Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 9, St Peter Port, Guernsey

Sunday, 27th July 2014

St Peter Port is the capital of Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands, which are an archipelago of British Crown Dependencies, off the French coast of Normandy. They are considered to be remnants of the Duchy of Normandy and are not part of the United Kingdom.

Guernsey has been administered as an ancient Bailiwick since the late 13th Century,  with its own independent laws, elections, flag, and currency. Although we found English money was accepted here, we learned that you couldn’t use Guernsey money in England.

As a child who grew up in country New South Wales, I had heard about the Channel Islands. We had a beautiful creamy-orange and white ‘house-cow’ named Petunia. We were told she was a type of dairy cow called a ‘Guernsey’ who had originally come from Guernsey, in the English Channel. There were other differently coloured cows who had originated on the islands of Jersey and Alderney, too.

The Marco Polo arrived off the port as the sun was rising, and the town’s white buildings glistened in the morning light.

The ship’s tenders were again used to ferry those passengers who wished to go ashore.

There was quite a sea-swell and the tenders rose high, then dipped low, alongside the ship’s loading platform, and those standing on the stairs and platform waiting their turn to board the boat, felt they were swaying in rhythm with the sea,and it needed discipline to carefully listen to the assisting crew’s instructions, when to ‘wait’ and when to ‘go’, to step into the boat. When we were seated, the sea slapped noisily on the craft and then there were the ‘Ohhs’ and ‘Ahhs’ from the passengers, when we got under-way, as the boat rolled this way then that, until we were closer to the sheltered marina.


We had not booked a tour in St Peter Port but had decided to walk around the bay to the Castle Cornet, which rose darkly on the rocky foreshore. There was much to see as we strolled along, including beautiful garden plots and baskets spilling over with brightly coloured flowers in full boom.

The huge tidal differences between high and low tide were very evident in the marina, and we were amused how people went about the task of boarding their fishing vessels and yachts, which at the time were moored in the marina, but many metres below wharf level.


Castle Cornet was built in the old Norman style with huge towers and iron gate. The castle complex itself is now a museum, which gave us some idea of how these garrisoned castles worked in the past. It also housed five modern museums of the 201 Squadron (RAF), Maritime, Royal Guernsey Militia and the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry. These were housed in old stone buildings with modern purpose built interiors. Absolutely wonderful to wander through at your own pace and read the history.

We were also there for the Noonday- Gun ceremony and were told to cover our ears as it was very loud. It was interesting to watch the 18th Century red-coated gunner march to his post by the huge cannon. The big disappointment was that the gun failed to fire. They did not try the second time, and we were told it was the second time this year the gun had failed to fire.

We returned along the marina foreshore to the floating pontoon, where the ship’s tender was waiting. The sea-swell had abated, somewhat to our relief, so the journey back to the ship was not as rough.

I had arranged to meet Lisa Cooke in the Research Help Zone to purchase some of her e-books. It made sense for her to download them onto my USB flash-drive, rather than waiting to download from the Internet when I got home.

Then I dashed off to hear Helen Smith’s promised ‘Time-line’ repeat lecture.

The Unlockthepast evening lectures were the choice between Eileen O’Duill with ‘Dublin, 30 June 1922: did everything blow up?’, and Marie Dougan, on ‘Scottish Wills and testaments’.

As I’ve said before, my focus is Ireland so I went to Eileen’s presentation. I have been researching in Ireland for many years and am aware that not all Irish records were lost in the 1922 bombing and fires, but there were records lost, that would have been very useful in researching my Protestant families.

The Irish government is initiating programs that are digitizing many surviving records and making them available on-line.

What really gave me an insight into the whole Dublin situation in 1922 were the ‘movie clips’ Eileen used in her presentation. I wondered how my paternal grandfather, who had immigrated to Australia in 1891, felt when he read in the newspapers about all the troubles in Dublin. Although his parents had died by this time, he had several siblings living near or in Dublin, whose safety he must have been concerned for.

In the last presentation for the evening, the Unlockthepast team outlined all the up and coming planned conference cruises for the next couple of years. Some really great ones close to home, but also in the Baltic and Europe. All the details can be found on their website at http://www.unlockthepastcruises.com/cruises/.

As we sat on the deck after dinner and discussed the possibilities of the future cruises, we could see the white cliffs of the French coast in the distance. Tomorrow we would be in Honfleur.


Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 8, St Mary’s, Isles of Scilly

Saturday, 26th July 1914

Isles of Scilly are an archipelago off the south-west tip of the Cornish coast of England. The five main islands, St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin, St Agnes and Bryher, have a varied and interesting history.

