Monthly Archives: September 2016

How Big a Family History Addict Are You?

Time for a bit of seasonal fun. 

The scenario is familiar. You start out with a general interest in your forefathers. An idle curiosity, perhaps fuelled by TV shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Find My Past”. A Family History Society membership here and a Family History subscription site there, and before your know it you’re hooked.

So how addicted are you? Here’s a short quiz to establish the level of your obsession.

Source: Pixabay

Question 1 
You’re making preparations for a family holiday. What is your motive?
a) A crafty nudge here; a gentle steer there. Before anyone notices you’ve influenced the destination decision with the clear intention of fitting in some ancestral home, graveyard and family location visits. These to be sprung on your unsuspecting family on visit day, couched in terms of “Ooo I’ve just realised Great Aunt Annie is buried near here” or “The mill my great grandad worked in is just up the road. I wouldn’t mind taking a look”.
b) You go ahead with planning, all family history thoughts erased. This, after all, is a family holiday and is purely about focusing on living loved ones, not dead.
c) No influencing. You tell it to them straight. There will be family history location visits, multiple graveyards, and the odd archive thrown in for good measure.
d) The destination is chosen. It’s one picked in consultation with all the family. Only then do you look to see if there are any nearby family history connections. At which point you ask the family if a brief visit is possible. And if it isn’t, you don’t sulk. You get on with enjoying time away with your nearest and dearest. 

Question 2
How many Family History Society and genealogy-related organisations are you a member of?
a) None. You’re interested, but not that serious as to want to part with money.
b) Several. You attend meetings, regularly contribute to forums and journals, volunteer to help with events and projects, and now even have the odd Committee-level post with one society. In fact your before you know it you’re devoting many hours a month to supporting an organisation.
c) Maybe one or two. Linked to the locations of the ancestors you have the greatest fascination with. But you’re not involved in activities to any great extent, other than perhaps submitting members interests or forum queries.
d) More than two. These cover a broader range of ancestral locations. You take a more active role by attending meetings or actively contributing to forums, publications and projects.

Question 3
Do you visit archives in the course of your research? Do you know your microfiche from your microfilm? Do you keep a stock of pencils at the ready?

a) A couple of times a year. But you’re not really sure what you’re looking for, and you still find it a little bit intimidating.
b) At least once a month, after making preparations and plans for your visit including sussing out in advance the documents you wish to peruse.
c) Weekly. So often that you’re on first name terms with the staff. In fact you wish they were open longer.
d) Never. Why would you need to? Everything you want is online. Pencils were left behind at school art lesson stage.

Question 4
Do you build on your family history knowledge by attending formal learning sessions, either online courses, webinars or classroom based?

Source: Pixabay

a) You’ve signed up to quite a few one-off learning sessions and webinars, but no long-term course commitments.
b) You participate in the occasional webinar or library session, but rely mainly on magazine subscriptions, a few core books and information available on the Internet.
c) No, you’re entirely self-taught and have no desire to undertake formal learning.
d) You’ve become an eternal family history student. You jump from courses to webinars. Your diary is full. You have even signed up to long-running courses, possibly with the intention of obtaining a formal qualification at the end. In fact you may even find you end up teaching courses.

Question 5
Do you have annual subscriptions to websites and magazines? (This is a tricky one as these things don’t come cheap. But it is a big indication of obsession, when you forgo money on other pleasures/essentials to fuel your family history interest).
a) No annual subscriptions. You rely on free library/society access, and free sites such as FreeBMD. You perhaps call on help from others in various forums or websites. And you may occasionally get a short-term subscription.
b) A maximum of five and you stick to this….whether you use them all or not.
c) A couple of key annual subscriptions, and you may rotate these. So one year Ancestry and “Who Do You Think You Are?” magazine; the next a switch to FindMyPast and “Your Family History” magazine.
d) You subscribe to so many of the things you’re thinking about taking a second mortgage! It started off with one, but you kept adding to them and couldn’t bear to drop any. Now it’s a skill in itself keeping up with which subscription needs renewing when.

