Newsletter – 30th March 2021
Another source for the 1939 Register BREAKING NEWS
Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA UK ONLY – ENDS WEDNESDAY
The LostCousins newsletter is usually published 2 or 3 times a month (though this is the fourth issue in March). To access the previous issue (dated 20th March) click here; to find earlier articles use the customised Google search between this paragraph and the next (it searches ALL of the newsletters since February 2009, so you don't need to keep copies):
To go to the main LostCousins website click the logo at the top of this newsletter. If you're not already a member, do join - it's FREE, and you'll get an email to alert you whenever there's a new edition of this newsletter available!
Another source for the 1939 Register BREAKING NEWS
As I was finalising this newsletter I received a press release from The Genealogist which revealed that they have become the fourth site (after Findmypast and Ancestry) to make available a transcription of the 1939 Register, which is a surprisingly useful source of information.
I haven't had a chance to try it out yet, but one thing I do know is that having different ways to search, and different sites to search at, greatly improves the chance of finding elusive relatives!
Note: unlike Findmypast and Ancestry, The Genealogist does not have images of the register pages, This wasn't immediately apparent from a quick glance at their press release (which was all I had time for before the newsletter 'went to press'.
Last chance to save on Ancestry DNA UK ONLY – ENDS WEDNESDAY
Thanks to DNA I'm tantalisingly close to knocking down one of my most frustrating 'brick walls' – and after almost 20 years spent fruitlessly searching the surviving records it seems like a minor miracle.
But DNA isn't a miracle, it's science, and just as science is helping the world to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, we can use science to help overcome the blockages in our family tree. Of course, sometimes those blockages are of our own making, rather like the container ship that veered off course and blocked the Suez Canal – but even then science can bale us out, provided we open our minds to the possibilities.
Until Wednesday 31st March researchers in the UK can save 25% on Ancestry DNA – and the good news is that you don't need to say who'll be testing when you place your order, so you don't have to decide now who is going to test – nor do you have to limit yourself to a single test kit (the shipping charge works out less when you order more than one).
Please use the link below so that LostCousins can benefit from your order (note that if you are logged-in at Ancestry you'll need to log-out first):
Ancestry.co.uk (UK only) – Ancestry DNA reduced from £79 to £59 (plus shipping) ENDS 31ST MARCH
Note: if you can't see the link it's because your browser is hiding it (a particular problem with Firefox); if you don’t want to change your settings the simplest solution is to view the newsletter in a different browser.
I'm not a Facebook fan, but I couldn't help mentioning this post, which shows part of the birth certificate for a child was born at a bus stop. Were any of your family members born in an unusual location and, if so, what was shown on their birth certificate?
From this week it's once again legal to get married in England, but no more than 6 people – including the happy couple and the witnesses – can attend. And if you want to entertain your guests – all 4 of them – to a wedding breakfast you'll have to do it outside, in a private garden.
I'm very pleased to be able to share with you a good news story about family graves from LostCousins member June:
"I don’t know if anyone else will be interested in my experience of how I came to be the owner of two graves? It all came about when I was researching my great grandmother Sarah (Sissy) Stapleton later Gamblin nee Ord b. 1873 and her father my x 2 great g’father Stephen Tate Ord b. 1842 in Westoe – now part of South Shields.
"Stephen was an engineer who moved from County Durham to Portsmouth in Hampshire. I knew a lot about them but not where they were buried, so I wrote to Portsmouth County Council. They advised me Stephen & his wife Mary nee Robson were buried in Kingston Cemetery Portsmouth along with Stephen’s mother and gave me the grave details. The Council also told me that Sissy and her 2nd husband Oliver Gamblin were also buried in the same cemetery along with their little girl Beatrice. I knew she had died of measles complications aged 5 years in 1917.
"Apparently there used to be a headstone many years ago but like a lot of cemeteries it was taken away and broken up (not laid down) for safety reasons, so nothing marked the plot. They also explained that it was their policy if unable to contact the last known person in their books, they had the right to take any action required. Of course, everyone had passed away or moved away by 1965. The other remarkable fact they told me was that lairs are not owned forever according to Portsmouth City Council and could be reused at any time if they run out of space in the cemetery.
