The Expat Genealogist
My husband was offered a position here in Singapore. We came over to have a look around and to view it as a resident rather than a tourist. We decided to give it a go. It's not easy to uproot ourselves so late in life…but if there is anything I have learned it is grab what you can when you can!! Life is so short and I take all opportunities that come my way, if at all possible.
So here we are and have been for nearly 12 mths. We do enjoy it and enjoy what it has to offer us, sure we miss family and friends and the way of life we led in Australia, but this is an opportunity to engage in a new culture and experience what life has on offer.
Yes, I take as many opportunities as I can - without being selfish of course. I had cancer five years ago and was very ill for over 12 months, my husband decided to sell our home and buy a motorhome so we could spend the next 12 months together travelling around Australia . Neither of us knew what tomorrow was going to bring, but he thought this would be good for my recovery….. and it was. We had a beautiful year together and I recovered very well indeed…..I don't think I would have survived as well as I did without the support of my husband and family.
But a scare like that brings you back to earth and allows you to appreciate what you have. Not necessarily the material things, but the love and support of family, friends, spouse, children…… and the beauty that surrounds all of us.
What was your previous occupation?
I was offered an position at the Royal Melbourne Hospital over 10 years ago as a Medical Genealogist. I worked in the Gastroenterology Department and then once the Department of Genetics got off the ground, I did all the family pedigrees that were needed to work with each of the registered families we had at the centre. My hobby had been genealogy since 1980, I have always found it to be a very rewarding past time, but to be Australia's only Medical Genealogist and working with such a great team that was helping so many families …… was the ideal occupation, getting paid to do my hobby!
But once we started thinking about an overseas posting, I had to seriously consider my future worklife. The decision was very difficult indeed. I really did not want to retire and had no intention of doing so for as long as possible. I will be 63 this year and felt I still had a few years left in me that was ‘workable’ !
But my husband had this opportunity for extra global experience and that is something he could never hope to get in Australia. So I retired on and we moved to Singapore.
What are some of the great things about life as an expat in Singapore
I am calling myself a “lady of alternate pursuits”, rather than a “lady of leisure”, but I must add here that I have enjoyed my life outside of the workforce far greater than I thought possible. I now have time to do all the things that I didn't have time for before. I now have a lot of ME time, and that is very special. It then allows me to have more time with my husband once he is home from work and that means a lot more time together that we cherish.
Being an Expat is different. yes, we miss family and friends, but a lot of them do come and visit….so that is a plus. Another plus - for me - is that I get to travel with my husband. He does not like going away on business at anytime, but the up side is that I can get to go with him! Another plus about living in Singapore is that we are so close to the rest of Asia and we can get away as often as possible to experience other countries.
I like living here because it is so clean and safe ……. I can walk my dogs at anytime of the day or night and never feel threatened or frightened, I cannot say that about Melbourne!
The transport system is fabulous …… quick, cheap, clean and efficient. There is nowhere in the world that I know of where the train's run at THREE MINUTE intervals during peak time and off peak at six minutes! Never do I need to run for a train again, knowing that one will come along before the first one is out of sight!!
I now have time to pursue my interest in Photography…. I can wander off to the Botanical Gardens or other such venue to take some photos, and this I did not have much time for in Melbourne.
It is fabulous to be here when the festivals from all the different cultures are on and there are at least one a month……one thing about living in Singapore is that you could never be bored. :-)
And the not so great things?
ah ha…the not so great things! Missing family and friends and missing out on all the family get togethers on a Sunday or a BBQ with friends…. or the bush…. yes, I miss the smell of gum trees and the wide open spaces of the Australian bush.
I often feel alone, I live in the heartlands - West Coast of Singapore - where there are hardly any Westerners at all. It is far too expensive to live closer into the city where most of the Expats live, and of course most of them are on Expat “packages”, we are here on a local wage …. a VERY big difference. I do not have many friends here as most of the Expats are much younger and with young families. My saving grace is the internet and my nice big IMAC, I can email, skype, facebook, flickr and blog all day long and keep in touch with my family back home. But I do have a couple of close friends here and we do spend sometime together. Plus we have our two dogs with us, and they get to go on a lot of walks now that I am home.
I did attend a few coffee mornings that an Australian group puts on, but each time I went, the younger mums would ask “whose mother are you?”, when I reply that I am an Expat the same as they are, they just say “oh” and turn their back. So am no longer interested in attending the coffee mornings.
But there is hope, I did read recently that the Expat age bracket is no longer reserved for the younger generation….. but a lot of older folk are moving in….. wahooo!!
Yes, there are a lot of culture differences, but one has to learn to live with that….the same as we need to back in Australia when new people from other countries move into our neighbourhood. If I have a bad experience, I just think what it is like for an African person coming to live in Australia…… because that IS how much of a difference there is between the Singaporeans and myself.
How long have you been researching your family tree?
Since February 14 1980…… a very long time ago!
What prompted you to start?
I started to write in a journal things that I could remember about my family and where I lived as a child, mainly for my two children…………that lead me to obtaining my parents’ marriage certificate, from there to my grandparents’ marriage certificates, then birth certificates….. and it has never stopped. I have over 3500 certificates alone…… a very expensive hobby too…. and It is a disease….. believe me, there is no cure!!!
What successes have you had?
Lots of successes, probably the main one being meeting up with so many 'cousins" I never knew I had …… having contact with so many family members that none of us would have ever known about…… yes, they are generations removed, but they are still part of the big picture of family!
Another success was when a friend of mine was wandering along her street a few years back, there was some rubbish out on the nature strip waiting for collection. By chance she saw a photograph laying there, and being the inquisitive person that she is, looked at it, turned it over and saw the names on the back…… she phoned me once she got home to ask if I knew about the names on the photo. Yes, they were my great grandparents, but I have no idea why it was on the rubbish heap, nor do I know the people living at that house. So that is definitely a photo to treasure.
Anything unusual you've discovered?
Yes, a couple of convicts, a few marriages that happened well after the birth of the first child or even the 5th child!!
What tips would you give someone wanting to start researching their family tree?
KEEP ALL YOUR NOTES and SOURCES….. never lose track of them. Write everything down. Even things you may think are not important, 'cos they will be one day. Write down who told you what, where you got that info from, everything….. I cannot stress that enough.
…. and start with yourself. Write everything down you can remember and get yourself a good data base… Brothers Keeper is freeware and I have used it for many years. It has never let me down.
….and while you can remember, write on the back of all those photos you have laying around!!!