History, Genealogy and Heritage Events

Unlock The Past will be at

Unlock the Past Cruises


Overseas presenters

Paul Milner

A professional genealogist and lecturer, specialising in British Isles and US research for over 30 years, Paul was born and raised in northern England and settled in the US in 1975. He is a nationally recognised speaker for British Isles research and migration. He is the author of Genealogy at a Glance: England Researchplus co-author of A Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your English Ancestors and A Genealogists Guide to Discovering Your Scottish Ancestors. He teaches the week-long English and Scottish research tracks at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. He is a past board member of the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG); Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS); and Genealogical Speakers Guild (GSG); and past president of the British Interest Group of Wisconsin and Illinois (BIGWILL). He is currently the book review editor for the FGS Forum and BIGWILL.

Paul has a portfolio of about 70 topics, specialising in, but not limited to, the British Isles. We will benefit from a good selection of these.

Louis KesslerKessler

Louis started his genealogy over 35 years ago, about the same time he started computer programming. His University degrees in Statistics and Computer Science have given Louis a very different and innovative perspective on Genealogy research. Louis spent many years as Chair of the Archives Committee, as a Board Member and then as President of the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada. He built his website in 1997 and designed and operates the GenSoftReviews.com website where people go to review and rate their genealogy software. Louis is an active member of the BetterGEDCOM initiative to create a new standard for genealogy data transfer. In 2011, Louis released Version 1 of his own genealogy software Behold, designed to become the world's first report-based data editor for genealogy.

Louis lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with his wife Cheryl and two daughters. He works full time as the Manager of the Forecasting aDepartment at his province's electric and gas utility company. Genealogy and programming are his after-hour passions.

Click links for more info about Louis and his genealogical activities. Follow his interests and progress on his Behold Blog. See his blog on the Unlock The Past Genealogy Cruise

Bob VelkeVelke

Bob is the president of Wholly Genes, Inc., the makers of The Master Genealogist (TMG) and other family history software tools since 1992.  He is also the president of Archive CD Books USA, a partner company in an international Archive CD Books Project which digitises old books, maps, and other materials of interest to genealogists. He is a former member of the Board of Directors of the National Genealogical Society (NGS), a former Board member of GENTECH, Inc., a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, a participant in the Lexicon Working Group, and a co-author of the GENTECH Genealogical Data Model (GDM). He has been involved in the Member Ancestor Chart (MAC) and other NGS projects.

Bob received a B.A. in Criminology from the University of Maryland, where he later taught that subject and trained police departments on research and analysis techniques. He is a frequent lecturer at family history conferences on technology issues and is a genealogical researcher of some 30 years, with a special interest in the American Civil War and southwestern Virginia.

Bob will give up to five TMG presentations/workshops and be available on occasions in the Research Help Zone for small group or one on one help sessions

Australian and New Zealand presenters

Jill BallBall

Jill, now an amateur genealogist, has been a librarian, teacher and, most recently, Head of Information Technology in a Sydney Independent School. In 2011 Jill was honoured with Life membership of School Library Association NSW for her work in education.

This connected Granny uses Web 2.0 tools including Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Picasa, and Blogger to communicate with genealogists and family members around the globe. She shares her passion for integrating technology with genealogy through her blog, GeniAus, and with presentations in Australia and internationally at Rootstech. 

Jill was an Official Blogger for the 2011 and 2012 Rootstech Conferences in Salt Lake City and the 13th Australian Genealogy Congress in Adelaide. She has written several articles for Inside History Magazine and is a contributor to Unlock the Past's History and Genealogy 2012: Australia and New Zealand.

Carol BaxterBaxter

Carol has been a genealogist for 30 years, having first become interested in family history research while still at school. Her career as a professional genealogist began when she was appointed Project Officer of the Australian Biographical and Genealogical Record (ABGR). In that role she edited six volumes of early New South Wales muster returns (similar to Census returns) and later the Convict Indents for 1788-1812. She is now General Editor of the revamped ABGR - the Biographical Database of Australia (BDA). She is a Fellow of the Society of Australian Genealogists. In 2011 she was appointed as an adjunct lecturer at the University of New England.

Carol also writes popular history/true historical crime. To her delight her books have received critical acclaim. Three have now been published by Allen & Unwin. These are An Irresistible Temptation: the true story of Jane New and a Colonial Scandal (2006), Breaking the Bank: An Extraordinary Colonial Robbery(2008), and Captain Thunderbolt and his Lady: the true story of bushrangers Frederick Ward and Mary Ann Bugg (2011). She has also self published Writing Interesting Family Histories, which has has gone into its second updated print-run and plans another half-a-dozen - when she can find time!

On the cruise she will be giving her entertaining and informative Writing Interesting Family Histories presentations. And be sure, Carol packs more into a presentation than most others can in twice the time - and will keep you well and truly awake in doing so.

Carol has a linguistics degree she has never used, became a historian by default, and had her first popular history picked up by a major publishing house without realising that she was a writer. She says, "Despite this astonishing lack of self-perception, I have now accepted that I am indeed a writer although I still feel the need to watch out for the fraud police when asked to talk about my journey to becoming a published author." More on Carol, including a list of topics she offers. See also Carol's web site.