"The reason this happened to my relatives' headstones was because there were no living relatives the council knew of to pay for any repairs.
"It so happened that my own mother died in 2007 and left me a small legacy. I decided to use the money to purchase the two lairs and have headstones erected. It was a simple process, the purchase was done through Portmouth City Council and I then contacted a small company in Portsmouth who made headstones. They were able to apply for the necessary approvals, we agreed on a design and wording, and they then made and erected the headstones for me, also taking the enclosed photographs.
"Whilst not everyone would wish to do the same as me, I am very glad I was in a position to do so. I have lost count of the number of times I have stood in a cemetery and looked at a piece of grass with no indication of who is buried below and feeling sad.
"Whilst visiting Sheffield with my husband a few years ago we decided to go to the cathedral church where I knew at least 4 of his relatives were buried. On a busy public street just outside the church boundary many many headstones had been used to make a pavement and an area for parking cars on!
"The stones were all face up so, for instance, Jeannie Brown who died in 1860 had a 4 x 4 parked on her headstone. Inside the church boundary all the headstones bar a dozen late 1700’s ones had been used to make footpaths. Considering the church grounds are used as a shortcut from one street to another there are people treading over them constantly. I was appalled and wrote to the church and the council only to be told it was a decision that had been made jointly. Arrogantly they said they were only headstones, what mattered was that the actual graves were still there.
"Maybe I am being too sensitive but the above decision made by them shows a total lack of respect and is perhaps indicative of attitudes now adays. Or am I being too cynical?"
Have you had a similar experience to June? Have you saved your ancestors' graves? Rather than writing to me, please post your thoughts and suggestions on the LostCousins Forum in the Latest Newsletter area – there everyone will be able to read them.
Researching ancestors who lived in England & Wales is usually fairly straightforward until we get back to 1841, the date of the first census, and 1837, the year that civil registration began. But then it becomes much tougher, for a number of inter-related reasons. In this Masterclass I'm going to first talk through the problems, and then explain how you can overcome them.
Why we need to use different techniques
When we're researching after 1837 we can refer to the GRO indexes, which (in theory at least) list everyone who was born, or married, or died in England & Wales. Once we get to 1841 we can also refer to censuses which (again, in theory) list everyone in the country on a certain night. Best of all, those indexes and censuses are available online, so anybody anywhere can get access to them.
But before 1837 we don't have either of those available to us - prior to the introduction of civil registration parish registers are by far the best sources of early information (and often the only surviving documents that name our ancestors). Most people were baptised, most of those who have descendants alive today got married, and the one thing you can be sure of is that they eventually died, in which case they'll almost certainly have been buried somewhere.
However, even though the vast majority of parish registers have survived, at least from the 17th century onwards, they're scattered across the nation rather than held in a central store. In most cases the original registers are held by the county record office, which means you cannot go to any one record office - not even the National Archives - and expect to find all the baptisms for (say) 1797. Indeed, even if you visit the repository of the registers you're seeking the chances are you'll only be able to view them on microfilm – and microfilmed entries can be hard to decipher.
Many registers have been transcribed, often by volunteers, and in some cases the transcriptions have been made available online. However you can't just go to one website and search through every parish register that has ever been transcribed, because some transcriptions are available at one site, some at another - and even if you have the time to visit them all, many of the transcriptions are only available at subscription sites, so you may not be able to access them. Furthermore, some of the transcriptions are only available on CD ROM or on microfiche - usually through family history societies - and many registers have still NEVER been transcribed.
Faced with such a different situation some faint-hearted researchers just give up - research pre-1837 is so different that they are scared to even try. Some try, but fail - either because they don't fully understand how best to make use of the available resources, or because they don't realise just how much is available to them. And then there are those who pick an entry simply because it's the only one they can find – or because the website they use has 'hinted' that it’s the entry they're looking for.
