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May I Introduce to You . . . Helen V. Smith

Come meet Australian genealogy blogger Helen V. Smith of the From the Keyboard of Helen V. Smith blog in this article by Tessa Keough at GeneaBloggers!

Come meet Australian genealogy blogger Helen V. Smith of the From the Keyboard of Helen V. Smith blog in this article by Tessa Keough at GeneaBloggers!

One of the best things about the internet and social media is the opportunity to meet and interact with so many genealogists and family historians from around the world. Many of us are unable to attend conferences and seminars that are far away from our home base. However, with live streaming of conferences, webinars offered through genealogy groups and companies, and blogs by writers from every corner of the world, we can broaden our horizons and learn from the locals. In that spirit, this week let’s go down under to Australia and catch up with Helen V. Smith of From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard. 

A Little Bit About Helen – Where She’s From & What She Does

“I am fifth generation Australian on my mother’s side and first generation on my father’s as he emigrated to Australia, aged 9 with his mother, having lost his father in World War II. I started researching my family history seriously in 1986 because my mother had plaintively said that she knew nothing about her grandfather George Howard Busby, due to a family split in the early 1940s (his name was never to be mentioned). All she knew was that her mother saw the funeral notice for him in 1956 a few hours after the funeral.

I did some research and found some really interesting things (he is still a favourite ancestor!), became hooked and have been addicted ever since researching in Australia, England and Wales with side research in New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

I also run a One-Name study for the surname Quested (worldwide –  any time & any place), which I’ve registered with the Guild of One-Name Studies and also the Surname Society.

I work full time as a public health microbiologist/molecular epidemiologist so I have a strong interest in the history of disease, public health, and also DNA testing. I work part-time as a genealogy professional mainly doing presentations (58 in 2015). I have presented in every state and territory in Australia, in New Zealand, England, Canada and the United States and spoke at the FGS conference in Springfield in 2016 (for her perspective on the conference see The 2016 FGS Conference was a Blast!). I also write family history and scientific articles and two books so far with a few more planned. I do some limited private research.

I also do some part-time work with Unlock the Past Cruises where we run a genealogical conference aboard ship which ends up a win-win with the conference on sea days and also touring at a range of destinations.”

How Helen ’s Family History Focus Has Changed Over Time

“I have been researching since 1986. In the beginning as with everybody there is a bit of name and date collecting (the who, when and where) but over the years I’ve become much more interested in the context (the why of our ancestors’ lives). This entails a lot more social, legal, and economic history research in a bid to find out the why!”

How Helen Thinks Family History Has Changed Over Time

“I started researching pre-internet even pre-home computer days so that has been a major change. I was 22 when I started researching and that was unusual at that time although there have always been a number of younger researchers around and it is important the genealogy community welcomes them.

I was working full-time and studying for my degree at night. In the 1980s when I went to an archive I would use my student card for “legitimacy” as family historians had a bad name in the minds of a number of library and archive staff. Luckily no-one queried why a science student was looking at historical material!

I am pleased to say that has changed, although if the “just click on the shaky leaf and all will be revealed by magic mindset continues” all that good work may change.

Due to the fact that the time I had free to research was in the early morning hours, I used to buy a large amount of resources so I could do research and had my own microfiche and microfilm machine from the early days. The advent of the internet and the online databases has definitely made it easier and it is wonderful to have access to so many archival records.

Doing research “the old way” meant people gradually worked their way backward in time learning about record types and becoming familiar with the handwriting etc., whereas now the instantaneous production of records has meant that I am seeing more and more requests to interpret handwriting. The fact that online providers have digitised a will which is available with one click means some researchers don’t realise that there is a probate packet that will likely, depending on time period, contain many more documents in addition to the will. These researchers may miss out on the inventory, trustee documents, and so much more. They might see an English workhouse admission register and not realise there could also be a Creed register, a discipline book, etc., as part of the workhouse archival files.

