1. Pharos courses in March 2023

    We have some great courses coming for you in the next month, including the brand new course: Understanding Title Deeds, from Susan Moore.

    Pharos courses in March 2023


    Understanding Title Deeds


    Pharos Tutors SUsan Moore

    Tutor: Susan Moore
    Start date: 1st March 2023
    Course length: 4 weeks

    Title Deeds, documenting the ownership of land and property, are to be found in almost all record repositories, whether they be from a solicitors collection, a large family estate collection, individual documents from a variety of sources, or part of the National Archives. This course, suitable for both family and local historians, aims to introduce the records in a practical way, to enable researchers to find them, to understand the different types of deeds, and, crucially, to be able to interpret them.

    As with so many apparently impenetrable records, there are short cuts and clues and hints to eliciting the information from them. Family history information can include details of marriages, relationships and the social circle of friends amongst whom people moved. Local history and house history information can include detailed descriptions of land, with names of tenants, acreages, land use, and neighbouring plots of land and houses.

    This course is part of our Advanced Certificate programme but can also be taken in isolation.

    Susan Moore has taught a combined title deeds and Chancery record course for Pharos for many years, but this year we decided we needed to give you more, dedicating a full four weeks to these important records. A separate course Family Feuds – how to find and interpret Chancery court records, follows in April.


    Before the Modern Census – Name-rich sources
    from 1690 to 1837

    Tutor: Else Churchill 
    Start date: 7th March 2023
    Course length: 4 weeks


    FHSS Intermediate Certificate
    The course considers the records to consult before the census records of names, ages, birthplaces and the household address of a family. Attention is paid to a variety of lists which reveal where someone lived at a particular time. Over four lessons you will learn about the introduction of newspapers, the earliest efforts at census taking, and what other records are considered to be useful census substitutes. Census substitutes are often quite local in scope and purpose. Many will be explained and advice will be given on how to search for local lists. You will come away with an understanding of how to make the most of census substitutes, some new online search skills, and an ability to assess and access these sources.

    Lesson Headings:

    • Different world, different sources
    • The first enumerations, 1801 – 1831
    • Landowners, Traders and Freemen
    • Census substitutes and name-rich lists


    Previous students said: “A very interesting course positively loaded with information… A very knowledgable and helpful tutor.”


    Practicalities of a One Name Study

    Tutor: Julie Goucher
    Start date: 7th March 2023
    Course length: 5 weeks (4 lessons)

    Guild of One Name StudiesThe course is designed to enable students to explore the practical steps of maintaining and developing their one-name study through a variety of media and to give some context to the various considerations they will need to explore.

    It is expected that students for this course will already have a one-name study or surname study registered, or will have identified a surname to register and begin working upon.

    Lesson Headings:

    • Week 1: Understanding and making the best use of spreadsheets in your study
    • Week 2: Genealogical Software, what to consider
    • Week 3: (Reading week)
    • Week 4: Online Trees and other software
    • Week 5: The next steps: Preservation and Sharing



    Are You Sitting Comfortably? Writing and Telling Your Family History

    Tutor: Janet Few
    Start date: 13th March 2023
    Course length: 5 weeks

    Writing your family history

    This hugely popular course from Janet Few begins with advice on making decisions about what to write about, what to include and how to make some order out of the potential chaos of information. It goes on to discover the historical context and look at adding interest into your story with background about what was happening nationally and locally and how this might have affected your ancestors. The course also looks at how knowledge about occupations can bring an ancestor to life and how and why social history helps you to make sense of it all and can frame your story. Finally, in week five, you will discover how to add photos and other illustrations as well as learn about options for publishing.

    This course is about acquiring skills that will help you to present your family history in a coherent and interesting way.

    If you wish to receive feedback on your writing, there is the option to submit a piece of writing of up to 3,000 words for marking. You will have at least six weeks after the course finishes, before this needs to be sent to the tutor.

    Previous students said: “The course has provided me with everything I could possibly need (and more) to sort out my main goals of prioritising family history, research, recording and writing up the stories during the coming year and beyond. I now know the way ahead and am very much looking forward to putting my plans into action.”



    That’s all for this month, happy studying!


  2. Understanding evidence, Part 3: Modern derivative records, and pulling it all together

    Guest Post

    Janice HeppenstallJanice Heppenstall is a graduate of our Advanced Certificate programme (with Distinction). She has a passion for finding the extraordinary in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, using their stories as a springboard to explore the local, social and political context in which they lived. She blogs regularly on family history and genealogy topics at English Ancestors and is also to be found on Facebook.

    This is the third of three posts looking at different types of documentation and other sources that we draw upon to evidence our research. The first two parts looked at primary and secondary sources, original and derivative records, digital surrogates, and some grey areas that appear to be originals but are in fact derivatives: contemporary copies. We now move on to modern derivatives: transcriptions and online indexes.


    Strictly speaking, a transcript is a word-for-word copy of the document, exactly as it appears on the original. However, modern day ‘transcriptions’ prepared for online genealogy research generally do not conform to this definition. Transcribers input information into predetermined fields for forename, surname, date, and so on. Any information falling outside these predetermined fields is simply omitted. This could mean important information or visual clues are missing. In any case, transcriptions vary in quality and accuracy. Sometimes the handwriting is difficult to read, particularly for someone not experienced in reading old handwriting styles. Consequently, the transcript may not record accurately the name, date or other information.

    In the last post we looked at the baptism in August 1819 of James Sword Mann, the first child of Thomas and Lucy Mann. We saw that in the original parish record the clerk had mistakenly recorded the mother’s name as ‘Sophia’. Although this was eventually corrected in the parish record it was not corrected on the Bishop’s Transcript. Let’s look now at modern transcriptions of the event as recorded in both these records: the parish register and the Bishop’s Transcript.