Question 6
How many hours a week do you spend on Family History?
a) It is the way you spend most of your time. In fact everything else you do must fit around it.
b) A couple of hours a week on average.
c) Around seven to ten hours a week. You’d like to spend longer, but have to fit it around other priorities.
d) You can go for weeks on end without picking up your research.

Question 7
How many family history books do you own?

Never Too Many Books – photo by Jane Roberts

a) New bookshelves please. In fact congratulations are in order. You own your very own well-stocked family history library!
b) Around about 10. Mainly general works, but with the beginnings of a more specialised stock around key interests, be it location, occupation or period.
c) None – you borrow them from the library or consult the reference library holdings.
d) Between 10 – 50. Now specialist books are increasingly outnumbering general works. Books about apprentices, criminal ancestors, the manorial system, wills and deeds compete for shelf-space with your early introduction to family history purchases.
See the bottom of this post for the marks.

Less than 9 You are only just embarking on your family history journey. For now you’re only an occasionally dabbler. It could go either way. Who knows where you’ll be in 12 months from now? With a bit more time and effort, a few tantalising discoveries and you could easily be lured into a lifetime of pleasure. Then again, you may just get bored. You may hit a brick wall and give up. It’s been a brief, but interesting, interlude in your life. And you move onto something else.

9 to 14 You are gradually being sucked into this wonderful, alluring world full of history and mystery. Your ancestors are beginning to take shape. Bit by bit, piece by piece you are forming a picture of them. But it is not too late. You can still turn back. Though to do so will be your loss, and one which will occasionally cause you to feel the prick of wonder: what did become of the great grandparents?

15 to 20 You are well down the slippery slope to whiling away hours attempting to meet the ancestors. You’re being drawn into a world of workhouses, disease, high infant mortality, long gone occupations, religious turmoil and wars. Love, marriage, births and deaths. You’re discovering your roots. All the individuals and experiences which have lead to you. A bygone world inhabited by your flesh and blood. You want to know what happened to these people. But it’s not the be all and end all of your life.

21 to 27 It is too late. You’ve been ensnared. Yes, you do make time for other hobbies and interests. But this is your number one pastime. The thing you return to time after time. Finding out about the lives and times of your ancestors, their neighbours and their communities. Each piece of knowledge drives you on. Each mystery and gap must be solved and plugged. It may take time, but it’s time you’re willing to spend.

28 Congratulations! You are a bona fide family history addict. You live, eat, breathe and sleep family history. It is your oxygen. Your love. Your obsession. It is your reason for living. From getting up in the morning, to bedtime it is never too far away from your mind: Your family history, or that of others. You have been trapped.

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2: a1 b4 c2 d3
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5: a1 b3 c2 d4
6: a4 b2 c3 d1
7: a4 b2 c1 d3

Photograph of Coventry History Centre is by Herry Lawford – Flickr: Herbert History, CC BY 2.0,

My New Toy: Irish Birth, Marriage and Death Images

In my “Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry” post I could scarcely contain my excitement at the release of Irish General Register Office (GRO) birth, marriages and death register images. The site is

I’ve had a few days playing with my new family history toy and getting a feel for the system. These searches have focused on my primary interest area, County Mayo, and in particular the Swinford Registration District. I’ve tried a combination of search methods, including wildcards for those multiple spellings. For example I didn’t realise how many ways you could spell the seemingly simple surnames: But Loft* identifies Loftus, Loftice and Loftis; Cass* included Cassidy, Cassedy and Cassiday.

I found it interesting to note how many of my family were baptised before their registered birth date! I knew my grandpa had two birthdays, but it seems he was not unique amongst his siblings. Staggeringly this applied to seven of out of the eight children of Michael and Mary Callaghan, whose birth register images are accessible. But it also features in my Loftus line.

Glan Church, Kilkelly, County Mayo

It points to the religious importance of quick baptism to ensure eternal salvation at a time of high infant mortality; combined with the lesser imperative to officially register, with rural transport factors and employment pressures coming into play. By law, a birth had to be registered within 42 days. Fudging the birth date was a way to avoid a late registration penalty. Interestingly my grandpa carried on the “tradition” of an incorrect birth certificate date with my mum.

