Category Archives: Family History Tips

Don’t Let Parish Register Indexes and Online Searches Lead You Down the Family History Garden Path

It’s so easy to rely on online parish register searches or transcripts and indexes for family history. But by putting absolute faith in them you could be missing out on so much more. Hopefully this post illustrate why you should also invest time in looking at the register itself, or digitised images, and not simply place all your faith in the easier options.

Family History Society transcripts and indexes include the health warning to check against the original register, and it is sound advice. Even if they are accurate, information in the original register may by omitted due to space constraints or because they do not neatly fit in the templates. The same caveats also apply to search results from online providers of family history records.

I finally decided to write about the issue after recently going through baptisms in the Wakefield All Saints register for the 1750s and 1760s and comparing against online search results.

Image courtesy of Pixabay

Here are some of the problems associated with not looking at the original registers, and benefits which may be gained from putting in the effort.

  • Registers can be damaged making entries illegible. It may be just for the odd entry, but it could involve weeks, months or even years. There may be periods where the register does not survive, or was never kept. Whole pages may have been omitted during the digitisation process. This may be the reason why the entry you are seeking does not come up in a search or appear in an index, or why if it does there may be transcription errors. Without checking the actual register, or images, you may never know. And by not knowing you may end up with incorrect family history information or be missing out on work rounds like failing to check Bishop’s Transcripts (BT) copies.
  • If you are relying on searches and indexes to find an entry, do not confine your to check the digitised or original parish register image for the entry concerned. Look at the surrounding ones too to get a feel for the register. These checks should include ensuring the parish or church matches against the one identified on the finding aid. This can be a particular issue if a parish church has associated chapelries. Birstall Parish for example had a Chapel of Ease, White Chapel, which had baptism and, eventually, burial rights. This subtle difference is not necessarily picked up if the register itself is not checked.
  • Mistakes in transcribing and indexing. Recently I’ve seen the surname “Wright” mistakenly indexed as “Might“. Doing an online search for the surname, including any of the usual variants just won’t find it.
  • Similarly Christian names can be totally wrong – James instead of Sam[ue]l is one that springs to mind in one of my family baptism searches. Without checking the register I would be led down the garden path for any future references to the child.
  • On this theme, parish register amendments are not necessarily picked up in any searches. Two examples here. An 1816 baptism at Whitkirk. Ancestry has this indexed in searches as “William Illegitimate Pennington” son of Grace. This is wrong. The child was not illegitimate and the entry should be William Hill. There is a note at the bottom of the page of the baptism register stating it is erroneous and Grace was lawfully married to Francis Hill. Ancestry have not picked this up. And there is a similar theme for Wakefield All Saints when William son of William Jennings was baptised on 8 November 1764. The register has an annotation indicating three competent witnesses testified the child was actually called Thomas. Granted a search for Thomas Jennings on Ancestry.co.uk will fetch “William Jennings” in the results, but you need to drill down to find out the full details.
  • The Wakefield All Saints register which promoted this search had several entries in the early 1760s for the birth of illegitimate children with the register noting the name of the father. Some indicate the child was “basely begot not declaring the father.” Others indicate the father in general terms like “a French Man” or “a French prisoner” (and those entries lead to a whole new set of questions). But others will name the putative father, including some with occupations (plenty soldiers) and some even giving his abode. The father is not shown in online searches, you need to view the entry. And if your ancestor was the father you possibly would not know without going through the register.
  • Burials throw up the issue whereby some online searches give no surname for married women and children. Try Ancestry’s collection of West Yorkshire Church of England Burial Registers 1813-1985. In the early decades of this collection this surname omission is rife. Imagine the problem if your ancestor was an Ann, Mary or Elizabeth!
  • Problems with dates. There are numerous examples of this. The wrong number for the day, month, or even the wrong year given. A particular issue is around the pre and post 1752 calendar change from Julian to Gregorian. Many parishes continued with the old style calendar way beyond 1752 in their registers, with the New Year still starting on 25 March. Without checking the parish register you may end up attributing a birth to the wrong year.
  • Going through the registers yourself improves your transcription skills. You start to get your eye in for reading older documents, which only benefits your wider family history research.
  • And finally by going through the register you start to get a feel for the community of your ancestors, the status of various parishioners, occupations in the locality, indications of disease outbreaks, maybe even weather updates and wider events. The Wakefield register is a perfect example of the snippets you can pick up. Between 1760 and 1764, using baptisms alone, there’s an abandoned child, the three children born to different women by a French man/French prisoner. On 13 August 1763 there is the baptism of Richard Brown, a black man from Carolina. And on 4 October 1764 “John Vernon a Black from Antiga [sic] ab[ou]t 22 y[ea]rs old.

Published indexes and online family history database providers are fabulous finding aids and have opened up family history to a much wider audience. But they should be treated as that – finding aids. Using different sources may help overcome the issue. For example a Family History Society booklet may give different information to an Ancestry, FamilySearch or FindMyPast search, some of which may use the BT rather than the parish register. And that is another issue. What is the source used by the online provider or Family History Society? Is it the parish register or is it a BT? It might seem a minor detail, but this too can impact on search results.

So if at all possible check the original register, or digitised images, for yourself. It may surprise you – and could save you a lot of time in the long run.

Advertisements

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic

A century ago England, along with most of the world, was gripped by the flu pandemic. As far as I’m aware none of my immediate ancestors, or their families, died as a result of it. But the mortality rate was the tip of the iceberg as whole communities struggled to cope with the infection and its effects.

In this blog post I will give a national overview, before looking at its effects locally on Batley to try give a feel for the impact on the day to day lives of my ancestors. The sources I will use can be adapted to look at the effect of the pandemic on other localities in England.

In 1920 the government published a Supplement to the Registrar-General’s 81st Annual Report on Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales. It covered mortality from influenza during the 1918/19 epidemic in these two countries. Its severity is starkly conveyed in the myriad of statistics contained within the report. It stated in 1918 influenza accounted for 112,329 deaths split between 53,883 males and 58,446 females. 7,591 of the male deaths were non-civilians. So, in total, 104,738 influenza deaths were amongst the civilian population. This corresponded to a death rate of 3,129 per million civilian population. The report continued:

No such mortality as this has ever before been recorded for any epidemic in this country since registration commenced, except in the case of the cholera epidemic of 1849, when the mortality from that cause rose to 3,033 per million population.

It was recognised this was not representative of total mortality as a result of influenza, as other causes of death could also have an underlying influenza link. These causes included other respiratory diseases, chiefly pneumonia and bronchitis. Phthisis and heart disease were also cited as other possibilities where influenza may have impacted. Attempts to quantify influenza-linked mortality from these were made, but the results varied depending on methodology and were acknowledged to be unsatisfactory. One estimate put it at around 200,000 deaths from influenza and influenza-linked illnesses. As many as a quarter of the population caught the disease.

One other factor which skewed results when looking at the influenza statistics was the depletion of the male population due to war service. One way to deal with it was to look at the female population in isolation. This methodology was notably used to examine the age distribution of mortality due influenza and comparing it to the age distribution normally expected of influenza. It was here the difference between the 1918/19 flu strain and previous epidemics was most notable.

Deaths at [ages] 0-15 and especially at [ages] 15-35, which had formed since 1889 a fairly uniform proportion of the whole number, with a tendency of late years to decrease in relative importance, suddenly increased from 7-11 per cent. at [ages] 0-15 to 25 per cent., and from 8-10 per cent. at [ages] 15-35 to 45 per cent. In middle age, [ages] 35-55, the proportion was comparatively little affected, but shows some increase over the years immediately preceding. At [ages] 55-75 and at ages over 75, which together had for many years provided 60-70 per cent. of the total deaths registered, the proportion fell to 10 per cent. at [ages] 55-75, and 2 per cent. at 75 and upwards.

