National Family History Month

Barr Smith Library plan

Plan for the proposed Barr Smith Library prepared by Woods, Bagot, Jory and Laybourne-Smith architects, Barr Smith Library Plans – Sheet 6, October 1929. UA-00025190. Available via Adelaide Connect:

August is National Family History Month, an initiative first organised by the Australasian Federation of Family History Organisations in 2006, and the University Library has many family history stories to tell. The establishment of the Barr Smith Library is intertwined with the history of the Barr Smith family. In honour of his father, Robert Barr Smith, one of the University’s greatest benefactors, Tom Elder Barr Smith donated £30,000 to relocate the University Library from the Mitchell Building to a grand, specially constructed building, now the Barr Smith Library Reading Room, which opened in 1932. Similarly, the Hugh Martin Weir Prize, offered annually by the University Library to honours and postgraduate students studying any aspect of Australia’s involvement in war, is supported by the Weir family and commemorates the memory of Lieutenant Hugh Martin Weir (1915-2004) and his fellow prisoners of war. 

The University Library also holds a wide range of family history titles and items in its collections, which support the research and learning needs of students and academic staff.  Below is a beautifully well preserved sixteenth century English bible from our Rare Books and Manuscripts collection. The handwritten inscriptions within reveal how this treasured family possession was passed down through many generations of the Coles family and reveals the central place of the bible in domestic and family life during this historical period.

Photo caption: The byble in English: that is to say, the contente of all the holy scripture, bothe of the olde and new Testament, accordyng to the translacio that is appointed to be read in churches. London: Imprinted at London by Edwarde Whytchurche. Rare Books & Manuscripts, SR 220.5 E 1553.

Associate Professor Katie Barclay, an internationally renowned historian from our Department of Historical and Classical Studies, has published extensively in the areas of the history of emotions, gender, and family life, particularly in the context of 17th-19th century Britain and coordinates several undergraduate courses that incorporate family history in some way. She had the following to say about the importance of family history and family historians:

“Family history requires a distinct research skill set that opens up new questions and answers about the past. By tracing a family through time, family historians offer insight into longitudinal developments and change across generations, not least in relation to wider social, economic, and political developments. Family history requires researchers to look at the archive in a different way, looking across various types of records and showing how different dimensions of past experiences intersect. Family histories are one of the main ways that the public learns about history and so significant to public memory and understanding of the past”.

The Library holds several of Katie’s numerous publications, which can be found here. We also have a broad collection of Australian and South Australian genealogy-related titles, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander biographies and life stories, held as part of our Yaitya Ngutupira Collection, which can be browsed here.

Tagged in national family history month, special collections