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Gordon Watts Reports
Column published: 21 November 2006
By: Gordon A. Watts   Biography & Archived Articles

Gordon A. Watts
Topics in this week's issue include:
  • In Memorium - Nick Vine Hall (1944 - 2006)

  • Toward a Digital Information Strategy for Canada

In Memorium - Nick Vine Hall (1944 - 2006)

It is with the greatest possible personal regret that I advise of the passing of my friend from Australia, Nick Vine Hall, at 9:00 pm (Australia time) 31 October 2006. I call him my friend, even though I met him personally only once, for the short period of 36 hours in September 2005 during a flight layover at Vancouver. At the time he was on a trip from Australia to Prince Edward Island and beyond. You may recall my column of 22 September 2005 in which I wrote about Nick's brief but busy visit with me.

Nick was my counterpart in the campaigns in our respective countries, to gain, or regain, public access to Historic Census records following a period of closure.
Nick Vine Hall (1944 - 2006)
Nick Vine Hall (1944 - 2006)
For more than twenty years he led the fight to halt the destruction of Australia's Census records so they might be retained and made available for public research after a period of closure. While our respective campaigns lasted for different periods of time, both were successfully concluded during the summer of 2005.

Nick and wife Patricia Barth. Hosting a two-way genealogical web-cast
I say 'successfully concluded' even though in both countries research of future Censuses has been hampered by the inclusion of 'informed consent' questions that detract from the completeness of the records to be made available. We in Canada are already reaping the benefits of our campaign. Researchers in Australia however, will not see the first result of theirs until the year 2100.

During the eight years of our campaign Nick and I corresponded frequently. He made a number of suggestions that I found helpful in our battle to regain public access to our Historic Census records. Hopefully I made a few suggestions he found useful as well.

During his visit here Nick was aware that he had cancer but made no mention of it at that time. His wife, Patricia Barth, advised that he was driven all his life to do things and he was not prepared, until it was too late, to stop everything to concentrate on healing. Until the end, as he was able, he continued his work - writing a book forward for a friend he had encouraged to write, and continuing to broadcast his weekly radio show up to two weeks before he died.

Nick Vine Hall was an avid genealogist, enthusiastic researcher, broadcaster, and author of a number of genealogical and historical books. He was my friend.

The following obituary was published by The Sydney Morning Herald on 14 November 2006:
    Lifetime interest in genealogy was sparked by a family link to James Cook

    Nick Vine Hall, 1944-2006

    THE doyen of family history researchers in Australia, Nick Vine Hall, first became interested in genealogy when, as a young man, he was told he was a descendant of Captain James Cook.

    On his first trip abroad, Vine Hall, who has died of cancer at 62, visited maiden aunts and other family in England and traced his history. His research went back to a distant relative of Cook's and revealed he was eighth cousin to the famed navigator. He also discovered a couple of skeletons in the family cupboard - a drunkard and an ancestor who was hanged for high treason. He was also descended from Edmund Blacket, the third colonial architect of NSW [New South Wales].

    Nicholas John Vine Hall was born in Darlinghurst, educated at Sydney Grammar School and worked for CSR Ltd for 16 years, in sales and marketing before becoming the Australia Sugar sales manager from 1972.

    But the trip to England led to a decision to abandon sugar. Genealogy was to become his lifetime's work and passion, and he inspired countless Australians to dig into their family histories. He had joined the Society of Australian Genealogists in 1971 and in 1978 he was appointed director, a position he held for a decade.

    Vine Hall applied his considerable flair for public relations and marketing skills to popularise family history research. He helped make social history - largely overlooked before the Bicentenary, perhaps because of concerns about our "convict stain" - a serious pursuit. From 1979 he was ABC Radio's resident genealogist, answering listeners' questions and giving advice.

    His comprehensive Tracing Your Family History in Australia, now in its third edition, is the seminal text on the subject. He self-published much of his collection of 35 books, CDs, charts and articles including those on maritime history. In 1991 he initiated the British Isles Directories Project, 1769-1936, which is transferring about 20 million names from scarce printed directories to microfiche.

    In 1987 Vine Hall was honoured as the first individual recipient of the N.T. Hansen Award for Significant Contribution to Family History, from the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations.

    In 1995 he started the Ships Picture Research Service, containing an index of more than 160,000 images. On Pacific cruise vessels, he ran classes about family trees.

    His fight to change the laws to retain the name-identified forms collected under the census, however, may be his most significant work. From the first Commonwealth census in 1911, it had been government policy to destroy the name-identified data - keeping only the statistical information. Some scholars described this policy as "historical vandalism".

    As chairman of the federation's census working party, Vine Hall led the successful campaign against the Australian Bureau of Statistics's resistance. The option for Australians to give consent to the confidential retention of their name-identified data for 99 years has appeared in the census since 2001.

    Vine Hall attracted a cult following among "genies" (as genealogical buffs are affectionately known). He was generous, fun-loving and reliable. But he was also obsessive.

    In Tracing Your Family History in Australia, he listed genealogical research and onomatology (the study of the origin of names) as his recreations. Another hobby was collecting foreign language dictionaries.

    Vine Hall had two children, Katy and John, with his first wife, Trish. He met his second wife, Patricia Barth, the country's only specialist in family tree graphics, on a blind date at a bicentennial ball in Melbourne in 1988. They married in 1991 and he moved to Melbourne where she ran her business, Family Tree Scriptorium.

    Even while ill, he was working on several projects including researching his mother's Huguenot ancestors, the Roubels. He was fond of saying that after sex, the No. 1 area of research on the internet was genealogy - and "oddly the two are sort of related".

    Vine Hall is survived by Patricia, his two children, five grandchildren and Trish.

    Diana Plater

Message from Ian E. Wilson - Librarian and Archivist of Canada

Toward a Digital Information Strategy for Canada: The Aims of a National Summit

This December 5 and 6, key decision-makers from across the Canadian information environment will converge at Fairmont Le Château Montebello in Montebello, Quebec. For two days, they will help shape a strategy to strengthen Canada's digital information environment. For the first time, libraries, archives, museums, and information managers will come together with digital creators, producers, rights and licensing bodies, funding agencies, users and academics. Each of these groups plays an important role in the spectrum, from information creation to consumption, and each has a stake in building a stronger information environment.

The summit aims to achieve agreement on a collaborative agenda to advance production, preservation and access to Canada's cultural and scientific digital assets. Why? There are at least three reasons. First, to stay in the forefront of technological developments, Canada must keep pace with and embrace the new digital realities. Second, to improve its scale of outputs and outcomes, Canada must reduce fragmented activity. Third, to increase our current capacity, we must eliminate gaps in different areas, such as in digital preservation. By acting now, we will ensure that the digital record of today and tomorrow will still be available in 10, 20 or 100 years' time.

Delegates to the national summit will be looking to our digital future and determining what needs to be done now. By its close, we plan to have the broad parameters for a strategy that will address digitization and digital preservation within a national network. We will also have had rich discussions on access issues--such as the reusability of information assets, national licensing, access services, and equitable access for all Canadians.

I believe it is always prudent to first define where you want to go, then seek ways to get there. We need to agree on a national vision that includes our federal, provincial, municipal and territorial partners. We need to ensure that government, creators and other stakeholders work together and think as creatively as this evolving technology demands. And we need to self-organize to advance this vision. The national summit will be a key step in this process.

It is a short column this time... Until next time.

Gordon A. Watts

Your comments regarding this newsletter, and suggestions for future articles are welcome. Click here to send me a message with a subject line of "Gordon Watts Reports".

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