Family History – the Eureka moment

As any family historian knows, we live for these breakthrough moments, but they come along very rarely.

Mary Aull (Johnson) absconded cropped
The Colonist, 6 February 1839

My three times great grandmother was a convict called Mary Moore, transported to New South Wales in 1808 for 7 years for stealing items valued at  £1.15s.6d. A few years after her first husband – my three times great grandfather – died she married again, another convict, Irish this time, called Robert Aull, and took her four children to live with him and his five children in Richmond, where he bought the license for a pub on what they called  the “Yellow Munday’s” (Yarramundi) Lagoon, which he named the General Darling.

As tended to happen in those days once she married Mary disappeared from the records. She had appeared in a previous census as a shopkeeper, but from the date of her marriage in 1829 she vanished off the apparent face of the earth. Two niggles stopped me from thinking she lived happily ever after with her new hubby: the 1841 census – where she did not appear to be living with him – and the fact that she was buried in the name of Mary Johnson, after her first marriage.

I was searching for Robert Aull in Trove – the Australian digitised newspaper website – and had got to the stage where all that was cropping up were the odd Robert and ‘aull’ in place of ‘all’ when Eureka: I came upon the notice, inserted in The Colonist three times and The Sydney Morning Herald once by her hubby, announcing her sudden and obviously unwelcome departure from the family home. I’ve no idea where she went, but the tone of the ‘advertisement’, as that is what it was, makes it very clear Robert was not pleased; worse, he makes her sound like a runaway convict, or even a stolen cow, threatening anyone found ‘harbouring’ her.

The moral of the tale is keep looking: even when you think you’ve exhausted the records there may just be a nugget of gold awaiting you.

Understanding the NSW 1828 census

I realise this is of minority interest, but for the record – even if it’s only my record – here is how to find your way through the 1828 New South Wales census.

Online resources are wonderful, but they aren’t always complete, as I’ve recently discovered.

As an example the New South Wales census of 1828, which was the first comprehensive census of all the inhabitants of the new colony, convict and free, is available online in its original form – ie, handwritten – through ancestry. So far so good.

Mary Johnston 1828 census marked
Mary ‘Johnston’& family 1828 census (ancestry)

I was looking for my three times great grandmother Mary Johnson, nee Moore (GM Pitt’s mother in law). Searching through ancestry I came upon a one-page facsimile of the census (above) listing her as ‘Mary Johnston’, her age (40), status (FS – Free by Servitude), the ship she arrived on (Eolus), sentence (7 yrs), occupation (shopkeeper) and place of residence (George Street, Sydney), and her children. Yet my genealogical aunt Barbara seemed to find evidence of two servants who were working for her, who I could find no trace of online. So I went in search of the book.

The book, painstakingly edited by Malcolm R Sainty & Keith A Johnson (Public Library of Australian History, Sydney, 1980) and available in the British Library contains copious instructions and forewords and introductions, and no fewer than three indexes. It also spells out exactly what the 1828 census set out to discover, viz:

What are the respective names, ages and conditions of the persons residing with you in your dwelling-house?

What are the respective names, ages, conditions and residences of all such other persons, as may be in your service and employment?

Specify the respective years and ships in, and by which, all of such aforesaid persons as originally came to the  Colony Prisoners of the Crown, arrived?

What are the respective numbers of horses, horned cattle, and sheep, of which you are the owner; and in whose possession, and in what district are the same respectively?

What is the number of acres of land of which you are the proprietor, in what district is the same, how much thereof is cleared, and how much cultivated, and in whose possession is the same?

So if you think your ancestor may have had anyone working for him or her, here is what you do:

  1. Look up their surname in the main index. This will give you the page number where you find out their basic details (name, age, status etc, as illustrated above).
  2. Look up their surname in the cross reference index. Against their name you will find other references, such as – in Mary’s case – R381 and R1480.
  3. Look back through the main index for, in this case, R381 and R1480, and you should find the names and details of people working for Mary (or whoever): viz ‘Thomas Rowland, 40, GS (Govt servant), arrived Tottenham, 1818, L (life), P protestant, occupation Pipemaker, employed at Mary Johnston, George St Sydney’.

