How I Use Ancestry To Create Forgotten Australia

My great-great uncle, Albert “Big Neck” Nichols, boatswain of Titanic.
Below you can learn how I found his story — and mine — using Ancestry.

Researching and writing every episode of Forgotten Australia is like a game of join-the-dots, with each fact a point linking to another point to create a picture of the past.

While occasional episodes cover events that have been chronicled elsewhere, most of my shows relate stories that have never been told in detail from a modern perspective. Sister Annie Egan, Robert Walker, Big Jim Cush, Hannah Mitchell, the Van Tassel Sisters: they and many others featured in Forgotten Australia don’t even have basic Wikipedia pages.

When I’m researching these obscure people and forgotten events, historic newspaper articles are vital.

But they’re not always reliable in their reporting of all the facts, whether names, ages, dates, addresses, occupations, immigration arrivals or prior criminal records. Similarly, once interest in a story faded so, too, did coverage of the people involved. And, obviously, if a journalist had no idea of what a subject had been up to before he or she became newsworthy, there was no way to report that information in their stories.

That’s where Ancestry is vital in helping me uncover facts as they were recorded at the time in official documents. These concrete details form a solid foundation for further research and, when used in conjunction with archival newspaper stories, references in books and other more modern tools, they give Forgotten Australia episodes a level of detail I hope is absorbing and immersive.

For me, diving into Ancestry is endlessly fascinating and I can’t help but feel like a detective as the facts accumulate and a detailed picture begins to appear. From electoral rolls and marriage records, to enlistment papers and police gazettes (sometimes complete with awesome mug shots), I’ve used Ancestry for every episode of Forgotten Australia — and also to write my book Australia’s Sweetheart.

In the coming months, I’ll be sharing a lot of specific examples of what I found using Ancestry and explaining how these records contributed to episodes and shone new light on people and events long forgotten.

Right now you can start telling your own family story — and/or become your own DIY history detective — with Ancestry. By following the link and considering a subscription, you’ll also be supporting Forgotten Australia and help me to keep on digging to bring you new stories.

Read on to find out how I found my birth family — and a startling Titanic connection.