Where have all the registers gone?

Let’s make something clear right from the start. I am a huge fan of digitisation and online access in genealogy. Both as an enthusiastic hobbyist and as a professional genealogist with 37 years’ experience, I have reason, on a daily basis, to be grateful for the vast range of key family history resources available nowadays on websites such as Ancestry and Findmypast. I quite simply wouldn’t be able to do my job without the 24 hours-a-day, 7 days-a-week access that I have to some of the most important sources for genealogical research, not just in the UK, but all around the world. The range of resources and the ease of access to them are simply astonishing.

In my previous life as an employee of The National Archives, I was actively involved in the projects to digitise the 1901 and 1911 censuses of England and Wales, so I have first-hand experience of dealing with the issues that can crop up; in particular, the physical practicalities of digitising the original material and the challenges involved in transcribing the data. I know that none of it is easy and I appreciate the amount of work that goes into making it all happen. A fully transcribed dataset attached to a collection of digital images doesn’t just appear by magic…

And I also appreciate the incentive for our archives to enter into agreements with the commercial companies to digitise their records. It’s a way of providing unrestricted access to their key holdings without having to accommodate hundreds of onsite visitors, while at the same time removing the risk of damage or wear and tear to the documents. It’s also (I suspect) a decent source of much-needed revenue.

So, it’s a win for the researcher, it’s a win for the archives and, as they’re continually increasing the range of material that they make available, it must also, presumably, be a win for the commercial websites. Sounds like everyone’s a winner, doesn’t it?

But there’s a problem. Somewhere down the line, we lost sight of an important factor in all this. The commercial companies, however much they may support the genealogical community, however much they take part in educational activities and promote good research techniques, are, at the end of the day, only in to make money. Which in itself, isn’t a problem – except when it comes to the concept of quality control. In certain corners of the commercial world, there’s a principal known as ‘Pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap’, a concept that was exemplified by the former High Street giants, Woolworths. And I fear that our own genealogical giants have a tendency to follow this mantra at times.

The fallout of this is that the datasets are all-too-often less complete than they should be. Let me give you some examples of this.

As a Hertfordshire-based researcher, I was delighted when a partnership between Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies (HALS) and Findmypast (FMP) to digitise the HALS collection of Hertfordshire parish registers was announced. The dataset was launched in 2012 and, as a long term subscriber to FMP I’ve made a lot of use of it over the years.

Of course the HALS collection itself has a number of gaps in it. No county-wide collection is ever going to be complete once we take into account the ravages of time, shifting county boundaries and the (usually mistaken) belief of certain churches that they are best placed to look after their own historical registers. There may also occasionally be issues regarding rights – the fact that an archive is the custodian of a certain document doesn’t necessarily mean that they have the right to digitise it and sell it on to a third party.

Now, there’s nothing on the Findmpast or HALS websites which makes any claim regarding the completeness of the Hertfordshire parish register collection and FMP have a very useful parish list[1] which, in three alphabetical sections, gives the years covered, parish-by-parish, for baptisms, banns & marriages and burials respectively. By necessity, these lists simply show ‘From’ and ‘To’ dates (years) – to list every gap in the holdings would be well beyond the scope of a list like this but the (unspoken) implication is that the dataset comprises the complete relevant holdings of the archive – i.e. HALS. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

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Hertfordshire parish lists, showing coverage of marriage registers for Bushey parish. Findmypast

Take the parish of St James, Bushey for example. The list tells us that the collection includes marriages for Bushey from 1685 to 1915. But when you start looking more closely, it becomes apparent that the database doesn’t include any marriages at all for Bushey between July 1837 and June 1866. A whole register is missing from the online collection.

The archives’ online catalogue[2] clearly lists the register (HALS reference DP/26/1/6) but it’s not on FMP. And it gets worse, because the banns register for Bushey for the years 1844 to 1871 (HALS reference DP/26/1/8) is also missing.

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Entry in the HALS catalogue showing the register of marriages for St James, Bushey covering the years 1837 to 1866. Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies

The missing marriage register includes 500 marriages. That’s 500 records (1,000 names) which should be in the Hertfordshire marriages collection on Findmypast but aren’t. And as a researcher and a FMP subscriber, it would be perfectly reasonable to conclude that your failure to find the record of the marriage of James Jordan and Mary Harris, who you believe to have married sometime in the late 1840s, means that the couple didn’t get married in Bushey (or, indeed, elsewhere in Hertfordshire). After all, we’re led to believe that the collection is ‘complete’ – the FMP website has told you that it includes marriages at Bushey from 1685 to 1915 and if you checked the HALS catalogue you’d get confirmation that the relevant register is part of their holdings.

