Friday 15 February 2013

Rootstech - last chance to register at $149 (soon)

Well, wouldn't you just know it, I blogged about today being the last  day to register for Rootstech at the special rate of $149 for a full 3-day pass, and exactly 20 minutes later up pops a message on Twitter from @RootsTechConf to say that the deadline has been extended by another week!

So you have little longer to crack open the piggy-bank (go on, you know you want to!). You get a lot for you money, with an amazing range of sessions to attend - at least a dozen to choose from in each time-slot, plus 'un-conferencing' activities and lots going on in the Expo Hall.

I attended the first two Rootstech conferences - I think I must have been one of the first to book for Rootstech 2011. That first year it attracted over 3000 attendees, last year there were more than 4000...who knows how many will turn up this year. Fortunately Salt Lake City has lots of hotels, although the two closest to the convention centre were filled up very quickly.

The full schedule for all three days has been online for a while, but as yet there are no details of the exhibitors, only a plan of the Expo Hall, which will be 40% bigger than before, and apart from the 'usual suspects' in the form of the major sponsors, I learnt today from the latest Family Historian Bulletin that Family Historian software will be exhibiting at Rootstech for the first time. This is my software of choice; although I also use (and like) Family Tree Maker and Rootsmagic, Family Historian is my favourite. If only they had a Mac version and a mobile app...

This time next week I shall be up to my neck in Who Do You Think You Are? - Live! but once that is over the suitcase will come down from the loft and I shall turn my attention to Rootstech, all the friends I will catch up with, and the research I plan to do in the Family History Library. I can hardly wait.


Thursday 14 February 2013

Valentine's Day wedding, sixty years ago

Sixty years ago today my parents were married, the only Valentine's Day wedding in my whole family tree, so far. Sadly, it's not also their diamond wedding; although Mum is still going strong, Dad died 30 years ago, just short of what would have been their pearl wedding.

Theirs was a Registry Office ceremony - England has Register Offices, but this was in Scotland, where Registry Office is the correct term. Scottish marriage law is quite unlike English marriage law, and the Registry Office wedding was a relatively new phenomenon there. My paternal grandparents married in a Roman Catholic church, and my mother's parents had a Church of Scotland ceremony in a private house, the home of the bride's sister. I also have a few marriages in my tree 'by declaration' ie before witnesses, with no religious ceremony.

Although my parents' wedding was a few years after the end of the Second World War, many commodities were still in short supply, and a few were even still on ration - rationing didn't end until 1954, Mum told me that her nylons were sent from South Africa, and although you can't tell from the black-and-white photo, they were a grey-blue shade to go with her suit, and not the so-called 'flesh' coloured ones she would normally have worn. She also told me that the photographer made a big fuss about how romantic it was to get married on Valentine's Day, but in fact it had more to do with the tax year. Until at least the 1970s it was advantageous to marry close to the end of the tax year, because you got the Married Man's Tax Allowance for the whole year, even if you were only married for the last couple of weeks of it. Mother always was, and still is, of a very practical turn of mind! The date of Easter also had a role to play; neither of them was particularly religious, but some family members were, and getting married during Lent wasn't 'the done thing'. Easter happened to coincide with the end of the tax year in 1953, so they chose the last Saturday before Lent,which just happened to be Valentine's Day, that's all!

Mum still has many souvenirs of the day; a pair of decorative silk banners, all the cards and telegrams and of course the photographs. I have the (now rather battered) floral centrepiece from the wedding cake, which had pride of place on my wedding cake 25 years later  


Wednesday 13 February 2013

Hidden treasures in FamilySearch

You may use FamilySearch by typing your search terms into the inviting-looking box on the home page, and then filtering the results. I sometimes do that, but most of the time I prefer to locate a specific resource and search within it. One of the main reasons for this is that I can keep track of what I have searched, and by extension, what I haven't searched. I don't just do this on FamilySearch, it's my preferred way of doing any online research. So I usually scroll down to 'All record collections' and select one of the ten regions (count them - TEN).

