Published on 16 August 2019

National Family History Month

When Happy Valley’s Sandra and Harold Bailey discovered a stack of letters and a telegram in an old handbag following Harold’s mother’s death, they had no inkling of the wealth of information they’d stumbled across.

Written by Harold’s late uncle, Harold Rice, to family members during the Second World War, the letters paint an intimate picture of the soldier’s journey from his training at the local Woodside Camp, to serving in North Africa before being killed in action in Papua New Guinea – the telegram bringing news of his death to the family.

“We started reading them and discovered a very family orientated person, showing his character and care for other people,” says Sandra.

“They were very touching and they also showed the naivety that soldiers had when they first joined up.

“We were intrigued to find out what was in all of them.”

The fine cursive script, however, made deciphering the letters (about 50 of them) difficult, and Sandra took one to the Hub Library to see if there were any resources to help with the family’s research.

Staff helped Sandra research Harold and his two brothers’ (who also served in the war) journeys using the Library’s free and extensive range of family history resources such as Ancestry and Find My Past – some of which usually require individual subscriptions – and are helping to decipher the letters.

Staff and volunteers are also helping to digitise the letters to preserve them for future generations and offer glimpses into what life was like during the war. The family is donating the originals to the State Library.

“Deciphering all the letters [alone] would’ve been an impossible task because it was so labour intensive, so to have the help is fantastic,” says Sandra, who regularly attends the Hub Library to further her research.

Library staff and volunteers can assist the public with their research during free Family Tree drop-in sessions at the Hub Library every Tuesday (10am to 12pm); at Noarlunga Library each Tuesday (2-4pm); and at Aldinga Library on Mondays from 10am to 12pm.

The Libraries offer access to rich local and SA resources including births, deaths and marriages indexes, cemetery records and copies of historic documents such as local church records.

Two free one-off sessions – Introduction to FamilySearch at Aldinga Library on Friday 23 August, and a Researching Your English Ancestors session at Hub Library on Saturday 24 August – are also being held to celebrate National Family History Month.

The nationwide family history celebration also coincides with the release of a new book from City of Onkaparinga Libraries, High on the Hill: The People of St Philip & St James Church, Old Noarlunga.

The 256-page book (available from Noarlunga Library for $5) chronicles the lives of those buried in the churchyard who were born before 1900, and features stories both sad, shocking and entertaining, with historical records and beautiful photographs.

If you’re curious about your family history, there has never been a better time to visit an Onkaparinga Library and discover your own family’s rich past.

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Sandra Bailey with a photo of Harold Rice.