Genealogy Blog

Society of Genealogists

28 Feb 2013

Last night I ended up sick in my hotel room with fever, chills, nausea, and all that fun stuff. I slept half the day away, and after finally getting out of bed at noon, I decided  that I would venture to the Tate Museum. I have some research to do there on a couple of twentieth century people. I knew that an appointment was necessary, but I hoped I could get in today, or at least tomorrow. The good news was: they were open; the bad news: no appointments today; the really bad news: it takes two to three months to get an appointment. Scratch off the Tate for this visit, and reschedule for next year’s trip. I shall arrange for it in September, just to be certain I can get in. Moral of the story: don’t assume. Clearly, when they said “advance appointment” the emphasis was on advance.



So now I ventured forth to the Society of Genealogists (SOG). SOG is the oldest genealogical society in the U.K., having celebrated its centenary just two years ago. The library occupies a modest building near Barbican. Their holdings include a number of published histories, parish registers, historical journals, and more. The collection includes not only U.K. sources, but resources for America, Australia, Canada, and more.

In addition to the large selection of published works, SOG holds a number of manuscript collections. The website includes some finding aids (in addition to the online catalog) to help you gain access to the materials. For example, the Surname Document Index contains a list of surnames included in many manuscript papers. There is also an index to Pedigree charts in the Society’s collections. In the library itself, there are a number of additional card catalogues/indexes to help you access materials in the collection, such as the Bernau index to miscellaneous chancery, exchequer, and other 17th– and 18th– century resources.

The Society operates a minimal research and copy service, but it is not equipped to do extensive formal research. It can check card indexes and indexed books for names, but cannot do more than that. If you need more extensive research done, you can hire a professional to do the research for you (check the Association of Professional Genealogists website for a list of professional researchers in the U.K.).

A number of the Society’s indexes and other materials are available online. Some are available on the Society’s website (for members only). Others are available through a partnership on the FindMyPast website. Among the latter is the extremely valuable Boyd’s Marriage Index.

One of the biggest activities they have each year is the annual Family History Show. The Society held its first show at the Royal Horticultural Hall in 1993. For the past several years it has been held in conjunction with the Who Do You Think You Are Live! show. I attended for the first time in 2004, and it is interesting to see how it has grown in the intervening decade.

The Society is about to launch a new website with new benefits and features. It was hoped that it would be live for WDYDYAL last week, but some last-minute bugs prevented the launch. I have it on good authority that it shall go live any day now, so keep checking back to see what they have up their sleeve.

Northamptonshire Record Office

27 Feb 2013

Today was an invigorating day. I got up early to take my first train ride in the U.K. I was headed to Northampton to visit the Northamptonshire Record Office and research in the archives there. Only an hour away by Virgin Train, it was similar to taking the train to visit my family at home. The big difference is that the seats are infinitely more comfortable, there are more table seats, and the train moves much faster than at home.

A few weeks back I wrote to the NRO to be certain they had the materials I wanted to look at. I was specifically curious about manuscript collections that have never been microfilmed. With the amount of material available on microfilm through the Family History Library, we can sometimes forget that it only touches the surface. Major FHL holdings include parish registers, Bishop’s transcripts, and probate records. But there is so much more valuable information that you can get only by visiting in person.

I timed my arrival so I was there only five minutes after the 9:00 opening. I was the first customer there. First there was the obligatory paperwork to fill out. The good news is now I have another reader’s ticket, my CARN card. The County Archive Research Network is good for four years. And, I can use it at all of the county offices in the network.

The research center has two reading rooms. The first is the microtext reading area. There are also photocopies of the original parish registers as well as Bishop’s transcripts for parishes in the county. The amazing thing, however, is the massive number of card indexes. I counted three different card catalogs, plus shelf after shelf of individual card boxes. Among the indexes:

  • Probate indexes for Peterborough as well as Northampton and Rutland
  • Place index
  • Person index
  • Map index
  • Estate Index
  • Surveyor’s index

These indexes came in handy later in the day.

I proceeded directly into the inner room, which is the main reading room. They were able to pull a manuscript file for me. It was filled with the notes of a former archivist who had done research on the Franklin family in the 1960s and 1970s. I was first made aware of this collection in a footnote in a published book about Benjamin Franklin from 1979. The author mentioned viewing the collection when he visited the archivist. In the file, I found the original letter form the author proposing a visit, and a carbon copy of the archivist’s response.

I also discovered many pages of abstractions of records dating back to the early 1500s. There were also some theories about the origins of the family. I’m not at all certain at this point that he is correct, but it certainly made me feel good that  I was not the only one questioning the purported story of the family origins. I also noticed that I have a number of items that he missed in his research.

