Thursday, August 23, 2012

Expert Q&A :: Getting the most from NAA

For our Expert Q&A Thursday, August 23 we had Zoe D'Arcy, Director, Digital and Online Access at the National Archives of Australia, and Anne McLean, Director, Reference and Information Service at the National Archives of Australia. Thanks again to Zoe and Anne for giving us all the benefit of their experience. Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links below.

Don't forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page.

When: NSW - ACT - VIC - TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm

Zoe D'Arcy is the Director of Digital and Online Access at the National Archives of Australia, and she knows all about what people can do online (plus much more). Anne McLean, as the Director of Reference and Information Service at the National Archives of Australia, has a great knowledge of what the National Archives' collection holds - and how people can get access to what they need.

Zoe D'Arcy's top tips for getting the most from the NAA collection:
  • Tip 1. Keep your search terms REALLY simple. 
  • Tip 2. DON'T use the word 'photo' if you're looking for a photo. 
  • Tip 3. Keep trying. 
  • Tip 4. Remember that the files in our collection were created by public servants from a bygone era. What words would they have used to describe things? 

Anne McLean's top tip for getting most from the NAA collection:
  • As we are the archives of the Commonwealth government, think about your family's connection to the Commonwealth government. If you have relatives who served in the armed forces, migrated to Australia in the 20th century, were of interest to the security services then the National Archives is bound to have something to help you with. There's a wealth of information to explore on our website - jump in and explore. 

Summary of links from the Q&A:

Transcript of Expert Q&A - Getting the most from National Archives of Australia:

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us tonight. The rules are simple. Try to keep your questions concise and focused on the National Archives of Australia. That will help Zoe and Anne to answer as many as possible in the hour that we have.

Q. From Kristen: Is it advisable to use NAA as a guest or better as a member?
A. Zoe: Hi Kristen, I always go in as a guest! I only use my log in when I want to request records to be copies or to go to our reading room.
Q (b): From Kristen: Thanks Zoe - how extensive is NAA?
A. Zoe: NAA is huge - we've got repositories in every state and territory - we have to measure our collection in shelf metres, and it works out to be about 350km worth of shelf metres.
A. Zoe: (There are some great records in there, too)

Q. From Geoff: Emma Morris possibly Emma R Morris, left Australia maybe sometime in the 1890s. She was definitely in Indiana for the 1900 Federal Census. She had lived in both South Australia and Queensland with second husband, and even finding the details of deaths of the husbands has been problematic. John Odgers was alive in 1875, in Morinish near Rockhampton, but she married Joseph Morris in 1876 in Port Pirie. No death for Odgers has appeared - maybe because of a bad transcription. A Joseph Morris died in QLD in 1896, but not sure if it is him. She went to America to join her son, who had left home in Morinish for England when still in his early teens and had gone on to Indiana while still in his early 20s. Very complicated life, this lady.
A. Anne: Hi Geoff - great question. The general rule for finding passenger records is to identify the port or State of departure. The National Archives holds passenger records for the 20th century. Earlier records are held by the State Archives. Check the website of the relevant State Archives to see what's available online.

Q. From Helen: There are some Queensland militia records between WW1 and WW2 online. Are there other militia records that have not been catalogued to name level?
A. Zoe: Hi Helen, there are some militia records in Melbourne from 1901 that are listed online.
A. Zoe: Check out Series B4747, which holds militia files from 1901 to 1940.

Q. How do I find my relative’s WWI wartime service records?
A. Anne: 
WWI service files are easy to find on the National Archives RecordSearch database. You can search by name or service number. We've imaged the entire collection of 376,000 files so you can read them online.
A. Shauna: 
And it's free too - great service NAA!
A. Zoe: 
You can also view them on our website which allows you to search for records, and even add your own information about our Anzacs!

Q. From Shauna: What about Boer War records - my mother's two uncles served in both colonial and Australian regiments?
A. Anne: Hi Shauna - NAA holds Boer War records for the Commonwealth contingents - search on RecordSearch by name
Q (b): From Shauna: Thanks are the records all digitised too?
A. IHM: Here is the link for the NAA RecordSearch ::
A. Anne: Hi Shauna - yes the Boer War records are digitised.
A. Shauna: Thanks. Just found both Solomon (spelt as Soloman) and William Price records for Boer War on RecordSearch - it's a reminder to look at all spelling variations if you can't find something.

