Find my Past: Why I like it

An image of an old map and compass illustrating Find My Past

Written by Susan Pearson

Hi, I'm Susan Pearson the person behind Creative Fibro. As well as here at Creative Fibro's Digital World, I can be found at Creative Fibro, Living Creatively with Fibro and Creative Fibro Off Topic.

Published 23 April 2018

Following on from last weeks post when I talked about why I switched to RootsMagic my healthy spare time is still completely absorbed with my Genealogy. Because I splay my research out in every direction, I take things beyond my own family history. I can be just as caught up with finding records for a second cousin of somebody who has married into my family as I am with my blood lines.

If I’m honest, I love solving puzzles and pouring over ancient registers and seeing the reproduced images on these records written over a century ago is one of the reasons I am so passionate about Find My Past. Not to mention why I joined the WikiTree Project.

Immersed in Information

Over the last twenty years, I have spent a fair amount of time pouring over ancient parish registers. I have looked at images saved on Microfiche in records offices and also at home as I am lucky enough to own a Microfiche reader (I don’t have the space to keep it out, so being heavy and bulky I sadly can’t use it very often). I also have in the past received discs of photographed register images for me to transcribe as part of volunteer projects like the Cornwall OPC and Wiltshire OPC schemes.

I am very grateful for all the voluntary projects where people transcribe records to make them available to the public for free. I still make use of websites like FreeReg at times when I have hit a brick wall. However, when it comes to transcribing information we have to deal with one important fact. The transcribers are human, and humans can make mistakes.

During my time spent transcribing for a Cornish Parish, I know I had at least one error reported. Sometimes it can be a transcribers error which you pick up the moment you see the original, and at other times the original is in bad shape and at times barely legible meaning the person trying to read it has to use some best guesses.

Seeing is Believing

Why Find My Past? Not only does having the most extensive collection of British Parish Records online give me the best chance of finding the information I am looking for, but also, I get to explore the original copies of the registers and other documents. There is one advantage a researcher has over a transcriber; they know what they are hoping to find.

Missing from the Census

Let’s use the example of my maiden surname, Penter, which is thankfully rare. I have had the experience of finding every member of the family present in the 1860 and 1880 census but missing in 1870. Yes, it is possible they could have all been abroad and returned, but that is very rare. The more usual behaviour seen in various strands of my history involves the man going abroad first, probably to look for work and either returning or the family emigrating to join him. Naturally, I am not including military men or wartime periods.

Why can’t I find families

So, to get back to the family in question; I felt that they should be found, or at least some of them. Because I have access to the scans of the original records I was able to work my way through the Parish page by page and low and behold I found them with the surname having been transcribed incorrectly, partly due to the way it appears in the original image. Because I have access to marriage registers, I get to see how the couple have signed or marked their name as well which helps to understand their level of literacy.

How Literate were my relatives?

If the couple has both marked the marriage register with a cross, there is a good chance they may have given their name orally but been unable to spell it, leaving it to the person taking the census or writing up a baptism to make an educated guess. There seems to be an apparent correlation between clear writing from an individual and the ease of finding their records in a search engine!

TOP TIP: If you have been struggling to find historical records for someone in your family, check the marriage register (if they married) and see if it is signed or not. If the entry is marked with a cross rather than a signature, it is worth trawling through records rather than relying on search engines to do the work.

Find My Past Gems

As well as having a better chance of finding missing information when you look at the original records you also get the chance to spot all sort of little pearls of local knowledge, I’ve seen a burial record for ”an unknown man washed up on the beach”. That will have been a bit of an event in a small village community. In the 1939 register, you will see that it has been updated by hand after the date with new married surnames.

In the News

Family History is a lot more than the basic vital statistics of a person’s life. Find my Past have an extensive range of historical newspapers digitalised and this can be a great place to find any news stories of your ancestors. Be it good or bad news it all helps to paint a picture of who they are.

What are your go to websites?

Who is your favourite genealogy data provider? Do you use Find My Past? I have quite a few in my arsenal, but I am always eager to check out new ones. Why not drop a comment below? If you have been inspired to give Find My Past a try, I’d love to hear about that too.

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