Because of the way that records are scattered across the country, across the Internet, and across different media, it's tempting to adopt an unfocused "where shall I try next" approach. Now, I'm not a professional genealogist, but one thing I do know is that professional genealogists always search logically and methodically, and above all they record where they have searched and what they have searched for. In the days when I was still able to provide one-to-one research help to every member I'd frequently be told "I've searched everywhere" yet when pressed they couldn't tell me which parishes they'd searched, which periods the searches covered, or even - in some cases - precisely what surnames and spellings they looked for.
Start by gathering evidence
First collect all the evidence that indicates - no matter how obliquely - where and when your ancestor is likely to have been born. Sources of information will often include early censuses, marriage certificates, and death certificates - all of which can be helpful, but can also be misleading.
The fact is, many people didn't know where they were born, so often the birthplace they gave when the enumerator came round is the place - or one of the places - where they grew up. Similarly, some people didn't know how old they were - they might have known when they were born, but that isn't the question on the census form. It asks for their age, and not everyone was capable of subtracting one year from another, particularly if the years were in different centuries.
Remember too, that it was the householder who was responsible for completing the form (or supplying the information to the enumerator) - the ages and birthplaces of adopted children, stepchildren, servants and visitors are particularly likely to be incorrect.
Find out what's available online
When I began researching my family tree there was very little information available online – only one England & Wales census and not a single parish register. Most research had to be carried out at local record offices, or at the Family Records Centre in London, which opened in 1997 and closed just over a decade later. (Those who started before I did have memories of visiting St Catherine's House, Alexandra House, or Somerset House; some recall making appointments to inspect parish registers when they were still held at the church.)
These days there is a wealth of records online, including parish registers from many areas. But whilst most of the registers that are online (and many that aren't) have been indexed there is no single source you can go to, and many of the registers and indexed transcriptions are behind paywalls. It's therefore very tempting to search a handful of sites and ignore the others.
Beginners especially are often tempted to take the first entry that fits and add it to their tree, even if the name is such a common one that a comprehensive search would throw up dozens of alternatives. The most blatant errors are usually made by those whose knowledge of geography is limited by their inability to look at a map!
A good place to start your search is the FamilySearch website – it's free, but you will need to register. At one time the International Genealogical Index (IGI) at FamilySearch was the key source for family historians, with more parish register entries than all other websites added together. However, over time the IGI gained a poor reputation because of the way that transcribed entries from registers were interspersed with entries from Bishop's Transcripts, and – more dangerously – entries submitted by individuals that usually had no documented source, and in some cases seemed to be no more than conjecture.
When the FamilySearch site was relaunched around a decade ago the IGI temporarily disappeared, although for a while the old site was still accessible if you knew how (as readers of this newsletter did!). When it returned it had been completely transformed – the entries had been split between Community Indexed (those added as part of an organised transcription project), and Community Contributed (added by individuals). Subsequently the indexed entries were split into individual record collections, but you can still search them by following this link.
If you don't find the entry you're seeking in the IGI it's usually because the register that contains the entry hasn't been transcribed and included in the index. Although FamilySearch has at some point microfilmed most of the surviving parish registers, only about half have been transcribed and indexed - so half the baptisms and marriages you're looking for won't be in the database at all (note: hardly any burials for England & Wales are included in the IGI).
How can you find out which entries are included? The simplest way is to refer to Steve Archer's site (which covers Scotland and Ireland as well as England & Wales). As well as listing the years of coverage by parish and by event the site also gives the relevant batch numbers - searching by batch number is not only a great way to limit your search to a specific parish, it's a great way to overcome transcription errors or entries that have been recorded incorrectly by the clergyman who conducted the service (when you omit the person's name you'll get a listing of all the entries in the batch).
What should you do if the parish you're interested in is included in the IGI, but you still can't find the entry you're looking for despite searching through the relevant batch (in case there has been a major transcription error)? This suggests that the event didn't take place where you think it did, or when you think it did - or it didn't take place at all (not all children were baptised, and not all baptisms were recorded in the register, especially between 1783-94 when Stamp Duty was charged).
