst we are careful with our finances, we do not allow costs to dictate what we do and where we go and how long we stay.  Of course, as the years progress, this philosophy may – and probably will, change.

Favourite thing about the lifestyle?
As much as we love the freedom of not having to be anywhere at any particular date or time, we are very family oriented and would never cut ourselves off from our children or grandchildren – that’s what has given purpose and joy in our lives.  Nowadays, with modern technology, there are always ways to keep in contact with the people in our lives. Other than that, we enjoy meeting people and going to places where we have never been before. We love the satisfaction you get when you learn something new, like how to reverse the van without looking like the novice that you are! Like how to bake bread when the sliced stuff runs out! Like how to cook in a thermal cooker!  Like how cold it is outside the camper at 6am at Middleton in August! Like how warm it is in bed at 6am at Middleton in August!  Like when you meet someone who tells you about some “you beaut” camping stuff, which you have just got to have!

On-the-road hobbies? 
Kayaking, photography and reading.  We also love exploring the small towns around where we stop and photographing interesting places and things – gravestones and the inscriptions were of particular interest and gave us insight into the life of those who lived at the times of our grand and great grandparents generations and the harsh conditions  that they lived through. I guess it also helped to understand what life was like for our own ancestors who lived through similar times. The saddest part however, was the number of young children whose graves  marked their short lives. More tragic was finding large numbers of graves where the date of death linked them all to some horrific event. The interest in the graves and inscriptions  led to registering as a gravestone photographer which we intend to start working on when we next travel. I also kept a journal and regularly update it with our travel details, ie. milage, costs, photo, where we camped  and a blog type commentary on our activities. Like many other travellers, I also have a Facebook Page which I update regularly while travelling to keep our friends and family updated on our adventures. Family history claimed a large part of my leisure time, however, as that is now reaching the end of the road, I have developed a growing interest in acrylic painting which will be much easier to maintain as a hobby on the road.

What about studying family history?
It would have been about six years ago that I decided to get involved in it seriously – my siblings did not have the time to devote to the project, so were happy to appoint me (and my bank account!) the “Family Researcher”. Once you start on this road and commit to it, you find it almost impossible to stop – every time you try, you find something new that takes you on a different and more fascinating path.

How did you get started?
My interest in genealogy actually started about 10 years ago when a professionally drawn up and printed family tree that recorded over 500 years of my mothers family up to the early 1900’s  disappeared when my mothers sister passed away – we wondered if she had deliberately destroyed it rather than have some family scandals come to light?   I still recall that as a child I gazed at this  great big chart that covered the kitchen table – it was full of names that meant nothing to me ….. Until I noticed some of the names started with the words “Lord”, “Lady” or “Sir”,  there was even a few that had the word “King” in front of the name. There were also some names I recognised from my history classes at school!  At the time, it did not mean much – my mother would just laugh and say “Darling , your family is like a potato – the best part is under the ground”.  Those words have stayed with me for over 50 years and it is only now that I understand what she meant!  When my aunt died and the tree disappeared about 10 years ago, I decided I would ensure my children and their children would know where their family came from and hopefully who they were. Hence I started on a road that would lead me to an extended family,  generate many questions but would also unearth many mysteries at the same time.

What do you use as a research tool?
My primary research tool is, however, I did have a professional genealogist assist with some research  when I got stuck and to validate as best he could what I had found.  The most valuable tool I had was not the internet, not the genealogist or any of the myriad of programs which promise to find your ancestors –  what I found would was a book that set me on the path to replace the lost family tree.

Do you visit specific places to explore your family history?
When I found out who my mother’s father was, I was able to trace his parents and his siblings. I have been able to visit my grandparents graves in Toowoomba and lay flowers there, but have not been able to trace the whereabouts of any of the siblings.  I have found the graves of several of my mothers maternal ancestors graves at Ipswich Historical Cemetery and also in Brisbane  – sadly, I became aware that some of my ancestors burials have been recorded but the actual plots are “unmarked”!. My mothers family were a fascinating bunch and several family members held political and government positions in early NSW and Queensland history.

