Tuesday 25 January 2011

New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part Three

Great Seal of Queen Anne 1707, commemorating the Act of Union of England and Scotland
Since my last post on this subject, I have been taking another close look at the collections in new FamilySearch that were formerly categorised as 'British Isles'. The fundamental problem with these records is that the place filters simply do not work. Unless this is sorted out, it will be very difficult for anyone searching British Isles records - England, Scotland, Ireland (North and South), Channel Islands, Isle of Man, or United Kingdom - to find what they are looking for, or even to know what is there to be searched in the first place. Some of the issues I have raised relate to this region, the one that I know best, but could apply equally to others; you can't filter by US state or Canadian province, which is just as bad as not being able to filter by county within the British Isles. But the way that the records here have been categorised is unique.

These lists don't match!

On the home page, scroll down to 'Browse by location' and select 'Europe'. You will see a list of 'countries' on the left, and a list of record collections on the right, in country order. The list of the left corresponds with the list on the right - up to a point. The list of countries on the left reads: Austria, Belgium, Channel Islands, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France ...and so on. The record collections mirror this exactly as far as Denmark, then the next collections are not from Finland, but England, which does not appear at all in the left-hand list.

The list on the left continues...Germany, Gibraltar, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland...but the right-hand list has Germany, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Isle of Man, Italy...etc. More record collections, this time for 'Great Britain' which have no counterpart on the left. The two lists continue in step almost to the bottom, where the last four countries listed on the left are Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Wales. Now if you look to the right-hand list of record collections, there is only Switzerland, Ukraine and Wales, the 'United Kingdom' record having been distributed, inaccurately, between England and Great Britain.

This discrepancy between countries and record collections ONLY occurs in relation to the British Isles records, and nowhere else in the whole of the Historical Records collections.

Collections in the wrong place

I have already mentioned some of the anomalies in my earlier posts, New FamilySearch, a view from the British Isles Part One and Part Two. There is a filter for Wales, but it contains only Probate Abstracts 1773-1780; the major collections of Wales, Births and Baptisms, Wales, Marriages, and Wales, Deaths and Burials are found within the United Kingdom filter. Also within the United Kingdom are the Great Britain collections: Great Britain Births and Baptisms, Great Britain Marriages and Great Britain Deaths and Burials. I had looked at these before, and found that they included some Irish records - all of Ireland used to be part of the United Kingdom, and part of it still is, but it has NEVER been part of Great Britain. The Irish Sea is in the way! Great Britain is the geographical term for 'the other island' as one of my Irish friends calls it.

Further investigation shows that the baptism register of St Peter's, Athlone and Drum, Roscommon, is included in Great Britain Births and Baptisms, which contains the baptism register of the Immaculate Conception Chapel, South Orange, Essex New Jersey! I also found a number of entries there from the Irish Civil Registration indexes. Naturally, I have reported this using the Feedback facility.

Overseas Records

There are in fact many more records classified as 'Great Britain' which do not belong there. These are not records that have been mistakenly put in the wrong place by someone with an imperfect understanding of British geography. These come from substantial collections of records which are held in London, but whose whole point is that they record events that took place OUTSIDE the British Isles. These comprise many thousands of events recorded in British churches and chapels overseas, or registered with British consulates, embassies and legations abroad. The original records are held at The National Archives in either the Foreign Office or General Register Office collections, or in the Bishop of London's 'International Memoranda' at the London Metropolitan Archives. A further large  collection of births, marriages and deaths at sea, held at The National Archives, is also included in 'Great Britain' by FamilySearch.

These records are not just relevant to researchers with British Isles ancestry; they include people from all nations, particularly the 'At Sea' records which include many records of foreign nationals who were passengers or crew on British-registered ships. They may be included here because they are held in British archives, but records from the India Office Collection, held at the British Library, are correctly indexed by FamilySearch under India, so we know it can be done. Time to hit the Feedback button again...


  1. Hi Audrey,

    Just found something else very annoying, though not British. There was a big song and dance last September/October about the launch of 4 million civil records for Belgium from 1795-1910. My grandfather and his siblings were all born in Belgium, but I couldn't access the records for some reasons, it would not display images. Turns out the images are only available for verified Family Search members. Just found this at http://forum.archieven.org/index.php?topic=29006.0 from another confused person who contacted FS - it's the reply:

    Thank you for contacting FamilySearch feedback regarding Belgium Civil Registration, 1795-1910 collection.

    The National Archives of Brussels, Belgium is the record custodian for the Belgium Civil Registration, 1795-1910 collection. They have contracted with FamilySearch to provide images only to Authenticated Members of the Church, with future plans to be able to provide them to LDS Family History Centers and the Family History Library in Salt Lake City as well.

    We are sorry that this collection is not available to you at this time.

    I had assumed it was an issue with my computer, so had put it off for another day, but I now have a client with a Belgian connection and had hoped to consult a record for him. Of course, now I know why I can't! Some more specific information about FS releases is really required on several fronts, methinks!


  2. A bit more fun - the Scottish 1881 census records have now disappeared again - the English and Welsh collection disappeared for a day, now it's back, and whilst Scotland is no longer there in that collection, it's no longer anywhere. Sigh...!