1. 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

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

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    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.

     

  3. Special Offer from Family Tree Magazine

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    Family Tree magazine is offering readers a free digital issue of the magazine through to the end of the month, when you sign up to their newsletter.

    This is part of a new drive to promote the hobby and get more people researching their family history.

    Simply sign up to the email at: www.family-tree.co.uk/account/register

    Once you sign up you will immediately receive access to the full April 2022 issue, as a digital ‘page-turner’ edition.

    Editor Helen Tovey said: “We want everyone to sample our wonderful magazine and this seemed like a great way to get people involved and for them to find out more about family history. We’re so proud of our monthly mag, it’s been going since 1984 and is packed with information and inspiration, and we also love putting together our weekly newsletter. Family history is all about sharing and so we’d thought we’d give something back!”

    Highlights of the April issue include:

    • Determining the origin of surnames
    • How your ancestors’ birth dates can hold the key to the past
    • How to use kirk session records
    • The lives and working conditions of tailors, dressmakers & seamstresses
  4. What is Proof?

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    This excellent article was written by Phil Isherwood, and he has kindly allowed us to reproduce it here. Phil is a Pharos Graduate who describes himself as an amateur genealogist. His daily working life includes developing methodologies for business teams, a skill transferable to genealogy research. You can find Phil’s blog here: Seeing the Wood for the Trees and follow him on Twitter: @isherwood_phil 
    The end goal of all genealogical investigations is to establish proof, by which we mean a convincing, credible case for a specific ancestral identity, relationship, or life event. By thorough research in sources, we must find sufficient detailed, matching evidence to uncover and reconstruct relationships and events relating to our research target, and only our research target.
    But how do we decide when an accumulation of evidence reaches a threshold that we call proof? How do we define it? How do we decide when it has been met? How do we assess what others have proposed as proof? Is there just one valid definition of proof or are there many? These are questions that are central to the pursuit of genealogy.
    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

    Why is a definition of proof important for genealogy?

    Once, in those not so distant pre-Internet days, many genealogists laboured away in near isolation, uncovering family histories from public, private or academic sources then sharing the outcomes within their families. Today, genealogy is a collective activity, nourished by easy online access to many sources, supported by vibrant societies and online communities. We share ideas and knowledge, we communicate with and educate one another, and, crucially, we often share our findings. One need only take a brief look at the thousands of published trees on Ancestry and other large subscription sites to understand the ubiquity of sharing amongst family historians. Some, such as the LDS Church, have even gone as far as to suggest that an end goal of collective sharing could be a single, comprehensive family tree of everyone.

    But, as many who have looked at shared online trees in any detail, one quickly realises that the published conclusions of some family historians can stretch credulity. At best it can be said that there is a variable interpretation of what is required to establish a genealogical proof.

    A standard definition of what constitutes proof is clearly necessary for any serious genealogical endeavour, as without a consistent measure of proof we can’t achieve consistent outcomes. When collaborating with others, it is an essential.

    A History of Genealogical Proof

    In the UK there has never been an official definition of genealogical proof – something which I have found troubling. In the USA however, the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) has been a leader in setting out formal definitions and, where needed, updating them over time.

    The BCG’s original definition of genealogical proof was based on the legal standard of proof as used in civil court cases. This principle is called the Preponderance of the Evidence, which amounts to “when I weigh all of the pros and all of the cons, I think that the pros outweigh the cons.”

    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND

    Sounds reasonable, right? But there’s a catch – the margin by which the pros outweigh the cons can be tiny, even infinitesimally small. Where there is a significantly larger quantity and quality of evidence on one side this can work, but in marginal cases this can lead to conclusions which we might view today with some suspicion.

    In the late 1990s, the BCG recognised the weaknesses of Preponderance of the Evidence and developed a new definition of called the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS), which they published in 2000.

    The Genealogical Proof Standard

    The GPS is a five-step process which defines a well conducted genealogical investigation. It can be simply summarised as: search, cite, analyse, consolidate, and conclude. To have met the standard, the researcher must show that their whole investigation (not just the conclusions) meets all five of the elements.

