Tracing Your Insolvent Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local
Historians. By Paul Blake. Published by Pen & Sword Family History,
47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: Casemate
Publishers 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2019. 223 pp.
This is not a
book for the new researcher or beginner. This is an excellent, very detailed
deep dive into a voluminous set of records about which little has been written.
Debtors’ prisons are infamous – Charles Dickens father was in one, and many of
his characters spent time there. Many people were often incarcerated following
misfortune or mismanagement rather than criminal intent. The time spent there
varied from a few days to years and stories this far back may not have survived
within the family.
In reading this
detailed book I wondered how one would even know the ancestor was a debtor. The
clue came on page 193 where Mr. Blake suggests that “Reports in local or
national newspapers can often be the first indication of a debtor or bankrupt
ancestor, which can lead to surviving official records”
introduces his subject by highlighting the difference between insolvent debt
and bankruptcy, the latter prior to 1842 being limited to traders owing more
than £100, with the emphasis on traders. This distinction eliminated most
skilled craftsmen and farmers. The
Stature of Merchants in 1283 made it possible for creditors to register major
debts and use imprisonment to enforce them. In 1351 the use of immediate
imprisonment was extended to civil debt in general. The ability to imprison
someone for debt did not end until 1869. Thus, there are over 500 years of
records for debtors.
some background on insolvent debtors, the book addresses the machinery of
justice and the many courts in which debtors can be found, followed by a
chapter on charities and the Court for Relief of Insolvent Debtors. The next
five chapters examine different aspects for insolvent debtors: courts and court
records; imprisonment; common law, central prisons and their records; London
courts and their records; London prisons and their records. The final three
chapters examine: county debtors, i.e. those outside London; bankruptcy; and
newspapers. Throughout there are mini case studies, with examples of what the
records look like, and how to use the finding aids.
concludes with a surprising long list of Acts of Parliament in chronological
order concerning debtors, imprisonment, sanctuary and bankruptcy in England
from 1275 to 1901, plus a list of Regnal years.
If you have found
an ancestor, probably in a newspaper, who is identified as an insolvent debtor
or bankrupt then this is the book to which you must turn. This is the only book
available that guides the reader step-by-step through these voluminous sets of
records to find the details of misfortune that family historians so love to
find. This book is highly recommended.
Tracing Your Church of England Ancestors: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Stuart A. Raymond. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2017. 232 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.
the late seventeenth century, every man and woman in England was a member of
the Church of England. Legally, that continued to be the case for several
centuries, although in practice Non-Conformists and Roman Catholics denied
their membership. Even today Anglican priests recognize they have an obligation
to serve everyone within their parish. Thus, everyone, at least into the
nineteenth century and earlier, can claim Anglican ancestors.
Church of England is the established church of England and Wales, plus Ireland,
but not Scotland. The records of Ireland and Scotland are not included here. This
book focusses on the records created within the dioceses and parishes of
England and Wales, although other records are mentioned when appropriate.
first section in the book provides context of the institution. It provides a
brief outline of the history of Anglicanism; describes the structure of the
church, how clergy and laity operate within it, and why the records that we use
were created. There is also a chapter on the preliminaries of research
regarding the use of record offices, books, libraries and the internet. This is
a good introduction to English research methods and sources.
following two chapters examine what researchers are most commonly seeking, that
is references to the baptism, marriage and burial of their ancestors. The first looks in detail at the registers
themselves, while the second looks at alternative records for the same
information such as bishops’ transcripts, banns registers, marriage licence
[MELISSA – correct English Spelling for record] records, monumental
inscriptions, etc. The next two chapters examine additional records produced by
the parish and diocese, such as: churchwarden accounts; vestry minutes; seating
plans; tithe records; confirmation registers; visitation records; diocesan
courts; records of loyalty; and more, introducing lots of lessor known or
next three chapters take a more in-depth look at specific topics. The church
ran the English probate system until 1858, which is explained, along with
guidance on how to find what is needed. This is followed by a discussion of Anglican
charities, missions and religious orders. Then, for those with Anglican clergy
in the family, there is a good chapter on the numerous sources that make
tracing these individuals easier than tracing lay family members.
books final chapter looks at additional sources that might provide clues or
information about the clergy or church members, such as: Charles Booth’s
interviews; diaries; Compton Census; 1851 ecclesiastical census; Glynne’s
church notes; newspapers; Queen Anne churches; school records; and more.
bibliographic and web link references are included throughout the book, to take
the researcher to more in-depth resources. Multiple indexes arranged by place,
name and subject also simplify the location of material. This book is up to Mr.
