The process involved the collection of data on individuals who were involved in voluntary work in Ballarat and the surrounding districts; through their membership of any one of a number of organisations or their work in particular industries. From the lists compiled, each individual was then researched to collect personal information to add to the detail about their voluntary work. This data was then entered into a database under a number of categories or fields. Namely: Surname, Title, Given Name, Year of Birth, Birth Place, Year of Death, Place of Death, Father, Mother, Father Occupation, Residence, Occupation, Employer, Religion, Year Married, Spouse, Spouse Occupation, War Work, Warlink, Notes.
Selection of the categories of information was based on an hypothesis of the detail that might be useful and interesting, not only for research but also to the community. It was assumed that a number of these volunteers were the community-spirited people, who would be motivated to contribute to other organisations even before a national emergency occurred. No parameters were set to identify who might be expected to be a voluntary worker. While the common title, ‘home duties’ covers almost every woman, there are some who recorded other occupations such as manufacturer, grazier, saleswoman and various trade skills.
Aspirations for this database recognised that the voluntary work which had been largely the domain of women, had received limited coverage. The account of this type of work was equally restricted when the work in Ballarat and district was considered. It is possible that both of these areas were also restricted by the problem of the passing of time.
The birthplaces of the people in the database indicate not only a broad pattern of traces of the British immigrant, the gold rush and colony birth, but also that a number came from other continents, and this non-British origin is reflected in the database.
The age range of the group shows that the age of volunteers ranged from childhood to people in their 80s. This indicates that many of the volunteers would have lived on for much of the Twentieth Century.
To achieve this level of research had taken extensive hours of mental activity that has expanded research skills to determine the correct identity of the named person. With a focus on accurate identification, the data is not necessarily confined to the immediate four-year period of the Great War. Extensive sources were used to provide the best account of the contribution of each individual to the war effort. This meant finding information prior to 1918 and in the years extending beyond the war until the end of each lifetime.
Commencing with a surname and perhaps forename and or initial, the research attempts to establish a local Ballarat or district address and occupation. Where possible a spouse, (sometimes in the post-war period) is added along with the occupation of the subject. The person’s year and place of birth, year and place of death and parentage is added. If known, parent’s occupation is added. The name of the employer is added too, if that information can be found.
An association with war work is identified for every person in the database. Any person identified as a worker at the Ballarat Woollen and Worsted Mills Ltd has this entered for their employment. Their place of work in the mill appears under their War Work entry. Some staff worked for salaries. A large number worked for wage rates. However, those engaged in weaving operated in the Piece Wage section. It was these weavers who were paid by the length of cloth produced.
Where feasible a close family relationship to one or more enlisted persons is also noted.
Some people were found to have multiple roles in their war work, and some of this detail appears in the notes section.
If it could be ascertained, a person’s religious affiliation has been added.
The additional fields noted above were selected as probably those more likely to encourage further research into the individuals who were active in the work to support the war effort. Family history, demography and religion were seen as vital components for this understanding.
Electoral enrolment was not compulsory until 1923, the year before compulsory voting commenced in Australia. This meant that electoral information might not have been available for some people during the years 1914 to 1918.
Work with the family names of those listed in organisations and other war work raised a number of issues. Stable communities, with perhaps second or third generations living in the same locations as their ancestors, provided the possibility of extended research. However, even in the first two decades of the twentieth century the spelling of surnames was not always consistent. Often there were subtle differences in surname spellings even within the same household.
Another area where differences occurred was in the street number of the family home. It may have been possible that a family member did live in a house on the opposite side of the street to the rest of family, but this was a rare occurrence. The suburb listed was also not always consistent, with people living in the same household giving different suburbs as their location. The Mount Pleasant subdivision within Ballarat East was an area which frequently omitted location names.
In the first decade of the century, the boundaries between locations or suburbs were loose. The informant offered the name and address for the registration of births, deaths and marriages. Directory entries of the time were dependent on information supplied to the compiler and publisher. Sometimes a street address assigned Ballarat West will be found more to the east or even south of another given address. Golden Point; the name of a State School, a name applied to a local church and also a football club, is not commonly mentioned as a location. Ballarat South appears but is a title that is barely recognised in the city. The Mount Pleasant subdivision for the electoral roll rarely uses a specific place name.
Some addresses appear to form clusters in the community, with people often living in an area near their place of work or worship. A few of the street names used in the records would not readily be found on a map of Ballarat streets today.
Addresses in districts outside the urban Ballarat area, often record historic place names, even in 1915. In other cases the birthplace nominated for a person in the database shows some uses of the very early place names in Victoria. ‘The Loddon’ appears as a name for what is now known as Newstead. Ballarat North, when it was a part of the Shire of Bungaree could be recorded as West Bungaree, since it was in the West Riding of that shire.
A strong feature with regard to religious affiliation in the records, is the role of the Presbyterian adherents in the surrounding districts of Ballarat. People had membership in Presbyterian churches in an arc that that covers an area from Dean and Mount Prospect in the north east across to Burrumbeet in the west.
The software that holds the data is among the most advanced available. Among its attributes is that the name search can be conducted simultaneously in more than one field. The initial search may be refined using the Advanced Search.
The nature of the project has meant that detail is not available in every field for some people. Only fields which have detail for the person appear in a record. This is more apparent where some people only have an address. In some instances siblings have the same initial so only the initial and parentage can appear. The intention was always to be as accurate as possible in each record.
As this is an ongoing project it is expected that many of the existing gaps will be filled over time. If, after extensive research, there is still very sparse information then that record could be deemed not helpful to family historians and thus deleted from the online database.
Unlike a print production this electronic database is not static, but dynamic. New data can easily be added to existing records and new records are appearing online as the research project progresses. Additions and corrections are no problem. The database statistics show that it contains more than 2560 items including individual records and articles about organisations.
It cannot be over-emphasised that the database does not attempt to offer a complete biography of an individual. It may offer a starting point for further research based on the information provided, or it may ‘fill in a gap’ in information already held.
Apart from revealing the Home Front work, the overall result of this project provides an overview of people and their family connections in and around Ballarat during the years of the Great War. This is similar to the 1891 Women's Suffrage Project for Ballarat and District which does this in an earlier time period. It has grown from around 800 entries in 2014 to about 2500 in 2016. These two projects are very useful recent additions to the excellent resources available for data mining in Ballarat. In this way, knowledge is the new gold rush in the Age of Information.