Thursday, 29 May 2014


Last Friday the North Sydney Genealogy Group and members of the local community were treated to a talk on genealogy by Jo Harris. Jo is an incredibly engaging and entertaining speaker and has an impressive knowledge of family history.  How do you best to approach the subject, how to organise what you find and what are some of the problems a beginner might encounter?  Jo has for many years given talks and lead a workshop on genealogy which is held by the Kuringai Historical Society in the Sydney suburb of Gordon close to where she lives.
Jo asks at the beginning of her talk, ‘How many people in this audience have completed their family tree?’ After a prolonged silence when only Stanton Library’s numerous crickets could be heard chirping did she explain how surprised she would have been if anyone had said ‘yes’.  Family history research is never ending. Not only are there more records continuously being made available online. But the further you go back the more people there are to investigate.
Jo said she realised the limitations of Ancestry’s Family Tree Maker program when she had put more than 200,000 names in it and it started malfunctioning.  The record for the largest family tree on is 260,000 people.
During the talk we saw many of Jo’s own family photos, memorabilia and family trees (the first drafts of these she calls ‘Mud Maps’) that she has created over the years and we were treated to many personal anecdotes of her own family stories and the interesting ways in which she discovered them. Jo’s knowledge is incredibly extensive and she easily answered the diverse questions which our audience asked.
I was amazed to learn that British family names starting with a K, Q or C sound mostly originated from the isle of Man. This Includes names like Kelly and Quayle. Any name that starts with Myle is a Manx name. The talk was full of little genealogy tidbit gems like these.
A brief look on the internet tells me that Jo Harris was named Kuringgai citizen of the year in 2008. She was one of the first women to receive a radio operating licence. She is a well recognized HAM radio operator from her home in Wahroongah and has played an important communication role in a number of community crises. Her enthusiasm, generosity of spirit and intellect are very impressive and an octogenarian as well! If she is giving a genealogy talk in your area…don’t miss it!
(Unfortunately the photos I took of Jo Harris with Stanton library’s camera didn’t come out so I hope the ‘word picture’ I have created here will be enough-apologies)