Since I mainly research within British Isles records, I then go straight to 'United Kingdom and Ireland' - so far, so good, and there are about 100 record sets to choose from. But many Brits spent time out of the country, inconveniently marrying, having children or dying while overseas. Records of these events can be very hard to track down, as they might be in a variety of places (or not recorded at all). This kind of research is never going to be easy, but there are some some very useful records in FamilySearch, if you know where to look. If, instead of clicking on 'United Kingdom and Ireland' (or any other region) you go to 'All record collections' you will see, on the right, a full alphabetical listing from Alabama to Zimbabwe, and on the left under 'Place' a list of eleven regions (count them - ELEVEN).

As well as the geographical groupings that you saw on the home page, there is also a category called 'Other'. I just love categories called 'other', 'miscellaneous' or 'supplementary' and so on. They are just begging to be explored, you never know what you are going to find there. In this case you will see the Family Group Records Collection, Archives Section 1942-1969', the old IGI and three 'World Miscellaneous'collections - Births and Baptisms, Deaths and Burials,and Marriages. Not only 'Other' but 'Miscellaneous' too! Unfortunately there is no easy way of finding out what registers or record sets are included, as each description contains the customary 'Only a few localities are included and the time period varies by locality.' If you follow the 'Learn more' link there is a coverage list which gives a little more detail. This varies from 'Connecticut, New London' to 'China', but still leaves over 300,000 entries under 'World miscellaneous'.

Lacking any more helpful detail, I used my fall-back tactic of searching for a common name to see where the results come from. Predictably, there are quite a lot of Smiths, more than 2500 results, in fact. The results on the first page are from China, New Zealand and Romania. Some of the China entries contain the useful extra descriptive information 'British Consulate', but to find out the actual source you need to dig a little deeper. If you expand an entry you  may find some extra details, but the really useful one is the 'source film number', right at the bottom. This is enough to locate the  film you need at a FamilySearch Centre (or Center, depending on your continent) or the Family History Library but you want to know what you are going to be looking at, right?

You can find this out using the Library Catalog (or Catalogue, depending...etc) and I usually have this open in another window or tab to save time. Under 'Search for' select 'Film numbers' and away you go. I searched for film number 1494353 from a 1904 baptism entry in Bucarest,

There are two registers on this film, here is the full description of the second one, Consulate Registers 1851-1948:

By now you have done an awful lot of clicking, but it is well worth it, for any entry on FamilySearch, not just the 'Others'. The Notes section tells you where the original is held, and in this case it also gives the document reference. This is what you should include in your source citation, noting of course that at this stage you have looked at a (partial) transcript, and not the original. As I expected, these registers are in the Public Record Office - now The National Archives (TNA). The document references are helpful, FO 625/2-4, 6 if you want to view the originals at The National Archives,which may be more convenient for you than a FamilySearch Centre (it is for me, but then I work there!). I you are unfamiliar with the referencing system, the above is not a single reference but four - FO 625/2, FO 625/3 and so on. 

A number of Consulate Registers are indexed in FamilySearch, though by no means all of them, but I haven't figured out a sure-fire way of working out exactly which ones are included. The 'search-by-Smith' technique isn't guaranteed to find everything. I found these records by accident because I like exploring, and although you might find an entry for your ancestors using the 'Search everything then filter' method, you might not. 

Apart from the Consulate Registers there are some other useful resources for the British overseas, or at sea in these World Miscellaneous collections. There are lots of entries from the major collection of Church of England overseas chaplaincy registers, formerly held at Guildhall Library, but now at the London Metropolitan Archives  and much more besides. Why not have a look, who knows what you might find?    


Sunday 10 February 2013

A new book and a new blog (not mine!)

As a rule I'm not the newshound kind of blogger, I leave that to others who do it much better. But once in a while I want to draw attention to something new and worthwhile. I have to declare an interest,here, because I count both of these authors as friends, and one is a co-author and former colleague too. I can assure you that they are also excellent genealogists, that's why I like them.