Any interesting ancestors?
You can’t start tracing your family and not expect or be prepared, to find at least a couple of scandals and a few unknown relies thrown in for good luck!  As someone who has all my life been fascinated with history, my interest in genealogy has led to a thirst to read and research the lives of recorded historical figures that appeared in our family tree.

  • How come my great grandfather came to Australia on the immigration ship “Light Brigade” as an assisted immigrant – documentation listed him as an agricultural worker at Chester in the UK, but here he is in Toowoomba a few short years later as a practicing Solicitor!
  • I learnt about the conditions on board the immigration ships back in the 1800’s when I found a series of books including “They Came Direct – Light Brigade” – the passenger manifest listed my Great Grandfather and Great Grandmother and her sister.
  • Why did my mother and her sister never speak about their father and why was there never any photos around? I soon found out the answer! My grandfather and grandmother parted company soon after my mothers birth in 1912  – he jumped the fence and then lived and had another family with my grandmothers half sister – I found their marriage records showing the date to be 1 month after the death of my grandmother.
  • I found out that my grandfather was part of the original committee that founded the Queensland Country Party
  • I found out about a diary found  written by my great great grandfather covering his years as a soldier in the British army fighting against Napoleon, before he became one of the first English settlers in the Port Macquarie area and later, as a Police Magistrate, then Parliamentary Librarian and Usher of the Black Rod in the first Queensland Government.  The diary transcript was fascinating, but, what was even more fascinating was a copy of the Family Tree with those names I remember so well from my childhood! The diary was researched, and published by a Professor from the University of Newcastle, so I considered that validation enough!  This diary also let me to many many other family members whose existence I knew nothing about.

6. As for the most exciting find …a younger sister – an exciting find – someone I knew about but never thought would seek me out.  Something that was hard to cope with at the time, however, as the story unfolded over the years, for my new Sister – a God Send.  This is her story as well as mine, so we shall leave it at that for now …..

Do you think genealogy is a good hobby for grey nomads?
I honestly feel for the most part, genealogy requires access to the internet which would make it unfeasible for most travellers. However, you do get to a stage where there is a lot of checking – libraries whilst you travel could be a good source of information, if you travel in an area where ancestors have lived, then historical societies would be a good port-of-call. Otherwise, if you have your tree on your laptop while you are travelling, it would be a good opportunity to go through everything and check – I know of people who have taken events from their family history and turned it into a novel ………. Lets face it, if “Mills & Boon” can do it, then you can too! Turn your history into a legacy for your children and grandchildren.

Advice for others keen to take up genealogy?
It is not cheap so be prepared to invest your dollars into it!  You will find as you get into it, you will be applying for Birth, Death, Marriage records. And if that is not enough, as you delve further into the past, you may need parish records …… it all adds up – very rarely will you be able to get something for nothing other than the Family Search site!   If you can be as lucky as I was and find something reliable to work with such as an existing family tree, then you are well on the way. Don’t get carried away with it all – it sounds very romantic to find royalty in your family tree, but lets face it, millions of others have also – there is no crown or heir to a throne attached to it!  As far as royalty in your tree goes, just remember, back in those days,  you never know ‘ who begat who, by whom”  instead of royalty, you could actually be descended from some lowborn scullery maid, or the lady’s groom – after all, there is nobody around today who was there at the time to validate your research!  Perhaps the most important thing to warn “would–be” researchers about is never to take other peoples research as correct ……. Over the past years I have found so many trees on line that are outright wrong – some people have actually adopted my family as theres when I know for a fact that they are wrong. I have since made my tree private  and would strongly advise others to do the same unless you can discipline yourself to validate the connection first – try to get that piece of paper you need to prove the link to your tree.

Any general advice for wannabe nomads?
Go with a positive attitude and be prepared to compromise with your partner. Spend time before you go on that first trip, researching suitable tugs and vans/campers/RVs that will suit your needs. Perhaps hire a camper and see how you cope on the road – enclosed space – sometimes no phone, internet, TV, plenty of flies for company, no gourmet kitchen? Will you and your partner be able to co-exist out in the great outdoors without killing each other or ending up in the divorce court? The lifestyle is not for everyone and it is important that you are both honest with each other before you embark on such a radical lifestyle change



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