The report then went on to look at the course and local distribution of the epidemic in England and Wales. Three definite waves were identified:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 29 June 1918 to week ending 17 August 1918;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 12 October 1918 to week ending 14 December 1918; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 1 February 1919 to week ending 12 April 1919.

The weekly death rate was examined in various localities, including regions, county boroughs, and other towns with populations greater than 20,000. This was extrapolated to give a corresponding annual death rate per 1,000 of the living population using the 1911 census as a population baseline. Batley fell into the category of towns with a population over 20,000. The peak mortality weeks for Batley in each wave were:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 13 July 1918 – 19.3 annual mortality per 1,000 living;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 23 November 1918 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 8 March 1919 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living.

Other statistics included ranking areas according to numbers of deaths. There were 161 towns who were not county boroughs falling into the over 20,000 population category. Batley over the complete period of the epidemic was ranked the 18th most affected. In terms of the individual waves it was 27th in Wave 1, 71st in Wave 2 and 8th in Wave 3.

Looking at county boroughs close to Batley, Dewsbury ranked the 11th most affected of the 82 county boroughs (in terms of the individual waves it was 15th in the first, 17th in the second and 15th in the third). Huddersfield was 65th, (2nd, 82nd and 21st in the respective waves).

The West Riding of Yorkshire was over the course of the epidemic the 5th worse affected of the 61 counties (position in the respective waves 4th, 11th and 8th).

Local level reports were also compiled. In Batley the Medical Officer, G.H. Pearce, submitted a full report to the Town Council in January 1919 about the incidence of the disease locally and the steps taken to combat it. His 1919 Annual Report also covered the epidemic locally.

These Annual Reports by the Medical Officer give a useful overview of the town. The 1919 report includes the following description:

PHYSICAL FEATURES AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF THR DISTRICT. – Batley is a municipal borough constituted by Royal Charter, December 8th, 1868, consisting of four wards and governed by a Mayor, seven Aldermen and twenty Councillors. The borough has a separate Commission of the Peace. Geologically Batley is situated mostly upon clay, under which is sandstone through which is various beds of coal. The situation is hilly, the highest point being 475 feet above sea level and the lowest 150. Batley is entirely an industrial town the chief occupation of the inhabitants being the manufacture of heavy woollen goods, shoddy and mungo. The Rag trade also employs a large proportion of the inhabitants. The majority of the population not working in the numerous mills earn their living in the coal mines, at ironworks, on the railway, as teamers, general labourers, etc. More females than males are employed in the textile mills…..As rags from all parts of the world are brought into the town it would be reasonable to expect that risk of infection would be likely to arise therefrom, but practical experience does not prove such to be the case. Apart from the dust in connection with this and similar trades, also the risk of contracting anthrax, run by workers in wool, there appears to be no particular occupation in Batley exercising an exceptionally adverse influence on the public health.

Batley’s population growth from 1851 is illustrated in Table 1 below. The 1911 population of 36,395 compared to the 3,227 acres for the town gives a population per square mile of 7,218. Mortality in any district is adversely affected when there are more than 400 people to each square mile.

Table 1Flu Batley Population Census

The Registrar-General also made an estimate of Batley’s 1919 population, which was included in the Medical Officer’s report. Based on the birth rate he put it at 36,593 and death rate resulted in a figure of 35,128. An analysis of mortality and the annual death rate per 1,000 of civilian population for 1919 gave a figure of 16.1 for Batley, higher than the national England and Wales figure of 13.8.

Table 2 shows the causes of death in Batley between 1912 and 1919 attributed to influenza, as identified in Batley’s Medical Officer’s report. I have also included those causes which may have influenza as an underlying issue, as identified in the Registrar-General’s Supplementary Report.

Table 2Flu Batley Death Causes

Influenza was the direct cause of 104 deaths in Batley during 1918, with a further 83 deaths in 1919 attributed to it. In 1920, according to the following year’s Batley Medical Officer’s report, influenza was certified as the cause of 7 deaths.

So how did all this impact on everyday life in Batley? I decided to focus on the newspapers for the period. From July onwards the Batley News began to carry local reports, including Council updates. Batley Borough Council minutes are therefore an alternative source of information. Bound yearbook copies are at Batley Library (as are the Medical Officer reports), with original Batley Borough documentation held at West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees Office) in collection Reference KMT1.

One huge factor in reporting the epidemic was censorship. When flu struck Britain, the Great War was still far from won and censorship was in full force. Reporting of anything which may impact on morale and signify any form of weakness to the enemy or difficulties in pursuing the conflict was banned. Reporting restrictions similarly applied in other combatant nations. This was why the pandemic was incorrectly attributed to Spain. As a neutral country the same press restrictions did not apply and news of the epidemic there was freely reported from May 1918. It meant that this country was wrongly assumed to be the origin of the illness – not the likely source country, the United States. The first reference to the ‘Spanish disease’ was in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in August 1918, and ‘Spanish Flu’ was what it became commonly known as. The same reporting restrictions therefore mean that newspaper reports may have underplayed the full impact of the illness.

First mentions of influenza locally noticeably began to appear in early July 1918 with the 6 July edition of the Batley News reporting a Council exchange that it was hoped the schools would remain open as although a number of teachers were ‘down’ with influenza there had been no serious report from any one school.

The 13 July edition of the newspaper, when reporting the death of Harry Boyes, Royal Field Artillery, at Staincliffe Hospital indicated that Colonel Russell believed the pneumonia which has stricken him after his initial injury had been caused by influenza “of which the Hospital is full.

This edition of the newspaper coincided with the peak week for the first wave of the flu epidemic in Batley. The newspaper reflected this. Despite the optimism of the previous week, Batley schools were closed on 10 and 11 July; with 1,900 absences on reopening on the 12 July they were once more shut on the 13 July. The paper published the advice of Dr. Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer as follows:

Influenza is caused by a minute bacillus found in the sputum and nasal discharge of persons suffering from the disease. It is conveyed by the breath. The disease is highly contagious. One attack does not confer immunity from another. The onset, after exposure to infection, may be as short as a few hours, and is characterised by a sudden rise of temperature, severe headache, pains in the back of the eyes, muscular aching and pains in muscles of both arms, legs, back, and other parts of the body, rapid pulse, much thirst, furred tongue, redness of inside of throat, which may or may not be sore. The skin is generally dry, but sometimes there is perspiration. The temperature generally falls in 24, 36, or even 48 hours as rapidly as it rose. The pains in the limbs continue longer, together with a sense of prostration for several days. There may be a relapse.

Influenza is rarely fatal, excepting through one of its inflammatory complications such as pneumonia.

The Medical Officer went on to advise that those stricken should at once have a hot bath, go straight to bed and send for the doctor. They should be isolated to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of the disease. The best way to escape infection was to avoid badly ventilated places such as picture palaces and theatres, and public meetings. Those displaying symptoms of bad colds should similarly be avoided.

Regular life, with the avoidance of all excess, plenty of fresh air and sunlight, with free ventilation of  rooms, together with open air exercise and a proper number of hours in bed, is advised.

