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Proformat News
all No: 137
July 2017
The seminar and heritage walk program will resume in August.

See the seminar program for more details and bookings for 2017.

Indigenous family history
With the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision it is opportune that the subject of indigenous family history is addressed.

Initially such research is just like any other family history pursuit and starting with some basic guidelines is most important and the most basic of these is to be clear about what information is sought and why one wants to find that information. Set specific and potentially achievable goals and preferably a specific goal. Shopping lists of goals can prove too daunting! The goal may be as basic as finding out the name of a grandmother.

In this issue:

Feature article
Indigenous family history


Graham Jaunay
Glandore SA 5037

Proformat News acknowledges the support by awe AWE

You may find the content of records located upsetting or offensive. The records may contain private information about you or your family members. They may contradict each other and present conflicting information. They may contain wrong information. Are you prepared for this? Do you understand that societal attitudes and mores have changed, mostly for the better, over time and that the records reflect the attitudes at the time of their compilation?

The second essential aspect of such research is to be organised. It is the best way to keep track of everything and in the future will clearly be a benefit and will reveal new goals. Your notes, documents and papers should all be cross referenced and filed.

Before setting any goals start with yourself. Good family history research always starts with yourself and works backwards in time generation by generation. Therefore in seeking a grandmother, the researcher has to know about themselves and their own genealogy and family history before progressing to that of their parents. It is only when all this is determined, recorded and, more importantly verified, that grandmother's turn can be addressed!

Indigenous ancestry requires specific understanding of a range of issues which can be clarified with some appropriate reading.

The first of these matters to be addressed is the role of indigenous people in a society dominated by European cultures for over 200 years. This means that much material is located in differing series of government and agency records than one would expect when undertaking non-indigenous research. These agencies were created to regulate people's lives and broadly cover welfare boards, adoption agencies, education and health departments, police departments, churches and missionaries and even anthropologists. No doubt the extreme of these policies culminated in the Stolen Generations. To access and trawl through much of this material is not easy and specialist Indigenous family researchers should be considered.

Sometimes such expertise is not all that obvious. For example, it is the SA Museum that holds extensive records on South Australia and Northern Territory indigenous families and individuals as part of the Aboriginal Heritage Project! Several objectives of this project will prove helpful to researchers:
  • assist Aboriginal families to trace regional ancestry within Australia
  • reconstruct family genealogical history prior to the arrival of Europeans
Contact Ali to access the material.

When it comes to the Stolen Generations a good starting point would be making contact with the appropriate Link-Up services across Australia. In South Australia the service is offered by Nunkuwarrin Yunti. This funded program evolved from the Bringing them Home Report by addressing the recommendations to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people separated from their families under past laws, practices and policies of Australian governments, to undertake family tracing and reunion initiatives. The SA Museum Project outlined above can also assist with issues relating to the Stolen Generations.

State Records of SA holds a searchable database of names of Aboriginal people identified in key series within the collection, known as the Aboriginal Information Management System (AIMS). The database is an important resource for Aboriginal people researching their personal, family and community histories. The database includes tribal names, nicknames, age, sex, location, description of record, and a State Records reference number. The material is accessed via the Aboriginal Access Team.

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is the premier institution for information and research about the cultures and lifestyles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Their website holds significant information about accessing records and how to go about the process. They offer a downloadable family history kit that includes a step-by-step guide.

The key to family history research is locating people in past records. Indigenous ancestors may have used or been known by several names. They could include:
  • a traditional name
  • a kinship name (a complex system determining relationships, roles and obligations)
  • a European name (often changed by employers, missionaries, foster homes, and so on)
  • a nickname name (these can be offensive or demeaning as in Black Billy)
Undertaking such research into indigenous ancestry may be part of a person's attempt to obtain proof of heritage. While one may consider themselves to have indigenous ancestry, hard evidence is required to access specific services and programs. Agencies and organisations usually accept three criteria as confirmation of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander heritage:
  1. being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
  2. identifying as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person
  3. being accepted as such by the community in which you live, or formerly lived.
Footnote: Pictured above is the Australian Aboriginal Flag first flown on National Aborigines Day in Victoria Square Adelaide on 12 July 1971. The flag was designed by Harold Thomas of central Australia for the land rights movement. Since 1995 it has had status as a Flag of Australia.
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