We had been advised by the Cruise Tour Director that St Mary’s would be a tender port , but not those belonging to the ship, as previously used, but local boats from the harbour itself. We were not sure what to expect.

When we arose next morning we in for a surprize. We had anticipated that it would be a fine, clear morning, as it had been previously, however the ship was wrapped in a thick sea-mist or fog. Although we could still hear the ship’s engines throbbing below us, it was difficult to know if were still moving as there were no reference points on land or sea.

The pilot- boat appeared suddenly at the ship’s side and disappeared just as quickly after the delivery of the pilot.

There was a hushed silence as those passengers on deck, spoke quietly amongst their shadowy selves. Suddenly the ship announced its presence with a long blast on its horn. It was not long before it was answered by horns and bells, somewhere on shore, both on our port, as well as starboard. Then there was a whole musical interlude as the pattern of blasts on horns and the clanging of bells spoke to each other in the fog and guided the Marco Polo to its anchorage in St Mary’s harbour. It was easy to imagine how it was in days gone by, as sailing ships inched their way into port.

It wasn’t long before the Tour Director announced the first of the tender boats had arrived to take the passengers off for the tours. We watched from the deck above as those below embarked from the ship’s loading platform into the open boats. The water was a little choppy and the boats heaved up and down making it difficult to judge when to take the step aboard. This was made easier by the crew assisting, who gave instructions to either ‘wait’ or ‘go’. When the boat was full it disappeared into the swirling fog.

After some minutes the announcement was made, that although the ship was still surrounded by fog, it was clear on shore and the tour groups for the other islands, such as the Tresco Abbey Gardens, could proceed. In an hour or so the fog had cleared to reveal a beautiful picturesque town laid out along the shore.


We went on shore late in the morning and wandered about the town, until we joined our tour in the afternoon. This was a walking tour conducted by an elderly, but very fit local husband and wife team. The history of the island was explained as visited all the landmarks, from the ancient castle fort on the hill top to the extensive naval defences on the shore for World War II.


We returned to the ship soon after 4 pm, as I had made an appointment with Paul Blake in the Research Help Zone,to discuss records held at the National Archives at Kew ( London), that I planned to research the following week. I had all the catalogue references, sorted in numerical sequence and printed out. As my time there would be limited, I sort Paul’s advice on the most efficient way to locate, order and use the material. I also asked him how I might go about finding records on my Irish soldier in the 18th Century.

There were two sets of lectures offered by Unlockthepast in the evening.

The first was’The Tithe: its history, records and administration’, by Paul Blake, and ‘Using ScotlandsPeople effectively’, by Marie Dougan. I heard Paul’s talk on the ‘tithe’, as I have researched many rural villages in England, I knew what an important factor this was in parish histories. A few days before sailing on the cruise, I had visited the manor farm where some of my ancestors had lived in the 16th Century, and the huge ‘Tithe-barn’ is still there today.

The second set of talks were ‘On-line Newspapers’ by Rosemary Kopittke, and ‘Reading the original; hints and tips for deciphering old documents’, by Jackie Depelle. I listened to Jackie’s advice on how to decipher old documents, as I’m finding reading 17th Century wills, I have been able to locate for some of my families, very challenging when transcribing. I learned that there is no easy way, but patience and practise is the key to success.

After dinner we sat on deck in the hazey twilight and watched the commercial sea traffic passing all around us, as we were virtually at the ‘crossroads’ in the English Channel, where the ships crossed to sail up the western or eastern coast of the English mainland.

Our day at St Mary’s had been a pleasantly casual one, and I wondered as I went to bed, what our next port, St Peter Port in Guernsey would be.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 7, Dublin, Ireland

I woke very early as I was excited to be coming back to Dublin. We had visited this city some ten years before, and since then I had done extensive research into it’s history.

On our last visit I had felt at home in this city, and we had walked many of its streets and visited a number of the sites, including the National Archives and Library, and had even viewed the National treasure, ‘The Book of Kells’.


The highlight of our previous visit had been to meet with ‘cousins’ on my paternal line. My paternal grandfather, William Growcock, emigrated from Ireland in 1891 and I had tracked down many of his relatives, including those who had remained in Ireland. We had corresponded for nearly thirty years before we were able to meet face-to-face ten years ago. These days e-mail, Facebook and Skype are a great ways to keep in touch.

When we decided to visit Britain and Europe this year, and found the cruise ship was visiting Dublin for the day, we made plans with these cousins again.

The Marco Polo docked at the quayside early. The weather was warm and sunny.

