FAMILY MATTERS: Eileen Wheway and Lynda Smith with Member for Dobell Emma McBride at the 35th birthday celebrations of Wyong Family History Group.
FAMILY MATTERS: Eileen Wheway and Lynda Smith with Member for Dobell Emma McBride at the 35th birthday celebrations of Wyong Family History Group.

Questions still being answered at family history group

AN INTEREST in family history can be awakened in many ways, but for one of the founding members of Wyong Family History Group, Lynda Smith, it was as simple as a baby book.

It's an interest that, like the group, has grown vastly over the past 35 years.

Life member, Lynda (officially Member No. 2), a trained English and history teacher who now works at Bateau Bay Library, was a stay-at-home mum in 1983 when the group began, and has over the years been president, vice-president, treasurer and assistant treasurer.

But it was a conversation with her own mother about filling in the details of the family tree in her eldest son's baby book that really piqued her curiosity and put her investigative powers to work.

Her mother had owned a similar book, but been unable to trace past Lynda's father's father who refused to talk about his family.

Wanting to know why, Lynda asked her father to apply for his birth certificate and his parents' marriage certificate ... and the journey began.

"It's a really compelling thing to do," Lynda said. "But at the same time it's a good hobby because you can pick it up and put it down in small doses, or have a really marathon session."

Before the advent of the internet and sites such as ancestry.com and Trove, she admits researching was "a bit of a slog", involving a lot of letter writing and trips to Sydney to the State Library or the archives, and pouring through registers, microfiche and old newspaper articles.

"I became very good at deciphering elaborate cursive handwriting and people's strange abbreviations," Lynda said.

For her, the family tree is about more than just names, but getting to know the people, even when they don't want you to, with some having changed names or ages for different reasons such as to marry without permission, births unreported or wrongly reported, people seemingly wanting to disappear, or doing so through simple clerical error.

Newspapers, she said, were an excellent source of information, with names coming to light in anything from picnic day race wins to growing the biggest pumpkin to criminal and court reports.

Belonging to the Wyong Family History Group, she said, meant there was usually someone who had a similar experience, was searching for similar information to you and could help you find a resource or give you tips and shortcuts.

"It's a really good feeling when you can fill in the gaps in your own history or help someone else to fill in the gaps," Lynda said.

She discovered that her great great grandfather had come from Scotland to the South Island of New Zealand and had eight children, after marrying an Irish girl.

One of these children, her great grandfather, moved to the North Island and became a musician and labourer. He married and had six children before leaving the area, at which point Lynda, like his family, lost track of him.

Her grandfather had been forced to leave school to help support the family, hence not wanting to talk about his father.

But that hasn't stopped Lynda's quest for information, for which she says there really is no end.

With membership having grown from an original 20 to currently over 280 people, Wyong Family History Group is very active, with regular "how to" classes and "very dedicated souls and wonderful volunteers always willing to help others".

To celebrate the group's 35th year and mark their long service to the group and the community, Member for Dobell Emma McBride, herself a sixth generation local, presented Lynda and Member No. 6 Eileen Wheway with a desk clock and pen, respectively, made of timber reclaimed from the cottage which is now the group's home.

State Member for Wyong David Harris presented Life Membership awards to John Selwood (No. 79) and Michelle Gane (No. 174) for 15 and 14 years membership respectively.

Wyong Family History Group Cottage is open Tuesday to Thursday 10am-3pm for research, and meets bimonthly on the second Saturday of the month with guest speakers. Phone 4351 2211.