Monday, November 5, 2012

Expert Q&A :: How to research cemeteries in Sydney & NSW

For our Expert Q&A Thursday, November 1 we had Lisa Murray, the City of Sydney Historian join us and answer questions on how to research cemeteries in Sydney & NSW. Thanks again to Lisa for giving us all the benefit of her years of experience. We look forward to having Lisa back sometime soon. Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links.

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

Dr Lisa Murray is the City Historian for the City of Sydney and is currently the Chair of the Dictionary of Sydney.

Top tips from Lisa Murray:
  • Tip 1. Best list of cemeteries in Greater Sydney can be found in Johnson & Sainty (2001) “Sydney Burial Ground 1819-1901” Appendices 4 & 5. Use to confirm when cemeteries first opened in Sydney or - if you have no burial ground listed on the death certificate - where your ancestor might be buried.
  • Tip 2. Consult every transcription of a cemetery as earlier ones (eg. from the 1960s) may have details of headstones that have since weathered away or been damaged. A useful index of cemetery transcripts is Killion & Garnsey (1994) “Cemeteries in Australia: A Register of Transcripts”. Also check Australian Cemeteries Index:
  • Tip 3. State Records NSW holds a lot of information about the administration of cemeteries – requests for land grants for cemeteries, surveyors instructions and correspondence about laying out cemeteries, special bundles on particular cemeteries. Check out their Archives In Brief 69 – Cemetery Records
  • Tip 4. Use the digitised newspapers in TROVE to identify funeral notices, death notices, obituaries, and in memoriam notices. (What did we ever do without Trove?!!) The Ryerson Index is also good for more contemporary notices.
  • Tip 5. Don't forget that the business records of funeral directors and monumental masons can also provide additional information about your ancestors' burial. Both the Mitchell Library and the Society of Australian Genealogists have such records. Have a look at the SAG's research guide on cemeteries.
George St looking north, showing the old Burial Ground, now the site of the Town Hall ca 1844
Image courtesy of the State Library of NSW

Summary of links from the Q&A:

Transcript of Expert Q&A - How to research cemeteries in NSW:

Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us tonight. Try to keep your questions concise and focused on tonight’s topic: how to research cemeteries in NSW. That will help Lisa to answer as many as possible in the next hour.
A. Lisa: Hi everybody! Good to be here.

Q. Rochell: Has everyone been found that was buried at the old town hall cemetery and is it true some coffins were found with scratches on the inside.
A. Lisa: Evidence of where the graves were still pop up regularly, as it seems they weren't very thorough in clearing the site in the 1860s. So there may still be some skeletal remains. I'm not aware of any particular finds of intact coffins with scratch marks, but it is Halloween!
A. IHM: Lisa also wrote about cemetery design in our Issue 10: May-Jun edition - it was our cemetery special.
A. Chez: Hi Rochell - re town hall graves... apparently my grandfather who lived in Sydney used to say that when they excavated and moved coffins some had scratch marks. Not that I think he was alive when they were moved (sorry don't know the date) but it would not be like him to just say something for hype - he used to tell his children who are now 75 and younger...
A. Lisa: A to Chez: Evocative story. I've found a couple of great newspaper reports of graves being uncovered in the 1920s outside town hall, but the coffin disintegrated when it was exposed. There's sure to be more reports on Trove - I haven't had the time recently to indulge my death fascination with Trove.
A. Chez: Well if it was the 1920s my grandfather may well have seen....he would have been an apprentice working around town hall then.

Q. Christine: There is a cemetery in Clunes, NSW, with a section for Roman Catholics, however, I cannot find any information on how the Catholics were there, Clunes, was an Ornge town, and only acknowledged one Catholic, the baker, intrigue, one local did say that the Catholics would have had to sneak in at night, because no way the protestants would have let them in!!!
A. Lisa: A. to Christine: The government developed a standardised design for general cemeteries which they applied fairly rigorously across the state of NSW from 1859. The denominational divisions were based on the 1856 census. The Roman Catholics were given one of the larger portions, after the Church of England. So the surveyors didn't really respond to local religious circumstances. They only worried about the topography of the land.
A. Christine: okay, thanks, however, still does not clear up the mystery, and was also told that, at Clunes, and else where, that the boundaries of the cemeteries were not actually what you see, and that many 'unwelcome guests' were buried outside the cemetery lines, what do you think???
A. Lisa: A. to Christine: Many country general cemeteries are actually bigger than what is now fenced. Some towns just didn't develop as rapidly as the surveyors anticipated. There was also a standard design developed in the late 19th century that allowed for a large area to be surveyed but a smaller portion fenced and utilised. This has resulted in some fantastic ecological communities of endangered vegetation surviving. eg the grassy whitebox community. I have seen a couple of instances of crown land plans showing Aboriginal burials outside the cemetery boundary. However, unless documented in some way at the time, to identify them today you would need to use ground-penetrating radar and other tech stuff.
A. Christine: perhaps I should send you the results of my research, it is a fascinating but very confusing cemetery, the Catholics who are buried there are not even recognised as Catholics, and are listed as Cof E.
A. Lisa: Further A to Christine: I suggest (if you haven't already) that you have a look at the parish maps. Parish maps often include a diagram of the general cemetery showing denominational divisions and gazettal dates. A sequence of editions of Parish Maps can show extensions to cemeteries and give leads for crown land plans of individual cemeteries. You can search online at Church cemetery grants are sometimes noted too.
A. Christine: yes, thanks, have all that, perhaps if there was time somewhere else to explain the history of Clunes and all the things that went on, may give you an idea of where I am coming from.

