"Each has his own tree of ancestors, but at the top of all sits Probably Arboreal." - Robert Louis Stevenson

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Another weapon for your arsenal

So, here’s the background: I was trying to help solve a small mystery posted on a LinkedIn group. I spent some time scrolling through the 1851 census on Ancestry at the weekend, but yesterday I started Googling for other options to see if perhaps we were dealing with an Ancestry mistranscription that was correct elsewhere.
I was specifically looking for census transcriptions for the areas they were living in, to see if we could check out their last known addresses and future know addresses – it’s notoriously hard to work by address on Ancestry, as it takes ages to find the right page.
However, what I found was www.ukcensusonline.co.uk, which popped up in the advertisements at the top of Google’s search. I thought I’d try it, since it claimed free access. It doesn’t do what I wanted to, but it is really very helpful.
The great thing about this census website is that you initially just pick a census year and search on a name. What you get is a basic, easy-to-read list including the following: forename, surname, age, occupation, county, estimated year of birth and place of birth. You can then ‘select a record set’, which basically allows you to filter by county. The numbers of the name in each county are given in brackets alongside.
I know it sounds fairly standard, but in fact it’s brilliant as an ‘at-a-glance’ tool.
On Ancestry you have to hover over each search result to get the crucial details, and often you can’t find the occupation without going into the image itself. Here it’s given to you up-front, which it makes it so much easier to locate the right person when we’re dealing with common names. In this respect it definitely trumps Ancestry.
UK census online also ‘wildcards’ the search (unless you ask it not to), as does Ancestry. But because their basic search doesn’t include any other criteria, what you get is a comprehensive list of possibilities with all their basic data there at a glance. And because it isn’t attempting to then organise your results by relevance, you’re not likely to miss anyone out.
I often find myself frustrated by Ancestry’s search, because if you put in multiple details, for example place and date of birth, it may bring up people born around the right time in the wrong place as more likely matches than someone who is born in exactly the right place but their birth date is out by a few years, or vice versa. Using UK census online’s basic search you get a simple list of possibilities, and it’s left to your brain as opposed to the computer to identify the right one.
The option to easily filter by county makes it easier to whittle down your options and perhaps check multiple locations without having to restart your search. It would also be a useful tool for finding out where specific surnames were most common at any given time, for example, so as to give you an idea where to conduct your search if you were completely clueless about location.
Of course, you could just search by name on Ancestry as well, but then the results aren’t so easy to scroll through, so you wouldn’t necessarily make your life any easier. One of the key strengths of this website is the very clear column-style layout of the list you get, which you can just run your eye down.
The limitations of this site are, firstly that you have to subscribe in order to be able to access the record from this search and to be able to conduct a more detailed search. As I haven’t subscribed (as yet ­– I’ll see how useful I find it), I can’t tell you how well the detailed search function works or what the standard of the images is.
Of course, without being able to click into the record, it’s harder to spot possibly mistranscribed people – for example if you had struggled to find someone on ancestry, but here you thought you had spotted them by their occupation but their age was wrong, you wouldn’t easily be able to check the original image. You would have to go and search for them on Ancestry or wherever and hope that they had the same error. And if it’s a transcription error you’re trying to confirm, you can’t be sure that you’re going to find them, because they may not have made the same one. Hopefully you’d have enough info from the record to search by, but what if other errors have been made? I suppose that if this particular situation arose I’d end up subscribing just to get the access I wanted, but it’s not really ideal financially. I’d prefer the credits option, like you used to get on the old 1911 census.
The other issue is identifying family members; again, you need record access to do this – though the same can generally be said of any website you’re not subscribing to, of course. With the original 1911 census, if I knew of household members I was expecting to find, but didn’t want to pay for the record, I would just search for them and see if there were matching possibilities in the same location as my original – easy enough if you’re looking for unusual names, but perhaps tricky otherwise.
I can tell you, however, that finding the answer to the above mystery (sadly a ‘no’, the person we were searching for doesn’t seem to be there) took me about ten minutes of scrolling through the results list, compared to an hour or so of flicking through the possibilities using various different combinations of search criteria on Ancestry – talk about a timesaver!
This site will be my go-to at-a-glance census searcher in future; I urge you to check it out and see if it can help you out too!
L x

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Another Hall marriage found?