Find out which other parishes are nearby
There are at least two ways to do this. One is to use a 'parish locator' (such as the free ParLoc program) to get a list of all the parishes around the town or village where you believe your ancestor to have been born or married. In the country you might use a 5 mile radius, but in London that could give you a list of 100 or more parishes - so a radius of 1 or 2 miles might be more appropriate.
Tip: the nearest parish church may have been in a different parish - the size and shape of parishes varies enormously.
Another option is to use the maps at FamilySearch - start with the parish where you had expected to find the baptism or marriage, then use the Radius Search (found on the Options tab). For example, when I was looking for the baptism of my great-great-great-great-great grandfather, who married at Fornham St Martin in Suffolk in 1763 I got these results:
It was quite sobering to discover that there were 28 parishes within a 5 mile radius of Fornham St Martin. I eventually found the baptism I was looking for in a parish that was 9 miles away – there were 84 other parishes which were closer, a daunting number if the only resources available were a microfiche reader and a drawerful of microfiches.
If you haven't been able to find the baptism or marriage you're looking for in the IGI this strongly suggests that it's recorded in a register that isn't included in that index, so you should go back to Steve Archer's invaluable website to find out which parishes aren't included in the IGI for the relevant period - and they’re the ones to focus your attention on.
Tip: many FamilySearch records will also be found at Ancestry and/or Findmypast; similarly Findmypast have provided FamilySearch with indexed census transcriptions. Being able to search the same records at multiple websites can be useful, but be careful not to pay for records that you could get for nothing elsewhere!
Although you can search all of the transcribed parish register entries with a single search from the FamilySearch home page, you won't find any records that are only present as unindexed images. It's therefore essential that you're aware of the unindexed images at the FamilySearch site that may be of relevance to your research.
To find out which records FamilySearch has for a particular country, click on the map that you'll find here.
The list of records is divided into two sections, transcribed records (which may or many not include images) and image-only records. A camera icon indicates which of the transcribed record sets have images associated with them, but this doesn't necessarily mean you'll be able to view those images, as some – which have a key next to the camera - are only available within an LDS Family History Centre or affiliated library (such as the Society of Genealogists Library).
As regular readers of the LostCousins newsletter will know, sometimes there can be images available which are available to all users of the FamilySearch site, but are hard to find. The best way to find out what records are available for a particular parish is to carry out a Catalogue search.
Tip: an often overlooked feature of the new FamilySearch site is the 'wiki', which provides information about individual parishes, often including details of online sources of register transcriptions and/or images at other sites (follow this link to see an example). I find that the easiest way to find a parish within the wiki is to use a Google search, for example 'familysearch wiki great barton'. Another site worth trying is the Online Genealogical Index.
Another free site with a large collection of transcriptions is FreeREG - at the time of writing it had over 25 million baptisms, nearly 8 million marriages, and over 18 million burials in its database. However, they're not evenly spread across the country: some counties are very well catered for, but others less so - however it's fairly easy to see what is and isn't there. Other volunteer-led projects include the Online Parish Clerk sites: they don't exist for every county, but the counties with by far the best coverage are Cornwall, with over 3.5 million parish register entries last time I checked, and Lancashire with around 10 million records.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the contents of some parish registers were published as books, and your best chance of finding them is through sites such as the Internet Archive, another free site, where a search for (say) 'Kent parish registers' brings up a long list of registers that have been printed in book form and digitised for all to see (you'd pay to see some of these records as subscription sites!). Another similar site is Google Books - inevitably there is a big overlap between the two.
A straightforward Google search is always worth trying, as quite a few individuals have transcribed parish registers and posted the results on their own websites, and some record offices have information that you can search free online, for examples Hertfordshire has a range of records including a marriage index, whilst Medway Archives have posted registers for their part of Kent online (not transcribed, but at least they are at your fingertips - and free).