    The Genealogical Proof Standard

    1. Reasonably Exhaustive Search
    Full text: “Reasonably exhaustive research – emphasizing original records providing participants’ information – for all evidence that might answer a genealogist’s question about an identity, relationship, event, or situation.”

    So, what is a “reasonably exhaustive search“? Simply put, it is a search that has examined all potentially relevant sources. It implies that we start our investigation by finding out what the potentially relevant sources will be, list them and then search them all in turn, consulting the original or an image of the original wherever possible. By doing so we minimise the risk of undiscovered evidence emerging later to overturn an initial, perhaps hasty, conclusion.

    2. Complete, Accurate Source Citations
    Full text: “Complete, accurate citations to the source or sources of each information item contributing – directly, indirectly, or negatively – to answers about that identity, relationship, event or situation.

    Thorough, accurate citing of sources helps us to remember where we found the information we rely on as evidence and enables others to validate that our search has indeed been “reasonably exhaustive”. Assuring others of the quality of our search is doubly important, it enables them to:

    • replicate our steps; and
    • contribute their own ideas about other relevant sources which could enhance our research.

    Citation is the single most effective tool for enabling effective collaboration between genealogists.

    3. Analyse and Correlate Sources, Information and Evidence
    Full text: “Tests – through processes of analysis and correlation – of all sources, information items, and evidence contributing to an answer to a genealogical question or problem.

    What this really means is that we need to make a sound interpretation of the evidence at our disposal. Kick the tyres, make sure that it stands up to scrutiny, be honest with ourselves about any gaps or deficiencies that may be there. This is the right point to consider whether the evidence we’ve collected forms a full and coherent picture. Is it the best available evidence? Is there any other potential evidence we could add to our search to strengthen our case? Is the evidence sufficient to support our conclusions? Will our conclusions reflect all the relevant evidence, good and bad, direct and indirect, positive and negative?

    4. Resolve Conflicting Evidence
    Full text: “Resolution of conflicts among evidence items pertaining to the proposed answer.

    It is a genealogical truism that any sufficiently exhaustive search will uncover at least some conflicting evidence. The corollary is also often true, that if you’ve failed to find any conflicting evidence then you may not have performed a sufficiently exhaustive search!

    Analysing and resolving conflicting evidence is an essential step. Are we able to understand what the conflicts in the evidence might mean? Can we account for them? Or does the conflicting nature of the evidence put our conclusion into doubt? If we’re unable to resolve conflicting evidence satisfactorily then we will not be able to formulate a credible conclusion.

    5. Soundly Reasoned, Coherently Written Conclusion
    Full text: “A soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion based on the strongest available evidence.

    At first glance, this element of the GPS seems like a non-sequitur. Conclusions must be:

    • soundly reasoned – as no-one would accept a conclusion that relied on unsoundreasoning;
    • coherently written – as no-one would accept a conclusion that was written incoherently; and
    • based on the strongest available evidence – as no-one would accept a conclusion based on partial, weak, or inaccurate evidence.

    What this really means is that our conclusion must be based on a sound appreciation of what evidence was available, that we accurately interpreted and collated the evidence, and show how the evidence leads to the conclusion. It enables us to demonstrate that our conclusion is not only valid, but free from bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence.

    What the GPS is – and what it isn’t!

    There is little doubt that the Genealogical Proof Standard is a significant improvement upon Preponderance of the Evidence. It sets a far higher standard for proof to be achieved – no more dodgy marginal cases – and roots its requirements in the language of genealogy rather than a legal framework which has doubtful relevance to our pursuit. It is applicable to all genealogy work, not only in the USA but all around the world, whether professional or amateur. It sets clear expectations on how we should plan, execute, and document our work. It creates a common standard and supports common outcomes that can be scrutinised, replicated, or refuted. It is a vital tool that all genealogists who have mastered basic sources should try to understand and engage with. It is the missing link that may, in the future, allow genealogy to be the truly collective experience that it could and, many would argue, should be.