    Here is the transcript of the original record in the parish register:

    Baptism transcription

    James Sword Mann, Transcription of Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak, Transcript by FamilySearch, available on www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: PD 15/10

    And here, the modern transcript of the Bishop’s Transcript:

    Bishops Transcript transcription

    James Sword Mann, Transcription of Bishop’s Transcript of Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak, Transcript by FamilySearch, available on www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: BT ANW 1819-n

    • In both these transcripts the child is named as James Mann, thereby omitting the middle name Sword. Sword is in fact the mother’s maiden name – a valuable clue for researchers.
    • Both transcripts record the mother’s name as Sophia. This is of course correct in the case of the Bishop’s Transcript – it is a faithful copy of what was written. However, it is clear that on the parish record the transcriber has simply scanned the record looking for the facts required for the predetermined fields, and in doing so has not read the important amendment. Here, an entry of ‘Sophia amended to Lucy’ would be more accurate/useful.
    • In the transcription of the Bishop’s Transcript, ‘Tho[ma]s’ is transcribed as ‘Ether’.
    • On both transcripts the date of birth is omitted – the loss of a useful piece of information.
    • While for the transcription of the Bishop’s Transcript the actual parish of ‘Norwich, St Martin at Oak’ is given, the parish register transcript records only ‘Norwich, Norfolk, England’. While technically true, in 1819 there were 36 parishes in Norwich, and the inclusion of parish is an important part of the record.


    What we see here is that the further we have moved away from the original record, the more errors and/or omissions have crept in. That said, we should not discount transcripts. A transcript is far better than nothing; and although we will come across many mistakes like those just described, others are of extremely high quality, particularly those made by local Family History Societies and those made in years gone by, by local antiquarians. In cases where parish registers have been lost, their ‘reconstruction’, often done as a labour of love, using Bishops’ Transcripts and whatever other records are available are a wonderful resource. I have also used transcribed listings of parish register entries, arranged in alphabetical order, as a checklist, just to make sure I haven’t missed anyone. Wherever possible, though, transcripts are best used as a pointer to the existence of the actual record, guiding us to the original where we can see for ourselves what was written.


    Online resources for genealogy bring a double bonus. Not only can we research from the comfort of our own homes, but also the individual records have been indexed. This means we can achieve in an afternoon what might previously have taken years of sifting through decades of un-indexed data stored on microfiche at the local County Records Office. Whether we’re using commercial genealogy sources such as Ancestry.co.uk or FindMyPast, or free-to-use sites such as FamilySearch and FreeBMD, we just type in a few key search terms and are rewarded with a selection of possible records, probably including digital surrogates of the originals.

    The indexes themselves, however, are a derivative record, created pretty much as described above, by third parties, whose work may be of variable quality and accuracy, typing key facts into the predetermined index fields. As such they can and do include errors. My great grandfather, born in Leeds, is indexed on FindMyPast for the 1911 census with a birthplace of ‘Scotland’. I have also found a very clearly written ‘Alfred’ listed on the index as ‘George’, and indeed an entire collection indexed under Northamptonshire rather than Norfolk. Sometimes archaic spelling on very old original documents makes index searches even more ‘hit-and-miss’.

    Pulling it all together: combining different source types for best effect

    In this 3-part overview we’ve identified some good practice guidance for working with different source types:

    • Always get as close as possible to the original source for facts about your ancestors.
    • Use secondary sources to add context and depth, and to develop your understanding of the times they lived in.
    • Be aware of the nature of the record you’re looking at, and record that along with the information from the record.


    We will now add one more point:

    • Have several alternatives in your ‘arsenal’: Familiarise yourself with, and be prepared to use different source types together whenever necessary to reinforce, cross-reference and compare.


    Here’s a final example from my own research to illustrate this:

    An index search on several sites for a marriage for my 7x great grandfather John Lucas returned only one record: an abstract of Boyd’s marriage index 1538-1850 on FindMyPast. Information provided was simply: ‘Jones Lucas and Elizabeth Marshall; 1670, Rothwell’

    I suspected ‘Jones’ was a poor transcription, and although my John Lucas lived in Leeds, not Rothwell, this transcription intrigued me. I knew that digital images of the original parish registers of Rothwell, Holy Trinity, were available on commercial website Ancestry.co.uk and having located them, I used the information on the transcript to search 1670 for the appropriate entry so I could see the exact record for myself. The image below was what I found.

    Parish Register

    John Lucas and Elizabeth Marshall, Marriage Register Entry, 20 July 1670, Rothwell Holy Trinity www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 14 Apr 2022. Original data: West Yorkshire Archive Service, Wakefield: Yorkshire Parish Records; Reference: RDP91/1/5

    A digital surrogate is usually the closest we can get to using the original record.  However, this is not a good image.  The text is obscured by the rolled-back previous pages.  I could guess at some of the missing words, but others were simply not legible.  My solution was to turn to an early twentieth century transcription of the register by local antiquarian George Denison Lumb.  My thinking here was that, working in 1906, Lumb would have had access to the original document; and he would have been able to separate out the pages lost here in the fold.  My hunch was correct.  His transcription agreed with what I could see and enhanced my own:

    “[Jo]h[ann]es Lucas de [Le]eds et Eliz[a]betha [M]arshall de [R]othwell marit Vicesimo’ “

    The point is that if we are flexible we will find ways to use whatever is available to best effect.  The more sources at our fingertips, the more effectively we will do this – even if it means on occasion a transcription is preferable to a digital photograph of the original record!

    What I hope these three blogposts have illustrated is that although there is a hierarchy in terms of all these different types of source, there is value in all.  Wherever possible we should aim to use the original or a digital surrogate with photographed images of the original.  Secondary sources add context and help us to develop our knowledge and understanding but can also point us to new original sources we didn’t know about.  Online transcripts may show up in a search where the original record doesn’t – a problem with the indexing, perhaps – but if we know where digital surrogates of the originals are available we can use the transcript as a signpost to guide us to the correct entry in the original register.  When archaic handwriting is difficult, Bishop’s Transcripts might offer a slightly easier hand for us to read, and indeed a modern transcript may help us to ‘see’ the letters.  Finally, if a parish has lost its entire collection of registers, we can thank our lucky stars for the hard work of people who, as a labour of love, have tried to reconstruct them.


    George Denison Lumb: The Registers of the parish church of Rothwell Co. York, Part I 1538-1689 (1906) Privately printed for the Yorkshire Parish Register Society
    Transcription of marriage record of John Lucas and Elizabeth Marshall at p.284
    Accessed 5 May 2022 via Internet Archive: https://archive.org/details/registersofparis27roth/page/n5/mode/2up

  3. NEW Courses: Scottish Ancestral Crisis, Critical Thinking Methods and Migration

    We have two brand new tutor-led courses for you this month, brought to you by Chris Paton and Sophie Kay.