Despite the Medical Officer’s assertion that the disease was rarely fatal, the number of deaths reported in that week’s newspaper must have given readers pause for thought. These deaths included what was believed to be the first one locally from “the mysterious influenza epidemic,” that of 34-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Driver, wife of Sam Wiloughby Driver, a warehouseman, of 12 Calder Bank Road, Dewsbury. She died on Sunday 8 July 1918, after being taken ill suddenly the day before. By Sunday, when spitting what appeared to be blood, her husband went to see Dr. Pritchard who refused to visit the patient on a Sunday, saying he had hundreds of cases of this complaint [influenza] lately, and not one had caused him anxiety or worry. Despite Mr Driver saying he would not have come had he thought it not serious, Dr. Pritchard sent him away with some medicine. By 6pm that evening Sam Driver returned to Dr. Pritchard’s, but the doctor was out. Before he was able to call another doctor, Sarah Elizabeth died. Dr. R. Beattie, who undertook the post mortem, thought Mrs Driver may have recovered if she had received prompt medical aid. But he also added doctors were so busy at the moment with the influenza outbreak they did not “know which way to turn.” The inquest verdict was she “Died from acute influenza and heart failure.

By  20 July 1918 the town was still dealing with the effects of influenza, with interments in Batley cemetery for the week numbering around 20, double the normal average. However the illness itself was on the decline with far fewer local death reports featuring in that week’s edition of the paper, which quoted:

…..a prominent local practitioner yesterday stated that so far as his experience goes the disease is rapidly declining. Where he used to have a score of patients he has now about two.

The 27 July 1918 paper declared the influenza epidemic practically over, although the occasional death report continued to appear, including that of Mr George Richard Whiteley or Purlwell, age 30, described as a champion Batley swimmer. His death on 29 July, from double pneumonia and pleurisy following influenza, was reported in the 3 August edition of the paper.

The respite was short-lived. By the end of October 1918 flu was once more hitting the local headlines. The 26 October 1918 edition of the Batley News, whilst admitting not too many local victims as yet, was not complacent:

Influenza, which in some parts of the country is raging in virulent epidemic form, has not many victims in this locality. In view, however, of the remarkable rapidity with which whole districts are affected, and of the large percentage of deaths reported from pneumonia following influenza, it is wise that everybody should take simple precautions against contracting the disease and to avoid communicating it to others. These precautions are precisely the same as against catching cold, and the most important are warm clothing and plenty of fresh air. “Weak persons and those suffering from colds should,” says one of the Medical Officers of the Local Government Board, “avoid badly ventilated buildings and overcrowded assemblies. A person who has contracted a severe cold should keep away from work, if he is employed with others, for the first three or four days, as it is during this stage that the complaint is most infectious. If people did that and were less neglectful of personal hygiene and more careful not to cough or sneeze without covering the mouth, there would be far fewer colds and far less spread of influenza.”

The warning about how quickly the illness could assume epidemic proportions was proved correct. By 2 November 1918 it had returned once more to the town with the Batley News reporting four deaths, many school children affected and the Medical Officer deeming it necessary to close all but four schools. Those shut included Purlwell, St Mary’s R.C., Carlinghow (all deparments); Gregory Street (both departments); Mill Lane Mixed, Warwick Road Girls’ and Infants’, Park Road Girls’ and Infants, Hanging Heaton C.E. Mixed and Infants’ and Field Lane Infants’.

At the same time notices were issued to all places of amusement in Batley that, until the 11 November, the period during which the majority of schools were to be closed, no children under fourteen must be allowed to attend. Parents were warned about “gossiping from house to house” and told not to let their children go to households were members were stricken by the illness. With the 11 November Armistice, it was particularly difficult to heed this advice about public gatherings and gossiping with neighbours. The crowds celebrating the Armistice clearly exacerbated the spread of the disease by bringing large groups of people into close proximity.

And whilst mentioning the Armistice it is worth noting the effects of influenza on the local men serving in the military. I know from my St Mary of the Angels, Batley, War Memorial research five of the 76 men (6.5 per cent) died as a result of influenza-related illnesses. Tony Dunlop of Project Bugle, the Batley and Birstall First World War Commemoration Project, estimates around 75 per cent of those who died and were buried locally in the last three months of 1918 were flu or pneumonia related deaths; of the others overseas, flu and pneumonia accounted for possibly around 30 per cent. These epidemic victims included Gunner Edward Chadwick, Sergeant Fred Greenwood and Deck Hand Harold Gaunt.

Centenary Wreath Laying Ceremony for Harold Gaunt – Photo by Jane Roberts

But back to the education situation. The school closures continued, despite attempts to re-open. On the days when schools did open, attendances proved thin because some children were themselves stricken with the illness, or their parents kept well children at home for fear of contagion. At the end of November Batley’s Medical Officer once more decreed schools would remain shut until 9 December.

At the end of November 1918 the Local Government Board, the national body which oversaw Local Authorities who at this time were largely responsible for health care, issued a special regulation. It meant if any public elementary school was temporarily shut because of influenza, no children were to be allowed to visit cinemas or places of public entertainment. Another regulation stipulated that no public entertainment was to be carried on for more than four hours consecutively, and an interval of not less than thirty minutes between entertainments must be observed during which time the venue was to be effectively ventilated. The penalty for any breach was £100.

But, seemingly at odds with the general discouragement of public gatherings, the 30 November Batley News announced that Batley’s Medical Officer had arranged for the showing in local picture halls of “Dr. Wise on Influenza” telling people what to do, or avoid, in the current epidemic! The film, commissioned by the Local Government Board and described as hard-hitting, can be viewed here.

Bored children not occupied by school did find other ways to amuse themselves, some not entirely legal. In February 1919 three boys appeared in court for stealing indiarubber piping from heating apparatus at St John’s Sunday School, as well as six cart lamps. Described as being from respectable families, a mother of one of the boys voiced the opinion that the lads got into mischief whilst the schools were closed for influenza. Courts were affected in other ways too with cases adjourned due to illness . For example in March 1919 a case about alleged breaches of the Rationing Order was halted as two of the defendants, Robert Spedding senior (butcher, of Clark Green) and Grace Reid (milk dealer of Purlwell), were unable to attend Batley Police Court

School closures also had a financial impact. Around 890 schools governed by the West Riding County Council (so not Batley Borough) were closed on average three times during 1918 as a result of the influenza epidemic, involving a loss of grants of around £16,000. The Council also paid over £100,000 to teachers when they were not teaching because of school closures.

It also impacted on those wishing to leave school to take up employment – in March 1919 it was reported that 147 children in Batley failed to attend school the requisite number of days to obtain Labour Certificates. Some Councillors felt that these children were entitled to special consideration given the circumstances. However, the Board of Education forbade them to take into consideration any possible attendances the children may have made if the schools had not been closed on account of the influenza epidemic. This was particularly vexing for some because at this point in time when a child reached the age of 13 and had made 350 attendances for each of five years they could apply for a Labour Certificate, allowing them total or partial exemption from school in order to work. The 1918 Education Act changed the law – from 1 April 1919 all children remained in school until the next holiday after their 14th birthday and Labour Certificates for leaving school before this age were abolished.

The week ending 23 November 1918 saw the peak of the second wave in Batley. By now the illness was impacting on medical services, and the end of the war provided a possible solution.  In view of its prevalence in Batley at the end of  November, the local Council made an application for the return of two local doctors serving in the Forces. However, the problems with doctors unable to meet the demands placed on them was still evident well into February 1919, as indicated in another inquest where two doctors failed to attend the victim, Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Senior (46) of Earlsheaton. Again this was in the neighbouring town of Dewsbury, and it was Dr. Beattie who once more conducted the post-mortem, saying if she had been seen her life may have been saved.

