Friday, 30 August 2019

Recommended Reads - Family History Month 2019

I'm Adopted / by Alex Gilbert

Alex Gilbert was born in Arkhangelsk, Russia. At the age of two he was adopted from an orphanage by Janice and Mark Gilbert and brought to New Zealand.

This book tells of Alex's childhood growing up in Whangarei with his brother Andrei, who was also adopted at the same time. It focuses on Alex's decision to search for his birth parents and the process. He describes finally meeting them at the end of 2013.

He also covers other significant events in a young person's life, such as moving from small-town Whangarei to big-city Auckland, his grandfather's passing, his relationship and break-up with his girlfriend, and pursuing his career in the television industry.

The book also includes a section in the middle with colour photographs from Alex's childhood. At the back of the book there are photographs from his visits to Russia in 2013, 2015, and 2017, and from the I'm Adopted meet ups and events.

Alex writes with simple prose that is easy to read. It is as if he is speaking directly to the reader telling his story.

This book can be found on the 1st Floor,
Adult Non-Fiction at 762.734 GIL NZ.

This book review is written by Graeme.

Our tree leaves, Book 1: how to create a family treasure with a new and less complex approach / by Catherine Pacheco

This book can be found on the 2nd Floor,
Genealogy Lending at 920.1072 PAC
This interesting new book encourages the recording of stories and details of family members. Once upon a time, the family Bible recorded the births, deaths and marriages of a family but that happens less and less today.  This book helps those who have been gathering snippets of information from all over to begin transferring that information into files. The book contains templates, steps and encouragement to put all the information into a logical format.

This book review written by Trish

This book can be found on the 2nd Floor,
Genealogy Lending at 929.1 SAS

Keeping chronicles: preserving history through written memorabilia / by Rosemary Sassoon.

This book highlights the importance of keeping letters, diaries, travel records, memoirs, professional or personal scrapbooks and more. 
The author writes in her introduction ‘genealogists trace the dates of their ancestors, the written trace, of itself, illuminates the character of past generations, as much as the letters, diaries and other lists chronicle their daily life’.

In keeping these items which may seem pointless to some family members, to others this is a link to the past for the elderly as their memories fade or disappear through illness. Diaries also give family an insight into why an ancestor did and said the things they did, often we wonder why a parent or grandparent says certain things or became a difficult person to deal with, maybe they were children during the Great War and lived through bomb raids or being shipped off to the countryside or worse to another country as those from England did.  

Handwriting also brings back a much loved, long dead relative as I discovered for myself recently when I found letters to my great grandmother from her mother. Those letters gave me an insight into life for my great great grandmother.  This means she is not just a name on the family tree, but a living breathing part of who I am.  

This book also has some great tips for what type of ephemera (newspaper cuttings, postcards, envelopes, travel records, maps, recipes etc.) to keep and how to preserve them for future generations.

For those who like to use scrap-booking techniques and those who want to keep stuff forever and those who would normally throw stuff away.

This book review written by Alison

This book can be found on the second
floor in the Rotorua Heritage Collection

Galvanised to succeed: a story of fortitude / Victoria Dansey, 1934

A story about Roger Delamere Dansey and his descendants. The story follows his arrival in Aotearoa New Zealand and the life he forges here. During his time in the armed and mounted constabulary he faced many challenges and taught himself to use the trigger of his carbine to produce morse code. He met his future wife Wikitoria, who saved his life. The story follows his descendants who also faced many challenges and faced them with fortitude. The story is moving, empathetic and gritty.

This book review is written by Ani

Friday, 23 August 2019

Family History & Ephemera

This post was written to illustrate and explain why I keep ephemera with my family history. I'm a librarian not a preservation specialist and some of the content of this post includes how I take care of my ephemera collection.

I enjoy writing my family history and illustrating certain parts of it with images and where I am able to, with ephemera because it adds interest for my children. For example, when they read a story that I wrote about my childhood and drinking Leed Lemonade as a treat, they have no idea what Leed Lemonade is. Yet those in my generation who remember Leed Lemonade, would know what the bottle looks like and any advertising material. When I added an advertising sticker & image of a bottle I had collected to the story, my children said, "Is that what it looked like?"