The best part of this manuscript was that he referenced the collections that he had abstracted. While he did not provide a key, one of the observant staff was able to figure out which collection certain of the abstracts were from, allowing me to pull up a number of records that the archivist originally examined.

One of the most fun things I got to work with today was a couple of maps. They were created in 1703, and showed subdivided land in the town of Ecton. The first was a pencil drawing that was clearly what the mapmaker drew first. It is in terrible shape, with numerous holes, and the names of the landowners are illegible.


1703 Ecton Map, black and white.


This was clearly the first take by the mapmaker. The second map was full-color. The watercolors are still brilliant, even after the passage of more than three centuries. Everything is completely legible, and the map is beautiful.


1703 map of Ecton, color.


I worked with many documents today. From original seventeenth-century indentures to twentieth-century abstractions by an archivist. I feel that I have barely scratched the surface of what is available, but now I have a number of references, and will be able to easily request photocopies from home. And next year, I will definitely be incorporating a trip to Northampton into my trip. And Oxford, too, quite likely!


The British Library

26 Feb 2013

Considering that the British Library has items in its collections that span millennia, the BL itself has a relatively short history. It was founded in 1971 when the libraries of the British Museum (including the National Reference Library of Science and Invention, the National Central Library, and the National Lending Library for Science and Technology. Three years later, the British National Bibliography and the Office for Scientific and Technical Information merged with the BL. The India Office Library and Records joined in 1982 and the British Institute of Recorded Sound in 1983.




Although formed in 1971, it wasn’t until 1988 that money was allocated to build a new facility to house the collections, and it took a decade longer for construction. It was the largest public building project in UK of any in the 20th century. The collections spread out over more than 365,000 square feet dispersed through 14 floors (9 above ground and 5 below). 10 million bricks were used in the construction.

There are more than 150 million items in the collection. More than 3 million items are added every year, including copies of everything published in the United Kingdom and Ireland. There is space for more than 1,200 readers to use the collections at a time. More than 16,00 people use the collections online and in-person each day. Yesterday, I was one of those statistics.

After renewing my reader card for another three years, I went to the manuscripts reading room. I had found an entry in the National Register of Archives of a manuscript collection at the BL that might contain sorely-needed information for me. Unfortunately, the customer assistance in the room was sorely lacking. After twenty of minutes of waiting, I was told to use the public computers around the corner. After a half hour of stumbling through the catalog not finding the entry I had obtained from NRA, I went back to the counter. It was another twenty-five minutes before someone helped me, and finally explained how to find the NRA entry in the BL catalog. I spent a half hour searching the detailed catalog entries only to discover that the BL did not really have what I needed.

This contrasts with my experience in the Asia reading room, where I used India Office records last year. The staff was superb and friendly, and I received materials quite quickly. I was even able to find some materials on a subscription database that led me to additional primary records — in a repository in Boston, Massachusetts.

The BL has worked with Bright Solid to create the British Newspaper Archive, digitizing millions of newspaper records from throughout the U.K. and Ireland, and adding more all the time. Many of their 19th-century books are being digitized for download.

Genealogists will appreciate the materials in the Learning section of the Discover area. The Timelines section allows you to browse through items chronologically, from the Middle Ages to today. The History section provides valuable information about Britain. One of my favorite areas is Accents and Dialects of the U.K., which allows you to hear people from various areas in the country.

The best way to access materials in the BL is, unfortunately, an in-person visit. If you cannot go in-person yourself, then consider hiring a professional genealogist to go there for you to obtain materials. Be prepared, however, that it may be a difficult job to get your materials. The rewards from the unique materials, however, can make it quite worth the wait.

5 Tips for a Genealogy Research Trip

23 Feb 2013

Genealogical research trips can be fun and exciting or nerve wracking and excruciating. The key is in preparation and planning. The more prepared you are, the better your chances for a successful trip. As part of my trip to London, will be spending a great deal of time researching after the Who Do You Think You Are Live! show is over.

1. Check the Catalogs

Whenever I go to the Family History Library to research, I check the catalog and make a list of films I would like to examine. A spreadsheet works great for this.

  • Film location
  • Film number
  • Film description
  • Surname
  • Place Name
  • Reason for looking at film (find birth record for specific person/s, with full first, middle, and last names)

I can then sort the list in different ways. Usually I have one list sorted by floor, and print it off. This makes it easy for me to locate the films at the library.


2. Blank Charts and Forms

Even though I use a computer for much of my work, I still use blank charts and forms when I am at a research repository. Blank family group sheets can easily be filled in with information as I find it, showing what information is missing. Pedigree charts quickly fill in with more generations. I often sketch out drop charts of descendancies to help me map out a family visually. It is much easier for me to carry pieces of paper into the stacks to look at books, computers, etc. than trying to carry my notebook computer all over the building.