    This Photo by Unknown Author is licensed under CC BY

    But it has problems too:

    • it isn’t a single, cogent statement against which a documented conclusion can be measured;
    • there is no straightforward checklist one can use to say “if these items are covered in the documented findings then it passes”;
    • to assess whether a documented outcome has met the standard, the assessor must have access to details of how the investigation was conducted;
    • the five steps of the GPS each have detailed definitions which require some knowledge and skill to understand fully and utilise.

    One can easily use the GPS to assess formal genealogy reports, but it is simply not possible to use it to assess the principal form of communication in modern genealogy – the online tree.

    So, if it has shortcomings should we be making efforts to use it? Yes! Yes! Yes!
    The GPS is the only agreed standard for genealogical proof. It is the best available and we should all be using it so that:

    • we have confidence in our own conclusions;
    • we have confidence in the conclusions of our peers and collaborators; and
    • we can share our work in the confidence that it can be used as the basis for further investigation without the need to be re-verified from top to toe.

    It is a sad fact that in the laissez-faire world of shared online trees, one must re-assess all findings before using any element for one’s own purposes. Consciously using the GPS can reduce needless rework and, most importantly, make us all better genealogists.

    The GPS is not perfect – even investigations that follow it thoroughly and accurately can’t ensure perfect certainty in their outcome. (We are engaged in family history, not mathematics, so there can never be perfect certainty!)

    It is a little daunting, but it is the best framework and standard that the global genealogy community has. Once mastered, it can and will save you time, effort, energy, and tears!
    Have I persuaded you that the GPS is the best way forward for your genealogy? Please let me know in the comments below.

    Sources

    1. Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards (Board for Certification of Genealogists, 2nd Edition 2019).
    1. Anderson, Robert Charles. 2019. Tools for Testing Genealogical Proofs. Talk delivered at RootsTech London, 24 October.
  5. Trilogies

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    This post is by Pharos Tutor, Stuart Raymond, author, teacher and genealogist
    I had a very curious experience last year. I asked Pen & Sword if they would be interested in publishing a book on Nonconformist Ancestors. To which the response was, well, why not expand it to include the Church of England as well? To which my response was, the nonconformist sources would be swamped. Well, in that case, why not two books, one on Nonconformity, one on the Church of England. Oh, and throw in another on Roman Catholic records as well. To which I responded, Help!!!
    But my publisher was right. There were few up to date books which provided comprehensive coverage of sources relating to the various different denominations. Yes, there are many which cover aspects of those sources, such as my own on Parish Registers, or some of the Society of Genealogists’ My ancestors were … series on specific denominations. But there was little recent work which covered the whole range of sources in detail. So I set to work.
    Earlier this year, the first of the trilogy appeared. Tracing Your Nonconformist Ancestors: a guide for family and local historians aims to provide an overview of nonconformist records. It begins with an outline history of nonconformity, which explains the context in which records were created. Those records are held in many different record offices, which are discussed in some detail.  Many records are common to all nonconformist denominations, for example, state and ecclesiastical records of late seventeenth-century persecution, and the registers of baptisms, marriages and burials deposited with the Registrar General in 1841 and 1856 (and now available at www.bmdregisters.co.uk). The structures of the various nonconformist denominations are sometimes very different, and it is important to know that the record keeping activities of Quakers are very centralised, whereas most Baptist or Congregationalist records do not go beyond the local church. The sheer diversity of nonconformist denominations must also be taken into account. The first denomination mentioned in my index is the Apostolic Church, and the last the Wesleyan Reform Union.