The book is the very welcome new edition of Easy Family History by Dave Annal. I know it says David on the cover, but trust me, he answers to Dave. It is the book I would recommend to anyone starting out on family history in the UK. Like me, Dave is an 'undercover Scot'; we have both spent most of our lives in England, we sound English and people assume we are English unless we happen to drop into the conversation that we are in fact Scottish. We usually manage to do this fairly early on. Dave is particularly well placed to write a book of this kind because he has been tracing his own, mainly Scottish, ancestry since the 1980s. But being based in England, his work as a professional genealogist has been in English records. He also spent 10 years working for The National Archives, first of all at the Family Records Centre where he was Development Manager. When the FRC closed he moved to Kew, where he became the Principal Records Specialist - Family History. So he has experienced the world of family history research from all angles, over a period of enormous change, and he can write a bit, too! My only quibble with the book is its title, because family history isn't necessarily easy. But I suppose 'Family-history-isn't-always-easy-but-this-is-how-you-can-make-it-as-easy-as is-practicable' would be hard to fit on the cover, so I'll concede that one. As for the contents of the book, you don't have to take my word for it; my geni-mate and blogger Jill Ball aka Geniaus mentioned the first edition in her blog in 2011
'I am sorry that I did not also purchase Easy Family History. I rejected this title because it was a beginner's guide - I should not have done so because I am sure that I would have learnt something from this little book...'
Later, when she did obtain a copy, she said that she did indeed learn some things from it that she didn't previously know, so there you are The new edition includes some essential updates on major document releases and digitisation projects since the original version was published, and has decent sized pages instead of the chunky and inconvenient 'pocket-size' format of the previous one.

The aforesaid Geniaus provides a neat link to my other recommendation, the new blog Paul Milner Genealogy. They have just sailed out of Sydney Harbour together - no scandalous goings on, they are with a whole lot of other people on the Unlock the Past genealogy cruise. Paul is new to blogging, but I am sure he will take to it with his customary thoroughness. I first met Paul in 2003 in Orlando, when I was one of a band of Brits manning a booth and presenting at the FGS conference. This was a new experience for us, as US and UK events are very different. We looked at the schedule for the weekend, and wondered 'Who is this Milner person, who is talking on British records?' When we met him, we were impressed. He was kind enough to give me (signed) copies of his books 'Discovering your English Ancestors' (2000) and 'Discovering your Scottish Ancestors' (2002) both co-written with Linda Jonas. I scoured both volumes from cover to cover, and couldn't find any mistakes or omissions! So much has changed since they were published that both books are now sadly out of date, but at the time they were the business. Since then I have met Paul on a number of occasions, on both sides of the Atlantic, and have heard him speak several times. Thomas MacEntee provides a brief bio of Paul in his Geneabloggers post New Genealogy Blogs February 2, 2013. Paul is a Brit by birth, but has lived in the US since 1975, so you might wonder why I recommend him so highly when there are plenty of resident British genealogists, but there two good reasons. First of all, distance is not the barrier to research that it used to be, and Paul takes great pains to keep up with all the new developments. Secondly, it is precisely because he does not live in the UK that he understands the difficulties of researching from a distance, and can provide the best advice to others in the same position. This makes him an excellent choice as a speaker Down Under, where I am sure he will gain a lot of new fans.  


Wednesday 6 February 2013

Coming up later this year...

My diary for this year is filling up, so for the benefit of anyone who wants to know what I am up to, here are some of the major events that will be keeping me busy over the next few months.

The big event for February is of course Who Do You Think You Are? - Live and there's a lot of work to be done before then, starting with something new we are trying out at Kew.

