The Blue Mountains is a mountainous region just to the west of Sydney, Australia. It is an area that has a rich history and tradition , not only for European settlers but also for the Aboriginal people that have inhabited the area for millennia.
In this interview we meet with Jan Koperberg, the president of the Blue Mountains Family History Society (BMFHS).
Tell us a bit about yourself Jan - how you got into family history research, why you are so heavily involved with it now etc.
I am actually quite new to family history research. I retired from full time work at the end of 2005,when my daughter was having her first baby. My main objective was to be a help to my daughter with her new baby, due January 2006. I had been interested in family history research, but other than a few cousins and myself knowing that we had third great grandparents and one second great grandfather buried in Whittingham Cemetery, near Singleton, we did not know much about our ancestors past our grandparents.
I started doing research online and made contact with many distant cousins in Australia, NZ, England, Denmark and Sweden. At this stage, most of my research was being done late at night.
I saw 'Showcase' advertised by the Society of Australian Genealogists and went to this in the middle of 2006.
The speakers encouraged me to find out more about researching and the available resources and research rooms, record centres and libraries that hold such a wealth of information. I met a few people I knew from the Blue Mountains, at 'Showcase' and they suggested I join the Blue Mountains Family History Society, which I did, in June or July 2006. By November 2006 I had been nominated and accepted the position of secretary to the society, a position I held for three years.
This year I am president. In September 2010, I was nominated and accepted the position of secretary to the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies Inc. I am also secretary to the Blue Mountains Association of Cultural Heritage Organisations Inc, a position I have held since March 2010. All these organisations compliment one another and put me in touch with a wide network of organisations and individuals.
2. What's the background on your surname. Any famous/infamous people you're connected to?
Koperberg is my married name. I was married to Phil Koperberg, when we were both very young and we have two adult children, but we are no longer married. Phil is former Commissioner of Rural Fire Services and former Local Member for Blue Mountains.
My maiden name was Skulander and I found that my paternal grandfather, Peter Nielsen Skulander, arrived in Sydney in 1874. I found him as a member of the crew on two ships in Australian Waters, on Mary-Anne Warner's "Mariners and Ships in Australian Waters" website, hosted by State Records NSW. On both occasions, the ship was the "Wagrien". Peter's Naturalisation Certificate dated 3 August 1885 states he arrived on the "Vagram" in 1875. I am in contact with a third cousin, who lives in Denmark and she told me "Peter was sealing, the seamen would take him over board, so he ran away in Sydney. There was a man who came and asked him why he cried so much. Peter told him in Danish and the man said 'You come from Denmark', and Peter replied 'yes from Nordborg' ". The man came from Havnbjerg, 3 kms away from Nordborg. Peter went home with the man and worked for him in Sydney. He eventually married Margaret Nelson, in the home of her father, Thomas Nelson, on Mitchell's Island on the Manning River. Margaret Nelson was the daughter of two Scottish free settlers, who met and married in Australia. Peter and Margaret returned to Sydney, where they had 10 children, my grandfather Jens Nielsen Skulander being their third child.
John Ross who is buried at Whittingham Cemetery, near Singleton was my third grandfather in my maternal grandmother's line. He was transported to Australia for life in 1807 on the Duke of Portland and he married Elizabeth Bennett, who was transported for 7 years on the Canada in 1810. John Ross was one of the 30 convicts who worked on the first road over the Blue Mountains in 1814 and was emancipated by Governor Lachlan Macquarie, in 1815, for his services to William Cox. The 1814 Muster shows John Ross "at the Mountains". John Ross moved his family from the Hawkesbury district to Patricks Plains in late 1828 or early 1829.
I am descended from 12 convicts, 9 who were transported to Port Jackson and 3 who were transported to Van Diemen's Land.
My mother's maiden name was Lea and I found I was related to Errol Lea Scarlett, who was an archivist at the Society of Australian Genealogists. Errol's great grandmother and my great grandfather were siblings. Errol had a family bible presented to my great grandfather, Thomas Beecher Lea, on Christmas Day in 1869 and has subsequently presented the bible to me.
