Monday, 1 June 2009

Geoffs Genealogy Update - 31 May 2009

I'm a bit late with my blog entry this time. That's because we have been away for a week - on holiday in the beautiful Scottish Borders. We had a great time - lovely scenery, lots of places to visit, and lovely cooked breakfast each morning. Sadly, though, the week has passed quickly, and now it's back to work. Oh well, it was ever thus!

In the middle of May I paid a visit to The National Archives at Kew, taking advantage of a day coach trip organised by the Shropshire Family History Society. I decided to focus my attentions this time on the 1911 Census. This has been available online for a few months in ever increasing state of completion. As I think I've mentioned before, I had been resisting the temptation to avail myself of the online facility, as I believe it to be very expensive. However, I'm afraid I did succumb early in May and bought myself £25 worth of uses. These lasted me about 90 minutes, buying me nine census entries - the original entries, not the transcriptions - which confirmed my view that the use of this site is rather expensive.

If you use the same 1911 census facility at TNA, you do not have to pay these charges. All you pay is the standard TNA charge for each printout - from memory this is about 20p per sheet - and you can have an A3 printout for that as well! Your use of the 1911 census is limited to one hour at a time, but you can have more than one block of time. I had two separate one hour spells of use.

The system has been planned very well, to make it as user-friendly as possible. I was fortunate that when I took my seat the gent on my right gave me very full step by step instructions on using the system. He was a very experienced user, and was printing rucks of copies as he pursued his one name study. Good for him! If you are not fortunate enough to have such help available from your fellow users rest assured that assistance is never far away - there are a number of members of staff constantly around the area, whose job is to help 1911 census users.

How did I get on?

Very well, actually. As ever, I had a lengthy list of targets with me, and I managed to look for all my priority entries. No, I did not find them all, but at least I started the quest, and I returned home with eighteen relevant printouts on various different lines of research - Smith, Culshaw, Hewitt, Hunt etc. I haven't had a chance yet to sort them all out and catalogue them, but will get around to that soon, I hope.

Apart from the cost, I have two other reservations about the 1911 census online:

The results you see on screen when you carry out a person search do not show birthplace information. This is a serious omission in my view, as birthplace information can be a massive help in trying to ensure that your search has identified the right person, and avoiding wasting money by viewing records that are irrelevant. For instance, if you are searching for John Smith, born London, without the birthplace information you will be faced with a long list of people named John Smith, maybe living in various parts of the country, but you will probably have little idea which is "your" man. As it stands you would need to look at the transcription to check each of these candidates until you find the one you want. At a cost of 10 units per look (over £1), this does not come cheaply, and could easily cost quite a lot of money. The cynic in me makes me wonder why this vital birthplace information has not been made available freely by the 1911 Census people. As it is provided freely by other census websites, I assume it is a deliberate policy.

Searching at Kew enables you to view the transcriptions and records without cost, and thus obtain the birthplace information.

My second reservation about the 1911 Census online concerns source references, which are not handled very well, in my opinion. If, like me, you opt to see the full census entry you will not see the source reference on the document that you see on screen and print. If you save the jpeg file to your computer the file name automatically generated is, in fact, the source reference, but if you are working at TNA you will not get this option. The only other way to get the source ref is by viewing the transcription, and maybe printing it. This is ok at TNA, as you would only pay 20p for the printout, but if you are working at home, by doing this you will eat further into your precious credits, as you have to pay to see the transcriptions.

I am usually a stickler for recording source references, but on this occasion am severely lacking in this regard, I'm afraid. Next time I go to TNA I need to reprise the entries I have obtained, seeking the references.

In addition to the 1911 census, I managed to squeeze in some other research at TNA, continuing from my previous visit.

For many years I have been seeking the final Master's Report in the first Court of Chancery cause relating to the Bankes Trust. This is important to my research because many items of evidence date family events by reference to this report, eg "so & so died before the final report in the first cause" etc. The most recent evidence I have re the date of this report comes from Thomas Hunt's tract Truth Faileth; so that Equity Cannot Enter, which stated that it was dated 1727.

On my previous visit to TNA I had checked the indexes for these sources, and ascertained that there were seven Master's Reports dated 1727 (source ref C38/388) and a further five such reports dated 1730 (source ref C38/403). I had tried to look at these last October, but ran out of time, so I made a point of searching them this time.

In fact, when I searched the files I found that the number of items relevant to the first Chancery case re Bankes's estate were far fewer in number than the indexes had indicated. C38/388 contained only one document, while C38/403 contained three. Most of these items were quite short, but one of the C38/403 items, dated 1730, is fairly lengthy and deals with arguments arising from the order dated 4 August 1727 - indicating that that was the date of the final report in the first cause. Why had I not found it in C38/388, which is supposed to include all 1727 reports? I wondered.

Convinced that I must have missed this document, I re-searched the file but - no - the document was not there. There was only one thing for it, I would have to ask somebody where the missing report may be.

I asked two people before finding a member of staff with the necessary knowledge - Chancery records are quite specialised, and not many people are really knowledgeable on the subject. Ultimately I was told that the documents that were not in the files I had searched had probably been re-used in subsequent Court proceedings, and then filed with the then current records. In other words, I can have no idea where they may turn up!

Maybe I'll come across the missing Masters Reports some day, by accident, but in the meantime, piecing together the pieces of evidence I have, and noting the wise words of Thoimas Hunt, I feel fairly confident that that the date of the final Master's Report of the first cause was 4 August 1727. Now all I have to do is seek out the relevant individuals' records in my files and see what effect that information has on their dates of birth, marriage, or death.

Sorry if this has been a bit tedious to read, but I wanted to pass on to you what I have learned, as it may save you some work sometime. If you have any (polite) comments to add, please feel free to share them with me.

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