‘How I found Dolly Denson’ by Parker Bagnall

This guest post was written by Parker Bagnall, aged seven. Parker attended our Real Face of White Australia transcribe-a-thon weekend at Old Parliament House on 9–10 September 2017, and became interested in the photograph of a little girl, Dolly Denson, that she found when transcribing. You can see more photographs of the Denson family in NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80.

My mum and dad made a website called the Real Face of White Australia.

On this website you transcribe. I’ll explain what transcribing is. Transcribing is when you take words from old immigration documents and type them out. On the old documents there are pictures of the person who owns the certificate. When I was transcribing I came across a two year old girl called Dolly. She was very cute and had chubby cheeks. My mum helped me find more about Dolly from the archives.

Me transcribing at Old Parliament House.

Dolly was born in Sydney 1907. That was 110 years ago. Dolly died probably at least 20 or 30 years ago, but my mum said it would have been interesting to meet someone who you were studying. Dolly’s mum’s name was Jang See and her dad’s name was Mew Denson. She had six siblings – five sisters, one brother. Her oldest sister, Mary, was born in China in 1895. The rest of her siblings were born in Sydney. There names were William, Amy, Ivy, Ruby, Mabel. Ruby died when she was a baby.

Photos of Dolly Denson and her mum’s handprint (NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80).

In 1909 the family went on a trip to China. The ship they travelled on was called the Eastern. Before they left they got identification documents called CERTIFICATE EXEMPTING FROM DICTATION TEST. These are the documents I was transcribing.🇨🇳 Dolly was too little to have her own certificate, so she’s on the back of her mum’s certificate.

Transcribing is fun but tricky. It’s tricky because the old handwriting is a bit hard to read. The writing is very curly, some letters are weird. The more you do it the easier it gets. There’s also some funny things on the certificates. One funny thing is they measure height in boots.

Some weird curly writing (NAA: ST84/1, 1909/23/71-80).

Thank you for reading this.
You can try transcribing yourself.
By Parker Bagnall.


  1. Nancy Buggy says:

    Hello Parker,

    First of all, I wish to congratulate you on your superb post on Dolly Denson. How clever you are! My mother was Mabel Denson, one of Dolly’s younger sisters. My name is Nancy Buggy, a second generation Australian born Chinese and I, too, am interested in our family history and would like endorse Wilma’s comments on her husband, Jim Simmons’ wonderful research on our family history. My late husband, Terry Buggy, did his MA thesis titled ‘Chinese Immigration and The Emergence of an Australian Image of China’ in 1978 …. inspired by our family background.

    Keep up the good work, Parker!

  2. Georgina Yan says:

    Hi Parker,

    My name is Georgina Yan and my mother was Amy Denson, a sibling of Dolly Denson. She was born in Sydney and lived here from 1936 until she died in 1990 at the age of 89. Aunty Dolly lived in Macau but I do not know at what age she died.

    Thank you for sharing the story.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks for a really interesting story Parker, and for alerting me to the transcription project. I’m going to have a go at it.

  4. Thank you Parker for sharing this. My grandmother was Amy Denson, one of Dolly’s younger sisters, so Dolly was my great aunt. My name is Wilma Simmons, a third generation Australian born Chinese, and I am also very interested in the stories of Australian Chinese. My husband who is a British immigrant to Australia has done some transcribing from these documents too, and together with stories and photos of my grandmother’s family, the Densons, make fascinating reading.

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