But you’d be wrong. James and Mary were married at St James, Bushey – on 10 July 1849. The entry is in the parish register but the register isn’t in the database.

I have found several other examples of this and I reported this particular missing register in May 2019.

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Ancestry’s London, England, Church of England parish registers collection[3] is one of the largest on the website. It’s another database that I use practically every day, and one which undoubtedly changed (for the better!) the way that we’re able to search for and locate our London ancestors. The records in the collection were uploaded in association with the London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) between 2009 and 2010. Again, with the same caveats mentioned above, the assumption must be that the collection is complete as far as the LMA’s holdings are concerned, but again, this, sadly, is not the case. Over the years I have come across several gaps in the collection but I’ll mention just one here.

The East End parish of St Matthew, Bethnal Green was one of London’s most populous and, in the early 1820s, it saw roughly 500 burials a year. But if you search for a burial that took place in the parish between April 1823 and August 1836, you won’t find any. In this case, no fewer than four registers are missing, including the records of at least 10,000 burials and possibly as many as 12,000. That’s 10,000 burials of people who died over a 13 year period in the East End of London which simply are not included in the London, England, Deaths and Burials, 1813-2003 collection. And these are records that should all be accessible on the Ancestry website. The LMA catalogue even tells us that they are. But they’re not.

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Entry in the LMA catalogue showing the register of burials for St Matthew, Bethnal Green covering the years 1823 to 1828. London Metropolitan Archives

How many times over the past 10 years have subscribers searched for the burial of an ancestor who was buried at Bethnal Green sometime between 1823 and 1836 and assumed (when they didn’t find the record) that he or she must have died somewhere else. Or worse than that, assumed that the record of a burial of someone with the same name in a different parish relates to the person that they’re looking for?

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A list of the post-1812 St Matthew, Bethnal Green burial registers extracted from the London Metropolitan Archives’ catalogue together with the ‘descriptions’ of the same registers (the ‘Year Ranges’) from the Ancestry London, England, Burials database.

This particular lacuna (I’ve always wanted to use that word!) was reported to Ancestry in April this year. And last week, I found out that a baptismal register for the parish of St James, Piccadilly covering the years 1761 to 1785 is missing from Ancestry’s brand new Westminster parish registers collection. It makes me wonder how many more are missing.

Again, the problem is that researchers (i.e. subscribers) will rightly assume that by searching the relevant database, they have covered these registers and assume that the record they’re looking for doesn’t exist, while there’s a good possibility that it actually does.

The questions we need to ask here are why is this happening and why are the problems not being fixed? The cynic in me says that there’s no financial imperative for the commercial websites to do anything about it. They make their money through new subscriptions and the best way to get new subscriptions is to release new material; new datasets with previously unavailable records. Fixing problems in existing databases doesn’t generate income – it takes time and time equals money.

But these problems need to be fixed. Online access via digital images is the archives’ preferred means of access to these key records and if the collections are incomplete, we, the customers, are effectively being denied access to certain documents.

There are plenty of other issues here. The descriptions of the documents on the commercial websites often make it difficult to identify and understand what we’re actually looking at and the archival references are frequently wrong or entirely missing. I fail to understand why these websites would spend time coming up with their own descriptions when all the necessary information is freely available in the archives’ catalogue. Why reinvent the wheel? Particularly when the wheel that you’ve come up with simply isn’t fit for purpose…

Perhaps, the genealogical community needs to exert some pressure – in an organised way. Just reporting the individual issues is clearly getting us nowhere. I received another reply from Ancestry today, thanking me for bringing my latest ‘complaint’ to their attention.

We’ll forward this information on to the relevant teams for you. Thanks so much for sharing this so we could organise this for you!

I worked in customer service for long enough to recognise a brush-off when I see one – even if it is masquerading as something more helpful.

So, how about it? Who’s up for a campaign?

© David Annal, Lifelines Research, 6 September 2020

[1] https://www.findmypast.co.uk/articles/world-records/full-list-of-united-kingdom-records/life-events-bmds/hertfordshire-parish-lists accessed 6 September 2020
[2] https://archives.hertfordshire.gov.uk/collections/getrecord/GB46_CDP26_1_1_3_2 accessed 6 September 2020
[3] https://www.ancestry.co.uk/search/collections/1559/ accessed 6 September 2020

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59 Responses to Where have all the registers gone?

