Mel’s mysteries shed light on family secrets

by | Aug 22, 2019

Mel Dunstan says one of her fondest memories is sitting around the dinner table at Christmas, discussing lost relatives that her grandfather found while researching her family free.

She’s watched her mother and grandfather complete many branches on that family tree, and for her, it’s become one of her great loves.

Learning about our family history is essential to understanding ourselves, our basic humanity and diversity – it helps us keep memories alive and shows us where we come from.

Mel is a nurse practitioner who joined the Stratford Medical team’s Wheels of Wellness program about a month ago.

She has five degrees – nursing, midwifery, child and family health nursing, has a Masters as a Nurse Practitioner and a graduate diploma in diabetes education.

And she spends any spare time she has working with adoptive children tracing their family trees and helping them find their birth parents through DNA matches.

She says she loves a mystery.

“After moving to Cairns, I attended a DNA Group at my local Cairns and District Family History Society and was hooked,” Mel said.

“I went home that night and ordered my first Ancestry DNA kit. Since that time I have been lucky to test a lot of my family members and work on confirming the branches on our family tree.

“It’s great to be able to find new cousins and be able to add them on Facebook and learn about their lives.

“The chase of filling the missing branches onto trees, reading the stories of the people that have gone before us, and researching to find more than just a name, drives me to continue this work.

“I work hard to reference my work and ensure that I reference all of the information that gets added to the tree.”

Even when that work hits a brick wall: Mel’s first adoptee has still not found her birth father. But the pair have found 292 fourth cousins and they believe her birth father has already died. His brother and relatives know nothing either.

“It’s two steps forward and five steps back,” she said.

“I enjoy teaching others how to use Genetic Genealogy to answer questions, break down brick walls, and confirm or deny family stories.

“A family history is important in medicine too because families share genes, environments, lifestyles and habits and the risk factors for disease run in families.”

Educated at Masters level, nurse practitioners like Mel are able to work with advanced skills and education to provide primary, acute and specialty health care.

She is able to take medical history, undertake clinical examinations, arrange tests and investigations, and implement plans to manage health care and she is passionate about improving health outcomes of all Australians, particularly those designated as at-risk populations, such as aged care, indigenous populations and general primary health care in remote and rural and regional areas.

“As nurse practitioners, we are trained to think about the wider issues for patients – we think like nurses but can undertake some of the activities of a doctor.”

Mel grew up in Country Victoria and trained in Melbourne before moving to Cairns seven years ago with the Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Managing the primary health care nursing team for the RFDS, she has worked all over Queensland, from Birdsville in the south to the tip of Cape York Peninsula.

She also spent a few years in Western Queensland in Mount Isa at the RFDS base.

Mel lives with her partner, Jay and their two cats.

Mel is pictured above with her grandmother Ella.