For our Expert Q&A Thursday, January 24 we had Lisa Murray from City of Sydney and The Dictionary of Sydney to discuss Sydney’s long history and the resources available for tracking your Sydney ancestors. Thanks again to Lisa for giving us all the benefit of her time and experience.

Please find the transcript of the Q&A and links below.

Don’t forget our Expert Q&As happen every Thursday night on the Inside History Magazine facebook page

When: NSW – ACT – VIC – TAS: 8:30-9:30pm AEDT | QLD: 7:30-8:30pm | WA: 5:30-6:30pm | NT: 7:00-8:00pm | SA: 8:00-9:00pm | Weekly on Thursdays nights!

Lisa’s top tips for researching Sydney’s urban history:

    1. The Dictionary of Sydney, of course! There is so much more than just the essays. There are contemporary demographic statistics about every individual suburb of Sydney. There are historic maps corrected and overlaid on Google maps that you can zoom in and make them transparent so you can compare the current street layout with the historic map. Very cool.
    2. ABS Census material. www.abs.gov.au  The summary reports of Historical Censuses (Pre 1996) are accessible through the Australian Bureau of Statistics website as pdfs. These provide fantastic demographic data about municipal populations, housing construction, all sorts of facts and figures.  I’ve done some analysis of boarding houses in Redfern in the early 20th century using this material. You can also get population and demographic material as excel spreadsheets.  This source material forms the basis of all urban history.
    3. Historical Atlas of Sydney. http://photosau.com.au/CosMaps/scripts/home.asp  produced by the City of Sydney Archives provides access to pdfs of historic maps of the local government area from different periods of the city’s history. I can’t say enough how amazing this resource is, and the Archives are digitising more maps all the time.
    4. Sydney’s Aldermen.  www.sydneyaldermen.com.au  This is a new website that the City of Sydney History Unit has just launched. This is the first time I’ve actually publicised it – so it’s a premiere!!!! Here on Inside History. You’re the first to know. It contains biographies of over 400 aldermen and councillors who have served on Sydney Municipal Council. Did you know that among the aldermen to serve on the first council was James Chapman, who was a butcher! You can search by keyword, and filter by council. We’re now turning our attention to add all the aldermen in our amalgamated council areas. Glebe is next cab off the rank.
    5. The assessment books for the City of Sydney local government area which cover the period 1845-1948 are being progressively transcribed, scanned and searchable online. http://photosau.com.au/CosRates/scripts/home.asp  Most people search a name or an address. But have a look at the menu up the top. You can also download the data files – great if you are researching a suburb!

Summary of links from the Q&A:

A sketch of the settlement at Sydney Cove Port Jackson on 16 April 1788.

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Transcript of Expert Q&A – Sydney’s historical and genealogical record

Our Expert Q&A with Lisa Murray from City of Sydney & The Dictionary of Sydney starts in 15 minutes at 8:30pm AEDT on this page. Ask your questions on Sydney’s long history & the resources available to track your ancestors. Please ask your questions in a comment below and Lisa will answer in a following comment.

Comment: IHM: Welcome everyone, thanks for joining us. Please join us in welcoming Lisa tonight!
A. Lisa: Hi everyone!

Q. From Ashleigh: My great great grandparents lived in Sydney from about 1865 to 1869 – I have addresses of births in Sydney city, but when I look on ownerships of the properties, I can never find their names? Is there any way to prove they lived where the children were born?
A. IHM: Thanks Ashleigh, Lisa will have an answer for you at 8:30 – not long now
A. Lisa: I’ll start by answering Ashleigh’s Q. As Pam suggested, your ancestors may have rented the property rather than owned it. In fact, the vast proportion of residential property in the inner city was rented. Have you looked at the City of Sydney Assessment books? http://photosau.com.au/CosRates/scripts/home.asp These start in 1845 and are done every 3 years or so. They show ownership, but also who is rated (usually the leaseholder). But it is just the head of the household.
A. Ashleigh: Thanks so much Lisa!