That’s it. Easy when you know how.

NB: Names are often spelt differently – in this case Mary appears as both Johnson and Johnston; two of her convict servants appear under Johnson, one under Johnston, and one has no employer specified. So yes, we could be talking about two Mary Johnson/Johnstons here, both living in George Street. But that is a conundrum I have yet to solve…

Patsy Trench
London August 2016

The Nelson connection

As Dorset gears itself for its annual Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival it is interesting to note that so many of the earliest free settlers to make their lives in the penal colony of New South Wales came from this same county.

The first family to take the plunge were Thomas and Jane Rose from Blandford with their four children, a niece, a friend and her baby. They migrated on the Bellona in 1792, just four years after the First Fleet planted the Union Jack on the shores of Sydney Harbour.

Nine years later it was the turn of my four times great grandmother Mary Pitt and her five children, from Fiddleford, subject of my book The Worst Country in the World. They arrived in 1801 and the following year were granted land on the Hawkesbury River north of Sydney.

It is hard to overestimate the courage of these early settlers, who sacrificed everything they had ever known to make a new life the opposite side of the world, living among convicts, in a country hardly anyone could be persuaded to go to voluntarily. The man responsible was – in the case of Mary and quite possibly the Roses too – George Matcham, Admiral Nelson’s brother-in-law.

Geo Matcham
George Matcham

George was Mary’s cousin and was married to Nelson’s sister Kitty. He was one of the first to recognise the opportunities in the far-off newly-discovered colony, even though he never went there himself. His relationship to Nelson helped, naturally. It was partly thanks to the Nelson connection that the Pitts were given grants on the Hawkesbury, which they named Pitt and Nelson Farms, later combined under the name of Bronte, again in recognition of the Admiral, whose full title was Vice Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, Duke of Bronte.

022 cropped
Bronte 2010

The names Bronte and Nelson were and still are ubiquitous throughout Australia, not just on houses but on places – the suburb of Bronte in Sydney is named after nearby Bronte House – and people. There’s even a Bronte Park in Tasmania, named after the admiral by George’s son-in-law Captain Arthur Davies, who married George’s daughter Elizabeth and migrated there in the 1828.

But of all these groups the only ‘legitimates’ – in other words those transported ‘for their country’s good’ – were the Tolpuddle Martyrs themselves, who were convicted on a trumped-up charge of making a secret oath and spent barely two years in the penal colony before being released, thanks to public protest; and whose legacy lives on to this day.

Tolpuddle Martyrs Festival (tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk)
(tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk)

For more about the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the Festival see here: www.tolpuddlemartyrs.org.uk.

Patsy Trench, London, July 2016
patsytrench@gmail.com

Judging a book – hints about cover design

No, I’m not going to tell you how to design your book cover. I will say find a professional to do it for you as there’s nothing worse than a shoddy cover, and I speak from painful experience.

I decided to change the cover of my non fiction book about my Australian ancestors. The book has been out for nearly four years and is selling reasonably well, but I figured it could do with a boost, and besides it received a general thumbs-down from my writer colleagues on the ALLi Facebook forum.

Print scanned
The original cover

The photo is of the Hawkesbury River, where my story is largely set, and was taken by my good self a few years ago. Criticisms of it included the fact that it was not obviously about Australia, that the colour was wrong for that country, that the image contradicted the title (which was the point) and that it was too contemporary.  Of all those the one comment that made sense to me was the last.

I found a designer, recommended by ALLi and as it happens Australian, and I found an image I liked – a 19th century painting of the Hawkesbury River by an artist called William Pigeunit. It had just the right element of threat.

Hawkesbury Piguenit cropped
Hawkesbury River with Figures in Boat: On the Nepean 1881 (wikipedia)

Unfortunately while the picture itself is in the public domain I could not find a copy of it with a high enough resolution – I think that’s the term – ie, 1MB or more.