I do love the many varied educational opportunities from podcasts, webinars, YouTube, other people’s blogs, mail-lists, Facebook, and G+ groups available now with the flexibility to learn in your own time. If you want to learn, there are many opportunities. I am currently doing the Professional Development Certificate with the National Institute for Genealogy in Toronto.”

Why Helen Created Her Blogs and Her Thoughts on Blogging

“I am single and the last of my line so blogging is an ideal way of sharing my research with others. I have a number of blogs and they serve different purposes: my main one From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard (yes scientists are not that creative when naming things!) is the everything blog, the Quested One-Name Study is to promote my research there although I have not been as prolific as I would like on it, and Postcards From Mary was a way of sharing the postcards sent by Mary Christensen nee Rollason to her family after she had emigrated to be married in Salt Lake City in 1904 and then went to Idaho. I was lucky enough to inherit some of the postcards she sent back to her parents and numerous siblings.

Due to constraints of time I have not been posting as regularly as I would like to my blogs although I have a number in draft form that should be ready soon.”

Helen’s Favorite Blog Posts 

Hmm, I have trouble picking these as I have a fondness for most of my topics. The Writing Directed Queries post was written after I had received one too many vague requests for information. A recent one I really liked was based on the Colorful Ancestry idea from J. Paul Hawthorne. What I particularly liked about this was the interaction all around the world, how we all put a spin on it and how it drew people together.” 

How Much Time Helen Devotes to Her Genealogy/Family History

“Not enough! As I am still working full time and have had fairly heavy speaking schedule, some more books promised, am the DNA SIG coordinator for my state genealogy society, the president of my local society and am studying the Professional Development certificate, I don’t get a lot of time for research. I tend to find that I mainly am doing my own research when I am preparing a lecture or a blog post.  I hope to do more of my own research after I resign from the presidency but we will see.”

What Helen Thinks is the Most Interesting Change in Family History

“Certainly the increased online access has had a strong effect, unfortunately as I mentioned earlier, not always a totally positive one. I think we will see in the future a lot more integrated online sites where there will be archival material, crowd-sourced material, personal stories, photos, etc. We have seen this with online trees now. Another site where it is emerging is the Discovering Anzacs site which has the archival service dossiers, repatriation files, links to online newspapers, personal photos, and stories. The most interesting thing is the worldwide volunteer focus and I believe this will increase. There are many volunteers transcribing historical documents and not all are genealogists.”

Helen’s Genealogy Bucket List

“Having done family history for 30 years now I have been lucky enough to have already achieved many bucket list items. My biggest item is to continue and expand over the next few years to doing the whole gamut of family history activities full time: lecturing, writing, publishing and attaining Certified Genealogist status because I love what I do.”

Helen’s Advice to those Starting a Family History Blog

“Now is a fantastic time to start! Don’t wait until you “have finished your research” as we never do and you don’t have to be perfect. Writing and sharing the family stories is a wonderful thing to do to preserve them for the future generations. The posts are also great cousin bait. Geneabloggers is a great community and there is plenty of help available, all you need to do is ask. Most of all have fun with blogging!”

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Please take a moment and visit Helen’s blog From Helen V Smith’s Keyboard. Leave her a comment to let her know you stopped by. And be sure to take advantage of the wealth of blogs showcased at GeneaBloggers – for the variety of writing styles, ethnic interests, methodology, and research tips and suggestions. Give some thought to what the focus of your research will be this Fall and use the search feature to find blogs that will assist you. If you are interested in Australian research, be sure to add Helen’s blog to your list!

© 2016, copyright Tessa Keough. All rights reserved

Tessa Keough divides her time between Arlington, Virginia and Portland, Oregon. She got hooked on researching her ancestors after seeing a pedigree chart at a family reunion. She shares her paternal genealogy at The Keough Corner, her maternal genealogy at Scandia Musings & More, and technology and methodology tips at her YouTube channel TessaWatch. Are you a genealogy blogger who would like to be interviewed for the “May I Introduce To You . . .” series? If so, contact Tessa via email