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New online resources help Indigenous people trace ancestors

Rachael Knowles -

In honour of Family History Month, the Royal Australian Historical Society (RAHS) announced the launch of Finding Your Ancestors.

A series of introductory videos and virtual seminars, Finding Your Ancestors was created in collaboration with members of the NSW Aboriginal community and historians, Paul Irish and Michael Bennett. The resources aim to assist Aboriginal people in New South Wales with tracing their bloodlines to learn about their family and ancestors.

The resources were developed to address the concern that whilst there is a wealth of online information for non-Indigenous people to track their family history, there is little support and guidance for Aboriginal people.

La Perouse Elder Dr Shayne Williams features in the first video, speaking on the importance of family history research for Aboriginal people.

"I was really pleased to be a part of it because I have done a lot of historical research myself over the years with my mother and other senior women, and stuff on my own," Dr Williams said.

"It can be a very empowering experience when you get to find out a lot more about your grandparents and great-grandparents in particular.

"It makes you ... not just proud of being Aboriginal, but proud of your ancestors because a lot of them did some fantastic things ... you feel that strength."

"It is hard as well because you can go for weeks and months on end and not find anything, and then all of a sudden you'll come across something fantastic and it's all worthwhile."

Dr Williams said through his own journey, he has felt a stronger connection to his ancestors.

"It made my great-grandfather from Victoria a lot closer to me because I grew up here in Sydney and I was only really connected to the people closest in my family," he said.

"It's made me ... closer to him because of all the political activities he had been involved in and he has inspired me to keep on teaching ... teach about the history in particular."

Dr Shayne Williams, La Perouse Elder. Still via RAHS Finding Your Ancestors video, YouTube.

The resources offer a guide to navigating research including advice on family permission, the role of oral knowledge in research, and how to track and organise information. There are also tips on how to operate record portals such as the NSW Births, Deaths and Marriages website and Troveâ€"the National Library of Australia's free online database.

There is also the opportunity for people to be involved in online seminars to ask questions to historians and Aboriginal experts from libraries, archives and communities. These include Ray Ingrey from La Perouse, Melissa Jackson and Ronald Briggs from the State Library of NSW, and Michael Bell from the Australian War Memorial.

Finding Your Ancestors allows a supportive and guided research journey, one that Dr Williams warns can become very addictive.

"The only thing wrong with historical research is you can't get away from it!" he laughed.

"Once you start you don't know how to stop because you're in pursuit of information about your ancestors, you can't let it go and you're always open to surprises."

View the introductory video for Finding Your Ancestors below:

By Rachael Knowles

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