Sunday, 17 July 2011

Parish Registers where art thou!

For genealogy purposes the English/Welsh parish register indexes are in a mess, on the internet they are stored everywhere and nowhere. Naturally, the one needed is not there. Many have been transcribed and indexed by various Family History Societies (FHS) and to improve their finances they have done various deals with the common subscription sites. The only way to find if any of them holds the one required is to visit these sites and have a look. I will not be considering these sites, instead I will be concentrating on the free sites - why they haven't pooled their resources I cannot begin to understand.

For the sake of convenience the registers may be broken down into two categories pre and post July 1837, at which time national registration was introduced, however the registration of births was not compulsory until 1875 and prior to that date some records may only be found in the parish baptism records.

Post July 1837

Free BMD is the workhorse of the post July 1837 registrations, giving the GRO Reference for recorded births, marriage and deaths. Whilst these are normally regarded as the source for obtaining the certificates, they can also be used for finding parish marriage registrations using Marriage Locator.

Marriage Locator is a new site which aims to decode the GRO marriage registration code to give the registration district and the name of the church at which the registration took place. Thus, instead of having to buy the certificate the details can easily be found in the local parish registers or using sites such as On-Line Parish Clerks (Genealogy) which are listed under parish and church names. Marriage Locator was set up by the Guild of One-Name Studies but help with this project is open to all volunteers, please contact if you have access to local records, and wish to assist.

UK BMD is another site where volunteers have indexed the parish registers from within their counties, again from 1837. On going to the site, click the "Local BMD" button on the left and the counties which have taken part in this project can be found. Each uses a standard format and may include the reference for a local office from which a copy certificate can be obtained.

Pre July 1837

The On-Line Parish Clerks project covers the earlier records as well as those post 1837. Usually it is possible to search all the records for each church, but not across all the churches in a parish. Hence it is better to try and establish the likely church for the registration. A number of the records contain an LDS film number, and it is not clear whether the LDS transcriptions have been used, or it is the reference for the microfilm in the local office - I hope it is the latter?

FreeReg aims to cover the whole of the UK, and probably has better coverage than other sites mentioned (except Free BMD post 1837). As with all volunteer projects coverage varies between different counties and parishes, however coverage has improved significantly in recent years. FreeReg probably gives more record details than other sites.

Of course, one site which must not be forgotten is Family Search, especially since the revisions which are currently in hand. It was on this site that after a number of years of searching that I found my 5th great grandfather, born in the early 1700s


When viewing all these sites it is worth remembering that they are secondary sources (unless the images are provided), and some of the originals, and not necessarily only the very old ones, can be difficult to read. The spelling of names may also vary, particularly if the informant was illiterate. Ages, especially for marriages, should be treated with care as some would have declared themselves as of "full age" when in reality they were under 21 and needed parental consent. Ages at death may be nothing more than a guess.

Finally, There are numerous small, e.g. family, sites which contain abstractions of parish registers. Many of these may be found on a CD available from One Stop Genealogy . The repositories for all registration districts are given by GENUKI.

© Ron Ferguson 2011

Friday, 4 March 2011

Genealogy History - Later

In my last blog I talked mainly of the WW2 years, one aspect I did not really mention was that of food which was, like pretty well everything else, on ration. One food which wasn't was rabbit, these were sold by the green-grocer and were suspended from hooks from the top of the shop's window. At Christmas there were no turkeys but our parents did manage to get chickens (probably from a farm near to us) which we used to pluck in front of the fire. I remember one Christmas, when my mother was in a nursing home following the birth of my sister, my father won a goose in the work's raffle. Now whether it was my taste or his lack of culinary skills I don't know, but it was far too greasy for me, and I could not eat it. I cannot say who was more upset, me or my dad. It also provided us with what seemed to be a lifetime's supply of goose-grease for rubbing on our chests every time we were wheezy!