Leed Lemonade Bottle
Photograph by Ani Sharland

So, "Why would you keep ephemera with your family history?" Ephemera helps to illustrate and add another layer to a story behind a name on a family genealogical chart or a family tree. Material can also be quite eye-catching, as are these vintage cards that celebrate past events.

A collection of cards that celebrate past events
Photograph by Ani Sharland

Ephemera such as letters can also give details about a person that will confirm a date, place or event in that persons life. For example, my children have often asked about what I did as a young adult. Personal letters help to illustrate where I lived, who my friends were, where I worked and what I got up to. Letters also show the part that family played at certain stages of a person's life.

A collection of cards and letters
Photograph by Ani Sharland

Keeping ephemera does have it's challenges. Preservation and storage are just a couple of the issues that need to be considered when organising and storing ephemera. There are many ways to store ephemera where they will last longer and minimise any damage. First, I attach my ephemera for my family history with the story of a certain person. Some material such as letters and cards I put in envelopes and keep in a box with a journal or diary.

Box with diary and envelopes full of ephemera
Photograph by Ani Sharland

I will put smaller pieces of ephemera such as tickets, advertising stickers, receipts, brochures in custom-made pockets inside journals, diaries or scrapbooks.

An example of a scrapbook with pockets
Photograph by Ani Sharland

There are factors that contribute to paper based material deteriorating. Some of these factors include:
  • glue which turns brittle and yellows
  • sellotape which turns brittle and yellows
  • the quality of the paper that the material was printed on
  • the oils on your skin 

There are other formats that you can keep ephemera in that will last for longer. You can scan an item and create a digital file of it which will keep longer than in it's hard copy format. If you are more comfortable looking for and keeping information digitally, then maybe storing your digital files in an online space is an option.

From a diary with a pocket full of ephemera at the back
Photograph by Ani Sharland

There is a process of sorts that I follow when adding ephemera to a story. I start with a memory, then write the story and finally, add ephemera (from a single item to many items). Before starting I gather what ephemera I have on a person, and the amount of ephemera that I have gathered will determine the size of the container I store it in.  

Written by Ani Sharland

Friday, 16 August 2019

Interview with Alex Gilbert - author & founder, I'm Adopted

Alex Gilbert. Image courtesy of Alex Gilbert |

Sasha Alexander 'Alex' Gilbert, whose birth name was Gusovskoi Alexander Viktorovich, was born in Arkhangelsk, Russia and placed in a local orphanage. In 1994, at age two he was adopted by his New Zealand parents.

In 2013, Alex did a search for his birth parents using social media. He eventually found them and met his birth mother and father for the first time at the end of 2013. Since then Alex has formed I'm Adopted, an organisation that helps adoptees find their biological families, and connect with other adoptees for support and advice.

Alex has written two books My Russian Side (2014) and I'm Adopted (2018). He also produces a weekly podcast I'm Adopted: The Podcast.

Alex Gilbert signing his book I'm Adopted at Rotorua Library, 10 August 2019. Photo: Ani Sharland.

Rotorua Library Heritage and Research Specialist Graeme Cash spoke with Alex Gilbert about his search for his birth parents, publishing his story and forming I'm Adopted.

What led you to search for your birth parents?
I have always wanted to know about my birth parents in Russia. Growing up I have always had an interest in where I came from. My parents were always open and honest about it too with both my brother and I. It was never something that was a secret in our family. I am grateful for that. I wanted to do a search for them when I was 21. I felt like this would be a good time to do a search myself. I thought about doing a search back in High School which I did try, but I had no luck. The timing when I was 21 seemed to have worked perfectly with me.

How did you make contact with your birth parents?
At the start of 2013 I did some research on Russian social network websites, which I didn't really know about. After I pulled out my adoption documents, I was able to try and do a search. I managed to find information on my birth mother first. I found a contact of hers through a community group who had the same last name as hers. My birth mother herself doesn't use social media, but people who know her did and so I managed to get in touch with them. With my birth father I wasn't able to find information on him. I learnt later that he didn't know about me and the name on my adoption papers was not real. He only knew about me when I sent him a message for the first time when I did a search in 2013.

Can you talk about the use of social media and the Web as tools for one finding their birth parents?
For social media it is very useful. It's helpful with this day and age as there are contacts out there that might know someone. It is different for everyone of course, every story is different. With I'm Adopted its helpful because it's mostly run through social media. People that might want to do a search can reach out to the community or if they want to talk to other adoptees, they can also reach out. It's important for that. Social media and the internet plays a huge role.

