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Thread: How I used Trove to write a biography

  1. #1

    Post How I used Trove to write a biography

    Trove is a vital instrument that enables the public to access significant Australian history. It is a pathway to discovering more about Australian history through dates, events and people. I will demonstration how useful Trove is for researching a topic of interest, through my research project of Valerio Ricetti. I decided to write a biography on an interesting Australian, who has contributed to Australia’s history, although very little is known about him. Trove is a valuable tool that that can bring attention to these great unknown Australians. Prior to this project I had not heard of the individual Valerio Ricetti. Little or no information can be found on Valerio Ricetti through an advanced search on popular search engines such as Google or Yahoo, so it is difficult to gain information on Ricetti, using mainstream search facilities.

    I was only able to discover Ricetti after looking through many of the public lists created on Trove. These lists were similarly titled famous unknown Australians .Although this is a tautology, it serves the purpose of the project, most people being suitable candidates for an Australian who has greatly contributed to Australian and little are known about them. Lists are an extremely useful tool that can be used for a variety of sources. Trove has the ability to create your own private list to help with your project. Along with the ability to create public lists for everyone to share and contribute information.

    After viewing all of the candidates, I selected Ricetti. I discovered that Ricetti had been an Italian-Australian hermit who lived near Griffith in New South Wales. He created his own private utopia, completed beautiful gardens and caves over many kilometres at Scenic Hill. He has left an everlasting legacy that is still there today -a heritage-listed site and a popular tourist destination. I selected Valerio Ricetti because most people do not know his story and the beauty of what he created. I believe his story needed to be preserved and remembered, which is what Trove does and creates.

    I found an abundance of information on Valerio Ricetti on Trove. The mediums on Trove that were particularly useful in gaining knowledge and information to help write the biography were the newspapers, images and books. Newspapers are one of Trove’s most used online resources. Trove has an immense collection of historical and present day newspapers, to aid with any form of research. The historical and contemporary newspaper articles found on Valerio Ricetti were extremely useful in providing a background to what it was like during the time he lived, highlighting some of the attitudes towards migrates, particularly Italians. The contemporary articles gave insight into the scale of what he created and how magnificent it really was. Visual aid in writing my biography was given by the numerous collections of photographs found on the Trove website. Photographs can be found easily through a simple Trove search. For my topic, I found numerous photographs of the cave and surrounding areas created by the hermit, along with a photo of him. This assisted with visual understanding what he looked like and gave real-life examples of some of his achievements. Trove’s archived websites were also found to be very useful in writing the biography. Trove provided many reliable and resourceful websites on Valerio Ricetti from various organisations and companies

    Undoubtedly one of the most useful results from the Trove search was the book From Broken Hill to Scenic Hill: the story and part of Griffith’s history of the Scenic Hill hermit: Valerio Ricetti, 1898-1952, which was found from Trove’s vast collection of books. This book paints a different picture of the Hermit of Scenic Hill, viewing him in a completely different light, in comparison to the opinions of many other unreliable websites found on general searches that portrayed him in a more negative light. These websites describe Ricetti as a bitter and aggressive man who hated society. In contrast to the book, that depicted the hermit as a kind man who had been mistreated and cheated by the world too many times and therefore distrusted society. Trove gave an accurate insight into who this man really was, enabling me to write a truthful biography about him, reflecting him in a positive light.

    Trove is a service that provides free access to Australian history, in an easy way everyone can use. It is a direct pathway to our history and understanding our roots and ancestry, which enables us to understand our own society today. It makes research fun and easy and overall is a fantastic service provided by the National Library of Australia.

  2. #2
    Prolific poster
    Join Date
    Aug 2011
    I shall not ramble on at great length, but just give a few examples of how Trove newspapers have helped me in my work, are helping me in a current project, and could have helped if it had been available earlier.
    I have a chapter on Hermann Homburg in my book, The Most Dangerous Man in Australia?. In his home state, Homburg had enough influence to keep the family's dubious activities out of the Advertiser. Material in National Archives Australia claimed that Homburg had connived with his son Renolf to fail to register with Manpower during the war; that could have been an oversight. Without Trove, I would never have found the Canberra Times article that showed that Renolf also had never held an identity card or a ration book. That was no oversight, as the court case showed. It was a deliberate breach of National Security Regulations. (No mention at all in the 'Tiser.)
    Without Trove, I would not have discovered that a criminal family that I am researching went through three different names in three states over the course of more than 100 years, which is turning this work into a whole different ballgame.
    I wish that it had been available when I was working on my M.A. and my Ph.D. What I have discovered on Trove since these were completed would not have altered anything substantially, but would have provided greater depth, and substantiation where there had been speculation.
    It was the gift of the information on Renolf Homburg that led me to work on editing Trove newspapers. By cross-referencing NAA material with Trove, whole new worlds can be discovered.
    Viva Trove!
    Last edited by Catessa; 29-06-2013 at 12:37 PM.

