Newsletter - 9th November 2016



Remembrance: free access to military records at Findmypast ENDS SUNDAY

How to access the new GRO services

What you really need to know about the GRO's new birth and death indexes

PDF images of birth and death entries available for the first time STARTS TODAY

New GRO indexes knock down 'brick walls' that have lasted 40 years

Will the indexes be extended to include marriages?

The registration of a foundling

The Genealogist plan 1921 Census substitute

Italian court rules that parents can choose children's surnames

Email problems

Review: Persona Non Grata

Stop Press


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Remembrance: free access to military records at Findmypast ENDS SUNDAY

From 9am (London time) on Thursday 10th November until midnight on Sunday 13th November all of Findmypast's military records - over 70 million of them -will be free to search and free to view. Although you won't be required to provide credit card or bank details you will be required to register if you haven't done so before.



According to the press release I received from Findmypast the records you'll be able to search free of charge include:


Please use the links below so that Findmypast know that you heard about the offer from this newsletter (and if you decide to tell others about the offer, perhaps you would do so by passing on a link to the newsletter?):


Tip: I've just heard that will also be offering free access to UK Military Records from Friday 11th November until Sunday 13th. Please follow this link to the special page - you will need to register or log-in, but you won't be asked for credit card details (unless you try to access records not included in the offer, or try to sign-up for a 'free trial').


How to access the new GRO services

To order certificates from the website of the General Register Office has always required users to register, and the same applies even if you only want to search the new indexes.


Start at the GRO home page by clicking this link. The next step isn't intuitively obvious (no doubt there will be changes in due course) but to get access too the indexes you must follow the same route as if you were planning to order a certificate, ie by clicking this icon:



The next page will probably look familiar, but the wording of the link has changed:



Click the link, then log-in if you have registered before, or register if you haven't. Even if register if you haven't. Even if you have used the GRO site many times before you'll be asked to verify your email address before you're allowed to continue - and as there have been delays reported in this part of the system I suggest you don't leave it until the last minute. Do it NOW, in other words.


Once you've logged-in you'll be presented with the new Main Menu:



To search the online indexes click the icon at the top left. Remember that the new GRO indexes only include births from 1837 to 1915 and deaths from 1837 to 1957 - when you choose between births and deaths the Search form will open up:



As with any Search form, don't try to fill in as many boxes as possible - this reduces the chance of finding the entry you're looking for! But some of fields are compulsory - you must enter a surname, choose a gender, and pick a year.


In the next article I discuss some of the finer details..

What you really need to know about the GRO's new birth and death indexes


What makes these indexes different from what we're used to?

Whereas the indexes that we're used to - and may have handled on visits to the Family Records Centre, or to St Catherine's House - were compiled quarterly by staff at the GRO using cards or slips of paper that were sorted into order before being written up into vast ledgers, the new indexes were created over the past year from transcriptions of historic register entries made during the DoVE project in the years leading up to 2008.


This means that whilst the content of the original indexes varies according to the date of the entry - for example, some entries include only one forename in full, while others include two - the new indexes do not vary according to date. Also, because they have been transcribed only once - whereas the information in the original indexes must have been transcribed at least twice - it's more likely to be accurate. But never fear, there will still be errors to challenge us and keep us on our toes!


What new information is included in the indexes?

All forenames are shown in full - there are no initials - and this change alone will lead to many discoveries. The mother's maiden name is included for all births, irrespective of the year (the original indexes only included this information from July 1911), but if the child was illegitimate the birth will usually be indexed under the mother's maiden name and mother's maiden name will be blank. The age at death (in years) is shown for all deaths (the original indexes included the age at death only from 1866).


Tip: in the case of an illegitimate birth the second or third forename may be the father's surname - it was often the only way the mother could get the father's name on the certificate.


What pitfalls must I look out for when searching for births?

We're used to illegitimate births being indexed under the mother's maiden surname, but with her surname shown a second time (of course, there will be occasions when two people with the same surname married, so don't assume that any such entry indicates illegitimacy).