As with any new release on this scale there are some glitches:

  • The site did go down a few times and at others it was painfully slow. Hopefully these accessibility issues will improve as the traffic volume decreases;
  • I do get a tad frustrated at constantly proving “I am not a robot” several times within the same session. There’s a limit to how many street signs, grass vistas, milkshakes and shop fronts I must identify before curbing the urge to scream;
  • Not all images are online yet. Births are there from 1864 to 1915. However marriages are only available from 1882 to 1940. Deaths run from 1891 to 1965. The GRO are updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864, but no indication of how long this will take;
  • For one of my birth searches, the link was to the wrong image. I couldn’t see any way to browse adjoining pages easily. I tried in vain to overcome the issue using the advanced search options, narrowing down dates and Registration Districts. A frustrating half an hour later and I still couldn’t access it. So I know Andrew Callaghan’s 1891 birth registration is there somewhere, but the crucial image still eludes me. I have reported the issue via the feedback form, but as yet haven’t received a response;
  • The Advanced Search facility has issues, alluded to above. Linked to this, I do wish search guidance was clearer; and
  • I’ve heard anecdotal stories of false negative results, where someone who should be there isn’t identified in searches. So far this hasn’t affected me.

But the positives far outweigh these niggles:

  • FREE register images are instantly available with the click of a few keys;
  • The register pages supply the birth, marriage and death certificate details thus saving researchers €4 a certificate;
  • The information provided may lead to wider family. I quickly noticed that a good number of births were not registered by the parents. Far higher than I anticipated. Many entries were by people described as “present at birth”. For example a couple of my Callaghan births were registered in this manner by a Patrick Callaghan. Tantalisingly in these instances no relationship details were supplied. Possibly the baby’s grandfather or potentially an uncle, so extended family clues. However some entries do give the precise relationship details. I’ve seen sisters and grandmothers identified. So you may strike lucky;
  • You can include the mother’s maiden name in the advanced search option for births. And these fetch results earlier than the 1911 norm for England and Wales GRO searches. However I would not go so far as to say I to trust equating negative results to no results; and
  • There are entries for Northern Ireland Registration Districts. I’m not sure if these are limited to pre-1922 and how complete these are. So even if your ancestry is from the North, the records are worth checking.

In summary, despite its flaws this is a brilliant resource. It is a wonderful companion set to the free NLI Catholic parish register release of 2015. And a massive thank you to the Irish authorities for making Irish Soldiers Wills 1914-1918, the Irish 1901 and 1911 census, and other datasets, also available free of charge via the National Archives of Ireland’s genealogy page.

It is worth comparing with the “pay” attitude for similar information in England and Wales. A prime example being the £9.25 extortionate charges for similar civil registration information, with seemingly very little progress made since the 2015 Deregulation Act which was supposed to pave the way to providing this information in an uncertified, lower cost form. Or the £10 charge for a World War 1 soldier’s will in this centenary commemoration period.

5 October 2016 update:

I have now received a response from Irish Genealogy to my query on errors. They will be adding a mechanism for error reporting, but no indication of timescale.

In terms of coverage they confirmed the General Register Office are currently working on updating further records of Marriages dating back to 1845 and Deaths dating back to 1864. These will be included in future updates to the records available on the website.

Fabulous News For Those With Irish Ancestry

A really short blog post, but I can scarcely contain my excitement. I wanted to share my joy as soon as possible. And what fabulous news it is for those with Irish ancestry. 

The Irish Genealogy website has released the Irish General Register Office (GRO) images of births of over 100 years ago, marriages of over 75 years ago and deaths of over 50 years ago.

These aren’t just indexes, they are the actual GRO images. So mother and father details for births; cause of death information; location information; names of fathers for marriages; occupations; dates. In other words exactly what you’d get on a certificate.

And what’s even better – they’re absolutely free. So no more €4 postal applications for photocopies of Irish certificates me. And no more wasted money on speculative applications either.  

I am ecstatic. This was beyond my wildest dreams when I first heard a whisper about the launch a few days ago. 

A quick look and they’re not complete yet, but already I’m filling in some gaps. And, as they’ve been uploaded ahead of the scheduled 8 September 2016 launch date, I’ve not ruled a further tranche. 

So guess which website I’ll be on over the next few days, ploughing through my outstanding list of civil records: