In addition to working part time as a Senior Reference Archivist at Queensland State Archives (QSA), I also enjoy doing historical research in my spare time, and have strong interests in both family and local history. About three years ago, I started researching the lives of the men who were listed on the Banyo World War One Honour Board. Originally sparked by a conversation with a librarian at my local library, the research took on a life of its own and grew into a book, The Banyo Boys 1914-1918: Biographies of the men from the Banyo District who served in the Great War (including a short history of the Banyo Memorial School of Arts Hall) published in 2014.
My research area was divided into two. First I researched the lives of the men who were listed on the Banyo Honour Board and the other boys not listed from the Banyo, Nudgee and Northgate area who were born or lived there during the war or at the time of their enlistment. Secondly, I researched the history of the Banyo Memorial School of Arts, otherwise known as the Banyo Memorial Hall, from its inception in 1917 to its demolition in 1998.
Research experience at Queensland State Archives
As well as using the Australian War Memorial and National Archives of Australia’s soldier records and the National Library’s digitised newspapers available on TROVE, I also used many records from the Queensland State Archives holdings. To research the soldiers and trace their lives before and after the First World War I used the following records:
- various immigration lists and registers
- court records such as wills, intestacies, divorces, inquests, civil case files and bench records
- electoral rolls (Series ID 162)
- county maps
- Brisbane suburban maps
- various cemetery records
- various school admissions
- various teacher records such as pay books and statistical returns
- Police administration files (Series ID 39)
- State Advances Corporation indexes to workers’ dwelling loan registers (Series ID 3963)
- soldier settlement files
- Toombul Shire Council minutes (Series ID 3662)
TROVE was useful to locate soldier returns and wounded lists, birth, death and marriage notices, social events, district land sales and other interesting things.
For the history of the School of Arts, I found the Department of Public Instruction’s correspondence files the best – Series ID 6477, General Correspondence, 1860-1971 and Queensland Audit Office files Series ID 17942, Brisbane Audit Reports, 1922-1999. Lands Department records were also useful such as Series ID 10397, Indexes to Land Purchases, 1860-1921. Having the Government Gazettes and the Education Office Gazettes available in the Public Search Room proved to be a bonus as I searched for notices relating to the School of Arts land, trustees, committees and teachers at local schools. Again, TROVE proved useful in locating many public notices.
Tips for researchers
- The basic search
My best tip for anyone starting out their research at QSA is to do a ‘serendipity search’ in the catalogue ArchivesSearch. Many things are item listed by name and/or locality and, like a lucky dip, researchers just don’t know what they will find. Also ask the reference archivist for hints and search tips and really have a good read of all relevant brief guides.
- Don’t believe everything you read
My next big tip is don’t believe everything you read that is not a primary record – be it a pamphlet, book, memorial board or internet page. Ask yourself: what was the purpose or intention of the record? Are there good references to primary records that I can follow to discover more of the story?
In my research, I often find things purported to be fact are merely hearsay and sometimes completely incorrect. If the “published” version of the story has little or no primary source references, then question it. A good published work should have good references that can be checked for accuracy and informational content. For example, in my research I found a soldier who was listed as killed during the war was alive well into the 1960s in a case of mistaken identity. Some other soldiers listed as wounded I discovered were never wounded at all. Several never even made it past basic training and yet they are listed as having served in a theatre of war despite not leaving Brisbane. The saddest mistakes I have found are the soldiers listed as wounded when in fact they died from wounds or were killed in action. Another example of “that’s not quite right” that I found is the listing of the Banyo School of Arts and Memorial Hall as two separate buildings on a notable website, when in fact it was only ever one building being referred to locally in a variety of ways. Not only did the QSA records prove this one, but an oral history interview with the nieces of the original builder cemented it. I guess it comes down to checking everything!
- Take accurate records
My final big tip is to record your research as accurately as you can and don’t forget to have good references and citations. These allow others to chase both primary and secondary sources for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
Best find in the QSA collection
My best local history find in the QSA collection is the Brisbane Suburban and Locality maps and files. Series ID 1964, Brisbane and Suburbs – Key Map, 1915-1928 and Series ID 2043, City of Brisbane and Suburbs Maps – A1A Series, 1825-1987. Other related series include Series ID 17642, Brisbane Street and Road Maps, 1921-1955 and Series ID 16606, Brisbane Suburbs Files, 1958-1991. It is totally amazing to see how much the Brisbane suburbs have changed over the last century and to learn about their local history.
My interest in family history has seen me research records in a number of archival institutions in Australia and overseas (researching archival records in India was particularly memorable!) and I think that for ease of use and accessibility, as well as for the research environment, the QSA collection is by far the best. But then I might be a little biased.
Written by Saadia Thomson Dwyer, Senior Reference Archivist Queensland State Archives and historical researcher