    The first of our new courses looks at Scottish research from the perspective of ancestors in crisis:

    Researching Scottish Ancestral Crisis

    Chris Paton

    As in our own lives, many of our Scottish ancestors had to overcome great adversity on occasions to simply make it through the day. Illness, death, bigamy, abandonment, accidents, eviction, victimhood, ethnic cleansing, and so much more – a dramatic range of experiences across a series of lifetimes. And whenever such crises emerged, somebody was usually close to hand with a quill and ink to bear witness. In so doing, a great documentary legacy was created that can greatly help us to understand the true lives of our forebears, and the struggles that led to who we became today.

    This course will reveal the many areas of Scottish ancestral hardship that have been documented over the last few centuries, and explore how to access the relevant records. It follows on from two previous Pharos courses, Scottish Research Online, which explores websites offering some of the more basic records for Scottish research, and Scotland 1750: Beyond the Old Parish Registers, which takes students to more advanced records found offline and online, and which flags up the importance of using catalogues. Although not compulsory, it is recommended that both courses are completed prior to studying Researching Scottish Ancestral Crisis.

    Researching Scottish Ancestral Crisis is Booking NOW.

    Our second brand new course comes from Sophie Kay and looks at a number of critical thinking approaches.

    Critical Thinking Approaches for Genealogy

    Sophie KaySome of you may have seen Sophie speak on one of her critical thinking approaches already: the Negative Space approach. In this course the family history research process is examined from start to finish, seeing how critical thinking has a role to play at every turn. Historical evidence is placed centre-stage and a range of analysis techniques are used to guide towards a considered, thorough research narrative.

    Subjects covered include the Perspective Pyramid for researching at different scales (e.g. individual, family, branch), the Negative Space approach for analysing research gaps, the timebinding method for reconciling the different stages of an ancestors life, and the topping-and-tailing strategy for use with migratory ancestors. This is combined with core skills such as developing research questions and performing effective searches and hands-on experience of the Genealogical Proof Standard.

    Critical Thinking Approaches for Genealogy is Booking NOW.

    And in case you missed it:

    Elusive Ancestors: Migration within the British Isles

    Announced earlier this month in our newsletter is a brand new course on migration in the British Isles, written and taught by Janet Few.

    Janet FewAs family historians, we all encounter elusive family members. They appear as if from nowhere or they disappear without trace, leaving no death or burial record. Then there are those who vanish from view for decades, only to re-emerge later. Often the problem is created because an individual has changed their location. This course suggests strategies that you can use to try to track down ancestors who moved within the British Isles.

    The course will begin by investigating the reasons why people of the past changed their location, touching on some of the theories of migration, and look at many of the occupations which often led to a move. In the second part of the course students will consider the benefits of studying the extended family and others in the neighbourhood when trying to track down an elusive ancestor. In addition, each lesson will have a focus on tracking down a different type of record.

    Elusive Ancestors: Migration within the British Isles is also Booking NOW.

  4. NEW Foundations of Family History course

    Foundations of Family History We are delighted to announce the launch of our two-part beginners’ Foundations of Family History course for research in England and Wales. This is an Anytime course, so there is no fixed start date, you simply work through the material at your own pace.

    When you embark on your family history journey there can be a lot to take in, with so many different records available, how do you know where to start? Developing an understanding of the records you work with increases your ability to get the most from them. Just as important is methodology and technique, how to most effectively build a family tree in which you can be confident.

    This two-part course will introduce you to the four fundamental genealogical sources in England and Wales: records of civil registration (birth marriage death certificates), census records, parish registers and wills and probate records, and start you off with some good methods and techniques that you can continue to apply as you progress your family tree further. The topics covered in the two parts of this course are as follows:

    Foundations of Family History Part 1 – Getting Started

    • Lesson 1 – Gathering information and interviewing relatives
    • Lesson 2 – Storing your family history research (including software options)
    • Lesson 3 – Civil Registration (birth, marriage and death certificates)
    • Lesson 4 – The census records
    • Lesson 5 – Building your tree with confidence


    Foundations of Family History Part 2 – Next Steps

    • Lesson 1 – Introduction to parish registers
    • Lesson 2 – Deaths, burials and obituaries
    • Lesson 3 – Getting started with wills and probate records
    • Lesson 4 – Problem solving


    Starting with an Anytime course gives you a feel for how Pharos course materials are presented, without the need to set aside fixed times for tutorials or complete work by particular date. Anytime courses are made up of a number of ‘lessons’, where one week is about equivalent to the amount of material we would teach on a tutor-led course in one week, but you can set your own pace. Each ‘lesson’ includes exercises for students to work through, websites to visit and search techniques to try out, so there is plenty of ‘doing’ as well as reading.

    You can read more about how different Pharos Tutors courses work here: How Courses Work.

    You can read more about the new courses here:
    Foundations of Family History Part 1 – Getting Started
    Foundations of Family History Part 2 – Next Steps

    LAUNCH OFFER: We are offering students who buy Part 1 and Part 2 of this course as a single purchase a £10 voucher off their next Pharos Tutors course*.


    * voucher will be sent out within a few days of purchase

  5. Understanding evidence, Part 2: Derivative records – some grey areas

    Guest Post

    Janice Heppenstall

    Janice Heppenstall is a graduate of our Advanced Certificate programme (with Distinction). She has a passion for finding the extraordinary in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, using their stories as a springboard to explore the local, social and political context in which they lived. She blogs regularly on family history and genealogy topics at English Ancestors and is also to be found on Facebook.


    This is the second of three posts looking at different types of documentation and other sources that we, as genealogists, draw upon to evidence our research. These posts focus not on distinct record sets like censuses, birth registers or manorial records; rather they provide a broader look to get us thinking about the relative value of ‘evidence’ from different source types.

    In the first of these posts we focused on primary sources, which we often refer to as ‘original records’, and secondary sources. We looked at how we can use them together to build a fuller picture of our ancestors’ lives and experiences. In this second part we’re starting to look at derivative records.

    Derivative records are created after the event but based directly on an original record. In other words, information is copied from the original to another document. As such, there is scope for error in their creation, based on illegibility of the original text, carelessness, or other errors and omissions. There are several types of derivative records. In this post we’ll start with some grey areas: certain record types that are contemporaneous to and certainly look like originals but strictly speaking are not.