However the new indexes have a dash (-) in the mother's maiden name section if the parents of the child were not married, even if the father's name is shown on the certificate. Indeed, if the father's name is on the certificate you might not find it indexed under the mother's name at all, for example my great-grandmother Emily Buxton is listed in the original indexes under both her father's surname (Roper) and her mother's name, as you can see from these FreeBMD results:



But in the new GRO indexes her birth is indexed only under her father's surname - as Emily Roper - so anyone relying on the new indexes would have no chance of finding her (as her father's name isn't recorded anywhere else - not even on her marriage certificate).


At the present time you cannot search specifically for entries where there is no mother's maiden name, nor can you search for legitimate births by the mother's maiden name alone (since Surname is a compulsory field).


What pitfalls must I look out for when searching for deaths?

The age at death of infants may be recorded incorrectly as X years, when in reality the child is shown as X days, X weeks, or X months old in the index.


Are there any limitations on how I can search?

At present you can only search a 5-year range (ie the specified year plus 2 years on either side) and whilst you can specify an approximate age when searching for a death, you cannot specify an approximate year of birth. This makes it a little trickier than it needs to be to search for deaths since if the person you're looking for died at the end of a 5-year search period they'll be 5 years older than if they died at the beginning.


You can only search for males or females - you cannot search for both at the same time - which means that you'll have to carry out many searches twice.


If you want to restrict your search to a particular part of England & Wales you can select an individual registration district, but there is no option to select multiple registration districts, or counties (both of which are possible at FreeBMD). The boundaries of registration districts changed over the years but you can download a PDF document which lists them all and indicates when changes occurred; however, if you're not sure which registration district to choose there is a PDF guide produced by Brett Langston at the GENUKI website which I find invaluable (you can also download it directly using this link).


Can I use wildcards in my searches?

No - wildcards are not allowed. There are options to include variant surname spellings but - in my experience, at least - they don't work very well. However the option to include derivative forenames may well come in useful.


Is there any way that the indexes might help if I already hold the relevant certificate?

Yes, they might - particularly if the certificate you have isn't a facsimile of the register entry (certificates used to be typewritten or handwritten by GRO staff, not reproduced photographically from the register entry; many locally-produced copy certificates are still produced manually). For example, Karen bought a certificate in 1983 which showed her great-great grandmother's maiden name and it has been one of her 'brick walls' until now, because she couldn't find a marriage that fitted. Within hours of getting access to the new birth indexes she realised that the maiden name had been incorrectly transcribed on the certificate - the surname in the index led her to the correct marriage, and the 'brick wall' came tumbling down.


(But don't expect all errors to be corrected: one of the death certificates I hold shows the wrong surname for my great-great-great grandmother, but the surname in the new indexes is also wrong - clearly the combination of a foreign surname and bad handwriting defeated both 19th century and 21stcentury transcribers.)


Is there anything else I need to know?

I'll update this article if anything comes to light in the next day or two.


PDF images of birth and death entries available for the first time STARTS TODAY

From Wednesday 9th November the General Register Office are offering family historians with ancestors from England or Wales the chance to order digital images of birth and death register entries at the reduced price of 6 (a paper certificate normally costs 9.25 from the GRO). This trial will last for up to three weeks, or until 45,000 PDFs have been sold - whichever comes sooner - so my advice is to place your order(s) as soon as you can.


Please don't expect to receive your PDF instantly - it is not an automated service, at least not at the present time. But you will receive it more quickly than if you had ordered a certificate - the FAQs suggest a 5 day turnaround (which I suspect means 5 working days, rather than calendar days).


This new development is only possible thanks to the provisions of the Deregulation Act 2015, which were the culmination of a long campaign by Baroness Scott of Needham Market, who is a family historian herself. (I should point out she is not an hereditary peer - she was elevated to the House of Lords because of her talents, not her ancestry). If you follow this link you can read the exclusive article that Baroness Scott wrote for this newsletter, and which I was privileged to publish in June last year.


