Kerry Farmer is well-known in the Australian genealogy scene. Having been researching since 1983, and teaching genealogy since 1997 she’s now a professional genealogist, regular presenter, author, and course tutor for the National Institute of Genealogical Studies, as well as being involved with local her genealogy society.
This February Kerry joins us for her first ever genealogy cruise.
With a wide range of knowledge on Australian genealogy, DNA and other topics, Kerry’s talks are always popular ones. So make sure you grab a seat.
NAME: Kerry Farmer
HOMETOWN/COUNTRY: Sydney, Australia
DAYTIME JOB: Genealogist, also Director of Australian Studies, National Institute for Genealogical Sudies
Q1. Think back to your childhood … now what is your favourite memory from that time?
Spending time with and hearing stories from extended family (from my mother’s side), including my parents and siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins.
Q2. There’s always ‘something’ that sparks an interest in genealogy/history? What was it that sparked your interest?
I can’t remember not being interested in history. I loved being surrounded by history in the few years when we lived in England, near Richmond Palace and within walking distance of the National Archives in Kew. A family member who was interested in genealogy asked me to get some UK service records and other documents for her. If one occasion prompted me into active family history research, it was probably attending my father’s mother’s funeral and realising that I didn’t know much about my father’s side of the family, including many of those attending the funeral.
Q3. How old were you when you developed an interest in this hobby?
I was interested in the relationships between the people I knew from an early age. Extending that to serious family history research (as in the incidents described above) happened in about my mid to late 20s.
Q4. What countries across this big wide world did your ancestors come from?
Other than Australia, my own ancestors came from England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Russia and South Africa. Plus I am researching my husband’s ancestors, some of whom came from Norway.
Q5. Is genealogy/history your main job?
Yes it is now. I research for clients, give lots of talks and also I am writing the courses in Australian family history research for the National Institute for Genealogical Studies. (Previously I was a computer programmer and systems analyst.)
Q6. Do you have a genealogy mentor or idol? Someone who has deeply influenced you in your research along the way?
Initially that was my 2nd cousin who had researched much of my grandmother’s family. Now I am fortunate to have a number of extremely experienced genealogist friends from whom I can learn and seek advice.
Q7. We all know that your family history can reveal some amazing things. Have any of your discoveries resulted in a life-changing experience?
Many of the stories I’ve found about my ancestors have been very moving and sometimes (especially when visiting ancestral places) I’ve felt guided by ancestors to a particular place or discovery.
One example? I was wandering in the East End of London and happened upon a museum (‘of diversity’) only open 4 days a year, and it was open that day. Previously it had been a Synagogue. So I visited the museum and was leaving when I noticed a plaque on the wall that said the street had been renamed. I discovered that the synagogue was where my 2g.grandparents had married. On the strength of that, I then visited the address where they’d lived and photographed the house. Returning to my hotel that evening, a friend brought me a book she’s seen on a Remainders table (for only £1), knowing my interest in Stepney. There was a double-page spread about the house I’d just visited, where my ancestors had lived.
I’ve been very fortunate in being able to completely change my life so most of my days are spent researching or writing about family history.
Family history research has brought me special friendships and relationships with people I would otherwise not have known. In particular it has been quite remarkable to be welcomed as family, by people met in person for the first time.
Q8. What do you find most challenging about research?
Finding enough time.
Q9. If you had a time-machine what relative (past, present or future) would you most like to meet?
I’d love to talk to ancestors who migrated, sometimes surviving amazing adversity in the search for a better life for their families. However I’ve often wondered if I’d actually like some of my ancestors, especially the rogues whose misdeeds and hidden lives have been so hard to find. (Though I suspect they must have been charming to have actually managed some of their misdeeds.)
Q10. Still using that time machine, you’ve been propelled into the future five years, what do you see yourself doing?
Probably more of the same – balancing spending time with living family and intriguing ancestors.
Q11. What value do you think social media plays in genealogy these days?
The internet allows us to find, and keep in contact with, more distant and extended family. We can keep in contact with more people and on the whole I think that’s a good thing. There is a risk though of the attraction of the superficial online taking the time that might have been given to fewer but deeper relationships. Plus there’s the danger that we spend so much time online that we don’t spend enough time speaking to living family and recording their stories before it’s too late.
Q12. What do you do when you aren’t doing genealogy or history?
I love travel, photography, reading and music – but who says those can’t combine with genealogy or history?
Q13. What do you hope to get out of a genealogy cruise?
Seasickness in the past has made me very nervous about cruising. However so many of my friends will be on this cruise, that I am looking forward to spending time with them. I get a buzz out of genealogy, learning from others, puzzling over challenges and just having the opportunity to spend time talking with others who share the same passions.
Q14. Share with us a few (up to five) of the genealogy websites that you tend to spend the most time on?
I spend a lot of time on many genealogy websites, so limiting it to 5 depends on who or what I am researching at the time. I use the paid subscription sites (Ancestry.com, findmypast.com and ScotlandsPeople.gov.uk) a lot, but won’t include those in my 5. Nor will I mention my own website (where I have lots of links to other websites).
Instead I’ll mention:
- Trove – http://trove.nla.gov.au
- National Archives of Australia – www.naa.gov.au
- NSW State Records – www.records.nsw.gov.au
- FamilySearch – http://familysearch.org
- International Society of Genetic Genealogy – www.isogg.org
Q15. Do you have any wise words for those just starting out in genealogy?
- Talk to family members and record their stories before it’s too late
- Work back systematically, one generation at a time
- Write it all down in a notebook, so you don’t lose records of what you’ve discovered
- Write down your sources, of where you found every piece of information
- Don’t believe everything you read (or are told)
- Don’t copy someone else’s tree without checking for accuracy at every step
For those of you who are going on the 4th cruise, here are the topics that Kerry is expected to be speaking on, based on the current program:
- National Institute for Genealogical Studies
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT KERRY’S WEBSITE:
Family History Research www.familyhistoryresearch.com.au
AND HER BLOG:
Family History Research blog http://famresearch.wordpress.com