Raymond’s usual high standards of a practical, comprehensive, clearly written
research guide. It is highly recommended.
Tracing Your Ancestors Through the Equity Courts: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Susan T. Moore. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $26.95. 2017. 211 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.
These voluminous records of the equity courts contain a wealth of family details, both in terms of relationships and character. Was your ancestor kind, compassionate, giving or rather cruel, belligerent and miserly? What was their day-to-day life like? The equity court records often reveal the answers to questions like these. They are also valuable for the local historian seeking information on the social networks, land ownership and the economics of a given locality.
The numerous courts of equity include: Chancery; Star Chamber; Requests; Exchequer; Duchy Chamber for Duchy of Lancaster; Palatinate of Durham; Exchequer of Chester; and Welsh Courts of Equity. “The principal difference between the common law courts and the equity courts was that the equity courts were based on what is right morally, whereas the common law courts relied on the law” (p.3). From the researcher’s perspective, the principal difference is that the equity court records are all in one location at The National Archives (except the Welsh courts); and are in English rather than Latin as for criminal records until 1733.
The Court of Chancery is the most voluminous record collection originating in 1377 and running through 1876. It is from this court that the bulk of the examples originate. Lots of cases here refer to the possession or the occupation of land, rather than legal ownership as would be in under common law, because so much land was held in trust or mortgaged. The other equity courts are explained and illustrated to a lessor extent. Furthermore, the book provides additional background on items that will be useful to the researcher, such as paleography, understanding of wills, deeds and legal terms. It also provides a broad overview of the types of documents to be found and where they come in the process, but these are more fully described later.
The second chapter answers the question, “Why look at the courts of equity?” It provides examples of: the type of information to be found in bills and answers, explains relationships in detail, often across multiple generations, tells how and why women and children can be parties to a case, quotes other records such as wills, deeds, leases, and mortgages, and details where and how a family may have lived even in terms of details of the house or land, and finally, details business transactions. The records can also be of value in proving immigrant origins or business ties.
Chapter three starts by examining the paleography of records. and continues by describing what the various types of documents are likely to contain. In this context, it covers records such as: pleadings, bills and answers; interrogatories and depositions; decrees and orders; Chancery masters’ reports; Chancery masters’ exhibitions; masters’ documents; cause books; affidavits; petitions; and account books. The chapter concludes by looking at the key phrases that will help identify specific types of documents.
Chapter four addressing indexes is important as so much has changed and continues to change regarding what is online, in print, or only available through calendars at TNA. There are tables for each of the courts explaining what indexes are available where, and in some cases digital images of the records themselves. The up-to-date tables alone make the edition worth buying, even for researchers who may have an earlier edition.
Throughout these first four chapters, extensive use is made of transcripts and case summaries to highlight the value of the records. Chapter five uses sample cases to go into more depth, illustrating the more common reasons for using the records. , Even, so these samples still only provide a snapshot of the detail that can be found for: loans and debts; probate disputes; marriage settlements and annuities; management of property from afar; merchants and mariners; trades and tradesmen; American connections; field names; and former monastic lands. The final chapter is an interesting though voluminous case study of the Lefroy family and its connections with Jane Austen’s family. The book concludes with a glossary and bibliography.
Chancery records are an underutilized record group which can be very valuable for reconstructing families and their characters. This book provides a clear guide into how to access and use these records. It is thus highly recommended for any English/Welsh researcher and all types of genealogical collections.
Tracing History Through Title Deeds: A Guide for Family & Local Historians. By Nat Alcock. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $26.95. 2017. 217 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.