After breakfast we were able to go ashore and board the free ‘shuttle’ bus service made available to cruise passengers. The bus dropped us off in Kildare Street, near the National Library.

A number of Unlockthepast cruise participants went to the National Library to attend a presentation by Carmel McBride, the research manager of ‘Enclann’ a professional research company based in Ireland. This had been kindly organized by one of our cruise lecturers. Carmel’s talk was an introduction to the library and their records for those who wanted to do research while there.

I certainly would have booked on this tour, if I had not be meeting with my cousins.


We decided to use the same landmark as of our last meeting, the ‘Spire.’

The Spire, is a large stainless steel, pin-like monument of more than 120 metres tall located in O’Connell Street, opposite the General Post Office, the scene of the 1916 Easter Rising.

Until 1966, Nelson’s Pillar had stood here, but was destroyed following the bombing by former IRA members. It was replaced by the Anna Livia monument, which stood there for a number of years before it was moved and replaced by the Spire in 2002. It can been seen all over Dublin.

We had arrived there shortly before the appointed time, but it was not long before I saw the party of four, coming towards us. After we had exchanged greetings, we found a quiet little tea-room where we ordered morning tea, of freshly baked scones with blueberries and cream and a welcome pot of tea. Shortly afterwards we were joined by another cousin from a more distant branch of the family.

What a wonderful few hours we had, exchanging information, family documents and photos. Just one of those days you wish would never end, but of course it has to.We were reluctantly finally ‘dropped off’ back in Kildare Street, to catch the shuttle bus back to the ship.

There I went to join Helen Smith in the Research Help Zone. Helen has family from Kent and has much experience in research there. Although I have many years of experience there also, I have not been successful in locating some 17th Century Wills , and thought she may have been able to suggest some avenues. We discussed several possibilities, but finally came to the conclusion, that for some reason, there may not have been any ‘Wills’ in the first place, however, I should not completely give up the quest, because there are sometimes those wonderful serendipitous miracles that ‘drop in your lap’ from ‘out of the blue’.

In the evening there were two lectures offered, unfortunately both on at the same time, with ‘Genealogy on the go with the ipads and tablets by Lisa Cooke and ‘How to make your on-line searching more effective’, by Mike Murray. I went to listen to Lisa Cooke as I have both a mini-ipad and an android tablet, which I am beginning to use for organizing my research in the field.  I have to admit I am often ‘technology challenged’ with all these new gadgets, but I have grandchildren, who can help me when I’m stuck.

After dinner I spent the ‘free time’ going through photos the cousins had shared. I had not seen these family photos before, including photos of my grandfather’s younger brother and his wife, and one of three of their sisters.

It had been a long and busy day in Dublin, but it could not have been better

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 6, Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Day 6, 24 July 2014

The next morning we arrived at Tobermory, the capital of the Isle of Mull, which had been established as a fishing village about 1789. Again we had to stand-off shore and use the ship’s tenders to be transported into the town. An amazing little town snuggly tucked under the hill with the shops and houses brightly painted. It is not until you look carefully that you see there is more of the town high on the hill, behind the trees. The brightly coloured buildings seem to be a feature in the western highland ports, as we saw the same thing at Portree on the Isle of Skye, when we were on tour there a few weeks before.


The town was busy and there was an air of excitement, as the crowd grew on the town foreshore. We had arrived in time for the annual Highland Gathering, which was to take place on the plateau above the town.


The procession, led by the pipers assembled on the foreshore and marched up the hill to the sports ground. They were followed by both competitors and spectators in a brightly coloured mass, as they snaked their way up the winding road. We enjoyed the stirring music of the bagpipes, as we sat on the foreshore, and watched them out of sight over the brow of the hill.

We also made use of the free wifi offered in town to contact family at home and confirm arrangements to meet some Irish cousins in Dublin the following day.

Although we decided to remain in Tobermory for the morning, many other cruisers took a variety of interesting tours, including the seven hour round trip to Iona, where St Columba established a church in the 6th Century. The island is steeped in history, including being the burial place of many of the early Scottish Kings.

We were to be all on board the Marco Polo by 4 pm, but then there was a delay with the tour to Iona, so the ship’s departure was an hour later than planned.

Unlockthepast had a full block of lectures from 3.30pm with the first hour’s time-slot allotted to Geraldene O’Reilly, with a ‘Portrait of a parish with focus on place names’, and Jackie Depelle’s workshop on ‘Family Historian’, a genealogical software program. Unfortunately Jackie was stuck on the Iona tour, so her talk was postponed to later on the cruise. I went to Geraldene’s presentation, as I’m a great believer that you can only understand your ancestors ‘by walking in their shoes’ one might say.  I delve deep into the local history, and place names can reveal much.

