Photo Essay: A walk with George

George Fuller Recollections of Launceston
As an adult in the 1890s, George Fuller sat down and recalled ‘from memory’ the places, buildings and people of his youth during the 1830s and 40s in Launceston, Tasmania.
With a copy of his written recollections in hand, I take a walk with George along a section of St John Street, discovering – through his eyes – just how much has changed.


St John’s Church
As we stroll along the east side, George describes the entire square between Elizabeth and Frederick Streets as being open land. The only building, St John’s Church, stood all alone surrounded by a white picket fence. Today, the original Church is upstaged by its newer, more ornate companion.


Nelumi Dr Pugh Launceston
Reaching the corner, we’re delighted to discover a row of buildings still standing. George recalls Dr Pugh’s private residence having an adjoining Chemist shop, and that Miss Waddell’s two-storey Lady’s School was located next door.


Continuing on, we take our first steps along the stretch of ‘open land’ from George’s younger years. Far from empty, the first of many intruders appears to stare at us from above.


Further on, the newer residents favour a fresh, classic look.  With style and colour-schemes duplicated row upon row and reaching Canning Street, it’s easy to wonder if George would have be impressed by the additions to the then-vacant land.


Crossing the street to the east where orchards once stood, a splash of blue beckons us closer. Tempted to stay, we instead head back – our walk together almost at an end.


As we approach the corner of Frederick Street, George describes what to expect. Looking for the late Mr Wheedon’s place, then a private residence ‘stood back’, we are instead met by a tower of limestone, brick and iron reaching for the sky.


Chalmers Church was built after George’s time in Launceston, and officially opened in 1860. Still standing strong today, the gothic-style and peeling paintwork make it one of St John Street’s most recognisable structures.


Leaving Chalmers, we make our way toward the open land that was – and still is – Prince’s Square.  Joining Dr Pugh as he descends the stairs immortalised in bronze, we enter our final destination.


As we make our way toward the fountain, George recalls that the Military would muster here on the Queen’s birthday to go through their drill and fire a salute. No doubt an exciting occasion for a young boy, he even remembered that Colonel Cumberland was in charge of the 96th Regiment.
Stopping to take in our lush surrounds, we silently contemplate where our next walk together through the streets of Launceston may be.


A walk with George was created as part of The Photo Essay unit through the University of Tasmania. Using 7-10 photos, each with a caption of 1-3 sentences, the idea was to use images and words to tell a story.

Recollections of Launceston‘ (1836-1847) is an Indexed Transcription of an unpublished collection of notes and letters dated 1897 by George Samuel Fuller (‘from memory’), transcribed by Margaret Szalay (NSW, 2003) from original material held in the Manuscripts Collection at the Mitchell Library, Sydney, NSW.

The section of St John Street I have photographed (using iPhone 5s) for this essay appears on pages 17 and 19.

Flash fiction: writing family history

Learning to write about my ancestors was tougher than I thought it would be. The unit I’ve just completed – Writing Family History – not only taught us different techniques to ‘turn ancestors into characters’, we had to produce a short written narrative (250 words) every week. Following a different prompt each time, we were also encouraged to write fiction to ‘try out’ these techniques – the hook, flashback, dialogue, senses, 1st person…the list goes on.

After a shaky start (who to choose! what to write! how to stick to the word count!), I grew to love it. I loved giving these people a voice, putting myself in their shoes, imagining what it may have been like for them.

Very far removed from the here’s-a-fact…and-here’s-another-fact style I had been used to! The ‘flash fiction’ approached was great, and certainly forced us to sharpen our writing.

One of the activities from the course was to write “an account of a moment in one of your ancestors’ lives where they are in a frightening or menacing place. What is happening? How did they get there? And how will they adjust?”

I chose to write a fictional account of a moment in the life of James and Edward McGee, my great-grandmother’s brothers. Based on an actual event in 1905, I tried to imagine how that moment may have been for them.

A Brother’s Love

The two brothers stood hand-in-hand, shivering from the biting cold in their threadbare clothes. Having just been transferred from the Brunswick Police Station, they were now in Melbourne facing an uncertain future. Ahead of them behind wrought-iron gates loomed a grey-brick building, its façade worn and tired.

“Is that Gaol, Jimmy?” Edward asked quietly, his voice wavering.

James was scared too, but couldn’t let Ed know that. He was the big brother and took that job seriously – he couldn’t let Ed down now.

“Nah, Ed”, he laughed. “We’re not criminals!”

“What’s a word of…state, then? And what’s neg…neglected mean?”

James frowned, glancing at the officers waiting near the gates. Ed was constantly repeating things grownups said, and James wished they wouldn’t say so much in front of him. Ed was only four – he didn’t need to hear it.

“It’s ‘Ward of the State’, Ed. It just means we’re going to stay here for a bit until mum comes to get us. It’ll be great – food and everything!”

“For real? Mum’s coming?”