    Censuses, 1841-1901
    In the first post we differentiated between the 1911 and 1921 censuses and all those that went before. Why are these ‘original’ records, yet the earlier ones are not? When we find the 1911 or 1921 census return for our person of interest, we see a single sheet completed by (or on behalf of) the head of household and relating to the members and housing conditions of that household. This is an original record and primary source. By contrast, for the earlier censuses what we see is a long list of all residents in a specific locality, arranged by household and organised according to the route the enumerator took as he walked from house to house, collecting the information. You might have explained this difference with reference to illiteracy rates: that since a great many people were unable to read and write, the enumerator simply arrived on the doorstep and wrote down the information he was given; but this is not true. Individual records were created for each property, and this was then transcribed onto the lists we see today. The original household sheets were then destroyed. In other words, all we have left for these earlier censuses is the contemporaneous derivative record. This might explain some inconsistencies. The second child of my great grandparents is referred to in the 1881 census as Jane (female). He was actually John, a boy. Another great grandfather, George, appears as ‘Enoch’ in the 1891 census. Was this a mis-transcription, or did George object to nosy-parkers coming to ask him questions? (I have spent a lot of time playing hide-and-seek with George, and I suspect the latter…)

    Civil Birth, Marriage and Death certificates (Civil BMDs)
    Are they original records? You would think so, but they are not necessarily so. Imagine yourself registering a death in 1851. You would go to the local Register Office. They would record all the information, give you a copy, keep the original for themselves and send a third copy to the General Register Office (GRO) in London. Of course, there were no photocopiers: the only way to do this was to write it out by hand several times. In other words, when we buy Civil BMDs online from the GRO, what we receive is a facsimile of a hand-written copy of the original record, i.e. a true copy of a derivative record, and not the original itself. You can choose instead to buy your BMDs from the local Register Office. However, some don’t offer this service, while others don’t have the capacity for creating facsimiles of the originals, in which case what we receive is a modern handwritten or typed copy of the original – again, a derivative record. Might this explain an odd discrepancy you’ve come across?

    Bishop’s Transcripts (BTs)
    BT’s are an interesting grey area. They are the copies of parish registers that, from 1598 until around 1800, church ministers were required to keep and send annually to the diocese office. They are contemporaneous with the originals, and written by a churchwarden who may have known the individuals involved. Even if a parish’s records from this period have not survived, there is the chance that the BTs have, since they will have been lodged with the diocesan records, quite separately from the parish, and possibly in different archives. As copies, strictly speaking they are derivative records and may contain transcription errors. However, sometimes they contain more information than the originals, and are often invaluable in providing a second chance in deciphering 17th or 18th century handwriting.

    Let me give you an example from my own research:
    The first image below is the 1819 Bishop’s Transcript of the baptism of my 3x great grandfather’s first child. When I found it I was in no doubt that this was the correct Thomas Mann and son James Sword Mann. However, since my 3x great grandmother’s name is Lucy, and the mother’s name here is Sophia, my assumption was that Thomas must have married twice, his first wife, Sophia, having died not long after James’s birth.

    James Sword Mann, Bishop’s Transcript of Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: BT ANW 1819-n

    Some years later another I found the parish register record for the same baptism, below. It contained all the same information: James Sword, son of Tho[ma]s and Sophia Mann. Clearly, the BT had been absolutely correctly copied from this original record. However, here, the clerk has added a note to the effect that he has realised the mother’s name of ‘Sophia’ should be ‘Lucy’. The note was dated seventeen years later, 14 August 1836.

    James Sword Mann, Baptism Register Entry, 15 August 1819, Norwich, St Martin at Oak www.ancestry.co.uk Accessed 12 December 2022. Original data: Norfolk Record Office, Ref: PD 15/10

    In this example, the BT is a faithful copy, but whereas a correction has been made to the original, the BT has been left with the incorrect information. Only by using the one original parish register entry do we see this additional important information.

    What all these types of sources have in common is that they are contemporary copies. You may come across other examples, such as the copying of information from chapel of ease records to the main parish register, or post-Interregnum transcriptions made by the parish clerk, based on notes received from the interim civil parish clerks. They are contemporary, and undoubtedly they have value. In some cases they are all we have. But they are copies nevertheless, and as such there is the possibility of error or omission. The important point to take away from all this is that we should be aware of the nature of the record we’re looking at, and we should record that along with the information from the record.

    In the final part of this look at different source types we’ll focus on more modern derivatives: transcriptions and indexes; and we’ll meet up again with James Sword Mann and his parents.


  6. Understanding evidence, Part 1: primary, secondary and original sources

    Guest Post

    Janice Heppenstall

    Janice Heppenstall is a graduate of our Advanced Certificate programme (with Distinction). She has a passion for finding the extraordinary in ‘ordinary’ people’s lives, using their stories as a springboard to explore the local, social and political context in which they lived. She blogs regularly on family history and genealogy topics at English Ancestors and is also to be found on Facebook.


    This is the first of three posts looking at different types of documentation and other sources that we, as genealogists, draw upon to evidence our research. These posts focus not on distinct record sets like censuses, birth registers or manorial records; rather they provide a broader look to get us thinking about the relative value of ‘evidence’ from different source types. In this first part, we’re looking at some important terms used to distinguish source types: primary, secondary, original and digital surrogate. The second and third posts will build on this, looking at a range of what are termed derivative sources. Although our starting point is that some types of evidence carry more weight than others, as we shall see, none should be disregarded because there is value in all. It all depends on how we use them.

    Primary sources are created at the time of an event, or not long afterwards. These include what we, as genealogists, tend to refer to as original records. They include the documents from official bodies and government offices that are the nuts and bolts of our research, such as civil birth, marriage and death certificates; records of baptisms, marriages, burials; wills; property documents, e.g. deeds; apprenticeship records; Court records; newspaper reports; and the 1911 and 1921 census (we’ll consider the earlier censuses in the second post). These types of original documents provide us with the hard facts that enable us to build our trees. They can include far more information than the mere fact of a particular event having occurred. A baptism record, for example, essentially has the date and location of the event, the child’s name and the name of one or both parents. Depending on the year and the parish, it may also include place of residence, father’s occupation, both parents’ fathers’ names and the child’s actual date of birth. Some even include the day of the week on which the birth occurred! It will of course include the denomination, and there may be other notes in the margin. That’s a lot of evidence! The important point here is that we are looking at the original document with our own eyes, and we see for ourselves what was written. We can examine it closely, decipher the handwriting, verify that this is the correct document for our research and get every last scrap of information from it.

