Society of Genealogists Christmas, New Year and Stocktaking Closure Dates

The Society will be closed from 4pm on Saturday 24 December and will re-open at 10am on Wednesday 28 December. The Society will also be closed for New Year, stocktaking and closed week from 4pm on Saturday 31 December 2011 until 10am on Tuesday 10 January 2012


If you are planning a visit to the Society of Genealogists please keep an eye on the website 



christmassleigh1May we take this opportunity to wish all SoG Members and Friends a Very Happy Christmas

and good luck with your family history research in the New Year

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The British Newspapers Archives is now available online.

Family and local historians have been eagerly awaiting the launch of the British Library Newspaper Archive since we had a short opportunity to test it a few weeks ago.

Now the site is fully functioning and available to all. The British Library in partnership with Brightsolid (the company behind genealogy websites Findmypast and Scotland’s People) have launched the first phase of a ten year project to digitise 40million pages of newspaper. In the first release some 4 million pages have been made available online at the website

About 200 titles have been made available so far. While the current list of newspapers does go into the 20th century they are primarily for the 18th and 19th century, thus providing a wonderful resource for anyone researching before the census years. The project is concentrating on local papers and in the first release it looks like every county has at least one paper represented so the spread is quite good. In addition the Poor Law Gazette; Poor Man’s Guardian and The Odd Fellow have been included. It strikes me that the coverage is better for the rural counties than urban areas. Hull and Liverpool for example had several papers but each only has one included thus far. There is also some overlap with newspapers previously digitised through JISC academic funding, some of which have also been licenced for the BL’s previous 19th century newspaper online project – but that is to be expected and all the papers digitised with JISC will eventually be in this archive.

Local newspapers are fascinating and throw up such amazing stories. You can search by key words not only through the editorial content but in advertisements and illustrations.

I have found some remarkable information for my ancestors in the Hereford Times and Herefordshire Journal. As poor labouring folk they were often found as victims of petty crimes such as theft. My Great Great Grandmother Mary Churchill gave evidence in 1861 against her neighbour tried at the Petty Session for a brutal assault of their son – something that of course you just wouldn’t know just by looking at the families listed side by side in the 1861 census.

My most interesting find has been the reports of the trial, conviction and transportation at the Hereford Summer Assizes of Mary’s Brother–in-law and My Great Great Uncle John Churchill (born 1819). He was tried in 1846 for the attempted murder of Elizabeth Morris at the Turnpike House in St Weonards in Herefordshire. The story is reported in one of the longest court reports I have ever seen. John Churchill Assault 1846 latestThere was damning forensic evidence as the constable reported measuring and matching John’s boots to footprints found at the screen. John’s brothers James and my Great Great Grandfather William (who the judged called the more “respectable brother”) gave witness on John’s behalf and it is reported that William contributed £5 or £6 to his brothers defence saved out meagre wages of 8 shillings a week. The Defence Counsel tried to prove that there had been a past history of trouble between the Churchills and Mrs Morris claiming this was a false accusation against John as she had once cried “I do hate the set of you. I’ll transport some of you if it lies in my power”. However her evidence and identification was quite clear and accepted by the jury and while John was found not guilty of attempted murder he was convicted of the brutal assault (described frequently in the papers as “cutting and maiming”), which left Elizabeth badly injured and unconscious on the ash heap. John Churchill was transported to Tasmania on the Pestonjee Bomanjee in October 1846, gaining his ticket of leave in 1854/5 and dying there in 1883.

The peripheral information about the witnesses in this case, such as the amount they earned and who lodged with whom, is fascinating and brings a generation of my family history vividly to life, and I would never have known about it if it weren’t for the digitisation of the Herefordshire newspapers. The reports proved some theories I had about the family and answered other questions – notably why I had not found John’s burial or death record. John isn’t directly related to me and his crime was very serious indeed. But I can’t help but be delighted to have discovered it.


The digitised newspapers are full of such stories and will open so many avenues of research for family and local history. Searches are free but you have to pay to view the newspaper pages themselves. The fees start from £6.95 for 2 days access and 500 credits (50 pages views). A month’s subscription costs £29.95 for 30 days and 3000 credits. Annual subscription costs £79.95 with unlimited access. Images can be saved in folders to your account or downloaded as PDFs. You can order an A1 scan of a particular page which may well be useful. Old newsprint is fiendishly small and while a printout onto an A4 domestic printer has come out remarkably clearly I do wish I had a larger printer attached to my computer. I must admit to a small hiccup with trying to download an image of an article that crosses onto 2 pages which still needs to be sorted out but the email support response was very quick and we are working on the problem. The text of the newspapers has been captured by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) which captures a transcription of the article on the left of the screen. There is a facility for the public to correct any of the glitches that OCR throws up and as a good collaborative family historian I have edited the text of the article relating to John Churchill and tidied up a few errors so anyone after me who wants to read the entry will at least have all the names and places correctly transcribed and thus findable.

