Check multiple names and also multiple indexes

15 July, 2011 at 5:36 pm 6 comments

I’ve written before about indexes whose titles suggest they are accessing the same records but in fact yield different results (see ‘Multiple indexes are not all the same‘).

However, competition between subscription websites as well as freely available material means that sometimes we now have the luxury of choosing between more than one index to the same information. Especially when those indexes are separately created and not just duplicated, we have an increased chance of actually finding the record we are looking for.

I transcribed some of the 1901 London census and I am well aware how difficult it can be to read the writing. Sometimes I am almost surprised at the amount the indexers seem to have correct! Plus I hope that when researchers find an indexing error they will take the trouble to notify the webmaster (or database or index owner), so a correction can be made, and the general accuracy of the indexes will increase.

I had a reminder this week of the usefulness of multiple indexes. Dr Landsborough took a local census of the inhabitants of Stevenston in Ayrshire (Scotland) in 1819. (A version of this index can be seen on the ThreeTowners website).

We all know that Bill could be William. In Scotland Jessie was interchangeable with Jean, Jane or Janet. Morag becomes Sarah, and Donald could be Daniel.

A Scottish ancestor of mine was Grizel McKENZIE. Over the years I’ve looked for spelling variations of Grizel, but until this week I hadn’t tried looking for the English version of the name ‘Grizel’ – which is ‘Grace’. So the Grizel McKENZIE I was looking for seems to be the Grace McKENZIE who married Andrew SILLARS in Stevenston (Ayrshire) in 1833.

SILLARS is a name that seems to beg mis-spelling – SILLERS and SILAS are common, so when searching an online index I was trying SIL*S. The wildcard * (asterisk) can substitute for none, 1 or more characters. That picked up a number of spelling variations but not all.

That’s when multiple indexes came in handy. For English censuses I might check both as well as but for Scottish censuses I was looking at Ancestry as well as ScotlandsPeople. (You can do a fair bit of searching on ScotlandsPeople before you have to pay). Ancestry only has transcriptions of the Scottish censuses, rather than the full images of the records on ScotlandsPeople, but I have a subscription for Ancestry and so did not have to pay more to search. ( is also generally freely available at libraries.) 

In the 1841 census on Ancestry I found my couple as ‘Andrew and Gaiyle SILLARS’ – I thought that Gaiyle might be a mis-reading of Grizle. But although knowing they were likely there somewhere, I could not find the same couple on ScotlandsPeople – I tried putting a wildcard on the *front* of the name and even that did not find them. In the end I abandoned looking for the surname at all. Fortunately their first names were uncommon so I tried looking for them by first name only, coupled with age and place – and finally I found them – as Andrew and Grizle LILLAY!

So ‘Andrew and Gaiyle SILLARS’ in one index were ‘Andrew and Grizle LILLAY’ in another. Here’s a copy of the image – what do you think?

Andrew and Grizle SILLARS

Andrew and Grizel (Grizle / Grace) SILLARS


Entry filed under: Census, Research techniques, Scottish research. Tags: , , , , .

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6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lorraine Doig  |  15 July, 2011 at 10:35 pm

    Having looked at the entry, I would suggest that the “L” in Lallay might possibly be an “S”? Can you compare it to other samples of the census taker’s “s’es”? Also to comfirm the family, do you have information on the children to compare names and dates with the “Lillay” family, or failing that, can you find birth registrations where the children’s surname might in fact be recorded as Sillars? I love your posts.
    Regards, Lorraine

    • 2. Kerry Farmer  |  16 July, 2011 at 8:03 am

      Yes the children’s names all match. I’m confident it is the correct family, and not at all surprised that the indexers found it difficult to read. I thought it interesting that the two different indexes each read some parts “correctly” and misread other parts.

  • 3. Kay Sturgeon  |  15 July, 2011 at 10:49 pm

    It is totally understandable the indexer mistook Sillars with what I call a floating tail of the “S” for Lillays even though its capital L should have had the floating tail of the “L”.

    Read with interest, as always, making a mental note to play more on Scotlands People.

    Kay Sturgeon

    • 4. Kerry Farmer  |  16 July, 2011 at 8:07 am

      You can achieve quite a lot of searching without paying, by selectively searching & finding the results and then making slight changes until you eliminate matches.

  • 5. Kerry Farmer  |  16 July, 2011 at 9:45 am

    I’ve just checked how the census appears in FreeCEN (, a free transcription of the census, done by volunteers – and that has it all transcribed “correctly” (or according to the names as I know them) – Andrew and Grizle SILLARS.

  • 6. · Ruth’s Recommendations  |  20 July, 2011 at 4:20 am

    […] Farmer of the Family History Research blog posted “Check multiple names and also multiple indexes” which shows us the differences found in the indexes of subscription websites and the importance […]


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