    When we refer to ‘original records’, strictly speaking what we mean is the actual original documents lodged in archives like the local Country Records Offices, the National Archives at Kew, National Records of Scotland, National Library of Wales, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) or other diocesan, university or specialist archives. However, increasing numbers of such documents have been photographed and made available to us online, through various websites. The availability of digital images can mean it is no longer necessary to handle the originals, which are stored away, safely. Indeed, often they are no longer available for the general user, meaning the photographed copies of them are what we must use. Archivists refer to them as digital surrogates. In almost every case they are as good as the original, but just occasionally they are not – we’ll see an example of this in part 3. When we rely on these surrogates, it’s good practice to say so. We can refer to them as ‘digital images of the original documents’ and give the website.

    Whether we see the actual original documents or an online photograph of them, we can be reasonably confident that most of the information in these original documents/ primary sources is true. Why only reasonably confident? Because the information recorded is only ever as true or as accurate as the facts provided by the informant. In the 1911 census my great grandmother added six years to her second husband’s age to make the age difference between them less obvious. Another example: the marriage record for my widowed 3x great grandmother has her father’s surname as ‘Moss’, which is actually her first husband’s surname. Sometimes we have to read between the lines, recognise human error, make allowances for individual foibles, and on occasion perhaps witness a web of deceit unfolding before our eyes.


    Family letters are also original documents (Karen Cummings’ personal collection)

    However, primary sources do not have to be from official bodies. We might also have personal items such as photographs of people and places; letters; memoirs; diaries; and spoken accounts by people who witnessed an event. In the case of photographs, sometimes simply seeing the image can be sufficient for our information needs: ‘Oh look, that’s Auntie Ethel at Grandma’s Ruby Wedding party, so she must have emigrated after 1977…’ However, often it’s what’s written on the back that adds vital information. The name of a studio on the back can help narrow down the date of the image, or there may even be a date stamp. Alternatively, someone may have written a note on the back. On the back of a group photo taken at the start of my Dad’s National Service training he has written his Platoon, Company and Regiment, along with the full address of the barracks, the date, and a signed dedication to his parents. But beware! Notes may have been added later by someone whose knowledge of the photo is based on hearsay. My Mum incorrectly labelled a photo as her ‘Uncle David’. Meanwhile, her cousin had incorrectly labelled a different photograph of the same man as ‘Uncle Albert’. It took a collaboration between the two daughters of these cousins – myself and my second cousin – to compare what we had and work out that these were in fact two precious photos of ‘Uncle Joe’, who had been killed in action in 1917, before his nieces, our mothers, were even born. This opportunity to exchange stories and photos is one of the things I love about finding new cousins via online trees. Another more distant cousin sent me a memoir written by his late aunt. It included information about family relations and tensions relating to my great grandfather and his birth family – information I simply never would have found any other way. Again, beware, though! A diary entry and a memoir is the writer’s ‘truth’, which on occasion may differ from the reality.

    Moving on to secondary sources, these tend to be published works in which the author describes, summarises, discusses or in some way draws upon information gathered from other sources (primary or other secondary). A secondary source may be produced many years after an event. The author may have had no physical connection whatsoever with the original event; and yet with the benefit of distance, hindsight and objectivity, the author can present an overview that adds context to our own research, helping us imagine our ancestors in their setting. Examples might include historians’ texts based on research about a person, locality, event or period of interest; literature contemporaneous to the time/ events; and modern historical novels or films based on sound research. Unless you are actually reading a book about your ancestor, such texts are unlikely to refer specifically to your family, but they can provide a fantastic backdrop to your research. While reading recently about trench warfare and the Western Front, I decided to watch a couple of films about the First World War to help me visualise what I had read: All Quiet on the Western Front (2022) and War Horse (2011). The depiction in both films of ‘No Man’s Land’, the area between the opposing trenches helped me to imagine the utter horror of ‘going over the top’, even down to the placement of coils of barbed wire laid by the troops to make an attack more difficult for the opposing side. Joey the ‘War Horse’ is seriously injured when he becomes entangled in one of these coils. In this example, my reading and the films were secondary sources, but both helped me to understand the conditions and horrific reality of life and death in the trenches for my own kinsmen. They enhance what we find in primary sources. Sometimes secondary sources include great photos and maps, or direct quotes from primary sources, guiding us to them so we can examine them for ourselves. Reading about the 3rd Battle of Ypres, where my aforementioned great uncle Joe was killed, I learned of diaries kept by his commanding officer and was able to locate these and read this factual account (primary source) of Joe’s final weeks, days and hours – even though he wasn’t mentioned by name. Other published works may be memoirs written by people who were there. Strictly speaking these are primary sources, but we can use them in the same way we use secondary texts, to help us understand the context and reality for our family.

    To summarise, then, primary sources are the original records made at the time of an event. They provide us with the essential data for our research. We simply could not progress without this information. The historian’s and genealogist’s mantra is always to get as close as possible to the original source. Today, often this means using online digital surrogates – photographs of these originals. However, although these records can help to pad out what we know about our ancestor – their occupation, maybe a physical description, evidence of regular drunk and disorderly behaviour, perhaps, and so on, they do not in themselves provide depth and context. What was life like on a prison hulk? Why were so many people in the north attracted to Nonconformity in the eighteenth century? What were the stages towards universal suffrage, and what can I deduce from the fact of my ancestor’s right to vote in a specific period of history? For these and many more questions and themes our research can benefit enormously from secondary sources.

    In the second part we will move on to derivative records, starting with certain types of records that appear to be originals but in reality are copies.

  7. A Few Forgotten Women

    The following is a press release from our tutor, Janet Few, one of the members of the A Few Forgotten Women project, several of whom met through Janet’s Pharos Are You Sitting Comfortably? Writing and Telling Your Family History course.

