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Home >> Customers >> Success Stories >> Paul Mackett

Reuniting Lost Families with ISYS

Tracing your family tree can be a difficult task for anyone. If your heritage is Aboriginal Australian, it can be near impossible.

Until the mid Twentieth Century, Aboriginal births and deaths were often not registered, and Aboriginal marriages were usually only registered if one of the parties was part-Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. Aboriginal people were generally not found in many of the usual genealogical sources such as electoral rolls and post office directories. Moreover, many Aboriginal families were separated by the practice of removing people to reserves, or putting children into the care of different families.

As a result, references to events significant to Aboriginal family history such as relationships, children, geographical location and name changes often only exist as pieces of general correspondence, hidden away in bundles of paper in the archived records of the police, courts, health organizations and educational institutions.

With such a faint paper trail, how would anyone undertake trying to trace the history of an Aboriginal family? Paul Mackett from Brisbane, a genealogist and researcher in his spare time, has taken on such a challenge with the help of ISYS.

Awarded the Order of Australia Medal in 1996 for his work, Mr. Mackett performs the majority of his research in Queensland, and has been an ISYS user for the last six years. Scouring decades worth of unstructured, often handwritten and sometimes badly damaged information, he compiles notes containing any references he finds, however tenuous, to Aboriginal people.

Mackett is only too aware of the scarcity of Aboriginal family records. “Genealogy is one of my great interests, and several years ago I helped out a few people researching their families,” he said. “One of these had an Aboriginal ancestor and I was amazed at what little there was in the normal genealogical resources to help.”

“I spent a lot of time at the Queensland State Archives, looking at what was available to help Aboriginal people with their family history research,” Mackett says. “I’ve been through hundreds of registers and hundreds of thousands of pages of correspondence looking for references to Aboriginal people and recorded them whenever I found them.”

The early stages of Mackett’s research were fairly labor-intensive and slow, before technology stepped in. “I would note down information from records held at the Queensland State Archives, and during my lunch hours I would type this information into my work PC,” he said. “I would then search this information with a command-line text retrieval program, which just told me the line number and document name of the text string I was looking for – as long as it was an exact match. I then had to go back to the original document, find the relevant reference and copy it to a word processing file to be sent to the person who requested the information.”

Apart from the complicated procedure, one of the main problems with Mackett’s early method was the lack of flexibility of his search system. In many cases, the name being sought would appear in the original data, but with variations in spelling, format or context. Because his search system only returned results that exactly matched a query, it was often difficult to refine a result to a workable amount of information, or to get a result at all!

For example, if he was looking for the name ‘Bill Fred Bloggs’:

  • a search for ‘Bloggs’ returned too much data
  • refining the search to ‘Bill Fred Bloggs’ would not retrieve references to ‘Bill Bloggs’ or ‘Fred Bloggs’
  • refining the search to ‘Bill Bloggs’ would not retrieve references to ‘Billy Bloggs’, ‘William Bloggs’ or ‘Fred Bloggs’.

Enter a laptop PC as a Christmas present and a copy of ISYS search software, and a whole new world of possibility opened up for Mackett’s work. Said Paul, “Once the laptop arrived, I started asking workmates about indexing and retrieval software. The name ISYS came up straight away. I located a supplier in Brisbane and purchased a copy immediately. I’ve never looked back.”

Now Mr. Mackett can simplify the data retrieval process by using ISYS features such as wildcards, the ‘within 10 words of’ operator and the ability to extract results and paste them directly into another document. In the above example, a search for ‘Bill Fred Bloggs’ could return all of the following results in just one query:

  • Bill Fred Bloggs
  • Bill Bloggs
  • Billy Bloggs
  • William Bloggs
  • Willie Bloggs
  • Willie Fred Bloggs
  • William F Bloggs
  • Bloggs
  • Bloogs
  • Blogs
  • Blogg


Additionally, a particular name can be searched for in the context of a particular date or place, so if a person comes to Mackett looking for Bill Bloggs from Toowoomba, the query can be refined to return all variations of the name ‘Bill Bloggs,’ but only those that also refer to ‘Toowoomba’.

Paul Mackett has been making a difference in the lives of many Aboriginal families for many years. “The genealogical research I carry out free of charge for people with an Aboriginal family history in Queensland has helped a lot of people discover their roots,” he says. “To date I have carried out research for some 500 people, and I answer one or two requests per week.” It is extremely rewarding to know that ISYS can play a part in such an endeavor.

The series of Queensland Aboriginal Notes created by Paul Mackett is publicly available for searching at the Queensland State Archives,
which also uses ISYS. To search the Archives online, visit www.archivessearch.qld.gov.au.

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