'Today people regard convict ancestry as a badge of honour'

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The Independent Online

An advert placed in an Australian genealogy magazine and months of painstaking research led Alan and Heather Hall to discover an ancestor transported to Australia over a century ago.

Mr Hall's great-great-great grandfather, Thomas Collins, was sentenced to seven years transportation at the Old Bailey in 1839. He was found guilty of stealing two loaves of bread and a sack of flour at the age of 16. He was freed in 1846 and spent most of his life owning hotels in Sydney.

"I think it was natural curiosity that led us to tracing our family and it was quite something to find convict ancestry. It has been a hobby of ours for some years, but my parents were just not interested. I have wondered if they actually knew," said Mr Hall, 63, who lives near Canberra in New South Wales.

He said "convict ancestry" no longer carried the stigma that it may have done a few generations ago.

"Going back two generations ago, it was something you did not talk about. Now people finding out things take it as a badge of honour for their forbears," he said.

The Halls have been piecing together their family history for the past three years and Mr Hall has traced his family tree to 1750. They are both members of local genealogy societies and have visited Britain to enhance their search.

Since coming across the Old Bailey web site, they discovered another ancestor, George Harrop, who became a victim of crime in 1831 when he was duped into leaving his bag of laundry unattended, and it was pawned by a young thief.

"What I think is so useful with this website is that it not only indexes the convicts, but you can pull up names of witnesses, victims and judges, to piece together another side of the family. It gives you a great advantage in finding additional information," said Mr Hall.