Stephen Dando-CollinsDando-Collins

Stephen is the award-winning international author of 26 books about the history of Australia, Britain, France, America and ancient Rome. With a literary agent in New York, he is published in Australia, the US, UK, and numerous foreign languages, from Spanish (he has 4 publishers in Spain alone), to Korean. His latest book about Roman history, Legions of Rome, was a New Statesman Book of the Week in the UK. Described as ‘a very fine historian’ by Phillip Adams of ABC radio’s Late Night Live, and as ‘a gifted storyteller’ by the Weekly Independent, Stephen is a full-time author who uses his research know-how as the former national head of a market research company as he delves into the past lives of the many real people he writes about. Historical and genealogical research, he says, is, for him, half the fun of writing a book, and is often like a treasure hunt. Many is the time he has unearthed literary gold in his researches, which have taken him all around the world.

For Unlock the Past, Stephen will be talking about several of his Australian-based books, delivering research case studies in which you’ll learn of the fascinating twists, turns and discoveries that his historical detective work produces. Books such as 2011’s highly acclaimed Crack Hardy. Described by Professor Ross Fitzgerald in the Sydney Morning Herald as ‘a fine and important book,’ and by Melbourne’s Weekly Times as ‘the most remarkable, most human, and most fragile record of the birth of the Anzac,’ this book tells the gripping true story of Stephen’s great-uncles during the First World War. Stephen will also be talking about the research journey for his 2009 Queensland Premier’s Literary Award-winner Pasteur’s Gambit, the thrilling tale of French microbiologist Louis Pasteur’s attempts to wipe out Australia’s rabbit plague. He will also be discussing his next book on Australian history, Mistaken Identity - in researching the life of Joe Windred, one-time Mayor of Orange, NSW, Stephen stumbled on the amazing, previously untold story of Joe’s constant battle with mistaken identity, which saw Joe wrongly convicted of identical crimes in Sydney and San Francisco, and nearly had him lynched. On our 2013 cruise, Stephen will additionally be chairing a panel discussion with other leading speakers, to reveal how they’ve all turned their genealogical research outcomes into successful books.

Stephen is a member of numerous literary organisations, including the Historical Writers Association of the UK. A highly experienced, entertaining and fascinating speaker, he regularly gives talks and lectures about the subjects of his books, from the Academy of Science in Canberra to Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance, from National Public Radio in the US to Provence in the South of France. See Stephen's web site for more.

Jan GowGow

Jan says she has been ‘Hooked on Genealogy’ since 1981 when she won an airfare to the States. She has been a tutor, author and lecturer at local, national and international levels since 1985. And on cruise ships! She has served three years as Treasurer and then three years President New Zealand Society of Genealogists. She is presently the Liaison Officer for FamilySearch/NZSG, is a NZSG Life Member and Past Board Member Association Professional Genealogists. She has owned Beehive Books since 1987, the one-stop-shop for NZ genealogists and led Hooked on Genealogy Tours (since 1992) – each year preparing and escorting genealogists to Salt Lake City for three weeks and on to the UK for a further three weeks.

Jan was awarded the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Service to Family History in 2006. She was on the organising committee for the AFFHO Congress in Auckland in 2009, and the NZ Family History Fair in 2010. She has for ten years written a monthly genealogy column for NZ’s Netguide magazine, with a feature article most years.

Jan says "I need another category on my passport - that of Auskiwi - born in Australia, but live in Auckland NZ". Jan was a presenter at 2011 Rootstech conference in Salt Lake City and at the 2011 Who Do You Think You Are? Live air show in London, two of the largest family history events in the world. More details, including a list of topics Jan offers.


Shauna Hicks

Shauna Hicks has been tracing her own family history since 1977 and worked in government for over 35 years primarily in libraries and archives in Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne. She is currently Director of her own research and consultancy business, Shauna Hicks History Enterprises. She is a sought after presenter at Unlock the Past and other events. She is the author of a number of research publications published by Unlock the Past, including Family and Local History Resource Directory for Victoria, Family History on the Cheap, It's Not All Online: A Guide to Genealogy Sources Offline, What Was the Voyage Really Like?: A Brief Guide to Researching Convict and Immigrant Voyages to Australia and New Zealand, Your Family History Archives: A Brief Introduction, as well as numerous articles for journals and the annual History and Genealogy 2011: Australia and New Zealand.

Shauna has a number of tertiary qualifications from Queensland universities as well as the Diploma in Family Historical Studies from the Society of Australian Genealogists. She is a Fellow of the Queensland Family History Society; in 2007 she was awarded a Distinguished Achievement Award from the Australian Society of Archivists and is a recipient of the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Services to Family History. More details, including a list of topics Shauna offers.


