Thursday, 5 March 2015

Commonwealth War Graves Commission newsletter

The March 2015 newsletter from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission ( is available to view online at The newsletter includes news of CWGC's forthcoming attendance at Who Do You Think You Are Live, and details of further access to more of its archive holdings.


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FindmyPast - free access weekend

From FindmyPast (

FindmyPast Announces Free Weekend 6-9 March 2015

· Findmypast announces they will be giving free access to all their historical records this weekend
· Over 2 billion records available to everyone to search for free
· Local subscribers granted World access, and World subscribers granted 3 extra days to their subscription
· Getting Started video and Finding Women in the Records webinar will be available to view this weekend

London, UK, 4 February 2015 FindmyPast has announced that this weekend, they will be opening up their archives and giving unlimited free access to billions of records and newspaper pages from all over the world. That means that between midday on Friday, March 6th and midday on Monday, March 9th (GMT), absolutely everyone will have access to their comprehensive collections of historical records and innovative research tools, including:

· Over 900 million census records from across the UK, USA and Ireland
· Passenger lists for ships sailing to and from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA
· Birth, marriage and death records dating back to the 18th century, and the largest online collection of UK parish records
· The most comprehensive collection of UK military records anywhere online
· The largest collection of Irish family history records available online
· Historical newspapers from across the world, including more than 10 million British newspaper pages from as long ago as 1710
· An easy to use online family tree builder which allows you to import and export your tree if you’ve built it elsewhere
· Our automatic Hints feature, which automatically searches our records for you and suggests potential matches to the people you add to your family tree

As well as millions of other records that will give everyone the opportunity to explore their family history and bring their past to life.

Webinar and new Getting Started video
To celebrate International Women’s Day, at 3pm GMT on Sunday 8th March, FindmyPast will be hosting a webinar on searching for women in their historical records. As, historically, women’s names changed or were not recorded, finding female ancestors can be tricky. This webinar will help users trace maternal lines and get further with their family tree.

To help everyone make the most of the free weekend, FindmyPast have also created a new Getting Started video which will be available to view from this weekend.

Extended access for existing users
It’s not only new users who will be able to take their family history research further this weekend. Those with current FindmyPast Local subscriptions (with an active Britain, Ireland, US & Canada or Australia & New Zealand subscription) will be able to access FindmyPast’s historical World records during the free access weekend, and those with active World subscriptions will have an additional three days added on to their subscription.

Find out more at FindmyPast’s dedicated Free Weekend page (


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US residents serving with British and Canadian forces in WW1

Ancestry ( has two new military databases that may be of interest:

U.S., Residents Serving in the British Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1919

U.S., Residents Serving in Canadian Expeditionary Forces, 1917-1918

The source is 'Records of the Selective Service System (World War I). The National Archives at College Park, Maryland'. Further details are available via the links.


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More on recent Derry records released on RootsIreland

The Derry Journal has an interview with Brian Mitchell concerning the recent release of Derry census and substitute records to Roots Ireland (, which contains quite a lot of useful background information on the various resources that have been uploaded. To read more visit


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WW2 German Occupation Registration Cards for Jersey now online

If you have connections to Jersey in the Channel Islands, a new collection of 61,000 thousand digitised German Occupation Registration Cards for islanders based there during the Second World War is now available online, along with images of 30,000 folk. This brings to a total of 310,000 documents available online from various records collections, as digitised by Jersey Archives at

For more on the release visit ITV news' coverage at


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A Week to Remember in Fife

Duloch Library will be hosting A Week to Remember from Monday 9th to Sunday 15th March 2015, a programme of history based talks and activities to commemorate the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, which includes various family history based activities.

For further details please visit


For details on my range of genealogy guide books please visit To commission me for genealogical research, please visit my research site at

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

British GENES first podcast - feedback and news on iTunes access

A huge thanks to all of those who have contacted me to say that they enjoyed my first British GENES podcast, and for the constructive comments suggested by a few of you - in particular it looks like the consensus so far is that you're happy with me just talking, and to avoid any gimmicky theme tunes or anything else like that! A question I have had from a few folk is - will it be available via iTunes? The short answer is hopefully, yes. I've spent much of this afternoon learning how to upload podcasts to iTunes from Soundcloud, and have now submitted the first edition, so once I get the confirmation that we are good to go, I'll let you know that it is available there (unless there is a reason that prevents it from appearing!).

In the meantime, if you have still to tune in, the podcast is available at or via the link to the right hand side of this page. I'll also put links to each edition at Soundcloud in the Podcast tab now available at the top of this page.


For details on my range of genealogy guide books please visit To commission me for genealogical research, please visit my research site at

Another frustrating day at the National Records of Scotland

I spent another frustrating day at the National Records of Scotland ( yesterday, trying to carry out research as much despite the facility as well as because of it.

My morning in fact went quite well. I successfully managed to carry out some work in the ScotlandsPeople
Centre (, before relocating to the Historic Search Room upstairs to look at some 18th century estate records. For the first couple of hours all went well - a document I had ordered in advance was there, and although part of a GD collection (Gifts and Deposits), it was one that I was allowed to photograph. The first problem really hit at about 1pm. In another GD collection, I found five references within a rental roll, which was in the form of a book, and I wished to have them copied - although you can't copy with your own camera, they offer a facility to do copies for you (I won't go into the crazy pricing system here, other than to say that in this case it would have actually worked in my favour). The book was very easily opened and did so completely flat, so I wasn't expecting any problems. Except, when I asked to make copies from it, I was told no - there was a minor tear on one page apparently, and so I was told their copier would not take it. I asked if that was the case, could I take photos from the book instead to compensate, and was again told no.