Proposals to treat influenza patients in isolation hospitals such as the one at Oakwell proved tricky due to the difficult staffing situation – by the end of January the hospital only had six nurses to keep five wards operational, and obtaining extra staff was proving impossible. The pressure on Oakwell to change policy increased though when, from 1 March 1919, the Local Government Board made primary pneumonia and pneumonia following influenza notifiable diseases. The aim was now to treat such cases in isolation hospitals if arrangements could be made, as this would save lives. Finally Oakwell was made available for pneumonia cases at the end of March 1919 for those patients where suitable nursing and accommodation was not available at home. These suitable cases were decided by the Medical Officer.

Remedies for influenza proliferated and included gargling morning and night with a solution of potassium permanganate and salt in water. It was also recommended that the solution be inhaled. Adverts appeared in the papers too, including for Crosby’s Cough Elixir, Lifebuoy Soap and, in March 1919, the claim from Ward’s (a clothing store) that you could protect yourself against flu by wearing a fur coat! This presumably based on the wear warm clothing advice.

img_0598

Because of the heavy death toll throughout November 1918, (54 due to influenza and 13 to pneumonia) gravediggers were in short supply.  In the five weeks to 30 November there were 95 funerals at Batley Cemetery, compared to 39 in the same period in 1917. The Registrar and cemetery staff came under particular pressure, resulting in distressing delays to burials. As a consequence the Council secured the services of four privates from a Labour Battalion to work in Batley Cemetery to try alleviate the problems.

By the end of December the second wave was over. The Medical Officer reported of the 62 Batley deaths that month, 16 were from influenza, seven were from bronchitis and four due to pneumonia. But once more it was only a temporary lull.

By the end of February  the influenza scourge was back again in Batley – the third wave of the disease. That month Dr. Pearce, the Medical Officer for Batley, reported 26 deaths from influenza, 20 from bronchitis and 8 from pneumonia. The Batley News of 1 March 1919 reported its comeback, but stated it was of a milder type with elementary school closures unnecessary and only six deaths attributed to it the previous week.

That same edition shone a spotlight on Batley’s housing conditions. Dr. J H Wood, J.P., whilst giving a talk to the Batley District Nursing Service ‘musical’ afternoon, touched on the three severe influenza epidemics over the previous eight months. Describing the disease as a plague, he claimed that although fresh air and face masks were all well and good, the problem was people attempting to fight the disease instead of going to bed and making the best of things. He then turned to the acute housing problem in Batley. He knew of one house consisting of one room downstairs and two bedrooms occupied by 12 people, one of whom was a chronic invalid. This was not an isolated case. Some of the housing conditions were a menace to public health, yet the health authorities were helpless to resolve them.

It was certainly true that overcrowding posed a public health problem. Influenza affected multiple family members during the epidemic, and true isolation from the rest of the household proved impossible when space was so limited. The newspapers are full of examples of multiple stricken family members – the same edition as reported overcrowding also mentioned five members of a Mount Top family in Birstall affected by influenza. Other examples included Mrs Senior, referred to earlier, who was one of six in her household to be laid low by the flu. The inquest into the death of Lewis Gomersall (47), a coal miner from Hanging Heaton who died on 21 February 1919, heard that four or five other members of his family were afflicted. One report which struck me was in the 30 November 1918 Batley News as follows:

Healey

Two Deaths in One Family from Influenza

Deep sympathy will be felt for Mr. John Edward Barber, rag merchant, 6, Mortimer Avenue, Healey, whose wife and daughter [Cecilia (60) died on 24 November and Nellie (26) died on 28 November]…..have this week died from influenza. Five members of the family have been attacked by the complaint, and Alice, another daughter, has been at death’s door and has not yet heard of the loss of her mother and sister. A double funeral takes place at Batley Cemetery tomorrow.

It is the street on which I grew up.

However, arguably the most ‘famous’ family in the town to be affected by the flu, and one that did not come into the class of overcrowded households, was that of Mr Theodore Cooke Taylor, J.P., of Sunny Bank, Batley. He was the head of the woollen manufacturing and profit-sharing firm of Messrs. J. T. and J. Taylor Ltd. He too suffered a double blow, but at a time when the epidemic was finally waning. He contracted flu along with his wife and daughter in early April 1919.  Whilst he recovered, his daughter, Evelyn Sara Taylor (43), died on 27 April 1919 from bronchial pneumonia complications; his wife Sara Jane (67) died two days later on 29 April 1919. Their burial took place in Batley Cemetery on 1 May 1919.

By the end of May 1919 Batley and District Insurance Committee were able to declare that the pneumonia plague, arising from influenza, was finally subsiding.  But it was at a cost of almost 200 lives directly attributed to influenza, not to mention those who succumbed to the subsequent respiratory complications.

Sources:

  • Supplement to the Eighty-First Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales, Report on the Mortality from Influenza in England and Wales During the Epidemic of 1918-1919
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1919 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1920 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Various editions of the Batley News, June1918 to June 1919
  • Project Bugle – http://www.projectbugle.org.uk/
  • The Flu That Wasn’t Spanish – https://history.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/13/the-flu-that-wasnt-spanish/

Why Waste Time and Money Researching Your Family History?

It’s been an all-consuming interest for the past goodness knows how many years. I’ve spent countless hours on research. And don’t mention the small fortune shelled out on subscription sites, books, certificates, data storage, courses, archives visits, family-related antiques, postcards and ancestral tourism. I’ve amassed files full of records and reports. I’ve endured the frustration of dealing with the fog-plaiting myriad of online records. My living room floor frequently takes on the role of a temporary filing cabinet. I’ve risked eye-strain and headache trying to read scratchy, barely legible writing and faded documents, both original and on microfilm and microfiche. I spend hour upon hour caught up in suffering, harsh lives, misery and death. Some days I’ve nothing to show for it other than the elimination of yet another source.

Is it really worth it? Should I have been living in the present and making memories rather than digging up the past? What really is the point of knowing my 6x great grandfather’s name let alone how many children he had and what happened to them all? And when I’m gone will all my research follow me into the ground or go up in smoke?

But then there’s that Eureka moment when I’ve found out something. The intellectual challenge of cracking what appears to be an insoluble family history puzzle, as well as the broader learning about aspects of history never taught at school: ones that are really interesting because I can relate them to my flesh and blood. There’s the thrill of actually reading that document or handling some centuries old piece of paper and feeling that connectedness with history. There’s the sense of belonging through finding my family, ones that are long-forgotten. It’s like bringing them back to life in a way. There’s the sense of community too, with those pursuing the same obsession. There’s the brick wall that nags at me night and day. I’m never finished. Loose ends abound. There’s always more to discover. So day after day, week after week I’m drawn back.

Let this serve as a warning to anyone starting out on family history. Are you really prepared for the expensive, frustrating, 24×7 obsession you’re about to unleash into your life?

And if the answer is yes, you won’t regret it!

The Changing Landscape of Family History

I’m feeling a little lost. This is the time of year when my thoughts would be turning towards planning my ‘Who Do You Think You Are? Live’ adventure. But, as was announced last year, this is a show that won’t go on. Yes, the writing may have been on the wall with the massed ranks of so-called chuggers, aka charity muggers, in evidence last year. Stand space was expensive making it difficult for genuine family history organisations to have a presence. Even The National Archives gave it a miss. Is this a sign the popular interest in family history research has plateaued and is perhaps on the decline?

And, dare I say it, maybe the TV show ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ has struggled occasionally with who it thinks it is in recent series. Yes, there are some gems of episodes. But it doesn’t seem to hold the same thrall of its early days. The BBC have also seemed happy to tinker with scheduling, to the detriment of viewing continuity, possibly an indication of where it now stands in their pecking order. No longer a flagship viewing offering? But is that in part because the format needs a shake-up?

