Archive for 2011

The website Connected Histories British History Sources, 1500-1900 brings together 11 major digital resources related to early modern and nineteenth century Britain with a single federated search that allows sophisticated searching of names, places and dates, as well as the ability to save, connect and share resources within a personal workspace. While some of the sites concerned are pay per view or subscription many are free to the Higher Education Community and  all can be searched free by name etc before viewing full entries or images.

Amongst the resources are the following data sets that are very family to family historians but which can now be searched across a single portal –

connected historiesBritish History Online

British Newspapers 1600-1900

The Church of England Clergy Database

London Lives 1600-1900


The Proceedings of the Old Bailey online

The notes for family historians found on the site are worth reproducing here

Connected Histories – Family history: a research guide

Because the names in all Connected Histories resources have been marked up or tagged, genealogical research using this website is easy and rewarding.

Name-intensive resources

Every resource in Connected Histories includes some relevant information, but the most name intensive resources include the following:

Clergy of the Church of England Database: This database includes information about over 100,000 individual clerics, schoolteachers, and patrons who practiced in England and Wales between 1540 and 1835. The level of detail varies, but in addition to records concerning education and ecclesiastical appointments, some information is provided about births (including birthplace and parents), marriages and deaths. The most complete entries allow one to trace entire careers, as clerics moved from one appointment to another across various dioceses.

London Lives, 1690-1800 and the Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online: Organised explicitly around name searching, London Lives, 1690-1800 provides access to 3.35 million name instances contained in 240,000 pages of manuscript documents about crime, poverty and social policy, as well as fifteen datasets on a wide range of topics. The workspace and set creation functions allow records relating to the same invididual to be connected in sets and the wiki allows for biographies of the best documented individuals to be written. The Proceedings of the Old Bailey Online, whose records from 1674 to 1819 are included in London Lives, 1690-1800, contains over 1.2 million names of people who appeared at London’s central criminal court between 1674 and 1913, as defendants, victims, witnesses, jurors and judges. A family history website which offers subscription access to a wide range of genealogical records from the United Kingdom and Ireland, many of which are not available online anywhere else. Connected Histories includes abstracts of apprenticeship enrolments from 60 City of London Livery Companies from 1442 to 1850, abstracts of settlement examinations from two London parishes between 1742 and 1868, and abstracts of wills from Surrey and south London, 1470-1856.

British History Online: Several of the sources in this extensive collection include large numbers of names, particularly those from the elite classes. The Calendars of State Papers include information about individual appointments, titles, inheritance, and marriages, while the Catalogue of Ancient Deeds and Feet of Fines provide information about relationships within and between families. Wills are listed in the records of the Lincoln Record Society (1272-1532), London Hustings (1258-1688) and London Consistory Court (1492-1547). Woodhead’s Rulers of London, Bevan’s Aldermen of London and the Oxford alumni records, Fasti and Alumni Oxonienses, provide biographies. Tax listings, including the Tudor Subsidy Rolls, London Inhabitants within the Walls 1695 and the Registers of York Freemen, as well as several collections of apprenticeship records from the London Livery companies, provide more extensive listings of names.

Strengths and weaknesses

With the exception of, none of the resources included in Connected Histories is explicitly designed for genealogical research, so while there is rich relevant material available about individual lives, it needs to be selected from other less useful results. Many name instances found in these sources, for example in London Lives, 1690-1800, come with very little contextual evidence, making it difficult to determine whether the document is referring to a known individual. It is also important to note that in many of the resources names have been marked up using natural language processing, which is only around 75 per cent accurate, as explained in About this project. Finally, Connected Histories does not provide a comprehensive collection of genealogical information for any locality, so family historians will need to supplement what they find here with other internet and archival sources.

Search strategies

As with any genealogical research, the more contextual detail you include in your search, by using place names and date ranges, the better. Connected Histories includes a wide range of sources covering more than four centuries of British history, so searches for most names will produce an excessive number of results. The Advanced search page allows you to search by full name, given name or surname.

Given the fact that some names are missed by natural language processing, where precision is required in search results it is advisable to search for names using keyword searching, using a phrase search where both forename and surname are known.

I understand that The National Archives Catalogue will be incorporated into this resource – bring it on I say!

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How To Get The Most From Family Pictures – Special Offer

Subscribers to Family History Monthly magazine can currently enjoy a 10% discount off How To Get The Most From Family Pictures by Jayne Shrimpton, the latest book published by the Society of Genealogists. Simply obtain the offer code from your May 2011 issue of Family History Monthly magazine and place your order in our online shop at This offer ends on 04/05/11 and may not to be used in conjunction with any other offer.

Jayne Shrimpton’s book is essential reading for family historians researching their family pictures. This is the first book to cover inherited artworks – paintings and drawings – and silhouettes, as well as photographs. The book spans the late 18th to mid 20th centuries. Informative, fascinating and thought provoking, it explains the  techniques for accurate picture dating and offers further tips for analysing, understanding and discovering more about historical images. The author is a professional dress historian and picture specialist, with an MA in the History of Art (Dress) and is a former archive assistant at the National Portrait Gallery in London. Now an independent writer, lecturer and consultant, she has over 20 years experience of dating and analysing pictures.

