1. Tell us about the Biographical Database of Australia (BDA). What inspired you to undertake this project?
The setting up of the Biographical Database of Australia was inspired by the fact that we had at our disposal a great deal of data created by a similar project, started by the same people, which had mainly been published under the imprint of Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record in the 1980s - 1990s, in association with the Society of Australian Genealogists.
The advent of the internet with websites made it possible to incorporate all that data onto our new website.
2. Explain why this database is so significant for historians and genealogical researchers.
The significance of the sources is that they included all the data from the Musters of NSW from 1800 to 1837 and the 1828 Census of NSW. Many other source records have and are being added to BDA including full transcripts of Church Registers.
Great care is taken to index all persons mentioned in a record. Through a series of linking numbers, an individual mentioned in any number of sources, is connected to allow the user to view a Biographical Report on that individual in which the items are presented in chronological order, starting with their birth in Australia or their arrival.
From such a Biographical Report, the user can then hyperlink from any of the other people mentioned in that Report, to that persons own Biographical Report, and from that to others endlessly.
3. Can you tell us about the work of the volunteers in the Mitchell Library and the sources they are adding to the database? Have they made any unusual or surprising discoveries?
Out team of volunteers have been working on the Manuscripts Index Card Catalogue for several years, extracting information from cards which show a record which may contain a listing of people with personal details.
The cards are used rather than the on-line manuscripts catalogue because to use the catalogue you have to know what you are looking for, in our case we don’t know, we rely on discovering items we may not have thought of.
When this process is finished by the end of August 2015, another experienced volunteer, Keith Johnson, will go through the lists prepared by the team, and highlight manuscripts to be looked at. Anything of interest can then be transcribed and added to the Database.
One item of interest from the Mitchell Library already on our website is the Windsor Ration book labelled 1812-1822, but only containing entries for 1812-1818 (Call Number: A 803 - Safe 1/ 456 :microfilm CY 369). It not only mentions many people but it is one of a very few records which names soldiers, their wives and children.
4. How can researchers access this database?
This is a not for profit project and allows a user to view all the detailed Source material and do a simple name search. An Advanced Search facility will be on-line before the end of 2015.
If a user wishes to view a Biographical Report then we ask them to become a subscriber. The annual fee of $30 then allows unlimited use and assists the Project with expenses, especially programming.
Biographical Database of Australia, interview with Malcolm Sainty