Kay Gassan looks through the files of births, deaths and marriages.
Kay Gassan looks through the files of births, deaths and marriages. Jocelyn Watts

Ladies help with family heritage

HAVE you ever wondered what your family heritage is and just where Great Uncle Joe and Great Aunty Mary came from?

Some people do, others don't really care; the rest go to the Maryborough Family Heritage Institute.

The volunteers there have a wealth of knowledge that may surprise you. Their expertise is to find out where Uncle Joe was buried, what he did and who his relations were.

The records they have are mind boggling and eye straining to say the least.

A six-point print in a passenger list or old newspaper clipping isn't going to stop them.

I came across this unique and dedicated team when I wanted to do some work experience to gain some extra work skills.

These dedicated women took me into their building and there began the lesson.

It was not just about me being able to answer a telephone, serve customers or give directions to tourists, after about three days in their company it became so much more. The surprising fact is this institute is a not for profit organisation.

That means they rely on grants that don't always come, fundraising, book sales, raffles, and other means they can use in order to keep themselves afloat.

They do this with a grit and determination that would have a lot of people shaking their heads at the inner strength they possess. The desire shown and the absolute joy they have in solving mysteries for the person off the street who comes seeking their long lost relatives is catching.

The amount of hours each week these ladies put in is astounding. There are two ladies that go through old newspapers and while one is reading it out the other is typing it up to preserve it. This is no easy job.

The writing has faded, sometimes the word doesn't exist anymore on the paper and in order to preserve it, it needs to be read through typed up and stored somewhere for that person who just may come looking for it someday.

Then there is another who, it may sound grisly, goes through a collection of headstone photographs that another volunteer took at the local cemetery, in order to put them in a list and record the grave number, who is in it, when they passed and how old they were when they died.

They have access to some things you just wouldn't believe. This process involves looking up cemetery records and the information there can tell you how the person died, what type of job they had and where they lived when they died. There are some really sad stories that they come across and yet they plough on in order to have a record for future generations.

The office is completely manned by volunteers and they need to be adaptable. One minute they may be answering the phone; the next they are in the research room looking something up.

These women all have one thing in common: respect for what has been and an enjoyment for discovering it.

There are so many books that local people have written about Maryborough and the people who came here by ships and what the area looked like and was built on. The latest in the book collection is The Flying Cloud. This book is written in part by the president of the institute Kay Gassan.

The book details where the ship came from and who was on it.

They have passenger lists from these ships and all other sorts of information that makes you wonder what it must have been like to travel for 200 or more days to a new land in often rough seas that could result in death. Kay, being a local, is a walking book herself with the amount of information she has about this area.

The service they provide requires dedication, commitment and passion; these things the women have in abundance. These women taught me much more than office duties I was there to learn. They gave me an insight into their world.

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