Rationing continued for years after the war, but in 1949 they first took sweets off ration, a day all us kids looked forward to with great anticipation. Unfortunately supply was nowhere near enough to meet the demand, and few of us managed to get any, I still think that the adults nicked them! So they were rapidly put back on ration until 1953 when rationing was abolished.

At the top of the road where I lived was a large field, on the right there was a cotton mill, and on the far side the Bridgewater Canal with the Royal Ordnance Factory on the other side. On this field there was a least one barrage balloon with the associated anti-aircraft guns and soldiers. Although we were not allowed on the field, great fun could be had wriggling under the wire fence and being chased off!

I spent VE celebrations at my aunty's in St. Helens where they had a big bonfire, and then for VJ day we had a street party at home. It was a great year for the kids, it was like having three Christmases in one year! After this time we started to have regular visits into Manchester, and saw the many bombsites for the first time. Often, on these were street entertainers, many of whom I suspect were ex-servicemen. In particular I remember one man who put a slab of concrete across his chest whilst a colleague smashed it with a sledgehammer.

At the time I was 12 yrs old there was still a fuel shortage and an uncle had a business providing peat for burning on house fires. On Friday evenings and Saturday mornings my father linked up with him to set up sales and delivery rounds near where we lived, and I was enlisted to help. This was my first introduction to the working life! I continued with this work until I was about fifteen when I found a part time job with more pay - although fifteen years of age was the official school leaving age, I was still a pupil. At home there was something of a strained atmosphere for a while!

In 1953 I was on a train going for a day out to Blackpool, when I read in the newspaper that the Korean War was over. Joined with the ascent of Everest and the Queen's Coronation this made for a momentous year, but what struck me most was that this was the first time since just after I was born that the UK was not involved in a major war. It is nice to say that since 1945 I have not experienced England being bombed, although since I was a regular visitor to Northern Ireland between 1971 to 1980, it was not the last time when I heard bombs going off. I do not wish to hear that noise again!

© Ron Ferguson 2011

Friday, 4 February 2011

Genealogy History - Now!

History is, of course, what we are taught in schools. Or is it? If I subtract my current age from that at which I was born, then the Suez Canal had not opened, boys climbed and swept chimneys, there were no telephones, Britain still had its Empire, and no compulsory schooling. Oh! And registration of births and deaths was not yet mandatory.

This is some of the history which I was taught in school, and equally it is now the case that my grand children are being taught, in history, life as it was at the time I was born (and after for that matter). Those of my age tend to forget that this is history because, to us, it is still real.

So what was it like? Well, thank goodness, Britain still had its Empire because the second world war broke out very shortly after I was born, and for some years our only support came from its constituent countries. I was too young to remember the early part of the war, only from around 1943 onwards. I lived just on the edge of Salford, not far from the major industrial centre of Trafford Park, and the sound of bombs going off was not an unusual experience.

I was fortunate in that my father was in a 'reserved occupation' being a crankshaft turner at Gardners Diesel Engines. At this time the company employed a large number of women on the factory floor, mainly for the less heavy work. He also had to become a member of the Home Guard. He used to come home for lunch, and, often, that time, first thing in the morning, and some Sundays, would be the only times I would see him. A normal working week was then 12 hours a day for six or seven days a week.
Interestingly, Gardners made the engines for the midget submarines which were responsible for many attacks on European dockyards.

Being brought up in the 'blackout', so called because nearly all street lights were off, and the few that weren't were heavily shaded, we had one benefit which today's urban children miss. We could see the stars! Admittedly, this was only in the morning as we then had double summer time - clocks were 2 hours forward from GMT., so we went to school in the dark, and to bed in daylight. Imagine trying to get a kid to bed when it's bright sunlight!

It must have been 1946 before I first saw the streets lit up. My parents took me into their bedroom which looked across the fields to a main road where I could see the lights come on for the first time. It was like our personal Blackpool Illuminations - which didn't exist then, by the way! It was about this time that I met my first banana, I knew it must be food, but had to ask my mother what to do with it.

