Politicians, stay-at-home dads, academics and businesswomen - they all know the value of family and the joys of keeping in touch. But what is on their family photos? How often do they call their mother, and what celebrity do they secretly admire? Get ready to find out through the MyHeritage interview series!
Kathryn Cass is a Local Studies Librarian who's always had a passion for history and research. Not too keen on writing, she jumped at the chance to become a librarian, a job which allows her to research different topics without necessarily having to publish on them. It turned out to be just the thing for her: answering people's questions, helping them with queries and research, and getting a great deal of intellectual stimulation in the process.
One of her recent activities was to present events as part of the Australian Heritage Festival, Family History Week and History Week, which was themed "Corruption, Crime and Scandal". The event led her to delve into the fascinating history of Australian "Botany Bay Poisoner" Louisa Collins, one of the last women to be hanged in NSW province after being convicted of poisoning her husband - a crime for which, some argue, her guilt was never fully established. Kathryn tells us about her findings on this topic, as well as her interest in genealogy more generally.
Can you tell us a little bit about the research you did?
I began my research by reading newspaper articles recently written about the case, which painted Louisa in a fairly poor light. So I wanted to see if there was another side to the story and set out with a google search for "Louisa Collins" and discovered a post by someone who had copies of all of the case notes from the State Record of NSW about this case. I emailed her and she very kindly sent me a CD with all the images on it. The first document I read was from the prosecutor of at least one of her trials to the Attorney-General stating that he wasn't sure of her guilt and that he didn't think she should face trial again. This piqued my interest! I had always assumed she was guilty, if not as heartless as the subsequent media coverage had painted her, and so to hear someone closely involved in the case call for her to be acquitted was very interesting! After that, I went through all the images, as well as contemporary media coverage, researched legal terms and practices, as well as the history of Darlinghurst Gaol and the criminal justice system in NSW. I also did some 'standard' genealogy through different websites.
Are you interested in genealogy, and if so why?
I am very interested in genealogy. It began when my father asked me to research the history of our family name. I traced it back to Ireland - which I was not expecting. So I decided to trace my maternal grandparents as well as my paternal grandparents. And the rest, as they say, is history! I am fascinated by what made my ancestors decide to emigrate to Australia. I want to discover what motivated them, and what their home was like. Once I got started, I couldn't stop.
Have you done research into your family and what have you found?
I've recently discovered that I have an ancestor who fought alongside William Wallace on the Scottish boarder and subsequently died in the Tower of London! Another one of my ancestors was imprisoned by the local laird near Annan in Scotland, who forgot about his prisoner, and so my ancestor starved to death! But his ghost haunted the tower where he died for hundreds of years, until the laird's descendants formally apologised to the prisoners.
What is on your favourite family photo?
My favourite family photo is of four generations of us at Christmas time. It includes great-grandparents all the way down to great-grandchildren. We are all happy and laughing at how long it took to get us all looking at the camera at once.
How international is your family?
Quite international - my ancestors hail from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. I have cousins and second cousins currently living in America, England, Spain and Scotland.
What famous person would you like to have in your family and why?
I suppose I'd like to have someone who is known for their compassion, intelligence and honour. So someone like Barack Obama, or John Lennon. I think family get-togethers could be very interesting with either of them at the dinner table.
How do you think technology impacts family?
I think it has impacted family history research enormously! You hardly have to leave your lounge room doing genealogy today. And the ongoing impact on family life is huge, but not necessarily for the worse. I think any technology which enables children to talk to their great-grandparents on the other side of the world for next-to-nothing should be embraced and encouraged. All with parental supervision of course.
What MyHeritage feature do you like most?
I'm not currently a member - but I'm interested in becoming one now!