1. 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.
  2. 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/
     

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.]

  6. 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.

  7. 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.
    ———————————————————————————-
    Please let’s help Celia achieve her aim!

  8. When is DNA not important to family history?

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    This post is by Wayne Shepheard
    I have quite an old copy (dated 1984) of the Concise Oxford Dictionary on my bookshelf. I don’t think much has changed over the years since it was published so it remains a reliable reference for me. Certainly the definitions provided in current online editions are much the same as those published in decades past (http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/family). In my edition family is defined as: “1. members of a household, parents, children, servants, etc.; set of parents and children, or of relations, living together or not . . .; person’s children. 2. all descendants of a common ancestor, house, lineage . . . “ The word, genealogy is defined as: “account of descent from ancestor by enumeration of intermediate persons, pedigree . . .”
    So, are studies of family history or genealogy the same thing?
    Real families do not always consist of people who are all related by blood. The dictionary’s primary definition seems to be silent in that regard in describing a family as consisting of members of a household. Too often we ‘genealogists’ or ‘family historians’ talk in terms of pedigrees defined in terms of bloodlines – that is, sharing DNA. Perhaps we should differentiate the two and consider that family historians are really looking at the relationships of people, whether or not connected by blood, while genealogists deal only with those people biologically linked.
    In many generations of my own family, there were family members who shared only one parent with their siblings or, in some cases, were not even related by blood to their “parents”. One of my great-grandmothers had a daughter from her first marriage, before she married my great-grandfather. My father considered her his aunt in the same way he thought of her half-siblings, the natural daughters of both of his grandparents.
    I have found similar circumstance in the many Devon families I have investigated as an Online Parish Clerk. Several reasons accounted for such mixed or blended families (def: a family that includes children of a previous marriage of one spouse or both). Most often, in centuries past, one or both parents may have died before children reached the age of majority. The surviving parent would generally have remarried, the man in order to have someone take care of his home and children, a woman in order to have someone earn income to support her and her children. If both parents died, another family member commonly stepped in as an adoptive parent. On rare occasions, an abandoned child was taken in by members of the community and raised as their own.
    Until the 20th century adoption was not formally or legally recognized in many parts of the world. In the modern era, the first laws concerning adoption were passed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in the United States, in 1851, codifying what was considered to be in the “best interests of the child”. Other constituencies and countries followed over subsequent decades. England was one of the last major countries to enact laws concerning adoption with the passage of the Adoption of Children Act 1926 (http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201213/ldselect/ldadopt/127/12705.htm).
    I have come across many examples in searching censuses and parish records of children becoming part of new families and even taking on the surnames of their step-fathers. Many kept their new names before there were laws regulating adoption. A few kept their birth names but then reverted to the surname of their step-father, or at least that is what they appeared to do. I wrote about one possible example in my blog, Discover Genealogy. http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/2014/02/another-case-of-changed-name-samuel-and.html Such changes in names can confound and confuse those researching the history of their family.
    Which brings me back to the ideas of what the difference is between a genealogist and a family historian, and whether DNA is the most important thing to ultimately use in identifying a family connection. As stated above, most dictionaries define genealogy as the study and tracing of lines of descent which implies looking for a direct line of ancestors related by blood. The term “family history” is generally used interchangeably with genealogy but I think families are much more than just a relationship of consanguinity. They may also include members related by affinity (marriage) or nurture kinship (co-residence or shared consumption). The family is, primarily, the principal structure for the socialization of children (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Family) and any study of a family should also include research into any individuals who may have joined the family through other than direct, biological means.
    Have you found individuals that are not related to you by blood but who you consider family members?
    About the Author
    Wayne is a past student of Pharos, having attained a certificate (with distinction) in the Family History Skills & Strategies (intermediate) programme. He is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program (http://genuki.cs.ncl.ac.uk/DEV/OPCproject.html), handling four parishes in Devon, England (http://www.cornwood-opc.com/). He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne has his own blogsite, Discover Genealogy (http://discovergenealogy.blogspot.ca/), in which he relates his experiences as a family historian. He also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated (http://familyhistoryfacilitated.ca/).

  9. The next big thing?

    5 Comments

    The recent announcement that Findmypast and The National Archives http://www.findmypast.co.uk/1939register
    are making available the National Registration Act 1939 ‘census’ is very exciting.  This Act led to the population of Britain being issued with identity cards as the second World War got underway. A little bird tells us that we could see some of it happen before the end of 2015, and make no mistake, it is going to be huge. There are 40 million entries and 7,000 volumes to digitize. Many 20th century research brickwalls will come tumbling down as a result.
    As there was no census in 1941 due to the war, and the 1931 England & Wales census returns were sadly lost to fire, the 1939 Registration Act census will be the most recent year genealogists will be able to combine information from both census and civil registration in order to locate people for a long time to come. The 1921 UK census will be released in 2022 after 100 years as has been the normal practice, (another 7 years to wait) but then there might be no major record sets from the 20th century until the 1951 census is made available in 2052, unless (possibly, maybe) we get access to searchable civil registration certificates online. The 1939 data is being released earlier than 100 years as the legislation which brought it into being is different from that used to carry out the normal 10 year census, regulated by the 1920 Census Act.
    We have all seen how quickly the big data websites have rushed to provide us online access to all the available England & Wales census returns, the surviving Ireland census returns, as well as transcriptions from the Scottish census. Many other records, most of them partial or parts of bigger series, have come online as well. But which types of records are going to keep the big data websites growing over the coming decades do you think?
    What would provide the biggest break-through for your own research? Should there be a concerted effort to get all remaining parish registers indexed? How about all English probate material pre 1858 in one place? Military muster rolls?
    What will be the next big thing?

  10. It’s family history Jim, but not as we know it

    1 Comment

    This is a post by Simon Fowler, Author, Tutor and Professional Genealogist.  We thought this was an interesting follow-up to the general discussions about only doing genealogy online.  Family reunions may perpetuate those old family myths, but they are fun!
    I recently moderated a family history reunion for a client. They wanted me to provide genealogical expertise and a guiding hand. But in fact I was hardly needed. The group was more interested in sharing details of second and third cousins and not listening to me. There was a real buzz about the afternoon.
    But it was not family history as taught on Pharos courses. Tangential links were made without real evidence: someone claimed descent from the English poet Edmund Spenser. I haven’t checked but it seems unlikely. Family trees had been scribbled on envelopes. And notes came in a variety of forms – some were in impressive looking photograph albums with photos, documents and even a tram ticket.
    The group had only the shakiest grasp of British history, based on hazily remembered history lessons from fifty years ago, television programmes and potboiler histories. There was even a debate about the relationship between the French and English lands owned by the Normans, although why I could not fathom, as nobody had traced their ancestors with any certainty much back before the 1850s.
    Of course I should have intervened and insisted on proper evidence, effective record keeping and all the other things we teach and learn on Pharos courses. But I didn’t have the heart. They were having so much fun. And it would probably have been counter-productive.
    This is genealogy as experienced by many people with all the joy of discovery and communication without any of the rigour. Like the Who Do You Think You Are? TV programme, but without the celebrities.
    But does it really matter? Of course ultimately it does, but I think this is an ideal way into the hobby. With luck rigor will follow, as participants realise that it helps both their research and to learn about the generally unromantic lives that their ancestors really lived. And I had a blast learning how most people get started on their family history.
    Simon Fowler is the author of many genealogy and family history books, and teaches the Pharos Tutors military courses.  He was previously the editor of The National Archives Ancestors magazine.  There is a full list of his books on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simon_Fowler_%28author%29