Dr. Nat Alcock is an emeritus reader at the University of Warwick and is one of the most knowledgeable people on title deeds in England. I have his 1986 first edition book on the subject, so I was immediately interested in how this edition compared. The opening paragraph of the preface explains, “this book has a new title and a new publisher, but it otherwise a direct successor to my previous book, Old Title Deeds. It has the same intention: to explain the significance of title deeds for the study of local and family history, and more generally for wider aspects of history. The period since the second edition of Old Title Deeds  has seen an explosion in the use of personal computers, laptops and tablets, and of digital photography. With this has come important developments in the availability of online catalogues at many record offices. All these changes are mentioned where appropriate. However, the essentials of the study of title deeds – like the deeds themselves – are unchanged, so this book tells the same story as its predecessor, though with changes of emphasis and detail.” (p.xi)
The book, following an introduction to deeds as history, is divided into three sections – Why, Where and How. The Why chapter is divided into three sections according to subject: first using deeds as evidence for people, especially for the family historian with some excellent examples of multigenerational family trees generated from deeds; second as evidence for places, houses and buildings, likely of more interest to the local and house historian; third looking briefly at how large groups of deeds can be analyzed by computer to discover their historical evidence.
The section on where the deeds may be found is designed to get one thinking about where they might be but also how to find them. Collections of deeds for a given piece of property, family or estate could be nicely found in one obvious record office, or The National Archives, but in reality, they could be anywhere the owners may have chosen to deposit them. The worse situation is when the deed collection has been broken and sold individually thus loosing the linkage desired across time and space. The tables in this chapter, identifying the classes containing deeds at The National Archives, are especially good at identifying which have been indexed in Discovery, the online catalog.
The How chapter explains how to recognize the important types of deed and how to extract their historical significance from the legal jargon. The links between the various types of deeds are examined but the purely legal aspects of how conveyancing was undertaken and how it changed over the centuries is not overly emphasized. The key sections of a deed type are extracted and explained, making it easier for the reader to compare their deeds to the examples provided. Deeds become much easier to understand towards the end of the medieval period (around 1550), when the deeds generally change to being written in English rather than Latin. The chapter is thus divided into Post-Medieval and Medieval deeds.
The book contains four appendices. The first is a very practical flowchart to help identify the type of deed you may be looking at based on date, shape, size, phraseology, etc. A second appendix provides a template form for extracting the valuable information contained in the deed. A third appendix provides a sample page of various post-medieval letter forms that may be encountered. The final appendix provides the full text of typical deeds that have been explained. The chapter footnotes, resources, bibliography and glossary have all been expanded and updated.
For those new to the topic and for genealogy libraries this is a must for dealing with English or Welsh deeds. For those individuals who own one of the author’s earlier volumes, a comparison should be made depending upon one’s personal experience and recent knowledge on the subject.
A Dictionary of Family History: The Genealogists’ ABC. By Jonathan Scott. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $24.95. 2017. 247 pp. Softcover.
Who would have thought it would be so delightful to read a dictionary? But this one is fun to read and is a great learning experience.
This book has thousands of A-Z entries, that are definitions, timelines and terminologies, providing details on archives and websites along with advice on research methodology and problem subjects. The book is a mixture between an encyclopedia, dictionary and almanac. The book is valuable for English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh research.
The book contains the expected descriptions for the major genealogical records, national and county archives with links to their catalogues and research guides. But there are also definitions for: obscure terms; old occupations; important government acts; cultural events; museums and much more. Scattered throughout the book are addresses for familiar and obscure but well-developed websites.
In the age of the internet why have a dictionary? In this case, it’s because the author has done the work explaining terms, defining topic making them all relevant to the family historian. He has separated the wheat from the chaff for you saving you time and effort. In the process he provides guidance on where to go for the best websites and believe me he has found some great obscure sites as well as the familiar.
As I was reading this book I was marking the margins for entries and websites to follow up with for personal research but also to include in lectures. This is a reference book that is now within arm’s reach of my computer, joining my other favorite reference books. It will be used in the future I am sure.
The manorial system introduced into England and Wales by the Normans, following their conquest in 1066, lasted until 1926. For family historians the primary period of interest will be the 16th through the 18th centuries, with coverage before and after depending upon the what records have survived and how long the manor and its courts continued to function. These records when combined with all the church records, including those in the parish chest, can bring the lives of our ancestors to life.
