Nick Vine Hall (1944-2006) - Obituary

Lifetime interest in genealogy was sparked by a family link to James Cook

November 14, 2006
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.

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.1

Diana Plater

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