Q. Janelle: when my ancestor was reinterred from the Devonshire Cem to one in Botany, would she have been buried alone or would a bunch have been buried together from Dev Cem? There were no people listed in that contact section on the list of whose body was moved where. There is apparently no headstone for my lady at Botany, but would they know where she is buried? She was Jewish. Thanks!!!
A. Lisa: A. to Janelle: They did try to keep the graves together, so any remains found in one grave would have been transferred and buried together in one grave at Botany. However, since then the area dedicated in Botany to the Devonshire Street Cemetery has been consolidated into a rest park. For the full low down on the history of the Devonshire Street Cemetery and the transfer of remains have a look at Johnson & Sainty (2001) "Sydney Burial Ground 1819-1901".

Q. Denise: Why don't all councils eg Randwick make burial details available on line please?
A. Lisa: A to Denise: Most councils only became responsible for general cemeteries in the 1960s, so some councils in fact don't have the early burial registers for the cemeteries they are now responsible for. There may also be issues of cost and privacy in making such records digitally accessible.
A. IHM: Here's a link at Randwick City Council on cemetery records Denise Dobinson and there's Australian Cemeteries Index: but I can't find Randwick on that site.
A. Denise: Thanks for the link I have already looked at it so looks like a trip to the cemetery for me. I thought that since Botany is online they may be putting the rest up. Thanks for your help.
A. Lisa: A to Denise: You could check with Randwick Historical Society to see if they know if Randwick Council holds the burial registers, or if held somewhere else. I always check the cemetery transcripts before I go out to the cemetery. A useful index of cemetery transcripts is Killion & Garnsey (1994) “Cemeteries in Australia: A Register of Transcripts”.
A. IHM: Here's the link to the Randwick Historical Society.
A. Denise: Inside History Magazine - austcemindex don't have Randwick or Waverly listed. I have been lucky that most of my research has been at Rookwood or Botany. Thanks for the info.

Q. Maddy: Hi Lisa. Is it true that Dicken's inspiration for Miss Havisham is buried in Newtown cemetery do you know? Not sure where I heard that...
A. Lisa: A to Maddy: Yes, that's right.
A. IHM: There's a great piece on Eliza Emily Donnithorne of Newtown & Miss Havisham on Scratching Sydney's Surface Maddy Hunt :: 20 July 2012: Miss Donnithorne
Q (b). Maddy: Great. thanks for that. Any further recommendations of fun cemeteries? Any great stories you've come across through your research?
A. Lisa: A to Maddy: There are some great resources about Camperdown Cemetery. The Society of Australian Genealogists has an excellent 8 page guide to Camperdown Cemetery, which lists original records as well as some published histories. There are also some original records held in the City of Sydney Archives, relating to when the cemetery was closed and converted into a rest park. There is also info on the associated Newtown Project website.
A. IHM: Link to Society of Australian Genealogists Camperdown cemetery records ::
A. Lisa: A to Maddy: Well, now that you ask, I love a good picnic in a cemetery. So Katoomba with the view sounds perfect. If you haven't been to Rookwood Necropolis then you MUST! A great introduction is the tours done by the Friends of Rookwood. I love Waverley Cemetery too which is on the cliff between Bronte and Coogee. My favourite headstone there is of a circus high-diver who died when he missed the tank of water. His gravestone is specially carved showing him just about to leap off!!! I'm also partial to a graveyard and one of my favourites is around the Goulburn area - it's a little CoE at Pejar. Best to visit early spring when the daffodils are in flower. It has a vista across the dam. Very pretty!!
A. Denise: Mays Hill near Parramatta is a nice cemetery too.
Q (c). Lisa, is Waverley cemetery easy to navigate and find graves do you know?
A. Lisa: Good call Denise. Haven't been there for AGES! Must go on a sunny day.
A. IHM: Here's the sources for Waverley records - Waverley Council and Society of Australian Genealogists and Aust & NZ have the transcripts for Waverley cemetery.
A. Chez: I have relos at Waverley...and no idea of how easy it is to get to? Is there a who is buried where resource? or do you need to know plot numbers. I know it is supposed to have a great water view!
A. Lisa: A to Denise and Chez: Waverley Cemetery is pretty easy to get to. It's right beside a Sydney Buses route. The cemetery is kept in pretty good condition and pathways are regularly mown. There is often someone in the Cemetery Office who can (for a fee) search their registers. I have some old self-guided tours of Waverley Cemetery. I'll dig them out and I'll ask the lovely people at Inside History and see if they can post them up for me. :)
A. IHM: Waverley Cemetery is also part of the Coogee to Bondi Coastal Walk - one of our favourite walks!
A. IHM: Please find the link for the 6 Waverley cemetery walks available on the Waverley Council Library site.

