1. Pharos courses in March 2023

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    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

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    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

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    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

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    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