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The Internet and Genealogical Research.

Have you ever reached the point in your family history research where, despite all your hard work, all you could see before you was a dead end?

After co-authoring two books I was left with a paper about the work and family of Alexander Bowie the builder of Georgian Stirling The only surviving Bowie child, Helen, emigrated in 1863 to Shortland in New Zealand with her husband David Philp. All atlases gazetteers etc had been searched for Shortland, without result, and even the Embassy assured me that there was no such place in New Zealand.

Here the matter lay for ten years until, one day in October 1995, when I returned from the local University library angry and frustrated because I could not park any where on campus. A visitor assured me that, if I was linked to the Internet, I could look up the University catalogue from my office and even do my genealogy research. Disbelieving but intrigued I set about getting ‘on the Net’. A task that was accomplished by December of that year

Genealogy Newsgroups, I found, are the key to Internet genealogy searches. A Newsgroup is like a message board visible throughout the world to those linked to it. There are about 35 genealogy newsgroups covering every conceivable topic. On the 18th December 1995 I sent my first message to the newsgroup alt.genealogy seeking information about Shortland.

Within four days Patsy in Christchurch and Pearl in the Bay of Islands contacted me to say that Shortland had once been a township in the goldrush days but had merged into modern day Thames. That was all it took to unblock the ten year stalemate.

A month later, by ‘snail mail’ the Auckland Library notified me of the date of the Philp families arrival in Auckland. Once in possession of this information, Ross in Auckland, found, and e-mailed me, an obituary, dated 1935, in the local papers announcing the death of one of the children James Alexander Philp---in Brisbane. The obituary stated that he left a wife and son Ross, "a well known figure in legal circles".

Via the Internet I linked up to the Australian, on-line, phone book and, hoping that from 1935 to date any legal firm would have kept its name, I searched for Philp. ‘Too many Philps refine your search’—came back to me. So ‘Philp, Brisbane, Solicitor’ was duly typed in and ,almost immediately, a phone number appeared.

It was a long shot but well worth a try. There and then I telephoned and spoke directly to Ken Philp who, after listening to my story, assured me that his family was not of the same Philp line. He did, however, say that the great grandson of James of the 1935 obituary was known to him and " Would I like his Telephone number". "By the way" he went on, "The Ross Philp of the Obituary was really Roslyn Philp and he went on to be knighted for his services to the Queensland Bar. His full name being Sir Roslyn Foster Bowie Philp". Even the Bowie name !!!. Within the hour I was speaking to Andrew Philp in Cairns, Queensland---my first Bowie descendant.

In less than two months I had made the kind of breakthrough that would not have been possible without the wizardry of the Internet. I was now totally hooked.

The Internet was to prove invaluable in other research topics. On the 14th October I received an e-mail from New Zealand quoting the Comber Index for the Voyage of the ‘Queen of Beauty’ the clipper ship that took the Philp family to Auckland in 1856. Written in an abbreviated form reference was made to the incident where the ship was stopped by the Confederate ship ‘Alabama’. Interested, but knowing little about the ‘Alabama’, I posted a note to one of the newsgroups asking for information.

Anything to do with the American Civil War brings out researchers and enthusiasts in their droves and, within two days, via e-mail, I had the full background to the ‘Alabama’. The next day a report of the actual ‘Queen of Beauty’ incident as described in the log of the ‘Alabama’ was sent to me by e-mail from a Civil War enthusiast, from a student in a USA university, who just happened to read my posting to the newsgroup.

All this in such a short time and without leaving my office desk.

When the research reached Australia I linked through a newsgroup and via e-mail, with Lyn in Brisbane and she was a wonderful help in sorting out ‘all those Philps’ as we came to call this phase. Lyn gleaned Philps from Queensland records and even paid a visit to one of the Australian Philps who had written a book about a Philp family. As a result we were able to clarify the picture and work our the lineage of three separate families of Philps who had originated in Fife in Scotland. The Philps of Balgony, The Philps of Kincaple ( The ones that Ken belongs to) and the family in which I was interested the Philps of Boarhills. Again without the e-mail contact with Lyn this could probably never have been accomplished.

Seeking confirmation about Thomas J Wetherald, who I knew belonged to Canada and who had married one of the Philp daughters in Sydney, Lyn confirmed that the records for New South Wales would need to be searched locally and that there was a Transcription agent Marilyn Rowan who was approved by the NSW Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages to do just that.

E-mail contact with Marilyn resulted in my having full details within three days and, also with the help of e-mail, I was able to trace the Wetherald links back through Canada to Yorkshire with the help of Dorothy in Toronto who was adopted into the family. Dorothy at 85 regularly surfs the Net and sends e-mail..

In many ways the use of e-mail, as outlined above, is rather pedestrian now and lately, since the acquisition of a scanner, I have been exchanging family photographs and gedcom files of family drop down charts with one of the descendants in Auckland.

What to do with all the family story once it has been collected, collated and written up is the problem that faces all family history researchers and stories about the eventual cost of such a project are legion. My hope is that, with some local sponsorship a book about Bowie and his buildings in Stirling will be a commercial venture, ie not loose money, but the wider family story would have a very limited appeal.

With this in mind I again turned to the Internet to solve my problem and learned how to set up my own web site. This is now located at : Here about three quarters of the Bowie story is now presented together with links to Scottish National, Local and Family History Web sites. Currently I am uploading Bowie/Philp pictures to soon appear on my Web site.

I would encourage more people to publish their material in this way. Imagine in time, a large archive of such material freely available on the Internet. Although I have not endeavoured to publicise my Web site extensively over1500 people have ‘surfed in’ to look over my pages between the 28th of June 1997 and 10th October 1997.

I therefore owe a great deal to the Internet. Without it I could well be saying, as I did for ten years, "there seems to be no way to complete the Bowie/Philp story. Thanks to the Internet I am now in possession of the full Bowie family history stretching from 1779 in Scotland to New Zealand, Australia and Canada and in touch with both family members and a wonderful bunch of genealogists around the globe.

I hope that you enjoy browsing through the Bowie material already posted. The rest will follow as and when I get it written.

Links to other pages on this web site.

Next chapter of the Bowie Story
Stirling...A Brief History

Commercial Bank 1827

Back to the main Bowie Index

Commercial Bank 1827