Alex (far right) with his parents Mark and Janice Gilbert and brother Andrei (also adopted). Image courtesy of Alex Gilbert |

Can you describe the experience of meeting your birth parents for the first time?
I was extremely nervous. I got in touch with my birth parents at the start of 2013 to then going to Russia at the end of 2013. The year had a lot of planning involved and for me, I had never been back to Russia and so I didn't know what to expect. Meeting them for the first time was an incredible experience. I got to Moscow first, then driving to see my birth mother the next day. It all still feels like yesterday. We were both nervous about the entire meeting. Even though it was a lot of planning, it all went very fast. It was a life changing experience. Meeting my birth father was again another surreal experience. It was a special moment for me. He was soon meeting this son of his that he never knew existed. It changed his life and mine, not to forget his entire family.

How do you maintain contact and develop a relationship with your birth parents from New Zealand?
I don't keep in touch with my birth mother as much as I would like to, but I keep in contact all the time with my birth father. We use social media, phone call and skyping to keep in touch. It's incredible how much technology has improved over the last few years with communication. It has made things a lot faster in the way of reaching out to my birth family in Russia. I have also been learning the language as well as having friends who translate for me too which is useful.

Alex and his parents Janice and Mark Gilbert with his birth mother Tatiana and birth father Mihail. Image courtesy of Alex Gilbert | 

What inspired you to publish your story?
I had so much I wanted to write about from my story. A lot was all like a timeline in my head that I really wanted to put into a book. I wanted to write this book so that it can help others adopted or even parents who have adopted children themselves. Of course it talks about my own personal life and ups and downs that everyone gets from time to time. The book is me and its about my story of my adoption and how it really changed my life with meeting my birth parents to now creating I'm Adopted.

I'm Adopted (2018, Alex Gilbert)

Can you explain what the I'm Adopted project is and how it began?
In mid 2015 I wanted to create an online project that helps adopted people reach out to each other. Open a community online using social media so that we can all talk to each other with. It's all for anyone around the world who is adopted, inside their country or overseas, it's for all of us. I knew that if this project was around when I did my own search in 2013, I may have been able to prepare a little bit more before going to Russia. I didn't have a community like I'm Adopted around to reach out to. It's a support network and along with a beautiful community. People can share their stories or join private groups and reach out there. I also run a podcast weekly for the project that is published every Wednesday. It's overall an awesome project.

What have some of the challenges with running the project?
Where do I begin. I guess keeping it running is a big one. Keeping it going strong while I do have a full time job, I want to always keep helping with I'm Adopted. I enjoy doing what I do wit it but of course it's all my free time that I spend with it. But every moment is helping is important. I think it's most likely when I get the odd anonymous Facebook message from someone who is asking for my help but there is no information. I share the stories for people if they would like that or people can reach out to the group. Sometimes I also reach out to some of the contacts overseas who might be able to help specific people too. But it's a completely rewarding project and I would never change anything I have done with it. I am proud of what it has become.

Alex at first birthday celebration for I'm Adopted. Image courtesy of Alex Gilbert |

What has been the most rewarding moment for you?
The most rewarding moment is definitely when people reach out to me simply saying thank you. Or thank you to me for doing what I do. People who watch my YouTube channel reach out to me often, just thanking me. People have said that they have been able to find information with the help of I'm Adopted. I have a few adoption resources online that I have written that can help people with any searches that they might want to do. I have to keep the website and Facebook page running all the time, so I am always doing what I can with it. Overall I'm Adopted is a rewarding project.

Earlier this year you published a Russian version of your book I'm Adopted, can you tell me about that experience?
Back in 2017 I got to go to Russia to meet with an organisation in Moscow who help parents who have adopted children inside Russia. I know one of the organisations very well who actually let me to stay with their family in Moscow while I was there. I also revisited my orphanage for the first time at the end of 2018 (second time was at the end of 2018 for the gifts) too along with meeting the Children's Rights Minister in Moscow, who works with their President. I can say, it was a really productive visit to Russia. The organisation reached out to me who help parents and adopted teenagers when I got back from Russia. They asked if they could translate and publish my book inside Russia. It was more of a free giveaway for charities and organisations inside Russia, but overall, it was fully funded and printed. It was incredible. Took well over a year to plan, but seeing the finished translated version was something. I sent a signed thank you note to my birth mother with the book for them too.

