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. Ive 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
The early stages of Macketts 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
Apart from the complicated procedure, one of the main problems with Macketts
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
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
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 Macketts 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. Ive
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
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
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.