The book begins with how to use the Manorial Documents Register to identify which manorial records have survived for a given location. These are, now online for most counties, with the remainder expected soon. The example used, Rotherfield in East Sussex, highlights that multiple manors, in this case six, can exist within one parish. The following three chapters provide: an overview of the manor; a description of the social structure (free and unfree tenants); and explanations of how the manor is administered identifying the officials and their roles that are likely to be found running the manor.
The manorial system is the origin of the present land system in England and Wales. It is at the heart of manorial studies, and of great relevance to family historians. Mr. Barber thus explains the differences between: demesne land; copyhold or customary tenure; freehold land; and leasehold land, identifying how each can be recognized in the records and what it meant for the people themselves.
The most voluminous records of the manor are likely to be the those of the Court Baron and Court Leet, with the other courts being mentioned briefly. These court records give us “details on changes in property ownership, lists of people attending court, appointments to community positions, names of people fined for minor infringements and in some cases even deaths and details of oral wills witnessed by manorial officials (p.46).”
The addition of three case studies showing how to use manorial records to physically locate properties on the ground enhances the value of this book. All examples are from Rotherfield in East Sussex. The first is a straightforward copyhold example showing a widow taking possession in 1691, following the ownership succession until it leaves the family in 1801, and locating the property using the tithe maps of the 1840s. The second example is a named and described piece of freehold property, owned by the family from before 1580 until 1781, located through a manorial survey, though the property name was still being used in 1911 census. The third more complicated example involves a specific copyhold house in the village of Rotherfield, occupied by the family between 1530 and 1650, and being eventually sold in 1677, yet its description was used to identify its location on the tithe maps from the 1840s.
The book concludes with a helpful glossary and bibliography.
This can be a complicated subject, but Mr. Barber has succeeded in explaining the operations of the manor succinctly. Few of these records will have been digitized, some have been published, and some have been transcribed and translated from the original Latin, but the examples and case studies highlight their value for family historians.
How Our Ancestors Died: A Guide for Family Historians. By Simon Wills. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2013. 214 pp. Softcover. Illustrations, index.
Mr. Wills, is a genealogist, journalist and regular contributor to genealogy magazines. Professionally he works as an information specialist, writer and advisor to the National Health Service and healthcare organizations. That experience in the healthcare industry clearly shows in this excellent guide to how our ancestors died.
The book is divided into 27 chapters with the opening chapters addressing the causes, diagnosis and treatment of illness and how that has evolved over time. For the family historian the places where a cause of death might be found is helpful to get one thinking of where to look – death certificates; registers of deaths abroad and at sea; obituaries; coroner’s inquests and legal proceedings; registers of parish burials; memorials and gravestones; newspapers; hospitals, workhouses and asylums; military records; employment records; specific medical problems; and epidemic statistics. Attention is given to records of accidents and disasters.
The remaining chapters in the book examine, in alphabetical order, major causes of death, such as: alcoholism; cancer; chest conditions; cholera; dysentery and bowel infections; execution and murder; influenza; plague; pregnancy and childbirth; scurvy; smallpox; tuberculosis; typhoid; venereal diseases; and more. For each of the medical problems there is a description of the symptoms, and how it was treated over time, bloodletting and purgatives being common for all sorts of ailments. The true cause of a medical problem might take years to discover, or it may be discovered and the medical profession because of vested interests or disbelief may ignore the cure (e.g scurvy, cholera).
When appropriate if there are specific locations or time periods when deaths occurred in significant numbers these are noted, so we learn about famines, plagues, and epidemics. This is helpful if you want to know, for example, if your ancestor’s cholera death was an isolated incident or part of a larger outbreak. The book also helpfully highlights some geographical specific medical issues such as: Devonshire colic resulting from drinking cider made in lead containers – died out by the end of the eighteenth century; or “Derbyshire Neck” from a lack of iodine in the soil, with a lack of iodine stopping the human thyroid gland from working resulting in a large swelling under the chin (goiter) – resulting in adults often being slow in movement and thought.