Thursday 21 February 'Focus on...' sessions at The National Archives Kew

The Thursday immediately before 'Who do you think you are? - Live' has turned into one of my busiest, as part of the day job. Large numbers of family historians come to London for the show, and extend their visit to take in some research at The National Archives and elsewhere while they are here. Last year we had the biggest turnout ever for a Thursday afternoon talk - it was given by Paul Carter, who always draws a crowd. And if the coach full of loyal regular visitors from Doncaster hadn't been held up in traffic we would have had to turn people away, as the Talks Room was already full to bursting! (They could at least catch the podcast by way of compensation). So this year we are trying something different, with a set of four short 'drop-in' sessions on popular research topics between 10am and noon, repeated between 2pm and 4pm.

Friday 22 February - Sunday 24 February Who Do You Think You Are? - Live

I'm really looking forward to this year's show. For the first time since 2009 The National Archives has an official presence. There won't be a stand, but there will be two talks each day in The National Archives Theatre. In addition to these, six more talks from staff (including me) are part of the main programme, and you will find full details in the full workshop timetable. I have no idea why these sessions are called 'workshops' because all the ones I have given or attended are what I would call talks or lectures (or classes, for Americans). In keeping with this year's migration theme, my talk is called 'There and back again - going away doesn't mean staying away' and is based in part on story from my own family which I wrote about in a blog post a couple of years ago.

For the rest of the time you can find us in a variety of places around the show; I will mostly be on the Findmypast and FamilySearch stands, or at the Society of Genealogists 'Ask the Experts' sessions on Friday and Saturday. You will be able to pick out staff from The National Archives by our distinctive polo shirts - I haven't seen them yet, but I am assured by the marketing department that they will be very tasteful. I'll be there all day on Sunday too, but on my own time, and in civilian clothes, so that I can get round and do all the things I won't have time for on Friday or Saturday.

Thursday 21 - Saturday 23 March Rootstech 2013

Another huge event, and by contrast with WDYTYA Live, I shall be attending in no official capacity whatever, but reverting to my habitual 'loose cannon' status. I attended the first two Rootstech conferences, and I wouldn't miss this one for anything. Although I'm not speaking at Rootstech, I have been asked to give a talk at the Family History Library on 'Lesser-known sources for births, marriages and deaths in the British Isles' on Wednesday 20 March. I'm hoping to get some research done there too both before and after Rootstech. I'm also looking forward to meeting up again with a number of friends that I haven't seen since Rootstech 2012 (and one of them is having a birthday party!).Should be a lot of fun. You can still register at the earlybird rate until 15 February, by following the link at the top of the page.

Saturday 27 April - Discovering the North West in The National Archives

This is another new departure, a day of talks by speakers from The National Archives at the University of Central Lancashire in Preston. I shall be speaking about Civil Registration in 19th Century Lancashire, and my colleague Briony Paxman will be looking at education, but the star of the show will undoubtedly be the afore-mentioned Paul Carter, who starts off the proceedings with '...medical neglect of paupers in the North West 1834-1860' and ends the day with a joint presentation with Briony on criminal records and political reform. The cost of the day is £27 (less for concessions), including lunch. You can see the full programme and book a place through the UCLAN website.


Saturday 2 February 2013

No paperwork required

It can be hard to imagine yourself back into the past, to get any real sense of what your ancestors'  lives were like. However much research you do into their clothes, their food or their occupations, it can be harder still to get onto their heads. Without realising it, we probably make a lot of assumptions that just did't apply a century or two back. Some people have great difficulty grasping the idea that it was once perfectly possible to get through life with few, if any, official pieces of paper. If your ancestors were unskilled workers, and illiterate to boot, like most of mine, they could quite easily not have known exactly how old they were. Or even cared very much, in many cases. This is often the reason that their ages in census returns and other documents are inconsistent; it just wasn't all that important. Near enough was often good enough.

