The Archives staff attended the funeral of Gifford Brown on Monday, one of our dedicated volunteers who for over 12 years indexed tens of thousands of Presbyterian marriages and many hundreds of baptisms.
Gifford began his indexing career while attending to the duties of Church Officer at First Church of Otago in Dunedin. He undertook the massive task of transcribing all the marriages that took place at First Church Otago from 1848 to 1998. This project gave him the bug so much so, that he sought out the task of indexing the registers held in the Archives.
From our perspective we were delighted; indexes make our task so much easier as well as for those who are seeking out information. The first marriage index was compiled by the Dunedin Genealogists, Eleanor Leckie and Janice Poskitt (Nolan) in 1990. The forward noted that the index ‘contained all the Registers known to exist in Otago’. However, unbeknowns to them this was not so and from 1994 many 100’s of registers appeared from parishes not only in Otago and Southland but throughout New Zealand. Gifford took up the task of indexing sometime around 1999. He and his wife Shirley, who assisted in checking every entry, continued this exceptional task until Gifford took seriously ill several months ago.
It is rather difficult to estimate the total number of entries but we hazard a guess of something in the range of 230 000. Each marriage is entered twice, once under the bridegroom’s name and once under the brides name. Gifford rarely complained but when it came to handwriting he would shake his head ‘oh Yvonne this was a tough one’.
We will miss his quiet and gentlemanly manner, his story telling and his humour. Each year Gifford and Shirley participated in our Christmas lunch enthusiastically assuring us that they would be knocking on the door in the New Year.
Funerals always highlight so much about a person that one is generally unaware of. Gifford began his adult life as a farmer involving himself from an early age in community activities. Moving to the city did not faze him and he became involved in a wide number of organisations, including the administration of Royal Male Choir, a Justice of the Peace and all the various roles that position offered and achieved the highest rank in the Masonic Lodge. His strong faith underlay his whole life and his interest church history saw him along with others establish the very successful Heritage Centre at First Church.
A verse from his funeral service sums up his life:
That man is a success
who has lived well,
laughed often and loved much;
who has gained the respect
of intelligent men
and the love of children;
who has filled this niche
and accomplished his task;
who leaves the world better
than he found it;
who has never lacked appreciation
of earths beauty
or failed to express it;
who looked for the best in others
and gave the best he had.
Thank you Gifford and Shirley for all your support and enthusiasm for our work; we will miss you both enormously.