This is an excellent resource for putting your ancestor’s ailments into perspective, understanding the symptoms, how it was treated, whether it was contagious creating fear in the family and community, and when and how the ailment was eventually treatable or cured through modern medicines. This is a guide you will use, rather than doing online searches which give you all the modern treatments for an ancestor’s ailment.
Tracing Your Pre-Victorian Ancestors: A Guide to Research Methods for Family Historians. By John Wintrip. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 1950 Lawrence Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $24.95. 2017. x + 214 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.
This book caught me by surprise for it looks like all the other books in the series and has a similar title. However, the subtle change in the subtitle is important. Usually it is a “guide for family historians” while here it is a “guide to research methods for family historian.” Usually these guides focus on the records and the contextual history. Here the author focusses on the methodology for doing research, thus the book is a well written complement to all the other books in the series.
Mr. Wintrip, a professional genealogist, started his career as a research science librarian in universities so understands research methodology. He points out that these days it is generally easy to get your English ancestral research back to the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign because of the large national online indexes (census, civil registration, church and cemetery burial records). But more care is needed in earlier research because the content of the records often doesn’t provide the information needed to prove the links between individuals and generations. He rightfully states that “this book is not intended for complete beginners but for researchers who already have some experience of genealogical research, so comprehensive descriptions of sources are not included, but specific aspects of sources that affect the outcome of research are discussed” (p.ix).
Mr. Wintrip describes his required competencies for genealogical research as: (1) knowledge of sources; (2) searching skills; (3) analytical and problem-solving skills; (4) external knowledge. A fifth skill involving the recording of information, citation of sources and good record keeping is acknowledged but is not covered in this book. Chapter 2 outlines these 4 competencies, giving a excellent case study of how external knowledge (general and specific) solved a problem of how apparently geographically unrelated events were actually for the same family members.
As researchers would expect, there is rightfully an emphasis on knowledge of the sources, thus the many books that address sources. But here in chapter 3 we get a framework for understanding the sources themselves in terms of how and why the sources are created, what an individual record is within a source, and how to analyze derivative sources, copies, transcripts, authored works, etc. In addition, there is a discussion on methods to find what records have survived and where they might be located now.
Following chapters discuss information used to uniquely identify individuals being researched. These include: names; social status, religion, occupation and how these may be made more complicated by relocation. These topics need to be addressed in any family research but are particularly important and need to be understood in an English context.
The final seven chapters in the book cover: searching for information; archives and libraries; evidence and proof; family reconstruction; missing ancestors; mistaken identity; and help from others. Mr. Wintrip is current with American methodological ideas found in the Genealogical Proof Standard, and works by Elizabeth Shown Mills and Robert Anderson. He puts these ideas into an English context, expanding and explaining through English examples.
Throughout the book, short examples and case studies illustrate well-research problems that do occur and how to overcome them through expansion of one’s knowledge of the records themselves, their history, and external knowledge that puts the results into context. Success also requires a careful research process that can be followed, and this is well illustrated through decision (Venn) diagrams.
This book is highly recommended, especially for researchers wanting a thorough framework by which to do their English research, or those North American researchers wanting to better understand how English research processes are different.
Tracing Your Trade & Craftsman Ancestors: A Guide for Family Historians. By Adele Emm. Published by Pen & Sword Family History, 47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire S70 2AS, UK www.pen-and-sword.co.uk. £14.99. US Distributor: CasemateIPM 908 Darby Road, Havertown PA 19083. www.casemateipm.com. $29.95. 2015. 214 pp. Illustrations, index. Softcover.
Our ancestral trees may abound with common laborers but we will also have tradesmen – such as the butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers. This book puts these tradesmen and craftsmen into historical context and shows how they can be traced.
