A Family History Friendship – Dawn’s and Helen’s story

Every week regular visitors Dawn and Helen visit State Library of Queensland to pursue their shared love of family history. They told the story of their 25 year friendship to Senior Librarian, Christina Ealing-Godbold.

Helen and Dawn

Helen and Dawn – Family History friends

Helen’s story

Dawn and I have been coming together to the State Library since the 1990s, spending our time at South Bank, Cannon Hill and then back at the refurbished building in South Bank. We find the staff at State Library are so helpful and knowledgeable.  It is better to come to the library to do our work as we can bounce our questions off staff, and each other, to improve the accuracy of our family history and make sure we have got it right. Dawn had been doing her family history prior to our meeting.

Our friendship has given us travelling companions, as Dawn’s husband died in 2006 and my husband is not fond of travelling.   We have been as far north as Mossman, North Queensland, down the middle through Charters Towers, Barcaldine, Augathella, Charleville and coastal cities as well.  We have shared driving all over the state to find our relatives.

Bottles of hot water and spare rags are important to our travel stories.  Grave stones go black with time, and then you can’t photograph them to record the family history.  As well as hot water and rags for cleaning, we also travel with black felt pens so we can fill in missing letters before photographing the stones.

In 2007 and in 2010, Dawn and I traveled to Ireland, Scotland and many European cities, including Brussels and Amsterdam.  Many of our Scottish families were buried in the same graveyards.  As we entered the graveyard, Dawn would take one side and I would take the other.  Once, when visiting the Isle of Arran, Dawn pointed to one side and suggested I start there.  The very first grave was filled with one whole line of my family.  We just stumbled over it, and it cleaned up beautifully, so we could photograph the whole family line in one shot.  It was serendipity.   In 2010 I visited my Grandpa’s brother’s grave at Tyne Cot in Belgium. What struck me was the size of the cemeteries – so large – so many young lives.

Family historians, archivists, librarians and cemetery sextons have been so ready to share their information with us. A Sexton in Lesmahagow cemetery in Lanarkshire, Scotland, took my long list of ancestors and sent photographs of every grave back to my son in Queensland.

The next step of our journey, hopefully, will be Budapest to Amsterdam by river boat. But there is always more research to do here in Queensland. Relatives keep leaving more children!

Dawn’s story

I met Helen at Master Yungs gym at Carseldine in 1992. We were both foundation members.  In the midst of leg stretches, Helen mentioned that her father had just died, and she had no knowledge of his family.  I had already pursued family history with my husband, Keith, and I had been a user of State Library since 1987.  At the next gym class, I announced to Helen that I had found the details of her father and grandfather.  Helen was hooked.  Together Helen and I have traveled the world in pursuit of our family history, and we have visited almost every cemetery in Queensland to photograph our ancestors’ graves and to clean them as well.

Earlier generations didn’t talk about their history, and I have found so much about the lives of my ancestors, including their jobs and their living conditions, which I have found intriguing.  I have a mixture of Dutch, Irish and Scottish ancestry.  Helen has Irish and Scottish, and together we are documenting our family lines.

We travel too, driving all over England, Scotland and Ireland.  In 2010, we went to Paris to see my De Brueys ancestor’s name, which is written on the Arc de Triomphe. He was an admiral under Napoleon.  We took the train through the tunnel from London. Then we joined a tour to visit the war cemeteries of the Western Front. I visited the archives in Amsterdam to follow my De Brueys family. We both visited the National Archives of Scotland.  My daughter is a librarian in Canberra, and she helped me to begin my family history journey.  We have learned much about using archives and libraries.

I would like to follow some more links to Keith’s great uncle who was a Presbyterian Minister in New South Wales. To date, this has been mostly a Queensland story, but there are some links in other states to follow.

Our shared interest has given us a great friendship. State Library is the meeting place for our friendship and where we plan our adventures.

Dawn and Helen in Belgium

Dawn and Helen at the Tyne Cot cemetery in Belgium

Do you have an SLQ story to share? Tell us – visit our information desks or email us: VisitorServices@slq.qld.gov.au

As told to Christina Ealing Godbold, Senior Librarian