    Tracing your Church of England Ancestors: a Guide for Family and Local Historians is currently on the point of publications; indeed, attendees at WDYTYA have already had the opportunity to see copies. As one would expect, this includes chapters on parish registers and associated sources of baptisms, marriages and burials, and also on probate records (which were a church responsibility). But it also deals with a wide range of other sources created by the Church of England at both diocesan and parish level. These range from churchwardens’ accounts to midwives’ licences, from incumbents’ visiting books to excommunication record. There is also a chapter on the records of Anglican organizations such as the Church Missionary Society, and the Waifs and Strays Society. I wonder how many genealogists have used the records of charities such as these?
    The third book in the trilogy, Tracing your Roman Catholic Ancestors, is not due to appear until early next year. It will of course look at records of Roman Catholic baptisms, marriages and burials, which can be found in both Anglican parish registers, and in Catholic mission registers. But Catholics were subject to severe persecution for over 250 years after 1558, much more so than the nonconformists. So I will be looking in detail at the records of persecution by both state and church. Attention will also be given to the numerous seminaries, monasteries, convents and schools founded by English exiles on the continent during the penal years – and to the many institutions founded in England when the French Revolution forced their return to England. How many of our ancestors attended the Catholic schools they founded?
    Now, what was I doing before I started all this? Ah yes, conducting my Pharos courses on apprentices and the seventeenth century.
    Stuart A. Raymond
    31st May 2017
    Buy Stuart’s books from Genfair:  https://www.genfair.co.uk/search.php
    Pen & Sword website: https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/
     

  6. Your oldest document

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    This post is by Wayne Shepheard.
    What is the oldest document you have found for an ancestor? Do you have a picture or image copy of it?
    Church registers are among the most common sources for information. They are also among the most desirable as they are primary sources for birth, marriage and death dates, the building blocks for genealogical research. But many church records don’t reach back even to the 16th century, due to a lack of preservation or, in some instances, because they were never created.
    Vital records appear to have been kept in most regions from the early 16th century onward, with a few local exceptions:

    • England – parish registers mandated in 1538 at the time of the Reformation; only a few Roman Catholic parishes have vital data from before this date, mainly for only prominent families

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#England

    • France – civil legislation mandated registers be kept from 1539; oldest have been found in Givry Parish from 1334.

    https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/France_Church_Records

    • Germany – Protestant records from 1524, St. Sebald in Nürnberg; most reform churches kept records from 1650

    https://familysearch.org/wiki/en/Germany_Church_Records

    • Italy – mandatory from 1563 onward; oldest in Gemona del Friuli from 1379

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Italy

    • Scotland – requirement for records of baptisms and marriages from 1552; most areas date from much later

    http://www.nrscotland.gov.uk/research/guides/birth-death-and-marriage-records/old-parish-registers

    • Sweden – some parish registers date to 1620s; churches were ordered to record detailed books from 1686

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parish_register#Sweden
    One might well ask why it took that long before authorities across Europe demanded the registration of births, marriages and deaths. Perhaps it was to do with governing bodies wishing to keep new and more accurate lists for tax purposes.
    Genealogists may also find names of their ancestors, not necessarily with correct, or any surnames, hand-written in manorial or property documents. Other sources might be court records, both civil and criminal.
    A tremendous upheaval in European population occurred following outbreaks of the Black Death of the mid-14th century resulting in the displacement or migration of great numbers of people. Connections to their origins may well have been lost with the mass movement of these working class people. Genealogists today would have great difficulty in tracing these families back further than the 15th or 16th centuries.
    So the vast majority of us, who descend from regular people, will find difficulty in tracing our full family history. This may be one reason why so many family histories end up with Charlemagne in their tree.
    In my search for the oldest genealogical-related record, I found a reference to a marriage in 449 BC interpreted from the Elphantine papyri, part of 175 documents found in Egypt in 1893. The record appears to be a formal recognition of the marriage between a Jewish temple officer, Ananiah, and Tamut, an Egyptian slave (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elephantine_papyri#/media/File:Aramaic._Marriage_Document,_July_3,_449_B.C.E..jpg).
    aramaic-_marriage_document_july_3_449_b-c-e
    Marriage Document of Ananiah and Tamut, July 3, 449 BCE, Brooklyn Museum
    The oldest record image for family members in my own library does not quite go so far back! It is for the 1603 baptism of an 8th great-grandaunt, Marie Sheppeard, in Plympton St. Mary parish, Devon. At least I am pretty confident she was related. The existing parish register only begins in 1602 so unfortunately just misses the baptism of my 8th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, which I believe took place in 1601. I do have a copy of the record of his marriage to Margerit Lee in the same parish in 1630, the baptisms of two of their children in 1633 and 1638, and his will, made in 1657.
    It is very important to actually see original or copies of original documents. Too often transcriptions and indexes misstate information. Getting back before 1600 is a challenge, though.
    What is the very oldest record you have found for which you have seen a copy of the actual document? How did you come across it?
    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in Family History Skills & Strategies (Intermediate). He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy in several family history society journals. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy, in which he relates his experiences as a family historian.

