The stories behind genealogy

Boards of family history are being displayed around Te Awamutu in celebration of Family History Month.

The boards share the stories of research done by Te Awamutu New Zealand Society 0f Genealogists  (NZSG) members.

“This is really just an opportunity to get some of their stories out there. Those who had a story to tell were encouraged to do so,” said Sandra Metcalfe, a genealogist and past convener of NZSG Te Awamutu.

Family History Month is observed by Australia and New Zealand annually in August.

Metcalfe said genealogists sometimes focus too much on the “thrill of the hunt,” and the stories of their research is often not shared as well as it could be.

“One of the issues that genealogists have is that we get so hooked up on the research that we forget to do the story side of it,” she said.

“We need to get these stories out there and share them amongst our families. That is what our branch has been doing for the last couple of years.”

The boards were made by NZSG member Richard Cato, and have been placed in shop windows around town, including the Te Awamutu Library, Robert Harris, and Storyteller Eatery and Bar.

Cato has been involved with the genealogist society for over 20 years and says he is happy to help others with the sharing of their stories.

“I enjoy that, I enjoy listening to what other people’s lives have been about.”

He has written six books about his own family history as well as the history of others.

“We need to get things down on paper, because a lot of it is digital today, and with the digital information, there are a lot of stories that aren’t told and people don’t know about,” he said.

Metcalfe has a story of her own on display in the library. It is about her 30-year search for information about her great grandfather William Williams.

“It was before the days of the internet and DNA. I could find what I could in New Zealand, but I could not find a birthplace for him where he said he came from in Cornwall,” she said.

“It wasn’t until I found a marriage certificate 14 years after his first child was born that I was able to identify his mother’s name as Jemima Smitheram,” she said.

Metcalfe eventually found a link to Smitherman’s third granddaughter who she connected with through a genealogy website.

In 2017 tests established they had a DNA connection.

“She did some investigation in the national archive and found some service papers for one of Jemima’s sons, it said he arrived in New Zealand on the second of May 1876, and there was a line through his name, which meant he never returned to the UK. That is how we discovered that his real name was Thomas Peters,” said Metcalfe.

“It was an amazing experience to be able to crack that.”


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