Certificate of Registry of Birth - introduced in 1875 (England and Wales)
Nowadays we are in the habit of carrying all kinds of documents or cards around with us that prove our identity, and possibly date of birth too, because we need them. Some of these wretched things even include photographs - my purse contains two photo-ID cards, and I can think of another three or four at home in a drawer. I have to produce one or more of my numerous pieces of plastic or paper on a regular basis, and I expect you do too - and that's before we even start on the log-ins and passwords!

But wind back a century or more, and many of the actions that are part of our everyday lives didn't apply. Most people didn't have a bank accounts, or passports, and no-one had a driving licence, three things that can only be obtained today on production of a number of documents. There were occasions when you might be asked for your age, such as when you joined the army or the navy, but proving it was another matter - if certificates of birth or baptism were produced at all, they could not have been examined very closely or else there would not be so many demonstrably wrong ages on service records. In practice, it would not have been difficult to produce a plausible-looking baptism or marriage certificate from a parish register entry, as there was no standard official format, and although many were on printed forms, some were simply copies out on plain paper and signed by the incumbent. A forgery would have been easy enough to spot, if anyone took the trouble to go to the actual church and compare the handwriting, or simply ask the vicar. but in practice, this was unlikely to happen. Many families have stories about ancestors who were believed to have lied about their age when they joined the army or the navy, and some of them are true. I have certainly found records from both services where I know (and can prove) that the person was born on a different date from that shown in the official record.

There were some occasions when a document might be required, perhaps to be produced as evidence in a court case; poor sailors or their widows had to provide evidence of their child's age for the child to be admitted to Greenwich Hospital School, and also proof of their own marriage. Many of these certificates of baptism or marriage are still held in the application files, in record series ADM 73 in The National Archives (in the process of being name indexed). The files also include amny requests from widows for the return of their 'marriage lines' because they needed to present them to some other body, often Poor Law authorities, or charities. They were not so concerned about baptism certificates.

Legal evidence of a woman's marriage was extremely important in establishing her place of settlement, ie the parish or union that was bound to look after her if she was unable to fend for herself. The introduction odf compulsory schooling in the 1870s meant that for the first time a large proportion of the population now required some official proof of age on entering school, and, even more important, on leaving it once they were old enough. After some discussion, the Registrar General decided to include in the 1874 registration act a clause introducing the Certificate of Registry of Birth (often mistaken for a short birth certificate). This did not have the legal status of a proper birth certificate, but could be obtained cheaply when a birth was registered, and was acceptable to schools as proof of age. When old age pensions were introduced in 1908 for people over 70, this produced for the first time a mass demand for documentary proof of age from the other end of the age spectrum. most of these people, of course, were too old to have birth certificates so they needed baptism or marriage certificates, or even searches in the still-closed early census returns.

And so it went on, with more and more official bodies asking for more and more pieces of paper, but many of our 19th century ancestors could have led virtually document-free lives. What is most surprising, perhaps, is the fact that, despite the importance of the marriage certificate itself, little or no paperwork was required to acquire one in the first place. Instructions to registrars of marriage, and 'suggestions for the guidance of clergy' in the 19th and early 20th centuries contained long and detailed sections on the correct procedures regarding banns, notices of marriage and marriage licences; but as to establishing the correct names, ages and marital status of the parties to be married, this was to be done by 'earnest enquiry'. They were encouraged to ask more probing questions if they suspected the couple were not being truthful, but that was it. Basically, if you presented yourself to be married, the celebrant would believe what they were told. The penalties for making a false declaration were severe, as the offence was equivalent to perjury. I have my grandparents' original marriage certificate, which spells out the possible consequences of such actions. These even included the threat of transportation; they married in 1917, and transportation had ended half a century earlier, but a prudent Glasgow registrar presumably saw no need to waste good stationery just because it was a teeny bit out of date. The threat of dire penalties may have deterred some people from lying to the registrar or the vicar, but plenty were happy to take the risk. This is how some under-age couples managed to marry without their parents' consent, and some men were able to marry their deceased wife's sister, which was illegal until 1906. Nobody was going to demand any proof, or check anything. Well, most of the time, anyway.