Showing posts with label parish registers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label parish registers. Show all posts

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

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Genealogists' Revenge

For those who use Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome, and, in the last couple of months, have downloaded the new Google toolbar you may have seen a little writing pad icon, usually at the bottom left of a page. This is the new Google Sidewiki, click it and one can enter a comment which will remain attached to that page.
If there is an entry in the Sidewiki on a page then the icon on the left, which turns yellow on hovering over it, will be seen at the top of the page. One can also use the Sidewiki icon on the Google Toolbar.

Visitors and webmasters may have different views as to the benefit, or otherwise, of this facility, and I am not going to enter into this discussion, but rather look at how by correct usage it can advantage both. However, it is initially necessary to look at some of the controversal aspects:
  1. Can a webmaster switch it off? No, although I understand it does not appear on secure sites
  2. Can a webmaster edit a visitor's entry? No
  3. Can a webmaster delete a visitor's entry: No
  4. Google says that it will check for inappropriate entries - if flagged
  5. Entries are entered in a priority list as determined by Google
The potential pitfalls for webmasters are  obvious, but there are some steps which can be taken to minimise these.

Take part-ownership of the Sidewiki 


It is necessary to first register your site with Google Webmasters, you will need to register yourself with Google for this. You will then be given the option of including a meta tag in your script (see my Web Creation Blogs) or uploading an html script to the root of your site. There is also an automatic link to Blogger. Once done your own entry can be permanently entered to the top of the list on every page - although I have not been able to get the "all pages" check box to appear on my sites using Firefox!

Check all entries


The entries which visitors make can also be read by the webmaster using either your Google Profile or from an RSS feed using the URL: DOMAIN.COM%2Ffergys%2F/default?includeLessUseful=true, replace "MY DOMAIN.COM with your own domain name and delete the "www." if not included in your URL. Using this is somewhat messy, so I suggest that you use a feed generator.

What use is it?


If used properly then the Sidewiki offers an opportunity for commenting on, and discussing, individual entries in a genealogy website, such as: whether Joe Blogs has the correct parents. This can be done in a most convenient way compared with having to go to a comments page or sending an email, and it is open for other interested parties to enter the debate.

And why do I title this piece the "Genealogists' Revenge"? Well, when we now see our research published on a website by someone else, and without attribution, we can now claim it back! If the cap fits I advise caution.

© Ron Ferguson 2009

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Of this Parish...

In England and Wales, Parish Registrations of births, marriages and deaths started in 1538, prior to that date details were kept on sheets of paper, and 13 years later in 1531 for Scotland. Civil Registrations were not introduced in England and Wales until 1837 and 1854 in Scotland.

Prior to the above dates Wales was using the patronymic system of naming, eg. Evan Ab Evan (Evan the son of Evan, or "vench" meaning daughter of). Whilst the lowlands of Scotland used recognisable surnames before the 16c, it was not until the 16c - 17c that most highlanders adopted the name of their clan chief. However, it would be quite wrong to think that we have a guaranteed way of tracing or ancestors back to the 16c, I wish!

Unfortunately, the Scottish showed their admirable resistance to "government interference" and most of their 900 parishes kept, at best, only partial records until just before 1854. These may be found at Scotlands People. In England between 1653 and 1660 the keeping of records was transferred from the churches to a civil office, confusingly, also know as the "Parish Register". Suffice to say that few of these records exist - who said that governments losing data is a new thing :-). The full timeline for registration law can be found on my website.

It is only since 1992 that all birth and baptism records over 150 years old have had to be kept safe, usually in County Record Offices, so many of the older registers are damaged and difficult to read, and before the 17c - 18c are often in Latin! The parish priests were, from 1598, obliged to compile records to send to their bishop, known as "Bishops Transcripts", but these are incomplete and transcription errors common.

In the south of England the ecclesiastic parishes are usually coterminous with the civil parishes, but this is much less true in the north where the former could encompass a number of townships, each of which, or a combination of them, were later to become civil parishes. If an entry cannot be found where expected, do look in adjacent parishes since there was quite a high, but local, migration.

All transcriptions, whilst welcome, cannot beat reading the original. Apart from transcription errors, much is often omitted; names of putative fathers; occupations; and especially odd comments from the vicar immediately come to mind. Finally, do not ignore the records post 1837 in England and Wales (1854, Scotland) because: registration was voluntary before 1875 in England and Wales, they can contain details omitted from the certificate, and will resolve incorrect copying of the register which may be found in the certificate. Yes, it does happen!


The best website for finding where a parish register is likely to be stored is probably the Society of Genealogists. Not many parishes have published their record details, but it is always worth trying Google. A growing collection of sites which should not be ignored is the on-line Parish Clerk which for a number of counties offers transcripts of the parish registers. Last, but not least is the IGI at Family Search.

© Ron Ferguson

Saturday, 17 October 2009

We All Have One Thing In Common

I was watching, on BBC TV, a programme about Darwin's Theory of Evolution when the presenter, his grandson, made an observation which is both obscure and self-evident. It doesn't matter whether one believes in the theory, wholly, partially or not at all, and it is that we all have one thing in common - we are the children of survivors. His point was, of course, that the weaker members of society did not survive, leaving the stronger to advance the species. This is not my point, but it did get me thinking.

From the late 1930s, I was brought up in Eccles, Lancashire, England, which was then a town on the western edge of Salford, although it is now part of that city. From being a rural area Eccles had developed into a mixed industrial and farming town following the construction of the Bridgewater Canal in 1763; the main industries being cotton and engineering. Where I lived, in a house built in 1938, we had farmland facing us and to the west, but at the top of the road, to the east, was a cotton mill and over the Bridgewater Canal the Royal Ordnance Factory. My father was a crankshaft turner for Gardeners' Diesel Engines, a couple of miles away. Interestingly, during WW2 the field near the cotton mill and facing the ordnance factory was a barrage balloon site, with its ack-ack guns, always an attraction for us kids!

I have given this description to illustrate that Eccles was a mixed town with a variety of housing and people, and cannot be stereotyped as a poor industrial area with people living in cramped accommodation lacking basic facilities. Yes, there were some areas like that, but they were atypical.

When I was a kid we all suffered from what we called childhood illnesses, measles, mumps, whooping cough etc. and although medicines were less advanced than now I do not recollect anyone dying from them. There were the odd cases of polio and TB from which there were some deaths, but my two sisters and brother all got scarlet fever and survived, I had nearly 2 months off school, in isolation, as a result - great! I can remember very well the men coming round and using a sulphur spray around the house in order to kill the infection.

What brought all this back to mind, was a visit to Manchester Central Library researching the Eccles Parish Burial Registers between 1835 and 1850 when I was forcibly struck by the mortality rates for children. I recorded details of seventy people with one of two surnames, so the selection was reasonably random and found that 59% of the deaths were children, that is died before the age of 21 years. Obviously during the 100 years between then and the period to which I refer above there were improvements in housing, sanitation and medicine. But we still had no vaccines and, other than the new penicillin, no antibiotics, so if one became ill it was very much a matter of letting the illness take its course "in a quiet darkened room" (from a 1930s medical book).

This does indicate, therefore, that our forefathers who did survive had a greater, natural resistance to childhood illnesses than those who died, and maybe passed this on to the next generation. Or did they?

© Ron Ferguson 2009