3. Pack a Bag

I mean this literally. Baggage and weight limits on planes are getting more and more strict. When travelling, I often toss an extra bag into my luggage. When I arrive, I can use it as an extra book bag, to carry papers, books, and other research materials that don’t fit into my primary bag. At the end of the trip, you can use it as a second carry on to hold valuable photocopies, books, and other items you picked up on your trip.


4. Tools

There are a number of items you will need in a repository. Carrying these will help keep you organized and keep you from  running around looking for items.

  • File folders (to organize photocopies and other papers)
  • Multiple sets of rechargeable batteries (for camera, scanner, etc.; multiple sets allow you to use one while another is recharging)
  • Pencils (because pens are barred from many
  • Erasers
  • Paper clips
  • A magnifying glass
  • Post-it Notes (of varying sizes)
  • Binder Clips
  • Small stapler and staples

I have a pencil case that I use to carry a number of these items in one convenient place.


5. Clothing

You would be surprised what a difference your clothing can make in the success of your trip. Dress comfortably, but neatly. One needn’t wear a formal ball gown or black-tie. But even neat jeans and a professional casual shirt make a much better impression on the people who work at repositories than ripped jeans and faded sweatshirts. And dress in layers. One never knows what the temperature will be in a repository. The more layers you have on, the more you can take off to keep yourself appropriately comfortable, no matter how cool or warm the physical environment at the repository.

New! Build and Edit Your Tree on Mocavo

23 Feb 2013

Many of us piece together the puzzle of our family’s history by building and interacting with a digital family tree. We at Mocavo understand the importance of being able to bring your family history to life online, which is why we are proud to announce our new Family Tree Viewer.

The viewer enables you to build a new family tree from scratch, and/or upload a GEDCOM file to your Mocavo profile. Once you have created or uploaded a family tree, you will then have access to an entirely new set of features that will further help you uncover the mystery of your family history.

With the new Family Tree Viewer you can:

  • Build multiple family trees
  • Create profile pages for each ancestor
  • Save discoveries to ancestor profile pages
  • Search for ancestors within your tree
  • Export your tree to a GEDCOM file
  • Set custom alerts for the ancestors in your tree

You can create or upload as many family trees as you would like. You can make your tree public (share your tree with the Mocavo Community to help others discover their family history) or keep it completely private (no one will be able to view, or search for your tree). Take advantage of the ability to bring your family tree to life on Mocavo today at If you have any questions, please contact support at



Which of the following have you participated in (all refer to genealogy programs only)?

23 Feb 2013

We asked and you answered! Last week we asked which kind of genealogical events have you participated in. Don’t forget to check out our bi-monthly newsletter or Facebook page to take the next poll and see how you compare with your fellow genealogists.

Romance of the Past Contest Winners

23 Feb 2013

In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we asked members of the Mocavo Community to participate in our Romances of the Past Contest by sharing their family’s most heart warming love stories that have withstood the test of time. So many of the submissions really tugged at our heart strings and therefore we couldn’t help but share them with the entire Mocavo Community. Check out some of the most romantic submissions in our honorable mentions section and find out which three winning submissions stole our hearts.


Live From London: Mocavo at Who Do You Think You Are Live

22 Feb 2013

We are coming to the close of the first day of the Who Do You Think You Are Live! show at Olympia in London. It has been an interesting and exciting day. The Mocavo stand is in a prime location, just inside the main entrance and next to the stands for FamilySearch and Thousands of people are milling about the hall, checking out the latest products and services and talking with experts of all types.


The floor of the exhibit hall at Olympia for the Who Do You Think You Are Live show in 2013.


As always, there was a mad rush for tickets to the presentations once the doors opened. I participated in the keynote panel discussion on immigration with Else Churchill, Simon Fowler, Roger Kershaw, Maggie Loughran, and Sharon Tomlin. It was a lively discussion, and I was asked questions on subjects such as 17th Century Irish slave immigrants to Virginia and New England, a man who left the U.K. to go prospecting in Alaska at the turn of the twentieth century and never returned, and a gentleman who spent time working with Orville and Wilbur Wright.

The Association of Professional Genealogists once again has a stand in the hall. The stand is being manned by many APG members from the United Kingdom and Ireland. They are quite busy helping people looking for their relatives in America as well as in Europe.

A number of American friends are here for both work and pleasure. Several members of the FamilySearch team from Salt Lake City. Janet Hovorka and Family Chartmasters was there. I got so say hi to Dick Eastman walking through the exhibit hall. And Maureen Taylor, the Photo Detective, is here making presentations and giving consultations.

Some of the most popular stands are those of the book publishers. I already purchased the two titles I wanted to be certain to get while I’m here. The first is Understanding Documents for Genealogy and Local History by Bruce Durie. This book shows you how to find and interpret documents from the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century. The other is Marriage Law for Genealogists: The Definitive Guide by Rebecca Probert. I will provide full reviews of these books at a future time.

