Home' Advocate Communications : Fiordland Advocate 20 April 2011 Contents LOCAL NEWS
20 April, 2011 | Page 9
Every Tuesday afternoon for the
past 15 to 20 years, two Winton
women have met at the Winton
library where they've helped
piece together family histories for
hundreds of people wanting to find
out more about who they are and
where they came from.
Joan Bottle and Joan McConachie
are members of the Winton
Genealogy Group which meets
monthly but 'the two Joans', as
they are known locally, take that
role one step further, offering their
skills free of charge to anyone
needing a point in the right
An entire row of shelves houses
reference material owned by the
genealogy group that members
of the public are welcome to
access as part of their research
into family trees and the like. And
every Tuesday between 2pm and
5pm the two Joans are there,
working away at an adjacent
computer especially reserved for
them, ready and willing to help.
Inquiries come to them from
throughout the world. Often
they're researching local families
on behalf of a distant relative
overseas. Other times people
just walk up asking for a hand.
Mrs McConachie once worked
with a woman in England for five
or six years which resulted in
a family reunion being held in
Sometimes the quests are more
sensitive -- birth mothers seeking
the whereabouts of children they
offered for adoption many years
earlier, or people who have no
idea who their father is.
Then there are the unexpected
revelations, skeletons in the
closet as it were. One person
was struggling to find a marriage
certificate for her grandparents
who had had eight children.
"They didn't marry until they were
old enough to get the pension,"
Mrs McConachie said.
The couple had lived together as
husband and wife all those years
but only made it legal when they
applied for the pension -- sneaking
off to a registry office with none
of their family or friends being any
the wiser until their descendents
went looking many years later.
"You've got to be so tactful," Mrs
Bottle said of how they broke news
such as this to family members.
The role of amateur detective was
one both women loved and said it
was easy to get hooked on.
"We really enjoy helping people.
They go away with a smile of their
face," Mrs McConachie said.
And it helped to be naturally
curious: "It used to be called the
nosey parkers' disease," Mrs
"Now it's called the granny
hunters," Mrs McConachie
quipped in return.
Computers had helped with
genealogy enormously. The
Winton library had a subscription
to an ancestry that people could
access and increasingly more
records were being made available
online. For example, all Southland
District Council and Invercargill
City Council cemetery records
were now logged and in some
cases photographs of individual
gravestones were also being
People were often surprised
at how much information was
available about themselves
but the Joans said nothing they
accessed was secret -- it was all
available in public documents, you
just needed to know where to look.
Helping people learn where to
look was the focus of the Winton
Genealogy Group which has
about 30 members who meet
at the library at 7.30pm on the
third Wednesday of every month.
Even months are formal meeting
nights while on the odd months
it's research time, with all of the
library's seven computers in use
as members work on various
projects either for themselves or
on behalf of others.
Reality television programmes,
such as Missing Pieces, were
helpful in encouraging people
to find out more about their
family history but the Joans
acknowledged that tracing families
was likely to become more difficult
in future because of the increasing
number of broken homes, merged
families and people not getting
married, thereby not leaving
behind formal documentation of
The genealogy group welcomed
new members but anyone just
interested in finding out where to
start was welcome to meet the
Joans any Tuesday afternoon. If
Tuesdays didn't suit they said they
were happy to make alternative
times to meet with people.
A passionate pursuit of the past
Winton's "two Joans", Joan Bottle (left) and Joan McConachie, who voluntarily offer their genealogy skills to members of
the public every Tuesday afternoon at the Winton library.
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