Q. From Pam: Many people would have rented their homes. Would there be anything like a “Rental Roll?”
A. Lisa: I’ll start by answering Ashleigh’s Q. As Pam suggested, your ancestors may have rented the property rather than owned it. In fact, the vast proportion of residential property in the inner city was rented. Have you looked at the City of Sydney Assessment books? http://photosau.com.au/CosRates/scripts/home.asp These start in 1845 and are done every 3 years or so. They show ownership, but also who is rated (usually the leaseholder). But it is just the head of the household.

Q. From Cate: I wonder if the map was made during Arthur Phillip’s exploratory trip to find head of (Parramatta) river. He arrive at site of Old Govt House parramatta, which he named Rose Hill, on 24 April 1788. He sent a party to make settlement in November of that year and establish a govt farm across the river under supervision Henry Dodd.
A. Lisa: It’s a great map. The Dictionary of Sydney has included it, both as an illustration and in our groovy promo video.  There are versions of this map in both the State Library and the National Library http://nla.gov.au/nla.map-nk276 .  The words ‘F.F. Delineavit’ in tiny letters at the bottom left hand side of this Sketch gives a clue to the identity of the artist. It is attributed to Francis Fowkes, a former navy midshipman transported for seven years for theft. It is the first published map of Port Jackson.
A. IHM: Here’s the link to The Dictionary of Sydney online :: http://home.dictionaryofsydney.org/

Q. From Kat: Hi Lisa, my gg grandfather Bernard Gaffney owned property on Market Street from the late 1850′s. In fact, Sydney Tower now stands where he had his bakery and residence and other shops known as ‘Gaffney Building’.. 96 to 102 Market St. I think they were knocked down in the 1960′s.  I’ve looked at the online archives, at the demolition books, etc, but can’t seem to find any images of the buildings. Wondering if you could point me in the right direction please. Xo
A. Lisa: Kat – photographic images are always hit & miss. The “Demolition Books” in the City of Sydney Archives aren’t a comprehensive survey of the city. I would be also checking the State Library of NSW for images and the Powerhouse Museum with their Kerry Collection has many urban streetscapes. You should definitely be able to identify the site on historic maps such as Dove’s Plans and the Fire Underwriters Plans – both of which will show you construction materials, building footprint, windows, etc. Have you looked at these?
A. Kat: No, I haven’t seen them, Lisa. Thank you so much, I’ll be checking them out :) xo
A. IHM: Hi Kat, here’s the link to the Kerry Collection at the Powerhouse Museum that Lisa mentioned :: http://ow.ly/h5jqp
A. IHM: Here’s the links to the historic maps on the City of Sydney The Historical Atlas of Sydney including the Dove’s Plans and Fire Underwriters Plans :: http://ow.ly/h5jTh
A. Kat: Thank you @inside history and lisa. That’s great!

Q. From Jill: I notice some of the articles in the Dictionary of Sydney are five years old. Is there a plan to regularly update these?
A. Lisa: A good question from Jill re articles in the Dictionary. It is an ongoing project, and dates of publication are specifically attributed and also the authors, so that we can publish new material and demonstrate changes in historical thought and research. It also means we can have multiple articles on the same subject, giving multiple perspectives and interpretations to our history.
A. Jill: Thanks Lisa I had been browsing some articles for the local area and they were written quite a while ago.
A. Lisa: Further to Jill’s question, I should say that the Dictionary of Sydney currently publishes new articles roughly every quarter, so at least 20 or more substantial articles are added every 3-4 months, along with images and maps and multimedia. Our next regen is due in March and we are “greening” the Dictionary with a whole lot of Irish material for St Patricks Day!
A. Lisa: Jill, I’ll take that as a hand up to write! Hope you’ll be contributing something soon :)
A. Kat: Can’t wait for the “greening”. My above-mentioned grandfather was one of the founding members of the Hibernian Society in Sydney.
Q (b): Jill: I’d love to access St Margaret’s records – where are they hiding?
A. Rebel: The ‘greening’ sounds great! Nicholas Delaney (who I mentioned) was Irish, from Co Wicklow. He was transported for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
A. Lisa: Glad to see the “greening” of the Dictionary is sparking some interest. We have 8 articles going up to complement the range of Irish material already there: that’s an extra 17,000 words! In particular I’m really excited about Richard Reid’s essay which is about the Irish in Sydney from First Fleet to Federation. And the piece Jeff Kildea has written on Celebrating St Patrick’s Day in 19th century Sydney is a lot of fun. Bound to be a few suggestions for shenanigans this St Pat’s day!!!!
A. IHM: Hi Jill, you can find the St. Margaret’s Hospital records at The State Library of New South Wales :: http://ow.ly/h5kPd and there’s more info on Find & Connect :: http://ow.ly/h5kXA
A. Jill: Brilliant thank you Inside History Magazine – have saved the info to Evernote – something else to add to the jobs list!
Q (c): Jill: Can you point me to the records of Alexandria Council please. Mr Geniaus grandfather was an alderman there.
A. Lisa: Hi Jill, the City of Sydney Archives also holds the extant records for Alexandria Council. You can find a full listing in Archives Investigator on the City of Sydney Archives website under catalogues and tools. There is also a page on their website that explains how the boundaries have changes and what councils have been amalgamated. Inside History’s going to post the links now.
A. Michelle: Good question Jill – I have some family there is well.
A. Jill: That is great Lisa Murray. Years ago when I made an enquiry at CofS I was told there were no records for Alexandria. It pays to ask someone who knows.
A. IHM: Here’s the link to the City of Sydney site detailing how its boundaries have changed over the years & where the old council records are held for you :: http://ow.ly/h5msP