As my descendancy progresses, I’ve come back around to my own line, the Halls. Because the name is so common, sorting out the marriages and children of the siblings of my 2 x great-grandmother Mabel Hall is proving tricky.
The first one I found, a long time ago, was Mona Hall’s marriage to Stanley Arthur May, and the births of their two children, the unusually named Monica Urania May and Stanley Errol May. I got lucky with this one, because family friend Brenda, who provided me with most of my starter info for this line, was able to remember Mona’s married name, and knew of her son, whom Brenda believed to be called Errol. Armed with this info, it didn’t take me long to unravel the May mystery – though it wasn’t helped by Mona having decided to sometimes go by the name Edith, her middle name!
After that I stalled slightly, until I found actress Amy Hall on the 1911 census, which informed me that she was married, despite the fact that she was still using her maiden name (probably because this is the name she performed under). With nothing else to go on, I’m still no closer to tracking this one down, but at least I know that there is something to be tracked down, which is a start! I also know from the 1911 census that the final sister, Marion Hall, was unmarried in 1911. There is a possible late marriage for her, but this is still speculative until I order the certificate, so I won’t go into it here.
The last, and only male, sibling, Henry V Hall is something of a mystery. The V is presumed to stand for Victor, as it is this name that he uses on the obituary message that he, Amy and Marion write for their father in the Stage in 1922. The only other leads I have also came from Brenda. When I was initially gathering info on this side of the family, she told me that my great-grandmother Victorine had a cousin, Matt Hall, who, she believed, lived in or around Bristol. However, it’s only today that I’ve made a breakthrough using this information.
First I searched on freebmd for all the births of a Matthew Hall between 1905 and 1925 – the choice of dates was fairly arbitrary but seemed a realistic starting point. Then I opened a separate tab and search for all the marriages of a Henry V Hall between these same dates. Unfortunately this only produced one marriage, of a Henry Voss Hall. So, I started again, just with Henry. Then I began cross-referencing the spouse’s and mother’s name looking for anything that remotely paired up.
There were a couple of names that cropped up across both sets of data, but these were fairly common names and the places and dates didn’t particularly match up with one another. Nor did they strike a chord with what I know about this branch of my family. Many of the Halls seemed to be born around the North East, which wasn’t a particularly strong location for my family, although Matthew Hall senior, Mabel’s father, lived there for a time from his childhood, and presumably some of his siblings would have settled there, particularly those from his father’s second marriage to a local woman, Mary Ann Wimbles.
I hadn’t completely discounted it though, because Henry Victor Hall is in fact staying in the area at the time of the 1901 census – I assumed it was because he was travelling as a performer, but I suppose it’s possible that he could have been more rooted in the area. In fact, it occurs to me as I write this that he might even be staying with a relative of his father’s...  I’d never thought of that before, I must investigate further. You see, this is what I mean about how blogging helps me think more clearly!
Anyhow, without anything particularly strong to go on, I decided that the next thing to do was to check the 1911 census for Matthew Halls with a father named Henry, on the assumption that it must be one of the earlier marriages and births for which the spouse and mother’s surnames aren’t given.
However, I was then struck by another thought – that I should check for marriages of a Victor Hall – after all, if this was how Victor signed himself in 1922, then he might have used this name on his marriage as well. And this was when I struck gold.
I quickly identified that there was a marriage between a Victor H Hall and a Mary J / Josephine Rooney in Stoke on Trent in 1922 (to clarify, there are two separate entries, one for a Mary J Rooney, and one for a Josephine Rooney – both give Hall as the name of their spouse, but a quick check confirms that there is only one Hall on the page), and a birth for a Matthew V Hall to a Rooney mother in West Derby in Q4 1923. It struck me as a strong possibility because
1. The initials make sense – Henry Victor has reversed his name to become Victor Henry (and of course we have an example of him going by the name Victor that same year), while the V following Matthew must surely also be for Victor, after his father?
2. There are both Stoke on Trent and West Derby connections in the family line – Stoke on Trent was where Matt Hall was based for many years, and where I suspect Marion married that same year. And West Derby crops up time and again as the registration district across the Geoghegan line, suggesting strong family connections in the area.
I’ve suggested previously that I believe the Hall children kept in contact with their mother’s family even following the divorce of their parents, based on the fact that Charles Bennett (son of Kathleen Birchall Geoghegan’s closest sister in age, Annie Birchall Geoghegan) was staying with his cousin Marion on the 1911 census.
I was optimistic at this point, but not fully convinced. I decided to search for further possible births from this marriage, and came up with four possibilities, two of which carry further weight in the argument.
The first was the birth of a Kathleen Hall to a Rooney mother in Q4 1922 in West Derby, a year before the birth of Matthew. Kathleen, as I mentioned above, was the name of Henry/Victor’s mother.
The second was the birth of a Josephine Hall in 1926 in Bolton –presumably named for her mother, but perhaps also tipping a hat to her grandfather Joseph Bryan Geoghegan. Bolton is another location with strong family ties.
The two other births that I suspect might belong to this family are Ronald Hall in 1930 and Maureen Hall in 1933, both in the registration district of Leeds North. At first I wasn’t convinced that these were connected, but I compared all the Hall-Rooney marriages and all the children born to Hall-Rooney parents, and there’s really no other marriage to account for these children. so, unless they were born out of wedlock, I have to assume that there’s a move to the Leeds area by the Hall family between 1926 and 1930.
This would have them moving to Yorkshire shortly before Henry/Victor’s niece Victorine moved with her family from Romford to Wakefield, just a few miles from Leeds, between 1933 and 1936. Victorine’s move would eventually bring her mother, Henry/Victor’s sister Mabel, up north as well. Victorine’s son was also named Victor, which I think speaks of the close family ties between the Hall siblings – useful perhaps, in that finding one should always lead me to the others eventually!
All in all, I’m convinced that I have got the right people here. There can be no question that Matthew, Kathleen and Josephine, at least, are the children of the marriage I identified between a Victor H Hall and Mary J/Josephine Rooney. (I would need to order certificates or find some further evidence to be sure that Ronald and Maureen were also their children.)
And the coincidences of children’s names and places are, I think, too striking for this not to be the marriage of Mabel’s brother Henry. What do you think?
L x