Subscription and pay-per-view sites
An increasing number of parish registers and/or register entries are becoming available online at Ancestry and Findmypast. When I first wrote on this topic in February 2010 there were NO register images available at either site, but now you can search Bexley, , Bristol, Derbyshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Liverpool, London, Manchester, , , Oxfordshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sutton, Warwickshire, Westminster, West Yorkshire, , Wiltshire, and most of Wales at Ancestry, and Cheshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, most of East Kent, Leicestershire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Plymouth & West Devon, Rutland, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire, much of Yorkshire, and most of Wales at Findmypast. Ancestry also have parish registers for Jersey, and a selection from Cornwall, whilst Findmypast who used to have Westminster register images, still have a complete transcription of the registers.
Note that there is relatively little duplication - archives generally license their records on an exclusive basis, at least for the first 5 or 10 years, which is why most serious researchers end up subscribing to both of the two big sites (though not necessarily at the same time). Many public libraries, especially in England, have a subscription to Ancestry or Findmypast, sometimes both - so it's worth checking what's available in your area.
Tip: many cities and metropolitan boroughs have a record office which holds the registers for their area, so that, for example, the Lancashire collection at Ancestry doesn't include records for every town that was originally part of the county. However Findmypast's Cheshire collection does include Stockport, and also Warrington - which is now in Cheshire, but was previously part of Lancashire.
Although there are no images, the National Burial Index at Findmypast has over 16 million entries from England & Wales, and most of the entries are pre-1837. Findmypast also has an extensive range of transcribed parish records thanks to their relationships with the Society of Genealogists and the Federation of Family History Societies.
Essex Record Office offer online access to most of their parish register collection through Essex Ancestors - and whilst the subscription is quite steep at £95 a year (the cheapest subscription is £20 for one day), the quality of the images is excellent; many Essex wills are also included. Essex Ancestors do not provide an index to their register entries, but Ancestry have indexed the Essex registers (and link to the images on a pay-per-view basis). If you have an Essex Ancestors subscription this article explains how to use it alongside the Ancestry transcription.
Society of Genealogists library
Many of the largest collections of transcribed records held by the Society of Genealogists are available online to members: these include Boyd's Marriage Index, which has particularly good coverage in some of the counties (eg Suffolk and Essex) that are least well represented in the IGI; for a PDF list of all the online collections click here. Many of the records, including Boyd's Marriage Index are also available through Findmypast.
The Society of Genealogists has many more records in its library, including an amazing collection of records on CD ROMs and microfiche collected by family history societies and other organisations. In August 2017 an enormous collection of microfilms which were previously held by the LDS London Family History Centre was added. Non-members can use the SoG library on payment of a fee, which ranges from £5 for 2 hours to £18 for a full day - more details are available here.
Family history societies
Many family history societies have transcribed parish registers and headstone inscriptions, and often these are made available as CD ROMs or digital downloads; some have online indexes (usually only available to members), others have a lookup service.
Record offices and archives
When you're within striking distance of the relevant record office there's no substitute for visiting in person - but check first what's available online so that you don't waste your time there looking up records you could just as easily (or perhaps, more easily) have searched from the comfort of your own home. When I was beginning my research I wasted a lot of time searching parish registers that had already been indexed for the IGI - I should, of course, have focused on the unindexed parishes.
Many record offices and archives will do research on a paid basis - a typical charge is £30 per hour, which sounds a lot but in my experience is usually money well spent. However independent researchers usually charge much less, and some record offices will provide a list (especially if they don't offer a research service themselves). Please bear in mind that the inclusion of a researcher on the list is not necessarily an endorsement of that researcher, but local knowledge can be invaluable.
The importance of the Register of Banns
One of the key reasons we search for the marriages of our ancestors is to find out the maiden names of our female ancestors (of course, if they gave birth after 1837 you'll usually find this information on the birth certificate). If the couple lived in different parishes, which was not unusual, they had to decide which one to marry in - and typically it would be the bride's parish that was chosen. This creates a slight problem, because unless she survived until the 1851 Census we won't know where she was born (and even then, it wouldn't necessarily be the parish where she was living at the time of her marriage).
Fortunately the banns register often comes to our rescue. Most people married by banns, rather than by licence, and if the couple lived in different parishes the banns would necessarily be read out in both, and so would be recorded in the Banns register for both parishes. However, there are not nearly as many banns registers available online as marriage registers - you're more likely to have to have to pay a visit to the record office.