  1. Rita Cobb says:

    My grandparents are buried in St Helens churchyard. We know within a few feet as we used to go there with my Aunt Bess when we were children. No headstone but a grave vase with Mum and Dad on it. Grandad Herbert Cobb was buried there in July 1926 and Grandma Annie Cobb in March 1939. There was even a mention in the local paper as she was a member of the Women’s Institute. There is no record at all of either of them at the church…Other names. Not theirs. We are hoping some day to see at Herts Archives……

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  2. Pingback: So, what next? | Lifelines Research

  3. This might explain why I’ve been unable to find the burial place of my husband’s maternal great – grandmother …she died aged 35 in Marylebone Infirmary 16 October 1896… found the parish register showing the death, but have no idea where she is interred. So frustrating! This kind of comforting to know, but still frustrating! Thank you 🙂

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  4. Carol Dyer says:

    I’m rather appalled by all this problem I have been searching for details of my forebear in London but cannot go back further than his marriage by licence in 1798 in St Saviour’s (Southwark). He or family are not on the 1841 Census; he died in 1845 and is buried in Nunhead cemetery. Those are the facts I have but now I am wondering if the blanks are because records are missing. My research is limited to the internet or email because I live in NZ. Maybe I won’t ever find him.

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    • Jane Lucas says:

      Carol.. familiarity with the parish registers will help you decide if what is online is complete. Sometimes it is relatively easy, especially in rural areas where there is only one Parish Church serving a wide area. Registers from the earliest years may be online and family history societies have transcribed them. They usually tell you what state the registers are in, where there are gaps in the registers, and if any whole volumes have been destroyed. If you can’t find that information easily online, you need to identify the Archive which holds the Church Records for the Parish or Parishes you are researching. Email them and ask. They will tell you what they hold and what has been digitised and published and by whom, eg, FMP, Ancestry etc. Sometimes it is easier said than done. The commercial companies are less clear about what their catalog holds, and it doesn’t seem to match what the Archive tell you. As someone else has said, the referencing may bear no resemblance to the Archive reference, or they simply have not yet digitised/published some of the Registers, but fail to make that clear. FMP are rather guilty of this.
      Having followed my own advice, I am still struggling to work out what has actually been published in the case of some Parishes in Wales. It is also more difficult in urban areas where there are frequently a large number of Parishes serving the population of a relatively small area. You need to try and work out if you have been able to examine everything that has survived in paper form whether digitised, published or otherwise. Good luck.

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  5. John Hawkins says:

    I came across a similar problem with Ancestry recently. For one set of census records for Kingston upon Thames, only alternative pages had been photographed and transcribed. It took me some time to work out what had happened, but when I did and pointed this out to Ancestry, they were completely uninterested and made no commitment to resolve the issue. When I last checked they still hadn’t done so. Fortunately, all the pages were present on FMP.

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    • And the census transcriptions on FMP are usually more accurate. Ancestry have a habit of using transcribers who know nothing about the common surnames, or town and village names, in the location they are transcribing, so produce some ridiculous errors, similar to OCR software.

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  6. Terri says:

    U r right it’s not gud but my main concern is that as it is stated the files are there and we all assume that they are , then one day in the future some well meaning person may decide we need space. Thus disposing of the originals as they ‘are’ digitised because the record says so. Therefore losing valuable records that are supposedly somewhere they are actually not

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  7. absimj says:

    Missing items from digitised records is a major problem.
    Publishers who sell databases claiming that they are complete, when they are not and the missing items are not identified, may be in breach of the Trades Descriptions Act and should probably be reported to local Trading Standards Officers for possible prosecution and penalties to be imposed.
    In addition to the incomplete files mentioned in comments on this blog, many issues are missing the file of the London Gazette on FindmyPast. I don’t know where FmP got its data, but it may be the ‘official’ Gazette Archive (which is available free of charge). There are numerous issues missing from the Archive, even though attempts have been made to fill gaps in their collection of issues of the London Gazette by incorporating issues from the co-terminous Edinburgh and Belfast editions. There is a web page listing the outstanding gaps. It is not widely publicised but can be viewed at – https://www.thegazette.co.uk/all-notices/content/100344.
    For the moment, some of the gaps are covered by the bound volumes held by various libraries that have been digitised by Google books. Some of the data, e.g. lists of soldiers’ promotions, was widely reprinted in the contemporary newspapers and magazines.
    I have raised the problems caused by the missing issues with both the Gazette and FmP, pointing out that the Gazette is the government’s document of record. All 6 copyright libraries (BL, NLS, NLW, Bodleian, Cambridge University and TCD) have collections of the Gazette and would probably be willing to assist in compiling a complete file. Both the Gazette and FmP have said they will pursue this, but I’m not holding my breath!
    The are several parish registers completely or partially missing from Family Search, even though they were microfilmed by the Mormons. One omission I’ve encountered is the parish records of Barnes in Surrey. They were not in the original digitisation of the Mormon’s records, and have not yet appeared in the new version of Family Search. I thought that they had been completely lost until I discovered the originals and microfilms in the Surrey History Centre.
    Missing items is a problem that is endemic in the electronic publishing industry.
    Many major publishers of scholarly journals claim that they have published a complete file when they mean all the issues except those that they forgot to add to their own collection. They need to be pushed hard to seek permission to copy the missing issues that have been retained by libraries. Other publishers have digitised only the scholarly papers in the issues of their journals, omitting all the pages of notes and news items that are often invaluable to researchers.
    Many older books that are now out of copyright are being digitised by Google and other projects that make them available through the Internet Archive, Hathitrust, etc. These have not always been scanned carefully and pages can be missing. Fortunately, there are sometimes duplicate digital copies, and a complete one may be found, but the most frequent and frustrating omissions tend to be the contemporary maps folded inside the back covers which are ignored or only partially scanned.

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  8. Jane Lucas says:

    I am totally in agreement with the premise of this article. I only recently emailed FMP after a week of fruitless searching for some records that I was lead to believe were online with them. The National Library of Wales handed over the Registers from the Parish of Llanafan, Cardiganshire some time ago (not sure what year) with the intention that they would be digitised. I emailed FMP to ask exactly what their holdings were regarding the particular Parish, because their Wales Collection does not say and I couldn’t find it. When they replied they did not tell me the truth. They obfuscated. Those Registers have largely not been digitised, so I simply wasted several days searching for something not there. At the very least, commercial companies should list their holdings, what has been digitised, what is indexed, what is in the pipeline.
    The cost of subscriptions to the commercial sites is high. One sub is not enough. I have three and wold still like to access more, but the cost is prohibitive. It is infuriating when a sub appears to be not value for money. If you have been researching for years, then you already have all the most easily available online records. If the commercial sites can’t provide enough of an edge for the more difficult to access records, then I will be cancelling my subscriptions and making my way to the Archives in person instead. Slower, but infinitely more satisfying. Clearly not an option for some, and mostly impossible if you live out of the country you are researching in.
    So is there any way that we as consumers can put pressure on the commercial companies? It seems to be that the answer now is ‘no’? I have the feeling that traditional research is not fashionable. The money is in the DNA side. Which is also valuable, but the two need to go together.

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    • Darris G Williams says:

      Jane, the parish registers for Llanavan, Cardiganshire were digitized in 2006 by the Genealogical Society of Utah (FamilySearch). Unfortunately the FamilySearch Catalog is the only place that I know of where this information is available. The details in the FamilySearch Catalog are not always accurate for the dates. They often provide a start and end date for a register. I always use the book Parish Registers of Wales when investigating this sort of problem. If you can visit a FamilySearch affiliate library you should be able to view the images there for free. The library of Society of Genealogists is an affiliate library. As far as baptisms are concerned only one volume is missing from Findmypast, volume 7 which covers 1813-1880. This particular register is on FamilySearch #4674608. I did not check the marriages or burials but can if you need.

      1) Search the book Parish Registers of Wales for details of what survives for Llanafan.
      2) Search Findmypast for the parish of Lanafan and left the personal name fields blank and sorted the result set by year to see if there was a gap in the years of the result set. A gap of more than a couple of years often indicates that a register has not been published.
      3) Search FamilySearch Catalog to see what they digitized and discover the digital number for the unpublished records.
      4) Look at the unpublished register and found a baptism to search for on Findmypast, just to be sure it was not published. Sometimes my search is the problem, not a missing register!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jane Lucas says:

        Hi Darris. Thank you for you reply. I think I have pretty much followed all your advice during my attempt to find out what was online and what wasn’t. I agree with you regarding search technique however. Mine is far from well honed. That is why I was convinced I was not using good technique when I couldn’t find the baptism records I was looking for. I had found from the National Library of Wales site that they have allowed FMP to photograph and digitise all the Registers they hold. I have a copy of the book ‘Parish Registers of Wales’ and their information corresponds to what I have found myself. So I know how and where I can view the records that have not been digitised and put online. I can’t visit a local FHC because they appear to be closed and are not responding to emails. (I live in Devon England.) Welsh Archives are not open even if distance wasn’t an issue. Ceridigeon RO have been very helpful and they hold PRs and BTs. So online is the only option atm.
        The problem is that the Volume 7 Register (I didn’t know the volume number so thank you) is supposed to be online. Despite emailing FMP twice they did not tell me that the Baptism Register for 1813-1880 was not online. In fact I discovered (without their help) that they have an Index for it under ‘Wales Births & Baptisms 1541-1907’. This can’t be found if you do an A-Z Search. You have to know to do ‘Search All Records, then select ‘Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records’. None of these Wales Births & Baptisms come up if you search Cardiganshire Baptisms. So you think “od, there is no record online”.. BUT there is. FMP have a Wales Special Collection, but Cardiganshire is not listed even though you can find it with an A-Z search. They have a long list of missing Parishes but Llanafan is not on it.
        I tried FS again following your advice but can only find indexes, not images.
        Sorry, this is a long and involved reply, but somehow this situation is making me quite cross. I have told FMP and received a standard reply. As someone else said ‘I know when I’ve been given the brush off’!
        Jane

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        • Darris G Williams says:

          The ‘Wales Births & Baptisms 1541-1907’ collection you found buried on Findmypast is a good example and additional twist to this whole topic of poorly described online collections. This does muddy the water but has an explanation. It is from the Bishop’s Transcripts which were partially indexed by FamilySearch way back in the days of the International Genealogical Index (IGI). The extracted/indexed material in the IGI is as good as most indexed records. In the case of Llanafan the Bishop’s Transcripts start very late as you can see in Parish Registers of Wales. The big problem with Wales Births & Baptisms 1541-1907, whether you search it on Findmypast or Ancestry or FamilySearch, is that the coverage of the existing BTs is very incomplete. In a very simple survey of this collection I estimated that less that 30% of the BTs for Wales are included. What I see on Findmypast indicates this probably includes most of the post 1811 BTs for Llanavan. Most collections published on FamilySearch should have a coverage table in a wiki article. The details in the FamilySearch coverage tables vary. The coverage table for Wales Births and Baptisms only gives the number of names in each county for each event but no details on parishes and dates covered. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Wales_Births_and_Baptisms_-_FamilySearch_Historical_Records

          So this brings your search back to the parish registers. The indexes to the Wales parish registers on FamilySearch came from Findmypast. It was part of the collaboration of digitizing and indexing the parish registers of Wales. If the index and images are missing on Findmypast the indexes are almost always missing on FamilySearch. The images of what was digitized should be found listed in the FamilySearch Catalog as you discovered. Contact me directly and I will see if I can locate what you need williamsda@familysearch.org.

          A page in the FamilySearch Wiki shows details about missing Wales parish records. It is incomplete but continues to grow as I learn more. I would love feedback if there are improvements to be made to the format. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Wales_Parish_Registers_Not_Published_on_Findmypast_%26_FamilySearch

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  9. Don’t want to depress anyone, but we’ve been here before – Celia Heritage tried to get something going 5 years ago: https://www.heritagefamilyhistory.co.uk/blog/2015/09/

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Madeline Best says:

    Should this article be published in all the FHS societies’ magazines etc?;
    How else do all those people doing research ever find out about these registers which are wrongly indexed or indeed not there at all even though what they are looking at says that they are there

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    • brucefuimus says:

      Finding out about such missing stuff isn’t that difficult – at least at a high level. (Start by looking at the Record Office’s Catalogue, then search or browse the commercial site’s images. The FamilySearch Catalogue is also invaluable where they did the original photography. My suggestion is, of course, absurdly over-simplified.) The important bit is that way too many people take on trust that it’s all there without thinking that it might not be – for them, these issues are “unknown unknowns”… An article like this would help to get the concept out into the “known unknowns” (I think!)

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  11. What annoys me paricularly is that it is a trivial task to produce detailed coverage listings for these databases, so that searchers can know exactly which years are covered. Any professional database programmer could write code in 15 minutes to generate a properly documented set of date ranges for each collection of registers. OK, making it look good on a web page might take a bit of extra time. But they can’t pretend they haven’t got the resources to do this.