Friday, 11 January 2013

It’s spring clean time!

Basically, my job for the spring is to get myself into some kind of order, so that I can work in a slightly more orderly fashion. When it comes to genealogy, orderly is not my strong point! I much prefer the researching to the organising side of things.
My indexing has completely fallen by the wayside in the past year, and I’ve generally decided that it has become rather unwieldy and impractical to do it this way, so I need to find a new method. At the moment I store most things in Ancestry as well as keeping electronic files of documents and some hard copy stuff in a carrier bag at home. Yes, you read that correctly – in a carrier bag!
My plan is to buy some new equipment, including, finally, a new laptop. Also a printer and scanner, and some nice filing stuff for my hard copies. Then set to work compiling it all into a functioning system. 
I am also considering purchasing some software, as I’m not sure how comfortable I am with having all of my tree stuff out there on the internet, though it’s really handy just being able to directly link online documents and stuff in Ancestry into my tree. I fear if I move away from Ancestry I will become far worse at keeping track of my documents and sources. And I’m also not sure how to go about selecting the best software?
Next on the spring clean list is doing an ancestor ‘tidy-up’ to help me establish whether I’ve got everything I need for each person and where to go next with my research on each of them. In particular, I’m increasingly aware of how urgently I need to order documents to confirm various relationships etc. I’m reasonably confident about most of them, but until I have the documents I can’t be sure, and upsets aren’t exactly unknown. So the tidy up should help me write a further to do list of documents to order and things to do that should take me through the rest of the year.
 As part of my ancestor tidy-up I intend to write up a sort of ‘narrative’ for each ancestor. I’ve found that blogging about my genealogical searches has helped me to think more clearly about exactly what I need to know, and stopped me getting distracted by other related lines and so on as I work. So hopefully, writing a piece about each ancestor will help me to clarify where I’ve got to with them and where to go next. I’ll be publishing some of the most interesting ones throughout the spring – otherwise this blog would become an extremely boring account of alphabetical filing and list making!
As I mentioned in my last post, I’m also working to get my Geoghegan descendancy moving and online. This is where my research focus has been recently, and it’s certainly progressing.
I can confirm that Marion Geoghegan married George Hodson, a Master Tailor, and they had four children: Marion Kirby Hodson, Mary Hodson, George Hodson and Elsie Hodson. I’ve been able to confirm that Marion died at the age of thirteen. Mary Hodson appears to have married a Henry Lees. The marriage is recorded under the name May Hodson on lan-opc.org.uk, but we can be fairly sure this is Mary by the father’s occupation – originally identified from finding the family on various census. There would appear to be five likely children of this marriage born between 1913 and 1922, whose names I won’t publish here, as some or all could still be living. However, I will be investigating those lines – If any possible descendants happen to stumble across this and want to get in touch, I would love to hear from you!
I am nervous about the fact that I’m essentially shoving my way downwards into some people’s families, including some online trees, and sometimes doing so quite speculatively. However, I’ve made my tree private and its description makes it clear that should anyone have any questions, concerns and objections about what I’m doing they can contact me and I’ll listen and do what I can to help them.
My plans for the rest of the year will follow on from this spring clean – I’ll keep you posted.
L x