Q. From Carmel: Hi Lisa, just had a conversation with Dad’s cousin today. Her mother was reared for 4 years with a couple of which she has his surname. It is believed her bio parents were very unsettled, he beating her mother etc. So she was adopted by neighbours. However the adopted mother died 4 years later so the adopted father put her in a home. We are not sure when exactly she was born but going by her marriage she was born about 1913 so we have to wait another year for indexes. Where can we go for possible other sources? This is vague I know.
A. Lisa: Ok, now to Carmel. Your Q is tricky!! But I wonder if you should look at some of the records of inner city maternity hospitals, such as Crown Street Women’s Hospital, St Margarets, and the Royal Hospital for Women (women’s hospital Paddington)? Hmm .. I’m not sure I’ve got any instant suggestions. Perhaps others do? And we can converse more offline.
A. Carmel: yeah it is a tricky one. not sure how the adoption laws were back then, and if they would have registered this particular one, we do know she went to some nuns at one time.

Q. From Pam: My husbands ancestor, Samuel Thorley, (3rd Fleet Convict) at one time owned the hotel “The Black Dog” at the Rocks. I have heard that the remains of this building are under the end of the Harbour Bridge, and can still be seen through a small peep hole. Do you know anything of this?
A. Lisa: How good is that as a pub name, Pam? The Black Dog! Well, it was in the area that has been cleared and changed by the bridge. There has been some interpretation done in the area where The Black Dog hotel once was, on the equally evocative Brown Bear Lane! You can read all about it on the blog The Dirt on The Rocks http://thedirton.therocks.com/2010/03/telling-rocks-stories-historical.html Plus you can have a look at the Rocks & Foreshore Resumption plans on the Historical Atlas of Sydney (see link above).
A. IHM: Here’s the links to the historic maps on the City of Sydney The Historical Atlas of Sydney including the Dove’s Plans and Fire Underwriters Plans :: http://ow.ly/h5jTh

Q. From Rebel: Hi Lisa! I’ve got a question about property. My 3xgreat grandfather, Nicholas Delaney, had the lease of 2 O’Connell St in 1813 (on the corner with Bent St). Later this was the site of the Stock Exchange. Do you know what building is there now, or who owns it? Or how can I find out? Google wasn’t too helpful.
A. Rebel: The ‘greening’ sounds great! Nicholas Delaney (who I mentioned) was Irish, from Co Wicklow. He was transported for his part in the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
A. Lisa: Hi Rebel. I’d suggest two modes of attack, both using historic maps. First off, have a look at the maps in the Dictionary of Sydney. These are overlaid accurately over Google maps and you can make them transparent so you can see current street layout. I also think some of the plans in the Historical Atlas of Sydney will be of use. The City Building Surveyors plans and civic plans show from the mid 20th century show building names and footprints. Also there is a publication called Cityscope which has current building and property information for commercial CBD. A set of these are held by the City of Sydney Archives, and should also be available at State Library of NSW.
A. Rebel: Thanks, Lisa, that’s excellent advice. *Happy genealogy dance* As I’m not in Australia I’ll have to be a bit creative with the publications.