All in all this is a great new adventure in family history and will  enliven all our stories – good hunting.

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Irish Archive and Library Reforms Worry Genealogists

The IGRS has issued the following press release and I have to say the the Society of Genealogists most definitely shares their worries –

The Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) is concerned that a so-called merger of the National Archives “into” the National Library could diminish these vital heritage services.

Steven Smyrl, IGRS chairman, says that while the IGRS recognises the need for savings across the board in Irish public services, it is concerned that with two bodies under one director, competition for resources could be fierce.

“The proposed area of control is simply too vast, whether or not, as the Government proposes, both institutions are to retain their separate identities. The Government’s plan is further complicated by reference to the possible sharing of services between the National Library and the National Museum which could dilute the services still further.”

Smyrl acknowledges that there are savings to be made through the pooling of public services resources. “Conservation and administration are just two such areas that immediately spring to mind, but while libraries and museums might appear to be similar they are actually very different service providers.

“Staff trained in the care and control of archive materials require quite different skills to those working in a library and economies of scale will not be found by requiring flexibility from staff to work across borders in the proposed new set-up. It is crucial that specialist knowledge and training be recognised as essential in service delivery at national institutions. The historians, academics, researchers and genealogists using them rely heavily upon the staff’s expertise and knowledge.

“The IGRS welcomes the Government’s initiative to see where savings can be made but advises caution if irreparable damage to public service is to be avoided.“



The Irish Genealogical Research Society (IGRS) is a learned Society established in 1936 in the Office of the York Herald, London. The founding members were deeply concerned at the loss of much material of genealogical value; their priority was to collect copies of materials compiled prior to the destruction of the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. The core of the Society’s unique reference library was formed from the personal collection of the Irish genealogist, Father Wallace Clare, the founder of the Society. It has been greatly expanded by subsequent donations from members.

The IGRS aims to promote and encourage the study of Irish genealogy and to collect books and manuscripts of genealogical value.


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Historical Divers Index

I was fascinated to hear of a useful genealogy resource for anyone who has a connection with divers in their family history.


As I live in Whitstable which has a rich history of diving I was especially interesting to receive an email from Gary Wallace-Potter of The Historical Diving Society . He tells me the HDS orignally started compiling the Divers Index, in 1997 as an occupation database of Divers, Divers Tenders, Attendants and Linesmen, and Diving Related Trades.  The Society’s aim  is ‘to promote an interest in, and the preservation of our diving heritage’ and the Index is symbolic of this by making it accessible to the public, in particular family historians, and researchers.

The original source of information for the Index was extracted from Census Returns, C19th Newspapers and other historical documents, and therefore was predominately of C19th people.

However,  with the Internet  new documents are becoming accessible. Through various exhibitions  and events that the Historical Diving Society Society conduct throughout the year they have expanded their source of names into the C20th.  This is an on-going project and the aim is eventually to create the Index into an ‘On-line searchable database’, but presently all enquiries are dealt with manual, via email contact from the Historical Diving Society web-site, postal or direct contact.

To date the Historical Divers Index comprises approximately 4900 names of divers, divers tenders, attendants, linesmen, and diving related trades.

If you have any inquiries about diving history please do pass your details onto the Historical Diving Society  who will be only too happy to help.

clip_image002 The Historical Diving Society – Divers Index

c/o 2 St. Lawrence Way

Bricket Wood

St. Albans, Hertfordshire


Home Tel: 01923 – 400906



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History and Genealogy participants needed for paid usability research study (Tue 22 Nov and Thu 24 Nov)

The SoG has been asked to pass on this call for anyone interested in history and
genealogy to act as participants for a web usability study. The study take
place in central London on Tuesday the 22nd and in central Manchester on
Thursday 24th November. The SoG can’t disclose full details of the research but
we can assure you that it’s bona fide.

The study will be exploring an online service for searching an extensive collection
of records held across a range of archives. People often find taking part in
such usability studies interesting and rewarding. By taking part in this study
you will not only get a chance to explore a developing online search facility,
but will be able to actively help improve the service for researchers like

You don’t need to be an experienced researcher to take part and if you know anyone
else who might be interested please pass the message on.

The session will last for one hour and there will be a cash incentive for taking

If you are interested, please answer a few questions about yourself here:

For more information about the study, please contact Dr Andrea Fallas,

For more information about the organisation carrying out the research, please

Else Churchill

SoG Genealogist

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