Coming to grips with Family Search (WEA
Centre Adelaide) 28 January 2007
Leading Australian genealogist, Nick Vine Hall, died on 31 October
from a cancer in Bethlehem Hospital Melbourne. His service was
held at St Thomas North Sydney on 9 November.
He was certainly Australia's best known personality in the business due
to his radio programs syndicated across Australia.
His greatest contribution has to be his work on behalf of AFFHO to save
some of the records of the Australian Censuses 2001 and 2006. He worked
tirelessly on this project for many years lobbying the Bureau of Statistics
and Federal politicians. This single contribution will ensure that more
than half the 2001 census will be available to researchers in 96 years
time and a goodly proportion (as yet not disclosed) of the 2006 Census.
I hope AFFHO (and others) take up from where Nick left off and pursue
this issue until we are ensured that every census will be retained in
its entirety as a matter of legislation and not have to lobby prior
to each one and then be reliant on households requesting their records
State Library of SA seminar program
The State Library has decided to cut the seminar program using Adelaide Proformat's
services. The letter they sent suggested that such programs were outside the
of the library's functions. The reality is they have had a cut in government
funding and need to prioritise their program accordingly.
In this issue:
• Nick Vine Hall
• State Library of SA seminar program
Myths in family history
Using major online pay-to-use indexes
Graham Jaunay wishes all
subscribers a happy holiday period and an enjoyable Christmas.
Myths in family
Many families have a tradition that sees them originating
from circumstances much grander than the family finds itself in
the present day. This is very much associated with a very human condition,
the yearning for
or a castle or two features widely in family lore and both branches
of the Jaunay family have examples of these. The interesting point
you cannot always completely discount the story as often they do
contain an element of truth. Within my own family we are said to have owned
a string of castles across France. The reality was that the Princes of
Condé owned the castles and my ancestors were their personal retainers!
Rather than own the castles, they lived in them rent free—a decidedly
much better proposition in my opinion considering the expense in upkeep!
Sometimes myths are used to explain a family's ancestral origins. Many
myths crop up time and time again in families. One of the most common is The
Three Brothers which is loosely based on three brothers who usually
emigrate to escape something. It is particularly common in America where
one brother settles in New England, the other in the middle Atlantic states,
the third in the south. It is not confined to America though
and in the McCorkell family the three brothers flee Scotland by rowboat
the Battle at Culloden, change their names
and one settles in Northern Ireland, one near Dublin and one in the south
You can find many stories based on three brothers from as far away as China.
The Brothers Grimm wrote many fairy tales on the theme including The
Three Feathers, The Three Brothers, The Three Little Men in the Woods, and The
While it is always three bothers in the family myths, one common variation
has one brother lost. He
goes his own
to be heard of again.
While there may be an element of truth in a three
brothers story, more often than not such stories are developed to explain
some unresolved matter about a family's history. Because they are so common,
such stories are much less likely to have an element of truth about them.
such stories and apart from The Three Brothers, the most frequently
noted themes include:
• the native princess marrying into the family
• the stowaway or the crewman who jumped ship
• the unpronounceable name changed by emigration
• the flight from religious persecution or ethnic cleansing
• the son of a peer who rejects his inheritance
• the illegitimate child of a prince spurned by his father
I have encountered quite a few families' stories that are myths.
It is my job as a responsible genealogist to try to set the record straight
documenting the facts. In one instance, a family myth had it that a great-great-uncle
a famous charge in a well-known battle when, in fact, he was merely one
soldier among the ranks. In another case, one family member swore that they
were descended from a royal prince. Through research, I was easily able
to disprove this relationship.
One of the major challenges family
historians have to address is finding
the evidence that supports family stories. The first step involves
making a record of a family story. Ask several relatives who are familiar
story to tell it to you. Take copious notes, or make an audio tape recording.
Ask where they heard the story so that you can determine if they heard it
from different sources. Ask questions to clarify any facts or points that
are unclear. After you have obtained several versions of the story, examine
the details and look for similarities and discrepancies. Similarities may
be indicators of the veracity of the facts.
You need to spend time reading about the history of the time, place
or person which relates to your family's story or legend. Background historical
may help you prove or disprove the legend. It's unlikely that your great,
great grandfather was a duke, for example, if he lived in the Shoreditch
area of east London in the eighteenth century.
Using major online pay-to-use indexes
This cautionary tale is for those of you who think your research can be done
via the web and relates to using the English/Welsh census and the GRO Indexes.
All the examples have been reported on a number of websites.
The first relates to the site known as Family Relatives where
a search of the marriages over a fourteen-year period up to and including
1983 was conducted. We would expect to find 56 pages (at least one for each
quarter) but only 33 were found. In fact only 23 of these were valid pages
for the search undertaken. The other ten did not include the name sought.
A check on the FindMyPast (was
1837 online) located all 56 pages. Because the researcher had already parted
with their money
they downloaded the 33 pages concerned.
If you look at the free indexes on Ancestry.co.uk you
will find some quarters have two or three references, For example look at
births for Attersley for 1878. There
are three references for the second quarter. If you look at the image for
the first one, it covers two pages. If you look at the page numbers, they
are 14 and 17! It looks like they have been joined together in a ring binder.
The second one gives an Error processing image message and the third shows
pages 18 and 15 in that order except they have made it Ashton to Austen when
it is actually Austen to Ashton! Unfortunately these are not isolated cases.
They are commonly reported. Try looking for a birth for Arthur Ayres in the
third quarter of 1876 and you will not get a result. Look at the image and
you will find they have indexed the hand-written insertion at the bottom
of the page as the last name on the page—Willie Aylott—and so
you will not find anyone after him until the next page.
As for the censuses there are numerous errors being reported every day. Some
site owners have known about these for a long time and fail to advise users
of these problems. If they were based in Australia they could be the subjects
of a legitimate complaint under the Trade Practices Act. If we take the 1891
census at Ancestry as an example there are thousands of wrong gender people
including 15,000 male Marys and over 8000 female Williams. Many of these
entries are misread. They were originally recorded as Mrs but the indexer
read this as Wm and so recorded William. Incidentally it is a good idea to
undertake wildcard searches and other precautions to
deal with misspellings. There are 24,720 entries with the name Geroge over
all censuses, 12,252 Goerge, 9204, Willaim, 7577 Jospeh and so on.
Ancestry also had a strange habit in the 1891 census of giving a married
or widowed daughter living with her father her father's surname. One researcher
looked at 118 daughters who should have had the surname Berry. 94 of these
were married and 24 were widows. 45 of the 94 marrieds had the surname Berry
and the rest had their father's surname. Only eight of 24 of the widows had
the correct surname and the rest had their father's. In all of these cases
where there were children of the daughter showing their correct surname!
As a matter of balance I would point out that Ancestry is not alone with
these problems and I have widely reported on errors in the 1901 census indexed
by TNA previously. For example you will not find John and Charlotte Styler
aged about 52 who both died after 1901 in the Alcester area mainly because
they are indexed as Styles. You will find them in the Ancestry and FindMyPast indexes. (RG13 2944 f163 p3)
If you are going to use such a site infrequently then I suggest you part
with the minimum subscription. I also recommend S&N’s site, The
Genealogist, not because their indexes are prefect but because in my experience,
they respond positively to such issues and refund where necessary. They also
have a range of access fees to cater for all needs. To get the best of both
worlds when I cannot get a result, I always check against another index.
To that end I use the free access to Ancestry widely available in public
and family history libraries.