The call for more free and open access to genealogical data is fine in principle (what Family Historian could argue against it?) . But access doesn’t come free and one wonders who, in a time of severe economic constraint, is going to pay to make more records available by investing in infrastructure and investment in digital technology on behalf of what are essentially hobbyists? Hence the ideas put forward by the Open Genealogy Alliance are written off by some as more aspirational than achievable.

Others feel passionately that the “pragmatists” have missed the point. As one SoG member explained to me, “the aims of Open Genealogy are not dissimilar to the Open Source Movement which is “a broad-reaching movement comprised both officially and unofficially of individuals who feel that software should be produced altruistically” [to quote Wikipedia] which is open to all, contributed to and funded by volunteers!.”

The partners behind the Open Genealogy Alliance are the Open Rights Group, the Open Knowledge Foundation and Free BMD. The Society of Genealogists recognized the sterling efforts of the Free BMD by awarding it the Society’s Prince Michael of Kent award for outstanding contributions to genealogy in 2007. The voluntary effort behind this venture (which also includes census and register offshoots) is remarkable. However it does receive support from the commercial sector in free hosting services and webs presence. Is this a cynical manipulation of the community by Ancestry? The commercial sector is going as fast as it can to digitize records and we have seen that this is now an extremely lucrative business. But is this really the re-privatization of genealogical data? That’s a strong word used by the Alliance. If I contrast the digital images of wills provided on TNA’s Documents Online with the SoG’s images of Bank Of England Will abstracts now scanned and available on Findmypast can I hand on heart say I could rely on the Public Sector to provide the quality I want? As a member of the National Council on Advisory Records I hear of TNA’s work (having subsumed the Office of Public Sector Information) in providing models for licencing government data. Open up the data and the community will create innovative ways of using it far beyond the imagination of civil servants. But the Open Government Licence excludes personal data, coats of arms and anything that constitutes identity document like passports or birth certificates. The Open Genealogy Alliance certainly needs to look at the legislative straight jacket that inhibits genealogical information in England and Wales. Does Scotland’s People’s exclusive and expensive contract for use of the Scottish census images help the genealogist?

The commercial sector itself uses voluntary effort to achieve more transcription and indexing. Thousands of people contribute by transcribing records made available openly online by Familysearch or Ancestry’s World Record. The Society of Genealogists uses volunteer effort from its members who index and transcribe and indeed donate data that we can make available for income – via our member’s area so we can continue to support the activities of the Society and its Library. Are we exploiting that voluntary effort? Note the commercial sectors interest in genealogy is largely in the English Speaking World. Look at European genealogy which by comparison has very little commercial investment in it records and see how far behind it is. Can one really argue that it is only the commercial sector that restricts access to genealogical data by creating an expensive payment barrier? If the tax payer isn’t going to foot the bill then we may have no choice but to consider voluntary effort and the Big Society? Exclusive licence agreements for making records available certainly play into the hands of the big companies. TNA and other record offices make millions from these licences and commercial agreements, but they need money too. The SoG works in exactly the same way but we don’t make millions so we are also trying the voluntary approach too. I’ll let you know how we get on.

Visit the open genealogy alliance website to find out more about its ideas

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Society of Genealogists update to SoG Data Online

Tim Lawrence , Head of Library Services at the Society of Genealogists has just informed me that he has finished uploading the following family history datasets to SoG Data Online. These can be searched  by members through the Society’s website  following the links to MySoG. Non members can of course make a free search to see if the family surnames they are interested in are represented within any of the datasets.

Datasets now on  SoG Data Online:

Boyd’s Marriage Index (Main series and 1st Miscellaneous Series)

Boyd’s London burials

PCC wills 1750-1800

Vicar General marriage licence allegations index

Faculty Office marriage licence allegations index

St Leonard’s Shoreditch burials 1805-1858

St Andrew Holborn marriages 1754-1812

The following datasets which contain a a large number of  image files will be added to the Society Of Genealogists website more gradually. The completion date for this is May 2011, However, all can now be searched on :

Apprentices of Great Britain

Boyd’s Family Units

Boyd’s London Inhabitants

Teachers Registration Council

Trinity House Calendars

Bank of England Wills

The addition of Boyd’s marriage index, by far the largest dataset, has slowed the search engine down slightly but Tim and his team are investigating this and will, hopeful ly, sort the problem out soon.

Tim also tells me he will be publishing more detailed information about each individual data set shortly so do keep an eye on the blog for this news.

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Countdown to Society of Genealogists Centenary Conference

There are still a few places left for the Society’s One Day Conference – an essential day out for dedicated family historians

Breaking the Barriers – Innovative Genealogy in the 20th and 21st Century will take place on Saturday 7th May at the The Royal Overseas League, Over-Seas House, Park Place, 5 St James’s Terrace, London SW1A 1LP

Tickets are available from the Society’s online shop

A full list of Speakers and details of programme for the day can be found on the Society of Genealogists conference blog

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