Q. From Jane: Will you be undertaking a project to digitise all the WWII service records or will they just continue to appear ad hoc as people order them?
A. Zoe: Hi Jane, we'd love to. There are, however, just over 1,000,000 WWII dossiers, it would cost a massive amount to do. They are all listed, and all the Navy cards are digitised. People can request them to be digitised for a small fee.
Q (b): From Jane: Wow! That's a lot of dossiers. My next question: if there are three dossiers for the same individual, do you need to pay the fee three times?
A. Zoe: Hi Jane, unfortunately the answer is yes. We still have to get three files out of storage, digitise them etc etc... However, once they are digitised and online, anyone can look at them for free.
A. Jane: Thanks Zoe. I definitely appreciate the effort involved in accessing the files, and the service is phenomenal. Just thought you might do a three for the price of two deal - never hurts to ask
A. Zoe: Jane, nice try

Q. From Helen: Any idea about New Guinea police records about 1901-1904?
A. Zoe: Hi Helen, we do have some New Guinea patrol officer reports, but not many. Have a look at our Fact Sheet but if you don't find what you're looking for there, send an email to our reference people at

Q. From Linda: What would be your favourite records that you think are under-utilised? Or online but rarely looked at at all?
Q (b): From Linda: And also (getting up to speed), are there records you would recommend that tell us more about small country communities, rather than those where the emphasis is on family history?
A. Anne: Hi Linda - we've got a great collection of photos online - have a look at our PhotoSearch database. You might find a photo of the town you grew up in or the local shopping centre. It brings back great memories.
A. Linda: Thanks - I had forgotten them. I think that may be where I found a wonderful series of post office photos once.
A. Zoe: Hi Linda, there are all sort of records. Have you tried even just putting in the town name into RecordSearch? (always interesting) You might find aerial photographs, ration records, what servicemen from WWI and WWII were born or enlisted there... all sorts of things
A. Zoe: Hi again Linda, yes, we have lots of post office records - photographs and plans of the old buildings themselves.
A. Linda: Just over there having a play - not a lot coming up in photo search, but they are very small towns. Nice one of Upper Maffra West post office.
A. Zoe: I'd say that one of my favourite records that has just recently come into our collection is the list of Australian men who were on board the Montevideo Maru when it was sunk in 1942. We had to translate and do some hefty research to work out who each of the named people were. Have a play:
A. Jane: Zoe, thanks for the suggestion of searching on a town name. I've just put in Belair (SA) to see what kinds of things come up and found this highly entertaining record: Prohibited publication - 'Lady Chatterley's Lover', 'The Years of Passion' imported by Mr RM EVANS, Belair (1963).
A. Anne: Another interesting group of records are the records of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. You can find photos, film and files on people of interest to ASIO. Search on NameSearch under the category 'security and intelligence.' We also have a number of relevant fact sheets on our website.

Q. From Alison: Hi Zoe and Anne, I have obtained my Great Uncle's WW1 Service record it notes that an Inquiry in the field was held regarding his staus as MIA, but there is no copy of that inquiry on his digitsed file. Where would I go to attempt to obtain a copy? (Refer to Appendix A)
A. Anne: Hi Alison - have you tried the Red Cross files at the Australian War Memorial ? The Red Cross investigated MIA soldiers.
A. Alison: Yes, got the Red Cross files from AWM - contained letters from family and statements by fellow soldiers, but not the actual ARMY enquiry in the field referred to in his service record file. Page 3 of 50 has note of Proceedings of Court of Inquiry in the field on 11-3-1918, Finding: Killed in Action 12 -10-1917, Australian Section 3rd Echelon G.H.Q. British Expeditionary Force
A. Anne: Hi Alison - please send your contact details and question to our reference service through the Ask A question link on our home page and I'll have one of our experts get back to you
A. Alison: Thank you

Q. From Linda: Last one - is there anywhere online you would suggest for files about Italian Prisoners of War placed with local families as agricultural labourers during WWII? I know there was a depot in one of our towns, and people are starting to tell stories of them. One local returned man did not know that while he was away fighting them, they were living in his home town, and when he found out 40 years later he was devastated. Many of them were sponsored back by local families after the war.
A. Zoe: Linda, we do have some files on Italian POWs, I think they even come complete with photo ID. We also have files on the Germans and Italian who were interned during both wars. Are you looking for someone in particular?
A. Linda: Hi Zoe - not anyone in particular, just would be good to know more about the men sent to our local area. Just typed "Italian Prisoners of War" into the photo search and stunned to find a number of men getting off boats and getting onto trains. Although I can't see where they were, it just goes to show so much more about them.
A. IHM: Here is the link for the NAA WW1 - WW2 Internee POW fact sheets Linda ::
A. Zoe: Oh wow, hadn't thought to look on photosearch! Have a look on RecordSearch, and there are several series listed there that might be useful - B3842 - D2285 - J3118 - K1174