Non-Conformists, Catholics, and Quakers
Between 1754 and June 1837 Non-Conformists and Catholics couldn't legally marry in their own churches, so discovering that your ancestors married in their local parish church doesn’t mean that they belonged to the Church of England. Nor does finding out that your ancestors were buried in the parish churchyard – not all chapels and meeting houses had their own burial ground. The religious census of 1851 found that as many people attended Catholic or Non-Conformist churches as attended the Church of England, although attendance and allegiance are not the same thing.
The best source of Catholic registers is Findmypast – you can see what they have to offer here. Many Non-Conformist registers were sent to the General Register Office in the 19th century and ended up in the National Archives – key sources include Ancestry, The Genealogist, and Findmypast.
Using the GRO's new online birth indexes
In November 2016 the General Register Office made available online indexes of births and deaths which include additional information. In particular, the mother's maiden name is now shown in respect of births from 1837 onwards, which not only makes it easier to locate the right birth entries, it might enable you to knock down a 'brick wall' without purchasing the relevant certificate(s). Though your ancestor might have been born before 1837, she might have a younger sibling who was born afterwards.
Remember that people didn’t stop baptising their children when civil registration commenced in July 1837, and most married in church even after they had the option of marrying in a register office.
Note: although this Masterclass relates to records from England & Wales, many of the techniques described can also be applied to research in Scotland, Ireland, and other countries.
When LostCousins started in 2004 with a few hundred members I could not only respond to every email personally, but also offer research assistance. As the membership expanded into the thousands and tens of thousands it became impossible to provide one-to-one assistance to everybody, yet I was determined to respond to every email myself – as I still do today.
Note: some of you may recall receiving emails which were apparently authored by other members of 'The LostCousins Team', such as Robert Peters – but I must confess that there was no 'team', and that Robert Peters and his colleagues were Bunburys, a concept with which devotees of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' will be familiar. (Apparently Bunbury was so important to the storyline that – according to this 1978 article – Wilde came to refer to the play as 'Bunbury'.)
The solution I came up with was to condense everything I knew about a key topic into a Masterclass – there are now 10 in all – so that, instead of having to write to me and wait for a response, members could use the relevant Masterclass as a guide. Even the most experienced researchers can use the Masterclasses as checklists, to make sure that nothing has been overlooked.
In general it's not a good idea to ask someone for help unless you've been through the relevant Masterclass and followed the advice that you found – it implies that you consider that your time is more valuable than theirs. Of course, the reverse is usually the case…...
I'm all for recycling, but I aim to reuse as much plastic packaging – whether it is ultimately recyclable or not. You'd expect me to reuse glass jars – as a committed jam maker they're an essential tool of the trade – but reusing plastic seems even more important given the pollution of the environment that plastics can cause.
Some of the frozen foods I buy come in resealable bags, and these are ideal for storing my own leftovers in the fridge and freezer. Other food bags can be used in the preparation of meals, perhaps lightly coating vegetables in oil and spices before roasting, perhaps tossing meat or fish in a seasoned flour.
Yoghourt pots are great for seedlings, so I pass them on to my wife, who is the head gardener – but later in the year we'll use them to gather fruit from the hedgerows.
If you've got some recycling tips that you'd like to share, please post them on the LostCousins Forum.
The first article has been amended to reflect that The Genealogist only has transcripts of the 1939 Register pages, and not images.
There's lots more that I would have liked to have included in this issue, however there simply isn’t space. But don't worry, I'll be back soon with my first newsletter of April – until then stay safe, and make sure you have the vaccine when it's offered!
© Copyright 2021 Peter Calver
Please do NOT copy or republish any part of this newsletter without permission - which is only granted in the most exceptional circumstances. However, you MAY link to this newsletter or any article in it without asking for permission - though why not invite other family historians to join LostCousins instead, since standard membership (which includes the newsletter), is FREE? To link to a specific article right-click on the article name in the contents list at the top of the newsletter.