Unlock the Past Cruise Speaker Profile: Neil Grill

4th cruise - Neil Grill 120Neil Grill joins the speakers of the 4th Unlock the Past Cruise and his areas of interest in history and genealogy are military history generally.

Neil is a retired Army Officer (Major), having spent 25 years in the Australian Regular Army and 15 years in the Army Reserve serving in a variety of postings and employments in the Royal Australian Engineers and Royal Australian Signal Corps, and he is a technology infrastructure specialist having spent many years of his service career developing, designing and project managing the installation of secure Defence networks and computer systems.

Neil’s key interests tend to focus on: WWI, Coastal Fortification of Australia, researching obscure genealogies of long forgotten soldiers, personal family history, engineering history and heritage, and how to productively use ever changing technology to research, record and share information.


NAME:  Neil F. Grill
HOMETOWN/COUNTRY: Glen Alpine, Sydney, Australia
DAYTIME JOB:  Retired, living my life with passion, purpose and pizzazz

Q1. Think back to your childhood … now what is your favourite memory from that time?
Christmas in the Riverina (Narrandera, Leeton, Griffith) and running wild with my cousins and extended family on large sheep/wheat farms, in orchids, swimming in the Murrumbidgee River and enjoying wonderful fresh fruit and great food.

4th cruise - Neil Grill 1Q2. There’s always ‘something’ that sparks an interest in genealogy/history? What was it that sparked your interest?
When I was a child, I often gazed at a large picture of my great uncle, Oliver Pearce, a soldier who died at Passchendaele in 1917. I wanted to know all about him, his life and times, WWI, where and when he died, why he had no grave, and why he never seemed to be spoken about by my grandmother (his younger sister). I think it was this picture staring back at me across time that first sparked my interest in family history and history in general.

Q3. How old were you when you developed an interest in this hobby?
About 10 years old. I started to collect family photographs, memorabilia, old letters and listen to stories. I had a scrap-book of sorts to keep all these treasures and notes.

Q4. What countries across this big wide world did your ancestors come from?
- Nassau, Deggendorf, Bavaria
- Wuerttemberg
- Cottbuss
- Howsyke, Thoralby, Yorkshire, England
- Castle Bolton, Yorkshire, England
- Cornwall
- Suffolk

Q5. Is genealogy/history your main job?
A hobby! But I regularly head off on a tangent (a sojourn!) exploring an interesting historical event, person or distant relation. I have often considered undertaking a form qualification is history and/or genealogy.

Q6. Do you have a genealogy mentor or idol? Someone who has deeply influenced you in your research along the way?

Q7. We all know that your family history can reveal some amazing things. Have any of your discoveries resulted in a life-changing experience?
As I undertake research in an open and systematic manner, quite free from emotive constraints, whatever I discover is more exciting than life changing.

Q8. What do you find most challenging about research?
Overcoming dead-ends and sifting through the ever changing, and quite often inaccurate, information on-line.

Q9. If you had a time-machine what relative (past, present or future) would you most like to meet?
Johann August Ernst HANSCHKE, b 1838, Cottbus, Brandenburg, Germany; d. 22 Sep 1920, at Ambleside (Hahndorf), South Australia.
William Charles Keft, Captain of the coastal ship Mimosa that struck a rock (henceforth known as Mimosa Rock) on 18 Sep 1863 and sank with the loss of two passengers (There were 38 passengers and crew on board including Captain Keft’s family)

4th cruise - Neil Grill 2Q10. Still using that time machine, you’ve been propelled into the future five years, what do you see yourself doing?
Enjoying life, my family and grandchildren, studying or researching history, genealogy, and science, travelling overseas and in Australia, lecturing and running innovative courses.

Q11. What value do you think social media plays in genealogy these days?
Social media can help family historians to communicate, share and collaborate with other family historians and special interest groups. Personally, I think social media is excellent for getting in touch with people with like interests…then a more formal approach to saving and correlating data is needed; example Dropbox, SkyDrive and other cloud technologies.

Q12. What do you do when you aren’t doing genealogy or history?
Bushwalking and hiking, reading, movies, travel, ticking off my “bucket list”! Enjoying my family and grandchildren. Astronomy and space travel.

Q13. What do you hope to get out of a genealogy cruise?
- Have a holiday close to home without the expensive air fares to get to and from.
- Meet like-minded people
- Hopefully form some friendships that can be followed up after the cruise.
- Expand my mind with interesting information and look at different ways of doing things.

Q14. Share with us a few (up to five) of the genealogy websites that you tend to spend the most time on?
- NSW State Records: How to start your family history
- Australia’s Community Heritage
- The Biographical Database of Australia
- Inspiration to Create Family History Photo and Story Books; an interesting web site/blog called Momento Musings
- Historic Photo Collections; Flickr Collection from South Australia’s State Records:

Q15. Do you have any wise words for those just starting out in genealogy?

  1. Buy a suitable computer equipment for researching history/genealogy – I’m thinking about designing a course and/or presentation on just this aspect.
  2. Start from the known and verified…I made the mistake of collecting a massive amount of family and related history, not noting sources (inexperience) and then trying to put it all together. The result was disorganised chaos.
  3. Colour code information – known/verified/referenced (I don’t think any genealogy software packages do this!)
  4. Learn how to reference data in a formal system and stick to the methodology.
  5. Embrace cloud technology to avoid the inevitable computer crash, share photographs, blogs, websites and so on…but still keep a local off-site backup of your data just in case the internet crashes!
  6. Join a few different local history and genealogy organisations in the locations that your ancestors once lived. For example, when I researching the Hall Surname in and around Yass, NSW, I made connections with the Yass and District Historical Society (http://www.yasshistory.org.au/contact.htm)

4th cruise - Neil Grill 3


For those of you who are going on the 4th cruise, here is the topic that Neil is expected to be speaking on, based on the current program:
- Early fortification of Port Jackson

Neil does have a website and blog, but as they are private he has chosen not to list them here.

But here’s a few more words from Neil …
My particular interests in history and genealogy (subject to change at a moment’s notice!):
- Military History, in particular WWI
- Discovering little known or never before researched historical item
- Coastal fortification of Australia
- Abandoned rail tunnels and engineering structures
- Australia’s Engineering heritage
- Writing a few books to bring together the data and research on the above subjects…the books are on my bucket list!
- Australian Coins – pre decimal currency

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