Q. Maddy: Thanks guys! I have found in my travels that gold rush towns usually have cemeteries with a great ambience. Sofala comes to mind. Also way out west where the ground is hard and the graves are humble.
A. Lisa: Comment to Maddy: your poetic description of Sofala Cem makes me want to head out there right now. Cemeteries can say so much about a place and the history of the town and the people.
A. Maddy: ah no! I was just thinking it might have been Hill End!! can't be sure :)
A. Denise: Both Sofala and Hill End have some good stories on headstones.

Comment: Chez: Katoomba is a cemetery that can be until I had to investigate more fully thought my great great grandmother was buried with the Anglicans (I am one) which would have made her turn in her grave - she was a devout Catholic. On researching more I learned that the move the signs to the 'current' area of she was in fact buried in the Catholic portion! and if you have never been to Katoomba cemetry...worth the visit...view is great...and the old coach cover structure is still there!
A. Lisa: A to Chez: Great recommendation for Katoomba Cemetery. I love it when the old landscape design elements of the cemetery still survive.
A. Chez: Wood Coffill in Katoomba 20yrs ago...still had the original cards used at the time of funerals for the 1920s...even told you the weather on the many horses/carriages etc!
A. Lisa: WOW!! That's amazing. I would love to get my hands on those and do an analysis of all the funerals over a year. How cool would that be?!!? I wonder if they still have them. We should encourage them to donate them to the Mitchell Library or a similar institution. They are a rare and wonderful collection that really could shed some light on funeral practices and burial rituals.
A. Chez: True Lisa: They were so nice when I phoned them all that time ago, photocopied and posted the front and back of the card....It would be a great research piece and there are many branches research could take you so they could be invaluable!!
A. Lisa: Comment to Chez: That sounds really encouraging about Wood & Coffill. It seems they realise their value and it's lovely they took the time to photocopy the card for you. I'd love to see a copy of it - I haven't come across something like that, although admittedly I've focussed more on cemeteries and monumental masons, not so much funeral parlours. (Although still have several research files on them - can't resist:) )

Q. IHM: Time flies! One last one from us Lisa: What do you have in the pipeline that we should be excited about?
A. Lisa: Okay time to sign off. Thanks everyone. It's been a joy! My next big thing coming up is with the City of Sydney - we're launching our new self-guided historical walking tour brochure of Newtown on 12 December at Newtown Library. It’s the 150th anniversary since the proclamation of Newtown Municipality. Come along for the celebrations. And you can find out about all my public talks on my facebook page: Bye for now!!
A. IHM: Thanks again for joining us Lisa Murray and sharing your knowledge, we'll have to get you back another time! We’ll publish the questions, answers and links from tonight’s session in a blog post this coming week.
A. Lisa: Sure - anytime. It's been fun!

Waverley Cemetery | Waverley Council

Next Week: Who's joining us for next Thursday's Expert Q&A? Janda Gooding from the Australian War Memorial. Topic: Lost Diggers & How to use photos to research your military ancestors.

Janda Gooding is Head of Photographs, Film, Sound & Multimedia and Curator for the “Remember me: the lost diggers of Vignacourt” exhibition, which starts at the AWM this Friday, November 2


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
[12] Thursday, November 1 :: How to research cemeteries in Sydney & NSW
[13] Thursday, Nov 8 :: Australian War Memorial - Lost Diggers
[14] Thursday, Nov 15 :: Getting even more from Trove
[15] Thursday, Nov 22 :: Getting the most from findmypast AU & NZ
[16] Thursday, Nov 29 :: Using NAA defence records
[19] Thursday, Dec 20 :: What's new at

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