Geraldene O’Reilly, came from New Zealand, and although this was her only presentation, she has had a long association with family history groups, giving regular talks on a number of topics.

In the next set of lectures it was a choice between Sean O’Duill on ‘Country cures from Irish folklore’ and Lesley Silvester on ‘Quarter Session records’. Sean’s presentation was open to all passengers on the ship, while all other talks were only available to the Unlockthepast cruise participants.Again I was drawn to the Irish presentation which was very interesting.

After a few minutes break, more lectures to choose from. ‘Family History sources before 1837’, by Jackie Depelle and, ‘Timelines as a research tool’, by Helen Smith. I choose Family History Sources before 1837, as nearly all my research at present, is before that time, but I’m a great fan of time-lines and was disappointed to miss Helen’s talk. However, we were all very happy to take advantage of Helen’s offer to repeat her talk a couple of days later on the cruise. It was a great talk, and showed how ‘time-lines’ should be a basic tool, for all historians, especially family historians.

For the last set of lectures for the day, it was a choice between,’Highland Clearances’ with Mike Murray, or ‘Understanding the context and why social history is important in your research’, by Helen Smith. As we had heard so many references to the ‘Highland Clearances’ on all our earlier tours throughout Scotland, I decided it was time I found out more about them, and the part they played in Scottish immigration. Mike’s presentation was excellent and he was able to present the topic in a simple, but very effect way.

After dinner we had free time, and I decided to review all the notes I had made during lectures,and made a list of all the questions I wanted to discuss, along with the list of experts, whom I hoped could help me during the Research Help Zone. I also checked all the catalogue references and printouts I had made during my preparations, before I left home several weeks before, and brought along with me.

I had been holding off consulting these experts because I wanted to allow others to make the most of these wonderful opportunities, however we only had a few days left and time was running out. I needed to make appointments with my lists of experts, which I did.

I went to bed late in the evening, and as the weather had remained calm and warm, sleep came easily and quickly.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 5, Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

Day 5, 23 July 2014

We arrived early off Stornoway, on Lewis next morning, but we had to wait for the tender boats to take us ashore. This was the first time we had used the tenders, but the weather was perfect, so we could get away to our respective tours on time.

We took another morning bus tour, firstly to the Callanais Standing Stones, rated as the most important in Britain after Stonhenge.  When you stood on this hill-top you could also see other groups of standing stones in the landscape. All very mysterious.

A Tourist Centre was tucked in under the hill and could not be seen, until you walked over the hill and were upon it. Tea-rooms, toilets and gift shop, all a part of the system so these wonders can be visited by the ‘tourist’.


Then there was a short bus ride to the Carloway Broch, a 2,000 year old circular dry-stone, fortified tower.There was evidence of an internal staircase and rooms, but all without an ounce of mortar to hold it together.

Again a small Tourist Centre to tell the story of the broch, as well as offer handmade gifts, made locally, for sale. This enables people to remain farming in  the area, rather than a completely deserted landscape. This area is also popular as the backdrop of some  television series.


Then there was a longer leisurely bus ride across the island to the Arnol Blackhouse Museum. There the low stone houses were built in the old tradition, with stone-weighted, thatched roofs . A peat fire burned in the centre of the cobbled floor, and there was no chimney. No windows so light was by fire and ‘rush light’ arrangements. The animals occupied a ‘room’ at the end of the house, and there was also a ‘workroom’ where the men and women could undertake other activities such as weaving, when they couldn’t work outside.The very thick, low stone walls made the houses warm, dry and quiet when the Arctic Winter gales howled outside.  In some area these houses were occupied even after World War II. That is in living memory, for those family historians who know their ancestors came from Lewis or Harris.


[I believe in this photo there is a vent placed in the roof, so the tourist don’t choke when the peat fire gets smokey. I think those living in these as homes, would have been able to regulate the peat fire, so it wasn’t smokey all the time. The grassed, soil-topped ledge allowed repairs to the roof when necessary.]

Some cruise passengers went on a tour to Harris in the south, where they saw how the famous tweed cloth is made.

As we had taken a morning tour, in the afternoon before lectures, I was able to have a leisurely look at many of the Unlockthepast publications in ‘book form’ in the bookshop, which I planned to buy as e-books when we returned home.

Again as there were concurrent lectures in the evening, we had to make the choice between Helen Smith’s presentation on “Document analysis” and Jackie Depelle’s “Ideas,hints and tips for family historians in using digital photography”.