During the blackout it was not allowed for any house light to be visible from the outside, and the ARP (Air Raid Precaution) patrols would have very stiff words, or even take to court, any householder who committed such an offence. We had black roller blinds to cover all our windows, and care had to be taken to ensure that no light escaped from the edges. At that time most houses had coal fires, and it was also an offence to allow sparks to be emitted from the chimney. These lessons were drilled into us virtually from birth.

On going to school we had to ensure that we all took our gas masks in their brown boxes. Now and again there were collections for the soldiers of things like knitted goods, and books, which we also took to school for forwarding. In our early years paper and pencils were not available; we did our work using chalk on a slate! From time to time the air-raid sirens would go off , sometimes for practice, at others for real, and we would march in an orderly fashion to the shelter at the top of the school road, with absolute, but no doubt misplaced, confidence in its security.

Our leisure time was filled with the usual street games, not only football and cricket (skipping and rounders for the girls!), but hopscotch, hide and seek, and a variety of catching games. Instead of cowboys and Indians, which we really didn't come across until later, we had war games of goodies versus baddies. It had to be so named because nobody would play at being a German! Holidays were pretty well non-existent, mainly comprising day trips to more distant relatives.

In my next blog I will concentrate on life in the post war years.

© Ron Ferguson 2011

Monday, 10 January 2011

Genealogy websites 2011

One returning from my Christmas break I started to think about a suitable blog with which to start the New Year. Initially I thought about a review of 2010, but then we've done that and got the T-shirt! So, how about 2011, and what will it bring? Since my main interests are genealogy and creating websites, the exciting happenings in website development, and the possible effects on our websites is an obvious. But first, I would like you to look at The Wilderness Years to do so you will need lots of memory and preferably the Google Chrome Browser, if you haven't got it, it is worthwhile downloading for this site alone. It will just about run on the latest Firefox (but not well), and I could not get it to run at all on the latest Beta version of IE9. When asked for your town, I would suggest that you enter a large city, or at least a place where Google Earth will have lots of photos.

Now that site is based on the new HTML5 coding, and I am not suggesting that it will have much effect on research sites such as Ancestry, or Findmypast, but I am certain that it will be used by people, like myself, who write their own websites. It will also be used in conjunction with another new language, CSS3, which is used to code the positioning and layout of the pages.

Will this affect the User?

Yes, it will! Already the latest browsers are starting to incorporate the functionality which they need in order to read HTML5 and CSS3. Chrome is probably the best at present but it is steadily being introduced into Firefox, Opera, IE9 and other major browsers. The figures below are taken from visitors to my own website.
1) Browsers used:
As might be expected IE is at the top of the list whilst at the bottom are the mobile phone browsers. In general, it is fair to say that non-IE users tend to be very dedicated in updating their browsers to the latest version, and IE users less so as the table below shows:

2) IE Users:
At last some three-quarters are now using IE8 but there is still over 5% using IE6 or earlier. Those users are going to have problems because only the latest browser will be able to read the new codings, and their problem is that little will be done to get the sites to display properly when using them. Even IE7 and IE8 users will not get the full benefit of the new technology, although the probability is that the sites will degrade gracefully for these users.

IE users with the XP operating system also have a big problem since it would seem that IE9 will only be available for Vista and Win7 operating systems - a change to Chrome could be their best option.

Website Generators

To generate my Pedigree web pages I use the HTML generator included in the Legacy Family Tree program. I still consider this to be the best program around for these types of web pages, but it is now getting old and tired as it is written in very basic HTML. It has received a boost with the publishing of a program from LTools which enables the conversion to CSS/HTML, but, in my view, will shortly need to be rewritten - this comment also applies to most similar programs.

The Future

This year promises to be one of the most exciting in website development for many years but for the new techniques to achieve their potential depends not only on the website developers but also relies on the users to upgrade their browsers and the software manufacturers to improve their generators - before we reinvent the wheel!!


The author is a volunteer beta tester for Legacy Family Tree.

© Ron Ferguson 2011