Family history and the future of co-production and collaboration workshop

Family history and the future of co-production and collaboration workshop

Event Name Family history and the future of co-production and collaboration workshop
Start Date 1 Apr 2020 1:00 pm
End Date 1 Apr 2020 5:00 pm
Duration 4 hours

The Centre for Applied History at Macquarie University invites you to a workshop on:

Family history and the future of co-production and collaboration

1st April 2020 from 1pm-5pm

Society of Australian Genealogists,

120 Kent Street,

SYDNEY NSW 2000 Tel: 02 9247 3953


Co-organisers: Tanya Evans and Jerome de Groot

Family historians are a large and often neglected group of historical researchers. They have a strongly articulated sense of their practice, and a well-developed set of methodologies and research apparatuses. They are a community who are situated outside the academy, often marginalised by the mainstream. They have been dismissed for their naiveté and amateurism and are ridiculed for seeking emotional connections with the past lives of their forebears.[1] The research practice and interests of family historians are often defined as unscientific, uncritical, emotional and of little value to the academy or anyone else bar their own family group. We interrogate these assumptions here and show how scholars are engaging with family history and how family history is enabling a huge number of people to think historically and to produce distinctive forms of historical understanding that challenge academic monopoly of historical knowledge. 

In this workshop we bring together a range of scholars at different stages of their career who have worked on family histories or with family historians in conversation with family historians to hear about their research and its impact.


Intro: Tanya Evans and Jerome de Groot

Dr Betty O’Neill, UTS

‘Genre is a minimum-security prison.’ Shields (2011) Family history as creative non-fiction life writing.

Betty O’Neill is a Sydney-based writer with a lively curiosity and a passion for learning and teaching. She has an eclectic range of degrees, most recently (2018) a Doctorate in Creative Arts and is a university Lecturer in Creative Intelligence and Innovation. She wrote her doctoral thesis on life writing, family history and her quest to understand her father, a World War II Polish resistance fighter who survived four years of imprisonment in Auschwitz and Gusen. The Other Side of Absence is her debut memoir. Her publications include: ‘“Genre is a minimum security prison”: Writing a life’, in Once Upon a Time: Australian Writers on Using the Past, 2016Australian Scholarly Press; “I Can’t Call Australia Home: An Unsettled Immigrant’s Story discovered in the archives” International Auto/Biography Association (IABA) journal Life Writing, 2017 online and 2018 in hard copy; “Cold War Exile and a Search for Justice: a memoir” in Seeking Meaning, Seeking Justice in a Post-Cold War World, 2018, Brill Publishing, Leiden, Boston, Tokyo.

Dr Louise Blake, Monash

‘A tale of two survivors: using family history to uncover the lives of women on the goldfields’

Louise Blake is a writer and consulting historian who has been working with her family history, on and off, since the late 1980s. Beginning with a Bicentennial-inspired school assignment interviewing her maternal grandmother and great-grandmother, her family history experience has, over the last thirty years, become integral to her personal and professional practice in history and heritage interpretation. Inspired by a scrapbook that her great-grandmother, Margaret Knopp created when she was living in a remote gold mining town in north-east Victoria in the late nineteenth century, Louise completed a doctorate at Monash University on Women and Community on the Upper Goulburn Goldfields in 2019. She is currently working on a book and a number of other projects arising from her thesis.

Dr Erica Cervini, Victoria

‘From dabbling in family history to a PhD: Finding methods to write about the life of my great-grandmother’

Erica Cervini is an award-winning journalist, who became fascinated with the concept of how to write about a family member who left few personal documents after completing a life-writing subject at The University of Melbourne in 2016. However, it was a photograph of her great-grandmother, Rose Pearlman, that drove her to want to know more about this woman even though Rose had died before Erica was born. Over the years, questions emerged prompted by the image: Why are female relatives sometimes forgotten in family story-telling? What could Rose’s life tell us about Jewish women in Victoria’s history? How can the fragments from Rose’s life be stitched together? Erica completed her PhD by creative project and exegesis at Victoria University. She is still working as a journalist and is also lecturing and tutoring at The Australian Catholic University. The non-fiction narrative section of Erica’s thesis has been turned into an e-book.

2.35pm-3pm Tea break


Samadhi Driscoll

'Second Sight - A story of fortune telling, family and one woman's fight for equality.' 

Samadhi Driscoll is a family historian that started researching her great, great, grandmother, Mary Scales, with a few newspaper articles via Trove over 10 years ago. Once she discovered stories of how her ancestor built remarkable wealth for a woman of her time through the mysterious art of fortune telling, as well as her controversial and highly publicised court battles, Samadhi became “addicted” to learning more about Mary. Her research led her to locating estranged family members through Ancestry, connecting with Historians, scouring over 400 page court transcripts from the High Court of England, and meticulously studying Lady Carrington’s diary from the 1800s. Samadhi is now currently co-writing a book on her great, great, grandmother’s adventures with Historian Alana Piper from UTS’s Australian Centre for Public History, and also works as a Learning Designer for Academic professional development programs at UNSW.

Marian Lorrison, MQ

‘Finding the Real Emily Bradley: Family History as a Means to Unsettle the Contrived Persona in the Courtroom.’

Marian Lorrison is a feminist historian who came to academic history by way of family history, when a colourful ancestor led her to the divorce files at NSW State Records. Realising the potential of the divorce archive to fill in many historical blanks—particularly in relation to the lives of women—Marian completed a master’s degree in 2016 and a doctorate in history in 2020 at Macquarie University, using family history wherever possible to supplement more formal sources such as legal and press materials. With a major research interest in gendered intimacy, Marian believes that family historians have a unique capacity to deepen and extend the historical understandings we gain from those documentary materials which formal institutions such as the law have generated.

Family historians Suzanne Mackay, Kerry Close and Gay Pickering will join Marian and talk about their involvement in this research.

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