Q. From Sherie: Through Trove, I have found an ancestor of mine was a publican at Junction Hotel on City Road.  How could I find out more about this?
A. Lisa:Sherie’s Q on the Junction Hotel. It was probably in the Darlington Municipality. We have some records relating to Darlington in the City of Sydney Archives. This was the state’s smallest municipality! And was absorbed into the City of Sydney in 1949. There is a reasonable set of valuation and rate books that may give some more description and ownership details. We also have Darlington Council correspondence records from the 1920s – 1940s, so may be something there – if that’s the right period, of course!  Don’t forget the publican licenses at State Records NSW and they also have plans of hotels. And lastly, if it was either Tooth & Co or Reschs run hotel in the 20th century, there may be records in the Tooth & Co papers in the Noel Butlin Business Archives held at the Australian National University in Canberra.
A. IHM: Here’s the link to the Publicans’ licences info on State Records NSW :: http://ow.ly/h5lBR | Online index – Publicans’ licences 1830-61 :: http://ow.ly/h5lFR
A. Sherie: Thanks Lisa, timeframe is right – publican licence was transferred from my ancestor in 1920.  I will follow your suggestions.

Q. From Gloria: Any info on secret underground?
A. Lisa: Gloria and Michelle are loving subterranean Sydney! I agree with Michelle’s comments. But the railway tunnels you can’t do any more (safety issues!). Check out the book by Brian & Barbara Kennedy called “Subterranean Sydney: the real underworld of Sydney Town” – an oldie but a goodie. Also, I like to send people to see a little bit of the tank stream excavated and visible in the bowels of the General Post Office (now no1 Martin Place). Go in under the clocktower and downstairs, poke around on the Martin Place side of the basement and you’l find some great interps and artefacts associated with the Tank Stream. And it’s free – no ballot, no fee!
A. IHM: Here’s the link to “Subterranean Sydney” on Trove :: http://ow.ly/h5m2j

Q. From Michelle: Hi Lisa - – many cities (including Sydney) have lots of hidden surprises under the surface and hidden away. I have been on the walk through the old railway tunnels from Museum (& know of the -do you know what else is available?
A. Michelle: …that should have said the Tank Stream tours…I always miss out on the ballots. Checking out the places our ancestors lived can give you a feel for their lives.
A. Lisa: Gloria and Michelle are loving subterranean Sydney! I agree with Michelle’s comments. But the railway tunnels you can’t do any more (safety issues!). Check out the book by Brian & Barbara Kennedy called “Subterranean Sydney: the real underworld of Sydney Town” – an oldie but a goodie. Also, I like to send people to see a little bit of the tank stream excavated and visible in the bowels of the General Post Office (now no1 Martin Place). Go in under the clocktower and downstairs, poke around on the Martin Place side of the basement and you’l find some great interps and artefacts associated with the Tank Stream. And it’s free – no ballot, no fee!
A. IHM: Here’s the link to “Subterranean Sydney” on Trove :: http://ow.ly/h5m2j

Q. From Sarah: Hi, Lisa. I was just wondering whether you have any statistics on which areas or suburbs of Sydney yield the most archaeological material?
A. Lisa: Which leads me to archaeological remains, which was asked by Sarah. Most people don’t know, but Sydney has an amazing array of archaeological evidence about Aboriginal life in Sydney. More than 5,000 archaeological sites with evidence for a variety of Aboriginal activities have been recorded in the Sydney region: have a look at this map http://dictionaryofsydney.org/image/81015 Val Attenbrow, an archaeologist and principal research scientist at the Australian Museum in Sydney, has written a fascinating introduction to Aboriginal life before the First Fleet in the Dictionary using all of this evidence: http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/archaeological_evidence_of_aboriginal_life_in_sydney
A. Michelle: I also love the archeaology in Cambridge Street and around the Youth Hostel at The Rocks.
A. Lisa: Also Hyde Park Barracks is an amazing site. Artefacts from the Hyde Park Barracks represent one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of 19th century institutional material in the world. There are more than 100,000 archaeological items in the collection.  Items found in under-floor cavities include large quantities of textiles and clothing fragments, old newspapers, religious documents, clay tobacco pipes, sewing tools and much more. Check out Peter Davies’ article in the Dictionary: http://www.dictionaryofsydney.org/entry/hyde_park_barracks_archaeology
A. Sarah: Thanks Lisa – that map’s just what I was after.