So I found another painting – A Summer Morning Tiff by Tom Roberts – again in the public domain but in the possession of an art gallery in Victoria, Australia. They wanted a fee to provide me with a high res image, and they also sent me a licence to sign promising we would not alter the image in any way, and asking to approve a proof of the cover before publishing. My designer (Jessica Bell) decided one way or another she couldn’t work with the picture without making alterations. So back to square one. In the end she worked on my original image, and the end result, which I am very happy with, is below.

3rd draft
Cover by Jessica Bell

Jessica has managed not just to make the picture a good deal more vivid (by comparison the original looks decidedly drab), she has added depth and interest, and the font suggests a story not set in contemporary times. The miniature silhouette of the woman’s head adds a touch of human interest and hints the book is about a woman, which it is.

So, I’ve learned a few things I didn’t know before in my many years of self publishing, and here they are for the edification of anyone out there contemplating using an existing painting for their book cover.

  • Make sure the image is out of copyright and in the public domain.
  • Make sure the image is at least 1MB.
  • Even if you’ve found an image in the public domain if it is not a high enough res you may have to pay for one that is.
  • It is up to the writer rather than the designer to check image copyright.
  • Your designer may and probably will have access to copyright-free images, so discuss it with her or him.
  • If your book is about a person or persons a touch of human interest in the cover is a good idea.
  • The writer isn’t necessarily the best judge of the sort of cover that will make a book sell.

That’s it really. I wish you the best of luck with your cover design adventure, and again if you have any queries get in touch!

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

Self publishing: the nuts and bolts

In response to some queries I’ve been receiving recently from writers thinking about self publishing, here is an update on the nuts and bolts of what it entails.

Self publishing offers exciting opportunities for writers …

  • You get to be in control of everything, including
  • When you publish
  • What you publish
  • The look of the book, including cover design
  • The price

… It also entails a certain amount of hard work, but depending on your inclination and your budget you can get other people to do all or some of it for you. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Write the best book you can and have it professionally edited and proofread
  • Hire a professional cover designer
  • Convert the manuscript into ebook for Amazon and other online retailers
  • Publish the ebook on Amazon direct, and/or through Smashwords
  • Design and publish the paperback
  • Market it!

Amazon is the leading online retailer but there are other important outlets as well, including Kobo, Nook and Apple iBooks. It is possible to publish your book on all of them for free.

There is also Ingram Spark. They publish and distribute ebooks and paperbacks globally. The pros and cons of IS are

  • Their worldwide distribution is better than Amazon’s
  • The quality of paper and print is marginally better than Amazon’s
  • You have a better chance of selling your book through retailers who don’t like Amazon
  • They have print outlets in the UK and in Australia, as well as the USA
  • Unlike Amazon and the rest however you will need your own ISBN. These are available to buy in a minimum of 10 through Neilsen (in the UK).

Marketing your book is a challenge, there’s no doubt about that, and the more writers choose to self publish the harder it is to get anyone to read your book. In my experience non fiction is easier to market than fiction as you can target a specific readership. That said, you can do as little or as much marketing as you like depending on whether you are hoping to make money out of your writing or are just happy to have your book out there.

For more information on the whole process, plus how to find people to help you, please click on https://patsytrench.com/2015/08/16/self-publishing-for-family-historians/

If you are serious about self publishing you might consider joining The Alliance of Independent Authors. They have a private Facebook forum where you can get advice on all aspects of independent publishing, and there are also regular online conferences and physical meetups. Click on the ALLi sidebar on this page to find out more.

Good luck with your indie publishing enterprise, and if you have any questions don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com

When your characters run away from you

In life I’m a bit of a control freak, but when it comes to creating characters in fiction I don’t seem to be able to have any kind of power over anything they do.

Controlling your characters.jpg
(sketch by Anna de Polnay)

This is annoying for a dyed-in-the-wool planner. As an example in my current oeuvre my central character – a woman in her forties whose husband, who was a spy in WW1, died under mysterious circumstances – has just decided that rather than accepting an invitation to visit Lady Ottoline Morrell in her mansion in Garsington (both of which I have researched industriously) she is going to embark on a quest to find out exactly how her husband died.