  7. Progress of a sort

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    This is a post by Pharos co-founder Sherry Irvine.
    It is with some embarrassment that I confess that so many months have passed since my first article on getting back to my family history – to making a start at writing. Not much has happened in the way of writing, but I have not been idle: I have taken the time to think about the project and stumbled upon things that help me conjure up ideas.
    The time available has been limited. I should have expected that now that moving closer to grandchildren would have an impact on allocating time.  Those hours I have found have been devoted to what can only be called preliminaries. It took several months settle into our new home, but we have progressed to the point where just about everything is either out of boxes or in readily accessible clearly labelled boxes. Fortunately there are not many of the latter and I have put all the family albums and loose photographs into one cabinet and part of another. I know what is where. Also, I know that I can spread things out and leave them should that be necessary. Mind you, it can be only one project at a time. Right now I am doing some sewing, so the machine stays where  it is for another week or two.
    I went through the photo album for my father’s early years, 1918 to 1925. The pictures tell only part of the story, numerous though they may be. My notes, or those by my father, lack certain essential details: where did they live once the family, with my infant father, moved back to Toronto from Winnipeg in 1918? Obviously, some modern family history has been neglected.
    The photo albums show one thing I know from my own childhood. He was surrounded by women. Most of the pictures were taken by one or more of my grandmothers sisters, whom we called collectively “The Aunts”. They were younger than my grandmother, only one of them married but had no children, and my father was an only child. His father and mother were over 40 when he was born.
     He was the centre of attention not only for his mother and her sisters, but for his grandmother and his one and only cousin, a girl ten years older.
    He had a happy childhood, at least until he was a teenager in the hard years of the Depression. His father, an architect, was a man of many practical talents, and the summers at a cottage offered opportunities to mess about in boats, learn some mechanics, and mix with a wide range of people.
    How do I show all that and more in an interesting manner that somehow is just the right length for young and old? And, most difficult of all how do I do next? (To encourage myself, I have decided that the organizing of photos and albums, the creation of a work space, and the review of the first album of my father’s life, are legitimate progress.)
    Happenstance has come to my aid – I have found something that undertakes to explain scrap-booking in 60 illustrated pages. It seems quite out of character for me to be reading something like this, but I do see the relationship. Some of the advice makes good sense: for example, sort photographs by themes and then by logical groups. My theme is obvious, my father’s life, my groups of photos can be stages of his life: the number of groups does not matter as much as getting things sorted. This exercise turns the pictures into a means of creating an outline that will help me judge what to use, how much to write, and how to make it all look interesting. I can return to the easy-read scrap-booking guide to help me plan. At that point I am on familiar ground, as I have done a lot of planning as a genealogist. After all it is fundamental to good research, to writing a book, or preparing a lecture.
    I am heading for firm ground.