Alex meeting Anna Kuznetsova, Children's Rights Commissioner for the President of the Russian Federation. Image courtesy of  Alex Gilbert |

This year you have launched a podcast and currently have a TV show Reunited in development can you tell me about those projects.
I have always had an interest in podcasting and how that all works and so I wanted to create a Podcast for I'm Adopted. It's because with Spotify and music streaming services, it is a lot easier to create a podcast these days. I couldn't believe how easy it actually was. Of course I need to create the content, but I love what I do with this and so that was the least of my worries. It's called I'm Adopted: The Podcast. I interview adoptees and just talk about specific topics each week. It's an important podcast to listen to and what's great about Podcasts is, if you want to playback an old episode, you can at anytime!

For the TV show I can't talk too much about that unfortunately, but a small team of mine at work have been developing this new TV show that is based on the I'm Adopted project for awhile now and we will be starting production on it very soon. Something I would love to talk about more of course, but when we start the stories I can talk about that more.

What advice would you give to someone beginning their search for their birth parents?
Don't give up. Be patient and always prepared for anything. Be honest with your close friends and family and do it when you feel it's right in your heart. That is the advice I always give to those who want to search.

Alex speaking at Rotorua Library, 10 August 2019. Photo credit: Ani Sharland.

Alex Gilbert spoke at the library on Saturday 10th August 2019 as part of August Family History Month. A copy of his book I'm Adopted (now signed) can be found at 362.734 GIL NZ.

To learn more about Alex and I'm Adopted visit:

Friday, 9 August 2019

Rotorua Early Settler Family : Family History Month 2019

Brief  History of the Woolliams Family

Woolliams is a well-known name in Rotorua as it seems two brothers Louis and Thomas Edwin moved to Rotorua in 1905. In c1903 their father had moved here from Tauranga, as his death notice in the NZ Herald suggests that, perhaps he retired here.

Louis Woolliams managed/ and or owned the Thirwell Guest House on the corner of Eruera and Tutanekai Streets while he was working there he had another Guest House built further up Eruera Street which opened in 1909, this was the Mansions Private Hotel which remained in business until it was given to Waikato Health Board – see Daily Post, 9.03.1964. It was then demolished c1965/66 to make way for the new T&G Building a three storey office block.  Louis was very active in the Rotorua Business scene and was a Borough Councillor from 1923-1928, returning in 1933-until his death in 1939. See his full obituary in Evening Post 13 July 1939. Source:  Papers Past.

Thomas E. Woolliams was employed by Mr R. Griffiths of Arawa House, on various contracts, which he did for two years. He moved on to be a driver for the Rotorua Transport Co., then worked in forestry and later the Borough Council. Thomas and his wife Henrietta left Rotorua to move to Hawera in c1934 for health reasons. See his full obituary in Bay of Plenty Times, 22 July 1938. Source: Papers Past.

On the corner of Eruera & Tutanekai Streets a building which incorporates several shops still has the name Woolliams Building on the façade and the date 1931. From an earlier news article printed in the Thames Star, 23 July 1923 - Mr T. Woolliams owned a block of shops which was destroyed by fire, on this same site.

This photograph shows the Woolliams Building, taken by Alison 7th August 2019.

Since this time there have been other well-known members of the Woolliams family also involved in Council, Mayor T. Ray Woolliams who also owned and ran Fairy Springs, Hells Gate and Waimangu Thermal Valley. Owned an IGA in Eruera Street and then opened the Foodlands Supermarket in Hinemoa Street.

Portrait taken for the Mayor's Hall of Fame at
Rotorua District Council 1979.

To read more about this family see Don Stafford’s history of  Rotorua books.  I also found members of the family in Births, Deaths & Marriages Historical Records, Archives NZ, The AW Cenotaph Database, and the Bay of Plenty/Rotorua Electoral rolls online via,  these sources along with Papers Past have provided quite a bit of genealogy information.

This is just one family that have seen Rotorua develop as a thriving city.  There are many more which can be researched in the Heritage and Research collection of the Rotorua Library. Talk to our staff on the 2nd floor for more help in tracing your family members whether from Rotorua or elsewhere in NZ.

This post written by Alison, with thanks to the Don Stafford Collection.