This was the first time that Helen had presented on this tour, although she had been very busy in the Research Help Zone every day. Helen is from Queensland and has extensive knowledge on many fields of family history. She is the author of several blogs and a number of publications and has been a team member on all the Unlockthepast cruises, other conferences and roadshows. I went to her talk, which centred on the analysis of documents, a very vital part of research for success in family history.

Although I wasn’t able to attend Jackie’s talk, I heard great reports of her ideas about digital photography. Just a pity I couldn’t be in two places at once. This was the first time Jackie had presented on the cruise too. Jackie Depelle is from England and works full-time in the family history field, much of it in adult education and is a special events co-ordinator. Her presentations ranged from digital photography to reading original and deciphering old documents.

Then it was a choice between Marie Dougan on ‘Scottish records at the National Archives of Scotland’, and Lesley Silvester on the ‘Lesser known London Records.’      I choose the one on London records as I’m doing extensive research in the London area at the moment, and I was able to make lots of notes to help move my research along. I heard those with Scottish ancestors were very keen to delve further into the National Archives of Scotland, after Marie’s presentation too.

After dinner, we sat on the deck and watched the islands disappear from sight as we sailed toward the Isle of Mull.

Before I went to bed I down loaded onto my computer the hundreds of photos we had taken in the first few days on the cruise. That is the great thing about digital photography. It doesn’t matter how many you take, as you can always cull them when you get home and have time to really look at them all. However, we were aware we needed to save them in more than one place, so if there was a ‘hicup’  we would not loose them completely.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 4, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

Day 4, 22 July 2014

The wonderful thing about this cruise was that we went to bed, and while we slept, the ship took us to the next port,.

We arrived in Kirkwall early in the morning. The weather was a little over-caste, but the town looked beautiful in the morning light, as we patiently waited for the port authorities to complete their work, so we could go ashore on our next adventure. By then the sun had come out and it was a glorious day.

The shore excursions offered at Kirkwell were very different to what had been offered at Invergordon the day before. Most were about 4 hours and offered an option to visit the sites either morning or afternoon.

One of the tours took you along the sea front overlooking the historic Scapa Flow where HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1939, with heavy causalities. Then there were the Churchill barriers built by Italian prisoners of war during World War II. They also built themselves a chapel constructed from Nissen huts, plasterboard and other available material at the time. The little Italian Chapel is an amazing building with delicate wrought tracery, and frescos. The  artist, Dominico Chibocchetti, returned in later years to restore his original work.

Just out of Kirkwall is the unique Highland Park Distillery , the most northern distillery in Scotland, and  founded in 1798. A nice tour for those who love whiskey.

However, most of the tours were of Orkney’s Neolithic World Heritage Site of the Standing Stones of Stenness, Ring of Brodgar, Ness of Brodgar and Skara Brae.


Then there was Skaill House, a manor house built by the powerful bishop, George Graham, on the site of an ancient graveyard, in 1620.

In its 400 year history, twelve generations of the same family have lived there. Wonderful family history if you happened to be connected to this Graham family.


We took a morning tour of these sites, and the lecture by Lesley Silvester, the day before, gave some a good background to really enjoy them.

We were back on-board for lunch, and I took the opportunity in the Research Help Zone to talk to Lesley Silvester about Irish records. I was hoping she might have come across sources, which I hadn’t. Although she couldn’t come up with any new ones, she did remind me I should go back and review many of the records, as the National Archives of Ireland, had introduced better cataloguing of their resources, and have placed them on-line. I made a list of resources she suggested, and will check them out when back home and have the time.

Everyone had to be back on-board by 5pm, so there was plenty of time to hear the Unlockthepast lectures before dinner. The only catch was we had to choose between, Lisa Cooke on “Evernote: and how the Genealogist can remember everything.”and Paul Blake on “British army records 1660-1913”. Evernote is a free ‘app’ and a great help to the dedicated family historian. As I use it to save much of my on- the- spot research, I went to Lisa’s talk and found it most interesting and helpful. I was sorry I missed Paul’s talk, as I have recently found one of my Irish ancestors was in the army. I made a note to ask Paul about this topic, when I made an appointment with him during the Research Help Zone.

Having these experts available at these extra periods of time is invaluable to the family historian. They are completely free and are part of the Unlockthepast conference package.

After a short break we had to make the choice of the Unlockthepast panel explaining many of the new features of several Genealogy computer software programs, or Sean O’Duill with a talk on the Irish Language. As I already use a Genealogy program,( which I am happy with), for recording my family history, I went to listen to Sean on the Irish language. As we have so many Irish ancestors, no doubt some would would have spoken ‘Irish’, perhaps all their lives. Although I had no plans to learn the language, I hoped that at least hearing a little of it, I might have gotten some clues to track down some useful material.

