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

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

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