Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Geoffs Genealogy Update 28 October 2008

I have been busy over the past few weeks, preparing the next edition if the Shropshire Family History Society journal, which is due to thud on to the doormats of our members in early December.

I have a trip to The National Archives (TNA) at Kew planned for the end of October, travelling on a coach trip organised by the Shropshire FHS. These trips are very good value, and enable us to have about six hours at The National Archives, depending on how good a journey we have, of course. I've been visiting TNA for a long time now, and have seen many changes there.

When I first visited the Public Records Office, as TNA was then known, I used to research at Chancery Lane in the centre of London. There was little or no computerisation in those days, and thus the systems there were relatively unsophisticated. At the time some of the records were held at the PRO's premises at Kew, but I found it more convenient to visit Chancery Lane, and most of the records I wanted to see were at that location, so I very rarely went to Kew. I well remember that my first forays into the records of the Court of Chancery - looking in wonder at the documents dating from the 1770s relating to the cause Mitchell v Holloway - took place at Chancery Lane. I also recall looking at microfilm copies of PPC wills and non-conformist records in the Rolls Chapel at Chancery Lane.

My visits to the PRO's newer premises at Kew were rare at that time. The first time I went there, with Helen - my daughter - we only had a few hours there, and really only had time to sample briefly the the computerised document ordering system! What wonders!

Eventually, the inexorable process of modernisation meant that all the records were moved from these wonderful old buildings at Chancery lane to the newly extended modern facilities at Kew. The PRO at Chancery Lane closed its doors for the last time in 1997, and a new facility was provided at the Family Records Centre, Islington, to enable researchers to use a number of key groups of records records - censuses, births marriages & deaths, non conformist records to name but three - in London.

Regrettably, earlier this year, the Family Records Centre closed. The records which it held on microfilm and fiche are available for researchers at Kew, but the big books that contain the civil registration indexes of births, marriages and deaths are no longer available for use. The UK government had a plan to digitise these indexes, and make them available both at Kew and on the internet, but it seems that that scheme has has encountered problems when only about half completed, and there appears to be no solution in sight. Until this problem is resolved, availability of the Civil Registration indexes is somewhat limited:
  • Microfiche at TNA Kew and various other repositories around the country.
  • Free BMD
  • Various commercial websites
Personally, although I subscribe to Ancestry.co.uk, I generally use Free BMD to search the civil registration indexes. The coverage of events up to about 1900 is pretty near 100%, and the search screens are clear and easy to use. The volunteers who have toiled away for years to bring the project to this point are fantastic, I think, and we should all be grateful to them. Ancestry also have the Free BMD index, but in my opinion their presentation of the data is not as clear as FreeBMD.

Anyway, enough of this digression. The point of this entry is really to reminisce about the halcyon days when the records were more easily available (at least to my mind) in central London, and to recall the many wonderful discoveries that I've made at Kew - too numerous to list here, I'm afraid. The most exciting discoveries I have yet made in my research were the bundle of documents relating to Bankes's business affairs.I have included images of a few of these on my website. These documents included tradesmen's bills for work done on Bankes's properties, rental agreements between Bankes and some of his tenants, and a set of handwritten receipts and outgoings accounts, in Bankes's own hand. Family history doesn't get much better than that!

Each time I go to TNA I never know whether I shall come away having found out nothing, or whether I am about to add another previously unknown treasure to my personal archive.

I'll let you know what happens.

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