The time after dinner was rather special in that being so high in the earth’s latitudes, (59 degrees N) and up towards the Artic Circle, the twilight was so long. I  wondered how it affected the people of Orkney, to have such long warm summer days. Such a contrast to the long cold nights they endure for many months in the winter.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 3, Invergordon.

Day 3, 21 July 2014

It was early morning when we tied up at the cruise terminal and the port authorities completed the paperwork, before the passengers were allowed ashore.


There were several shore excursions offered, including Dunrobin Castle, Inverness and Colloden, Royal Dornock Whisky distillery, Lochness, Rogie Falls Walk and a sea-life eco-adventure.

We choose Dunrobin Castle as we hadn’t been to the north-east of Scotland before. Other passengers availed themselves of the other tours, including a family history research one at the Inverness Archives, which was arranged by Unlockthepast team members. I did hear later it was a most successful research trip for those who went.

These shore tours can be up to eight hours long and are at the passengers own expense, so some went ashore and wandered about the town of Invergordon taking in the local sites, for free, while others stayed on-board, where there was the Unlockthepast Bookshop to tempt the family historian, as well as a couple of the expert lecturers to help those with research problems.


Dunrobin, belongs to the Duke of Sutherland and is the most northerly of Scotland’s great houses and the largest and one of the oldest continuously inhabited. Standing amid lush, formal gardens that overlook the sea, this white stone chateau contrasts sharply with the usual dark stone of Scottish castles . Like most ancient Scottish castles, Dunrobin started out as a keep, or tower, and is named after the originator, Earl Robin. Although the oldest part of the castle dates from the early 1300’s, subsequent enlargements in the 17th to 19th Century created the beautiful turreted castle you see today.

Although we could view sections of the castle we were not permitted to photograph inside, only outside the castle. There were appropriate postcards and books available in the castle shop for those with a deeper interest.


The magnificent formal gardens were modelled on those at Versailles, France.

On the lower garden terrace the resident falconer demonstrated and explained the different hunting skills used by owls, hawks and falcons and showcased these ancient arts. Falconry was originally developed as a means of hunting fast or difficult prey as food for the table.


Although I do not know much about the ancient arts and hunting as such, I could only stand in awe as we watched the team work between man and bird and the obvious respect for each other. An experience well worth travelling thousands of miles to witness.

You can only truly understand the time and place of your ancestors by researching the local history from documents, books, oral history, photos, paintings and online resources, however none of these beat actually been able to visit the places yourself. To feel the chilling winds, to smell the meadows or experience the sea mists as your ancestors perhaps did, is something else.

Although we do not have ancestry in this part of Scotland, I’m interested in Scottish immigration to New South Wales, and I am aware that tenants of the Duke of Sutherland did emigrate, so I was interested to research a bit of the background of the estate.

This tour was just over four hours so we were back on board the Marco Polo for a late lunch.

The lectures were in the evening, when Eileen O’Duill spoke on research in Ireland. She stressed that planning was the key to success in family research in Ireland. I couldn’t agreed more, but persistence plays a big part too. Although I am still struggling to find information on our families it was very comforting for me to hear Eileen confirm all the steps I have taken, and that it was the best way to approach research in Ireland. At the end of my notes from the session I noted a couple of questions to put to Eileen, when I later booked a meeting in the Research Help Zone time.

It was so light in the late evening we could sit on deck after dinner and admire the calm seas and watch the sun going down in the North Sea as we sailed towards Orkney.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 2, At Sea

Day 2 Sunday, 20 July


It is normal for the second day of any cruise, for it to be ‘at sea’, without calling into any ports. To whether it is a medical requirement to make sure the passengers have not brought a sickness on board, as many infections show up within 24 to 36 hours of exposure, or it is just to allow passengers to get their sea-legs, I don’t know.


The sea was calm and the weather fine. 

To the Unlockthepast participants and lecturers it meant a great day of lectures and interaction.

However, we knew it also meant no internet. Throughout the cruise we relied on free wifi, when we visited the onshore towns. Some lecturers and Unlockthepast team members purchased pre-paid usb mobile services, which worked well when in most ports, but of course not at sea. In an emergency we could have used the ships satellite internet connection, but it was very expensive and definitely ‘out’ as far as using it for family history research. All online research would have to wait.

The ship’s Cruise Director and staff had an information morning on the up- coming shore excursions, which we attended in the Marco Polo Lounge.