    A Few Forgotten Women

    A Few Forgotten Women is a project devised by a group of friends, known collectively as A Few Good Women. The group first got together during lockdown to provide mutual encouragement for family history projects. Even without meaning to, family historians often focus on the men on their family tree. It is usually the men who carry on the surname, the men who join the armed forces and who are more likely to leave wills, to vote or to rent property, thereby leaving a trail in the documentary record. Merely by virtue of her gender, a female can become overlooked. We realised that, unless we took on the responsibility of preserving them, the stories of many of the women we encountered during our research would be lost.

    The aim of the project is to preserve the memory of some women who have, until now, been hiding in the shadows, forgotten by history. The women that you will meet on our website are those that we have discovered as part of our investigations into our own ancestry, as part of a one-name study, a one-place study, or when undertaking a wider project. Then there are the women that had no link to our own work but who cried out to us as we researched in the documents of the past. We hope that meeting our forgotten women will encourage others to tell the stories of their own.

    Some woman are further on the margins than others and this project focusses on those whose lives were touched by issues such as poverty, illegitimacy, criminality, disability, alcoholism, prostitution, abandonment or mental ill-health. Often, several of these conditions go hand in hand, impacting on the lives of the women whose stories we seek to tell. Other women were less marginalised but lack descendants who can preserve their memory; they too find a place amongst our biographies. The nature of our site means that many of the stories we tell do not make easy reading. Please be aware that some of the biographies will contain material that some readers might find distressing.

    We are sensitive to the ethical issues surrounding telling the stories of people of the past. There is a balance to be maintained between commemorating their lives and respecting personal privacy.  Many of our women faced trauma and adversity; on balance, we believe they deserve their place in history. We aim to provide rounded portraits of real people in an empathetic and non-judgmental way. Where the women have descendants, we have tried to contact them to get permission to tell their ancestor’s stories.

    Our website is in its infancy, new stories will be added regularly. Take a look at the website here: A Few Forgotten Women

    You can also follow the project on:
    Mastodon @Few4gottenwomen@genealysis.social
    Twitter @Few4GottenWomen

  8. Black Friday Sale

    We’re having a Black Friday Sale!

    From Friday 25th November to Monday 28th November inclusive use code FRIDAY15 to get 15% of ANY of our courses!* That’s right, ALL of our courses are included in the sale.

    Don’t know where to start?  Here’s our list of courses coming in January:

    Advanced Military Research – 20th Century Conflict (325)

    This course examines in detail records available for Twentieth Century conflict, the two world wars, the Boer War, the Korean War and other conflicts, including records for men who undertook National Service or were in the Home Guard.

    Discovering more about your Agricultural Labouring Ancestors (242)

    This online course helps to set ag labs in a broader context and suggests sources that will reveal more about the lives of those rural ancestors and the farms on which they worked. The focus is on British farming from 1700-1950.

    Introduction to One-Name Studies (901)

    A one-name study is an exciting journey into your surname’s past. This introduction to one-name studies, written in association with the Guild of One-Name Studies, includes the history of surnames, what a one-name study is, and how to get started.

    So You Think You Know FamilySearch – A Guided Tour (206)

    Discover what you don’t know about English, Scottish, Irish and Welsh resources on the FamilySearch website. This course guides you through the website, offering tips about searching data, browsing formerly inaccessible records and using help.

    Tracing Living Relatives (255)

    This course guides you through the main sources for locating people, how and where to access relevant records, how to prove straightforward family connections, outlines how to present your findings and gives advice on how best to approach potential beneficiaries.

    Apprenticeship Records (281)

    Apprenticeship, both as a private arrangement and under the Poor Laws, generated records which can provide invaluable information for tracing family history. This course will guide you through apprenticeship records and explain how to find them.

    Building on a Solid Foundation – Genealogy methods and techniques (204)

    This genealogy methods and techniques course will build confidence in your family tree, with a walk through technique, research notes and useful research tools, such as research logs, timelines, source analysis and building a weight of evidence.

    Introduction to Medieval Genealogy (501)

    This course provides an overview of medieval genealogy, concentrating on the most accessible sources, giving contextual background to medieval society and the nature of medieval records; how they were put together, and their limitations.

    Researching Online for Advanced Genealogists (480)

    This course examines the main types of online resources which are useful in carrying out research in English and Welsh family history and aims to improve your search skills, so that you can be more confident with your search results.

    17th Century Sources (382)

    For genealogists the 17th century presents new challenges. This course will provide students with an understanding of the problems likely to be encountered in this period, record interpretation, analysis and planning and how to find documents.

    Employment Records (380)

    Many documents indicate occupations in which our ancestors were employed. This course examines what is likely to be found in official and unofficial sources and how information can be used to provide further insights into the lives of our ancestors.

    Want to know more about how Pharos Tutors courses work? Read our handy guide.

    * Only one discount code per transaction. Offer applies from Friday 25th November to Monday 28th November inclusive only (UK time zones). Offer only applies to course dates on the website with places available during the period of the sale.

  9. Pharos Courses this Autumn

    The nights are drawing in, the weather is getting cooler (well, at least in here in the UK). What better time to be thinking about taking an online course and working on your family history or local history project.

    Autumn woods

    We have some great courses coming up to help you:

    17th Century Sources (382)
    Nonconformity – Its Records and History 1600 – 1950 (280)
    Your Military Ancestors (224)
    Manorial Records for Family and Local Historians (401)
    Advanced One-Name Studies (902)
    In Sickness and in Death – researching the ill-health and death of your ancestors (240)
    Victorian and Edwardian Education and Childhood 1820 to 1920 (251)
    Mapping Strategies for Family Historians (343)



    Victorian and Edwardian Education and Childhood 1820 to 1920 (251)

    School time

    Tutor: Linda Newey
    Start date: 7th November 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks

    School records can be a great way to find out more about the community in which your ancestors lived. Some of the records you might find for educational establishments are: School Board minutes, log books, accounts, punishment books, admission registers, lists of pupils, photographs, timetables and staff appointments.

    Here are some examples of the riches you can find in school log books, taken from the log books for the Infant School, Girls School and Boys School in Sawston, Cambridgeshire:

    07 Apr 1887 “Sidney Barker went home on Wednesday morning because he was afraid to pass the master’s dog, thereby losing his attendance.

