Aboriginal camp near Armidale. Taken by C Brown Photographer who was working in Armidale in 1892.Seventy years ago, convict records risked desecration by people who wanted to conceal the convict stain on their ancestry. Today, their children or grandchildren seek to discover such ancestry.
Seventy years ago, having aboriginal ancestry was a matter of shame for some. I am a member of a number of discussion groups concerned with family history. Now there are regular requests from people seeking to establish Aboriginal ancestry. These requests come from Aboriginal people wishing to establish their own family tree and from people who have discovered that they had an Aboriginal grand or great-grand parent and wish to know more. A friend, Caroline Chapman, has established a website and a Facebook group to assist those with connections to the New England Tablelands.
The language used in official and other records reflects views at the time. Caroline notes:: "Some of the language used in the historical documents cited is now seen as inappropriate by today's standards.
This language has been included for historical accuracy and is often written in quotation marks."
I mention all this because in May The ABC carried a story, 'Aboriginal' redacted from birth, death, marriage certificates after being deemed an offensive term, about an Aboriginal man who sought a birth certificate for a member of his family only to find that the term "Aboriginal" had been whited out on the grounds that it might be deemed offensive, This decision created outrage among historians.
In this case, the original record was not altered, just a decision made to exclude information from the copy of the record supplied. That's bad enough. The difficulty is that it's actually not a big step from there to a decision to alter the record itself. This has,I think, become easier now that so many records are digitised.