  8. Rejected Apprentices – a little known source

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    This is a guest post by Stuart A. Raymond
    What did you have to do in order to have your application to become a freeman of the City of Exeter to be rejected? For the period 1780-1802, the answer is to be found in a small alphabetical notebook held amongst Exeter City Archives in Devon Heritage Centre[1]. One applicant, Captain John Tren, claimed the freedom by paternity, but could not prove that his brother, who had inherited the right to claim, was actually dead. Apart from him, all of those whose rejections were recorded claimed by right of apprenticeship. Apprenticeship (as those who have completed Pharos’s apprenticeship course will know) imposed numerous requirements on the apprentice. They had to be totally obedient to their master, and had to serve their full term of seven years under his instruction. Marriage was forbidden, as was any absence.
    Several of those rejected were described as ‘disorderly apprentices’. In addition to being ‘disorderly’, Richard Milford ‘married before his time was out’. Others ran away; John Gray was accused of ‘entering on board a man of war’. Problems might be caused by a master going out of business; Philip Gove’s master ‘gave up trade and went abroad 2 years and upwards’; he therefore could not serve out his term. Indentures had to be indented; William Baker’s indentures were not, so he suffered rejection.
    The freedom in Exeter at this date was important primarily because it conferred the right to vote. It may be suspected that, in some cases, the mayoral court actively looked for a reason to reject applicants whose politics were not their liking. Was William Baker one of their victims?
    Some 52 applicants are listed in this notebook, which throws an interesting side light on life in Exeter at this time. The Society of Genealogists’ Genealogists’ magazine (vol. 32(2), 2016) has just published my transcript of this volume under the title ‘Rejected Applicants for the Freedom in Exeter, 1780-1802’.
    [1] Book 227.
     
    [Pharos adds:  As well as Stuart’s article, this quarter’s Genealogists’ Magazine also has a very interesting article about Rose’s Act.  If you are a member of the Society of Genealogists you can now opt to read the magazine online at their website, and all past editions as well.]

  9. My Family History – What Now?

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    This post is by Pharos co-founder, Sherry Irvine.
    We moved three months ago. We have done what many do at some point in retirement, moved to a much smaller home, one that is closer to family. The change precipitated lots of decisions about what would come with us on this next stage of our lives.
    Furniture was the easiest decision – take only what fits. We were fortunate in having access to our house in advance of the move. It was painted, but it was also carefully measured and we planned what would go where.
    Gardening things were also easy to deal with – not much to take when there are just two tiny areas to look after. Kitchen, no problem. This one is bigger. The major difficulty has been books and papers, (and knick knacks not far behind). I began with what I thought was ruthless weeding of my office bookshelves. Not ruthless enough. By moving day I had doubled the number of books that needed new homes. Papers were weeded, but not completely. We ran out of sorting time and we imagined we could live contentedly with a few stacks of file boxes for quite some time. That was a mistake. After about 6 weeks we were ready to take drastic action to get rid of the pyramid of boxes in the middle of the dining room. Well, we did it, but anyone challenged to find a dozen or more unpacked boxes would find most of them quite quickly.
    So much of my family history material is on paper. I started a system of binders 35 years ago and that remains. Yes, I have digital files, text and photos and scans and downloads, but much of my work was done before the development of good software. I am not sorry about that. Sorting paper is something I know how to do.
    I set to work sorting, tidying and tackled the problem of too little space and too many boxes. Hard work, however, being did was not clearing my head of a nagging thought. What am I sorting this stuff for?
    I had no clear idea of how I would deal with it all, whether writing it up, giving it away or … that other fate of family history stuff I could not think about. The lack of storage space came to my rescue: as I concentrated on a logical arrangement of the binders and boxes my mind actually began generating a few ideas. I just let that happen as I set about figuring out shelf space for three-ring binders and went shopping for the right size of cabinet to fit in a 20 inch deep alcove. The cabinet turned up in a used furniture store, and I came up with my first project.
    I will tell the story of my father’s life in words and pictures. This is familiar territory yet something special. I had a close relationship with my father, especially in the last several years of his life and I want to convey to our children and grandchildren what sort of a person he was. I want to take time to reflect on all my memories and to find out things I never knew. I want to talk about him with my siblings – I am the middle child and have an older and a younger brother – and discover the view from their perspectives.
    All genealogists come up against this dilemma. There must be hundreds of ways out of it. I have decided to chronicle mine here in the Pharos blog. What about you? How have you tackled the challenge of what to do with your family history stuff?
    About the author:   Sherry is the author of Your English Ancestry (2nd ed. 1998) and Scottish Ancestry: Research Methods for Family Historians (2003) and co-author of Finding Your Canadian Ancestors (2007). From the start of her career she has been involved in local and professional organizations. In 2005, the Association of Professional Genealogists presented her with the Smallwood Award of Merit for services to the organization and to genealogy. In September 2015 Sherry retired from regular teaching but she has not left Pharos. She will return from time to time helping in the FHSS program or as a substitute teacher. Meanwhile all that free time, will be filled with her own research and seeing much more of her grandchildren.

