There’s nothing better than a day at the Queensland State Archives (QSA). I have been delving into their records for a number of years for family history research, and have unearthed some fascinating stories in unexpected places. In 2013 I undertook a major research project as partial fulfilment of the requirements of a Graduate Diploma in History, requiring significant use of the Archives collection.
The project was a micro-study of the Boyneside (sometimes known as South Burandowan) WWI Solider Settlement, from the perspective of the selectors and the community they formed. The goal was to identify each of the returned servicemen who selected land in the settlement (southwest of Kingaroy) and look at their experiences and the experience of the community. Examining the selectors’ war service and their life after leaving the soldier settlement also became part of the research plan. Much that has been written about soldier settlements focuses on the politics, hardships, and ‘failures’ of the soldier settlement scheme; my intent was to explore the concept of success for these men as well as the possible benefits of soldier settlement to the selectors individually and to the communities they established.
The primary record set utilized was the land selection files, also known as the Dead Farm Files (Series ID 14050). The challenge I faced was that these are not indexed by selector’s name – nor are the names of the selectors listed by settlement, nor are the files for one selection grouped together. The records are organized by land agent district, in numerical order of the file number assigned at the time of selection. This means that adjacent files may be of different lease selection types and, for portions of land, a great distance from one another. Cross-referencing to parish maps, government gazettes and electoral rolls (all held by QSA) was necessary to identify the selectors. There were still variations between the records – some said there were 25 or 26 blocks, others 31 blocks. There were also files that simply could not be located. Ultimately, files for 28 blocks were located which represented 32 selectors (as some blocks were selected multiple times).
To really get a picture of life on the settlement, I also consulted school administration files (Series ID 12607) and correspondence files (Series ID 6477), Land Settlement Committee files (Series ID 13746), Department of Public Works files, as well as post office and rifle range files (held by National Archives of Australia) and records held at the Country Women’s Association archives.
The moral of this story is that there is no ‘one-stop shop’ or easy path to achieving the research results you seek, and ultimately the result may not be as neat and tidy as you’d like. However, QSA is a veritable goldmine of information just waiting to be discovered and there’s a few things you can do to enhance your chances of success:
Be prepared. Read the Brief Guides and Search Procedures, learn to use the Archives catalogue, and prepare a list of documents before your visit. This way you’ll be able to request records to be retrieved as soon as you arrive at the Archives, maximizing your valuable time there.Learn from the archivists – they are very experienced, know all kinds of tips and tricks for interrogating their catalogue, and are very familiar with the record sets held in the Archives.
Think laterally and look at every possible source, even if you think it’s not really relevant. The most amazing things turn up in the most unexpected places.
No matter how careful and meticulous you think you are being in your recordkeeping, double your efforts to avoid duplicating searches and to save time when writing up your research.
Bring your lunch – QSA makes their facility a ‘home away from home’ for researchers, with a great lunchroom complete with fridge, kettle, microwave, tea, coffee etc. You’ll have more research time if you don’t have to go out looking for food, and you might just make a new friend over a cuppa.
All of this contributes to a great day at the Archives. Of course, the greatness of the day will ultimately be determined by what you find. Sometimes a great day is finding that a piece of information that fills a gap or answers a question or even just gives you a clue to where to look next; sometimes it’s the thrilling serendipity of discovering more than you were looking for – a rare photo, a beautiful map, some very detailed or poignant correspondence that really sheds light on your topic or even a family scandal.
Personally, my favourite records are the School Administration Files. With quite a few teachers in my family tree, I’ve been overwhelmed to read and handle original letters written by my ancestors over 100 years ago. It’s been amazing to get a glimpse into the life of a teacher at an isolated one-teacher Queensland school in the early 1900s – it was definitely more than just reading, writing and arithmetic.
Written by Jane Harding, Historical Researcher and Heritage Librarian (Noosa Library Service)