Prepare to find warts! That’s the warning from genealogist Diane Wilson to people setting off on a journey to discover their family history.
“I think it is a good lesson to all genealogists to remember that not everything you find will be pleasant or uplifting. You need to accept and record the ‘warts’,” she says.
The Edmund Hillary resident has just released for public use more than four decades of her work on a new website www.wilsoncollection.co.nz, which immediately saw more than 700 users in its first week live.
Diane and a group of like-minded friends have transcribed various New Zealand indexes, registers and resources over the years which, thanks to the website, can now all be found in one place – for free!
These range from electoral and jury rolls, early settler records, and 150 years’ worth of burial and cremation records, to an index of New Zealand marriages 1856-1956, records of WWI personnel and even sheep owners!
Says Diane: “New Zealand has never kept its census records as other countries have done, so finding people has been more difficult and time-consuming than, say in England or the USA.
“I have been working on indexing for over 40 years and did not want all this work of mine and others to be lost.
“I also wanted those who could not afford the pay charges of the commercial sites to be able to research their family.”
Diane’s personal favourite was the work she did transcribing WW1 service personnel and reserves index from outdated fiche records.
“We felt these men deserved a better memorial. At this time there was no other WW1 database available and we started from nominal rolls.
“We were fortunate enough to find a source of the seven missing pages of names that had been lost from the National Library and also created some databases of missing names from several other sources.
“We know this database is the most complete and has been much used.”
One of the biggest challenges has been keeping up with the technology. Records have moved from microfiche to floppy disks, to cd and then online.
Diane says they couldn’t have done it without the help of Mark Howard of Pukekohe who was a Manukau Institute of Technology student. The Institute was looking for projects for their final year students to work on.
“Mark became part of our team and is still in touch so many years later. He developed a template screen for us to use and provided the software to give us a searchable database.”
The timing has been good too, as far as this generation is concerned, with many old archives in old cursive script.
“Recently I asked one of my grandchildren to read me some reasonably easy handwriting and they could not do so.
“I guess they so seldom see handwriting they were puzzled, so what they would have made of the early registers I cannot imagine.”
Diane has made a few eyebrow-raising discoveries about society in general along the way.
“What surprises me is how many bigamists there were – and it wasn’t just the men, the women were at it too!
“And lots of men living as women and vice versa.”
She finds New Zealand’s social history particularly compelling.
“What fascinates me is the settler into New Zealand, what they did, how they got here and how they got on and their descendants.
“You can watch the progress of a family, who were generally farmers, they were white, strictly labelled by religion and within three generations there are very few farmers, and they have married people from every nationality and many have changed their religions too.”