Friday, 4 January 2013

A new trick

Happy new year to you all. I’m currently working up my goals for the year (on which more later), one of which is to progress with my descendancy of Joseph Bryan Geoghegan. It will be in a private member tree on ancestry, so that I don’t intrude on the privacy of my distant cousins who may not wish me to be poking about in their lineage. It also means I can play about with hypotheticals and alternatives without anybody taking it as gospel and assuming that’s the correct lineage when it may not be – it’s all still quite experimental at the moment!
It’s a work in progress, and I can’t help myself, I have to research as I go. As I input each descendant I find myself trying to get all of their vital info in place and fill in any blanks. And in the course of this, I learnt a handy new trick. I thought I’d share it. Though it may seem rather obvious to some of you, I’d never done it before, and perhaps it will come in handy for someone else too...
The action takes place at freebmd.com. Now, this website is not one I use very often, as the info is all licensed to Ancestry anyway. However, sometimes it’s helpful for double-checking – as I’ve mentioned previously, Ancestry isn’t always accurate.
I was looking for marriages of JBG’s daughter Marion, born 1870. There were two clear favourites. The first was a marriage in 1894 to either Patrick Kavanagh or James Henry Doran, which I’ve narrowed down again to most likely Patrick Kavanagh (as I think I’ve accounted for James Henry Doran and the alternative female spouse on the censuses).
However, the second possibility, in 1888, was one of those pesky marriages where the transcription info for the volume and/or page number is incomplete, so Ancestry can’t give you the usual list of others appearing on the original page. I’d just left this until now, but I decided to investigate further using freebmd. They had the exact same transcription error, and so I decided to follow their troubleshooting advice, and search by possible page numbers within the known volume for the date and place you need. (Ancestry won’t let you search by volume or page number.)
Helpfully it tells you what the expected range is, so you don’t have to search indefinitely. For example, my error was an unknown first digit: 8c _02 – but freebmd told me that the expected page range  for the district was, e.g., 327 to 544 – so it could only really be 402 or 502. I searched both sets of page references, but annoying they both had complete pairs on the page, so no spouses left unaccounted for to match up with Marion.
I went back to Marion again, and discovered that freebmd will let you see the original page scan – as, of course, does Ancestry – and so I was able to ascertain that the page number definitely read 502. I can see why the poor transcriber (is that right – surely it should be like scribe – a transcribe?) went wrong, because it did sort of look like a three, but if you knew that the expected page range didn’t include 302 then it was fairly obvious!
I soon realised that the only explanation for the lack of potential spouses appearing was that the one of the spouses on that page had been mistranscribed as well. Note, not necessarily Marion’s husband.
So, what to do now? I could just order the certificate, of course, but a) it would cost me, and b) given that Marion is only 18 at this point, it seems to me that the 1894 marriage is more likely and thus it would be a waste of time and money when I all I really need is to be able to identify the couple on the census and ascertain that this other Marion née Geoghegan is the wrong age (or from the wrong place, or whatever else). And c) where would be the fun in that, when I can surely solve the riddle using my wits, for free?
Frustratingly, BMD won’t allow you to ‘wildcard’ a volume number or page number, otherwise I might have found him in three moves: *02, 5*2, 50*. However – and this is the nifty bit – it will let you search for all the entries in a given volume for a given date and place – i.e. you can leave the page number blank. I tried it the other way around as well, and yes, you can search on page number without volume number – but as the volume numbers are less variable, it’s probably not so useful!
This search brought up a list of all the marriages registered in volume 4c in Bolton in March 1888. It’s long, but not so unwieldy that it takes long to complete the task, which is to run your eye down the column of page numbers, looking out for anything suspicious. It only took me a minute or so to spot him: Thomas Relpf, as the transcription had him, was apparently on page 5_2. Opening the original image I could see that this page number did indeed read 502, and his name was Relph, not Relpf.
So, the complete set of people on page 502 is George Hodson, Margaret Ann Johnson, Marion Geoghegan and Thomas Relph. Now to find out who is married to whom... I’ll let you know!

I was also able to fix all of the other errors in the volume. I include them here:
Robert Hamer (3_4)­­ is the missing spouse from page 384 (William Lee King; Belinda Glover; Alice Ann Harwood).
Mary Ellen Hilton (3[56]0) is the missing spouse from page 350 (Thomas Atkinson, Martha Hannah Blake, Isaac Hill) – page 360 doesn’t exist.
Elizabeth Ratcliffe (3[41]1) is the missing spouse from page 341 (James Ball, Thomas Bogle, Mary Jane Faulkner) – page 311 doesn’t exist.
And finally, as the only two illegible reference numbers that didn’t match anything else, they must match each other: Thomas Holden ([3 ]*A) and Sarah Jane Holt (*) – both have been added to the bottom of their respective index pages in pen; it seems likely that they were indeed the same certificate, presumably somehow missed out during the original indexing.

It’s lost on me why this isn’t done by freebmd as part of a transcription check. It took me all of about 15 minutes to check and resolve these missing spouses from the pages. It’s probably not completely error-proof. The last one might be a bit speculative ­– if you had two such issues on a page you would struggle to iron it out without recourse to the censuses and you could still get it wrong. However, the other three were simple enough, and a little more time spent resolving this kind of thing would make it far less taxing to find a spouse! I suppose as always, time and resources are the difficulties.
L x