  3. #3
    Trove user
    Join Date
    Jun 2010
    I wanted to add to this thread. I am not an genealogist but in the course of my work as an archaeologist I have come across a few interesting characters - in the 1980's I came across George Douglas Smythe - a surveyor working in W.A., Tasmania and Victoria. I wrote up and published potted biography based mostly on government records as it was so time consuming searching the newspapers. Recently I have been working on a mining site at Sunny corner (NSW) and came across John D. Le Monte an American "expert" on silver smelting who was encouraged to come to Australia and set up a smelter at Sunny Corner. He then when on to have a colourful career in Qld, NSW, Tasmania, SA, WA and New Zealand much of which was located through Trove. Without Trove, much of Le Monte's history would have remained obscure as research into newspapers held in each state would have been prohibitively expensive and extremely time consuming. As one of my New Zealand colleagues noted who would have thought Le Monte, whose smelter in New Zealand was a failure, smelted the first ore from the BHP mine in Melbourne!

    I imagine there are probably quite a few colonial figures who moved between states and are a little hard to trace without some way of searching records and information across Australia - which is what Trove supplies.


  4. #4
    Trove addict
    Join Date
    Jul 2010
    Newcastle, New South Wales
    I also want to add that without Trove my local area project would not have been as successful nor as interesting. I have written biographies for the 193 girls who were sent to the Newcastle Industrial School and Reformatory between 1867 and 1871. In the main they were poor little girls but inmates successfully acquired the reputation at the time of being 'viragoes' - and some of them were!

    Without Trove I would not have known that Susan Atkins assumed the alias of Julia Cunningham before she was shot in a murder suicide in Bathurst. I could not have found that Mary Ann Nowlan died in the wreck of the SS Gambier in Victoria. And would have had no idea that the sister of Ellen Youngman was the celebrated 'Lachlan Prodigy' aka 'The Australian Fat Girl'.

    Links to the best newspaper articles, my website and links to other resources connected with my research are in my list on the subject.

    Thankyou Trove (and the NLA).

  5. #5
    Staff Moderator
    Join Date
    May 2012
    Thank you all for sharing your research with us!
    Catriona Bryce
    Trove Support
    National Library of Australia