Also has the series encouraged the belief family history is quick and easy? The big Internet and associated ‘it’s all a mouse-click away.com’ con, which in turn fostered the ‘fast-food family historian’ in us all to some extent. That attitude led to some of the more informative talks at last year’s ‘Live’ show, such as ones about genealogical proof, being a step too far for some of the audience. It’s too much like hard work, all this checking, corroborating and building a body of evidence.

I personally feel the absence of a national show has left a huge void in the British family history calendar of events. But maybe that’s because I’m a tad family history research obsessed. I’m going to miss its social aspect, the chance to see what’s out there beyond my own family history interests, the informative talks to improve my skill set, not to mention the opportunity to grab a book bargain or subscription discount. I’m seeking out alternatives, from the ‘Secret Lives’ conference to local and regional events and talks. One source to find out what’s on is GENEVA, an online calendar of GENealogical EVents and Activities.

On the same era-ending theme, earlier this month the final edition of ‘Your Family History’ magazine plopped on my doormat. Or should I say I dashed to the newsagent to buy my final copy, as my subscription expired the previous month and no reminder to renew was sent? For 15 years, initially under the title of ‘Your Family Tree’, it has provided information, advice and tips for the family history community from beginner to the more advanced. But time has been called on the publication. Reasons cited for its demise included rising costs and competition from the Internet. This competition presumably extends to digital media, blogs, podcasts and the like. But again I’m left wondering if the appetite for family history research has levelled out.

The family history landscape is changing. In reality it has always been a constant evolution. But the Internet is the real game-changer in recent years, considerably speeding up the process.

I started my family history journey probably just after the launch of ‘Your Family Tree’ (as it was called then). Back then it was old fashioned painstaking research methods. None of this ‘everything only a mouse click away’ belief, too often implicitly peddled by T.V. programmes and family history subscription sites now. Online subscription-based genealogy database services were in their infancy. IGI and FreeBMD were my high-tech, online ports of call. Microfiche and microfilm readers, Family History Societies and visits to local libraries and archives provided my gateway.

I well remember the days of going to my local library and scrolling through the census. Ditto for parish registers. I’d even plan holidays to visit archives in family associated locations in order to fit in a few hours research. This for basic record sets like the census or parish registers, things we take so much for granted today. Hard to imagine, but it wasn’t online and neither did it come automatically with a helpful searchable index. If you were lucky the local Family History Society might have compiled an index booklet. Or maybe an antiquarian publication had reproduced them. But, as the Family History Society exhorted, you still needed to check the original document.

But in the main you were ‘indexless’, and it was the long job of scrolling through filmed copies of the census, or going through the parish register microfiche by microfiche noting down all occurrences of family surnames. And maybe repeating the process, as research turned up a new surname to track in the same parish….several times over. But that way, you did get to familiarise yourself with the records, the community in which your ancestors lived and the writing!

It’s hard to imagine that this was how we did family history only a few years ago. Today, subscription genealogy services are in constant competition to get the next big dataset online. This is today’s gateway to family history. Yes, it is brilliant there is so much out there to tempt people into the wonderful world of family history. It’s making family history more accessible. And it can save masses of time in travelling up and down the country on archives visits. But in the race to get it all online, clear source referencing along with precise coverage dates, seems to have been dismissed. For instance the unwary may assume Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Parish Register collection includes all parishes. It doesn’t. But finding out what is there, and the years covered, is not an easy task. And transcribing errors may in turn lead to false negative results.

In a way it’s become too big, too unwieldy and the race to ‘chuck stuff online’ has meant it’s been too organisationally chaotic. For many there’s that initial flurry of interest, but it all tails off. And make no wonder people give up. It can be like plaiting fog. Especially when you don’t fully understand what’s there in the first place. I’ve heard people admit to it. They start off enthused but then they soon find it all too overwhelming and lose track (and interest) in what they’re doing.

In a way, the Internet may have curiously decreased knowledge too. There doesn’t seem to be the same willingness to trawl through a parish register, the Quarter Sessions or a Borough Court register to check for yourself. It’s too much like hard work. Yet there are times when this is necessary. For many it now needs to be the quick click, instant gratification of an online search and move on without evaluating whether it’s right or wrong. And hey presto I’ve got a tree going back to 1066!

A corollary is because so few are prepared to put in this painstaking work, the amount of time it takes is not appreciated. For so many there’s no interest in finding out about the variety of records, what they can and can’t do, what pitfalls there are, and what alternative sources exist to plug gaps. Which is why the demise of knowledge-bringing magazines such as ‘Your Family History’ is such a loss.

I’m forever seeking out information and knowledge to develop my family history skills: be it reading, both online and traditional books and magazines, as well as attending talks, webinars, podcasts and formal learning courses. I’m currently signed up to a series of Guild of One Name Studies monthly webinar. There are so many sources of learning out there if you look. And by doing them and improving your knowledge, you’ll be amazed how much you learn which in turn will lead to more accurate family trees, and hopefully breakthroughs. But that’s the point: you have to know the limitations of online sources and actively seek out knowledge beyond the confines of your computer. And by seeking out this wider knowledge you become more acutely aware of the computer pros and cons.

And yet there still seems to be only a passing realisation that not everything is on the internet. There is so much more in archives waiting to be explored. Much of it will never make it onto these online providers such as Ancestry, FindMyPast or The Genealogist because it is not commercially viable. Who for instance would be interested in churchwarden accounts, Vestry minutes, charity records, manorial documents and the like for some obscure location? But often these documents may help prove a link.

Bottom line, these companies are only interested in what makes money. After the 1921 census, what will they use to generate income and fresh interest? Perhaps this goes some way to explaining why price structures are amended; why Ancestry is putting its more recently acquired UK military datasets not on Ancestry.co.uk but on sister-company Fold3, in order to get another subscription stream; and why there is such a push on DNA testing as an alternative cash-cow. I’m not against DNA testing per se. It has a place. It is another tool. But there is perception peddled that it’s a quick root to a fully formed family tree, with no research required.

By the same token cash-strapped Councils, looking to make savings, are cutting back archives opening hours, or even closing them, because so much is online. Read the same for local libraries. It’s an easy excuse for them to use in order to reduce costs. And so it’s all online becomes a self-perpetuating myth.

Which is why I think David Olusoga’s recent BBC2 series ‘A House Through Time’ was such a refreshing change. Not only was it interesting, engaging and informative, it was a new way to introduce people to family history. It didn’t propagate the ‘it’s all online’ impression. And it wasn’t afraid to admit some people were difficult to trace and the trail went cold. Hopefully it has reached out to, and inspired, a new set of family historians, those seekers and keepers of documented, accurate ancestral truth, memories and knowledge.

