Posts tagged ‘FindMyPast’
It’s a common experience for genealogists – tracking ancestors forward through the UK censuses – to find that suddenly the whole family seems to vanish from the records. Eventually it might occur to us to wonder, did they migrate somewhere? If so, where did they go?
This is where the collection ‘Passenger lists leaving the UK 1890–1960’ on findmypast.com.au can be so useful. These are the digitised and indexed lists of passengers embarking on long-distance voyages made from all British ports (England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales). If the ship stopped en route at additional ports, such as in Europe, passengers disembarking at those stops are also included. The original documents are held in The National Archives UK in series BT 27 (BT = Board of Trade). Findmypast has indexed together all departures from all British ports, allowing researchers to enter their ancestor’s name of interest and determine the destination.
The most common way of searching for immigrant ancestors is to search the archives of the destination country. But which government archives to check? In the case of passengers to Australia, the individual colonies (and then states) administered immigration separately until 1922, after which immigration control became a function of the Commonwealth Government. (A further complication when looking for immigration records is that, just as today, immigration is typically handled at the first port of call.)
Using findmypast.com.au, there is a better way. Look under ‘Travel & migration’ and select the record set ‘Passenger Lists Leaving the UK 1890-1960’. I was searching for the migration of my grandmother, Olwena KELLETT, who was born in Lancashire in 1901. I entered her name (with first name variants) and searched between 1901 and 1907. It is a free search – not even requiring a subscription to do the search.
I selected ‘name variants’ – which also allows for the fact that some passenger lists only identify people by an initial. I found her in 1905, where she travelled from Britain to South Africa.
The above information is as far as you can go with a free search. It requires a subscription or PayAsYouGo credits to see the transcription of the results or full image of the page. The amount of information available on the passenger lists varies widely over time. Some only have minimal information about the passengers, while others include their dates of birth, occupations, and addresses in Britain before departure as well as their ultimate destinations overseas.
I had already found the record of the family’s arrival in Australia, and had assumed they had travelled on that same ship from London to Sydney. But instead little Olwena travelled with her mother to South Africa first, and then 2 years later the family travelled on to Sydney.
As many of the passenger indexes available in Australia concentrate on ships that came from British ports, ancestors who travelled first to places like South Africa or North America might not be included in the indexes of arrivals in Australia. Looking instead at the departures from Britain might help us understand what happened.
Just as today, not every person travelling was an immigrant. Apart from the seamen, many of our ancestors (such as merchants) travelled for work and people travelled for holidays. Families who had already migrated travelled back to Britain to visit family and friends. In other words, a surprising number of our ancestors appear in passenger lists crossing the oceans. Using the indexes of passengers leaving Britain provides a very useful additional way of tracking their journeys.
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 FindMyPast.co.uk as well as Ancestry.co.uk 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. (Ancestry.com 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?
I was searching today through the “Chelsea Pensioners” records on the website FindMyPast.co.uk These are the records of men pensioned out of the British Army, and the records will cover 1760-1913. (Corresponding to The National Archives documents in WO97).
Those of us familiar with searching Australian WW1 service records have been spoilt by free and easy access to digitised records, not only information about where and when our military ancestors served, but including physical description, next-of-kin, previous occupations, date and place of birth and more. Such digitised Australian records can be found by searching the National Archives of Australia website.
Gradually now more digitised British service records are becoming available for those of us unable to visit the reading rooms in London. Amongst these, the subscription site FindMyPast (UK) has a number of military collections including the Royal Marine Medal Roll 1914-1920, Military Births, Marriages and Deaths – and now these British Army “Chelsea Pensioner Records”. The subscription site Ancestry.co.uk has WW1 service records and pension records. The National Archives (UK) website itself has an online database of Trafalgar Ancestors as well as Campaign Medals issued to WW1 merchant seamen on DocumentsOnline.
Many more military service records are available that are not yet online, but the above are some of the sources I’ve found useful. If we take the trouble to look, such digitised records make it much easier to find information about our military ancestors, even for those of us who live a long way from London.