This not only alters the trajectory of my book, it threatens to turn what was meant to be a cheerful memoir of a free-thinking woman of the 1920s into a spy thriller. Now I have to down tools and make trips to the Imperial War Museum and read up on what spies did in WW1, mindful of the fact that everything to do with the secret service in the war was by definition secret, which means the answer isn’t going to come easily, if at all. (Though one joyful discovery: it turns out they – both spies and spy-masters – really were known by letters rather than names, as in ‘C’ and ‘R’ and so on.)

Imperial War Museum (2)
Imperial War Museum

How does any writer plan a book so he or she knows what’s going to happen in the end? I guess if you’re writing thrillers, or anything where plot is paramount, it’s easier to manipulate your characters to fit the story; though they are still people, with wills and desires and temperaments and a natural human instinct for disobedience. Or if they’re not they probably won’t be that interesting.

This really all came about as a result of NaNoWriMo (for those not in the know, this is an annual scheme to encourage writers to try to write the best part of a novel in one month, November). When you have to get your 2000 words a day down and you simply don’t have time to go back on things or to change your mind, let alone to research something, you find yourself making decisions on the spot that may come back to haunt you later. Hence the fact that my character married a spy. (Where did that come from?)

Writing books with recalcitrant people in them certainly keeps you on your toes, and it teaches you something else. I know a lot more about WW1 than I ever did, and even a fair bit about spying. Maybe my next book will be a spy novel.

Imperial War Museum Somerset Maugham
Did you know Somerset Maugham was a spy in WW1? (photo in Imperial War Museum)

Ingram Spark (& others)

On Tuesday evening courtesy of ALLI (The Alliance of Independent Authors) we had the pleasure of a talk from Andy Bromley from Ingram Spark.

Ingram Spark with border

When I first published The World Country in the World back in 2012 the only option for indie publishers was Amazon. Ingram, a family firm (then and now), existed as book distributors only, and their print arm Lightning Source was aimed largely at traditional publishers.

All that has now changed with the ‘Spark’ added specifically for independent authors.

The great advantage of Ingram Spark is that they have print outlets not just in the US but here in the UK (in Milton Keynes) and in Australia (Melbourne). This cuts down on both shipping costs and delivery time (although paradoxically ordering a book to be sent from the UK to Australia is, though quicker, more expensive if printed there – due presumably to GST). I’ve had my latest novel The Unlikely Adventures of Claudia Faraday printed by both Ingram Spark and Amazon Createspace and quality-wise there’s very little to choose between them except that the print on the IS version is very slightly clearer.

Createspace with border

Ingram Spark is growing all the time and, much as we all love and hate Amazon it’s very good to see some competition. Submission is almost as easy as with Createspace, the only differences are:

  • The submission costs on Ingram Spark are $US49 for ebook and print or for print only, and $US25 for ebook only (ALLI members get a discount), as opposed to free on Createspace.
  • Amazon Createspace provides its own ISBN, for free, but this means your book will have Createspace printed on it, which tells everyone it’s self published. With Ingram Spark you provide your own ISBN (in the UK from Neilson, minimum of 10 costing £144), but you get to create and name your own publishing outfit so nobody can tell whether you are self- or traditionally published.
  • International – ie outside the US – distribution is cheaper and easier through Ingram Spark.

Received wisdom, confirmed by Andy Bromley, recommends for print versions of your book to use BOTH Amazon Createspace AND Ingram Spark. If you submit your book to Createspace and DON’T click on Expanded Distribution then all sales outside the US will go through Ingram Spark, under your own publisher’s name.

Happy days!

And another thing for Australian writers: The Book Depository (owned by Amazon) is apparently about to open up in Australia, and offers free worldwide delivery. Since Australian Amazon handles ebooks only it’s good to see another online company providing competition for print retailers such as Booktopia.

Wordery with border

Also on the heels of Amazon is Wordery, an online bookshop handling print books only and offering free worldwide delivery (and currently better deals on both my books!).

Patsy Trench
patsytrench@gmail.com