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.


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