The family and local history societies were bustling today with heavy traffic. I shall be stopping by a couple of those stands tomorrow to get some advice on some particular problems I am working on.

The atmosphere here is quite different from an American conference. Everything is literally centered around the exhibit hall. The “classroom” areas are placed around the perimeter of the ground floor and the mezzanine. The distinctive pink carpet and extra-wide aisles make it easy to navigate, even with the large size of the crowd.

This event is the largest opportunity to get advice about British research anywhere in the world. I strongly recommend that anyone with ancestors in the U.K. plan to attend. Even if it takes you a couple of years to save up the money, you will discover it to be worth every penny. Come for the show, and stay as long as you can to do research. You will be surprised how many advances you will make.




Mocavo and FreeBMD Announce Partnership – Search 300 Million English and Welsh BMD Records with Mocavo

22 Feb 2013

Today at the Who Do You Think You Are? Live conference in London, England we are excited to announce our new partnership with the FreeBMD Trust.  The FreeBMD Trust shares Mocavo’s commitment to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free putting everyone’s family history within reach.

Beginning today, Mocavo community members can search nearly 300 million FreeBMD records through the Mocavo search engine. Information from FreeBMD will also be automatically matched to Mocavo members’ family trees.  When one of our community members finds information from FreeBMD, they will be able to review that information in full detail on the FreeBMD Trust’s websites at, and

The FreeBMD Trust oversees the FreeBMD, FreeCEN and FreeREG projects in the UK, which are dedicated to transcribing the UK Civil Registration Index, UK Census Data and UK Parish registers respectively.  These projects are undertaken exclusively by volunteer transcribers who have dedicated countless hours to making this invaluable genealogical resource available and free for all to access.  To date the amazing work of these volunteers has resulted in the transcription of nearly 300 million records.  In 2007, the FreeBMD Trust was awarded the Prince Michael of Kent award by the UK Society of Genealogists for their ongoing contributions to genealogical research. In addition to our partnership with the FreeBMD Trust, Mocavo is also honored to announce that we have joined the Open Genealogy Alliance.  Like the FreeBMD Trust, the OGA is aligned with Mocavo’s mission to bring all of the world’s genealogical information online for free putting everyone’s family history within reach. The FreeBMD Trust, Open Knowledge Foundation and the Open Rights Group are existing members of the Open Genealogy Alliance.  We are joining forces with them to enable everyone to easily discover their heritage.  There are many sources of genealogical information that exist in the public domain but are still beyond the reach of most genealogists because they are in analog format, are only made available through paid subscriptions or are made available by public agencies on antiquated and unnavigable websites. Mocavo is in the process of digitizing valuable records, hosting them for free and organizing them in ways that make it easier than ever for our community to make new discoveries about their pasts on a daily basis.  We look forward to working with the OGA and FreeBMD Trust on this important mission.   Start searching FreeBMD on Mocavo now!

English Wills at the Principal Probate Registry

20 Feb 2013

At one time, probate in England was handles through a vast system of ecclesiastical courts run by the Church of England. In 1858 the Her Majesty’s Government took over managing the administration of estates and wills greatly simplifying the process.

The Principal Probate Registry system implemented a primary registry in London, with district registries around the country. Today the Probate Service is part of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service, and consists of 11 district offices and 18 sub-district registries.


First Avenue House on High Holborn Street in London. The probate registry is on the seventh floor. © 2007 David Hawgood. Licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License.


Starting in 1858, a nationwide index was created. Names appear in alphabetical order by surname, then first name. The index includes:

  • Name of decedent
  • Date of death
  • Date of Probate
  • Last residence
  • Executor/Executrix
  • Value of the estate
  • District where estate was administered has the index online for the period from 1858 through 1966.

While the index includes both wills and administrations, only the wills have been microfilmed. The Family History Library has microfilms of wills available for loan. These are not the original wills, but the official copies that were made of them. Wills from the Principal Registry in London are available for the period fro 1858 to 1925. Wills from the district registries are available from 1858 to 1899.

Estates were probated only if the decedent left “substantial assets.” Those who owned little or nothing probably have no probate. Also, for probate matters, the estate related only to the assets of which the decedent was the sole owner. Thus jointly held assets will not appear in probate.

I visited the London registry today to order some twentieth-century wills and administrations. The process was quite simple. You can order them through a computer system, or by filling out a form. You cannot examine the books. You must purchase a copy of the record. But there is enough information in the index that you should be able to determine whether or not you have the correct individual. ‘

Copies of the records cost £6. A second copy ordered at the same time is only £1. You can order copies in person, or by mail. Mail requests are handled by the district registry at Leeds.  You can find out more information by visiting the website for the Probate Service.