James kept positive for Ed’s sake, but knew better. Their mother might come, but they had to find her first. He’d overheard the grownups too, when they thought he was out of earshot. Ed may be too young, but not James. He’d be eight soon – almost a man! His dad must have thought so too – why else would he have cleared out weeks ago and left them alone?

Smiling at his little brother, James motioned toward the officers at near the now-opened gate.

“C’mon Ed, race you!”

If you’re in Australia and have the opportunity to do this course, I highly recommend it.

writing family history course

Now the next challenge will be to see if I can put it into practice when writing non-fiction, and keep it up!

Five family history research tips

I recently enrolled in a Family History course through the University of Tasmania, and during the week some reading became available – one being The 10 Golden Rules of Genealogy by Betty Horskins. Things like ‘Always check surname variants when researching’, and ‘Never completely trust the spelling of surnames, places, etc’.

It’s a great read, and provides (quite humorous) examples of people avoiding these rules.

It also made me reflect on my own efforts to date, and some of the mistakes made along the way. While some of these may not be ‘common’ (I’m looking at you, number 4) I have definitely learned from them, and these days am much more organised and productive.

So here they are – my five family history mistakes*:

*conveniently disguised as tips


Calm down, Clicky McClickerson


1. Verify information before adding events and people to your tree

When I first started out years ago, I was as green as the ‘hint’ leaves on; I thought that public family trees were some ‘official’ thing, and was super impressed with how far back (and across) people had gone with their research. I admit to being like a kid in a candy store.

Not just in a candy store, but one who had gorged on lollies and was on a sugar high.

Accept all the hints!  Add all the people!

Then the high wore off, and I took a closer look. Some of those people were apparently time lords, some belonged to totally different families, and others were older than their parents…somehow.

Yes, I got excited. Yes, I came to regret it.

I then spent hours deleting. In the end I started a new tree.

Lesson learned. Now when something is verified, I attach (or make note of) a source, and also add a comment to remind myself (and help others) how it came about.

Don’t be that kid. Eat add responsibly.


Excuse me – do I know you?


2. Write things down and keep records

When you’re immersed in a particular line or group of family members, you know their details (and how they connect) inside-out. If you were to take a quiz on them, you’d nail it.

Don’t be fooled into thinking you’ll remember this level of detail down the track – especially when your tree grows, and after you take a ‘break’ from them for a while.

If you’ve ever seen Game of Thrones, think of it like watching most some episodes:

“Who’s this?”

“Who’s that?”

“Have we seen him before?”

You get the idea. The point is that even though you may have a great memory, also ensure to keep notes.

Putting together a timeline is really useful, and not only helps to piece things together, but is a good way to keep track of your sources as well.


Channel your inner-five-year-old


3. Question everything!

Working collaboratively can be great, especially if someone else has done similar research, or points you in a certain direction. But – it really does pay to view the original sources (or copies) yourself. This includes questioning information from Indexes as well. We all make mistakes, and even the wonderful transcribers out there don’t always get it right. Take this one for example: an error, but you can see why ‘David’ was transcribed as ‘Daniel’. They do look really similar.

Index Versus Original Record

A wrong name or date can make a big difference to your efforts.

Similarly, relying on other information – even including published works – can also sometimes lead you astray. One thing I try to do is gather as much information as possible concerning a particular event, and evaluate it to determine how ‘correct’ it may be. Just to be completely sure (or on track to being sure).

Don’t be afraid to question, check, and look for other information to support your findings. It will be worth it in the end.


I don’t think that means what you think it means


4. Clarify unfamiliar terminology to avoid embarrassment

Sooo…anyone else think that ‘On the town’ meant having a night out with the girls? Complete with high heels clicking, music and laughter?

Oh – just me then.

Well this is awkward…

For those of you that are familiar – where were you years ago?! I could have done with the correction. 🙂

I still laugh when I think of it, and can clearly remember when a lovely lady at the local historical society politely informed me that ‘on the town’ often meant ‘prostitute’.

Luckily I hadn’t shared my theory with her…

Another favourite (almost-blunder) was reading that someone was arrested for ‘Keeping an improper house.’

Cue train of thought:

“Wow, they must have had high standards for doing housework back then.”

Some time later….

*lightbulb moment*

“Ooooh. Brothel. They meant brothel.”


Don’t just join the dots, colour the picture too


5. Brush up on your history

In putting together family stories, the where and when an event takes place will help to provide context, and paint a more accurate (fuller) picture. Looking into the social history of the time is a great way to help build an understanding of why certain events happened as they did.

Tip: this is especially helpful to do before you recount the story of a WW1 soldier who died at a hotel in France. Before assuming that he must have been on some kind of leave (and therefore quite an unlucky chap) it may be wise to find out a bit more on the ‘ins and outs’ of the time.

Confession: it wasn’t until I watched a documentary on WW1 that I discovered that due to the hospitals being full / overflowing, some hotels in France were ‘converted’ into temporary hospitals. Whoops!

Yes, that really happened.

Yes, I’m fine if you tease me about it.


Feel free to share your tips too, and happy searching!