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Proformat News
No: 101
July 2014
July Seminars
1: Using SA resources in family history St Peters Library 1:00–4:00pm
13: SE corner of Adelaide Heritage walk WEA Centre Adelaide 2:00–4:00pm
27: Coming to grips with FamilySearch WEA Centre Adelaide 10:00–1:00pm

August Seminars
3: SAGHS Scottish Interest Group 2:00–4:00pm
: WW1 Military ancestors: Mt Barker Library 1:00–4:00pm
17: Family History on the Web WEA Centre Adelaide 10:00–1:00pm
19: Researching military ancestors Noarlunga Library 10:30–12:30pm

See the seminar program for more details and bookings.

English parish registers
Approximately 4M Berkshire, Devon and Dorset parish records have been placed online by FindMyPast. Click here to search the index to see what is available in Devon.

Archive changes in Adelaide
State Records of SA and the National Archives Adelaide Office are relocating due to a huge rent increase in their Leigh Street premises coupled with a loss of 4 full time equivalent staff and budget cuts. The following changes will come into effect as outlined:
1. The Leigh Street Reading Room will close on 18 July. This means there will be no access to National Archives records until 4 August.
2. The Gepps Cross Reading Room will close on 1 August.
3. The new reading room for both organisations will be relocated to the State Library of SA and open for business on 4 August based in the Somerville Reading Room and adjacent area.
4. Fragile and heavy items can only be viewed at Gepps Cross and by appointment from 4 August.
On the plus side hours of operation will be extended to M–F 10:00am to 5:00pm with 1 Saturday a month also.

On the downside readers will no longer be able to attend a reading room attached to the collection as everything will have to be ordered. This is a serious barrier for extended and forensic searching where one record may lead to another. In this case the reader will have to leave and return. This state of affairs has been in place for the NAA since it co-located to Leigh Street and now this problem has been exacerbated.

In this issue:
July Seminars
August Seminars
English parish registers
Archive changes in Adelaide

Feature article
Database searching


Graham Jaunay
Adelaide Proformat

Glandore SA 5037

Tel: +61 8 8371 4465

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The Genealogist - for UK census, BMD indexes and more online simply because it contains quality data checked by experts.

Proformat News acknowledges the support by awe AWE

Database searching
With the growth in data CDs and particularly online databases often associated with digitised records searching databases is becoming even more significant in research. We need to develop and enhance our skills and techniques in searching to improve outcomes.

Before even starting any search it is appropriate to check the coverage of the database! There can never be a result if the database does not hold the record sought! Check the help section of the database to see if there are any known issues or shortcomings. Some examples:

a. There are numerous missing pieces from English censuses.
b. In South Australia and in many other places in the Empire there was initially no compulsion on parents to register a birth.
c. Thousands of suffragettes intentionally avoided the 1911 census.
d. The bulk of the paperwork pertaining to arrivals by sea into South Australia in the nineteenth century has been lost.

Apart from the fact that sections of a collection of records may not have survived, it may be that the particular digitisation / transcription project has not been completed. A very good example of this can be found in the popular online free databases currently being compiled by volunteers for FreeBMD, FreeReg and FreeCen. In all these cases there is a coverage guide which needs to be checked before undertaking a search of these datasets. Some of these projects have been in place for over 15 years and are still well short of completion. Take the FreeReg site for example. The objective is to provide free searches of baptism, marriage, and burial records, which have been extracted from parish registers and non-conformist church records in the UK. This is a mammoth task and currently has only a few million records in the database.

Once you are certain the data held in the collection should cover the place and time frame of interest it is time to access the records. Of course if you are just browsing in the hope of finding a missing person then it may seem that the coverage is not an issue. This is not so. If your broad search fails to produce a result you need to know the limitations of your search because a failure just indicates that the subject sought was not in the material covered! It does not mean the person did not exist!

To access the records the researcher needs to use the associated search engine that in effect appears as a form with fields and here we face the first problem. When presented with a form we are inclined to fill in every field and in this case we need to avoid this procedure because we just have to enter one keystroke that differs from the data held to potentially eliminate that record from the results.

The cardinal rule is less is more! Unfortunately some databases will require all fields to be filled in making the search task just that much harder because effectively you have to try all possible combinations in all fields to get the result sought. If the database search engine allows some fields to be left blank then start by just entering the surname of interest. If this produces too many results then you may have to complete another field. Never select the given name field as the second field. In fact try to avoid placing anything in this field unless forced to do so. There are just too many alternative ways of listing given names including a range of abbreviations. The better choice for a second field is the date field and especially if a date range can be entered. It is usually not too hard to work out an appropriate date range.

The more sophisticated search engines allow advanced searching techniques to be employed and as a matter of course you should address the following:
• Make sure the exact match box is not ticked.
• Avoid phrase searching in preference to search individual words.
• Allow Soundex and/or phonic searching.
• Use wildcard searching techniques if the database accepts this form of data search.
Exact match
Even if you are confident that you know all the details, seeking an exact match should be avoided. You may know all the details but are they in the database? Did the creator of the records use all the details? Take for example the censuses. More often than not only first given names are recorded although sometimes an initial of a second given name may be recorded. Thus a search for a Mary Elizabeth JONES may fail if she was recorded as Mary E or just Mary unless the database search engine has strong search parameters.

Phrase searching
Like exact match this form of searching is reliant on a match on of a sequence of words and the chance of success is obviously lessened.

Soundex or phonetic searching
Soundex is an algorithm developed to determine the relationship of family names through phonics. The system was developed so that you can find a surname even though it may have been recorded under various spellings. The system will also turn up totally unrelated names but despite this impediment is worthwhile using. You can generate the Soundex Codes for the surnames of interest to you at RootsWeb.


The first step is to determine whether the database being accessed allows the use of wildcards.

An asterisk [*] can be used to match any number of characters from no characters to an infinite number of characters, for example, Thorn* will find Thorn, Thorne, Thornton, and so forth. The question mark is a less common wildcard [?] and in fact less useful as it is used to match exactly one character, thus, Thorn? will match Thorne and Thorns but not Thorn or Thornton.

Not all material entered into databases is accurate and so if your search fails in one dataset see if you can find another dataset of the same material created by someone else! The English censuses have been placed online by at least four organisations—FreeCen, Ancestry, FindMyPast and The Genealogist. Some have tested the latter three commercial sites and found they all have errors and omissions.

If these approaches still return too many results gradually add information a bit at a time to eliminate some of them. Start with applying a date range if that option is available.

Does the search engine allow a search without entering the surname? Try searching on the given names only. This can be especially fruitful if the target has a distinctive given name or names. It can often overcome the problem with very common surnames. Some search engines allow searching in a variety of ways. For example The Genealogist allows a search by family groups without a surname, which is useful if the name you're looking for is prone to mistranscription. You can also search to see who was living at say Market Street, Anytown in any of the censuses. There is also a keyword search, so you can find say any Albert, age 21 who was a doctor in Lancashire.

If you cannot find a particular member of a family look for close relatives.

Try searching alternative records. For example a person not in the census may have their address in a directory. Once you know the address you may find them via that avenue in the census. Have you tried the website: Historical Directories online?
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