The British Newspaper Archives are now available on Findmypast UK and what a bonus that is! I've been having a lot of fun over the last week or so looking up newspaper stories about my ancestors. They weren't famous or even locally well-known, and definitely not rich. Nor were they criminals - so I didn't expect them to feature much in the papers. But I still found a few mentions, including a story about my 3xggrandfather being attacked on the way home from work. Not in a city or town as you might expect but while walking along a country lane between the village where he had his shoemaker's workshop and the village where he lived a couple of miles away. It was November, so presumably the attack took place after dark. He recognised his attacker - the newspaper article actually states that it was someone he had met (and presumably annoyed!) earlier in the day - and the alleged perpetrator was duly arrested and held in prison pending trial.

The twist to this was that when the trial took place two months later, the prosecution offered no evidence and the case was dismissed. Now why would that be? My ancestor must have been pretty certain who attacked him and gave a definite identification to the police resulting in a swift arrest. So what happened? I can only think that he came to some arrangement with the attacker's family to forget the whole thing  - the villages concerned were small communities where everyone knew everyone else. 

That was the most interesting story I found, although there were others. The only issue I had with searching the archive is that it really only works well if you have an relatively uncommon surname. Also if the surname you are searching for can also be a word meaning something else - occupational surnames like Butcher or Baker for example - the search facility will pick up every occurrence of the word, not just the names, so you end up with thousands of results. Apart from those caveats, this is a great resource for those with UK ancestors.

Family History Research UK

Trying out Wikitree

After my slightly disappointing experience with My Heritage last month, I thought I'd give Wikitree a go. It's supposed to be very collaborative and I spent some time trawling through the questions from other members, and answering a couple of them. Once I'd got a sense of how it all worked, I took a deep breath and uploaded my gedcom file - I had to cut it down a bit as they don't like you to include more than 1000 individuals. So I just included my main lines.

The gedcom loaded up overnight and I got an email next morning to confirm it worked. There were a few glitches - my privacy settings on one or two individuals had gone a bit haywire, and the system doesn't accept dates like Q3 1800 (i.e. the quarter of the year as with the British BMD records), so I had to go through and edit those manually. But these were minor irritations and I was excited to see a lot of potential matches.

Unfortunately those matches were 90% useless - the system didn't seem to pick up on places of birth or even countries, so I got lots of potential matches with the same name who were born in the US and were clearly not the same person as my UK ancestor. I did go through and reject some of them, but there were hundreds and my eyes began to glaze over. Out of 900 individuals I got one actual match. One!!

Was it worth it? Well it was an interesting exercise and maybe in the future as more non-US families are uploaded I'll get a few more matches. I believe this site is introducing a more sophisticated matching technique shortly, so hopefully that will help eliminate the obvious mismatches. And at least this site doesn't charge anything - the idea is that everyone pitches in and helps each other. Be warned however that once you have uploaded your data you can't delete it in future if you change your mind.


The day job has rather taken over lately and genealogy has got somewhat pushed to the side. This is when I find Twitter invaluable - I can keep with what's happening in the genealogy world in just 5 minutes or so a day. Lots of bloggers (most of them?) tweet links to their blogs - I really must start doing that!

In the past week I've read about a couple of cases (not just in the genealogy world) where material from people's websites or blogs has been used by others without permission. I don't mean retweeting links or quoting tweets, but actually pasting other people's words or images into their own material and passing it off as their own. For some reason some people seem to think copyright doesn't apply on the web. I've got news for those people - OH YES IT DOES!

What I'm not sure about is how you find out if someone has done this to you. The Internet is a big place and I suppose that's how you get away with it - the odds of being found out, particularly in fields like technology where there are millions of websites on the same subject, must be pretty small.

But remember - just because Google images led you to an image, it doesn't mean you're free to use it on your own website. The best advice I read was to use only images you create yourself. I use old family photos on my website that I scanned from the original - if anyone thinks they recognise the photo, you're probably a relative, so get in touch!

Hope all the other researchers at Kew yesterday were having more luck than I was. Not that I mind spending time looking at original 18th century documents - isn't that the fun part of being a genealogist? - but I didn't actually manage to find the person I was looking for. To be fair it is one of those 'needle in a haystack' jobs - but I just know he's there somewhere...

Until next time!

I've now discovered that My Heritage free trees are limited to 250 family members. So very drastic pruning indeed needed for my 5000+ members - the complete tree is uploaded but only 250 people are visible. Presumably that means that record matching is also limited to those 250. The solution is of course a paid subscription - but I'm not sure if I want to go down that road, as I already have paid subscriptions to Ancestry, Find My Past and so on...

Anyone else tried this? I'd love to hear your views.

I was interested to see the announcement of a new record matching new feature on My Heritage - the idea is that it compares your tree to the records on Super Search in order to find matches with records such as newspapers, photos and other online records. And it's free! I haven't tried it yet, but I'm going to upload my tree and see what happens. Only trouble is my tree has so many individuals on it I may need to do some 'tree pruning' to make it manageable.

Anyone else tried it?

I'm planning my next visit to The National Archives at Kew next week. I seem to have a somewhat eclectic list of things I need to look at! As the London Family History Centre is currently located there, it means that everything I need including parish record microfilms can be found in one place, which is very useful in some ways but also means that I'm certain to have a busy day, and that I may well come away with some things not accomplished.

Here's what I'm planning to look at (so far - the list may grow by next week):

  • parish records (on microfilm) for various parishes in Kent, Berkshire and North Yorkshire
  • 18th century muster rolls for 4 different army regiments
  • other regimental 18th century records - I'll be seeking some advice there about exactly what is available and whether it will be of use to me for what I need
  • conveyance of land in Yorkshire in the 18th century for charitable purposes

I think that last one will be the most interesting!

I'm a professional genealogist based in the UK, near London. That means that I can easily travel to the National Archives at Kew (TNA) and many of the other archives, record offices and libraries that are in and around London.

Many of the records that we are all familiar with (birth, marriage and death indexes, census returns and so on) are available online and I use those for research too. But sooner or later you come to the end of the line in terms of online records, and that's when a look at the original documents (or at the very least a paper or microfilm copy) is essential.

For example on my last visit to TNA I was looking up records of an Army officer in the eighteenth century. The records I needed were regimental muster rolls, which have never been indexed or copied. The only way you can read them is to open up the dusty archive box, untie the string or tape that by the look of it was last untied about 100 years ago, and carefully unfold parchment sheets about 3 feet (1 metre square), covered in eighteenth century handwriting. And that's just the start - there are hundreds of names on each sheet to be deciphered, and you may need to go through 10 or 20 sheets before you find the person you are looking for - if you find him/her!

Luckily for me (and my client) I found what I was looking for, and some hours later, somewhat dusty but triumphant, I emerged from the building clutching my trusty digital camera containing photos of the document I had found. In this case it was vital that I had an idea of which document might contain the information I needed, and where to look for it - that isn't always straightforward and it's one of the reasons you might consider using a professional researcher in your family history quest. Frequently the information isn't quite where you might expect it to be, and I think one of the most important talents for any genealogist is to be able to think "outside the box" - the archive box of course!

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