I had booked our tours many weeks before, but I wanted to check them out, as this was the time I could change them if necessary.

Unfortunately this presentation clashed with the first of the Unlockthepast lectures. This was about “The mystery of the standing stones-Orkney, Lewis and Ireland”, by Lesley Silvester. To quote from her biography, “Lesley from Western Australia, is a Londoner who came to Australia with her family in 1961. Her expertise and knowledge of history is wide ranging and her topics of her lectures during the cruise reflect this from the Lesser known records of research in London to the mystery of the Standing Stones in Orkney and the Outer Hebrides.”

As I love archaeology, and all that it encompasses, I would have loved to have heard Lesley’s presentation, but I couldn’t be in two places at once.

After a short break Rosemary Kopittke presented on ‘Government and police gazettes’, which are an amazing resource for family history, followed by ‘TheGenealogist:what’s the difference’. This is a subscription site particularly strong in non-conformist records in Britain. She compared it with other subscription sites. I have had a subscription to this site for several years and have found some amazing leads for some of my families. A little information on Rosemary from her biography. “Rosemary Kopittke, from Queensland is part of the Unlockthepast team who regularly gives presentations not only on Unlockthepast Cruises, but many other events throughout Australia. She is also an author and editor for many of the new Unlockthepast publications.”

After a quick lunch in the Bistro we were ready for the afternoon lectures. First up was Eileen O’Duill with ‘Introduction to Irish genealogy:where do I start?’ Although I have been doing research in Ireland for many many years, I love to hear what other people have to say on the topic, not only to check my own research methods, but to see if new resources have been released. From her biography we learnt that “Eileen lives in Ireland and has been a professional genealogist for many years, specialising in legal and probate research. She has lectured at national and international conferences and on this cruise was speaking specifically on many aspects of research in Ireland, which many people find very challenging.” As we have about ninety percent of our ancestors coming from Ireland, researching there is challenging, but also very rewarding when you make that breakthrough.

Eileen was followed by Lisa Cooke on ‘How to create exciting interactive family history tours with Google Earth.’ Lisa was from the United States of America, and owns a genealogy and family history multi-media company. She was scheduled to give several talks on how to use the latest technologies in our family history quest. As I am a great fan of Google Earth, and have invested in much of the new technology, I found Lisa’s presentation very interesting and inspiring and bought her publications as e-books to supplement my notes.

There was a another short break before Paul Blake presented his talk on ‘British probate records:an introduction to sources.’ Paul who came from England is a full-time researcher, lecturer and writer. He was to present several lectures on records from manorial to army.

Although I have been working in British probate records for years, they are very complicated, especially trying to locate where and what has survived. I had been having difficulty locating some 17th Century wills, so I was on the lookout for new strategies or resources to locate these.

Marie Dougan was next and she spoke on ‘Families moving between Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.’ “Marie is from Scotland and is a professional genealogist who also uses technology to deliver lectures worldwide by webinars. She is also a tutor in a range of genealogy and family history courses at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. Her presentations on the cruise were on families migrating between areas throughout the British Isles, to resources at the National Archives of Scotland.”

After another break, where several of the lecture team were engaged in Research Help Zone, which was very busy, we had the last two lectures before a late dinner. The first was by Mike Murray on “Crofts and crofting-a unique way of life in the Highlands and Islands”.Mike is from Western Australia and works as a professional genealogist helping people trace their roots. One of his passions is Scottish peoples migration and immigration, which he presented on, as well as tips on-line researching.

The last lecture for the day was Sean O’Duill’s “Death and burial: peasant Ireland in the 19th Century. Sean is the husband of Eileen and comes from County Mayo in Ireland. He is fluent in the Irish language and works as a researcher at The General Register Office in Dublin looking into Irish Folklore. On the cruise he presented on the Irish language and Irish Folklore concerning medical cures; marriage customs and burial customs.

As preparation for this cruise the Unlockthepast team had put on their cruise website the full program as well as biographical material on the presenters, some of which I have quoted here to give you some idea how ‘top notch’ this cruise conference was.

It was a formal night for dinner and the Captain’s ‘ Welcome’ cocktail party. Many of those on-board went, but we decided to have dinner in the Bristro and then retired to bed to read. I was getting quite a collection of books by this time, and welcomed the opportunity to delve into some of them.

Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 1, Tilbury

Vern and I have returned home from our overseas holiday, and it is now a month since we disembarked from our cruise with the Unlockthepast family history team on-board the Marco Polo. We had a marvellous time, and saw things, and went to places, we are not likely to see or do again.

Over the next few days I thought I would give you some idea what we saw and did, while on this cruise.

