I HAVE AN ADDICTION
Updated: Feb 24, 2020
AND I'M NOT ASHAMED TO SHARE IT. While some obsessively surf the web, post updates on Facebook or let hours slip by as they trawl Pinterest or Instagram, I get my fix in an unlikely source - TROVE. Yes, TROVE has me firmly in its grasp and I can’t see my addiction waning anytime soon.
For those who don’t know, TROVE is an online searchable collection of newspapers, print materials, journals, articles and so much more from the past. To me, it is the social media of a bygone era and as a researcher, ghostwriter and writer, it is invaluable. With such an extensive amount of information available, it is a marvellous resource for any writer or family historian looking for fact-based details or wanting to add depth to their work by acquainting themselves with the conventions, attitudes and laws of the day.
Trawling through Trove can be entertaining, enlightening and poignant. It’s a bit like cyber stalking the dead; chances are you’ll come across some interesting skeletons in the closet.
Most of us think that the advent of the internet put our privacy in jeopardy, but the newspapers available on TROVE prove that the everyday lives of our forebears were under scrutiny too, especially if you lived in one of the smaller towns around Australia.
On the trivial side, I’ve uncovered details of an older relative’s coming of age party in 1949, complete with guest list, gifts and the entertainment on offer (banjo playing and the mouth organ). I also found a description of this same relative’s wedding, including an extraordinarily detailed description of her outfit.
In yet another newspaper from 1940, I saw an entry indicating a close relative had joined the Children’s Corner of a particular newspaper and was allotted the pen name Moonlight Fairy. A year later she sent a joke in to the newspaper:
Teacher: Horace, what are the exports of Queensland?
Horace: I don't know.
Teacher: You don't know? Where do you get your sugar?
Horace: We usually get ours from the neighbours, Miss.
All very insignificant details but they add an extra dimension to my knowledge of a loved one.
On a more serious side, I found articles that reference tragedies suffered by my ancestors. Foremost of these is the death of the grandfather I never knew. At the age of thirty-nine, he drowned while trying to save his six-year-old son who had tripped and tumbled from the Fitzroy Bridge in Rockhampton. His efforts were in vain: they both drowned. He left behind three children and a heavily pregnant wife.
Scrolling through that edition of the newspaper, I was struck by the juxtaposition of an article that recounts an unrelated case that is the antithesis of my grandfather’s heroic actions: that of a father in Brisbane murdering his eleven-month-old son. I cannot help but think that human nature back then is not so different from human nature now.
I moved on and searched for articles relating to relatives on my mother’s side and found yet another tragic story – that of an ancestor who died when the car he was travelling in, driven by his son-in-law, crashed. I wondered how the driver’s wife, the deceased’s own daughter, coped with the fact that her husband had caused the death of her father.
I sent the article to a cousin and learned that the daughter died of cancer only a few years later, leaving a bereft mother and brother. Perhaps therein lay my answer.
I found references to a relative’s childhood bout of poliomyelitis, a terrible disease that, thankfully, has been all but eradicated from Australia. More tragedy was apparent when I read an account of my grandmother’s brother who died on the 8th November at the age of 8. Many years later, my grandmother died on the 9th November and many years after that, my father died on 9th November - an unsettling coincidence that has me slightly leery of the month of November.
On a lighter note, I discovered my great-grandfather had once been convicted and fined for allowing my grandmother to truant. Another article reveals he was brought to court for sending his son, a minor, to buy alcohol from the local pub. He escaped conviction by claiming the beer was purchased for an ill horse. City girl that I am, I laughed at the explanation, thinking my great-grandfather was spinning a yarn to evade a fine. However, a quick search on google revealed beer is an old bush remedy for horses with colic.
My search through TROVE uncovered numerous snippets of information about my long dead relatives and even more fascinating details into the lives of strangers. Furthermore, it provided a glimpse of the mores and manners of a different era.
I confined my search to newspapers, but the sheer abundance of information available on TROVE could have you trawling through all manner of publications. So now please excuse me while I just flick through this online photo album from the 40’s…..
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