How do you choose between a certificate and a PDF? When you search the new indexes the results will appear like this:


The icon at the right-hand end of the line is split into two, but it doesn't really matter which half you click as you can change your selection on the next screen, ie:



Please follow the link About the PDF pilot in the GRO website menu for more details about the current trial and the following two phases.


Note: if the trial goes well it's likely that this will become a permanent service - the FAQs state "Once the pilot is over we will be analysing the results to consider customer demand, impacts on other services and feedback. Further recommendations will then be made. It is not possible at this point to give a timescale for this. Once the pilot is over we will be analysing the results to consider customer demand, impacts on other services and feedback. Further recommendations will then be made. It is not possible at this point to give a timescale for this."


New GRO indexes knock down 'brick walls' that have lasted 40 years

Since Friday, when I rushed out a short newsletter to reveal the wonderful news from the General Register Office for England & Wales, I've been flooded with emails from members who wanted to tell me about the discoveries that they've made. In fact, I've had so many emails that I had to put some of them on one side in order to write this newsletter - although I will, of course, answer every single one in time.


Many of the discoveries related to missing children that had been revealed by the 'fertility census' of 1911 - indeed, that was also one of my first tasks when I participated in the beta testing. But I also had emails from members whose 'brick walls' had stood for 10, 20, or even 40 years before being knocked down by the glut of new information revealed by the indexes.


Until this week Wendy had little chance of finding the right birth certificate for a William Williams in Wales - and as my wife has Welsh ancestry I could totally empathise with the problem that faced her. But being able to see the mothers' maiden names in the birth index made the task so much easier - and gave Wendy the confirmation she was seeking that her research to date was spot on. Wendy's follow-up email added "I was subsequently able to go on and verify the birth information for William Williams' wife, verify the births of the rest of their children, and his wife's parents and her siblings! I've had an absolutely brilliant day!".


Patricia wrote to tell me that "I have been able to solve the puzzle of the birth & death of my husband's uncle. Known as 'Harry Boy' he was reputed to have fallen from a drainpipe and killed We couldn't find any records until yesterday, when we looked him up with mother's name, and found he was registered as Anthony Henry. A 40 year old mystery solved!"


Robert had long been unable to trace his grandfather, whose age as given as 50 when he died, but only 29 when he married 10 years earlier! Now that he can see the maiden names in the birth indexes for the 1880s he's realised that the middle name given to his uncle could well be the maiden name of his grandfather's mother. And, because Robert is based in Australia, a PDF copy of the register entry will be much more convenient - as well as cheaper.


Barbara made an interesting discovery in the indexes: "I gained some useful and interesting information just from looking at the indexes, eg. my great-great grandmother Mary Ann Robinson lost her father when she was just two. Her mother remarried a William Smith. Mary Ann married as Robinson and gave her maiden name as Robinson at the birth of 2 of her children, but gave Smith as her maiden name on the other two."


This is something we should all bear in mind when we're searching the new indexes - thanks for the tip, Barbara!


Sue was misled by some other researchers back in 1985, long before anyone had heard of the Internet, and it's only with the release of the new indexes that she has realised their error:

"I have ancestors William Boon and Mary Anne Boon, who I thought were possibly cousins that had married. Their marriage details from Suffolk in 1824 came to me in two letters from fellow researchers back in 1985! Boon is a tricky name that has been recorded many ways - Boone, Bowen etc. Searching the indexes came up with no entries for William Boon and Mary Boon's children born after 1837, until I left out the mother's surname. Then I got repeated results showing the mother's surname as Kindred. So now I have a new name and lead to follow up! And all for free...."


Stories like that have been flooding in. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight we can see that many of these conundrums could have been solved long ago by the purchase of the right certificates, but we've all had our fingers burned buying the wrong certificates - I have so many that there's a file in my filing cabinet especially for them.


These breakthroughs have all been made without spending a penny, although as Sue subsequently wrote to tell me that she'd ordered 20 PDFs on the morning the trial started, whilst Barbara has ordered 8 - and they're just 2 of more than 60,000 family historians who will be receiving this newsletter - I suspect the GRO won't lose out!