Now I had already transcribed the entries, but this wasn't the issue. The spelling for some place names can be distorted in older documents, and not easily recognisable, not to mention the issues with handwriting. In some cases a place that is not immediately recognisable may suddenly become apparent in the consideration of other documents - hence the need for a copy of the original. In this case, a document that was fit for production, and which under the NRS own rules could be copied, albeit by the NRS itself, could not be copied, because their machine can't handle it - and as I'm not allowed to do so, I can't get a copy. So, if you take the logic of this further, a document that was claimed to be too frail to copy, despite being fit to produce, can only be further considered by ordering it up again, and again, and again. So if it is 'frail' now, what will it be like after the next ten people have handled it? The NRS has a rostrum stand in the search room - why can't it have a cheap digital camera on standby as a back-up for just such circumstances where it retains copyright of any generated digital image? By comparison, here's the self-service scanner facility PRONI offers which can easily deal with such circumstances at just 30p per digital copy...

The only restriction with this machine at PRONI tends to be with large unwieldy documents (such as a large folded map, for example, which can be a monster to tame to get under the camera!).

But this was a minor inconvenience compared to the key frustrating issue. At about 2pm I ordered three documents up, and sat to wait for them. At PRONI and TNA, you can return a document at a time and order a new one in its place, with several orders coming and going all the time, so that if you have many documents there will always be one being fetched for you as you consult another - particularly handy if you have a lot to get through. At NRS, you have to order three at a time, and you can't do anything until they arrive in each batch. It doesn't matter if you return one at a time, no-one will fetch the next batch of three until all three are consulted. The NRS advises that it may be up to half an hour before productions arrive, but usually they arrive in about 10 minutes or so. After half an hour, with no sign of them arriving on this occasion, I went to the main desk and asked if they were on their way? The attendant looked at the computer and then told me that the computer said I still had a document out. I didn't - all had been returned. "We'll have to put the order in manually then" I was told - before having to wait another 10 minutes for it to arrive. After forty minutes waiting, they eventually arrived.

I finished looking at these documents, and then placed another order for three productions. It was now just past 3.30pm, and these were the least important of the records I had previously identified before my visit, so these were more a last minute consultation in the unlikely chance that they might yield something, rather than crucial 'must-see' documents. At 3.45pm there was no sign of them, so I thought I would check via the ordering computers to make sure that the order had gone through this time. Both of the 2 computers allowed for this were being used, so I waited, hoping one would become free. At 3.55pm, with no production and no free seat at the ordering terminals, I once again went up to the desk. At this point I noticed one of the productions I had previously returned was still sitting on the returns desk, so now biting my lip, I again asked if the orders were on their way? What then followed was a comedy of errors. One attendant told me that it was likely they were on their way, but the computer was down, another told me he couldn't check as he was locked out of his computer, the person who could check was away, and so on. After a couple of minutes watching this dithering, completely exasperated, I asked for my ticket back, and picked up my stuff and left, before I said something I shouldn't.

A few days back the NRS announced its core property strategy review, stating that in due course it intends to set up a new purpose built facility, but that is a very long way away (there is more about this in my new podcast at I have on many occasions publicly complained about the increasing problems at NRS being caused by storage issues, with records increasingly being stored off site on the other side of town and unable to be produced on the same day. That was a refrain I heard several times yesterday from staff to folk sitting around me asking if they could obtain a document "Stored off site, 24 hours notice", "Stored off site, 24 hours notice", "Stored off site, 24 hours notice". On one occasion yesterday I nearly jumped when a person sitting near me was told that a document he was told was unavailable earlier in the day, which would have to be ordered for a next day visit, had in fact suddenly arrived in the afternoon - he was luckily able to get access to it by chance, not by design.

But a new building to deal with storage problems is a separate issue to the archaic establishment of the current archive practice and facilities itself. NRS needs to buck itself up, and start to look at what can be done to provide a good service for its users, and not what just suits itself and its own long, tired, rusty and jurassic practices. Last Friday and this Monday the search room was in fact closed because it was "undertaking a significant computer system upgrade". I saw no evidence of this yesterday - the computer used to order documents took from a tedious 30 seconds to a minute at a time to return any data input into it for document productions, and the ordering system itself failed twice, causing me an unnecessary additional wait for productions. When you have to travel eighty miles to get to the facility, time really does mean money.

There is no point in having an archive that will not facilitate access to the very documents that need to be preserved. The most wonderful building, a historic location that is convenient to access, superb cataloguing and expert conservation - all of these don't count for anything if, at the end of it all, you cannot view what you actually go there to see in the first place.

Deeply frustrating...


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Monday, 2 March 2015

Forces War Records transcribes 100,000 records from WW1 military hospital collection

Forces War Records ( has now transcribed over 100,000 records from the "Military Hospitals Admissions and Discharge Registers WW1" collection held at the National Archives in England, catalogued under MH106. From the press release:

What remains of the records... – a sample comprising just 2% of the original, with the rest having been destroyed in space saving exercises – are housed at the National Archives, labelled MH106. Forces War Records is the only organisation to have digitised these incredible hand-written documents, and allows a search by name (the National Archives records are classified by Medical Unit only). If your relative is mentioned in the collection, chances are that this site is the only place you’ll be able to find his name if the survived the war.

Further details via the website.

(With thanks to Nicki Giles)


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Last minute call for Scottish Research Online course!

A quick reminder that my next Scottish Research Online course from Pharos Tutors kicks off on Wednesday March 4th - there are still some places available!

For full details of what the 5 week course, taught entirely online, entails, please visit my previous post at A short video describing the course is also available below (please note that the price is now £49.99, not the previous £45.99).

(The video is also accessible at

Hopefully see a few of you there!


For details on my range of genealogy guide books please visit To commission me for genealogical research, please visit my research site at