  6. #6

    Trove helped me solve a family mystery

    My brother was named after one of my father’s maternal cousins, a young man named Keith.
    It was said that while Keith was a pilot during WWII his
    plane crashed into the sea off the coast of Western Australia. My brother, also a pilot, had
    become increasingly interested in the life and career of the man after whom he was named
    and my father more convinced that I could uncover information about this little known family
    member. But where to start?
    My father was able to tell me that his cousin was the son of his Uncle Jim (James Robson
    Turnbull) and Aunty Jessie (Jessie Parry Nee Dean). The couple lived in Harlaxton, just
    outside Toowoomba, then moved to Sydney where Jim ran a delicatessen. So I searched:
    Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDMs) for Queensland, Western Australia and New South
    Wales, the websites of the National Archives of Australia, Queensland State Archives, the
    State Records Offices of New South Wales and Western Australia, state libraries and a variety
    of sources on military history. I asked other family members for their recollections. And
    while I discovered that the name Keith Turnbull was not an uncommon one, for “My Keith”,
    I unearthed … nothing.
    My great uncle Jim died in 1980, so on 1 January 2011 his death certificate became generally
    available. Eager to begin my research, I placed an online order for the certificate
    straightaway, hoping to confirm Keith’s name, approximate year of birth and any other family
    details that may have assisted me in my search. Some weeks later I held the certificate in my
    hands and there was Keith, listed as the oldest of Jim and Jessie’s five children and
    acknowledged as deceased. So, why was I not able to find any record of his life, particularly
    his military career?
    The National Library of Australia’s Trove website was an essential reference point and in the very small
    hours one Sunday morning I had my breakthrough. Tired and very bleary eyed, I am certain now I must have
    typed the names into the search field in the wrong order. The results included a Legal Notice in the Sydney Morning
    Herald on Thursday 28 September 1944 for William James Turnbull AKA Keith James Turnbull. Listed as the
    Executrix was Jessie Parry Turnbull, Keith’s mother. My Keith had changed his name and knowing this changed
    everything. I was now able to bring together the various aspects of Keith/William’s military career.
    The Sydney Morning Herald 28.09.1944 Page 8 - Legal Notices
    Supreme Court New South Wales Probate Jurisdiction
    Keith James Turnbull was born 26 December 1920. The family lived in Sydney, at Roseville
    when Keith was a child and at McMahon’s Point at the time he enlisted. Church of England
    by religion, in civilian life he was an Accountant for Hemingway & Robertson and a
    Salesman for the Bell Punch Company. The special qualifications noted on his enlistment file
    were French and Latin, which he studied at North Sydney High School.
    Enlisting in the RAAF at No. 2 Recruiting Centre, Sydney, Keith was a single man of 19
    years of age, who stood 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 150lbs and had fair hair and blue eyes.
    He was allocated service number 420719. It appears he spent several months in 1941 as a
    Corporal in the 1st Cavalry Division AASC prior to joining the RAAF. Between November
    1941 and May 1943, starting as a member of an Air Crew, he was promoted to Leading
    Aircraftsman, then to Sergeant and Flight Sergeant. His enlistment file states that Keith, now
    acknowledged in his own hand as William, spent time at Narromine, Uranquinty, Mildura and
    Lowood, flying Tigermoth, Wirraway and Boomerang aircraft. Although at one point he was
    reprimanded for burning his hands with a flare gun cartridge resulting in absence from duty
    for two weeks, his character was acknowledged as Very Good and he passed each of the
    courses he undertook. In the subjects of Armament, Intelligence, Nav and Met and Signals he
    achieved Above Average results and it seems his strengths were the theoretical and technical
    aspects of flying. The understanding that Keith (I still find it hard to think of him as William)
    was a cerebral, perhaps academic and ambitious young man, is supported by the finding that,
    at the time of his death, he was enrolled in a course in Salesmanship with the International
    Correspondence School and among his effects were 38 books covering topics from martial
    arts to science and self improvement.
    The crash in which William was killed was not the only aircraft accident in which he was
    involved. In January 1943, based at Mildura and with 200 hours flying time to his credit,
    William was flying Boomerang A46-17 when the aircraft ground looped and swung to the
    right immediately on landing. Examination of the tracks suggested the starboard tyre blew
    out. William applied the engine but was unable to correct. The runway was out of wind. It
    seems the plane sustained major damage, but records do not indicate that William was
    In addition, A46-68, the airplane in which William later died, was involved in a previous
    accident. In August 1943 Flight Officer Kernshaw was unable to control the plane when, on
    takeoff, it swung off the runway in a 30 degree crosswind of about 30 miles per hour. As a
    result, the aircraft crashed through shrubs and finished up on its nose in soft ground.
    At the time of the fatal accident, William was a member of Number 85 Squadron. Part of
    Group No.448, this squadron was responsible for home defense and was based at Guildford
    Airfield, Perth, Western Australia. The crash happened on 27 December 1943, one week after
    William's 23rd birthday. He was piloting Boomerang aircraft A46-68 during a non-operational
    flight when, at either 11:25 or 14:35 according to different records, the airplane experienced
    engine failure. William attempted to return to Guildford Aerodrome for a forced landing.
    Fifty yards from the north west end of the runway the plane ploughed into a ditch, overturned
    and caught fire. It was a write off. A photograph of the wreckage, including a soldier
    standing guard mid frame, is found on the National Library of Australia website. William
    died of burns and injuries sustained in the accident, one recording specifically stating a
    broken neck as the cause of death. It should be noted that a Leading Aircraftsman H R
    McGlashan suffered slight abdominal injuries caused by the explosion. My father still
    remembers, over 60 years later, one of his uncles coming in person to the family home in
    Hamwood Street, Toowoomba, and saying to his mother, “Annie, young Keith Turnbull’s just
    been killed!” This would have been approximately three days after my father’s 10th birthday.
    After a funeral that was attended by military personnel rather than family and friends,
    William was buried on 29 December 1943 at Karrakatta War Cemetery, Perth. The coffin
    was draped in the Australian flag. Marking the grave is a headstone that reads, “All you had
    hoped for, all you had you gave to save mankind”. William James Turnbull was awarded a
    Flying Badge and a War Medal.
    We may never know Keith’s motivation for changing his name. There are hints and clues
    throughout the records I have collected, but nothing substantive. Choosing the name William
    did not make his assumed name unique. Could there have been some connection to William’s
    interest in self improvement? His paternal grandfather’s name was William so he may have
    chosen it to honour him. Speculation.
    I feel comfortable now wrapping up my research into the life Keith James Turnbull, the
    salesman who became a pilot. At the time of writing, however, there remains an outstanding
    search request with the NSW Department of Lands the agency that was responsible for
    formal changes of name at the time Keith was alive, so there might just be something new to
    learn after all!

  7. #7
    Trove can change your opinion and knowledge of your own family. My own experience was to find a relative who had been killed in a workplace accident and in turn saved two men from being killed as well in that accident. It turned the subsequent family history from negative to positive about further family events through investigation. I have a positive story to tell my child now as I know what happened. Grief can often stop people being able to speak about loved ones. No matter how great they may have been.

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