3. What's your role at BMFHS?
I am president of BMFHS. I am currently involved in the re-organisation of our resources on the library shelves in the family history section of Blue Mountains City Council Library at Springwood, along with two other members of the committee. We spend at least one full day a week, in order to complete this project and hope that the re-organisation will make it easier for members and the general public alike, to locate books on the shelves.
4. Tell us more about BMFHS e.g. When did it start, How many members do you have etc.
BMFHS was formed in 1986 and concentrates on serving the area of the Blue Mountains City Council from the rise from the Cumberland Plain to Mt Victoria and the off shoots of Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine to the north and the Megalong Valley in the south.
We are a true family history society with interests back to our roots - in England, Scotland, Ireland, Germany, France etc, how & where our ancestral families lived and worked and where they travelled.
We have a close association with the Local Studies Librarians of BMCC - but our main focus is facilitating the family history research needs of the local residents, not local studies. By the middle of each year, we usually have about 90 members.
5. What are some of BMFHS key activities
- To promote and encourage family history research.
- To publish. We upgrade and publish local cemetery and burial publications, we have produced two Pioneer Registers and many other publications, including 'Australian Number Plates', which helps identify when photographs were taken, if there is a car number plate visible in a photograph.
- We have a general meeting on the second Friday of each month, currently in the upper hall of the Springwood Civic Centre, from 10.00 a.m., February to November. We alternate between guest speakers and workshops/'how to do' sessions.
- We have a monthly outing, usually the Thursday after the general meeting, sometimes by train and sometimes by car pooling. We have had some very interesting tours and informative sessions at research centres.
- Volunteering in the Springwood and Katoomba libraries. The genealogical resources of BMFHS and those of the BMCC Library are in the Family History section at Springwood Library. Our society volunteers are in the section 10am to 1pm every Tuesday & Thursday to assist society members and members of the public, with their family history research. Members may also be present on other days without notice, and most are willing to give assistance. We have a volunteer in the Katoomba library, usually the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm.
6. Do you have any events coming up?
BMFHS organised a seminar, which was held in Springwood on 9 April 2011. We will have a trade table at the Port Macquarie & Districts Family History Fair to be held on 21 May 2011 see http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~nswpmfhs/ .After that we will have a trade table at the NSW & ACT Association of Family History Societies' State Conference, to be hosted this year by Inverell District Family History Group http://www.inverellfamilyhistory.org.au/.
See NSW & ACT website at http://www.nswactfhs.org/
7. How do you see the Internet affecting genealogy / family history researchers?
As I said earlier, I have only been researching since 2006. The internet has made it so much easier for researchers to get leads and to check indexes. You still need to go to vital records, especially BMDs, and it is always nice to hold original records in gloved hands at the NSW State Records.
There is so much to be found in places like State Records NSW, Lands Department in Sydney, National Archives, etc. I think the best site online is Trove and the Australian Newspapers on the National Library of Australia website. The first time I accessed Australian Newspapers, I left the computer five hours later.
8. What effect do you think DNA profiling will have on family history research?
I think DNA will be useful for some people. I have considered it myself, because there has been "talk" of an ancestor who may have come from Mauritius or an Aboriginal ancestor, but it may be too far back.
9. Do you have any tips for someone starting out on the on the genealogical journey?
- Join your local family history society
- Obtain Pedigree Charts and Family Group Charts and fill in all the information you have, in pencil (it may need correction).
- Take the sheets with you every time you go to do research.
- ALWAYS WRITE DOWN YOUR SOURCES.
- Go to the research rooms of your FHS and seek help from one of the volunteers on duty. They will guide you through the resources in the way of books, fiche, film and internet, and will recommend other research facilities for you to visit, which will depend on the area or country from where your ancestors travelled to Australia.
10. If someone wants to find out more about what you or the BMFHS do, how can they contact you?