The first three chapters explain how an individual would have become a tradesman or craftsman, and why. The medieval guilds, common in many localities, controlled who could ply their trade within their area, the most familiar and most important being the London guilds. In 1515, the forty-eight London livery companies were placed in order of precedence based on power and financial status, creating what has become known as the great twelve, mostly merchant guilds. These twelve are listed in order along with the date of their original charter, not necessarily from when records survive and their website. Later a list is provided of the remaining London companies up to 100, giving name and website. Some of these are 20th century creations, and some you may not even know what the occupation is, such as fletchers, broderers, horners, paviors, and loriners. Importantly, a chapter discusses: the training and apprenticeship to become a freeman of a guild; indentures and deeds of apprenticeship; pay; school leaving age; working hours; holidays; pensions; health and safety; trade unions and friendly societies, all of which is good contextual information.
The remaining chapters address specific groups of occupations including: merchants and mercers; shopkeepers; builders and the building trades; smiths and metal workers; cordwainers and shoemakers; clothing and allied traders; and a miscellaneous group under other trades. Expanding upon the builders and building trade chapter as an example, this includes details on: auctioneers and house agents; bricklayers; brickmakers; carpenters, joiners, turners and sawyers; road builders and menders; painters; stone masons; and thatchers. As you might anticipate not every occupation is included, as I was hoping for plumbers and glaziers. But there are enough clues in these chapters to provide ideas of where to look for information on any desired missing occupation. For those that are included you get a description of the occupation (often for different periods), examples of records or possible places to find records (e.g. guild or union records), and museums that may focus or illustrate well the occupation. The book has good illustrations of the large variety of records that mention our ancestors plus places and tools associated with the occupation. The printed resources mentioned within the text are generally not included in the select bibliography at the end of the book arranged by chapter and topic, so both places need to be checked for potential leads.
This is an excellent guide to get you researching the trade of your ancestors, pointing you to published and online resources, plus how to put them into a correct social context. For the trades included you are well on your way to learning about your ancestors. For those not included you will have ideas of where to look.
News – New Indexes for civil registration birth and deaths in England and Wales that are a game changer. Plus for a short time period there is the option to order cheaper digital versions of the certificates. Read on for more details.
On November 3rd the General Register Office put online at www.gro.gov.uk completely new indexes for births (1837-1915 – 100 year closure) and deaths (1837-1957 – 50 year closure). These are completely new indexes created from the original registers made during the now abandoned DoVE project (Digitization of Vital Events). For these time periods these new indexes will certainly replace the other indexes that are readily available on free and commercial websites. All other national indexes have been created by transcribing the existing national indexes, which are at least two generations away from the original certificates, and thus transcription errors do exist.
It is the additions to the indexes that make for exciting news here. In the birth indexes the mother’s maiden name has been added to all records, originally this information was not added until 1911. In the birth indexes the age of death is now included in all records, something not added until December 1865. Also in both indexes all forenames have been extracted. There are no initials used here as in the published national indexes.
Urgency – What is time sensitive here is that on November 9th the General Register Office started offering digital copies of the birth and death certificates, in these periods only, for a reduced price of 6 Pounds (US$7.45), as opposed to the regular price of 9 Pounds 25 Pence (US$11.49) for the paper copies. This a trial offer and is only available for 3 weeks or 45,000 pdfs, whichever comes first. It will probably be the number of certificates as this is a bargain. So do your searches now. What the government will choose to do after this is a complete unknown. I personally ordered 4 certificates yesterday on the first day and have ordered another 10 this morning. I will be ordering more.
How to Access the new GRO Indexes and Order Certificates
Go to the website – www.gro.gov.uk. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online – this will take you to a certificate ordering service notice. Click on the link for Order Certificates Online and search the GRO historic birth and death indexes.
At this point you will first need to register. If you have done this in the past you will need to sign in and then you will be sent a validation key to your registered email address. If they are going to send you digital pdfs they want to guarantee that they have a valid email address. My validation key came quickly, but online discussion groups suggest that it might take an hour. If it still has not come check your spam folder, or check old email addresses you may have used in the past.
Once in you will be asked if you want to search the birth or death indexes. Making the choice opens up the appropriate search template.