Day 1 , Saturday 19 July

We had been staying with distant cousins at Strood in Kent. We have the same ancestors some seven generations back on my ‘Bell’ family line. They had offered to drop us off at the Cruise Terminal at Tilbury, after we had lunched at a local pub called ‘The Three Crutches’. An interesting name for a pub, but that is another story.

The traffic was very heavy, so a forty minute journey took well over two hours and we arrived at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal just after three- thirty.

The Marco Polo was berthed at the terminal, and was already boarding passengers. She was not one of those huge floating cities, but had a more traditional profile with teak decks and a distinctive dark blue hull. She was just over 176 metres long and nearly 24 metres wide, and had 450 cabins, where she could accommodate up to 800 guests. She will be celebrating her Golden Jubilee (that’s 50 years) next year, and has a fascinating history. Check it out at www.cruiseandmaritime.com/ship/marco-polo/profile for photos and information.

There was all the hubbub of customs, and then the embarking hall where luggage, suitably ticketed, was whisked away by porters, and the ship’s staff collected our passports, took our photo and issued our photo identification boarding pass. This was a very important item for the cruise, as it not only got us on and off the ship but served as ‘cash’ on board.

As we walked along the covered gangway we could see artwork depicting the outlined shadows of all those who have used this terminal over the years. Here we also had ‘boarding photos’ taken by the ship’s professional photographers, which we could later purchase as mementoes of the voyage.

As we boarded the ship itself, we were met by staff and escorted to our cabin, where our luggage awaited us. We had requested this particular cabin, when we booked the cruise some nine months before.

We then went to the Marco Polo Lounge where we registered with the Unlockthepast team and collected our conference material and program.

We were soon out on deck watching others embarking.

I’m very interested in architecture and when I looked over to the front of the cruise terminal,I knew it was not a modern 21st Century building, and guessed it was much older, but how old? I made a mental note to research this when I had time. Anyone who knows me well, know I go off on research tangents all the time, as I want to know so much, about so many things.


Anyway, when I ‘googled’ it on the Internet, I found it had quite an interesting and important place in British maritime history. For instance, it took an Act of parliament, so the first docks could be built here in 1882. Secondly, it will soon be celebrating it’s centenary as a cruise liner terminal, and thirdly, it was the port of embarkation for all those who emigrated to Australia under the assisted passage scheme established and operated by the Australian Government after World War II. The “Ten Pound Poms” as they were known in Australia.

Many elderly first generation Australians, researching their family history, will come across the name “Tilbury,” and I wondered, were there any actually on board with us?

After the obligatory safety drill – though we appreciate we have to do it, but hope never have to use it – we remained on deck, and watched and felt, the Marco Polo pull gracefully away from the wharf and slowly move towards mid-stream of the Thames. She then turned downstream, where we met other commercial tankers slowly moving upstream towards their designated berths.

It was fascinating to look across the river and see all the old bond stores,and derelict wharves, which had all seen better days. However,the big surprise was the several ‘tall ships’ or old sailing ships which were berthed in all their glory, possibly around Gravesend. I was quite emotional when I saw them, as I know some of my Bell family left Gravesend as sailors on the convict ship “Asia” in 1837. Perhaps a small ‘time-warp’ to give me a glimpse of those far off days.

We enjoyed dinner in the ship’s Bistro, before we returned to the Marco Polo Lounge for the ‘ meet and greet’ of the conference participants and lecturers. All those eager family historians were a friendly lot, and it was great to catch up with old friends, as well as make new ones. There was a great line-up of several of the world’s leading professional genealogists to share their knowledge and wisdom with us over the cruise.

It was then free time, so we returned to the deck to watch the passing ships and landscape. It was mid-summer and so there was a long twilight before darkness fell late in the evening.


As we moved out into the Thames Estuary, and were leaving the land behind, we were surprised to come across what looked like ‘ huge rusting metal crabs’ perching in the sea. A quick ‘google’ and another unusual and interesting glimpse into British maritime history, as I found that they were what was left of the defensive Maunsell Army Forts of World War II. Again I wondered if there were any among us whose parents worked at any of the Maunsell Naval Forts, consisting of one large platform or the three Maunsell Army Forts in the Thames Estuary at Nore, Red Sands and Shivering Sands, which was north of Herne Bay and over nine nautical miles from the nearest land. No place to be in the terrible North Sea winter gales.

I guess ‘Goodwin Sands’ mentioned in the great days of sailing ships must have been about here, or perhaps a little to the south.

It was then time for bed, and it was nice to go off to sleep with the sound of the ship’s engines murmuring below us.