    27 Jul 1888 “… Holiday given on account of the annual pea picking.

    07 Apr 1891 “The Infant School work could be done much better if the lessons were relieved by a (?) hour or 20 minutes recreation, both morning & afternoon, in a playground. Parents naturally object to 3 hours brain work, without any interval for young children. …

    06 Sep 1893 “Sent Alfred Chapman, Hubert Osborne and Harry Holden home at 2 o’clock to be washed. The parents of the two former boys sent impertinent messages and refused to send the children back again.

    05 Sep 1904 “… Edward Patterson and Cyril Cowling have been successful in gaining County Council Scholarships (Minor) and will proceed to the County School.

    Our course, Victorian and Edwardian Childhood and Education 1820s to 1920s, builds upon education records to consider childhood as a whole. The course explores childhood and education throughout the Victorian and Edwardian eras in England and Wales. It starts by considering the definition of childhood and the various social status influences on the childhood experience, such as wealth, gender and the differences between urban and rural living. You will learn about the influence of philanthropic and charitable organisations, that brought about social change by Acts of Parliament, laws and legislation, all of which ultimately led to improvements in the childhood experience and the provision of education for all. 
By the end of this course, you will know how to locate a wide range of records related not only to education, but many other organisations associated with childhood, and be able to apply this to your own family history research.

    17th Century Sources (382)

    Tutor: Stuart Raymond  
    Start date: 26th October 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks

    For genealogists the 17th century presents new challenges. These are not discouraging – if anything, challenges add interest and enthusiasm to research. Historically it is a fascinating period, and genealogically some familiar records continue to be used so the research is not with entirely new material.

    This course will provide students with a broad understanding of the problems encountered when researching in 17th century records. They will be able to locate indexes and finding aids, document copies and transcripts, and original records. In addition, they will appreciate the research value and practical application of the information found. The course gives significant emphasis to local and regional differences within records as well as to historical context.

    Nonconformity – Its Records and History 1600 – 1950 (280)

    Tutor: Alec Tritton
    Start date: 27th October 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks
    but booking now for April 2023 *

    Your Military Ancestors (224)

    Tutor: Simon Fowler 
    Start date: 31dt October 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks
    * FULLY BOOKED but booking now for June 2023 *

    Manorial Records for Family and Local Historians (401)

    Tutor: Caroline Adams
    Start date: 31st October 2022
    Course length: 5 weeks
    * Under NEW Instruction *

    Student feedback

    The manorial system was a framework for people’s lives in England and Wales for hundreds of years, enduring well into the 19th century in some areas, and not finally abolished until the 20th century. Manorial records can be used to locate people within a community and to set them in their social and economic context. This course examines the place of the manor in the legal and social system, the records created by the manor, and changes that occurred through the centuries.

    You will read court rolls, look at court books and learn about property transactions, surveys, maps, accounts and even people’s wills that may not be recorded elsewhere. You will be taught to search for and locate manorial records with confidence and understand how to use them to solve genealogical problems.

    Lesson Headings:
    History and development of the manorial system
    * People and their roles
    * Records of the Manor Courts
    * Farming the estate – Surveys, Maps and Rentals
    * Demise of the manorial system

    Advanced One-Name Studies (902)

    Tutor: Julie Goucher
    Start date: 1st November 2022
    Course length: 6 weeks (5 lessons)

    This course is the third of three courses regarding One-Name Studies and builds on the initial learning from the Introduction to One-Name Studies (901) course and the Practicalities of a One-Name Study (903) course. Take one-name study skills to new levels. Whatever drew you into the investigation of a surname you are now deeply immersed in gathering and analysing data. You have mastered the practical aspects of managing your project and are eager to turn your discoveries into something of lasting value.

    Lesson Headings:
    * The One-Name Study theory and practice
    * Interdisciplinary studies – Acquiring the right skill set
    * Surname case studies – Learning from others
    * Synthesis – More than family history
    * Spread the Word – Get Published

    In Sickness and in Death – researching the ill-health and death of your ancestors (240)

    Tutor: Janet Few
    Start date: 7th November 2022
    Course length: 5 weeks

    One thing that all but our most recent ancestors have in common is that they are dead. The health problems and deaths of our ancestors are an integral part of our family’s history. This five week course will help you to set your ancestors’ lives in context by looking at the illnesses, disabilities and diseases that brought about their deaths or had an effect on their well-being. We shall discover a variety of records that might provide information about ill-health or causes of death for specific ancestors, or about prevalent threats to health in the past. The causes, symptoms and treatment of various illnesses will be investigated and significant medical developments of the last 400 years will be explored.

    This is a very popular course so book soon to avoid disappointment.

    Mapping Strategies for Family Historians (343)

    Tutor: Sophie Kay
    Start date: 7th November 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks
    * FULLY BOOKED for November 2022 and February 2023 *
    Keep an eye on the website for new dates or email us to be added to the waiting list.

    That’s all for this month, happy studying!

  10. Pharos courses coming in August and September

    Those of you who receive the Pharos Newsletter will know that we have had a new tutor join us this month. Richard Holt is joining us to tutor out Apprenticeship Records course. This course, part of our Intermediate Certificate programme, starts in September and there are only a handful of places remaining. We have some other great courses coming up in August and September too:

    Researching in Archives for Advanced Genealogists
    Progressing Your Irish Research Online
    First Steps to a One-Place Study
    Wills and Administrations; the riches of probate records
    Organizing Your Genealogy
    Building on a Solid Foundation – Genealogy methods and techniques
    Apprenticeship Records
    Old Handwriting for Family Historians
    Practicalities of a One Name Study

    Researching in Archives for Advanced Genealogists


    Tutor: Simon Fowler
    Start date: 12th September 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks

    Library card catalogue

    This course is part of our Family History Skills and Strategies Advanced Certificate programme but can also be taken in isolation by anyone wanting to learn more about how to get the most out of archives.

    With such a small proportion of records available online, the serious researcher must make use of all repositories available to them. In order to have the greatest chance of success the researcher should understand how records are kept and how they are most effectively accessed.

    In this course you will learn about the record-keeping framework in England and Wales and be introduced to the cataloguing process and the way archives are arranged and described. You will learn where to find national, local and specialist collections, recognise which repository or archives is the most likely custodian, and how to plan your research day in the archives to make the best use of your time. You will also be introduced to conservation and access issues for fragile documents and get practice finding the documents you are looking for.