Q. IHM: Hi Lisa, we’d love to hear your top 5 tips for researching Sydney’s history!
A. Lisa: So here are my top five sources that you should use more when researching Sydney’s urban history and properties:

  1. The Dictionary of Sydney, of course! There is so much more than just the essays. There are contemporary demographic statistics about every individual suburb of Sydney. There are historic maps corrected and overlaid on Google maps that you can zoom in and make them transparent so you can compare the current street layout with the historic map. Very cool.
  2. ABS Census material. www.abs.gov.au  The summary reports of Historical Censuses (Pre 1996) are accessible through the Australian Bureau of Statistics website as pdfs. These provide fantastic demographic data about municipal populations, housing construction, all sorts of facts and figures.  I’ve done some analysis of boarding houses in Redfern in the early 20th century using this material. You can also get population and demographic material as excel spreadsheets.  This source material forms the basis of all urban history.
  3. Historical Atlas of Sydney http://photosau.com.au/CosMaps/scripts/home.asp  produced by the City of Sydney Archives provides access to pdfs of historic maps of the local government area from different periods of the city’s history. I can’t say enough how amazing this resource is, and the Archives are digitising more maps all the time.
  4. Sydney’s Aldermen.  www.sydneyaldermen.com.au  This is a new website that the City of Sydney History Unit has just launched. This is the first time I’ve actually publicised it – so it’s a premiere!!!! Here on Inside History. You’re the first to know. It contains biographies of over 400 aldermen and councillors who have served on Sydney Municipal Council. Did you know that among the aldermen to serve on the first council was James Chapman, who was a butcher! You can search by keyword, and filter by council. We’re now turning our attention to add all the aldermen in our amalgamated council areas. Glebe is next cab off the rank.
  5. The assessment books for the City of Sydney local government area which cover the period 1845-1948 are being progressively transcribed, scanned and searchable online. http://photosau.com.au/CosRates/scripts/home.asp  Most people search a name or an address. But have a look at the menu up the top. You can also download the data files – great if you are researching a suburb!

A. Lisa: Ooh! the preview could have done a better picture than that!!?!
A. Jonathan: Oh great work COS History Unit – well done re Sydney’s Alderman
A. Michelle: “Sydney Aldermen’ is a great site  – very useful – also better pix on the website. Your session has been very informative. Thanks Lisa & Inside History Magazine.

Q. From Jonathan: Hi Lisa – are there any undertaker records in the COS archives. My convict “Honest Tom” Thomas Shaughnessy (c1773-1837) arrived 1806 and went on to become a cabinet maker and undertaker in Hunter Street.
A. Lisa: Hi Jonathan, the CoS Archives don’t have undertaker records or really any substantial business records. The archives main business is of course the municpal council. However, I do know a teeny bit about your ancestor through my death & cemetery obsession (otherwise known as a PhD) and would love to chat more offline. Cheers!
A. Jonathan: Will do Lisa – will message you with contact details. Thanks for all the information and links tonight.
A. Jonathan: …and thank you Inside History Magazine

Comment: IHM: Big thanks to Lisa for joining us tonight! We’ll publish the questions, answers and links from tonight’s session in a blog post this coming week.
A. Jill: This has been an amazing session – fantastic leads.  T H A N K S
A. Lisa: Thanks everyone and especially Inside History. As always, it’s been a pleasure.
A. Rebel: Thanks! It’s been a great session.
A. Gloria: Thanks Lisa, very informative.
A. Chez: Fantastic! Great links! Wanted to be here but hey the internet just did not want to cooperate! Will keep my questions for Lisa till next time, as I am sure she will be here again lol…..Now to make sure I have Thursdays alarmed in my phone again too!!!!
A. IHM: Thanks everyone, it was a terrific Q&A. Don’t worry Chez, Lisa will be back soon!