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    • Hi Peter. I know. You look at the beautifully arranged catalogues on the Archives’ websites and you think, ‘It’s really not rocket science. All the hard work has already been done…’

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    • brucefuimus says:

      “Any professional database programmer could write code in 15 minutes to generate a properly documented set of date ranges for each collection of registers”
      Except that this misses several aspects.
      Firstly the chances of all parish register and Bishop’s Transcript collections on a site having the same database schema are slim.
      Secondly, interpretation isn’t easy. Some registers have blank stretches except for a later insertion to cover (say) just the local landowner’s children. Is that blank or not?
      Also on interpretation – is no marriage register for 1754-1837 a problem or not?
      Indeed, thirdly – if there is a gap – whose problem is it? FMP? A? The RO who haven’t got it? Probably through no fault of their own…
      As for interfacing to the Record Offices’ catalogues, there are so many systems used there that it’s beyond a joke (anyone tried using the Manchester RO system?) And even if you could get in there, you’re entirely dependent on the archivist who accessioned and catalogued the registers in the first place. They’re not genealogists and some of the catalogue information – particularly relating to date coverage – is nonsensical. Not much and not very often but if you want to do this using IT rather than a thinking human, you’re in trouble.
      Let me be clear – the intention of highlighting what’s there is exactly right – but it’s not simple. After all, that’s how we got into this mess to start with – “Genealogy can’t be difficult”, the IT people said….

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      • I wasn’t suggesting that a single piece of coding would cover *all* PRs on a site, because of course you’re right that there will be different record structures. But each *collection* from a particular source is going be quick to treat. And after all, all the PR collections are going to have broadly similar structure – once a couple have been done, it’s not a mamoth task to adapt for the next collection. In the end, it’s ludcrious to invest large amounts of time/money digitising records and then not bother to spend a very much smaller amount of time get the computer to list the details of what’s been done, even if the interpreattion of blank years is left to the researcher.

        Liked by 1 person

        • brucefuimus says:

          “I wasn’t suggesting that a single piece of coding would cover *all* PRs on a site, because of course you’re right that there will be different record structures” Phew. Thank goodness.
          “even if the interpretation of blank years is left to the researcher” And yes, I’d agree with you there, as well.

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  12. studionib says:

    Many Worcestershire archives have not been published, researching my family in the region between Malvern and Worcester has been very frustrating as a consequence, Ancestry has parish records only for a limited number of villages, though I’ve been assured the records do exist.

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  13. brucefuimus says:

    I have to say that just concentrating on the digitisations of PRs (and BTs???) is not going to give a full picture unless you understand what’s in the Record Offices to start with. As suggested above, some PRs are retained by the church but if I’m researching that church I need to know that and not get misled by a note that truthfully says “No digitisation issues known”. Then there are the fires (like Penwortham in Lancashire – fortunately the BTs exist – usually) – again, a researcher needs to know.
    And very, very occasionally, record offices are not innocent. IIRC, I was trying to work out for a mailing list why a baptism had been recorded in two places – eventually I realised that the original register for this little chapel had been bound with another church’s register, filmed in that binding so indexed with that other church’s details, then restored to its own binding and filmed *again* and indexed again with its own details. That’s when you’re looking at the blots and creases on the page to convince yourself that yes, it’s the same physical page.

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    • John Roberts says:

      Family Search data for small chapels is often found bound and indexed with that from a larger Church. An example; Mottram in Longdendale is bound with Mobberley ( both Cheshire) but it also goes further. Mobberley Church is referred to as All Saints when in fact it is St Wilfred. I assume Mottram is All Saints

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      • brucefuimus says:

        Crikey. I’ve not seen the church dedications mixed up but that may be because I’ve never looked and usually work it out from first principles – too many registers just say “The Parish Church of….”. According to Genuki, Mottram in Longdendale is actually St. Michael!

        FamilySearch indexing is notorious for assigning the first place name on the film to every item on that film. We have told them many times but there seems no enthusiasm to put any resources into fixing these problems. These issues have sometimes got into other sites’ PRs. Chester RO arranged for FamilySearch to index its films and FindMyPast to host them. As a result, events in Wrenbury are indexed as being in Wilmslow (or vice versa) because that was the first place on the film.

        Note that FamilySearch is not a commercial company, so it’s not all down to money.

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  14. Barbara Bone says:

    I knew here were some problems with Ancestry & FMP but didn’t realise it was quite so bad. Both companies earn a lot of money out of us so think the least they could do is put things right when told about mistakes. As has been pointed out they could be held accountable under the Trades Description Act. We need a genealogist with plenty of money to do a test case – that or we could crowd fund it!

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    • brucefuimus says:

      I suspect you’ll find that there are plenty of caveats in the description of the good to cover instances where original registers have been lost, so I doubt anyone will succeed in a legal challenge.