    Note: Whilst this course prepares you for your next visit to archives the course itself can be taken completely online.

    Progressing Your Irish Research Online

    Tutor: Chris Paton 
    Start date: 19th August 2022
    Course length: 5 weeks

    Irish flagThere is a common belief that if you have Irish ancestors then you should give up hope of finding out about them, because ‘nothing survived the fire’, referring to the destruction of Ireland’s Public Record Office during the Civil War in 1922. The overall aim of this course is to point out that this is a nonsense, and that the glass is half full and not empty. Whilst there are certainly challenges to be overcome, a great deal can still be accomplished with the many resources now rapidly finding their way online.

    This course will describe the many state created records and church records that can be used to research your Irish ancestry. It will provide a context to understand why they were created, and by whom and point out exactly where to find them online, and how to use them effectively.


    Lesson Headings:
    Understanding Ireland’s boundaries, key repositories and platforms
    * The vital records of Church and State
    * Documenting the people: Irish censuses and substitutes
    * Valuation records and inheritance
    * The Decade of Centenaries

    First Steps to a One-Place Study

    Tutor: Janet Few
    Start date: 24th August 2022
    Course length: 5 weeks

    One-place studies are a fascinating blend of local and family history. They are frequently undertaken by family historians wanting to create a context for their ancestors. Through a one-place study, you can investigate the friends, neighbours and associates with whom your family may have interacted and you can begin to understand the community in which they lived.

    This course is designed for those who are just starting on their one-place journey and for more experienced one-placers who would like guidance or inspiration, or who are seeking a more organised approach to their study. It will also be suitable for those who may not want to undertake a full-blown one-place study but who wish to investigate an ancestral area in more detail.

    Lesson Headings:
    * Choosing and Discovering your Place and its People
    * Data Collection 1 – Using more Common Sources (oral testimony, diaries and memoirs; photographs; vital records of birth, marriage and death; gravestones, newspapers, directories and gazetteers, censuses)
    * Data Collection 2 – Further Sources (tax lists, records of land ownership, records of education and occupation, records relating to the movement of people, records of local government)
    * Connecting and Analysing your Data
    * Putting your Findings in Context and Publicising your Study

    Partnership offer:
    Students on our First Steps to a One-Place Study course, who are not already members, may claim free membership of the Society for One-Place Studies for their first year (details in the lesson notes). Existing members of the Society can claim a discount on the Pharos One Place Studies course (see member benefits section of their website).

    Wills and Administrations; the riches of probate records

    Tutor: Linda Newey
    Start date: 5th September 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks
    * FULLY BOOKED but booking now for February 2023 *

    Organizing Your Genealogy

    Tutor: Barbara Baker
    Start date: 5th September 2022
    Course length: 3 weeks

    Getting Organised

    As you research your family history, you collect information, charts, copies of records, notes, lists of sources searched, etc. Whether you are just starting your research or whether you have been at it a while, it is important to be organized and have a record keeping system. It should be easy to file and store information when you get it, and to find it long afterward. Good organization and record keeping will help you assess what you have, what you have learned, and what you need to learn. This three-week course is designed to help you get organized, stay organized and be ready for research online and on location by developing good record-keeping habits.


    Lesson Headings:
    Record Keeping Fundamentals
    * Setting Up Your System on Computer
    * Sources, Sources, Sources!

    Building on a Solid Foundation – Genealogy methods and techniques

    Tutor: Karen Cummings
    Start date: 12th September 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks
    * FULLY BOOKED but booking now for January 2023 *

    Apprenticeship Records

    Tutor: Richard Holt
    Start date: 13th September 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks


    Apprenticeship generated a range of records, most of which provide invaluable information for tracing family history.

    The practice of apprenticing young men to learn a trade is first recorded in twelfth and thirteenth century London. It gradually spread to many other towns and cities, and became subject to regulation. The Statute of Artificers 1563 required all tradesmen to serve an apprenticeship of at least seven years before they could trade.

    Provision for apprenticeship was also made under the Poor Laws. Parish overseers could bind children as young as six or seven to serve as apprentices until they were adults. Such bindings were supposed to ensure that children were taken care of at little cost to the parish.

    This course will familiarise you with apprenticeship records, and will explain how to find them. It will also give you a basic understanding of what being an apprentice meant in the period covered.

    Lesson Headings:
    What was an Apprentice?
    * Reading & Interpreting Apprenticeship Indentures
    * Documents dependant on Apprenticeship Indentures
    * Pauper Apprentices

    This course is part of our Family History Skills and Strategies Intermediate Certificate programme but can also be taken in isolation by anyone wanting to learn more about these fascinating records.

    Old Handwriting for Family Historians

    Tutor: Susan Moore 
    Start date: 12th September 2022
    Course length: 4 weeks

    Does reading old documents have you pulling out your hair? Old handwriting, or palaeography, often presents challenges for local and family historians. There is nothing more frustrating than finding a document that you are sure is relevant, but which you cannot read.

    This course takes a practical approach to reading and transcribing old handwriting, starting with the records of the 19th century and moving backwards in time. Students will be given the opportunity to examine handwriting styles and develop an understanding of how handwriting developed over the centuries. The course will then focus on Secretary Hand, a commonly used form during the Tudor and Stuart period. Historians will come across Secretary Hand in many types of documents such as parish registers, wills and inventories. The course aims to equip students with their own set of steps to being able to read, and successfully transcribe, the handwriting in old documents, enabling them to read documents which at first sight might appear to be written using a different alphabet.

    This course is part of our Family History Skills and Strategies Advanced Certificate programme but can also be taken in isolation.

    Practicalities of a One Name Study

    Tutor: Julie Goucher
    Start date: 27th September 2022
    Course length: 5 weeks

    Practicalities of a One Name Study

    The course is designed to enable students to explore the practical steps of maintaining and developing their one-name study through a variety of media and to give some context to the various considerations they will need to explore.


    Topics covered:
    Understanding and making the best use of spreadsheets in your study
    * Genealogical Software, what to consider
    * Online Trees and other software
    * The next steps: Preservation and Sharing


    That’s all for this month, happy studying!