There are three fields that are required – surname, gender and year. With surnames you can search for: exact matches only; phonetically similar variations; or similar sounding variations. Personally I have had good luck with the similar sounding variations especially when dealing with my easily corrupted names like Finnigan and Callaghan. With gender you have to select male or female which means you will probably be repeating all searches twice if you are looking for the children of a particular couple rather than an individual. Then you choose a year of registration – remember this may not be the year of birth if the even occurred towards the end of the year. You can choose to select +/- 0, 1 or 2 years. So when searching for the children of a couple open the range to 2 years, and repeat the searches at 5 year intervals to pick up all the intervening years, repeating again to pick up both sexes.
Your most likely search will be the addition of the mother’s maiden name, and again you have the three same variations as you had on the surname field.
Let’s do a search for the female children of a Callaghan and Hagan couple. For Callaghan I am choosing similar sounding names, and in this example I am choosing exact name for Hagan. I am searching in 1882 +/- 2 years. I get to two results. Mary Callaghan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1884 S Quarter in Gateshead Volume 10A Page 887. I also get Bridget Callighan – mother’s maiden surname Hagan – GRO Reference: 1881 J Quarter Volume 10A Page 932. Note the difference in surname Callaghan and Callighan. I knew of Mary’s existence as she lived long enough to be in next census, but not Bridget. I thus checked the death indexes for Bridget and have ordered those certificates. Currently on the same line as the relevant search result you can choose to order a certificate or pdf.
Selecting either one prefills the order template. Scroll down the screen and ensure that you are ordering the less expensive pdf by email and not the standard certificate (unless you want to). Further down the screen you can also select the number of copies and you can add a personal reference number.
Illegitimate Births – To find an illegitimate birth, father unknown, you put the child’s surname which will be the mother’s surname in the surname at birth field (a required field) and leave the mother’s maiden name blank. I tested this with a couple of certificates I already had in my files and it found them.
Here the age of death is a real bonus but you still might have to get creative with your searches and watch for some errors. Again you have to provide a surname, gender and a year to search. In this example I was searching for a Mary Ann Callaghan born in the June Quarter of 1879 in Gateshead district but was not found in the household in the 1881 census. So I searched on Callaghan – similar sounding variations, first forename Mary, female 1880 +/- 1 year to catch all between 1879 and 1881. There were 111 Mary Callaghan’s. Since Mary was born in Gateshead district I assumed she might have died there, so I limited the search district to Gateshead. There was only one result for a Mary Ann Callaghan in the March Quarter of 1880 aged 11 years. I still think this is mine and I have ordered the certificate but it highlights another potential problem. Evidence is appearing online that in some case if a child dies at age 11 hours or 11 days or 11 weeks or 11 months they may get indexed as 11 years rather than a 0. Obviously this can happen for any infant so be careful and you may have to order additional records to confirm.
District Geography Issues – On the search screen there is a good listing of all registration districts by name and when they were used by time period. For many people outside of England or Wales you may not be familiar enough with local district names to know if a name is close or far from where you expect to find an event. If you are not familiar with the district names and the places within the districts look to the Registration Districts in England and Wales page on Genuki created by Brett Langston. You can see here the names of the districts within each pre and post 1974 county. You can also download a pdf Place Name Index from the same page.
On the GRO website you are limited to searching in one district. You cannot select multiple districts or counties as you can with FreeBMD so sometimes it may be better to search on other sites first. There is a workaround for this limitation to pick up a wider geographic area. For any given time period the registration districts are combined into volumes. So for example in my 1880 death search Gateshead is in Volume 10A. I can omit anything in the district field but put 10A in the Volume field and it will pick up, in this case, all entries from County Durham, giving me 4 options. District 10B would be for Northumberland. The volume numbers vary by time period so you can use the List of Registration Districts provided on this site to find the relevant numbers for the time period of interest. Note that for numbers less than 10 add a 0. So Kent which is district 2A, on this site you search on 02A
Marriages – Nothing has changed here. Marriages were not indexed or digitized as part of the DoVE project before they ran out of money. You therefore have to use the existing images and order full paper certificates.
The Future – Unfortunately we don’t know what will happen at the end of this 3 week trial period. The results will be evaluated, but that does not mean the government will act on it.
The Opportunity right now is to have access to great indexes (likely to stay) but also to be able to get lower priced digital certificates. This is a golden opportunity to find those missing children and dead ancestors that you have not been able to locate yet. Take advantage of it.