My Top 12 Family History Suggestions for the New Year

As the year closes, here are 12 Family History suggestions for you to consider in 2018. 12 as in one per month. Or maybe because I simply couldn’t whittle them down to 10. You can judge!img_4905

  1. Review your research. Often research is ‘completed‘ and then shelved for years or possibly for ever, even if there are gaps. It does pay though to periodically revisit your research. What might have seemed a dead-end 12 months ago, may no longer be the case. A new record set, an additional piece of information gleaned through researching another family member, or even your own improved research techniques – all these can mean a brick wall is ready to come crashing down.
  2. Join a Family History Society. These organisations are the bedrock of family history up and down the country. They offer a wealth of help, advice and local knowledge. They also provide opportunities to meet with others sharing the same passion for, what can be, a solitary pursuit.
  3. Visit an archive. Contrary to what may appear to be the case, not everything is online. Far from it. And even what is there is not perfect. The indexing may leave something to be desired. Or the source citation may be so unclear as to mislead. One of the simple pleasures of family history research for me is physically connecting with original source material. To hold a document from a bygone era, possibly centuries old, and realise you’re touching something created by people long since gone. All the more special if, within that document you discover your ancestor’s name.
  4. On the same lines, check out your local library. They may have lots of free resources to help you with your family history research. From local newspapers on microfilm, to electoral registers, donated research, council minutes, medical officer of health annual reports, school yearbooks and magazines. The may have censuses, and microfilm or microfiche copies of parish registers. Many have free computer access to Ancestry or FindMyPast. So get down to your local library. You may be pleasantly surprised what’s there.
  5. Talk to relatives. They are living connections with the past, often too easily ignored whilst you pursue your paper trail. My dad died this year. Even though I did quiz him about the past, it’s only now he’s gone that I realise there’s so much more I wished I’d asked him. A few years ago I gave dad a book to fill in about his life. He never did it. So talk to your relatives whilst you have the chance.
  6. Do a family history course or webinar. Anything really to improve your skills. It doesn’t need to cost much. There are lots of free tutorials. Check out The National Archives events – they do some really good free online webinars. FindMyPast also do them. Your local Family History Society may run courses too. But ultimately your research techniques, and results, will benefit from it.
  7. If you do a DNA test, and if you are able to, please Please PLEASE include a tree. Even if it’s only a skeleton tree with a few direct line ancestors. There are so many treeless DNA testers, and it’s so frustrating trying to work out what the connection is between you and them. Yes there are ways and techniques to try to work round this. But it’s so long-winded and speculative. It’s far easier if at the outset there are some family names to work with. So if you received a DNA test this Christmas, besides the initial excitement of spitting or swabbing, do take a bit of time to upload a tree. By doing so you may get more potential DNA matches contacting you too.
  8. Check out #AncestryHour on Twitter. Tuesday’s at 7pm-8pm (GMT). Lots of fast-paced, fun, friendly family history chat, tips and plenty of opportunity to ask questions. More details are here. Starts again on 9 January 2018.
  9. If you do have a public tree on Ancestry, review it to make sure it’s accurate. And if you’re new to family history and looking at these public trees don’t take them as gospel. Do your own research and checking. So many of these things are blindly copied perpetuating the myth that 95 year old 3x great auntie Ann gave birth to twins!
  10. A bit long term, and on a less cheery note: what will happen to all your painstakingly researched family history once you’re gone? Will it end up in the bin? Start thinking now about how it will be preserved. Is there someone in the family to pass the baton on to? If not, is there another option?
  11. Photographs. A dying art in this digital age. I can’t remember the last time I put a family photo in an album, never mind label the names. They’re all on my phone, FaceBook, or when I get round to it, on my computer. So perhaps devote some time to putting a few key family photos (with names) in an album for future generations. Perhaps I’m showing my age and technophobe side here?
  12. Make 2018 the year when you better organise your family history research. Note sources in full. Note negative searches. Note dates searches were conducted. Write up research, and file it, at the time you do the work – not six months later when you’ve not a clue what paper is where, let alone what your scribbled note says and anyway it’s now all too overwhelming to sort out.montage

Whatever you do with your family history quest in 2018, enjoy it! I’ll publish my own New Year’s Resolutions tomorrow.

A Short Life Remembered: Resurrecting the GRO Dead

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. In these posts I focus on often-forgotten children in family trees. Those who died all too young. The ones who never had chance to marry, have children and descendants to cherish their memory. The ones who, but for family history researchers, would be forever forgotten. This story is a direct result of the new search facilities available with the General Register Office (GRO) indexes. 

I wrote about the new searchable indexes of births and deaths and the extra flexibility they provided here. As it is a new compilation it differs from other indexes because, where possible, the GRO have provided the mother’s maiden name right back to July 1837, as opposed to the September quarter of 1911. For deaths, an age is included if it is on, or is legible on, the original entry. Again this is back to their 1837 inception, as opposed to the March quarter of 1866 on other indexes.

Armed with these new search options, I am in the process of going through my family tree. For some there are obvious child-bearing gap years to focus on. The 1911 census is even more explicit in that it gives the number of children born in a marriage to a couple and provides the number surviving/dead. So the search offers a new tool to identify some of the hitherto unknown dead children if other methods have failed. More speculatively I’m going through my direct line ancestors to see if there are any other missed babies. Tedious with the two-year search parameter and having to specify the gender when searching. But rewarding nevertheless.

This is the story of my first search. 

I decided to investigate my 2x great grandparents Joseph and Kezia Hill (née Clough). Joseph and Kezia married on 22 April 1869 at Tong Parish Church. Coal miner Joseph was only just 20 and Kezia 18. They both lived on Whitehall Road, Drighlington. Childhood sweethearts I assumed. In February 1871 son Albert was born, followed by John Herbert (Jack) in December 1872. Another boy, Harry, was born in around early 1874. Finally daughter Martha arrived  towards the end of September 1876. Kezia died the following year. So I had a very narrow search window for this family.  

I didn’t expect much, given they’d had four children in their seven years of marriage. However the very first search produced a possible. I used 1870 +/- 2 years, males, with the surname Hill and mother’s maiden name Clough, and no phonetically similar/similar sounding variation options. It produced three hits. These are in the screenshot below. 

Albert is there, as is a boy named Herbert. This is John Herbert. As I explained in my previous post, this is one of the quirks of the new search. Joseph and Kezia originally registered their son under the name Herbert, but changed their minds, went back and amended his name to John Herbert. The new indexes fail to pick up certified name changes. 

There is a third boy on this list though: Frank William, whose birth was registered in the September 1869 quarter. It looked promising. The Registration District corresponded – Bradford, Yorkshire. The names were family ones – Joseph’s grandfather was called Francis; his uncle and eldest brother were named William. But it wasn’t proof positive.

In the 1871 census Joseph and Kezia with infant son Albert. No Frank. Was he living elsewhere at the time of the census, or had he died, another census “in-betweener“. 

A search on the death indexes for Frank Hill with a +/- 1 year parameter resulted in 14 hits. The bottom entry looked spot on. It shows the death registration of Frank William Hill in Bradford, Yorkshire in the December quarter of 1869 – age 0.  The convention is to record the age as 0 for infants under 12 months. However, be aware that despite the rhetoric, this isn’t a hard and fast rule with these new indexes –  there are errors. I have instances were a child of two months at death is recorded as two years.  

I decided to play it safe though and went for the birth certificate initially. I ordered it on 9 November via the trial PDF system. By 11 November it arrived, five days ahead of schedule. However I couldn’t open it. The only one of my orders I had an issue with, and it would be this one. Despite this glitch, I am feeling very positive about the new PDF system. No it’s not perfect, but it is another (cheaper) ordering option, where you don’t need a fancy all bells and whistles certified copy. It’s a straightforward process, especially for those birth and death events searchable on the new indexes. And the indexes themselves have helped me progress my family history in a way not possible with the alternative ones.

Anyway, back to Frank’s certificate. I was on tenterhooks. So near but yet so far. Then Steve Jackson stepped in, who runs the Atcherley One-Name Study. He sorted it in no time, and bingo. Frank William was indeed Joseph and Kezia’s first child. 

This put a whole new spin on my family tree. For a start my great grandad was now relegated to third child. But, more importantly, Frank was born in Drighlington on 18 September 1869. This was coming up to five months after his parents married. He may therefore have been the very reason for their marriage. But sadly his life proved far shorter than those five months of his parents married life to date.   