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  15. Val Edwards says:

    Thank you for your very interesting article. I have felt for some time that parish registers were missing both in London and Essex. I would certainly certainly be up for a campaign.

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  16. Janet says:

    I take most things on Ancestry with a big pinch of salt unless I can see the full document image page. A long time ago I suggested to Ancestry that Jersey (Channel Islands) is not in the Registration District of Anglesey (or the Sub-registration District of Holyhead), as they describe in the 1861 Census, but was a completely different jurisdiction and certainly not in Wales. It still has not been corrected.
    And on Familysearch one set of Cambridgeshire parish records are listed as Hampshire, and when I reported it earlier this year, they admitted it was wrong, but said it would take some time to work to how best to correct it.

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  17. We have a similar problem in Birmingham/Warwickshire. St. Martins Birmingham parish records were filmed by Ancestry, but there were gaps. Midland Ancestors had the whole of St. Martin’s records up to about 1920 refilmed, including some of the pages missed by Ancestry. There are a few minor omissions, but we do admit to these. MA is now working with Warwickshire Archives who had their parish records filmed by FMP, but again they are incomplete. We are going through the registers page by page, and because we already have indexes to most of the parishes, linking the indexes to the appropriate page. Perhaps other Societies could consider doing this with their local Record Office.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. John Morris says:

    Perhaps what is needed is a website “freegenealogicalgaps.org.uk”, or some such, akin (I like using that word) to the freebmd family of sites. By having a suitable hieracrhical organization of the data (e.g. life event, location, date, provider,…) researches would have a structured place to record their findings.
    One nice feature of freebmd is the multiple contributors can give their transcriptions of the same event and it then gets displayed in different font in the index, although it might be more difficult to decide whether those contributors had agreed about the content in the “genealogoical gaps” repository, for example in trivial typos in names.

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  19. dm Walsh (toms wills etc) says:

    Yes Dave, but where did you get that useful table from (LMA vs Ancestry). Can’t diligent researchers just publish an accurate list per county of what’s actually held? GENUki used to do that. It would also nail the irritating problem of overlapping record sets. Records “New!” to Fmp/anc/fs are usually I suspect not new to the other sites at all…

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    • I made that table myself – it was the only way I could sort out what was happening. It’s actually more complicated than it looks as some of the later registers in the Ancestry list don’t actually relate to St Matthew, Bethnal Green!

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  20. Simon Fowler says:

    A lot of soldier’s documents held by TNA (series WO 97) went ‘missing’ when FMP digitised the records ten years ago. We know the records existed because of detailed descriptions on Discovery. Yet the records themselves are not on FMP. Shamefully both TNA and FMP deny there is a problem.

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  21. Christina says:

    There are other reasons for missing registers! There is a former General Baptist chapel in Ditchling, East Sussex. (The Unitarians took it over around c. 1800.) The General Baptists did not have infant baptisms, and marriages in those chapels in the early years were not leagally permitted – due to being non-conforming places of worship. Instead, the marriages took place in neigbouring C of E parishes so there will be Bishop’s Transcripts of those, fortunately! However, the G.B.’s did have registers that contained BIRTHS (not baptisms), DEATHS & BURIALS, of all those within the Baptist community – with far more family detail included than is found in C of E records. The first register of that non-conformist community is missing. The entries date roughly from 1746 – 1810. It was being taken care of by an elderly church committee member who died. Apparently it was stored in their loft, and disappeared when their house was cleared out after their death. This was quite a few years ago, and it has never resurfaced. There were no duplicates records, or any such thing as Bishops’ Transcripts of those precious non-conformist registers! My 4 x great grandparents’ records are in that register. It could be in private hands, or it could have gone to the tip. It is very upsetting. I estimate 40 – 50 Sussex familes will be affected by this. There is a vague possibility it has ended up in private hands, so I am hoping someone might see this and be helpful!
    I

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  22. SLew says:

    Another for me is the completeness of the up to date offering of records in The 1939 register. I know of several family members who are still shown as closed entries even though they died several years ago. I don’t know if the responsibility lies with National Archives or withAncestry/Findmypast in their copying of the most up to date situation.