  10. Time to improve online coverage details

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    This is cross-posted from Celia Heritage’s blog.  Celia is a Tutor with Pharos, a member of AGRA and runs a family history research and teaching business in Kent.
     
    Celia says:
    It is my opinion that genealogy websites should provide full source details and coverage dates for each of their databases. They should also clearly state where a database is not yet complete.
    While there is a wealth of genealogical and historical data now available online courtesy of websites such as Findmypast, Ancestry, TheGenealogist and FamilySearch it is becoming increasingly difficult to accurately determine what exactly the various databases include and, in some cases where they came from, thanks to the inadequate or inconsistent detailing of their sources.
    This is caused by several factors but the main two are as follows.
    • A lack of information as to where the information came from and the coverage dates and any gaps within the coverage. Source data should be clearly visible for anyone using the database or at least for anyone who wishes to make the effort to check the details.
    • Inaccurate or unhelpful title names indicating complete coverage where coverage is not in fact complete are misleading.
    Let us take parish registers as an example. Neither Ancestry nor Findmypast has a complete county-by-county listing of what they hold. If I am searching for a missing baptism, burial or marriage I need to know exactly which parishes for a certain county or counties are available online and for which dates. Once I know this I can work out which are not and will potentially have to be searched in the record office. However, since neither company provides a county-by-county listing of which parish registers they hold it’s not easy to check this.
    I emailed Findmypast to ask if they had such a listing on their website as I know that they do sometimes issue such lists when new databases are released. This is the reply I received:

    ‘We are sorry but the website does not have a full list of coverage for the parish registers. You would have to check the search form for the parish and then carry out a blank search. Once you have done this you can change the results page by clicking the sort order at the top right – relevance. If you change this to ascending/descending you will see the years covered.’

    This seems a very long-winded way of established county coverage, especially when they must have such listings in existence! Ancestry collections are better detailed but they still have no means of checking county coverage in one go. Similarly, the Family Search Wiki is a quite good way of determining which parishes have online coverage, but I don’t believe this is entirely up-to-date and this is again not as useful as a county-by county- listing, as each parish has to be searched individually to determine online coverage.
    To my knowledge the only major commercial website to offer a county-by-county listing for parish registers is TheGenealogist which has its ‘List of all datasets’ at the bottom of its home and search pages. This provides a full list of which parish registers it offers and the coverage dates for each type of event and, for logged in users, this can also be accessed from the ‘Search’ tab, entitled ‘What’s included in my subscription?’ The list naturally covers all its other datasets too, not just parish registers, although some of the other categories are not as detailed as they should be.
    In order to prevent the online world of genealogical sources descending into chaos, I call upon the major genealogy companies to make it quite clear what information their datasets do and do not include. Surely this is not too much to ask?
    If you would like to join me in my campaign to encourage companies to improve the quality of their sourcing details and a new openness about which records they do and do not offer, please spread the word and encourage those interested in family history to email the companies concerned as well with this simple request. Let’s start with a request for full county-by-county parish register listings. Please share my blog with the genealogy world  and you can also follow my posts on the subject on Twitter @CeliaHeritage and Facebook. Your examples of inadequate source detailing and coverage are most welcome.
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    Please let’s help Celia achieve her aim!