PDF Copy Birth Certificate of Frank William Hill

Joseph registered his son’s birth, making his mark. He alternated between signing and making his mark on various birth and death registrations, so it is difficult to make literacy assumptions on the basis of a one-off registration. However the sad task of registering the baby’s death fell to Sabina Hill. I suspect she is Joseph’s sister as she’s the only Sabina Hill in the family tree at this point. However I do have a slight niggle with this theory: she was only 14 years old in 1869. She too made her mark.

Frank never thrived. He must have been a constant cause of concern for his young parents. He is described on the death certificate as having anaemia since birth. He lived only three weeks, giving up his struggle in Drighlington on 9 October 1869. 

His certificate also states, besides anaemia, he suffered convulsions for a few hours before his death. Convulsions was not an uncommon death certificate death cause for young children and infants in this era. Babies and infants who develop a fever as a result of an infection may fit because of their high body temperature. With the medical limitations of the period, in these circumstances the outward manifestation rather than the underlying cause was recorded.

So ended Frank’s short, but significant, life. Significant insofar as it was probably the initial impetus behind Joseph and Kezia’s marriage. And, as a result, generations later their family lives on. Including me.

I’ve not found a baptism for Frank. There won’t necessarily be one. And to date I’ve not found a parish register burial entry for him. But it’s early days, given its only a week ago since I learned of his existence thanks to the new GRO indexes. However the discovery of his brief life has added a new dimension to Joseph and Kezia’s life together. And sadly it’s another tragic one. Maybe next year I will write about them.

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are:

Sources:

GRO Picture Credit: 

Extract from GRO birth register entry for Frank William Hill: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.

WDYTYA? Live 2017 Preparations: Tickets on Sale 

It’s not even Christmas 2016, but one of my presents will be here early. After my 2016 visit to WDYTYA? Live in Birmingham, where I felt one day was far too short a visit for me, I determined that in 2017 I would spend longer at the exhibition. Tickets are now on sale with an “early bird” discount.

WDYTYA? Live 2016 – photo by Jane Roberts

So now it’s time for me to plan my visit. I’m going for a two-day option. So next to check out hotels. And based on my previous experiences I will pre-book my workshops. I’m getting old so need a seat!

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free

Another free resource for family historians. The GRO (England & Wales) have made available online a searchable index of births and deaths, via their website. All you need to do is have a registered GRO online certificate ordering account.

 This new index covers registered births from 1837-1915 and deaths from 1837-1957. 

The plan was to limit the index to births over 100 years old and deaths over 50. However the GRO state that completing digitisation “would require significant investment and there are no current plans to resume this work but we continue to monitor the scope for future opportunities to complete the digitisation of all birth, death and marriage records.” So, I suspect in this climate of government austerity, the completion of the death digitisation, the year-by-year roll out, and the digitisation of marriages won’t happen anytime soon. However they will update the index if there are errors and omissions, and they do have an error report form for these to be submitted to them.

The GRO have a FAQ section on the website. This includes a guide about searching the indexes. So I won’t cover that aspect in this post. There is also a useful guide here.

So what does this GRO online index add to the indexes already out their via FreeBMD and subscription sites like FindMyPast

Well for a start this is a brand new index and not a copy of an existing third party one from the microfiche indexes. Anyone doing family history will be familiar with the scenario – a search on two websites will not necessarily yield exactly the same results. So this provides an extra check with which to by-pass errors and find that illusive record.

Crucially, as the GRO point out, this new index contains “additional data fields to those which are already available and this will assist family historians to identify the correct record.” Other indexes, because they are taken from the microfiche indexes, only include age at death from the March quarter of 1866 onwards; and for births the mother’s maiden name only features from the September quarter of 1911. This index is different. Because it is a new compilation, where possible the GRO have provided the mother’s maiden name right back to 1837; similarly an age for deaths is also included if it is on, or is legible on, the original entry. The convention for recording the age as 0 for infants under 12 months is continued though. 

As a result of this extra information I think I have narrowed the 1860s death of my 3x great grandfather to two possible certificates: Not the several of previous searches. At £9.25 a certificate this could make all the difference to me taking a gamble and ordering. Similarly the availability of the mother’s maiden name on the earlier birth entries enables pinpointing the correct entry far more straightforward. It also is a useful tool to discover hitherto unknown children of a marriage during the 1837-1911 period.

Also whereas other indexes record middle names as initials for many years, the new GRO index gives them in full. In my post about names in World War 1 I didn’t include middle names as these were not identifiable in the FreeBMD indexes for that period. The use of initials on FreeBMD is explained here

However it is now possible to do a middle name search to a limited extent on the new GRO index irrespective of period, as the screenshot below illustrates. I did a search for a middle name of “Joffre” for 1914 +/- 2 years. With other indexes this isn’t possible, they just show the middle name by initial for these years, in this example “J”. 

Although it’s not a solution to calculating a total number as you can’t search without a surname, this facility might aid the correct pinpointing of an entry. 

GRO index screenshot showing 1914 +/- 2 year search for boys with surname “Smith” and middle name “Joffre”


Limitations so far for me are the:

  • two year search parameters, which can drag out the search process if you’re working on a longer window of uncertainty (for example an inter-census death), especially when you have to do a male and female search;
  • having to use the mandatory gender field when conducting a search is a tad frustrating. I keep forgetting to switch;
  • the 250 results limitation may be problematical for larger one-name-studies; and
  • not having a county-wide search functionality. It’s either everything, a volume number, which does not equate exactly to all the districts within a county (thanks to gwinowan for the tip) or a specific registration district.

And finally one anomaly. In my post about tricky names I indicated how my 3x great grandparents changed their minds about the name they registered my 2x great grandmother under. She was originally registered as Emma Clough but, as was permissible, they subsequently amended her name to Kesia (she was known as Kezia(h), so even more spelling variants). This is shown on the original birth certificate and GRO copy. When searching on the microfiche indexes she is found under Kesia Clough. In the new GRO ones she’s down as Emma. The same applies to my great grandfather – originally registered as Herbert Hill, but amended to John Herbert. Found under John Herbert in other indexes, but Herbert in the new GRO one.

Top entry from FreeBMD showing my 2x great grandmother’s correct (amended) name; bottom entry from the new GRO indexes showing the name she was originally registered under

So be aware, the new GRO index will show the name the baby was originally registered under. This may cause confusion, especially for one-namers.

Overall though, despite its clumsiness and limitations in some ways, I’m really happy with the additional options it provides. So a thumbs up from me.

Update 1: Just read on the “Who Do You Think You Are?” Magazine FB page that, following on from these indexes, the GRO will trial the purchase of uncertified PDFs of birth certificates from 1837-1934 and death certificates from 1837-1957 at a cost of £6 each. This from 9 November 2016 lasting for three weeks, or until 45,000 PDFs have been purchased.

Update 2: GRO have launched the £6 PDF trial starting from 9 November. This from their website:

From 9 November, we are trialling emailing PDF copies of registration records. Records will not be immediately viewable, but emailed as a PDF.

The pilot is in 3 phases, starting with our digitised records:

  • Births: 1837 – 1934 and 2007 on
  • Deaths: 1837 – 1957 and 2007 on
  • Marriages: 2011 on
  • Civil Partnerships: 2005 on

Phase 1 closes on 30 Nov, or when 45,000 PDFs have been ordered, whichever is sooner. Details of phase 2 (3 hour PDF service) and phase 3 (records not digitised) will be announced here shortly.