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  23. Sue Turner says:

    It is not just Ancestry where there is a problem. findmypast has a lot of Hawarden, Flintshire early parish registry (Marriages and burials) entries under Nannerch, presumably because the beginning of the film was that parish and the Hawarden registers are not on the standard forms and do not have the name of the parish at the top of each page. Browsing the images does not show the beginnning of the book which would prove that it is Hawarden, but interestingly the first page in the film has half of the previous page and that says Hawarden on it. I told them years ago, but they have done nothing about it.
    May I suggest Genuki as somewhere to put all this information about gaps. They have pages for each church, which could include which commercial organisation has the registers over what period (which could be input by the pages owners and their helpers) and what the gaps are (as supplied to them by the people who know).
    Another point about missing registers is that if any registers were deposited after the commercial organisation had filmed the collection, they will not be included because in this case, findmypast, will not go back and do it. This has happened with the Goathland, North Yorkshire marriage registers after 1868.

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  24. toniiniowa says:

    I get this same response from my elected officials when I share my opinion on upcoming bills. The Big Brushoff.

    We’ll forward this information on to the relevant teams for you. Thanks so much for sharing this so we could organise this for you!

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  25. Chris Boothman says:

    A contract is a contract. If the contract is to ‘deliver’ the records, then it is not a fulfilled contract if the records are not ‘delivered’.
    Advertising false information is also a ‘no, no’.

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  26. Jane Jones says:

    I fought a battle with Find My Past for many months as the 1939 Register was missing more than half the streets in a nearby town, including all those that my family lived in. I even went to the trouble of getting a map, overlaying the area that was missing and listing the original Register references. All I kept getting was “we are looking into it”, even after I had done all their work for them. I gave up even trying. About 18 months later, I was searching for someone else’s ancestors, not realising they had lived in the same street as mine and was surprised to see that the missing records had eventually been listed.

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  27. Hilary says:

    I asked LMA about a missing register from St Olaves. They replied to tell me they knew it was not online, they had contacted Ancestry who had promised to upload it, but nothing had happened and I was welcome to visit LMA and view the register on film. When I went to LMA I asked if they had a list on known missing registers and the staff member sighed and said there too many as there were also known missing pages. Technically I suppose we could hit the Giants under the Trade Descriptions Act.

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  28. David Wharton says:

    And also the skipped pages not filmed or scanned within a register. Simple quality control checking.

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  29. There are missing records, and there are also records that are there but well hidden. I have found two types of the latter in Ancestry’s Derbyshire collection: those where the register pages are attributed to the wrong parish, usually because they were on the same microfilm as the parish to which they purport to belong; and those where the images of the register pages run on for additional years (sometimes decades) beyond the end of the transcriptions.

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  30. Dawnsh says:

    As soon as the LMA collection was uploaded in 2009, gaps in the collection and wrongly named/attributed parishes were found. At that time, even the LMA couldn’t get things put right. There’s a list of problems here but tbh, I don’t think anyone has gone back and checked to see if corrections and updates have been carried out https://www.rootschat.com/forum/index.php?topic=430983.0

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  31. Darris G Williams says:

    I believe that a coordinated effort is needed to address this critical issue. Several months ago I created a page in the FamilySearch Wiki to start documenting gaps in the online published parish registers of Wales. The details are a work in progress. I’d be interested in suggestions for additional details to document. New pages can easily be created to document other collections and gaps. This will allow multiple people to contribute to the information and it is free and ready to use. Consistency for the page titles would be helpful. https://www.familysearch.org/wiki/en/Wales_Parish_Registers_Not_Published_on_Findmypast_%26_FamilySearch

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I’m definitely up for it, especially as I have ancestors in the two London parishes you highlight…Andy is right in that the archiving body should be approached as well – it’s in their best interest, especially if their catalogue records are incorrect! (I speak as a librarian and cataloguer).

    Liked by 1 person

  33. Peter Calver says:

    Andy Micklethwaite is spot on when he suggests that the best remedy is to contact the record office that holds the registers. This not only applies in the case of missing registers, but any wholesale errors. Ultimately it’s down to the record office – who are the ones collecting the money – to hold the publisher to account. And if you don’t get satisfaction from the record office, you can use the Freedom of Information Act to ask awkward questions!

    Liked by 1 person

  34. Sophie K says:

    Superb, Dave – and a soapbox piece I am very much on board with 🙂 Might a public petition across the community to demonstrate the strength of feeling be one strand of attack? I realise that having such a petition doesn’t guarantee a response from the commercial providers, but it’s an excellent way to prove the community’s engagement with this issue. Count me in…

    Liked by 2 people

  35. I’m up for it. Perhaps a website which points out the gaps in the records and mentions the archiving body holding the registers as well as the provider. You’d need several volunteers to do this, that’s a problem! Where problems have been reported on Rootsweb lists (and their successors), complainants have apparently had more success approaching the archiving body than the provider.

    Liked by 3 people

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