Comment: IHM: Thanks again to Zoe and Anne for joining us tonight, I’m sure you’ve found it very useful. I know we have. If you have other questions you’d like to ask you can use NAA’s contact form here :: or call the National Archives of Australia on 1300 886 881. Stay tuned for our regular column from the NAA team in our upcoming Issue 12: Sep-Oct edition!
A. Helen: Thank you Zoe, Anne and Inside History. Great session
A. Shauna: Another great Thursday night! Thanks
A. IHM: We’ll be here again next Thursday, 30th August from 8:30 – 9:30pm, with our next expert. Margot Riley from State Library of NSW. Margot will be answering questions on interpreting photographs and fashion for family history.
A. Alison: Looks like another great topic next week. Thanks.

Big news from National Archives of Australia and! Announced today, a joint project will create an index and digitise the records of passengers who arrived in Western Australia between 1897 and 1963. This included most people arriving in Australia by ship, even if they travelled on to other ports. Click here for more.  

Next Week: Who's joining us for next Thursday's Expert Q&A? Margot Riley from State Library of NSW. Topic: Interpreting photographs and fashion for family history.

When: NSW-ACT-VIC-TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm.

Margot Riley is the SLNSW dress historian and curator of the exhibition, "Flashback: 160 Years of Australian Fashion Photos”.


Read the previous Expert Q&A transcripts:
[1]  Thursday, July 26 :: How to get the best from Trove Australia
[2]  Thursday, August 16 :: How to get the best from BDM Certificates
[3]  Thursday, August 23 :: Getting the most from NAA
[4]  Thursday, August 30 :: Interpreting photographs for family history
[5]  Thursday, September 6 :: How to get the best from
[6]  Thursday, September 13 :: Using Trove for research
[7]  Thursday, September 20 :: Today's toolkit for the digital historian
[8]  Thursday, September 27 :: Preserving your artefacts with NAA
[9]  Thursday, October 4 :: Studying and doing research at UNE
[10]  Thursday, October 11 :: How to research war graves and Anzac ancestors
[11]  Thursday, October 25 :: What's new at


Appendix A:
Regimental number 3177. Religion: Presbyterian. Occupation: Drover. Address: Alton Downs via Rockhampton, Queensland. Marital status: Single. Age at embarkation: 25. 
Next of kin: Uncle, John McKenzie, Laurel Bank, Alton Downs via Rockhampton, Queensland. Enlistment date: 27 October 1916. 
Rank on enlistment: Private. Unit name: 47th Battalion, 8th Reinforcement. AWM Embarkation Roll number 23/64/3. Embarkation details: Unit embarked from Sydney, New South Wales, on board HMAT A64 Demosthenes on 22 December 1916. 
Rank from Nominal Roll Private. Unit from Nominal Roll 47th Battalion
Fate: Killed in Action 12 October 1917
Panel number, Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial: 144
Other details - War service: Western Front
Medals: British War Medal, Victory Medal

No known grave. (not strictly true: service record file page 3 of 50 has note of Proceedings of Court of Inquiry in the field on 11-3-1918, Finding: Killed in Action 12 -10-1917, Australian Section 3rd Echelon G.H.Q. British Expeditionary Force. Buried 1000 yards S.W. of Passchendaele and 1000 yards NE of Zonnebeke Sh 28 N.E. D18ac D17 GD V.R1 (Sh 10). So it appears he was "temporarily" buried during an attack on the German lines, but body never recovered. Presumably because later bombardments obliterated the site) It was some time before the family had definitive advice of his death,- he was listed as Wounded, then Wounded and Missing in Action for some time - during which period the Red Cross received incorrect advice that he had been sighted in a hospital in England by a fellow Battalion member! Even as late as 18 December 1917 there was no advice as to the nature of his wounds and the family received official advice via telegram that in the absence of a report of serious injury he was assumed to be progressing favourably, when in fact he had been dead for over two months. His cousin, Dr Stuart MacKenzie, with whom he had been raised, was on active service in France with the Medical Corps and had been searching for him and seeking news all that time to no avail.

Commemoration details The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 27), Belgium © 2012
Copyright The AIF Project, UNSW@ADFA, 2012

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