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Author: Tsari Anderson
Coordinator Koorie Records Unit and Provenance Editor
Koorie Records Unit Researcher Stories presents researchers reflecting on their experiences using government archives for family and community history research, useful or interesting records they have found during their research, and the impact that finding these records has had on them.
Liz Thorpe has used a wide range of resources at Public Record Office Victoria, including Board for the Protection of Aborigines records, inquests and probate records, as well as the Koorie Index of Names to locate information that she has been able to share with her family.
The Koorie Reference Service provides support and guidance to Aboriginal people seeking access to Victorian government archives for family and community history purposes. Find out more about our services and the records we hold here.
Please tell us your name, mob and country
My name is Elizabeth Marjorie Thorpe. I was born in Swan Hill in 1954. My father was born Henry William Thorpe in 1934 on Gunai Country in East Gippsland. His parents were Reg Thorpe and Marjorie nee Green. My dad passed away in 1989. My mother Lucy, who was born Grace Dorothy Atkinson, is a Yorta Yorta woman. She was born in 1936 at Cummeragunja to Clarence Atkinson and Evelyn nee Hunter.
What got you interested in doing your family history research?
A very dear Aunty died and I wondered about her exact connection to us. This led to me setting out a family history tree so I could understand where everyone fitted. Speaking with mum, I soon realised I needed to know more. Who were our ancestors, who were our non-Aboriginal ancestors, which other mobs were we connected to? As it turns out we have quite a few non-Aboriginal ancestors, including an Irish squatter.
What kind of records were you looking for and what did you uncover?
I was initially looking for records about my father's ancestry. As a child I often visited Lake Tyers Aboriginal Station, so viewing the old records put things into perspective. We only ever knew as far back as my great-great-grandfather William Thorpe and his sister Eliza O'Rourke nee Thorpe. However, there was very little I know about my mother's background. All I knew was that some of them lived at Healesville, including at Coranderrk Aboriginal Station.
How did the service provided by the Koorie Records unit help with your research?
Enormously helpful. Friendly knowledgeable staff assisted me to understand with Public Record Office Victoria offers. It was a bonus having the National Archives in the same building. My Aunty Margaret Atkinson (mum's youngest sister) and I visited the Koorie Records Unit and in no time we were looking through protection board reports, community letters, etc. It was gut wrenching at times, sadly seeing confirmation of stories we'd heard.
The Koorie Index of Names was helpful, as were the numerous resources including digital and hard copy materials.
On my second visit to PROV I was scanning old documents and photos and felt real pleased with myself telling the rest of the family about our mobs and showing them some of the original documents and photos.
Were there any specific records that struck a chord?
The protection reports provided family links through the reporting of births, deaths and marriages, and I found lots of linkages to many ancestors. Finding out the extensive network of family right across Victoria was amazing. Reading some inquest papers and a probate report answered quite a few questions for us.
What impact has finding these records had on you or your family?
My family is amazed at what records are accessible. Mum was fascinated about how information can be obtained, including from the internet.
Our family history is much clearer and being aware of our connections is wonderful. I have numerous notes and documents and plan to write a book for my family detailing the many genealogies I have discovered.
I proudly talk about my findings and there's been keen interest from other community mobs - it's great to see. They aren't sure how to go about it so I'm happy to point them to PROV.
What advice do you have for others wishing to use archival records for their family history research?
Make the time. Contact the Koorie Records Unit at PROV who'll discuss the process and what's available. And help you along the way. You will be amazed at the accessibility to public records.
There's a wealth of information, get out there and start your journey of discovery!
Thank you very much Liz for generously sharing your story.