Full details are in here in the GRO’s “Most Customers Want to Know” page.

I’ve ordered a couple of PDF certificates under the new system, which is all very straightforward to use. In fact it’s more user-friendly for those indexed entries, as you can place your order direct from the search result and all the relevant information (including name, District, Quarter, Volume & Page) is automatically entered. Delivery for these Phase 1 PDF’s is to a slightly longer timeframe. My expected email delivery is 16 November. I’m just hoping the 45,000 limit isn’t reached before they arrive, as if I’ve correctly identified a birth for an hitherto unknown baby of my 2x great grandparents, I also want to get the death certificate. 

Update 3: Phase 1 ended on 30 November. I ended up ordering 19 PDFs  in total. Six have arrived, although I do have an issue with one. It arrived in an unopenable Winmail.dat format on 11 November. The GRO finally re-sent it as a PDF on 2 December. I ordered the final 13 towards the end of the trial and delivery, due to the volume of orders, is not anticipated until early December.  

Update 4: Pilot phase 2, for a within three hour delivery service for PDF copies of all birth, death, marriage and civil partnership records has ended now. However the £45 price tag was beyond my purse strings. 

Phase 3 is now up and running, with a close date of 4pm on 12 April 2017, or 40,000 PDFs, whichever is the soonest. It covers PDF copies of those civil registration entries that are not held by GRO in a digital format, in other words those not included in the earlier Phase 1 £6 trial. The exact dates are:

  • Births: 1935-2006
  • Deaths: 1958-2006
  • Marriages: 1837-2010

These PDFs will cost £8. I may be tempted here, though it is only a £1.25 saving on the postal service – so not a massive saving.

Another Family History Website Bites the Dust

A sad day for those with coal mining ancestors and interests. Whilst doing some research into my many ancestors working in this industry, I attempted to access one of my favourite occupational websites, “The Coal Mining History Resource Centre” (CMHRC).

However it appears to have vanished.

Ian Winstanley compiled the information for the website. But I believe Raleys Solicitors, an old-established Barnsley law firm specialising in miners’ compensation claims, ran it. They went into administration in March 2016. Whereas client work appears to have transferred to Ison Harrison Solicitors, the website seems to have been a casualty.

Ancestry.co.uk have Ian Winstanley’s “Coal Mining Accidents and Death Index 1700-1950“, which was on the site. But CMHRC was far more than this wonderful database. Described as the UK’s largest and most comprehensive website concerning the history of coal-mining, its resources included maps, the 1842 Royal Commission reports, poems, a glossary of mining terms and a photo gallery. Unlike Ancestry, it was a free website. And to be honest I much preferred its search facility.

I would hope the loss of CMHRC is temporary and it can soon be restored in all its former glory. But in the meantime there is a bit of a work round.

In my post about an obsolete County Mayo website, I described how the Internet Archive Wayback Machine could be useful in accessing defunct websites. You can partly access CMHRC via this mechanism, but be warned you do lose much of the original site functionality.

Screenshot of CMHRC via the Wayback Machine

If searching via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the URL to use for CMHRC is:  http://www.cmhrc.co.uk

Make sure you search for 2016 captures and earlier.

There are also the following useful sites:

Feel free to add more to the list.

Some suggestions that I’ve since received (thanks Judy & Fergus):

My New Toy: Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Images

In my “Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry” post I could scarcely contain my excitement at the release of Irish General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriages and death register images. The site is https://www.irishgenealogy.ie

I’ve had a few days playing with my new family history toy and getting a feel for the system. These searches have focused on my primary interest area, County Mayo, and in particular the Swinford Registration District. I’ve tried a combination of search methods, including wildcards for those multiple spellings. For example I didn’t realise how many ways you could spell the seemingly simple surnames: But Loft* identifies Loftus, Loftice and Loftis; Cass* included Cassidy, Cassedy and Cassiday.

I found it interesting to note how many of my family were baptised before their registered birth date! I knew my grandpa had two birthdays, but it seems he was not unique amongst his siblings. Staggeringly this applied to seven of out of the eight children of Michael and Mary Callaghan, whose birth register images are accessible. But it also features in my Loftus line.

Glan Church, Kilkelly, County Mayo

It points to the religious importance of quick baptism to ensure eternal salvation at a time of high infant mortality; combined with the lesser imperative to officially register, with rural transport factors and employment pressures coming into play. By law, a birth had to be registered within 42 days. Fudging the birth date was a way to avoid a late registration penalty. Interestingly my grandpa carried on the “tradition” of an incorrect birth certificate date with my mum.

As with any new release on this scale there are some glitches:

  • The site did go down a few times and at others it was painfully slow. Hopefully these accessibility issues will improve as the traffic volume decreases;
  • I do get a tad frustrated at constantly proving “I am not a robot” several times within the same session. There’s a limit to how many street signs, grass vistas, milkshakes and shop fronts I must identify before curbing the urge to scream;
  • Not all images are online yet. Births are there from 1864 to 1915. However marriages are only available from 1882 to 1940. Deaths run from 1891 to 1965. The GRO are updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864, but no indication of how long this will take;
  • For one of my birth searches, the link was to the wrong image. I couldn’t see any way to browse adjoining pages easily. I tried in vain to overcome the issue using the advanced search options, narrowing down dates and Registration Districts. A frustrating half an hour later and I still couldn’t access it. So I know Andrew Callaghan’s 1891 birth registration is there somewhere, but the crucial image still eludes me. I have reported the issue via the feedback form, but as yet haven’t received a response;
  • The Advanced Search facility has issues, alluded to above. Linked to this, I do wish search guidance was clearer; and
  • I’ve heard anecdotal stories of false negative results, where someone who should be there isn’t identified in searches. So far this hasn’t affected me.

But the positives far outweigh these niggles:

  • FREE register images are instantly available with the click of a few keys;
  • The register pages supply the birth, marriage and death certificate details thus saving researchers €4 a certificate;
  • The information provided may lead to wider family. I quickly noticed that a good number of births were not registered by the parents. Far higher than I anticipated. Many entries were by people described as “present at birth”. For example a couple of my Callaghan births were registered in this manner by a Patrick Callaghan. Tantalisingly in these instances no relationship details were supplied. Possibly the baby’s grandfather or potentially an uncle, so extended family clues. However some entries do give the precise relationship details. I’ve seen sisters and grandmothers identified. So you may strike lucky;
  • You can include the mother’s maiden name in the advanced search option for births. And these fetch results earlier than the 1911 norm for England and Wales GRO searches. However I would not go so far as to say I to trust equating negative results to no results; and
  • There are entries for Northern Ireland Registration Districts. I’m not sure if these are limited to pre-1922 and how complete these are. So even if your ancestry is from the North, the records are worth checking.

In summary, despite its flaws this is a brilliant resource. It is a wonderful companion set to the free NLI Catholic parish register release of 2015. And a massive thank you to the Irish authorities for making Irish Soldiers Wills 1914-1918, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census, and other datasets, also available free of charge via the National Archives of Ireland’s genealogy page.

It is worth comparing with the “pay” attitude for similar information in England and Wales. A prime example being the £9.25 extortionate charges for similar civil registration information, with seemingly very little progress made since the 2015 Deregulation Act which was supposed to pave the way to providing this information in an uncertified, lower cost form. Or the £10 charge for a World War 1 soldier’s will in this centenary commemoration period.

5 October 2016 update:

I have now received a response from Irish Genealogy to my query on errors. They will be adding a mechanism for error reporting, but no indication of timescale.

In terms of coverage they confirmed the General Register Office are currently working on updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864. These will be included in future updates to the records available on the website.