Will the indexes be extended to include marriages?

A number of members have asked whether there is any prospect of a new index to marriages being published. The simple answer is NO - the new indexes we're seeing now have been constructed using data that was collected as part of the DoVE (Digitisation of Vital Events) project that was abandoned because of mounting costs nearly a decade ago.


The fact that we're seeing them now is a direct result of the Deregulation Act 2015, and whilst some might argue that there was nothing preventing the GRO making them available earlier, the reality is that it is the ability to offer new services - including digital copies of entries - that has provided the impetus.


However, if we're very, very lucky, the increase in certificate orders resulting from this might leave the GRO with a surplus, and since they are not supposed to make a surplus they'll have to spend it somehow!


Tip: although the surname of the spouse is not shown in the GRO marriage indexes prior to 1912, the entries for both participants will - of course - be on the same register page. This allows sites like FreeBMD and Findmypast to suggest possible spouses from the entries which have been indexed with the same references.


The registration of a foundling

This weekend Phoebe sent me an image from the Irish birth registers which are now available free online (see my September article). What makes this particular page from the registers special is the last entry in the image, which is for a foundling - and I was quite surprised to learn that the index entry gave his surname as that of the 'finder' (the person who found him):



But what I would really like to know is - has anyone got a birth certificate for a foundling born in England or Wales? I'd be very interested to know how the birth was recorded and indexed.


The Genealogist plan 1921 Census substitute

Family historians still have to wait more than 5 years before the release of the 1921 England & Wales census - the earliest possible release date is 1st January 2022 - so The Genealogist have announced plans to create a census substitute "using a wide variety of records including Trade and Residential Directories of the time".


Perhaps best known to LostCousins members for their impressive collection of tithe records and tithe maps, The Genealogist have revealed that other new releases for 2017 will include millions of new "and unique" parish records, and Bishop's Transcripts for many more counties. Bishop's Transcripts are contemporary copies of parish register entries, and whilst they sometimes incorporate errors and omissions, they can also fill in gaps - for example, where the original registers are missing or illegible, or where entries were inadvertently omitted from the parish register.


You can read the official press release, which includes details of many other new records, if you follow this link.


Italian court rules that parents can choose children's surnames

I wrote recently that in England & Wales parents can give their children any surname they choose (you'll find the article here) and now a Constitutional Court in Italy has determined that mothers can pass their surname to their children, despite legislation that automatically gives children of married couples the father's surname. In 2014 the legislation was found by the European Court of Human Rights to discriminate against women, in conflict with Italy's own constitution. You can read more in this BBC article.


Email problems

The problems that many members (especially those with BT or other Yahoo-managed addresses) have experienced with LostCousins emails going into their spam folders seem to have subsided. To reduce the possibility of the problem recurring, I will be proceeding with the strategy I described in the last newsletter under which members who have not logged-in to their LostCousins accounts in the last 12 months may not be sent all future newsletters, whilst those who have not logged-in for several years might not get any at all.


Logging-in to your account only takes 5 seconds - it's surely not too much to ask that you do it once a year?


Review: Persona Non Grata

Although it's not exactly a genealogical mystery, since most of the family involved are still alive - at the start of the book, at least - Persona Non Grata by Trish McDee will certainly appeal to quite a few family historians. True, it reads a bit like a script for a soap - the family are really dysfunctional - but given how popular soaps are that may not be a bad thing! It isn't my favourite work of fiction by any means, but if you've read all the other novels I've recommended you might want to give it a go, especially at the bargain price of 2.16 (it's only available in Kindle format).


As usual you can support LostCousins by using the links below (even if you end up buying something completely different!):


Stop Press

This is where any last minute updates and corrections will be highlighted - if you think you've spotted an error (sadly I'm not infallible), reload the newsletter (press Ctrl-F5) then check here before writing to me, in case someone else has beaten you to it......


That's all for now - but I'll be back soon with yet more news from the world of family history.


Description: Description: peter_signature


Peter Calver

Founder, LostCousins


Copyright 2016 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?