Rosemary Kopittke

Rosemary has been tracing her family in Australia, England and Scotland since 1985. A statistician by training, she has worked as an hydrologist, teacher and biometrician though now works as a consultant for Gould Genealogy & History and Unlock the Past. Rosemary is a regular presenter at Unlock the Past events and genealogy groups; she spoke at the New Zealand Family History Fair in 2011 and presented at the New Zealand Society of Genealogists Conference at Taupo in June 2012. She is the author of The new findmypast.com.au: gateway to the world collection and co-author of Which genealogy program? books; edited Queensland Founding Families: biographies of families living in Queensland prior to separation from New South Wales; and has published numerous indexes but is probably best known for Emigrants from Hamburg to Australasia 1850-1879 which she compiled with husband Eric.

Rosemary has served the Queensland FHS as President for three years and in various other capacities for 25 years. She is a current member of the AFFHO Council and the Queensland FHS Management Committee, a Fellow of QFHS and, in 2006, received the AFFHO Award for Meritorious Services to Family History. More details, including a list of topics Rosemary offers.


Helen Smith

Helen has been researching her family since 1986 with research in Queensland, Australia, England and Ireland. She has registered her Quested research with the Guild of One Name Studies and is the author of Death Certificates and Archaic Medical Terms. Helen has written for Inside History, Australian Family Tree Connections and History & Genealogy: Australia and New Zealand, family history journals and scientific publications and is a genealogy blogger currently with four blogs. She has spoken at many family history society meetings, is a regular presenter for Unlock the Past events and has also presented to a number of non-genealogy audiences including Rotary and the Library Technicians Conference. A Public Health microbiologist by training, Helen has a strong interest in health, social history and how these affect our ancestors. Helen speaks on a range of topics with an emphasis on research in Australia and England, solving brick-wall problems and our ancestors health. More details, including a full list of topics Helen offers.


Others on the cruise with expertise who will give presentations

Neil Bradley (WA) www.nbradley.id.au

Neil has been compiling information about his family connections in Australia and the UK for 15 years.  Neil has over 37,000 names in his TMG database of which nearly 18,000 are direct relatives,  more than 17,500 are Australian and more than 11,000 Western Australian. Neil is the current Treasurer of the Western Australian Genealogical Society (WAGS) and is also the co-ordinator of the TMG Special Interest Group within WAGS.

Geoff Doherty (Qld)

Geoff has been interested in Family History for the past twenty years.  He gained his interest on a trip to the Queensland State Library one Saturday afternoon, when he was courting his wife, Margaret.  Marg had originally planned to go to the library with a girlfriend, as Geoff wasn't interested, but her friend couldn't go at the last minute.  Gallantly, Geoff said he would go with Marg to keep her company, thinking that if he couldn't find a decent book to read in a library, that there was something badly wrong with the world.  After sitting and reading for an hour or so, Geoff wandered over to see what Marg was doing.  Strangely enough, she was researching his family (looking for skeleton's in the closet, perhaps?).  Geoff watched for a while and then uttered the fateful words, "I could do that...", and the rest is history, literally!  After a few years this interest led to him starting a Diploma of Family History at the University of New England, which would take two years as a part time course.  After the first year, an Advanced Diploma was offered and Geoff took that up, adding another year to his studies.  Then he realized that the Advanced Diploma was worth half the credit points of a Bachelors degree - so, in for penny, in for a pound, he signed up for the Bachelor Degree. This led to more years of external study, until he graduated with a degree in history.  Then he did the follow on Honours degree.  Now he is embarked (sometimes) on a PhD in history, concerning the Queensland Bushman contingents sent to the South African War during 1899-1902. He has presented at several family history and academic conferences over the past ten years, but this will be his first on a cruise ship - though he is an ex-RAN sailor, and thinks this should be a breeze.

Linda Elliott (NZ) - English specialist, now a professional genealogist in New Zealand. Has two web sites:

Diane Foster (WA)

Diane began her professional career in libraries in 1980, adding archives in 1986. During her career, Diane has worked in archives at the state, local and “grass roots” sector at the community level. These included historical societies, local history libraries, community archives, schools and the archival processes for private collections with a special interest in preservation of heritage collections. Diane completed, with honours, the Advanced Diploma of Local History from the Oxford University in England which has enhanced her knowledge and approach to research and writing local history.

Throughout the years, Diane has kept up to date with professional development and has tutored and lectured in three universities in Western Australia and the Northern Territory.. Diane has always been active in professional associations connected with her work and contributed on many levels. She was involved in creating a Local History Conference that led to the association of a local history collective comprising of historical societies, local history collections, family history groups and archival groups. In 1995 the offer of a contract with the Nanaimo Community Archives, British Columbia in Canada beckoned culminating in the “rescue” of the significant Malaspina Murals. Her seven years as Archives Manger with the Sidney Museum and Archives ended when she resigned to take up a post as Manager / Curator with the Qualicum Beach Museum. This post ended after four months when she decided to return to Australia. Family history research and genealogy are a passion for Diane and this continues into her retirement years as a major project for herself and others. Diane looks forward to working in a team environment as the archivist for the Western Australian Genealogical Society.

Dawn Springett

Dawn is a retired professional librarian. She has been researching her family history and the lives of individuals for many years and enjoys ‘the hunt for information and details of people’s lives. Dawn is especially interested in maritime history and strange stories of the sea. She has written extensively about the research she has undertaken and is passionate about the story of the loss of HMS Sturdy and the subsequent memorial service and reunion seventy years later.